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Video of my TEDx talk, and a few words about the content


TEDxBozeman header

Everything always seems to take longer than expected, and when my talk hit YouTube, I was out of town on vacation for a couple of weeks. I’m back now, and we can get caught up.

First of all, the talk is on the main TED website, but it’s a bit laborious to find. The primary search doesn’t turn it up (and the Gary Robson that appears isn’t me); you have to look in the TEDx section of the site. I’ll save you the trouble and provide a direct link: go here to watch my talk on TED.com.

I also have a direct link to the talk on YouTube, but I can make it even easier than that: here’s an embedded video with closed captions so you just have to click “play.” I am really excited that over 1,500 people have watched this on YouTube in less than a week!

A word about the captions on this video: The TEDxBozeman video crew hadn’t dealt with web captioning before, and when they sent me test files, I was having trouble getting them to play on my computer for some reason. We started with a clean transcript. My wife, Kathy, is a realtime captioner and she volunteered to create the file for me. I did a bit of editing (not much required; Kathy is a pro!) and then the video crew did the timing and placement. We still have a few glitches with line breaks and positioning, but I hope we can get those cleaned up soon.

My “behind the scenes” post talked about the actual experience of giving the talk, but I’d like to talk a bit now about the content. The message in this video is important to me for many reasons, and everyone who shares this video with their friends helps to spread that message. In a nutshell, the message is this: Captions are a nicety for those of us who can hear; they are a necessity for those who can’t. Certainly hearing people outnumber deaf and hard-of-hearing (HoH) people, but we can’t let the needs of the minority be drowned out by the convenience of the majority.

As I said in the talk, the World Health Organization says that 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. That’s 360 MILLION people! They need more than just an approximation of the dialog randomly tossed on a screen. Their captions are every bit as important as our audio, and those captions should be properly timed, properly placed, properly spelled, and comprehensive.

I am pleased by the action that the FCC has decided to take. They are moving the right direction, but it’s going to be a difficult move. How do you assign a numeric score to caption quality so that it can be legislated? What’s worse: a misspelled word or a caption covering someone’s face? How far behind can realtime captions be? I don’t envy them the work that’s going to go into legislating quality, but I’ll be happy to jump in and help if they ask. I’ve put a lot of time into questions like that throughout my career.

On TEDx stage with FCC logo

There’s one other thing I’d like to clarify: in no way should my talk be construed as a blanket condemnation of the people performing captioning today. Quite to the contrary, that business is filled with talented, caring people who work their tails off to produce a quality product. Unfortunately, a lot of station executives don’t give captioning the priority it deserves, and the job goes to the lowest bidder rather than the most qualified bidder. A broadcaster can meet the letter of the law today with a captioner who does no preparation, no research, and no post-broadcast QC analysis to improve the next broadcast. This is why realtime captioners earn less than half as much today as they did 20 years ago.

When we do something because we feel that it’s the right thing to do, we want to do it right; when we do something because we’re forced to do it, we’ll often do the least that we can get away with.

Legislation has unfortunately hurt us here, even as it’s helped in many other ways. By forcing everyone to caption, we have increased the quantity of captioning without providing incentive to increase (or even maintain) the quality. It’s good to see that changing.

 

 

Behind the scenes: My talk at TEDxBozeman


If you don’t know what a TED talk is, or you don’t know the difference between TED and TEDx, please start by reading my TED post from last November. Okay, you’re back. Good!

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about TEDxBozeman and my talk, and now that it’s over and I have decompressed a bit, I will be happy to answer them. I’ll start by saying that (A) the talk should be on TED.com and YouTube by April 21, (B) yes, my talk will be captioned, and (C) I will post more detail about the talk itself in the next few weeks.

Most of the questions, though, were about the event itself. How does this all work? What goes into a TEDx event?

On stage at TEDxBozeman 2014

On stage at TEDxBozeman 2014.

That nine minutes on stage is the culmination of months of work for me, and the process started much earlier than that for the team that put on the event. For me, it began last October when Ken Fichtler, the co-founder of TEDxBozeman, stopped by my tea bar. I wasn’t there, but he left me a note suggesting that I apply to be a presenter. Obviously, I leaped on the opportunity.

On November 19, a few nail-biting weeks after I submitted my application, the selection committee sent an email saying they’d chosen me as one of their speakers. At that point, I officially committed to do something I’d never done: memorize a speech. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, ranging from educational seminars to emceeing live events. In every single instance, I’ve had notes.

