Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Another reason to avoid pie charts

I got a big chuckle from yesterday’s WuMo comic, which was titled The reason to avoid pie charts. It showed what people might really be thinking about when you show them one. Instead of your topic and numbers, they are looking at those shapes and colors and imagining their favorite pie for dessert or a snack.

Back in 2007 Stephen Few had a long article titled Save the pies for dessert in which he discussed how pie charts are not very useful compared with other types you can use instead. It is still worth reading.

The pie chart came from a 2010 blog post imagining the alternate history which would have resulted If the Mehrabian myth was true...

Images of pecan, lemon meringue, and cherry pies came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stories about death from Canadian family physicians

For five years Canadian Family Physician magazine has published three articles by winners of the AMS-Mimi Divinsky awards for stories in family medicine in their January issue. There are awards for best story in English, in French, and by a medical student.  

An editorial by Dr. Nicholas Pimlott, Death and all its friends, introduced those three stories:

“This year’s best story in English, Only life, by Dr Ruoh-Yeng Chang describes her role providing palliative care to a 20-year-old woman dying of cancer. Dr Chang is repeatedly rebuffed by the patient in her efforts to medically manage the young woman’s final days with the usual proffering of hospital gowns and pain medications until she accepts that ‘only life’ with all its messiness will be allowed in that room.

The best story in French—Mission—describes Dr Jacques Pelletier’s experiences as a volunteer physician in Chad. 

Dr Amandev Aulakh’s Lessons in teaching poignantly describes the experience of gently guiding a medical student through the difficult experience of having a discussion about end-of-life care with a dying man and the sadness that moved them both to tears as they debriefed in a nearby room afterward.”

In his editorial Dr. Pimlott commented that one narrative doctors use to understand their work is restitution. The doctor heroically relieves pain and gives the terminal patient a dignified death. Dr. Chang’s story instead makes her strong-willed patient the hero:

“....Street clothes instead of gowns. Movies and music instead of tears. People streamed in and out. Normal chairs around the bed, not hospital issue. Piles of cushions and blankets in front of the TV we had to put on the ground because there was no shelf strong enough....

Only life in that room. Only love and laughter. Only videos and photos. Only living. Even when all she could do was lie in bed they surrounded her with chatter. She would sleep while her friends rocked out and wake to the same. Every waking moment of her life was on her own terms....

Death came peacefully. The only contents of that room were her loved ones and a sunbeam. She went to sleep and never woke up.”

What came to mind when I read that story, was the Blue Oyster Cult’s classic rock and roll song about love and death, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and a Saturday Night Live comedy skit about how it supposedly was recorded called More Cowbell. The fictitious Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell) got next to the lead guitarist and insisted on putting the cowbell front and center. He didn’t go away quietly.

Last September I blogged about More great stories from Canadian family physicians.

The grim reaper was adapted from this 1905 image.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A simple prop made from PVC water pipe fittings

Sometimes a simple, inexpensive model is just the right prop to  illustrate a point in your presentation.

Several years ago I gave a speech to twenty members of my Toastmasters club about a corrosion problem that I’d seen two decades earlier. It involved special bolts used at ground level in a flange joint on a fire hydrant, instead of regular hex-head bolts as shown above.

When a hydrant is located near a road, it can be hit by a wayward vehicle. It is desirable to have the flange joint break just above ground before the hydrant body does. That special feature is the difference between a regular hydrant and a “traffic hydrant.”

One way to do this is to have the cast iron bottom flange made in pieces (or with grooves) so that it breaks before the body of the hydrant does.

Another way is to neck down the cast-iron bolts at the joint, so these special “breakable bolts” (as shown above) fail first. This inexpensive fix once was used by some manufacturers. The bolt head even could be shaped like a T (to indicate traffic).

The problem with breakable bolts is that the smaller diameter section is hidden away. It is a good place to trap water and road salt. If you forget to undo and inspect some of those bolts periodically, they will corrode away without being noticed. Then when the valve on a hydrant is opened all the bolts can break, accidentally launch the hydrant skyward like a rocket, and severely injure someone. This is why some municipalities forbid the use of breakable bolts. 

I wanted to make a larger-than-life (~3X) model to show the head and neck from a breakable bolt to my audience. (There already were PowerPoint slides of regular hydrants). So, I headed to my friendly, local plumbing supply store and bought a two-foot length of one-inch PVC pipe, two caps, a tee, two couplings, two reducers, and a two-foot length of half-inch pipe. I cut short lengths of pipe, and slipped all the pieces together. If I had a larger audience, then I could have instead used two-inch PVC pipe.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What use is a sleeping watchdog?

