Toastmaster P4 Speech : Ijen Crater

Opening : 1M

    Have you ever smelled burnt sulphur ? It has this sharp choking smell that hits your nose and scratches your throat and makes you want to stop breathing. Imagine breathing that smell for a long time. Dear toastmasters, I visited a volcanic sulphur mine at ijen crater during my trip to indonesia. It was a trek which I will never forget.

Body : 4M

    We got up at 12 in the night to start our drive to the base of the volcanic crater. It was a steep drive and I could feel my ears popping due to loss of air pressure. The temperature dropped drastically and it was very cold by 1pm, when we reached the base. We had a round of hot tea and started to climb the 4 km long route at 2 am. It was a very steep climb and we were soon out of breath. We were huffing and puffing like the wolf in the 3 pigs story. There were no lights and we could see only upto 2-3 steps before us.

    After climbing for almost 2 hours, suddenly I could smell the sharp acidic smell of sulphur. On looking around, i could see that I was at the peak and the path now led down into the mountain that we were climbing. The path was made of  steps cut into the mountain and was broken. And in spite of the darkness, I could see the sharp drop to my right. It was scary and smelly. My throat was raw and scratchy. I had a gas mask, but putting it on the face made me feel suffocated and clouded my spectacles.

    After climbing down, we reached the base of the crater. Where we saw the main attraction. We could see electric blue fire coming out of the mine at certain places. We were told that it happens due to sulphur gas catching fire at high temperatures. I tried a lot, but could not get a clear photo of the fire.

    We climbed back the scary path holding and helping each other. All this time, we could see miners going to and fro carrying heavy buckets full of sulphur. We trekked further on the rim of the crater and came to the sunrise point. As the sun came up, I saw the beauty of the crater. I was at the edge of the crater with the sun in front of me and the beautiful sulphur lake behind me. I stood staring at the lake, mesmerised by the view.  The lake is in the form of a huge circle 1 km wide. I could see the complete lake inside the crater. The lake is turquoise in colour. Some part of the lake was covered in yellow smoke of burning sulphur and another small part was covered in floating white fog. As the sun rose, the fog started clearing and we could see thick yellow smoke coming out of the mine.

Conclusion : 1M

    The lake is said to be very toxic. We also saw the path we took to visit the mine. It was then we realized why we were taken in the dark. The way was so twisted and dangerous, that we would not have dared to climbed down to the mine, if we had seen the complete picture. Overall the view was worth the effort. It is rightly said that the best view comes after the hardest climb.

Toastmaster P3 : Why travel ?

Do you think it is a pain to travel ? First getting bus, train or plane tickets to your desired destination. Then packing your bags and moving from one location to another. All this to see the same earth, sky and water which you can see anywhere. Let me explain the benefits of travelling, which should persuade and inspire you to travel more.

Travelling improves your social and communication skills. When we travel, we meet different types of people, who speak different languages and have different cultural background. Their way to greet can vary from a handshake to namaste to something else. Interesting “conversations” happen when you are in a foreign country where you do not understand the language and are forced to use sign language for as simple as asking directions. When i went to indonesia recently it was very difficult for me to understand their food menu. So, i pointed out a dish labelled “nasi goreng” and the waiter explained to me via sign language that it has something to do with rice. I generally do not have any reservations with food, but uncooked or partially cooked food is not something that I can have. I ordered “nasi goreng” and was surprised to find that it was simple (pause) “fried rice”. It became my favourite dish through out my stay and travel. The excitement and joy of communicating with someone without using speech(pause) is something that cannot be explained in words.

Travelling also enhances your tolerance for uncertainty. Have you ever been in a situation where you have missed a bus or a train or a flight? During my trip to leh laddakh, our group was stuck at the second highest motorable pass in the world called TAGLANGLA at the height of 17582 feet. It was extremely cold outside and we did not have any food or water. All we had was a bottle of (pause) old monk . That night we saw truck drivers cooking within their trucks. It was so cold at night, that we did not have the courage to go out, even to ask for food. We survived on the single bottle of old monk. I learned that I should always carry some chips and peanuts to go along with the bottle. When we face uncertain situations, our mind is forced to think differently to find the way out.  That joy of finding your way out of uncertain situations(pause) is something that cannot be explained in words.

And finally, you get lifelong memories. That night(pause) at TAGLANGLA is something that all of us will remember. On our way to leh, we travelled on a road with a wall of ice on both sides. I can never forget that drive. And I still cannot figure out the effort it took to dig that road from under so much ice. Nor can I forget the thrill of watching a live volcano from its crater. Or the time spent with my kids building a sand castle on the beach. These memories get imprinted in your brain and come back sharp and clear. The joy of remembering and recalling those moments(pause) is something that cannot be explained in words.

Inspite of the trouble that we go through in making arrangements and moving ourselves from one location to another, the experiences that we gain far outweight the trouble that we take. We can not only improve our communication and social skills, but also improve our capacity to overcome uncertain situations. And the memories that we get last for eternity. To conclude, the joy of travelling(pause) is something that cannot be explained in words.

Toastmaster P2 : E-commerce vs Brick & Mortar Stores

    Can I have a show of hands on how many of us prefer to shop online?
    And how many of us prefer to go out to a store to shop?
    Would huge brands like amazon or flipkart let the brick & mortar shops survive ?
    Or would these huge brands eventually run out of investor funds and shut down ?
   
