Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A holiday reminder to proofread your graphics

My sister Sally sent us a box of cordial blueberries. Their box top is shown above.

The front of the box instead claims they used real cherries. (Click on the image for a larger, clearer view). Obviously the graphics for this package were derived from one for their cordial cherries. But the bottom of the box correctly lists the fruit used as blueberries. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Does it sound right?

In September 2015 the 85 year old novelist (or science fiction writer) Ursula K. Le Guin released the revised edition of her book Steering the Craft: a twenty-first century guide to sailing the sea of story. Chapter 1 is titled The sound of your writing. It opens with:

“The sound of the language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise words make, the sounds and silences that make the rhythms marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depends on these sounds and rhythms. This is just as true of prose as it is of poetry, though the sound effects of prose are usually subtle and always irregular.

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia,* they fall in love with musical or impressive words and use them in all the wrong places. Some writers keep this primal interest in and love for the sounds of language. Others ‘outgrow’ their oral/aural sense of what they’re reading or writing. That’s a dead loss. An awareness of what your own writing sounds like is an essential skill for a writer. Fortunately it’s quite easy to cultivate, to learn or reawaken.”

You can listen to an NPR Interview and read a longer excerpt.

Ivan Kramskoy’s painting came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Yes Donald Trump, the word schlonged is vulgar

Mr. Trump got into trouble for describing Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Barack Obama  in the 2008 Democratic primary election by saying that Hillary got schlonged. Then he whined on twitter that:

“Once again, #MSM is dishonest. ‘Schlonged’ is not vulgar. When I said Hillary got ‘schlonged’ that meant beaten badly.”

It’s really almost an F-bomb. The Yiddish word schlong means penis and so the obscure verb form means intercourse. It would be even more vulgar if he had specified other than the usual form of sex (e.g. buggered).

The Washington Post, Esquire, and BBC News all took him to task for using that word. Saying Hillary got torpedoed would have been better (and less blatantly sexual).

Trump needs to learn some better words for won and lost. A little more time listening to sports talk radio or TV would probably help. Sportscasters all seem to have been taught out of a book like the mythical one shown above.

The bomb image was adapted from Openclipart.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Just in time for Christmas - a bluster and vendetta based state budget proposed by a Grinch

On December 16, 2015  Wayne Hoffman, the head Grinch over at the Idaho Freedom Foundation published an article titled Otter, lawmakers must ease burdens in 2016. It began by claiming:

“This winter, Idaho lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter must figure out how to provide $100 million — and as much as $200 million — in tax relief. We’re talking about real tax relief. Why cut taxes? Because Idahoans are struggling to make ends meet, and the state’s confiscatory tax policies are squarely to blame. 

A person earning about $11,000 in taxable income finds herself in Idaho’s top tax bracket — 7.4 percent — the highest in the region. Cutting income tax rates, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t benefit just the rich, it benefits the working poor too.”

That claim for the state of Idaho having the highest tax rate in the region really is nonsense when you use a common-sense definition that includes all six of our neighbors as shown above and discussed in my October 5th blog post on Using graphics to see an argument more clearly. In previous articles Wayne at least clarified that he was curiously using just the Intermountain Region (with only two of our neighbors). That region excludes Oregon, which has a bracket of 9 percent for that taxable income, and a top bracket of 9.9 percent. Also, three of our six neighbors have no state income tax. 

Wayne’s article linked to their very curious full budget proposal, which calls for a total of $3,151,920,000, which is a 2.6% increase over 2016. I say curious because it makes a point of including $5,000,000 (an underwhelming 0.16%) to Reduce federal dependency. What are the biggest changes  they propose?

The table shown above lists the nine biggest winners - those being increased by more than 3%. (Click on it to see a larger and clearer view). Sensibly, public school support is up by 4.8%. The rightmost column shows that this item represents over 49% of the state budget. Adding in the other education categories of professional technical education (1.89%), colleges and universities (8.6%), and community colleges (1.11) leads to a total of 60.68%, which is almost all of the 63.07% total.  

