Thursday, July 27, 2017

A last-ditch, last-minute source for Table Topics questions - inspirational quotations and posters generated by a web robot

Suppose the club member who was going to handle the Table Topics (impromptu speaking) portion of your Toastmasters club meeting had to cancel at the last minute. Perhaps she had a sick or injured child to attend. Where can you almost instantly get a half-dozen questions to use?

Just go to the InspiroBot web site, point to the Generate button and click. Do that 20 or 30 times. Then look through the batch of inspirational posters, download the best half-dozen as jpg files, and load them into a PowerPoint presentation. You’re done preparing! Now just ask each participant to explain a quote.  

20 quotations InspiroBot generated for me are:

1]   “How would the world look if lawyers would just be the solution and not the problem?”

2]   “Maybe opportunities are opportunities because you’re losing it?”

3]   “Make everybody feel freakishly significant.”

4]   “You cannot have ice without a feeling.”

5}   “An erotic thought is never alone.”

6]   “Viruses have the potential to generate ambiguity.”

7]   “Loneliness is not to begin, but to imagine the unexaminable.”

8]   “Understand that you are creative. Understand that you are impressive. Understand that you are special.”

9]   “They can make you get rich, but they cannot make you build a pyramid.”

10] “How would the world look if each individual would begin to confront hypocrisy?”

11] “Royals become royals because of the money.”

12] “Everyone you know will secretly become the grand delusion.”

13] “Dancing without opportunity is like civil war without a home.”

14] Home Office is just another word for Fallout Shelter.”

15] “What seems smart to a lady, seems unsmart to an actor.”

16] “What if secret messages can be sorrows if we just think outside the box?”

17] “Drug your secrets.”

18] “The world is real.”

19] “Get lucky. Drink milk.”

20] “What is so insane about encouraging an honest person to be a burglar?”

 Four examples of posters from #5, #8, #17, and #19 are shown above. #8 employs the Rule of Three, and looks particularly impressive. If you swap the word order for #20,  recaption, and crop (as shown below), you get what might be a teen-age romance follow-up to those silly Got Milk? ads from a couple decades ago.

I saw InspiroBot mentioned in a LinkedIn Pulse article by Lou Bilancia on July 16, 2017 titled Al - Barba Tenus Sapientes - It’s “A” artificial, but I find nothing “I.” He’d posted it in one of the Failure Analysis groups that I read. You can find the quote Lou used for his title discussed in an August 26, 2016 article at Mental Floss by Paul Anthony Jones titled 20 Latin Phrases You Should Be Using. 

Update July 28, 2017
If you’re in a huge hurry, you could just write down those quotations.

But if you put the poster images into PowerPoint, you also could cheat by adding text boxes with bogus but plausible sounding sources like the following four (or even ask if those sources were real):

21] Talk loud in public and be human - Theodore Roosevelt?

22] With incredible lusts come incredible questions - Spiderman?

23] Drugs are designed to improve your life - Hunter S. Thompson?

24] If you are the dumbest person in the building, try finding another building - Jim Carrey?


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Answering questions about geographical names - the joy of impromptu speaking (Table Topics)

Toastmasters club meetings have a section where people learn to answer questions by giving one to two minute impromptu speeches. It’s called Table Topics. The July 2017 issue of Toastmaster magazine has an article on answering titled 10 Tips for Terrific Table Topics by Brian Cox on page 21. But the other half is making up the questions and leading the discussion, which is called being the Table Topics Master. That was my role for the July 21st meeting of the Saint Al’s Toastmasters club in Boise. 

I introduced my topic this way:

Let’s talk about geographical names - those for rivers, towns, roads, and businesses named the same as a road. Are they awesome, mediocre, or awful?

Fry Street is an awesome road name, since we love our potatoes. There are two sections. South Fry runs north from Victory Road, which also is awesome. North Fry runs north from Fairview Avenue, which just is mediocre. 

Poison Creek Road is an awful name. Imagine a realtor trying to sell a lot or house there. It’s south of Marsing, and runs west from US-95. (There also is a web page for the Poison Creek Picnic Site. I never ever want to see the word poison anywhere near the word picnic). 

Then I asked the questions, with replies summarized in parentheses, followed by my comments.

Here in Boise, 8050 West Ustick Road is the address for the Ustick Inn Rooming House Hotel. Its name suggests what happens there. Is that name awesome or awful, or both? (The new business owner hadn’t made up his mind on what to call it until he was filling out the registration paperwork. He put in all three names that were being considered). When I first saw that building, the sign just said Ustick Inn. But in Table Topics you get to make up your own story that can be even better than the truth.   

In Eagle there is a Floating Feather Road. Tell us the history behind that name. (It involved one bird. Everything has to get a name. The Bedouin have 200 names for camels, since they don’t have much else to do at night other than sit around looking at their animals).  Did someone just run over one chicken, or was there a farm that processed chickens every day.

