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I joke, therefore I am

This is the forth speech in the Humorously Speaking manual. The objective of the speech is to open with a self-depreciating joke and use at least two sets of series of jokes in the body.

Many of you may already know I am studying philosophy in SFU part time. I have learned to reason like Descartes, debate like Socrates. I though my arguments are invincible, until I have an disagreement with my wife. She simply says, “Honey, you are wrong.”

Dear Mr. Chairman, fellow toastmasters. I joke, therefore I am. Many people think philosophy is useless, boring and difficult. The mafia boss gives offers no one can reject, a mafia boss who studies philosophy gives offers no one can understand. I was a curious little boy since I was young. I like to answer weird questions like, Is there a God; What is good and evil; Do I exist? When my mom annoyed by my questions, she would just told me to shut up. Later when I grew older, I found all those questions all under a discipline called philosophy. Philosophy means the love of wisdom literally. I found philosophy very interesting and thought provoking.

The first course I took in philosophy is the history of philosophy. I learned philosophers from Plato to Aristotle, Descartes to Hume, Kant to Hegel. If you asked me what do they have in common? They are all dead. I learned that for every great philosopher, there exists an equal an opposite philosopher; and both of them are wrong. I did not get the answer for my questions, instead I got ten different answers and why each of them is wrong.

I still could not answer my questions, but I learn a few things about philosophers. I learned Occam shaves with a razor; Hume eats with a fork and Russell’s teapot is lost in space. I know Schrodinger has a cat, Pascal is addicted to gambling and God said Nietzsche is dead.

The mind-body problem always intrigue me. How do I know I really exists, not merely a brain living in a test tube hook up to the Matrix? I took a course in metaphysics to find the answers. Metaphysics means studies beyond our physical world, question the foundation of reality. In the end I figured out the answer to the mind-body problem. What is a mind? No matter. What is a body? Never mind.

Recently, I took a course in ethics to learn what is right from wrong or how to argue a wrong is a right. In the class, I learned different ethical theories. Aristotle said doing good is a virtue; Kant said doing good is our duty; Locke said doing good is having a good end result; Hobby said doing good is like we agree not to kill each other. I am a bit confused where ethics comes from. As an engineer, I know electricity comes from electron, so morality must comes from morons.

Although I am inspired to become a philosopher, but I end up being an engineer. Do you know what is the difference between a philosopher and an engineer? About 80k per year. Philosophers think hard on many great questions of all time. They think about the meaning of life, the dilemma of truth, the existence of the world, but they forgot the most important question: How to make a living?

The philosophy department in SFU is having a meeting. Suddenly an angel appears in the room in front of dean of the philosophy department and says, “I’ll grant you whichever of three blessings you choose. Wisdom, beauty or ten million dollars.” Without hesitation, the professor chooses wisdom. There is a flash of lighting, the professor is transformed, but then he just sits there, staring down at the table. One of his colleagues whispers, “You have great wisdom. Say something!” The professor says, “I should have taken the money!”

Element of humor

I am working on my “Humorously Speaking” manual for my Toastmaster program. Some people seems to have natural talent with a good sense of humor, but humor can also be learned. You just have to remember the basic principle of humor and practice, everyone can become a decent joke master.

Telling a joke always has 5 basic parts. The first part is the set-up. It builds up the expectation of the audience so you can surprise them later. Then it follows by a pause to draw the attention of of audience. Then the punch line is the sentence that creates humor. Within the punch line, there is a punch word, the word that triggers the laughter. After the punch line, follow by another pause to give the audience time to absorb the joke and enjoy it.

A joke starts with a target, someone or something you want to make fun of. Hostility to the target in subtle or obvious way is fun. But because choosing a target that suits your audience. Sex, racial, religion jokes sometimes may be offensive to some people. Then use exaggeration and emotion to draw the attention of the audience before surprising them with the punch line. Humor must be unexpected. The joke would be less effective if you laugh at your own joke or you tell the audience you are about to tell a joke.