Another table shown above lists the eight biggest losers - those being decreased by more than 3%. The sum for those items is only 3% of the total budget. Seven of them individually are less than a piddling 1% of the total budget, and three are just 0.1% or less. They don’t make much of a difference, so including them seems like vendettas rather than carefully considered cutting. Cutting both the judicial branch and the state police is particularly foolish. Are maintaining current levels of justice and public safety unimportant?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Good and bad news about Steve Harvey

Steve Harvey was known as the host of the Family Feud TV show. Now there’s good and bad news about him.

The good news is that he’s much more famous. The bad news is that it’s for having made a mistake on live TV. The good news is that he just misread one cue card. The bad news is that card listed the winner of the Miss Universe pageant he was hosting.

Steve had announced that Miss Colombia was the winner. After she was crowned he told the audience that instead Miss Philippines had won. Miss Colombia really was the first runner-up. He held up the card and apologized. (In a tweet he also misspelled the names of both countries).

The good news is that both Steve and the pageant got a lot of extra publicity. The bad news is that now Steve is stuck with a catchphrase and may be introduced by Steve ‘the winner is‘ Harvey.    

On his Manner of Speaking blog John Zimmer described Five Lessons from the 2015 Miss Universe Mix-up.  At Forbes.com Cheryl Conner discussed What Steve Harvey’s Mistake Teaches Entrepreneurs: How to Turn Your PR Gaffes Into Wins.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A great story about friendship and pushing on

Watch this 18-1/2 minute TEDx Boise talk from back on January 16th titled I’ll Push You: 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair. It describes how together Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray did the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain.  

On December 18th Justin and Patrick were interviewed by Marcia Franklin in Pushing On, a half-hour episode of her Dialog program on Idaho Public Television.  

The stylized scallop symbol for the pilgrimage came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why you might need to see the problem to understand what really is going on

Sometimes you have to see (or visualize) a problem to understand what really is going on. On November 20th the SHARK TANK troubleshooting section at Computerworld had a humorous story titled Is it the appendix? The spleen? The intestine?

An application analyst (software guy) at a hospital was working the Third Shift along with a support tech (hardware guy). At 2 A.M. the software guy got called to help troubleshoot a (nurse) user’s  problem: 

“User: ‘The thing on my computer stopped working.’

Which thing, ma'am?

User: ‘The thing attached to the computer.’


User: ‘So I can see the patient orders.’

You mean the monitor?

User: ‘What?’

The TV?

User: ‘No, so I can put my password in.’

The keyboard?

User: ‘No. I am busy. I don't have time to play these games. 
I can't move the arrow so I can get the line into the box for the password.’

You are saying the mouse is not working?

User: ‘What?’

The oval-shaped thing with the buttons?

User: ‘Yes.’

I'll have tech support bring a new one as soon as possible.

User: ‘What do I do in the meantime? I am busy.’

I'm sorry, but is there another computer available in the area?

User: ‘The one next to me is not being used. I will move over.’

I called tech support to relay the message. The tech ran to the floor with the replacement.Turns out she is left-handed, and was using the mouse for the computer to her left."

Friday, December 18, 2015

I still don’t want to buy a doorbuster

Five years ago I blogged about an example of silly seasonal marketing jargon -  I don’t want to buy a doorbuster (or a blowout, or a red tag).

The Irish doorbuster shown above in an image from back in 1888 is pretty impressive though. You’d need a flatbed trailer just to tote it around.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Jargon and guff

The word jargon has an uncertain origin in Old French. If you prefer to tell a fairly tale, you instead could blame it on the mythical French hot-air balloonist and self-promoter Armand Jargon (shown above). Jargon originally referred to the inarticulate utterance of birds (twittering). Later it came to refer to unintelligible or meaningless talk.

Similarly, guff refers to empty, windy talk increasingly favored by companies. Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has collected examples of it in her Guffipedia, a brief dictionary introduced in a six-minute podcast. Twenty of them are shown above in a table. The most outrageous is the eight-word phrase pledge allegiance to the promise of our brand which can simply be replaced by the word care.  

The drawing actually is of Gaston Tissandier and came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The joy of metaphor

When we say that A is B, we can use a metaphor either to make the strange familiar or the familiar strange. In his Manner of Speaking blog last year John Zimmer had an excellent post on Rhetorical Devices: Metaphor.

