Sunday, September 29, 2013

What did you have for breakfast this fall morning?

Now that mornings are cooler, for breakfast people are choosing hot oatmeal with milk instead of cold cereal.

Oatmeal is made by cooking rolled oats, as are shown above. A variety of flavored instant varieties can be found in American supermarkets. They can be prepared by adding boiling water and waiting a minute or two, or mixed with cold water and microwaved. (I prefer to keep bulk oatmeal around, and add my own cinnamon, raisins, and sweetener). Are any other grains processed and used similarly for breakfast elsewhere? Yes!

Last year in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s book Mangoes & Curry Leaves (Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent) I read that:  

“Flattened rice, also known as rice flakes, is called chira or poha in northern India, aval in southern India. It’s rice that’s been cooked and then run through rollers and flattened into flakes. The flakes are a pale grayish white and fairly soft, rather than crisp. Sold in clear plastic bags, they keep well. Chira is very quick to reconstitute and requires no boiling, so it’s a godsend for cooks in very hot weather or in a big hurry.”

Here in Boise (at India Foods on Fairview Avenue) I found two-pound plastic bags of both thin and thick poha for sale. Thin poha (shown above) is the rice analog of instant oatmeal. 

Other ground-up grains like grits (from corn) and Cream of Wheat (farina) also are common breakfast foods. Porridge is the more general term, and it appears in stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 

What do these breakfast cereals have to do with public speaking? In storytelling you have to begin with what your audience is familiar with, and then take them elsewhere.

Images of Goldilocks and a bowl of oatmeal both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Public speaking was the most common fear for twin women in Virginia

Back in 1992 the Archives of General Psychiatry published an article written by K. Kendler, M. C. Neale, R. C. Kessler, A. C. Heath, and L. J. Eaves titled Genetic Epidemiology of Phobias in Women (Interrelationship of agoraphobia, social phobia, situational phobia, and simple phobia). You can find an abstract at PubMed, or read the full text here.

They asked a sample of 2163 women who were in the Virginia Twin Registry a series of 16 questions about four categories of unreasonable fears that were severe enough to interfere with their lives (phobias), and listed their results in Table 1. I’ve shown those results above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Those fears were grouped into four categories:

Being in Crowds - 6.6%  
Going out of the house alone - 4.1%
Being in open spaces 0.9%

Snakes - 5.5%
Spiders - 3.3%
Bats - 1.6%
Insects - 1.0%

Other high places - 7.4%
Airplanes - 4.7%
Other closed places - 3.7%
Bridges - 3.1%
Tunnels - 2.9%

Giving a speech - 9.4%
Meeting new people - 4.4%
Using public bathrooms - 1.9%
Eating in public - 1.6%

The most common fear was giving a speech (social), followed by other high places (situational), being in crowds (agoraphobia), snakes (animals), and airplanes (situational).

They did a very detailed analysis, which I’m not going to try to summarize here, to find influences of genetic and environmental risk factors,. An image of the Kessler Twins came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Putting numbers into context with a browser tool - The Dictionary of Numbers

On May 15th Randall Munroe blogged about an interesting new extension for the Google Chrome web browser called the Dictionary of Numbers:

“It searches the text in your browser for quantities it understands and inserts contextual statements in brackets. It might turn the phrase ‘315 million people’ into ‘315 million people [≈ the population of the United States]’.”

I illustrated it using a grayed version from one of Randall’s Xkcd cartoons that apparently parodied the recent monster movie Pacific Rim. So far I’ve been using Firefox, so I have not tried Dictionary of Numbers yet.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Funneling your big ideas through a small vocabulary

Explaining hard ideas simply always is a challenge. Almost two years ago I blogged about Communicating clearly to nontechnical audiences - the grandmother test. This week on The Eloquent Woman blog I read Denise Graveline’s post, Big ideas don’t need big words. But, where do you find the small ones?

Denise mentioned one solution - a recent tool called the Up-Goer Five Text Editor that was created by Cambridge geneticist Theo Sanderson. He was inspired by one of Randall Munroe’s Xkcd cartoons that tried to explain the Saturn V moon rocket using just the ten hundred (thousand) most common English words. (That cartoon may have come from an earlier one about the Simple English Wikipedia). Up-Goer puts a red underline below each uncommon word you use, and thus invites you to reconsider that choice.  

