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Random thoughts from Stephen on a wide range of topics!

Dream presentation Featured

My first Toastmasters speech!


Last night (September 21, 2016) I gave my first Toastmaster’s speech at the newly formed Accenture Toastmasters club – Accentuators.   This first prepared speech is called an icebreaker and is a brilliant way to introduce yourself to the club and get some valuable confidence and feedback.  Whilst I might appear outwardly confident, internally I’m usually a bundle of nerves so Toastmasters is a superb environment for developing confidence.  It’s also get craic as you get to meet new friends whilst enjoying some fairly humorous and interesting speeches and talks!  But more importantly, everyone in Toastmasters will have to do their own icebreaker at some stage; so you’re in a safe environment where everyone else understands what you’re going through and is rooting for you.  And the encouraging, friendly feedback, really does help… heading home on the bus afterwards and reading those little feedback slips… what a fantastic boost.  It really is a brilliant idea.  Toastmasters really is a great idea and there's any number of local clubs around the place - find one near you here:

Below is a transcript of the icebreaker speech I attempted to give!  I hope it might be of use to anyone else who is currently preparing for their icebreaker.

Mr ToastMaster, Fellow ToastMasters and Guests

Given that I work in Technology, it would probably come as no surprise to anyone that I have a healthy obsession for all things technology related.  However, I’d like to tell you about another obsession of mine:  running. And thanks to this obsession, I’m standing in front of you today, half the man I used to be!  And I mean that both in a positive and literal sense!

It was roughly this time, five years ago, that I started running.  Taking my first tentative steps on a treadmill in Westwood.  In fact, looking back, I’m not sure if I’d describe what I was doing as “running”!  Back then, my weight had peaked at just under 20 stone.  But I was also had this delusion that I was a fit and healthy 20 stone – however that illusion was shattered fairly quickly when trying to run on a treadmill that is totally devoid of empathy.  After just a few minutes I’d have to stop as my legs would feel heavy and sore, my lungs were on fire and my heart was about to explode. How had I let things become this bad?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a sudden epiphany.  I’d tried many times to go on a diet – rewarding a few lost pounds with a celebratory takeout from Dominos or such like.  But I’d always revert back to my old ways and habits.  However, this time was different.  There was a perfect storm brewing.  I’d abandoned diets for lifestyle changes, and I was determined to wipe that imagined grin of the face of that treadmill.  As the weeks progressed, I have to confess, that I parted company with the treadmill, having discovered the joys of running outside….  Although only if it was late at night, dark, and no one else around to see me puff and pant my way around the streets of Lucan where I live.

But six months after those first tentative steps, I ran my first half marathon in May 2012.  For the last 5km I was awash with emotion – part of me acutely aware that I was on the verge of achieving something life changing whilst another part of me was screaming “stop” – every step a strange mixture of ecstasy and agony.  But crossing that finish line – what a feeling!  Euphoria, happiness, disbelief and amazement and that drove me forward. Five months later, I’d completed the Dublin Marathon in sub four hours.  Now, I was aboard the transformative rollercoaster and there was no going back.  I had become a runner.

As I lost weight I’d run more.  As I ran more, I lost weight.  It was a perfect, complementary spiral – and with each passing moment I became leaner, fitter and healthier.  My self-consciousness changed to self-confidence –  now, no longer confined to the hours of darkness, I’d run anytime, anywhere – even on holidays!  I’d start talking to other friends about running, and sometimes go training together, enter races together.  Suddenly running had a social element to it!

Two years ago, in 2014, I once again entered the Dublin marathon.  Ironically, this time I was more apprehensive.  Now, it was no-longer about proving to myself whether I could run a marathon but about whether I could improve on what I’d already achieved.  Could I beat the time I’d already set?  I approached it like would any project in work.  I made a commitment to myself, made a plan, and then ruthless executed that plan.  If the plan said run 20km, I’d run 20km regardless of what else I had to do that day, or what the weather was doing – nothing was going to stop me.   After 2,500km of training runs, over 20 weeks, the day had come, I lined up at the start line full of apprehension and anticipation.  It all came down to what would happen in the next few hours.  Stumbling across the finish line 3 hours and 22 minutes later, mentally and physically exhausted, once again that wave of euphoria swept over me as I’d realized I’d smashed my personal best, but also a little disappointed that I had beaten it by a little more!

But I did say at the start, that running for me is an obsession.  It started five years ago with a few tentative steps on a treadmill.  Since then, I have probably covered around 8,000 km’s or roughly the distance from San Francisco to Dublin!!!  And my obsession will reach a new peak this Saturday when I head home to the north Antrim coast and attempt to run my first 65km ultra-marathon!  Yes, it’s true, I’m not only obsessed but probably a little mad!  But you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Hacker Tracker Featured

Have you been pwned?


I finally got around to reading this month's Wired (UK edition). One article in particular made me stop and think:  "Hacker Tracker".  This is an interview with Troy Hunt who has set up a website called  By entering your user name or email address, you can find out whether your details have leaked and by whom. His website searches a dataset currently containing 345million hacked accounts.

Out of interest, I entered a couple of my personal email addresses into the tools.  For me, I peaked at three instances of hacked accounts:  Adobe, LinkedIn and tumblr.  The website tells you the hacked account and what data leaked.   In all three cases, the hacked data contained my password and email address. Adobe went further as it included my username and password hint.

My initial reaction was, "Phew, that could have been worse". But, if I'm honest, my first reaction was more like, "Oh, I forgot I had a tumblr account!".  One fear is that people tend to use one password for many sites.  I wasn't worried about this as I use a password manager to manage different passwords for each site.  I'm also a strong advocate of using two factor authentication where ever possible. But still... it makes you think.  When registering, how many times are you asked to provide other information?   Date of birth?  Favorite pet?  Mobile phone number?  You do have to ask, why do they need this information?  Is it essential and would they not be able to provide me a service without it?

And in isolation, much of this data might seem harmless.  But it becomes scary when you consider that data breeches are not uncommon.  When you combine data from many sources, a hacker is able to build a more complete profile of an individual.  With this profile, could they undertake social engineering attacks to conduct further hacks?  Or combine with other anonymous data sets to actually identify an individual?

Consider the companies that got hacked:  Adobe and LinkedIn.  Not exactly startups.  But think of how much personal information I have entrusted to LinkedIn.  My entire work history is there along with a social graph of my professional contacts.  We are trusting that they will look after and protect our data.  But how do we determine who to trust?  Do we even stop to consider it?  Should we?  And what hope is there for startups to secure our data if established companies can't?  In fact, are smaller companies able to determine a hack has happened?

As software developers, we can sometimes be too focused on getting a feature working.  Maybe exasperated by Agile and lean methodologies.  Delivering smaller chunks of functionality that enable the customer to confirm our approach.  Even so, we should never loose site of security.  We should ensure its ingrained in every feature or user story that we implement.  All too often it can be an afterthought.  Increased agility can be double sided where trust and reputation can be ruined in an instant.

So have you been pwned?  Why not check at

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