Author: Steven Swenson

Giving a talk? Come prepared, technically & mentally.

The affable Cory House recently posted a blog article about the technical issues he had delivering the keynote at last year’s CodeStock conference.  I was at that keynote and remember the poise and calm he exhibited while dealing with multiple technical issues that were out of his control.  Despite the projector going out multiple times, he stayed on topic and continued the talk through the long reboots.  Reading his blog post I realized something: Your deck should help your talk, but it should not *be* your talk.  Cory understood this and was able to forge ahead despite not having a deck for a good quarter of his talk.
If your talk is on a technical subject then I can understand that you have a relatively high reliance on your laptop and projector. (Most of my talks are code related.)  However if you’re waiting for a laptop to reboot, you should still be able to speak to the subject for a few minutes and not leave the audience looking at their phones.  If your talk is more abstract, e.g. dev culture, like Cory’s was, then you should be able to deliver most of your talk without the deck.  Believe it or not, people did this all the time before PowerPoint was invented, and I don’t recall seeing many PowerPoint presentations in the last thousand Ted talks I’ve viewed on YouTube.  For my two most recent talks, my deck had almost no text at all.  My talk on cloud computing I delivered to the local IEEE was just pictures and screen caps, and once I started talking I even stopped using the deck and ended up skipping the last 10 slides.  The deck for my Enigma talk had little text, however was still very critical to the flow of the talk: it showed helpful diagrams on how the Enigma and Bombe work, and contained a lot of notes I needed to keep the talk on track.  But, if necessary, I could have delivered the talk with just a white board.  It’s important to understand your subject material in a way that you can explain it to the audience without notes, or just to someone you’re having drinks with.  If you’re at a conference and your badge has that “speaker” ribbon across the bottom, people will constantly ask you what you’re speaking on.  If you’re enthusiastic about the subject, that enthusiasm will infect the audience and they will leave the event both encouraged and impressed.

But despite my assertions above, having your technical ducks in a row is your responsibility as a speaker.  Here’s some suggestions in addition to Cory’s:

  • Bring an adapter.  Last year at CodeStock, I did a lightening talk on password hashing.  The projector in the small room only had a VGA cable attached to it, which most modern laptops don’t have anymore.  Luckily the audience was only 4 people, so I was able to give the presentation directly off my laptop.
  • Bring a long cable.  I always bring a long HDMI cable. The twenty-five feet HDMI cable from Amazon is only $15.
  • Have your deck, and any other files you need, on a USB drive.  If your computer dies (or is stolen), there’s usually a plethora of other laptops you can grab to do a presentation, but that only works if you have the deck. Don’t rely on cloud accounts to retrieve a deck.
  • Try not to rely on Internet access at all if possible. In this age of SaaS I know that’s not always possible, but I’ve seen many talks go off the rails because of a lack of reliable Internet access.
  • Don’t ever rely on the venue’s Internet connection.  If your talk absolutely requires Internet, you should count on using a cellular hot spot.  I attended at least two talks last year where the talk was saved by a generous audience member volunteering their cellular hot spot to the speaker.  Two years ago at the Dev-Link conference the Internet became highly unreliable for several hours because a single user was sucking up 50 Mbps with a torrent.  Counting on a good Internet connection for your presentation without a contingency plan is probably the biggest and most common risk taken by presenters.
  • Lastly, don’t forget the power supply to your laptop. I’ve done this before. You can usually find someone with a similar laptop that can loan you a power supply.  Another solution is to go to the hotel desk and tell them you left a laptop power supply in the room on your last trip.  Most hotels that cater to business travelers have huge bins full of cell phone and laptop power supplies that were left in rooms over the years.  They will usually be happy to get rid of one or two.

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Using the Cloud Office Control Panel API from PowerShell

Many don’t know that the Cloud Office Control Panel also has a REST API.  You can find the API documentation here.   Most of the functionality available in the web control panel is also available in the REST API.  In this blog post I’m going to walk through some PowerShell code that accesses the API.

In previous versions of PowerShell, users had to rely on the .NET framework and other secondary resources to use a REST API. However, v3 of Powershell includes a new cmdlet called Invoke-RestMethod.  There were some limitations in v3 specific to how you set headers, but v4 of PowerShell allows you to have full control over your request.  Be sure you’re using PowerShell v4 to run the examples below.

Of course the first thing we have to worry about is auth.  The REST API requires an X-Api-Signature header, which is compiled by the Get-XApiSignature function. That function requires your api key, secret, and the value of the User-Agent header.

The next file, ListDomains.ps1, gets the XApiSignature header value, builds a hash for all the headers, and then makes the call to Invoke-RestMethod to retrieve a list of domains from the API.  Invoke-RestMethod also parses the body of the response into an object (similar to how web-api works and is a huge time-saver!)  This allows us to pipe the result directly into Format-Table to display the list of domains in a readable format.

In part two we’ll get fancy and create a mailbox.

 

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Public Talk: Enigma Inside Out

Abstract:
The movie The Imitation Game introduced the world to Alan Turing and his work at Bletchley Park.  This talk will show you how the German cypher was really cracked.  We will take an in-depth look at how an Enigma machine encrypts and decrypts messages by passing electric pulses through mechanical rotors. Then we’ll delve into a brilliant exploit, invented by the Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski, that reveals subtle patterns in the cypher text to help reveal enigma’s encryption settings.  Finally we’ll look at the Bombe, the infamous machine featured in the movie designed by Alan Turning that was used to break the Enigma cypher.  This talk will be technical but also very accessible, with no knowledge of encryption or cryptanalysis required to understand the methods used to crack the code.  I will also demo realistic Enigma and Bombe software simulators, showing real-life examples of how to encode and break messages using the exact tools they had in Bletchley Park.

This event is being hosted by the Blacksburg office of Rackspace.

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