Good morning fellow toastmasters, let us try to foresee who would survive in a war of E-commerce vs Brick and Mortar stores.
   
Let me tell you a story   

        During my wedding, my better half wanted to get a lehenga of my choice. I was surprised because for me there are only 6 colors – red, yellow, orange, pink, blue and green, whereas her eyes can see multiple colors in each of these color.) For example she could see multiple shades of red – light red, dark red, blood red, maroon. Similarly for green there is light green, grass green, dark green, lime green, etc. I think i spent at least 2 weekends roaming with her in chandani bazaar and karol bagh. I cannot even count the number of shops we visited. And i know that i was of little or no help to her. Now, if we had flipkart or amazon in those days, it would have been a lot easier for me.
       
    There are people who want to see, touch and feel a product before purchasing. Also there are people who want to take the product home immediately. These are the two downfalls of shopping online. You cannot know how the cloth will feel. So online shopping for electronics and electricals is easier. Because you do not need to touch and feel the product. You know that all products that belong to a model will be similar. Shopping online for footwear is a bit dicey. You know the size you wear, but different brands may have different sizes and there are cases in which for one brand you would be wearing a size 7 whereas for another brand it would be size 8.
   
    What prompts us to shop online is the large amount of inventory and the discounts that are available online. And the luxury of having a product delivered home without stepping out of the house. Now-a-days, returns are also easier. It takes time, but then there are some benefits as well.
   
    The question that comes to our mind is what is required to run these online or offline stores?
    Both require rent and electricity. Offline store would pay rent and electricity for their shop where they put their products on display. Whereas e-commerce sites pay rent where they have their offices. They also pay a lot of rent on warehouses where they hold their inventory, whereas offline stores do not require such large warehouses. But then they have limited variety, whereas online sites have huge variety. Offline stores pay small salaries to the sales team they have, whereas online stores have to maintain a highly paid technical team and computers – servers. Offline stores do marketing locally so the marketing expenses are low  as compared to online stores which have to do marketing at a countrywide scale which is very expensive.
   
    If we look at the sales figures, online stores have a conversion rate of 2-3%. That is out of 100 people visiting the site only 2 make a purchase. This can go up to 8% with proper marketing, discounts and intelligent listing of products. On the other hand,  offline stores have a conversion rate of 15-30% which depends mainly on the season and discounts. So out of 100 people walking into the store, at least 15 make a purchase.
   
    If we look at both of them, ecommerce stores have made it easier for people to shop. But if you have time and want to feel the product before you buy, you can still walk into a store and purchase it. Which tells us that both online and offline stores would co-exist. E-commerce sites have realized that it takes huge effort to maintain a huge inventory. And in order to cut costs, they are moving to marketplace model. Where they would compliment the sales of offline stores. In a marketplace model, the online stores will eventually get product from an offline store and deliver it to the customer. Nobody can predict the future. We can only speculate it.

Toastmaster PI Speech : Story of love

I still remember the day when I was small boy and I saw it for the first time. It was love at first sight. It had blinking eyes and all 10 numbers. Yes it was the casio calculator watch which did addition, subtraction, multiplication and division on your wrist. I wanted it so badly. But it was very expensive and also not allowed in school. The casio calculator watch was my first love. And also my first heart break after my parents did not allow it to be a part of my life.

Good morning fellow toast masters. Today I will be telling you the story of my love.

Some time during my childhood, i realized that I understood machines better than I understand humans.

I remember my first interaction with computers during my 8th standard in my School in Baroda, Gujarat. Our lab had the latest intel 286 machines. Now these machines came without hard drives. To boot the machines, we used to insert a 5 inch floppy into their floppy drive. And on booting, we used to get a black screen with the DOS prompt. There was no windows in those days. My favourite games were paratrooper and chess. I remember that in chess, for each move I made the computer used to take 15-30 minutes to calculate its next move. And since the computer period was of 1 hour only, I never completed a game of chess in school.

I got my first computer when I joined Engineering in Computer Science branch. It was the latest 166 MHz intel pentium processor with 2 MB of RAM and 1 GB of hard drive. Almost 1000 times slower than what we have on our mobiles these days. But then those were the days when Bill Gates had said that 640 kb should be enough for any one. And, having such a machine, I was on cloud 9. So, during college days, I spent my nights playing Age of empires instead of studying. And as a result, when I passed out in 2001, I was one of the very few graduates, who were not placed during campus placements. Thanks to my seniors, I was able to join as a software engineer in a small company in Delhi. Here I was exposed to the world of online gaming. I used to spend a lot of time in office – around 10-12 hours daily. Working a lot during the first 8 hours and spending time playing online games after my manager went home. I was very happy.

But then, the greatest tragedy of my life happened – I got married in 2007. It was difficult for me to grasp that talking to my wife is more important than playing video games. One year later, i could not take it any more and got my first custom built desktop with a very expensive graphics card to play high end games. But all good times come to an end. My first kid was born in 2010 and I had to spend time feeding her, changing diapers and with multiple trips to doctor for vaccinations. I did not learn from my mistake and got my second kid in 2012. They are 7 and 4 years old now. My passion for games came alive last year when my 2nd kid started going to school. I had to rebuild my computer last year to play the latest games. Imagine falling in love again.

In addition to computer games, I love travelling. I hope to travel to all the different corners of this world some day.

To conclude, I am a very passionate computer gamer and a traveller. In addition to this, I am a father, a husband and currently a toast master.