Paul Graham consistently says ‘um’ ~7 times per minute

We just got back from demoing our tech at PyCon 2012, which was a blast. We didn’t make it to see many talks because we spent almost all our time in the expo hall showing and telling. This expo/conference balance sucks a bit, so I wanted to catch up on some of the talks. I started with watching the video of Paul Graham discussing seven frighteningly ambitious startup ideas. (essay, pycon video, youtube) It’s a great talk, go check it out!

"Boy, this is a lot bigger than the last PyCon I talked at... um..."

Within the first couple of minutes, I noticed that Paul was using so-called disfluencies such as “um” quite often. I wondered if he was a little nervous, but that didn’t seem likely for someone in his position. Was he going to get more comfortable later? Hard to know because I’d tune out the disfluencies as I listened so I couldn’t trust myself to notice the trend. To answer this silly question for myself, I decided I’d measure the occurrences of “um” and “uh” while I watched.

I whipped up a quick script to help me log this data and, of course, send it to Metricfire (via the HTTP API) so I can get a pretty graph.

Here’s what I found:

The X axis time labels do not match the talk video times, but when I happened to watch the video and log the datapoints.

During the main part of PG’s 32 minute talk, (excluding questions) it looks like he said “um” and “uh” just under 225 times. 224, to be exact. This isn’t very interesting in itself, but the consistent rate indicates that he probably wasn’t very nervous and that this is just his presentation style.

There are some small wobbles – the rate levelled off a bit when he was talking about killing Hollywood because this is clearly an issue he has given some thought to before. I suppose his thoughts were more organised on that topic and we see fewer disfluencies as a result. This is a logical and unsurprising conclusion, but it is interesting to see this visually in the data.

224 “um”s over 32 minutes is about 7 times per minute. How does this compare with other talks PG has given, and with other speakers? Do I use as many disfluencies? I don’t know. The next time I watch a PG talk I’ll repeat the experiment, and I’d be interested to see similar analysis done on other speakers and myself.

This isn’t exactly the high volume of backend application performance data Metricfire is intended to capture, but it was fun to think about. :)

- Charlie

Updated 12th March 13:35 PST: Adding Youtube video link because the PyCon video link isn’t working.

Updated 18th March 11:40 PST: Paul Graham writes about speaking skills.

How do you demo back-end technology to less technical people?

When we tell people we’re enabling developers to measure the performance of their systems, we get a range of reactions. Developers dive into the technical questions – Will it slow down my app? Do you have a client library in $FAVOURITE_LANGUAGE? Non-techie people just get a sort of faraway look on their face where presumably they’re trying to figure out what the hell a cloud service is, or why people need to measure things, or if all this stuff has something to do with the internet.

Charlie spent some time at the Dublin BETA event the other night, and this sort of uncertainty was something we wanted to address right from the start. So how do you relate a back-end abstraction in a way that anyone can get? Well – here’s our attempt:

Metricfire's Big Red ButtonThe analogy we’re trying to draw is that the button represents some misbehaving server lounging around out on the internet somewhere. Every time one of the people who stop by our demo booth hits the button, it’s mimicking this server doing something worth hearing about. In this instance we’re only recording the number and duration of button pushes, but it’s not a huge leap to grok that you can send just about any measurement you want – API response times, pots of coffee brewed per hour, number of failed user logins, or memory usage on your machine hitting some nasty threshold you would probably want to know about.

From our button pushes we put together a simple graph:

Metricfire Button Presses at Dublin BetaThis is a collation of all the data taken on the night, our live graph reacted immediately to the button. It’s not the most complicated or detailed graph in existence, but it’s a very useful way for people who stop by our booth to get immediate feedback on what our software does. Overall the reaction was great, and numerous times it involved a “Oh! I have to get $X to come see this, he’s been looking for something to do this!”, which was encouraging.

We’re going to improve our button test for PyCon, stop by and give it a push!






Metricfire at PyCon 2012

Pycon!Here at Metricfire, we’re big fans of Python. Charlie’s been using it in everything from web apps to bizarre hardware hackery. Dave spent over a decade of writing Java code (mostly) for other people and Python turned out to be the light at the end of the tunnel that allowed him to actually enjoy writing code again.

We can’t wait to get down to the Santa Clara convention center from March 7th to the 15th – and as of this blog post there are still early bird tickets available:

Hit us up if you want to talk about how we can help you measure and scale your technology, or just if you want to grab a beer.