I’m good at following an outline. My speaking style, however, is like my father’s.

“Anyone who tells a joke or story the same way twice is just plain lazy.”
— Dad

He always said that a successful speaker or storyteller needs to be constantly reading the audience and adjusting the speech, and that’s what I learned to do. My notes keep me on track and I improvise the words. That isn’t the way things work in TED talks.

I first recorded myself giving the talk in early February, and sent the video in for reviews. For the most part, they were kind, but there was consensus on a couple of issues:

  1. At 15 minutes, the talk was too long.
  2. I had too many facts and figures. One reviewer actually said I sounded too much like a textbook or a Wikipedia page. Ouch. I did write the textbook on the subject, but that’s most emphatically not what my talk was supposed to sound like.

I went to work on cutting and restructuring the talk. And just as I felt good about it, the rug was pulled out from under me. The FCC unanimously voted to implement new quality standards for captioning. I had one weekend to rip out my entire lecture about why the FCC should be doing this and instead focus on what they were doing.

Talking about quality

I was using the word “quality” to talk about captions here. I could just as easily have been talking about the staff that put this event on. They were an amazing group!

I arrived in Bozeman two days before the event.

My handler

I’d like to think I don’t need much handling, but my handler certainly was helpful in making sure I was in the right places at the right times.

I should note at this point that TEDxBozeman is put on entirely by volunteers. Dozens of people donated their time to do staging, sound, video, check-in, decoration, and more. Even our handlers were volunteers. Yes, we had handlers! The TEDx speakers are not paid for this. We volunteered our time as well. They did, however, provide hotel rooms for those of us coming in from out of town, and fed us a couple of times as well. That was much appreciated.

Wednesday night was a presenter dinner. We all had an opportunity to meet each other — I had talked to everyone on video chat, but we hadn’t met face-to-face — and to meet the organizers.

The lineup of speakers for TEDxBozeman 2014 was downright intimidating. At one point, I was talking with several of them and realized I was the only one in the group without a Ph.D. I felt like Wolowitz on the Big Bang Theory, but at least he has a Masters degree. I don’t even have that!

On the other hand, many of them were speaking about subjects that really interested me. Mary Schweitzer’s talk about paleontology and studying dinosaur proteins. Rebecca Watters’ talk about wolverines. Molly Cross’ talk about climate change. We were seated at three tables, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with everyone, but I sure liked what I was hearing.

Presenter dinner

Our emcee, Paul Anderson, describes the ritual dismemberment of speakers who forget their lines. Actually, he was telling a joke, but it sure looks like he was talking about ritual dismemberment.

The organizers then gave us a little pep talk. It helped that Paul Anderson, the emcee, had done a TEDxBozeman talk himself a couple of years ago, so he was able to tell us what to expect. After dinner, I headed back to the hotel and rehearsed a few more times in front of the mirror.

Thursday was dress rehearsal day, and I got my first glimpse of the venue. Wow! The decorations and sets weren’t fully assembled yet, but I could already tell it was going to look great. For the first time, we got miked up and climbed up on stage to do a live run-through. I watched the person before me do her talk, but I didn’t really see it. This was all starting to sink in.

I started the dress rehearsal by getting about 30 seconds into the talk and having my video not work. We took a break and they figured everything out. We started again, and I must have gotten out two whole sentences before my mind went completely and utterly blank. I just stood there. The third time was a charm, however, and we made it all the way through.

Then the lighting guys came up and said that my hat was going to be an issue. It cast a shadow over my eyes. The speaker coordinator, Maddie Cebuhar, said maybe I just shouldn’t wear it. Three people said, “Oh, no. He has to wear that hat. We’ll make this work.” What we ended up deciding was that I’d tilt the hat back, and then pay attention on stage. If the lights weren’t in my eyes, I had to lift my head or tilt the hat more.

Holding the sign

They really should expect that if they have pieces of the set laying around, someone like me will pick them up and play with them. That thing’s metal, by the way. It’s quite heavy.

After my dress rehearsal, I went back to the hotel. I was pumped full of adrenaline. The email from Maddie didn’t help. She said, “Just in case there are any technical difficulties in getting your [PowerPoint] started, please be ready with a casual filler (so that you are not just standing awkwardly on stage).” I prepared a joke:

“An astrophysicist, an entrepreneur, and a wolverine expert walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘What is this? Some kind of TED talk?'”

