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Speaking Nightmares -The old Water in the Laptop trick...

By Andrew Pollack on 04/17/2008 at 08:32 PM EDT

The biggest nightmare I can foresee would be to immediately follow Paul & Bill’s flying circus. Fortunately I’ve never had to do that. I have had some….challenges, however.

At the H&T Verlogs conference in Munich a few years back, about 3 minutes into a presentation that included live demos on integrating IBM DB2 with Lotus Domino, I managed to knock a 5 ounce glass of water directly into my Dell laptop’s keyboard. The laptop shut down, and when it tried to boot came up with the fantastic error message “Drive Not Found”.

Although sympathetic (Germans are known for their sympathy the world over) I could tell by looking at the group in the room that if I cancelled and rescheduled I wouldn’t get them back. I decided that since there were only 20 or so people in the room, I would skip over plans “B” and “C” and drop to plan “D” – drop back and punt. I stepped off the stage, leaving the now useless bit of plastic and silicon where it sat soaking. I gathered everyone in the room around in an informal circle, and presented the same content in the manner of a guided discussion as a room full of peers.

Sympathy or not (and quite aside from my earlier joke, this particular room full of Germans was very understanding and even helpful) I managed to complete the presentation and cover the content well enough that I got fairly good evaluations almost on par with my usual ones.

Something that was really neat about this incident though, was that I’d brought Aeriel with me. We tell our kids that when things go wrong you have to keep going. They don’t get to see us do it though. Ari got to see me screw up, but put it back together and move on.

Immediately after the presentation, I went up to the hotel room and tore the laptop apart to dry. I knew the drive was bad, so Aeriel and I walked a couple of miles to a retail shopping mall where I purchased a new 40gb hard disk and a copy (a German copy) of Windows XP. I installed the drive that afternoon, loaded Windows XP using my memory for what was in the prompts, and put my backup data on it so that I was ready to do my presentations the next day.

I still have that boxed copy of Windows XP in German. Maybe I’ll bring it with me to Rudi’s conference this fall and give it away as a prize for the best question.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Speaking Nightmares -The old Water in the Laptop trick...By Tomas Ekstr■m on 04/18/2008 at 02:46 AM EDT
I was there!
I can still remember how it happened! It was actually quite fun watching,
especially when you held up a dripping laptop, even though it was a tragic
moment. So many bits and bytes had just died.

Your second presentation was not that bad either. Almost a speaking nightmare
in it self, doing a presentation on a non native OS language pc. That could
only have been topped by a French keyboard layout.

I believe a lot of the audience for your second session, went there to see how
your laptop was doing. I was also quite funny, watching you try to find your
way in a German XP version. Still the audience was there to help you :-)

I liked both sessions a lot. For your way to master the situation and sharing
your knowledge "un-plugged". I gave you top marks for that (on both sessions)!
Very cool!By Andrew Pollack on 04/18/2008 at 07:50 AM EDT
How very cool to hear from someone who was there. It is very gratifying to me
that you were still able to get value out of the otherwise wrecked presentation.

Hopefully this fall will go a little better. I may even have a few words in
German by then.


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