Up-Goer Five has inspired tumblr sites like Ten Hundred Words of Science and Up Goer Your Ph.D. I think it’s a useful tool. It can force you into a childlike sense of wonder, like the following seven-minute video description of the Cassini spacecraft’s mission to Saturn and its moons:

Carl Zimmer ranted that Up-Goer Five was useless:

“.... Because an average six-year-old has a vocabulary, by some estimates, of 16,000 words. And an average adult's vocabulary is around 60,000. So Up Goer Five is only useful if you are going to talk to pre-schoolers. For an audience that's any older--even second grade--I can't see how it can help.”

I think Carl’s claim is hilariously xenophobic since it ignores the large number of people learning English as a second or foreign language. I grew up listening to shortwave radio, so I was familiar with how the Voice of America (VOA) uses Special English broadcasts as a teaching tool. The Special English Word Book has just 1580 words. For an example, read or listen to this VOA news item on Mars Rover Marks First Year on Red Planet.

VOA also has a wonderful English in A Minute series that explains idioms like Burn the Midnight Oil:

“Everybody knows that Americans burn a lot of oil. But is there a special oil that they burn in the middle of the night?”

Using simple language can make us laugh though. Sixty years ago Andy Griffith recorded a hilarious six-minute comic monologue about college football:

The title for this post was inspired by Sally James, and the oil drum image was based on this one from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Ladder-of-Abstraction and the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Pyramid

On September 15th Andrew Dlugan posted on his Six Minutes blog about The Ladder of Abstraction and the Public Speaker. He discussed S. I. Hayakawa’s concept that we think and communicate in varying degrees of abstraction ranging from the concrete (ground) to the abstract (sky).

Andrew also mentioned Roy Peter Clark having discussed how you need to learn to climb up and down the ladder in his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. On the Poynter Institute web site Roy has an excellent 900-word article, Writing Tool #13: Show and Tell. He has another article cautioning writers to Beware the Ladder’s Middle Rungs.

There is a related concept about organizing information called the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Pyramid. It was described by Clifford Stoll this way:

“Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.”

David Weinberger blogged about a problem with this hierarchy. Some also use more than four levels. In this presentation by Tim Donahue there is a fifth, understanding, added explicitly between knowledge and wisdom. An article by Steve Draper even has seven levels.

I’ve used six levels when teaching internet research, and you can see another ladder version from that post shown below. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

We’re number forty-four!

The Masters In Communication web site has just included this blog in their list Public Speaking 101: The Top Online Resources. They divided those resources into four categories:

46 sites under Public & Professional Speaking
25 sites under Presentation Blogs & Tools

9 sites under Speechwriting

21 sites under General Communication & Debate

Joyful Public Speaking was number 44 of the 46 sites in the Public & Professional Speaking category. How big of a deal is this? Not very.

That web site also has what they claim is a Detailed List of Campuses that have a Masters in Communication Program. No universities are listed here in Idaho, which is curiously incomplete since Boise State University has such a program. I know that because I have met one of their students, Jim Poston. In Utah only Westminster College in Salt Lake City is listed, although the University of Utah in that city also has a program. For Oregon only George Fox University and the University of Oregon are listed, although over in Portland both Portland State University and the University of Portland have programs.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do we all carry around huge sacks of specific phobias?

Specific phobias are extreme and persistent fears and avoidance of specific situations or things like dogs, flying, spiders etc. They are the most common mental disorders in the U.S - in. a year 9% of U.S. adults have a specific phobia.

Now and then I read a truly incredible statistic. On a web page about the extreme fear of dust (amathophobia) there was this gem:

“It is unknown how many experience amathophobia, it has been approximated that nearly 20 trillion adults annually suffer from some sort of specific phobia.”

A trillion is a thousand billion, or one followed by twelve zeroes. What’s my share of that outrageously large number? According to Wikipedia the world population is roughly 7 billion, where a billion is one followed by nine zeroes.

If we divided 20 trillion by 7 billion, we would find a lower bound for the number of annual phobias per person (by assuming everyone was an adult) -  2,857 phobias. Note that we can cancel out nine zeroes before we even enter those numbers in a calculator. That’s a huge sack of phobias for us each  to be carrying around.

Dividing by 365.25 to get the number per day, that’s still almost 8 (7.82) phobias. If we are awake for 16 hours per day, that means a phobia pops up roughly every two hours.  

Today is Friday the 13th, so some people also are thinking about Triskadekaphobia.

When writing a speech you can choose to make numbers comprehensible by describing them per person per day, or huge and incomprehensible if you multiply them by the population of a country or the world.

