Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do you fear even being in the audience for a speech?

The caption for today’s F Minus cartoon says:

“Wow, Ron. I did not realize your fear of public speaking included being in the audience.”

That is funny, but it is not really how psychiatrists divide things up. They would instead put Ron’s problem either under panic attacks or the more severe problem of panic disorder. According to Kessler et al, in the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication (NCS-R), 28.3% of U.S. adults had panic attacks sometime during their lives, but only 4.7% had panic disorder. So, Ron would be far from alone. I blogged about how In the NCS-R Ruscio et al had found that 21.2% feared public speaking/performance, and 10.7% had a phobia of it.     

The image of an audience came from an 1897 Puck magazine at the Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Is public speaking by far the scariest thing that people face? Even more than death? No, it is not!

On April 20th at  Ron Thomas posted at TLNT.com about A Key to Career Success - Mastering the Art of Public Speaking. I agree with his title and some of the content but shook my head when I read his claim that:

“Public speaking is by far the scariest thing that people face. As a matter of fact, fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death on the survey of what people fear most.”

Ron had linked to a November 29, 2012 post in The Real Story of Risk blog at Psychology Today by Glen Croston titled That Thing We Fear More Than Death which opened by claiming:

“Surveys about our fears commonly show fear of public speaking at the top of the list.  Our fear of standing up in front of a group and talking is so great that we fear it more than death, in surveys at least.”

I commented on that post by asking Glen which surveys he was talking about, and provided a link to a post of mine from October 23, 2012 titled Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. He didn’t reply. In a March 2014 blog post titled Stumbling at the start, I mentioned having gotten Glen’s book, The Real Story of Risk, and not finding a specific reference to any surveys about fear of public speaking. But on page 234 he said:

“Today, public speaking is consistently ranked as the greatest fear most people have - ranking higher than the fear of death itself.“

As I mentioned in my October 23, 2012 post, one way to look at fears is to make a list of them, ask what people do or do not fear, and get percentages. That is what most surveys do, and the number one will be the most common fear. The other way is to ask what people fear more, which psychologists have done many times using what are known as fear survey schedules that rank each of a long list of fears on an intensity scale. Then number one will be the greatest fear.

The first magazine article about a fear survey schedule was published by James H. Geer fifty years ago. I blogged about it on October 12, 2012. He surveyed students at a state university.

The top dozen fears for females were:

1.  Death of a loved one
2.  Illness or injury to loved ones
3.  Failing a test
4.  Snakes
5.  Auto accidents
6.  Looking foolish
7.  Speaking before a group
8.  Untimely or early death
9.  Being with drunks
10. Making mistakes
11. Being self-conscious
12. Death

The top dozen fears for males were:

1.  Death of a loved one
2.  Failing a test
3.  Illness or injury to loved ones
4.  Looking foolish
5.  Not being a success
6.  Speaking before a group
7.  Making mistakes
8.  Being self-conscious
9.  Suffocating
10. Being criticized
11. Snakes
12. Death

On October 13, 2012 I blogged about how In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking was ranked sixth for men and eighth for women. The top dozen fears for females were:

1.  Failure
2.  Dead people
3.  Hurting others’ feelings
4.  Feeling rejected
5.  Bats
6.  Mice or rats,
7.  Fire
8.  Speaking in public
9.  Feeling disapproved of
10. Looking foolish
11. Surgical operation
12. Parting from friends

The top dozen fears for males were:

1.  Failure
2.  Hurting others’ feelings
3.  Feeling rejected
4.  Looking foolish
5.  Dead people
6.  Speaking in public
7.  Feeling disapproved of
8.  People who seem insane
9.  Automobiles
10. Falling
11. Possible homosexuality
12. Being dressed unsuitably

On October 18, 2012 I blogged about how In a 2012 study of university students, fear of public speaking was ranked sixth. The top dozen fears were:

1.  Someone in family dying
2.  Having someone ill in the family
3.  Dying
4.  Getting cancer
5.  Being the victim of a crime
6.  Public speaking
7.  Spiders
8.  Becoming ill
9.  War
10. Drowning
11. Making mistakes
12. Heights

Where did Ron and Glen get that greatest fear claim? Public speaking really was ranked first in two surveys with results about what more people fear (not what people fear more!) - the 1973 Bruskin survey (reported in the 1977 Book of Lists) and the 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey, but as I blogged about on October 23, 2012 not even in the majority for that type of survey.

A cropped and reversed image of the grim reaper came from a painting by Nikola A. Tarkhov at Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Celebrating 500,000 page views

Today I’m celebrating reaching another milestone. This blog now has had a half-million page views. (It had 400,00 back in September of 2014).