I found a wonderful TED Ed video by poet Jane Hirshfield about The art of the metaphor. There also is a longer Metaphorically Speaking TED talk by James Geary. Mr. Geary mentions that we use six metaphors a minute.

An article titled Clean Sources: Six Metaphors a Minute? by Paul Tosey discusses where that number six came from, and adds some more detail - that only about a third of metaphors are live. So, look for the diamonds and avoid the stones.

The image of diamonds came from Wikimedia Commons. The caption was adapted from an article by David Brooks titled Want a Better Speech? Start with Better Parts, in which he had quoted Hans Lillejord: “Some words are diamonds; some words are stones.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When did the Wall Street Journal say that public speaking is the #1 fear in America?

On December 10th there was a web article at the Dale Carnegie Northwest Blog by Liz Scavnicky-Yaekle titled Science Says - Five Ways to Prepare for Public Speaking which opened with the startling statement that: 

“Public speaking is the #1 fear in America according to the Wall Street Journal.“

That sounds way more scary than this October’s Chapman Survey of American Fears which instead ranked public speaking 26th out of 89. When I blogged about it, I pointed out that people really were only Slightly Afraid of public speaking. 

Anyhow, when did the Wall Street Journal say that? Let’s pull back the curtain on this silly appeal to authority. The last time was  on June 13, 2014 in an article titled Joe Queenan’s Guide to Public Speaking which just opened with the very generic statement that:

“People routinely say that being asked to speak in public is their No. 1 fear, inspiring more dread than flying.”

I blogged about that article the day after it appeared. Back in 2007 Preston Ni had claimed more specifically that:

“Did you know that according to the Wall Street Journal, public speaking is the number one fear in America? The fear of death is ranked number two! That’s right—we seem more afraid of public speaking than we are of physical demise, heights, jumping out of a plane, or dreaded in-laws.” 

He repeated that claim in two web articles at Psychology Today on May 14, 2013 and November 6, 2013 but never supplied a date for the Wall Street Journal article. Anyway, the death is number two claim corresponds to a old Jerry Seinfeld joke, as I discussed back on March 1st in a blog post titled A high mound of manure from Bill Hoogterp about fear of public speaking.

The image was adapted from Unity Brings Victory at Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The thunder tube - a compact prop for creating sound effects

Sometimes a speech calls for sound effects. Fred E. Miller mentions thunder in a 2010 blog post titled Props can help the audience GET IT! Here are some great ones! 

My sister Ellen just sent me a Remo Thunder Tube. As shown above, it is just a 7” long by 2-1/4” diameter plastic tube with a 17” coil-spring tail protruding from a drumhead on one end. You can find it at Amazon or American Science and Surplus

Watch Robert Fishbone’s four-minute Thunder Tube Tutorial.

A “thunder sheet” is another less compact prop for producing thunder sound effects. Older ways are discussed in a blog post on How to make stage thunder and lightning: 1829 - 1900.

If you are very talented comedian and actor like Michael Winslow, you can make thousands of sound effects without any prop other than a microphone. There are YouTube videos of him doing a car alarm and other things on the Jimmy Fallon show, and on other TV shows in Kansas City and London

Monday, December 7, 2015

Overblown article title of the week - How to overcome the fear of public speaking in five minutes

At Inc.com on December 3rd there was an article by Joel Comm titled How to overcome the fear of public speaking in five minutes. In just five minutes? Gee, that might involve an injection of something. Just a pill or a suppository couldn’t act that quickly.

But, look at the link. At some time the title got changed to that overblown one from a more reasonable 7 Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking.

An equally overblown opening sentence claims that:

“It’s commonly believed that the greatest fear common to humans is the fear of public speaking.”

But, when you click on that link you find the 2006 article instead talks ONLY about the U.S., which certainly is NOT all humans:

“If speaking in public scares you, you aren't alone, says Paul L. Witt, PhD, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.

‘It is even scarier than rattlesnakes,’ Witt tells WebMD. ’The idea of making a presentation in public is the No. 1 fear reported by people in the U.S.’ "

Back in 2005 Seth Godin published a book whose title began All Marketers Are Liars. Joel’s LinkedIn page lists experience as an internet marketer, which explains his overblown claims.