Then I sat there thinking about how I’d cover if the video equipment caught fire. Then I called my wife. She talked me down and told me to go clear my head, so I went to the Museum of the Rockies, where I ended up seeing an exhibit about a dinosaur dig one of the presenters worked on. Cool! I also went to the show at the planetarium. I read a book for a while, met a friend for a beer, and went back to the room to rehearse a few more times.

Friday. The big day. We had a speaker room where they fed us burritos (Yay! Beans for the presenters!) and gave us the big pre-show pep talk. I walked into the room where we’d rehearsed the day before. The sets were done. The stage was together. The cameras were set up. And the crowd was filing in.

The crowd

A sold-out room with over 500 attendees. I have no idea how many more were watching the live stream online, or how many more will eventually watch these talks on TED.com.

Our talks were divided into three sessions. I sat with my wife and daughter and watched the first set. It opened with ceremonial Native American drumming and singing by the Bobcat Singers, a TED video, and some very professional speakers that had obviously done this kind of thing a million times before (Michelle Larson and Greg Gianforte). My mind was fuzzed out by all of the adrenaline. I’ll have to watch those again because I don’t remember them.

I paid attention to Mary Schweitzer’s talk because it interested me, we watched another video, and then “Basement Jazz” closed the first session with spontaneous jazz/funk improvisation. We went into the first break, and I went to do one last dry run before we started. My handler tracked me down in a dark room where I was practicing and dragged me over to the “speaker corner” so they could wire me up for sound. I wandered back into a storage room (telling him where I was going this time) and practiced some more. When our session started, I stood and watched the first speaker (Carmen McSpadden), but I really wasn’t seeing or hearing her. I was up next.

Do I look calm?

Do I look calm? Because I’m not!

Everyone told me later that I looked calm and cool when I presented, but I certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. All I could think of was forgetting my talk. Or the video equipment bursting into flame. This is where a hundred practice runs took over. I got through the first few minutes, realized it was all flowing, and just let it go. The nervous energy turned into passion. Next think I knew, the talk was over and I was headed offstage. They got my microphone off and I watched the next talk: Rebecca Watters’ wolverine presentation was as fascinating as I had expected. Then, I got my mind blown.

Theo Bennett is a high school senior, and he gave one of the most stirring, emotional, passionate, inspirational talks I’ve ever heard. Half of the audience was in tears. He got the only standing ovation of the day, and boy, did he deserve it. Later, I tracked down Maddie and thanked her profusely for not making me follow Theo.

From that point on, I was able to relax and really watch everyone else’s talks. I hope that if you’ve read this far in my ridiculously long blog post, you’re interested enough to watch all of these when the videos are released.

Tate Chamberlin’s “experiential remix” was unique and stirring. He told his whole story to music, and it was quite a story. I’m glad I didn’t have to follow him, either.

Molly Cross has a very different point of view about climate change. It’s best summed up as “let’s take the things we can’t change and figure out how to get excited about them.” It really made me look at climate change differently.

The rest of the third session, with the exception of the musical performances by Josh Powell and the Bobcat Singers, centered on technology. I want to stay in touch with Craig Beals to see how his simple “how are you?” questions to his students develop down the road. Graham Austin made me think about my store and how people connect to it. And I’ll definitely be staying in touch with Rob Irizarry about CodeMontana and teaching children about computers.

By the end of the day, I was really ready for a beer. They served us a wonderful dinner, and we mixed and chatted. I went back to the hotel room, fully intending to head out to the after party (Tate told me all the cool kids would be there), but once I walked into the room I realized I was completely exhausted. By the time the after party started, I was already asleep.

TEDxBozeman inspired me to push my boundaries. It introduced me to a lot of people I hope will turn into friends. It crossed an item off of my bucket list. And I think it made me a better person.

TEDx Talk Details. Vague details, but details nonetheless.


When I first wrote about the talk I’m giving at TEDxBozeman, there wasn’t really a lot to say about it. My application had just been accepted. The details weren’t nailed down. The lineup hadn’t been posted. Things were quite preliminary.

TEDxBozeman logo

Today, I know quite a bit more, but I’m not allowed to ruin the surprise. The TEDxBozeman website has bios for all of us, but it still doesn’t list details about our talks. We are, in fact, forbidden to publish our slides or outlines beforehand. But there are a few things I can tell you!