That’s a large number. For my generation, it’s like, wow, man, the number of people who supposedly showed up and got stoned at the Woodstock music festival back in 1969. Earth Day (celebrated today) only started the next year, in 1970.

Another way to visualize a half-million is as larger than the population of some U.S. urban areas like  Provo-Orem, Utah (483,000), Wichita, Kansas (473,000), Des Moines, Iowa (450,000) or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (444,000).

Still another way to visualize a half million is by using one-foot square floor tiles as a visual aid. First, think of laying out one row of 707 tiles (or just over seven boxes of a hundred). Then repeat that process 706 times. There will be 499,849 tiles. They will cover an area of almost 11.5 acres though.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Troubleshooting and Sherlock Ohms

Recently I found a blog at Design News magazine called Sherlock Ohms that has brief case histories about electrical troubleshooting and failure analysis of products. These cautionary stories teach you to be persistent and logical. You will enjoy reading them if you’re looking at writing a how-to speech about troubleshooting.

Sometimes it’s the normally reliable little stuff that makes a product fail. In their archives I found five cases just about fuses: The Failed Fuse Fooled Me, Always Inspect the Fuses, The Fuse Holders Wouldn’t Hold, Fuse Holder Follies, and Fuse Holder Mismatched to Fuse. The first one involved a fuse like the one containing a little wire (shown above) that visually looked OK, but actually had melted beneath a metal end cap rather than near the middle as usual. It was not really connected, which was easily confirmed by removing it from the holder and checking for electrical continuity.

Some fuse troubleshooting is much easier. One morning my brother-in-law got a rental truck for a move. As the sun began to go down he found that the headlights didn’t work. When he checked the fuse block he found there was no fuse for them. The dealer had apparently cannibalized it to fix another truck, but then forgot to get another one to replace it. Luckily he found an auto parts shop before the night got really dark.

Those fuse stories reminded me of a pesky switch failure that once bedeviled my dad for most of a day. The picture on the 25” Heathkit color television set he’d built had blacked out. Most of the transistorized circuitry was on plug-in circuit modules. But, on the back of the chassis there was a little double-pole double throw (DPDT) slide switch similar to the one shown above. It changed the set from normal operation to a service position for converging the dot-matrix picture tube via a built-in dot generator.   

Normally (as shown above) in Position 1 the center switch contacts connect to the pair on the left, and in Position 2 the center contacts connect to the others on the right. His switch had weak springs, so there also was an unexpected 3rd null position where the center contacts were not connected to either end. There was no control signal sent to turn on the high voltage power to the picture tube. Detailed troubleshooting instructions supplied with the set had considered the circuit modules but not a a bad switch.

Dad finally gave up, and we pulled the chassis, put it in the back of our station wagon, and drove to the local Heathkit dealer. Their technician first checked the expensive high voltage power supply module to see if it had failed. It was fine, so he tried wiggling the switch and found that it would only sometimes snap to either of the correct positions. A $0.25 component had disabled a $500 kit. 

Peculiar things also can happen when there are unintended connections, which are known as sneak circuits. There is a Sherlock Ohms case about a minivan with Solder blamed for faulty window operation. I also have heard of sneak circuits being created inside of dual-filament bulbs used for tail and brake lights on cars or trucks, when one filament eventually sags enough to touch the other. There also are metal whiskers that grow from electroplate, which are a whole other story.

The funniest Sherlock Ohms I read was The Case of the Confused Customer. It involved an X10 control module similar to the one shown above that wouldn’t work because the customer didn’t take off the white plastic protective cover over the two prongs for the built-in AC plug. The instructions forgot to explicitly tell him he needed to do that before he could plug it in.  

The image of a fuse came from André Karwath and that of a DPDT switch came from Magnus Manske, both at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why I’m Better Than You is a very bad title for a speech

Today’s Pearls Before Swine comic featured a Conference of the Self-Righteous where four speakers began arguing because they all had used that same very bad title which just insults the audience. They instead should have used some variation on How You Can Be Better.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don’t be an acousmatic speaker!

That’s when you manage to hide completely behind the lectern. Unless you are either George Bush or Hillary Clinton you won’t need to hide to avoid flying shoes. Acousmatic is a fancy jargon term you can use to amaze your friends. Wikipedia says that:

“Acousmatic sound is sound one hears without seeing an originating cause. The word acousmatic, from the French acousmatique, is derived from the Greek word akousmatikoi (ἀκουσματικοί), a term used to refer to probationary pupils of the philosopher Pythagoras who, so that they might better concentrate on his teachings, were required to sit in absolute silence while listening to their teacher deliver his lecture from behind a veil or screen.”

