Sunday, December 31, 2017

Recent rituals for New Year’s Eve

Some people are content to celebrate time-honored holiday rituals. Others like Dylan Cline have a new vision. Back in 2009 I blogged about Seeing what is not there – but should be. This year is the Fifth annual Idaho Potato Drop in front of the state capitol building in downtown Boise. Look at the detailed Recap from last year and a YouTube video from the Idaho Statesman (shown above) to see how big and mainstream this event has become. The Glowtato is back!  

Up in Emmett they have a smaller scale event – their third annual Cherry Rise. KBOI TV had a story about it last year.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Holidays? from DirecTV

Three years ago I blogged about receiving an ad disguised as A phony greeting card from DirecTV. They just tried again. I recognized the return address, so I shredded the envelope without even opening it.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Communicating just with flags or other signals


If you think that words are clumsy for communicating, try using only signal flags. Zach Weinersmith recently had a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon on communication using signal flags where a single flag (or a pair) can carry a message. There are not really single rectangular red (anger), blue (sorrow) or green (happy?) flags in the maritime International Code of Signals. And a yellow flag isn’t stress - it means “My vessel is ‘healthy’ and I request free pratique (license to enter port)“ or it can be the letter Q (Quebec). But the white rectangle on a blue background can mean “my fishing nets are caught on an obstruction.”


A chart shows the letters and numerals in the International Code of Signals. These aren’t the only ways to signal. There was a sketch in the old Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV comedy show about The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights (which also included Julius Caesar on an Aldis Lamp, Gunfight at O.K. Corral in Morse Code, and the Smoke-Signal version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Literally blowing smoke

Until last month I had assumed that the phrase “blowing smoke up your behind” was figurative (meaning insincere compliments) rather than literal. Then on the new books shelf at my friendly local public library I found a book by Lydia King and Nate Pedersen titled Quackery: A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything. On pages 88 and 89 was a section titled Blowing Smoke Up Your Arse which described how in 18th century London tobacco smoke enemas were used to try and resuscitate drowned people. The article was illustrated by a photograph of a kit from the Wellcome Collection (with a bellows as shown above) and a captioned diagram showing the parts and how they were assembled. I have added another Wellcome Collection illustration of the assembled device (which coyly omits the nozzle). There was an organization known as The Institution for Affording Immediate Relief to Persons Apparently Dead from Drowning (which later became the Royal Humane Society). There even is a four-minute YouTube video titled Tobacco resuscitation kit: a smoke enema to save your life? It describes the theoretical basis of four humours.

There also was a magazine article by Sterling Haynes on Tobacco Smoke Enemas in the December 2012 issue of the BC Medical Journal (on pages 496 and 497). He said that in 1811 English scientist Ben Brodie discovered that nicotine was toxic to the heart, so smoke enemas soon became unfashionable. Via PubMed I found another article titled A history of the medicinal use of tobacco 1492 – 1860 by Grace G. Stewart in the July 1967 issue of Medical History (pages 228 to 268) with a better description (page 244) of how blowing smoke went from literal to figurative:

“Dr. (Daniel) Legare put the final touch upon the practice of injecting smoke into a patient’s intestinal canal to resuscitate the apparently drowned, when he presented his inaugural dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania in 1805, recording the results of his experiments upon animals with the rectal insufflation of tobacco smoke and demonstrating thereby that this mode of procedure was of no value as a means of resuscitation. The discontinuance of the practice of using tobacco smoke for this particular purpose did not mean that physicians abandoned the practice for other purposes, however, for it was continued until 1860 and possibly later.”

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Get sedated at the Anesthesia Lounge

Reportedly the most popular Uber destination in Idaho is the downtown Boise Cactus Bar. Other bars downtown include Dirty Little Roddy’s, Humpin’ Hannah’s and Liquid Lounge (and Solid Grill & Bar).  

Inspiration for naming a drinking establishment can come from almost anywhere. Down the hall from the cafeteria in the Central Tower of the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center here in Boise I saw a room sign for the Anesthesia Lounge.

That name has already been used for a bar in St. Louis, a bar in Hialeah, Florida, and another in Panama City, Florida.

Curiously it also has been filed on August 1, 2017 (based on first use on January 1, 2016) as a trademark for:

"Computer software for use in enabling the delivery, distribution and transmission of digital music and entertainment material on the Internet; Digital media, namely, downloadable recordings featuring music for purchase, download, broadcast or streaming."

Over two decades ago, when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, there was a bar on High Street called The Library. When parents called a dorm room at Ohio State University, a roommate could truthfully state that the child they wanted to talk with was away at The Library.   