There are eight handy methods to construct the punch line:

  • Exaggeration, push your imagination to make the tales sounds absurd.
  • Incongruity, two genuine points followed by an radical point.
  • Reverse of view point
  • Definition to distort the meaning of the subject
  • Combination the characteristics of two totally unrelated items
  • Play on words, use words with different meaning in different context
  • Understatement, the opposite end of exaggeration
  • Implication, let the audience draw the missing connection

Here are some examples:

Philosophy is so difficult that even philosophers don’t understand it. (Exaggeration)

Talking philosophy in a date makes you sound intelligent, sophisticated and boring. (Incongruity)

Nietzsche says God is dead; God says Nietzsche is dead. (Reverse of view point)

The cost of doing philosophy research is minimal, it only have food and shelter the philosophy. The easiest way to apply for philosophy research grant is through social welfare. (Definition)

A moralist questions others morality, a skeptical moralist questions his own morality. (Combination)

Why an immoral person wearing a T-backs? Because he wants to become immortal. (Play on words)

Sophie’s boyfriend is a philosopher; He loves Sophie. (Understatement)

Philosophers thinks about all sorts of questions except the question “How to earn a living?” (Implication)

What is management

This is the third speech in the humorously speaking manual. The objective of the speech is to use jokes in the speech, open and close the speech with a funny story.

Dear chairman, fellow toastmasters, honored guests. A big engineering firm outsourced to Africa and hired four cannibals. On the first day of work, at the end of the orientation, the boss said to the cannibals, “You will make good money as engineers. You can enjoy free food in the cafeteria. Don’t trouble other employees.” The cannibals promised they will not trouble other employees. For four weeks, things is working pretty well, but one day the boss found the co-op student is missing. He came to ask the cannibals, “Do you know what happen to the missing co-op student?”. The cannibal swear they know nothing about the co-op students and the boss went away. After the boss is gone, the lead of the cannibals asked, “Who ate the co-op students?”. One hand raise hesitatingly, and the leader yelled at him, “You fool, we have been eating managers for four months and no one has notice they are missing. Now you ate a co-op student…”

What is management? How many of you have read the Dilbert cartoon? When we think of managers, we always think of the pointy hair guy, sitting in a big office doing nothing, knowing nothing except giving a harsh time to Dilbert. Unfortunately, many people has this misconception about management; and even some managers has the same misconception themselves. Management is the mean to enable a large group of people joint together to form a large organization that deliveries and performs. With out management, any large organization will degenerate into a mob.

Management is a relatively new discipline. It exists merely for 150 years. In ancient time, there was no management, there were only slave and the slave masters. Slave masters don’t manage people, they whip their back. The longest surviving large organization in history is the army. That’s why at the dawn management, managers often borrow ideas from military schools. Command and control is the most common management style in early large organizations. However there are some fundamental difference between a company and the army. A manager can ask the employees to march left and right like a soldier, but they can’t ask the employee die for the company. By the turn of the century, management get a new life when Henry Ford invented the assembler line. Management has became scientific management. The managers break down complicate tasks into simple tasks and trains unskilled labor work together. The managers also measure the performance and output of the workers. After World War II, our society has changed from a blue collar manufacturing society to a knowledge society. Manager has to co-ordinate different people with diverse knowledge and skill in to work together and perform in a large organization.

When we think of management, we often think of business management. It is wrong. Management is a lot more than business. Management is essential to any large organization to perform and delivery result, whether it is a business, a hospital, a university of the government. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. The result of a hospital is a healed patient. The result of a university is a student who can put his knowledge into good use after graduation.

Someone thinks management is science. It deals with numbers, the bottom line, ROI, six sigma and lots of techniques to measure the performance. Someone thinks management is humanities. It deals with people, culture, value, psychology to foster a harmony working environment. Management is really a liberal arts. It is an art deal with knowledge. Not just the knowledge about the service or product of the organization, but also the knowledge possessed by other people. Manager enable a group of people capable of joint performance through a common goal and common value.

There are three men, a manager, a hardware engineer and a software engineer, going to lunch. On their way to the restaurant, they found a magic lamp. They rub the lamp, a genie appears and says, “Usually, I grant you three wishes, but since there are three of you, I will grant each of you a wish.” The hardware engineer goes first, he says, “I want to spent the rest of my life living on a Hawaii beach, with lots of money and lots of beautiful women.” The genie grants his wish and sends him to Hawaii. The software engineer goes next, he says, “I want to spent the rest of my life living on a Mediterranean island, with lots of money and lots of beautiful women.” The genie grants his wish and sends him to the Mediterranean. At last, the genie asks the manager, “It is your turn, so what is your wish?” The manager replies, “I want my engineers back after lunch.”