The Idaho Freedom Foundation claims it is:

“...a non-partisan educational research institute and government watchdog dedicated to improving the lives of Idahoans by promoting private free market solutions, holding public servants accountable, exposing government waste and corruption, and promoting policies that advance Idaho’s independence.”

A post on their blog by Dustin Hurst on January 20, 2015 titled We are failing, Idaho. We can - and must - do better began by stating:
“I nearly missed perhaps the most important chart of the 2015 legislative session.

Most others did, ignoring or glossing over an inconvenient and unfortunate truth: We, as a state, are failing.

Monday morning in the legislative budget committee, Department of Health and Welfare officials showed an amazing chart depicting Idaho’s climb to welfare state status.

I’ve included the chart below, but here are the gloomy numbers: Since fiscal year 2006, Idaho’s welfare use has exploded by 69 percent. In 2014, more than 322,000 Idahoans relied on Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance, child care or a combination of those programs.

In fiscal year 2006, that number was just about 196,000.”

That post showed a purple chart with the Y-axis trimmed to misleadingly start from 150,000 people rather than zero. It had an arrow pointing to the circled number for 2014 and a caption noting that was 20.% of Idaho citizens.

Data it was based upon can be found by starting at the Facts/Figures/Trends page at the Department of Health and Welfare web site, which has links to their Acrobat .pdf annual reports from fiscal year 2004-2005 to 2014-2015, and which list the number of people receiving assistance services as of June. (The 2004-2005 report also lists the number for 2003 on page 63, and the 2005-2006 report lists the number for 2002 on page 64).

Data is summarized in the following table, to which I’ve added the increase from year to year. Note that the largest increase happened between 2009 (245,123) and 2010 (304,414) - a jump of 59,291 or over 24%. (The more than 322,000 quoted by Mr. Hurst for 2014 is a typo - it’s really more than 332,000). 

Page 65 of the 2010-2011 report has a note warning:

“This is almost 20 percent of the state’s total population.” 

Page 65 of the 2011-2012 report said we’d passed that threshold:

“This is over 20 percent of the State’s total population.”

All 13 years of data are shown above on a chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version).  A real watchdog would have told us something big was going on four years ago - not just now. I don’t recall hearing from IFF back then. What use is a sleeping watchdog?  

The century-old color image of a sleeping dog came from here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Impromptu Speaking: Reverse FISO or Table Topics?

Sometimes the jargon for a product or concept is far from obvious. The two parts shown above form what microscopists call a cup stage. It is a very useful device for holding and tilting a small object for examination under a stereo microscope. But, the cup isn’t the most important part of it - the hemisphere or half-ball that sits inside is. I don’t know why it isn’t instead called either a hemispherical tilt stage or a half-ball tilt stage. I do know that jargon has been used for at least 50 years.

This morning at Corrections.com I found a news article by Joe Bouchard titled Reverse FISO (Forced Impromptu Speaking Opportunity). He described a training exercise where students decide what topic their instructor will give a one-minute speech on.  They got to turn the tables on another version he called the FISO Icebreaker where the students did the speech. If you have not been exposed to it in high-school or college forensics, impromptu speaking can be daunting.

What Joe calls a FISO is what Toastmasters International calls Table Topics. A detailed description can be found in their Think Fast! Table Topics Handbook. It is part of every regular club meeting. One member is the Table Topics Master, and he asks about a half-dozen members to each give a one-to-two minute speech to answer a question. There are over 14,650 clubs worldwide, and assuming they met every other week, each week you would expect to find almost 44,000 people doing these speeches.

There are many articles about Table Topics. Two I like are Jazzin’ up your Table Topics and Turning the Tables on Table Topics. In 2012 Matthew Arnold Stern wrote a 96-page book titled Mastering Table Topics. You can find a $2.49 Kindle edition at Amazon

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mislaid recording of Martin Luther King, Jr. speech found after 50 years

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. On NPR I heard a story about how Archivist finds long-lost recording of Martin Luther King speech at UCLA

That speech from April 27, 1965 now is out on YouTube, along with others archived at UCLA by their Communication Studies Department.

Reading about that recording made me think about having a tape recorder in the home when I was growing up. In 1962 my dad made a business trip to Japan. He brought back a corrugated cardboard carrier holding a little salmon-colored Sony TC211 portable that used 5” reels. It still used vacuum tubes rather than transistors. You can see photos of that model and a YouTube video.