Saturday, December 23, 2017

How to build a bad presentation – describe a problem but not a good solution


On December 21st at Jane Genova’s Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog she posted about The Atlantic – Return of Paywall. She linked to a Wall Street Journal article which told how, as of January 2018, that magazine is going back to requiring a subscription if you want to read more than the complimentary ten article a month.

But there is no good reason to pay for a subscription. That magazine is included in the EBSCO MasterFILE Premier online database which is widely available via public libraries – including where Jane lives in Mahoning County, Ohio (and where I live in Ada County, Idaho).  

Your library card number is all you need to get at a lot of great magazines from your personal computer. I’ve discussed Jane’s whining before on July 30, 2016 in a post titled Going around pesky periodical paywalls by using databases from your friendly local public library and on February 25, 2017 in another post titled How to research: If you can’t get in by the front door, then use the side door.

Rather hilariously in yet another post on December 21st she told us to Show, Don’t Tell.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For Halloween 2017 the Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians what they were most afraid of. Three most common answers were Illness/health care related, Death/dying or Economic/financial, and Nothing. Public speaking was way down at number 26.

I often read claims like this one or that one that public speaking supposedly is the number one fear in North America – without reference to any data from Canada. Near Halloween we commonly see surveys about fears, and this year there was an article posted on October 30, 2017 at the web site for the Angus Reid Institute titled Scary boo: From spiders & snakes to death & big government, Canadians reveal what scares them most. Their results from a survey of 1504 adults are shown above in a horizontal bar chart.(Click on it to see a larger, clearer view).

What is unusual about these results is that this question was Open-ended (free response). Surveys more commonly ask Close-ended (fixed alternative) questions which are multiple-choice. Open-ended questions are ‘essay questions’ that allow for an emotional response. But answers to open-ended questions must be processed further (sorted or categorized). Most other questions in this survey were Close-ended and about trick or treating on Halloween.

Back on June 15, 2015 I blogged about another Angus Reid survey with Close-ended questions in a post titled Snakes are the most common fear for Canadians, followed by heights and public speaking.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

More speechwriting resources from the Congressional Research Service (CRS)

Back on May 23, 2010 I blogged about Speechwriting advice U.S. Citizens already have paid for and referred to Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication which is Congressional Research Service Report #98-170 which you can download as a 26-page .pdf file here or here.

When I recently did a Google search I also found two brief documents. One is Speechwriting Resources: Fact Sheet (their R44239 from November 4, 2015) which can be downloaded here. It refers to Finding Quotes for Speeches: Fact Sheet (their CRS Report R44200) which can be downloaded here.  

An image of the U.S. Capitol came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Is it still cornbread if it has more flour than cornmeal?

I don’t think so. My idea of what cornbread should be comes from before I was five years old. Back then we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. True southern cornbread has all (or mostly) cornmeal and minimal amounts of flour, no sugar, and the liquid is buttermilk.

But over at the Ada County Library I found the 1999 New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny. On page 451 it had a recipe for Crusty Cornbread, Muffins, or Sticks which had 1-1/4 cups of flour and only 3/4 cup of cornmeal. I would call that corn-flavored bread, and consider it heresy.

The table shown above compares several versions of cornbread. (Click on it for a larger, clearer view). Two of them are from Bill Neal’s 1990 book, Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie. One for Northern Cornbread is from the 1997 Joy of Cooking, a fourth is from a web page for Bob’s Red Mill, and the heretical fifth is from the New England Cookbook.

What’s a corn stick? It’s the analog of a breadstick, made by pouring the batter into a cast iron pan with a series of cavities shaped like miniature ears of corn. See this web page on Understanding Corn Stick Pans.

Early experiences shape our views, and as I blogged about back in 2010, we decide Everybody does it this way, don’t they?

The image of cornbread came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review of the Timer function on the Toastmasters International Mobile App


When I rehearse my speeches I usually time myself either with the stopwatch function on my Casio watch or a digital lab timer. I finally got around to downloading the Android version of the free Toastmasters International Mobile App at Google Play and tried it out on my Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G phone, as shown above.

When I opened the App it asked me to enter a Username and Password. For rehearsal I chose to skip that, and to continue to Use as Guest.

The timer on the Mobile App is quite useful, and easy to navigate. The top menu line first asks you to Select Speech…      V. When I clicked on that line I was asked to Select Speech Type, and given choices, which are:

Intro Speech (4:00 – 6:00)
Prepared Speech (5:00 – 7:00)
Extended Speech (8:00 – 10:00)
Table Topics (1:00 – 2:00)
Evaluation (2:00 – 3:00)
Open Time

The Custom Speech type starts set at times for a prepared speech (5:00 – 7:00) and then both minimum and maximum can be adjusted up or down in 0:15 increments.

