Monday, July 30, 2018

A less-than-mediocre newspaper column about an Idaho education ranking

On July 13, 2018 there was a press release from the Idaho State Board of Education titled Idaho ranked in the top five states for college readiness by national publication and another press release from the Idaho State Department of Education titled Idaho students’ college readiness ranks state in top 5 of national report. Both releases linked to an article from U.S. News and World Report on July 12, 2018. The State Board link leads to the U.S. News article, then can be followed to the full list. The State Department of Education article goes directly to one slide instead.

A week later, on July 20 th Wayne Hoffman had an article on the Idaho Freedom Foundation web site titled State education officials tout mediocre college-readiness ranking. The same article appeared on July 24th as an opinion column at the Idaho Press Tribune.

Mr. Hoffman began by saying:

“Parents, students, and competent teachers deserve better than a public education system that celebrates mediocrity. That’s what they got last week when the state’s top education officials hailed a report that ranks Idaho No. 5 nationally for college readiness of its graduating high school seniors.

The ranking comes from U.S. News & World Report, which looked at college-entrance test results to determine which states produce the best prepared-for-college high school students. Idaho was singled out for being the only Western state in the top ten.  

Public schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra called it ‘great news, affirming our belief that Idaho schools are doing a good job of preparing students for post-high school success, even as compared to most other states.’ Dr. Linda Clark, the State Board of Education president, also cheered the news. However, upon review of the ranking criteria, the cheering should stop.

The Gem State got its ranking because 55 percent—yes, only 55 percent—of its high school seniors met college-entrance exam benchmarks. According to U.S. News & World Report, the benchmarks ‘represent scores students would need to achieve in order to have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in a related college course.’ Some might argue, as I do, that 55 percent isn’t exactly a stellar number by any measure. If 55 percent of your business’s products were failing, you’d fire people. In public education, one breaks out the champagne and serves up self-congratulatory accolades by press release.

It gets worse. U.S. News & World Report also noted that just 36 percent of Idaho high school students were able to meet the benchmarks on the math portion of the college entrance exams. In other words, some two-thirds of Idaho school students aren’t ready for college mathematics. Neither Ybarra nor Clark acknowledged this fact in their respective press releases. The State Board noted the issue when I posed follow up questions (the Board wants the figure improved, more money will help, a spokesman said). Ybarra’s office ignored questions about the statistic.” 

As is usual, Wayne didn’t bother to link to the press releases he criticized or to the U.S. News article. Nor did he check the dictionary definition for mediocre – “of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance” which clearly DOES NOT apply to a ranking of 5 out of 50 (top ten percent). And his whine in his fourth paragraph that: “If 55 percent of your business’s products were failing, you’d fire people” instead should be 45 percent. His fifth paragraph omitted the other statistic from The U.S. News article which had said:

“Students in Idaho performed far better on the writing portion of the SAT than the math section. Based on the results, around 63 percent of students were prepared for writing-related courses, while only 36 percent met the benchmark for math courses.”        

Neither Wayne Hoffman nor the State Board of Education or State Department of Education put that ranking of 5th into a broader context. But Kevin Richert did in an IdEdNews article on July 16, 2018 titled Analysis: A closer look at Idaho’s ‘College-Ready’ ranking. Kevin noted that there were other overall rankings both for K-12 (#25) and for higher education (#33).

What we should look at is the more detailed rankings for both Idaho and our six neighbors – Montana and Wyoming to our east, Washington and Oregon to our west, and Nevada and Utah to our south.  

Rankings for Pre-K to 12 are shown above in a table. There are six factors, only one of which is College Readiness. We did poorly for the other factors twice #4 and twice #5. Idaho’s overall ranking of 25th in the country was exactly in the middle, so we really were mediocre (as was our neighbor Washington at 26th). But we were #3 compared with our neighbors –  beaten by both Montana (#10) and Utah (#20).      

Rankings for Higher Education are shown in another table. Here there are five factors. We did  poorly when compared with our neighbors – twice we were 5th, 6th, and 7th and overall a dismal 7th (and 33rd in the entire country).