The image of a woman with a sack came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Land’s End survey found women were more self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit than giving a speech

 The swimsuit online survey of 1,122 females age 18 and over was done via Survey Monkey between Aprill 22nd and April 26th, and reported via a press release on May 14, 2013:

“...A recent survey of women by Lands' End found that almost nine out of ten (89 percent) agree that wearing a swimsuit is the most exposed they ever are in public.

.... Survey respondents stated that when in public they would be more self conscious in a swimsuit (66 percent) than giving a speech in public (35 percent).”

The image was revised from this old photo taken back in February 1924.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Disclaiming responsibility: We are not really psychics

Eighty-five years ago some people weren’t afraid to claim they could make predictions, like that brilliant psychic star Newmann the Great. Now there is much more caution, and long legal disclaimers.

On the Stanford University web site I found a lengthy disclaimer for bondholders that opened with the sentence shown above. A shorter, plain English version might instead have said:

What about California Psychics, one of whose trademarks is The Psychic Service More People Trust? That trademark is owned by Outlook Amusements, Inc. of Burbank, California. The Terms of Service statement on the California Psychics web site says that their service is provided for entertainment purposes only.

If you want to avoid litigation, then you might consider opening your presentation with a disclaimer slide like the one shown above.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blasting Toastmasters first and not even asking questions later

On August 24th published Mary E. Mann’s article How Toastmasters Cured Me of the Desire to Speak in Public. Based on that title, how long do you think  she was a member of Toastmasters International:

A. Three years
B. Three months
C. Three Weeks
D. None of the Above

Sadly the answer is D. She went to one meeting at one club as a guest. Mary freaked out because she was asked to speak during Table Topics. She didn’t ever join Toastmasters International. She didn’t even try visiting another club. She just went home and gave up. So, the article title is highly misleading.

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting. The Table Topics Master ask questions, and club members get to stand up and answer them with a one to two minute off-the-cuff speech. It’s different from a prepared speech, and some people (like me) find it more difficult.

Most of that long article described Mary’s previous history of being terrified to speak up and report for two minutes during weekly meetings at work. For her being asked to speak during Table Topics was a familiar nightmare. She didn’t consider that her problem was far from unique. 

Speaking up in a meeting or class is the second most common social fear for adults in the U.S. 19.5% of us (or about 45 million) have that fear, and 10.3% (or about 24 million) have a phobia. Public speaking/performance is a slightly more commonly feared situation, with 21.2% fearing it and 10.7% having a phobia. 

Not all Toastmasters clubs would ask a guest to do a Table Topics speech. The Toastmasters Wiki says:

“Guests may be invited to speak, but it's always a good idea to chat with them before the meeting, to see if they would be willing to participate.”

Mary’s about web page says she is working on a Master of Fine Arts in writing at Columbia University in New York City. There are about eighty open-enrollment Toastmasters clubs within a ten mile radius of that zip code. If she looked at some other clubs she might find one that was a better fit for her, and even had some other writers. She also might have found out more about strategies Toastmasters use to get comfortable doing Table Topics.

On August 21st Tony Fasano posted his very different opinion about How Toastmasters Transformed My Career and Can Do the Same for Your Engineering Career.

The image of a woman at the Nemours gun club came from the U.S. Library of Congress.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What should we call residents of that city?

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting that involves answering a question by speaking for a minute or two. Good questions are neither too hard nor too easy.

During the first November I spent in Idaho, I was fascinated by hearing the election returns. Radio and TV reporters referred to residents of many cities in the state. Those names typically are formed by adding suffixes like:

-ans, -eans, -ens, ers, ians, -ites, -ns

as is shown above by three examples. Later I tried that question for Table Topics. It proved difficult for people to answer, even when I added that they also could describe why other possible names had to be rejected.

Pocatellers only should describe those who work as tellers in banks, and not all the people from Pocatello. People from Kuna could be Kunans, but Kunanites sounds like it  came from the Old or New Testament.

People from cities like American Falls, Idaho Falls, Post Falls, or Twin Falls all could be called either Fallens or Fallers. Fallers should refer only to skydivers though. Twin Fallers could refer very specifically to identical siblings that base jump together. Post Fallens sounds like a slur on senior citizens, as a revision of a Life Alert TV commercial to:

“Help, I’ve post fallen and I can’t get up.”  

I’m still not sure what to do about residents of Hagerman. Are they all Hagerpersons, and then either Hagermen or Hagerwomen? What about people from either Eagle or Star?

The term for a resident also can be troublesome. In a newspaper from Portland, I once saw a headline that referred to a man from Tacoma as a Tacoman. That term also can be read as Taco-man, an obvious ethnic slur to a Hispanic.