What does "prate" mean?

What does "prate" mean?

From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prate:
To talk long and idly : CHATTER

Eno River Sunrise

Monday, July 10, 2017

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The title of this post is a well-known phrase from the movie "The Princess Bride." In this post, I am going to highlight some commonly misused words and phrases that do not mean what people think that they mean.

Begs the Question

"Begging the question" is a logical fallacy. Per Wikipedia:

To beg a question means to assume the conclusion of an argument—a type of circular reasoning. This is an informal fallacy, in which an arguer includes the conclusion to be proven within a premise of the argument, often in an indirect way such that its presence within the premise is hidden or at least not easily apparent.

That's not how the phrase is commonly used. Many people say "begs the question" when they mean "raises the question." It is rare that a legitimate use of "begs the question" comes up in normal conversation.

My advice: Unless you are a logician or a pedantic arguer, don't use this phrase.

Comprised Of

I often hear people say "comprised of" when they mean "composed of." Per Merriam-Webster, "comprise" is defined as:
1:  to include especially within a particular scope
  • … civilization as Lenin used the term would then certainly have comprised the changes that are now associated in our minds with “developed” rather than “developing” states. — The Times Literary Supplement (London)
2:  to be made up of
  • The factory was to be a vast installation, comprising fifty buildings. — Jane Jacobs
  • The play comprises three acts.
3:  compose, constitute
  • … a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation. — William Styron
  • … about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women. — Jimmy Carter
Note that there is no "of" following "comprised."

My advice: Mr. Carter notwithstanding, don't use "comprise" unless you are working on a patent.


People love to point what they think is hypocrisy, especially regarding politicians of the opposing party. Per Merriam-Webster, hypocrisy refers to a belief that may not be known at the time:
1:  a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not :  behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. 
  • His hypocrisy was finally revealed with the publication of his private letters.;
 especially :  the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion
  • our conventional morality often serves as a cover for hypocrisy and selfishness — Lucius Garvin

In most cases, when people make accusations of hypocrisy, they actually are pointing out inconsistency or flip-flopping. "Mr. X used to say A, but now he says B. He's a hypocrite." It's not a conflict between a public position and a private belief; it's a conflict between two public positions.

My advice: Unless you are referring to a case where a person's inconsistent private beliefs have been revealed, don't refer to hypocrisy.

Know Your Words

I love words and have a relatively large vocabulary. However, I try to make sure that I understand what the words (and phrases) actually mean, and how to use them properly. 

By all means expand your vocabulary, but don't use words just to try to sound smart or because you have heard others use them.

p.s. For fun, look up the word "shambles" to see the primary definition. You may be surprised.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Some Post-Election Predictions

Now that a very contentious election is over, here are a few predictions. The first three are pretty obvious, but the fourth is a bit of a flier.

  1. Congress will resume its role in providing oversight to the executive branch and rediscover its power of the purse.
  2. Democrats in congress and the press will amp up defense of the senate filibuster.
  3. Democrats in congress and the press will (re)discover the problems with executive orders and actions. Expect to hear opposition to "an imperial presidency."
  4. Hillary Clinton will receive a pardon in January 2017 - either from President Obama, or from President-Elect Trump after the inauguration.
p.s. One bit of good news about the presidential results: In 2017, we will be able to oppose the President's policies without being labeled a racist or a sexist.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Skeet Milestone #5 - A Worst, a Best and a First

I shot in the Halifax Summer Shootout on August 6, 2016. This was my second trip to that very cozy club near South Boston VA.

In the morning I was competing in the 12 gauge using my 20 gauge. I shoot as well with 20 gauge as I do with 12, and I am more used to it based on the weight of the 20 gauge tube inserts. I got off to a rocky start and did not improve. I couldn't hit the high bird from the middle of the field, and completely lost confidence and focus. I wound up with a wretched score of 83 - my worst ever in 12 gauge.

I was very frustrated as I had been shooting pretty well recently. I decided to shoot a practice box working on the high birds on stations 3, 4 and 5. I convinced myself that I could actually hit that shot and that I was ready for the afternoon competition.

I got off to a good start in the 20 gauge competition with a couple of 24s. I slipped a little with a 21 in the third, but rallied to finish with a 25 for a total of 94. That was my highest score ever in competition, so the long ride home suddenly got a lot better. Also, it was my first 25 in competition, so that was another small victory.

Note to self: hard focus on the bird every time, confidence in leading the bird every time.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Real CTOs of NFV

Over the last 6 months or so I have been publishing "The Real CTOs of NFV." It is based on interviews with my CTO peers from telecom service providers and suppliers to get a sense of what is real. The title is fun but the intent is serious. Here are the interviews we have published.

My colleague Deb Lovig ordered some special ball caps for all of us. Here is mine:

Going forward, we plan to broaden the topics under discussion. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Surprising Fishing Trip

Three years ago my son Ransom and I went on an epic fishing trip – one that almost didn’t happen.

Surprise 1: A Fishing Buddy

My family and I were staying in New Orleans during a spring break trip. I had heard great things about fishing in the Gulf of Mexico so I decided to charter a boat for a half-day trip. My son Ransom likes to fish but is not as avid as me, especially when the trip requires a very early start while on vacation. I invited him to go along and was pleasantly surprised when he agreed.

Surprise 2: A Breakdown

We got to the boat launch in good time, met the captain and headed out. We had to run quite a ways down the marsh channels to get to open water, and then another 10 miles or so to get to the fishing spots. We had just gotten to open water for the last part of the outward trip when the motor overheated and cut off. I had visions of spending the rest of the morning waiting for a tow boat and no fishing.
Fortunately the problem was that the lower unit of the outboard had picked up a piece of plastic bag that was blocking the water intake. Once it was cleared we were on our way.