Rankings are a simple way of keeping score, but do not reveal if adjacent states are close or far away from each other. You need to compare the actual numbers. For example, the bar chart shown above has 2016 milk production for Idaho and its six neighboring states. Without looking at the actual figures you’d have no way of knowing that Idaho produced more milk than all our neighbors put together.  

And similarly, when you look at the Top Ten states for milk production in 2016, California was way ahead of everyone else, followed by Wisconsin. Idaho came in 4th but was barely behind New York. Behind us there was almost a three-way tie between Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Friday, July 27, 2018

I don’t think that was me

After a decade of blogging, I’m used to getting a variety of emails. But one recent sequence took me by surprise. That person asked if I recalled having commented about dyslexia on a particular web site, and then having had that comment deleted by the owner. (He has his own blog about dyslexia). He said his comments on that other web site were made below mine and also were deleted. I did not recall ever having either been to that web site or even having been very interested in that topic. There is no label for dyslexia on this blog, and a Google search found no mention of the words dyslexia or dyslexic. (There is a label for stuttering though).   

Every week I get several public relations emails touting forthcoming or recently published books. Some even offer to provide me with a review copy, or to set up an interview. The polite ones have an Unsubscribe feature, which I use quite often. For those that do not, I sometimes reply including the graphic shown above.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Bad advice about getting rid of instruction manuals

When I log off my Hotmail account, I get to view gems like an article from Bob Larkin at Best Life on July 10, 2018 titled 50 things no man over 50 should own. Item # 23 was:

“Young guys cling to their electronics manuals with white knuckles, terrified they’ll need them if something goes wrong with their TV or computer. But by 50, you realize those manuals are pretty much useless after awhile. If you don’t know where the on-off switch is by now, you never will."

After setting up that electronic gizmo you won’t need the quick start guide anymore. They showed you where to plug in the cables, and how to find the power switch. Toss it.

But either now or much later the full instruction manual (which you might have to download) can be very handy. On May 20, 2018 I blogged about More nightlight technology – default settings and doohickeys. That post discussed how I searched the .pdf file of the manual for my new Roku TV to find how to shut off the annoying bright white LED. On a computer there might be a motherboard battery that eventually needs replacement. You really should RFTM (Read That Fine Manual).

My Weber natural gas grill quit working early this summer. When I looked in the manual I found out that to get at (and clean) the air inlet screens for the burners I just had to pull off the control knobs and remove the horizontal sheet metal cover.  

The man reading was adapted from an image at the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Body movement tips for public speakers from Andrew Dlugan

On July 22nd there was an excellent blog post by Andrew Dlugan about Body movement tips for public speakers. He focused on what you should (and shouldn’t) do with your lower body rather than hand gestures or facial expressions. (Back on September 16, 2015 I had blogged to Please look at Andrew Dlugan’s Six Minutes blog about speaking and presentation skills).

You shouldn’t look like a clumsy giant attempting a ballet dance, as is shown above. Andrew said to avoid these seven things:
1]   Pacing back and forth (oscillation #1)

2]   Swaying or rocking front to back (oscillation #2)

3]   Yo-yo-ing between screen and laptop (oscillation #3)

4]   Tripping over anything or falling off stage

5]   Any movement that could result in injury

6]   Any movement that leads to an awkward or revealing position

7]   Any full-body movement that distracts while you deliver key lines

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

ATK and RDX both are acronyms with multiple meanings

A few days ago I received an email from America’s Test Kitchen titled Don’t miss the first ever ATK Seattle EATS festival! (I am on their mailing list because I bought my wife a copy of their TV Show Cookbook for her birthday). But when I think of the acronym ATK, it means the stock trading symbol for Alliant Techsystems – who in 2001 had acquired Thiokol and later became Orbital ATK. Thiokol is famous for having made the huge Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters, one of which is displayed horizontally in front their Utah facility west of Brigham City, as shown above. The top image had appeared in my May 26, 2008 blog post titled “Rocket science” for speech topics.