Banks, Idaho  has a population of just 17. How many banks are there in Banks? (Seventeen, since each resident has a piggy bank at home. Or, maybe more since there also are children who weren’t counted). Banks is located on the Payette River where the North and South forks meet. Another answer would be two, since the river has a bank on each side.

South of Boise off Cole Road there is Lake Hazel Road. I drove all the way west till it ended, and never saw a lake. Tell us about what ever happened to Lake Hazel. (It must have evaporated. I never saw it either). Librarians at the Lake Hazel branch of the Ada County Library told me that Lake Hazel once just was a medium-sized pond.

Sea Breeze Way runs south from Lake Hazel Road into the Charter Pointe subdivision. What do you think of those two names? (Maybe the houses look like they’re from an ocean side. But the area probably smells more like a dairy farm. Let me tell you about how Chicken Dinner Road got named. It was full of ruts and potholes, but the people who lived at the end had complained in vain to local officials. So, they invited them all out for a chicken dinner, which meant they had to drive all the way down there. Then the road got fixed and renamed.) 

Silver City is a ghost town in Owyhee County. What do you think of those names? (Silver City describes mining. Owyhee sounds like someone was trying to say Hawaii). Three Hawaiians vanished while exploring Owyhee County during the winter of 1819 - 1820.

Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas. Why was it named that? (Who knows how people come up with some of these silly names. Maybe they weren’t thinking straight).

I finished up that section of the meeting with the following story.

Auburn means red-brown and typically refers to hair. There are towns in 26 states named Auburn. But the Seattle suburb of Auburn, Washington originally had a much worse name. It was called Slaughter, in memory of  Lt. William Slaughter, who died in a skirmish fighting Native Americans from the Muckleshoot tribe in 1855.

In 1893, a large group of settlers from Auburn, New York, moved in and renamed the town. When Auburn was building its second high school in the mid-1990s, there was a grass-roots effort to go back and name the new one Slaughter High School

Eventually they decided the name instead would be the Auburn Riverside High School. Maybe there was a campaign with bumper stickers saying Slaughter High School only should be the name for a slasher movie.

I had discussed Auburn in an earlier blog post about Table Topics back on May 6, 2010 titled What stories are you carrying in your pocket?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dispensing the same old statistics on fear of public speaking

On May 20, 2017 Brandon Gaille posted an article titled 15 Fear of Public Speaking Statistics. I thought it looked vaguely familiar. Then I noticed that in the address box it said 14 instead of 15. I looked and found my old blog post from October 27, 2013 titled Stage Freight where the typo ‘stage freight’ had shown up on October 24, 2013 in the very same article, which back then instead was titled 14 Fear of Public Speaking Statistics.

That typo was in his list of Top 10 Phobias, which actually were a list of fears borrowed without reference from a web page titled Fear of Public Speaking Statistics Factsheet over at Speech Topics Help.

How about the infographic at the bottom? I also blogged about what was wrong with it in a November 9, 2013 blog post titled How scary is public speaking or performance? A better infographic showing both fears and phobias.

The image by Helgi Halldórsson was adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two cartoonists recently told us humorously about how overcrowded airliners were getting

They are almost like subway cars during rush hour. In his July 10th F Minus cartoon Tony Carrillo showed the result - standing strap hangers, captioned:

 “Remember when seats on a flight weren’t just a first-class thing?”

Then on July 18th he revisited the topic with another cartoon captioned:

“The flight was a little cramped. Dustin flew free on my lap as my emotional support boyfriend.”

In his July 20th Pearls Before Swine cartoon Stephan Pastis instead showed the process (and let us imagine the result):

“Rat (the airline gate agent): Folks, I’m afraid today’s flight is oversold. The good news, though, is that we’re flying to Tokyo, where they sometimes use long sticks to cram humans into subway cars.  And, well, I’m sure you see where this is going.

Other gate agent: Let’s not tell the F.A.A. about this.

Passenger: Oof.

Another Passenger: Oh, God.

Rat: See, you all fit now.” 

You could tell a story in your presentation either way, with a visual showing process or resultant product.

The rush hour subway car image came from Wikimedia Commons.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sound conduction through your head bones is why you hate your own voice on recordings

When you listen to yourself, some of what you hear is conducted to your ears through your head. Other people just hear your voice carried by the air. Reader’s Digest just had a web article explaining that, and there was another one by Jordan Gaines at NBC News back in 2013.

The first few times you hear (and watch) yourself rehearsing on recordings that feedback may be disconcerting. You may think you’re the worst speaker ever and want to cover your ears, as is shown above. Get over it, and see what you could be doing better.

The image was adapted from a sculpture of Three Wise Monkeys on Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Is ACB an initialism or an acronym? Both!