Surprise 3: Oil Rigs Can be Small

I knew we were going to be fishing around oil rigs and I had a mental picture of the giant deepwater rigs. It turns out we were in only about 10 feet of water and fishing around small unmanned rigs that rose up about 10 feet from the surface of the water. You can see some in the background behind our guide and my son.

Surprise 4: Gulf Fishing is Better Than I Dreamed

We caught a ton of big redfish, along with black drum and sheepshead. All were on light tackle, and all were a blast to catch.

My son caught the biggest redfish of the day, and it had beautiful markings.

I caught the last and biggest fish of the day, which was a Jack Crevalle that weighed about 40 pounds.

We released most of the redfish, but our guide kept the black drum and sheepshead to cook up for the poor and homeless in New Orleans.  Here's our haul.

For more pictures and a movie, please see “Prayson and Ransom catch BIG fish!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Skeet Milestone #4 - 50 in a Row, and Almost 75

Yesterday I participated in the Mid-Winter Shoot at the DCWC. This was an unofficial warmup shoot before the regular season kicks in.

A standard round of skeet is 25 targets, and a standard competition is 4 rounds for 100 total.  Recently I have been averaging about 21/25 or 88/100.  My goal for the shoot was to get a 90 or better. My previous best in competition is a 91.

The temperature was in the 40s at 10:30 when I started, but there was no wind and the visibility was good.  Overall, very good conditions.

My first round was a 21, which is average for me. I was hoping to do better, and tried to sharpen my focus for the subsequent rounds.  It worked.

My second round was a perfect 25.

My third round was a perfect 25.  This was the first time I had run 50.

I was perfect on the fourth round until I missed the very last target for a 24, and 74 in a row.

My final score was 95, and or course I was ecstatic.  I have been struggling to maintain focus and improve my scores, and yesterday was a proof point that it is possible for me.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Answer the Question!

As a busy executive I get frustrated when someone fails to answer a reasonable question that is asked politely and which is in context.

Why? Because it wastes the time of everyone involved, and time is the one resource that is always in short supply.

Here are my thoughts on how to more effectively answer questions in a professional context. 

First, some caveats.  Note the professional part.  I am not talking about when your significant other asks about their appearance. "Great, honey" is always the right answer.

Also, I am not talking about social conventions. For example, "How are you doing?" is not a real question. Unless you are sick and it is asked by your parent, spouse or significant other, the answer is "Fine, thank you. And yourself?"

So, with that out of the way, let's look at some pointers.

Answer the Question before Explaining

I can't tell you how many times a reasonable question with a simple answer is answered with a meandering explanation, which may or may not eventually land on an answer.

Start with the simple answer. "Yes," "No," "42" or "I don't know but I can find out" are all reasonable choices.

Give an answer first, then expand or explain.

Don't Guess

I sometimes ask a specific question such as "Do you know who is responsible for sales at XYZ?" or "Do you know how to enable feature ABC in this program?" It's very irritating to get a response of "It's probably this …" or "You may be able to Google it."

I know people want to be helpful. However, I can guess all by myself, and I certainly know how to use Google. If the answer is "no" or "I don't know," say so.

A subsequent offer to help find the answer is appropriate and appreciated, but don't respond with only a guess.

Try Not to Answer a Question with a Question

Assuming you understand the question, answer it before replying with questions of your own.

Unless the question could qualify as some type of harassment, then "why do you want to know?" is a not a reasonable response.

Make Sure You Understand the Question

The exception to the previous rule is when you don't understand the question.

"Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood" is habit 5 in Stephen R. Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." How does this apply to answering the question? First, listen closely to ensure that you are answering the question that was asked, and then clarify if needed.

For example, you might say: "I'm sorry. I didn't quite understand the question. Are you asking me what the schedule dates are, or about how we arrived at the schedule?"

Answer the Question that was Asked

Another issue is that people don't listen closely, and may answer a different question.

For example, on a noisy phone call I might say "I couldn't quite hear what you said.  Could you repeat it?"

That would seem to be an unambiguous question or request.  I am not looking for an explanation of what was said, which is the usual response I get. I am asking for a repetition of what was said.

Explaining what I didn't hear just confuses things. Listen to the question, and think about what was asked before answering.

Make Sure You Answered the Question

Always follow up with "Did I answer your question?"

Bonus - Ask a Question the Right Way

Getting a good answer starts with asking a good question.  Here is a suggested format.
  1. A short amount of context or a premise. This helps to ensure that people know what you are asking, but it shouldn't be a speech.
  2. Ask a short question to gather information. Shortness ensures clarity. Also, unless you are an attorney in court, don't ask question where you either know the answer, or if the answer doesn't matter.
  3. Shut up. This is critical on a conference call.
To get an example of a violation of rule 1, listen to just about any political press conference. Most of the reporters are only pretending to ask questions, and are really making statements contained in the context or premise.  After that, the politician talks about something unrelated to the question.

Here is an example of a bad question that violates rules 2 and 3. Imagine you are on a conference call and hear the following:

"Are … there … any … questions … because … I … am … going … to … stop … now … and … see … if … there … are … any … questions, … because … if … there … are … I … would … like … to … answer … them … so … if … you … have … a … question go … ahead … and … ask … it … now… also … I … forgot … to mention … " [goes on 5 more minutes without stopping]

It's All about Effective Communications!

Clearly I spend too much time in meetings and on calls, so I am more sensitive than most are to bad questions and bad answers.  Even so, I think that you will make you colleagues and customers happier if you improve how you ask and answer questions.