Initially the two circular touchscreen control buttons are Start (red) and Reset (gray).  Pressing Start changes the left button to Pause (black). When Pause is pressed, that button changes to show Resume (Red). On my phone the Timer displays 0.4 in. (1 cm) high 4-digit white numbers for minutes and seconds. The background begins as dark gray, and eventually changes to the usual Toastmasters traffic light colors of green (shown above), yellow, or red. 

The Timer also continuously displays a horizontal progress bar with a vertical line between a dark color (left) and a lighter color (right). But, as shown above, there is insufficient contrast between the grays, some contrast between the greens, and easily seen contrast between the yellows.

I would suggest that (as shown above) that contrast should be increased so that a quick glance at the Timer display always would clearly reveal what percent of the maximum time has elapsed.   

I also wanted a way to tilt my phone so the timer could be seen easily during rehearsals. Placing it inside a generic 9.5 oz. clear plastic food storage container (like those made by Glad or Ziploc) solved that problem. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Be your own Santa Claus – download free public speaking e-textbooks


If you are looking for inexpensive e-books so you can teach yourself and learn more about public speaking, you are in luck. There are three completely free ones you can download listed on the Journalism, Media Studies, and Communication web page for the Open Textbook Library at the Center for Open Education in the University of Minnesota.

They are:

You also can download chapters from another e-textbook at The Public Speaking Project, which I blogged about back on December 1, 2009 in a post titled The joy of finding a free and worthwhile e-Book: The ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking.

The image of a paper Christmas decoration is from the Library of Congress.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Use the right tools (visual aids) to give a great speech

If I was speaking in a conference room that holds about twenty people, then either a whiteboard or a flipchart would be suitable for displaying a limited amount of text to my audience. For a larger audience, like a ballroom, I'd need to use other visual aids.

Suppose instead that I wanted to discuss teamwork, and convey that I did not want my co-workers to go off in eight different directions. Then I might want to present a projected image like the one shown above as part of a PowerPoint presentation. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view).

Next I might present another image with all nine of us going in the very same direction (in a very precise diamond formation).

And I might also present an image with one of us putting on the brakes (arrow) in order to line up with a couple others. The three images shown above are of the RCAF Snowbirds, and were taken on October 15 during the Gowen Thunder airshow held at the Boise airport (also known as Gowen Field).

Those images were taken with my Olympus E330 8-Megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera   equipped with a 40-to-150-mm zoom lens, as shown above. I was about two miles from the airport control tower, on Cole Road.  

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds also were there, and a bottom view of one of their four-plane formations is shown from about a mile away. The camera was hand-held, with both elbows braced against my chest. Photographing the Thunderbirds F-16 fighters going perhaps 400 mph is much more challenging than photographing hot air balloons, as I blogged about back on August 30, 2012 in a post titled After all… tomorrow is another day.

Those balloons were moving slowly enough that I could probably instead have used a little, pocket-sized Nikon Coolpix L110 camera which later bought and more commonly carry. The Coolpix has an LCD viewfinder, and a shutter lag of a few tenths of a second, which is completely unacceptable for catching fast- moving F-16s. But for most subjects it is far easier to use than the E330. The E330 runs on lithium-ion rechargeable battery, and I have to remember to take a charged-up spare along with me. The Coolpix runs on four AA penlight batteries which can be purchased almost anywhere if I forget to take along a spare set.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Not quite my name

Getting names of organizations or people right matters. Yesterday at the blog for the Nashville-based presentation design agency Ethos3 Kelly Allison posted about 5 Reasons Why You Should Join a Toastmasters Group:

The good news is that she mentioned those five reasons are:

Combat fear

Build Confidence

Sharpen Leadership Abilities

Improve Improvisation

Expand Your Network

The bad news is that, even in her title, she got the terminology wrong. What you join is not called a Group, it is a Club. She never mentioned the organization's full name either, and refrerred just to Toastmasters. She said:

“There are groups and chapters all over the United States and even across the globe, so there’s bound to be one within your vicinity, no matter where you are.”

The organization has been called Toastmasters International since back in 1930. And she linked to a page from Toastmaster magazine rather than a web page about Who We Are or how to Find a Club.