Then he goes on to list those seven decent tips: 

1]  Remember that it’s not about you. It’s about your content.

2]  Shake some hands before you talk.

3]  Keep in mind that you’re the only one who knows [how nervous or afraid you are].

4]  It’s OK not to be perfect.

5]  Audiences are made of people just like you.

6]  Be gracious with yourself.

7]  Your passion, knowledge, and experience can carry the day.

The 1962 image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How to think outside the box

Words used in speech writing matter. They can put you and your audience in a box and bias how you and they think about creatively solving problems. Pages 83 to 89 in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review have a very interesting article by Tony McCaffrey and Jim Pearson titled Find Innovation Where You Least Expect It - how to overcome “functional fixedness” and other biases that get in the way of creativity. You can read it at their web site. (It begins with a novel way that all the passengers on the Titanic could have been saved despite a shortage of lifeboats).

Arby’s is a classic example of fixedness. In 2012 that fast food company finally realized that instead of just thinly-sliced roast beef sandwiches on buns their restaurants also could make and sell roast turkey sandwiches. It only took them 48 years.

 McCaffrey and Pearson talk about changing how you describe an object by asking two questions:

“1]  Can it be broken down further?


2]  Does our description imply a particular use?”

If either answer is yes, then you keep breaking them down and put the results on a simple tree, as is shown above for a particular candle. A wick can be described as a string, so it can instead be used to tie things together.

There are other ways to describe candles. As shown above, some even have a low-melting point metal core wire (perhaps lead) inside the wick. But, if you view a candle as a scent delivery system, you might replace the wick with a warmer and end up with a business like Scentsy.  

 My father told me three stories about thinking outside the box. Two were from back in the early 1950s when he was a professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Tennessee. He was part of running their graduate program. Their correspondence was being typed on an old, worn out manual typewriter. It made a very poor first impression on potential students and professors. Dad asked the university purchasing agent about getting an IBM Executive electric typewriter with proportional spacing. The answer was a firm no. If Chemical Engineering got a new one, than the other engineering departments would want one too, and then so would Agriculture, etc. What if someone donated a typewriter to the Chemical Engineering department? It would be just fine. That’s what Dad’s consulting practice did. Problem solved.      

Oak Ridge National Laboratory had built an aqueous homogeneous nuclear reactor. Dad and his co-workers were asked to research fluid flow inside that spherical core cavity which had pipes entering and exiting at the poles as shown above. They wanted to build a transparent model out of acrylic plastic with a cavity diameter of eight to ten inches. It could be formed from two hemispheres of Plexiglas sheet stretched over a sphere. But where can you buy an inexpensive but precisely made sphere? Small spheres can be bought as replacement parts for ball bearings. What about bigger balls? Well, a bowling ball is an 8.5” diameter sphere. He submitted a purchase order for one without any finger holes. The purchasing agent called him up, and said I know you’re playing a practical joke on me. You’re still upset about me rejecting the typewriter. But I went ahead and ordered you an obviously useless AMF bowling ball. So there!        

A third story was from the late 1950s when he was involved with the design of a facility that had a lot of connected glove boxes (an example of which is shown above). For future changes there usually are are lots of ports with round covers rather than gloves. They had visited some government nuclear facilities, and found them using expensive custom spun stainless-steel covers. Instead Dad designed ports on their boxes to use standard sized stainless-steel cake pans - mass-produced products about a tenth the cost. Dad kept a big yellow McMaster-Carr wholesale hardware catalog in his office so he could easily find  those sorts of mass produced products and components.       

The game box, Arby’s sandwich, and reactor images came from Wikimedia Commons, and the 7205 glovebox came from CDC. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The joy of skepticism

How should you react when you see a loony tabloid cover like the phony one shown above?

George Hrab gave an excellent 24-minute TEDx Lehigh River talk on Rethinking doubt: The Value and Achievements of Skepticism. Phil Plait pointed to it in a November 14th post at his Bad Astronomy blog. On September 1st I similarly blogged about Don’t open your mouth until you’ve done your research

The Bigfoot image was adapted from Openclipart.