At a stop sign last week I noticed an Acura RDX. That luxury crossover sport utility vehicle (SUV) first appeared in 2007, as shown above. It was one of many vehicles (including my Honda Fit) which had defective Takata air bag inflators – that were recalled because some had exploded when activated. I had blogged about the recall on April 14, 2016 in a post titled How not to communicate – Honda told me my car is literally da bomb.

I don’t think those in marketing at Acura bothered to check what else the acronym RDX could mean. But from way back in the 1940s RDX also referred to the Research Department eXplosive more powerful than TNT - developed by the British. I had read about RDX in the 1968 M.I.T. Press paperback version of James Phinney Baxter 3 rd’s 1946 book about the World War II Office of Scientific Research and Development, Scientists Against Time. In his chapter on New Explosives and Propellants he described how 340 tons per day of RDX was produced by Tennessee Eastman in a huge plant near the town of Kingsport. A mixture called Torpex which contained 42% RDX, 40% TNT, and 18% powdered aluminum was used in the gigantic 12,000 lb. Tallboy bomb shown above.   

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Acronyms – LOL, LMAO, and LMFAO

There was an article by James Morgan at BBC News on April 8, 2011 titled Why did LOL infiltrate the language? As shown above, the acronym LOL sands for Laughing Out Loud. The article also included:

“OMG! LOL’s in the OED. LMAO!”

which means:

Oh My God! LOL is in the Oxford English Dictionary. Laughing My Ass Off!

(There also is an escalation to LMFAO). One of the problems with acronyms is that you need to be very sure of the meaning before you use them. The article mentioned a mother who thought LOL instead meant Lots of Love and wrote in a message that:

“Your grandmother has just passed away. LOL.”

At Wikipedia there is a List of U.S. Air Force acronyms and expressions which says the acronym PING means Person In Need (of) Graduation - a derisive term for a student. But when I arrived for tech school at Sheppard Air Force Base in 1972 it instead meant someone even lower, just a prospective student. They were considered a Person In Need (of) Guidance, one who just had arrived that week and was waiting to start classes next Monday. PING supposedly also described the sound which you would hear if you hit a prospective student on the side of their empty head.  

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Advice about feedback from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

At Netflix I have been enjoying watching the current (tenth) season of Jerry Seinfeld’s TV show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. In Episode 2 Dave Chapelle says:

“For most people, not caring about the scrutiny of other people is one of the hardest things to do. I would even say harder than public speaking itself.”

In Episode 5 there is a longer exchange between Brian Regan and Jerry about evaluations by critics. It’s way more useful advice than the 1993 comedy routine public speaking coaches keep repeating:

“Jerry:  It is one of the comforts of comedy, I think, that almost never do people who are really good not get anywhere. Almost never.

Brian:  And I think it’s because of the objective response.

Jerry:  Right.

Brian:  No one can take away the laughs.

Jerry: Right.

Brian:  If it was just acting, it’s subjective and someone could say, ‘they’re not that good. They don’t have this. They don’t have that.’ But if you go on stage and make people laugh, nobody can say, ‘They’re not laughing.’

Jerry:  That’s what’s so funny to me when you get a negative review, which we all get from time to time. And you want to say…’They’ve already voted. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but the vote – We took a vote that night, and out of 2,000 people – I know you got this job at the newspaper, but it doesn’t mean anything.’

Brian: ‘It’s too late.’ You’re gonna go back and tell those people not to go in the past to the show they laughed at. Don’t. If you have a time machine, I’m telling you, don’t get in it and go back to Friday.

Jerry:  Yeah.

Brian:  I’m trying to make the audience laugh, and then – I’m not trying to please some guy at a typewriter, you know?

Jerry:  Here we go again. There’s no typewriters any more, okay? Speaking of time machines, you need one. And set it to ‘present.’ “

The microphone image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The NowIKnow newsletter is a source for speech topics

On July 16, 2018, in a post at The Official Toastmasters International Group on LinkedIn, Eleni Palmos mentioned a newsletter called NowIKnow (written by Dan Lewis) as a source for speech ideas.