I remember being shocked the first time I heard what my voice sounded like. My four siblings and I carried the recorder from room to room, and accidentally dropped it many times.

Eventually the recorder needed repair, so I found the Sams Photofact service manual for the similar, later TC211TS (with a transistorized slide projector synchronizer) at the main public library. Finally we destroyed the tape transport, although the electronics were still fine.

Then I found an inexpensive surplus tape transport for a 7” reel-to-reel machine was being advertised in the classified ads at the back of Popular Electronics magazine. We bought one, mounted it in a homemade plywood box, and transplanted the Sony chassis. We replaced it with a cassette recorder after almost a decade.       

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Almost half of U.S. adults think that fear of clowns is ridiculous

On January 5th CBS TV’s 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair magazine reported results from their telephone poll on a sample of 1018 U.S. adults about Fears done back in November 2014. Their 4th and silliest question asked:

Which of the following fears do you think is the most ridiculous?

As is shown above it wasn’t even close. 49% said clowns; 13% said commitment; 10% said the dentist; 8% said needles; 8% said public speaking; 7% said flying; and the remaining 5% didn’t know or answer. I’m not sure whether commitment referred to being in a relationship, or involuntary placement in a mental institution.

This was one of eleven questions. Others and the answers were:

1) Which one of the following emotions do you think has caused the most harm in the world? 30% anger; 25% fear; 21% envy; 17% depression; 3% boredom; 1% pity; 3% didn’t know or answer.

2) Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Which comes closest to your view? 82% this is a good way to view the world, 14% this is silly nonsense, 4% didn’t know or answer.

3) Which one of the following situations makes you the most anxious? 37% walking alone at night on a city street; 27% being stopped for a traffic violation; 15% hearing a pilot warn of turbulence ahead; 9% having your annual physical; 6% answering a phone without caller ID; 6% didn’t know or answer.

5) Whose wrath do you fear the most? 57% God; 15% your spouse; 11% your parents; 7% your boss; 9% none of these; 1% didn’t know or answer.

6) Which is more likely to keep you awake at night? 77% things already on your mind; 20% the unknown and unexpected; 3% didn’t know or answer.

7) Which one of the following do you most fear will put an end to humanity? 35% a nuclear war; 23% a deadly virus; 15% the Rapture; 15% global warming; 8% an asteroid hitting the earth; 4% didn’t know or answer.

8) Do you think people who risk their lives to climb Mount Everest are mostly fearless, or mostly reckless? 61% fearless; 35% reckless; 4% didn’t know or answer.

9) What do you think would make the United States more secure? To be loved around the world, or to be feared around the world? 66% loved; 30% feared; 4% didn’t know or answer.

10) Which one of the following foreign powers do you fear the most? 38% ISIS; 29% China; 19% Russia; 2% Liberia; 2% Wikileaks; 10% didn’t know or answer.

11) Which one of the following episodes in American history took the most courage? 29% the passengers of Flight 93 stopping the hijackers on September 11th; 21% Harriet Tubman helping escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad; 16% Martin Luther King marching at Selma; 13% the Founders signing the Declaration of Independence; 10% John F. Kennedy holding steady during the Cuban Missile Crisis; 6% Jonas Salk testing the polio vaccine on himself; 4% didn’t know or answer.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a speech topic (or a startling statistic to use as an opener) you might look at previous 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair polls from months in 2014,  which also typically had 11 questions. Their topics were:

January: Sports

February: Lying

March: Fashion

April: Music

May:  The Perfect Child

June: Fitness

July: Etiquette

August: Ethics

September: Royals

October: Gratitude

November: Greed

December: Self-Improvement

Two recent surveys found most Americans are not very scared of clowns. In the Chapman Survey on American Fears released on October 20, 2014 only 2.6% were Very Afraid of clowns. Another 5.0% were Afraid, and 8.3% were Somewhat Afraid.  80.4% were Not Afraid At All, and just 3.7% Refused to answer. In the YouGov survey released on March 27, 2014 only 5% were Very afraid of clowns. Another 8.0% were A little afraid, and 15% were Not really afraid. The other 72% were Not afraid at all.

In 2013 Smithsonian had a serious article by by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie on The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary. On the TV sitcom Seinfeld, Kramer was scared of clowns, like Crazy Joe Davola.

A 1939 WPA poster of a clown came from here