The event

Tickets are sold out. If you haven’t purchased a ticket yet, you’re out of luck. You can, however, still be a virtual attendee. All of TEDxBozeman will be streamed live on Livestream next Friday, March 21, 2014. The event link is http://new.livestream.com/tedx/events/2814001. The theme is “Pioneer Spirit.” The schedule is approximate, as this is a live event, and nothing ever goes as planned, so I can’t tell you the length or start time of any given talk. Here’s what do know:

TEDxBozeman begins at 1:00 p.m. Mountain Time on Friday, March 21. If you’re connecting to the stream online, do it early.

My talk will begin at approximately 2:50. If you wish to watch, I recommend connecting at least ten minutes before that, just to be safe.

My TEDx talk

The title of my talk is, “Does Closed Captioning Still Serve Deaf People?” In the talk, I will briefly explore the history and development of closed captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing people and look at where it’s heading. For more details, you’ll have to tune in and listen!

TEDx Cover Slide

My cover slide might look something like this.
But then again, it might not!

If you don’t have a ticket to the event and you’re unable to connect to the live stream, fear not! You’ll be able to find my talk, along with the others from TEDxBozeman, on TED.com at some point. When it’s there, I’ll make sure and post the details here.

I will drop one teaser about the content. The FCC made a new ruling about captioning quality last month. It necessitated a number of changes to my talk.

Accessibility

Well, this is a bit embarrassing. I am speaking about accessibility, and my talk will not be closed captioned live. I just couldn’t get things worked out. I promise you, however, that I will do everything in my power to make sure that when it hits TED.com and YouTube, there will be captions on it!

Books!

Closed Captioning HandbookOne of my favorite independent bookstores, Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, will be selling books at the event, and each presenter was allowed to choose one book: our own if we’ve written one, or someone else’s if it inspired us. I chose The Closed Captioning Handbook (duh), but fate — and my publisher — seem to have worked against me.

When The Closed Captioning Handbook became a textbook, the price shot up. The publisher, Focal Press, has made the book available through the mainstream distributors that bookstores buy from, but it is nonreturnable. This basically means that no bookstore other than a campus bookstore or specialty broadcast industry bookstore would ever stock it. Understandably, Country Bookshelf doesn’t want the possibility of ending up stuck with a stack of unsold $75.00 textbooks after the event.

Never one to give up an opportunity, I came up with an alternative. If we can’t have my primary closed captioning book for sale at the event, we’ll use one of my other books. And so, my friends, even though I’ll be talking about closed captioning, the Gary Robson book at TEDxBozeman will be the Yellowstone National Park edition of Who Pooped in the Park?, because poop books are always appropriate, right?

If you do wish to buy a copy of The Closed Captioning Handbook, Country Bookshelf can order one for you. If you don’t live near Bozeman and won’t be attending the event, you can order one from my store, Red Lodge Books & Tea. If you buy a Who Pooped book at the event, catch me afterward and I’ll be happy to sign it.

27 ways to find something new to read


Everybody has a list of the best books of all time, the books you should read right now, the books you should read if you don’t want to be a semi-literate, barely-housetrained imbecile. I think Janet Potter got it right in her blog post today, though. She didn’t throw out a list of titles. We already know we’re supposed to read For Whom the Bell Tolls and we’re not supposed to read Fifty Shades of Grey. She made suggestions by context, and inspired me to do the same.

I’m not one of those people that always reads the same genre. I’m currently rereading a dystopian science fiction book. The one before that was a spy thriller. The one before that was a business book. Those were preceded by history, botany, short stories, historical fiction, science, fantasy, tea, and a biography.

If you’re looking for something different to read, here are some ideas. Some are the same as Janet’s (as I said, she got it right), but most are my own.

  1. Read a book with a title that makes you laugh.
  2. Now try one with a title that makes you say, “ewwwww!”
  3. Pick two things you like and see if you can find a book that has both.

    Drunken Botanist

    I enjoy science, and I enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage. Hey, look! An entertaining book about the plants we’ve intoxicated ourselves with throughout recorded history!

  4. Go to the Fantastic Fiction website and look up an author you really like. Read something that author recommends.
  5. Read something that one friend loves and another friend hates. See which friend you agree with.
  6. Ask someone to name a book that made them seething mad.
  7. Read a parody of a book you enjoyed.