I looked at their archive and found an article from June 19, 2018 titled Why is it named Idaho? Idunno! It isn't really a Shoshone word meaning gem of the mountains. He says the name was made up by a lobbyist - George M. Willings. Some of Dan’s references are Wikipedia articles, but there also is one from a 2013 Boise Weekly article titled How Idaho got its name: the big fib. It looks like information in that article really came from an Idaho State Historical Society article titled How Idaho got its name.

Owyhee County is at the southwest corner of Idaho. Its name is real – and was in memory of three native Hawaiians (Owyhee) who disappeared while exploring a river and mountains in the winter of 1819-20. The next county to the east is Twin Falls County, whose county seat is a city  also named Twin Falls. There is a Boise County, but that’s not where the city of Boise, our state capital, is. Instead it is in Ada county.

When I lived in Ann Arbor, I remember hearing that quite a few places in Michigan had faux Indian names dreamed up by Henry Schoolcraft.

On January 22, 2014 I blogged about Don’t just get on the bandwagon! Find your own speech topic and approach. Also, on July 28, 2015 I blogged about Thinking up speech topics. Finally, on January 19, 2012 I blogged about Developing a sure-fire speech topic.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Do the benefits of public speaking training outweigh their costs in money and time?

On July 15, 2018 there was an article by Mr. Coen Tan at the Asia Professional Speakers Singapore web site titled Is public speaking training a waste of time and money? (His answer is no). He wrote it in response to an article at Forbes that he did not fully identify or link to, but was by Kristi Hedges back on April 19, 2012. It was titled Confessions of a former public speaking trainer: don’t waste your money. I blogged about it back on April 23, 2012 in a post titled Does the cost for public speaking training outweigh the benefits?

Mr. Tan’s article has five sections titled:
1] Starting out in public speaking

2] Invest in sharpening your speaking skills

3] Body language is over-rated

4] Develop your authentic style

5] Drop the show!  

In the first section he said that: “If you want to get started and overcome your fear of public speaking, join a platform like Toastmasters.” But Mr. Tan did a lot more than join – he stayed until he received the highest award, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).   

In the second section Mr. Tan said he invested tens of thousands of dollars to learn from top speakers, kept what worked, and discarded what didn’t. (A Singapore dollar is 0.73 of a U.S. dollar, so that’s still a lot of money). He also said he learned NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), of which I am very skeptical, and mentioned Andy Harrington, who I thought gave silly advice on eye contact.  

Do the benefits of public speaking training outweigh their costs? My answer is sometimes. There are different types of training, and costs involve both money and time. Before you buy you need to obey the railway warning sign shown above – to stop, look, and listen.

Toastmasters costs relatively little money, but calls for lots of time. Conversely coaching by a professional takes relatively little time, but calls for lots of money. If you need help to give an important speech in less than a month, Toastmasters wouldn’t be a good idea and coaching would be. But what Jane Genova did was to try Toastmasters, as I blogged about in a June 19, 2016 post titled Running away from Toastmasters.      

The railway warning sign came from Darren Glanville at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fairy tales about first impressions

One common piece of advice on communication (and to speakers) is you only have a few minutes (or seconds) to make a first impression on your audience. For example, a blog post on August 3, 2015 by Amanda Johns Vaden titled The Nuts and Bolts of First Impressions said:

“The Harvard Study of Communications claimed that it only takes seven seconds for you to make a first impression on another human being, only seven seconds.

…. In fact, one of the parts of this study actually says that 38% of what makes up a first impression is how you sound. Only 7% of a first impression are the words you say. So all together, only 45% of a first impression has anything to do with the words coming out of your mouth. That leaves 55% of a first impression to visual. It’s how you look, it’s how you dress. It’s how you stand. It’s how you shake a hand. It’s if you make solid eye contact. It’s your personal appearance.

…. Not only does it take seven seconds to make a first impression, they also found that on average, it takes meeting that same person seven more times to change that first impression that you made on them.”

