Presentations seem to be hit-or-miss affairs for me.
My first talk on evolutionary computation, which I gave during the opening session of the Third Annual Conference on Evolutionary Programming (1994), was a hit. Hans-Paul Schwefel, one of the inventors of the evolution strategy, joined me for lunch that day. Prior to the conference banquet, I was buttonholed by a guy whose name I did not recognize from the EC literature. He was obviously very bright, and he complimented me on my work. Furthermore, he seemed to know a lot about directed evolution. I kept stealing glances at his name tag, wondering, "Who is this guy?" To be honest, if I had known how to break away politely, we’d have spoken for 5 minutes instead of 20. In the end, one of the conference organizers approached him to say, “We’re about ready to start now.” And he walked to the table at the front of the room with the “reserved” placard. After dinner, he gave the most brilliant talk I’ve ever heard. His name was Gerry Joyce. Many of you know of the sensational result, “Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme,” that he and his student Tracey Lincoln published last year (see PZ Myers' explanation). The conference got even better for me on the last day, when David Fogel, last year’s president of the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society, asked me to serve as co-chair, with Thomas Bäck and Pete Angeline, of the technical program for the following year’s meeting. (Unfortunately, I had to resign that position due to illness.)
The “disbelief discourse” I recently gave to the Oklahoma Atheists was a miss, no matter that I put a huge amount of time into preparing it. Driving to the venue, I took two wrong turns. I arrived at precisely the time I was supposed to begin, with my anxiety sky-high. It turned out that the guy with the projector and screen showed up just when I did, but that didn't make me feel any better. Then it turned out that my Apple laptop would not connect to the projector. So I converted my presentation to PDF and, with two tries, got it onto a thumb drive. I plugged the thumb drive into a backup laptop that was perched on a chair, rather than the podium where I was supposed to stand (and where there was a microphone, as well as a voice recorder for the planned podcast). At that point, I was totally discombobulated. I needed to stand in front of the podium to deal with the laptop. The screen, to which I wanted to point, was well behind me, and I caught myself talking over my shoulder several times. The microphone stand was directly behind my foot, and I bumped into it several times. Worst of all, I occasionally dared to look into the faces in front of me, and saw clearly that things were not going well. “Must press on” was all that I could think. The bright side of the experience was the Q&A. There were some good questions, and I had a lot of fun answering them. I hope that some of you who were there will believe that I’m usually the guy you saw in the end. It was an embarrassing experience for me.
So how could this have killed me? Well, the following day, I felt some pain behind my right knee. I thought I had sat wrong while finishing my slides. Indeed I had, but there was more to the story than that. Several days later, I was admitted to the hospital with extensive clotting in my leg, and with three pulmonary emboli. At present, it appears that an autoimmune response is making my blood sticky (i.e., antibodies are attaching to hemoglobin cells).
Perhaps you can understand now why I started by reminiscing about a time when everything went well.