    Cover-Bored of the Rings

    The resurgence of interest in Tolkien’s work makes Bored of the Rings timely again — and still funny despite all of the dated references from the 1960s.

  8. Go into a bookstore and ask the first bookseller you meet what their favorite book was last year.
  9. Pick a genre you don’t normally read. Ask someone what the best book in that genre is.
  10. Pick an author who has written a lot of books. Is there one that’s not like the rest? A history book by a novelist, for example? Read that one.
  11. Read a book that was inspired by another book you like. A modern retelling, a different point of view, or a shift to a different genre.

    Fool

    Christopher Moore retold Shakespeare’s King Lear through the eyes of Lear’s fool. The wordcrafting may not be quite as masterful, but it’s funnier and bawdier than the Bard’s version.

  12. Look for someone who is reading a book and laughing out loud. Read that book.
  13. Look for someone who is reading a book and trying not to cry. Read that book.
  14. Think back to when you were a kid. What were you really into? Dinosaurs? Ponies? Fairies? Robots? Go find a book about it.
  15. Pick a movie you really like and read the book that inspired it.

    True Grit

    But that’s not how it happened in the John Wayne movie!

  16. Ask a librarian to name a really good book that nobody has checked out for a long time.
  17. Pick a place you’d really like to go someday and read a book that’s set there.
  18. Take a look at the list of the top 100 banned and challenged books. Pick a book from the list. It’s more fun reading a book that someone doesn’t want you to read.
  19. Read a kid’s book. Seriously. You’re never too old to read a kid’s book.

    Trout Trout Trout

    Even better: read a kid’s book out loud!

  20. If you’re a guy, ask a woman to recommend a book by her favorite female author. If you’re a woman, ask a guy to recommend a book by his favorite male author.
  21. Select a book about the struggles of a minority group that you’re not a part of.
  22. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, read one. Not a comic book — a real graphic novel.
  23. Grab something that’s outside your comfort zone. The farther the better.

    Cranioklepty

    How about grave robbing to supply early scientists — or pseudoscientists — with human skulls to study. Is that outside of your comfort zone?

  24. Along those lines, read a book about someone else’s religion — or lack of religion.
  25. On Google, type something that interests you (kittens? beer? sumo wrestling?), and follow it with the words “poetry book.” Track down the first book in the results and read it.
  26. Watch some TED talks. The first time one really grabs you, find a book by that presenter or about that subject. If you want to wait until I give my TEDx talk in March, I understand.
  27. Select a book that was originally written in another language.

    The Alchemist

    Written in Portuguese and translated into English. I read it in one evening in a hotel room in Cody, Wyoming.

If you have any great ideas that aren’t on my list, leave them in the comments below. Ditto if you try one of these tricks and find a new favorite book! Don’t feel any obligation to read the ones I chose as illustrations for the list (except, perhaps, for Trout, Trout, Trout), but I hope they inspire you to find something new and different.

Upcoming Appearances 2014


This spring and summer is lining up to have a wildly eclectic set of public appearances for me! So far, I have things scheduled all across my areas of expertise: book signings, a TED talk about captioning, and a tea blogger’s panel at World Tea Expo.

Upcoming Appearances Header

TEDxBozeman

TEDxBozeman logo

Join me at TEDxBozeman on Friday, March 21 for a day of celebrating Pioneer Spirit with an amazing lineup of speakers. My talk is entitled “Does Closed Captioning Still Serve Deaf People?” I’ll be exploring the history and roots of closed captioning and look at the progress it has made, the pitfalls it has encountered, and where it might be going. As of this writing, tickets are still available, but they’ve sold out pretty quickly the last few years, so if you want to be at the talks in Bozeman, Montana, you’ll want to snag those tickets quickly. It will, of course, be streamed as well, and the talks will be available as individual videos on the TED website.

I wrote a while ago on this blog about my talk and included links to some of my favorite TED talks. I’ll add a link here when I post more details about the talk.


Tea Bloggers Roundtable @ World Tea Expo

Tea Bloggers Roundtable

If you have any interest in tea, head for Long Beach on Friday, May 30. I will be joining a group of other tea bloggers for a panel discussion about the world of tea. There is more detail on my other blog, Tea With Gary.


Book Signings in Yellowstone

Who Pooped? Yellowstone

I will be signing “Who Pooped in the Park?” books at Yellowstone Stage (the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park) Sunday July 6 from 1:00 to 6:00 and Monday July 7 from 11:00 to 6:00.

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