Evaluating is learning

I have been quite passive in Toastmaster for the past while. I did not show up to the meeting unless I have a speech or there is a special event. Last week, the chairman of today’s meeting ask me whether I help out as an evaluator. Since I have no reason to decline, I show up in the meeting to evaluate a speech. It was a CC#4 speech and the goal is to make good use of words. Although I have done this speech project before, it was almost 3 years ago, the speech project seems a like a stranger to me. Before the speech, I quickly went over the manual, check out the speech objectives.

Those objectives should be common sense to me. Namely, use short words and short sentence; be specify; use vivid language to draw a mental picture for the audience; use rhetorical device to spicy up the speech, avoid jargon, filter words and filter phrases. Yet I found myself do not pay enough attention to those basic objectives when I am working on my speech nowadays. I know how to write a good speech in theory, but I fail to deliver the end product most of time. Evaluating beginner’s speech helps me review some basic speech skills that I mostly forgotten or carelessly ignored. When I am giving the evaluation, I not only point problems in speech, I also have to give examples on how to improve it. It is just like teaching a student force you to know the material thoroughly, giving an evaluation force you to make a good example yourself. I an suppose an advance speaker in the club, but I still have lots to learn from the beginners.

Be careful what you ask for

This is the second speech in the Toastmaster humorously speaking manual, leave them with a smile. The objective of this project is to prepare a serious speech that opens and closes with humorous stories and the closing story should reemphasizes the speech’s main point.

Dear Mr. chairman, fellow toastmasters, honored guest. Last year I spent almost 3 months living in India for my project. When I am in Bangalore, the company put us in a service apartment with maids come to do cleaning everyday. Just like any places in developing countries, our apartment have cockroaches problem. Everyday after work, we have to hunt down the cockroaches, kill them brutally with shoes or flash lights. One day we are tried of being crude to the cockroaches, so we took out a Ziploc contain to catch a cockroach. We don’t know what to do with the cockroach we caught, obviously we can’t keep it as a house pet. Next morning, we leave the container on the table and told the maid to get rid of cockroach. When we come home that day, the cockroach is gone, but to our surprise we found the Ziploc box went back to the cupboard with all other clean dishes.

PMC Sierra is a global company. We have design centers around the world. Effective communication among the team members across different sites is one of our daily challenge. Many of us are working on projects with team members in different countries with a different cultural background. Culture affect how people think and affect how people act. Aware the cultural difference can minimize misunderstanding in our communication.

Most of us grow up in Canada, we assume a North America cultural perspective. Sometimes we are not aware of the cultural difference when we talk to people in other countries. We take it for granted that our listeners can understood our message in the way that we expect. We are not aware of a subtle difference in the language we use can have a totally different meaning to a person coming from a different culture background. Be careful what you ask for. You will get exactly what you asked, but not really want you want.

Developing the culture sense is not an easy task. It takes time and experience to learn how to work smoothly with people in different culture. I would like to share a tip on better communication across difference culture. Here is the rule of thumb. When you in doubt, always ask for confirmation. Don’t just ask a yes or no question. Often you will get a yes, even though your listen has no clue what you are talking about. Ask your listen repeat your message in his own words. You can sense whether he gets it or not. If he fails to get it, you just rephrase your message with different expression. After a few trials, your listener should grasp the meaning of your message.

I would like to conclude my speech with another story. The Bangalore office has a cafeteria, just like our cafeteria down stairs, its menu does not many choices. To make it worse, it only serves Indian food. Everyday, I can choose to have red curry, orange curry or yellow curry for lunch. After a few weeks of having curry for lunch. I am sick of the lack of variety. I asked the kitchen staff, do they have a different menu. The kitchen staff said he can bring in some sandwich for me tomorrow. I gladly take the offer and order a chicken sandwich. The next day, when I go to lunch in the cafeteria, the kitchen staff has a brown paper lunch bag ready for me. I am eager to try something else other than curry for lunch. I open my lunch bag and inside I found … a curry chicken sandwich.

Toastmaster 2009

In 2008, I absented from the Toastmaster most of the year. I have many excuses, like getting marry, travel to India, working on project with ridiculous schedule etc. I went to the Toastmaster year end party before X’mas, mostly for the free pizza. I found that I do miss the enjoyment and satisfaction of delivering a good speech in front of a crowd. Today is the first Toastmaster meeting in 2009. The theme of the day is goal setting. The president of the club try to re-energize the club by having a mini-workshop. During the meeting, he asked the members to think about what they want to archive in club this year.