An article by Bill Brown in the July 2017 issue of Toastmaster magazine discussed The ABCs of Toastmasters Acronyms. He decoded some of them:

ACB - Advanced Communicator Bronze
ACS - Advanced Communicator  Silver
ACG - Advanced Communicator Gold
ALB - Advanced Leader Bronze
ALS - Advanced Leader Silver

CC - Competent Communicator
CL - Competent Leader

DCP - Distinguished Club Program
DTM - Distinguished Toastmaster

VPE - (Club) Vice President Education
VPM - (Club) Vice President Membership
VPPR - (Club) Vice President Public Relations

But he left off the B’s, like BSS for Better Speaker Series. And when he talked about organizational structure he left off that there are 14 Regions above the 102 Districts. Also, he didn’t provide acronyms for the directors above clubs in the organizational structure - area directors, division directors, and district directors.  

If you look up acronym (as a noun) in the Oxford English Dictionary, you will find two definitions. One is:

“A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS).

The other is:

“A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occasionally) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA).”

If we ignore those occasional initial parts of syllables, then we can draw a Venn diagram including both definitions with three ovals (shown above) that resembles the simple masks worn by Zorro or the Lone Ranger.

Over at The Official Toastmasters International Group on LinkedIn Mike Raffety posted a link to his Toastmasters Vocabulary web page, which is like having a secret decoder for this alphabet soup. Mike’s page resolves how to avoid confusion between a division director (DivD) and a district director (DD). Relatively few of the acronyms he lists can be pronounced as words (although he left off BoD for Board of Directors):

AD - Area Director
COT - Club Officer Training
DOT - District Officer Training
GE - General Evaluator
PIP - Past International President
PRO - Public Relations Officer (of a District)

Also at The Official Toastmasters International Group on LinkedIn Sharon Horgan commented that the magazine article refers to acronyms, but they are actually initialisms. She referred to a definition for initialism. But their definition for acronym also includes initialism.

The exalted rank of DTM (Distinguished Toast Master) breaks the rules for making an acronym. If we didn’t, we’d get DT, which is uncomfortably close to DTs (for delirium tremens).

Finally, how might we unofficially refer to those who haven’t yet finished the Competent Communication manual? Should they be known as Incompetent Communicators?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why is your audience tilting their heads sideways?

Perhaps they just are trying to read a vertical y-axis label on one of your slides, like the one on the following graph.

It is another version of the one shown in my previous blog post on July 1st, which more sensibly used a horizontal label. Your software may default to a vertical y-axis label, but please don’t use it.

On July 3, 2017 at SlideMagic Jan Schultink posted about Vertical Axis Titles. He suggested that you skip both the vertical and horizontal axis text labels. Instead you can use a slide title (headline) with your message. In this case it would be:

How many millions of viewers watched the first four weeks
     of Megyn Kelly’s Sunday Night TV show on NBC?

That audience posture is known as the Goren Lean (from Vincent D’Nofrio’s portrayal of Detective Robert Goren in the TV show Law and Order - Criminal Intent). I blogged about it in a post on October 5, 2013 titled Hiding data in a Harlequin PowerPoint chart.
The image of a Jack Russell Terrier came from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Does this data look like a downward spiral, or just the bottom of a ski hill?

Some people normally think visually. They can easily imagine what a graph will look like. Others may need to learn to think that way, and to use software like Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint to turn a dull data table into an informative graph.   

On June 26 the Daily Mail had an article by Chris Spargo titled Megyn Kelly ratings dip for third straight week hitting new season low of 3.41M viewers on NBC as host announces she will be off the air next Sunday during limited summer run. But when Jane Genova blogged about it that day she instead claimed Megyn Kelly’s ‘Sunday Night’ – Ratings in Downward Spiral.

That show had led off with a highly-advertised episode. It was highlighted by an interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Then from the first to the second week viewers dropped from 6.1 million to 3.61 million, or by a horrible 41%. But from the second week to the third, with 3.50 million, the drop was just 3%. And from the third week to the fourth, with 3.41 million, the drop again was by just 3%. When you graph those numbers, you will see Jane was being overly dramatic. It’s just the bottom of a ski hill.  

Megyn Kelly’s show still had fewer viewers than either the 7.21 million for 60 Minutes, and 3.92 million for America’s Funniest Home Videos. But 60 Minutes has been on for almost five decades. Going against it with a similar news show almost is a suicide mission.

Another way to analyze those numbers is by looking at differences and slopes. We can ask a simple question - when will the show have no viewers left? After two weeks things looked dire – like no one would be watching by week four. But that was not what happened.

In my first career as a research metallurgist I reviewed magazine articles submitted for publication in both a metallurgy magazine and a corrosion magazine, I learned to carefully check whether the data meant what the authors claimed. On March 18, 2013 I blogged about What is your hearing threshold? – the joy of statistics. There I discussed how the same statistics also apply to stress corrosion cracking (SCC) tests. Once I read a submitted article where the highest stress level for SCC tests didn’t make the specimens crack. The author wrongly assumed that if they just had gone one step higher they would have. That’s wishful thinking, not engineering, so I rejected it. (D. J. Finney’s book on Statistical Method in Biological Assay warns researchers NOT to ever make that assumption).