In the TV show Criminal Minds, from 2005 to 2017 actor Shemar Moore played FBI profiler Derek Morgan. He currently stars in S.W.A.T. But on November 17, 2017 at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova instead posted with the title “S.W.A.T.” – Shermer Moore Makes a Lousy Bet.


Kelly Allison responded to my comment by changing the blog post text from Group to Club.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The joy and frustration of modern nightlight technology

I recently heard a nurse mention there were inexpensive motion-activated nightlights that could help prevent falls. Nightlights once used little 7-watt incandescent lamps, like the replica of a Coleman lantern shown above. It used a photocell so it was off during the day.

When I looked at the nearest Walmart I found that for just $8 I could buy a GE Ultrabrite Motion-Activated Light #12201 using two soft-white LEDs with an output of 40 lumens (slightly more than the 36 lumens from an incandescent lamp). It stayed on for only 90 seconds after sensing motion. As shown above, it plugs into the upper socket of a duplex wall outlet, and only consumes 1.5 watts when lit up. We got two of them for our bedroom, and put another two in the hall.

For $10 Walmart also had a GE LED Motion-Boost Light #38769 whose light output increased from 3 to 25 lumens. I thought that model would be perfect for putting on the wall above our cat’s food bowl, but found instead it has a major design flaw. The plug on its back is positioned so high that it blocks both sockets on a duplex wall outlet. I'm going to take it back for a refund.

Of course, there are other simple options with just light sensing rather than motion sensing. SnapPower makes ones that can almost instantly replace the cover plate for either a wall switch (SwitchLight) or a duplex outlet (GuideLight).

The image of a Coleman lantern nightlight is from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

We are carried along by our mentors

Recently I was listened to one of AlejAndro Anastasio’s One Hand Speaks podcasts titled The difference a few kind words can make in a person’s life. He described how his high school art teacher inspired his career in art. That got me thinking about some similar mentoring experiences I had. My first also happened in high school. I had blogged about it in a March 1, 2013 post titled Does your speaking voice sound like a little girl? One of my dad’s old friends, Dr. John F. Kahles, had visited us and after dinner told me a fascinating story about metallurgical engineering. It started me toward majoring in metallurgy at Carnegie-Mellon University. (His memorial tribute is at the National Academy of Engineering).

John told us about selecting materials for the teeth on the bottom of the scoop to a front end loader or bulldozer. Those teeth have to deal with contacting both sand and rocks. Sand is abrasive and will rub and wear away material.

Repeatedly hitting rocks causes cracking (impact fatigue) at the surface, and the cracks can grow inward until a tooth breaks off.  An obvious solution for reducing the abrasive wear rate from the sand would be to make the teeth harder, so they would wear out less rapidly.

But if that’s all that is changed, then you just switch failure modes. The impact fatigue cracks were not a problem before because they grew so slowly that they just were worn away. When you just increase the hardness, the cracks can grow faster until the teeth now can break off rather than wear out. So, before you can raise the hardness, you need to think about how to change the impact fatigue behavior. 

Another experience happened when I was a junior, and finally got to choose a metallurgy course as an elective. Our class advisor, professor Robert Dunlap, told Bob McIntyre and I to take a big leap and enroll in the graduate course on Alloy Steels. It was taught by the department head, Harold W. Paxton, using  E. C. Bain and H. W. Paxton’s book, Alloying Elements in Steel. Professor Dunlap said that a lot of the course will probably go right over your heads, but it might be the only chance you get to learn that topic from a true master. I struggled to get a B, but was fascinated. Six years later I got a job doing applied research on alloy steels at the Climax Molybdenum Company lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan.     

Much later I got to be the mentor. On April 28, 2009 I blogged about the Joy of teaching college students – talking about corrosion and materials selection in a guest lecture at Boise State University.

Ernst Nowak’s painting of a piggyback ride, and a photo of a front end loader both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Student became a professional wrestler after he watched news debates to improve his oratory skills

On December 1st there was an article about India by Santosh Pradhan headlined Person who started watching news debates to improve his oratory skills finally becomes a professional wrestler at a satirical web site called Faking News. It claimed student Sanil Jain started watching news debates to improve his speaking skills, but learned so many wrestling moves that he decided to become a professional wrestler.

The previous day there was another article by the same author titled Workers dig potholes which were filled up for Ivanka’s visit after citizens complain about not recognizing the roads.

These humorous articles are similar to those at the more famous satirical web site The Onion. Two recent brief ones there were titled Glitch in country allows citizens to temporarily walk through tables and Buick introduces self-buying car.

An image of wrestlers was retouched and cropped from an 1899 painting by Thomas Eakins at Wikimedia Commons.