I am not making any process in my ATM speeches. It’s over a year since I did my last speech. My goal of this year is finishing off my “Humorous Speech” manual and achieve the ATM credential. There are only 4 more speeches to go, my plan is to give one speech every two months. This club has its annual humorous speech contest on Oct. I am going to deliver my last speech as a contest entry. Since I am long time Toastmaster, I feel very natural speaking in front of people. This year, I am going to focus on my pronunciation and the use grammar in my speeches. These two problems are the biggest challenges for most ESL speakers need to overcome.

Skiing basics

This is my toastmaster speech on humorously speaking.  The objective of this speech is to open the speech with a humorous story.

People from Scotland are notorious for their meanness and I met one of them in ski school at Whistler.  I heard he said to the ski instructor, “I want to learn to ski, I want to ski with one leg only.”  The instructor asked him, “Yes sir, I can teach you how to ski on one leg, but may I ask why?”  The Scottish answered, “Because I will only need one ski.  It will be cheaper to buy one ski than two!”

Mr. Chair, dear fellow Toastmaster, summer has gone, the day is getting shorter and shorter.  Yes, winter is coming soon.  It is time for us to take out our ski gears from the closet and get ready for the skiing season.  May I ask how many of you ski?  Please raise your hand.  You may have been skiing for many years, you can race down the mountain like a bullet.  Maybe you are new to the sport, looking forward to graduate from the bunny hill.  Today, I am going to review some basic skiing techniques.  There are 3 core techniques in skiing, balancing, pivoting, and edging.  Let’s start with balancing.

If you cannot balance, you will fall.  Stance and balance is most fundamental skill in skiing.  What is a good balance?  The technical definition of having a good balance in skiing jargon is the center of mass over the bass of support.  Well, the jargon doesn’t make much sense even to a room full of engineers.  To make it easier, you just have to know my friend Bob.  Bob can really help you ski.  Who is bob?  Bob’s name is short for Butt over Boots.  When you start a turn, you must be like Bob.  When you are skiing, may Bob be with you.

What is the natural enemy to skiers?  It is the trees!  How to avoid hitting a tree, you have to learn how to turn when you see a tree ahead of you.  All turnings are initiate by pivoting your ski.  Many beginners make a common mistake when they try to initiate a turn.  Instead of pivoting their ski, they rotate their body to direction they want to go.  Don’t do it.  Rotating your body will not initiate a turn, it will only make your ski go faster.  Pivoting is pointing the tip of your ski to the direction you want to go, the key is to turn your legs independent of your body.

How many ski instructors need to change a light bulb?  Six.  One to screw in the light bulb and five to say “nice turn”.  Edging is a more advance turning technique that gives you a nice turn.  Instead of pivoting your ski, you have to angulate your ankle and lean on one edge of your ski.  Because of the curve shape of the ski, exerting pressure on one edge of the ski will turn the ski.  The shape of the turn is depending on your speed, the pressure you put the edge, and the degree you lean against the slope.  The only way to make a perfect turn is practice, practice and more practice on your edging.

Now let’s review the three core skills of skiing.  They are stance and balance, pivoting and edging.  If you can master this three basic skills, you will be skiing like a pro.  Wish you all have a great skiing season.

How to buy a gun

This is a speech prepared for the Toastmaster humorous speech contest.

A woman walked into a gun shop and said to the shop keeper, “I would like to buy a gun for my husband.” The woman said she don’t know much about guns and ask for some advice. The shop keeper then asked her, “What type of guns your husband likes?” The woman said, “Are you kidding? He doesn’t even know I am going to shoot him!”

Mr. Chair, fellow Toastmasters, when you walk into a gun shop, you don’t to be as clueless as the woman in the story. Today I am going to give you some tips on how to buy a gun.

First you decide what type of guns you want to buy by asking yourself what targets are you going to shoot? Paper target, sports clay, wild games or your mother in law. You need to buy the right gun for the right target. Rifles for far away target, handguns for close combat, and shotguns for anything that flies.

Buying guns is like buying shoes, you have to try it out to find the one that fits you. You may have to try out many guns before finding one that is comfortable to use. Pick up the gun, pretend you are Bruce Willis in Die Hard, imagine you are fighting a group of terrorist. You want to make sure your gun feels like an natural extension of your hand at all time.