If you hide like that, then your audience can’t see your gestures and you have no eye contact with them. That will make your presentation relatively ineffective.

Last year Brian Kane published a book titled Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. Langdon Morrison reviewed it at Music Theory Online. In points [7] and [8] he notes that the Pythagorean veil really may have just been an allegory. Kane states the history for the key myth in a paragraph on page 50 of his book:

“The term ‘acousmatic’ refers to the disciples of Pythagoras who heard the philosopher lecture from behind a screen, curtain, partition, or veil (M1, M2b, M3, M4, M5, M6, M7, M8, M9, M10). The reason they remained on the far side of the veil was to promote a form of concentrated listening (M2a, M8b) or to emphasize the master’s message (M1, M3, M6, M7, M9) undistracted by the visual aspects or physical presence of the speaker (M1, M3, M6, M7, M8, M9). In addition to keeping a vow of silence for five years (M1, M5, M6, M7, M10), this exoteric ritual formed part of an initiation into the Pythagorean school where pupils would then see the master (M1, M5, M6). From the experience of the acousmatics, we derive the adjectival sense of the term, meaning a sound that one hears without seeing or being able to identify the originating source (M2a, M2c, M3, M4, M6, M7, M8a, M8b, M10, M11a). The term was transmitted by Diderot in the Encyclopédie (M1, M5) and in the pages of Larousse (M6, M10). A related term, ‘acousmate’ (M1, M3, M11), was found in the Dictionnaire of the Académie française (M11b), as well as Larousse (M3). Apollinaire, a lover of rare words, used ‘acousmate’ as the title of two short poems (M1, M11b). These poems tell of voices heard in the air (M1, M11b). The writer Jérôme Peignot was the first to employ ‘acousmatic’ as a term for describing musique concrète (M2c, M3). Schaeffer learned about the term from Peignot (M1) and, by attaching it to the phenomenological epoché, developed a concept of acousmatics that formed a significant part of this theory in the Traité (M2d). Modern audio technology preserves the ancient acousmatic tradition of the Pythagorean veil (M10) or its mystical variants (M11). Acousmatic music continues the tradition of musique concrète Pythagoreanism by veiling sounds, through the use of the loudspeaker, of all causal and contextual associations (M2a, M4, M8b). “

The image was created by combining a face and a lectern found at Openclipart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ruination Day

According to singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, today is Ruination Day because of three horrible events:

1.)   The assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865

2.)   The RMS Titanic hitting an iceberg in 1912 & sinking

3.)   The Black Sunday dust storm in 1935.

On her 2001 album Time (The Revelator) she mentions them in two songs you can listen to at YouTube - April the 14th Part I and Ruination Day Part II. Part I ends with:

“....Ruination Day and the sky was red.
I went back to work, and back to bed.
And the iceberg broke, and the Okies fled,
And the Great Emancipator took a bullet in the back of the head.”

Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and Alison Kraus also were the voices of The Sirens in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? 

On a happier note, today we also celebrate the birthdays of country singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn (1932), baseball player Pete Rose (1941), and actress Sarah Michelle Gellar (1977).

An image by Carol M. Highsmith of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, April 13, 2015

What’s worse than being the boy who cried wolf? It’s being the girl who cried goldfish!

The cover of Sam Horn’s new book Got Your Attention? (How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone) has an image of a goldfish below the title. It goes with two sentences in the introduction:

“Did you know goldfish, yes, goldfish, have longer attention spans than we humans do?

Nine seconds to our eight. At least that’s what Harvard Business School researcher Nancy F. Koehn reported in a February 2014 Marketplace Business article (ref 1).”

She also has a blog post titled Did You Know GOLDFISH have Longer Attention Spans Than Humans Do? in which she crows about how the goldfish is becoming the “poster fish” of our allegedly shrinking attention span.

But, neither Sam nor Nancy checked carefully to see where that dubious pair of statistics really came from. It’s a web page at a silly website called Statistic Brain. Last December I blogged about how Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show, and included the attention span statistics as my second example. 

 That’s too bad, since both the book and her TEDxBethesdaWomen talk on Intrigue make some interesting points.

Friday, April 10, 2015

How many American adults have impulsive anger issues and access to guns?

A press release from Duke University on April 8th stated that:

“An estimated 9 percent of adults in the U.S. have a history of impulsive, angry behavior and have access to guns, according to a study published this month in Behavioral Sciences and the Law. The study also found that an estimated 1.5 percent of adults report impulsive anger and carry firearms outside their homes.

....The researchers analyzed data from 5,563 face-to-face interviews conducted in the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R), a nationally representative survey of mental disorders in the U.S. led by Harvard in the early 2000s.

The study found little overlap between participants with serious mental illnesses and those with a history of impulsive, angry behavior and access to guns.

‘Gun violence and serious mental illness are two very important but distinct public health issues that intersect only at their edges,’ Swanson said.”

Several of my blog posts have discussed another magazine article on social fears based on data from the NCS-R. Those large, careful surveys continue to provide us with lots of useful information.  

The ancestor of Yosemite Sam was adapted from an 1898 Puck magazine cartoon

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Carpet cleaning, with just a little lye

For the past year or so I’ve been hearing radio ads from the local franchisee of a firm called Zerorez. The description on their web site said that they clean using something magical called Empowered Water (a trademark), and that their process leaves zero residue - which is why the company name is a palindrome. That’s amazing and somewhat misleading marketing jargon. Watch a brief video from their Albuquerque franchisee.

So, just how do you really make empowered water? Is it like Rock Water? Or, do you send it to visit a sweat lodge in Sedona?  Actually, as shown above, they just add add some sodium chloride (salt) to the water, and apply a direct current to produce a solution containing sodium hydroxide (lye, or caustic soda). The folks at EAU Technologies who supply the equipment to Zerorez grandly refer to that liquid as Primacide B Empowered Water. When I checked at the web site for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, I found that EAU Technologies had abandoned their trademark for Empowered Water as of January 5, 2015, so its status now is listed as DEAD. What they are doing is not startlingly new, just a scaled down version similar to the old familiar chlorakali process

Zerorez does have U. S. patent ##6,638,364 for their cleaning process. Its title is a lot more descriptive than their marketing mumbo jumbo - System to clean and disinfect carpets, fabrics, and hard surfaces using electrolyzed alkaline water produced from a solution of NaCl.

Does their process leave zero residue? That would require a perfect rinse, so I doubt it really does. But, as shown above, any sodium hydroxide residue left in the carpet eventually would react with carbon dioxide in the air, and form harmless sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Billboards and the five-second rule for PowerPoint slides

In an April 2nd blog post at Forbes titled Audiences Revolt Against PowerPoint  Jerry Weissman described how venture capitalist Vinod Khosla viewed slides:

“In a prior Forbes blog, I described how, during presentations that are delivered by people who are soliciting him to invest millions of dollars, Mr. Khosla looks at each slide for five seconds, and then looks away. If he understands the slide at that glance, he looks back at the screen; if not, the presentation—and any possibility of an investment—grinds to a screeching halt.”

At his Beyond Bullet Points blog back in 2004 Cliff Atkinson discussed Drive-By Inspiration - how looking at billboards might help you decide what is important enough to be in a slide.

At his Presentation Zen blog in 2008 Garr Reynolds discussed Learning slide design from an Ikea billboard. He referred to both billboards and slides as “glance media.” Late in 2011 Alex Rister discussed slide design and the Three Second Rule of Glance Media.

The Presentation Process web site has a contrary opinion that comparing slides and billboards is a bunch of bat manure - PowerPoint Slide Design: Don’t Make Them Like Billboard Ads, with the following five points:

1] Billboards don’t need a presenter. Your business presentations need you.

2] Billboards are not interactive. Your business presentations should be.

3] Billboard slide design can grab audience attention. But can they retain the attention?

4] Billboard slides can trigger emotions. But can they persuade with logic?

5] Unlike billboards your business slides are part of an overall story.

On February 28th I said to Don’t make things any more complicated than necessary. I have also discussed how Assertion-Evidence PowerPoint slides are an alternative to bullet point lists. In another post back in 2011 on a Pearls Before Swine cartoon about billboards & pigs & PowerPoint, I noted that you could tell your story using a series of slides, like those old Burma Shave signs. So, you really don’t need to cram eveything into a single slide that could be viewed for just five seconds.

The rustic billboard template came from Presentation Magazine.The billboard for guano came from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Crash Course Astronomy - a series of short instructional videos by Phil Plait

In January Phil Plait began delivering a series of ten to twelve minute long introductory lectures about astronomy that were recorded by PBS Digital Studios and released as YouTube videos. They just released a humorous video of outtakes. Watch at the one-minute mark, as Phil tries different hand gestures for showing the orientation of the Earth’s axis.    

Topics so far in this series are:

#1    Introduction to Astronomy

#2    Naked Eye Observations

#3    Cycles in the Sky

#4    Moon Phases

#5    Eclipses

#6    Telescopes

#7    The Gravity of the Situation

#8    Tides

#9    Introduction to the Solar System

#10  The Sun

Back in 2011 Phil also gave a TED talk on How to defend Earth from Asteroids.