The next tips is specially for the ladies or any fashionable gentlemen. Guns come in different colors, such as black polyester, dark blue steel finish, shiny silver nickel finish, fine-wood walnut finish, marine camouflage in different shades of green. You may want to pick a gun that matches your dressing style. When you are holding a gun, how cool you look is as important as how good you shoot.

Last time when I went to the gun shop, I overheard a conversation between two hunters. The first hunter asked the second one, “Why do you hunt without bullets?” The second hunter replied, “It is much cheaper and the result are the same.” I am sure my fellow Toastmasters are much better shooters than the second hunter, so you may want to buy some bullets. Buying bullets require some delicate knowledge, you have to know how to read numbers. All you have to do is read the caliber marking on the gun and find the bullets that match the number.

A single bullet is not expensive, but if you plan to do lots of shooting, the ammunition bill may add up quite high.  Do you know that you can get bullets in every day low price at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart carries a huge selection of bullets. If you buy in bulk, you may even get volume discount.

Let me ask you a question. What will you do if you catch you teenager son buying dirty magazines? I will tell him buying dirty magazines is wrong, because it may jam your gun. In a gun shop, a magazine is not something for you to read, it is something that holds extra bullets. It is always wise to have a few spare magazine with you. You don’t want to find yourself run out of ammo in the middle of a shooting.

Now you have buy your gun, some bullets and a few magazine. You are ready to shoot. But wait a second, let me tell you a real story of how not to use a gun. In 1990, a Seattle man named David Zaback got a gun from the black market. He decided to turn make some quick bucks. He walked in to shop, pointed his gun at the shop keeper and ask for money. However, he made a big mistake, he picked to the wrong shop. He was trying to rob a gun store! He was shot dead right on the spot by the shop keeper and other customers. Remember, don’t do stupid things with your gun. Happy Shooting.


I haven’t done a table topic in the toastmaster meeting for quite a while, so I volunteer myself today. Today’s toastmaster meeting is more special than usual, because it is the club got chartered. We invited the district governor to present us the certificates, and PMC provided free lunch. The topic I got is a quote from Pablo Picasso, “Computers are useless. They can only give answers”. I think I did ok in the table topic, except that I totally forgot to mention 42 until I went back to my seat. For those who had read the Hitchhacker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should know 42 is the answer to all the questions of life and universe, except that the question is not known. Later on when I mention that to my colleagues, almost everyone agree that I had totally missed the point of that quote. One of them haven’t read the book and seems puzzled about the importance of 42. The rest of us question his identity of being an engineer, we even threaten to take away his iron ring. I think I should download and watch the movie version of that book to reinforce my engineer nature.

First speech

Finally, I had completed my first toastmaster speech. I don’t think I’m doing very well. I can feel my legs was shaking for the whole time. It is different than doing a table topic, where is more careful and have no expectation. My time management is really bad, run out of time half way and my mind went blank because I don’t know what to say in order to cut my speech short. I can imagine my pronunciation and grammar has some problems, due to the lack of sleep makes my mind slow. Anyways, it’s done and I have to think about the second speech planned in next month.

Time is running out before my trip to Germany, and I have less than 2 months to reach the milestone I had set for my thesis. I found talking an extend period of time on phone with Pat every night become a big distraction to my study. Especially when I have to spend energy to ‘tum’ her all the time. My goal is to cut down the duration of phone call from over 45 minutes to 15 minutes a day. The extra 30 minutes may not seems a lot, but the time it takes for me to focus make the big difference. In addition, the timing of call make a big difference. Have an hour of solid work before the phone call helps productive, so I could use it call as a welcome break. Unlike the current habit, I got interrupt when I just about to begin my study. My mind on the work is lost after the phone call, and it usually take an hour to regroup.

One last thing, although I agree not to sleep again in church to avoid more nagging from Pat, sleeping in church itself is NOT an immature behavior. There are many valid reasons to fall asleep in church, and it doesn’t imply disrespect to the priest, fellow church goers or God. It may worth the time to write a serious article on the true nature of sleeping in the church, but that would take quite some time to a proper research. I’ll definitely put this topic down on my to do list after I had finished my thesis. For the time being, let’s use the reason that sleeping is a from of prayer, quoted from this article written by Maurice Bellet, a Catholic author.