That Harvard Study of Communications sounds impressive, but it’s just a Nebulously Authoritative Place (NAP). She didn’t say if it was a book, a report, or a magazine article, who wrote it, or when it was published. I went to my local public library web site and searched all of the databases at EBSCOhost for the exact phrases ‘Harvard Study of Communications’ and also ‘Harvard Study on Communications’ but came up empty. It’s apparently a fairy tale, just like the claim that men think about sex every seven seconds.

Did someone else say that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression? Yes, Roger Ailes (1940 – 2017) did three decades ago in the very first chapter of a book titled You Are the Message: secrets of the master communicators. Cheryl Dahle discussed it in an article at Fast Company on May 31, 1998 titled Your first seven seconds. John Zimmer also blogged about it on October 22, 2010 in a post in his Manner of Speaking blog similarly titled The First Seven Seconds. Lately few quote Mr. Ailes, after he had resigned from Fox News in July 2016 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

How about 7% of an impression being the words? That really comes from Albert Mehrabian, who was at UCLA – about 2600 miles away from Harvard. I blogged about it back on July 25, 2009 in a post titled Bullfighting the Mehrabian myth.

An image of a fairy in happy far away land was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Failing upwards

At his Bad Astronomy blog on July 10, 2018 Phil Plait posted about Science, humanity, and the necessity of making mistakes.

That post was based on his TEDx Boulder talk, Failing upwards: science learns by making mistakes. It’s a great 12-minute presentation on how scientific research is a very human activity.

One example from metallurgy is the allotropes of iron found on the iron-carbon phase diagram. At room temperature pure iron is alpha (ferrite), with a body centered cubic crystal structure. At higher temperature it changes to gamma (austenite) with a face centered cubic structure. And at even higher temperatures it changes to delta (ferrite), again with a body centered cubic crystal structure. But beta is missing.

Why isn’t there a beta iron anymore? The phase behavior or iron was first investigated by thermal analysis. That was back before we knew how to use x-ray diffraction to determine crystal structures, or about ferromagnetism and that it disappears at the Curie temperature, and can only be understood using quantum physics (as discussed in a chapter of the Feynman lectures). Beta iron just was the paramagnetic form of alpha iron, above the Curie temperature. It’s not really a different phase, so it got removed from the diagram.     


Phli Plait followed up with another article - a Postscript and a Transcript.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Don’t torpedo your credibility with the very first sentence!

I read an article titled Writers and public speaking from July 9, 2018 by Olivia Rana at the online magazine which opened by claiming:

In 2012 researchers at Nebraska University carried out a study, which found that public speaking was the most common fear amongst students, ranking higher than hundreds of other fears, including death!

The only thing Olivia got right was that public speaking was reported as the most common fear. There really were 815 students, but only 14 fears. The article about that study was by Karen K. Dwyer and Martina M. Davidson of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was titled Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death? You can read that article here. I blogged about it on May 17, 2012 in a post titled More university students in the U.S. fear public speaking than fear death, but death is their top fear.

On May 23, 2018 at Olivia had another article titled Where do writers get their ideas from? For her July 9th article the answer is via superficial research.

The image of a torpedoed ship was adapted from this poster at the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Don’t just carp about networking

Today on her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova superficially posted about Networking – so many victims of bad career advice. She began by whining:

“In good career times and bad career times, the supposed experts tell professionals to network. That simplistic advice is often useless. It can be counterproductive – positioning and packaging the eager networkers as pests or worse.

….Until parties have something to trade, they better not approach the network.

….Takeaway: Beware of off-the-shelf career advice. Each professional’s situation is unique.”

That’s just carping – complaining about what is wrong without suggesting a useful alternative. For almost two decades the pay-it-forward alternative to networking has been netweaving. I blogged about it in a December 28, 2014 post titled Netweaving versus just networking.

Brad Gruber also had an article at LinkedIn Pulse on April 22, 2016 titled Move over traditional networking – make way for netweaving.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Don’t forget about flip charts

Flip charts are useful visual aids before, during, and after presentations.

One upon a time the agenda for one of our Toastmasters club meetings almost fell apart. People who had volunteered for roles were out sick, including speakers. Previously I had stepped up as Toastmaster. In the first few minutes of the meeting I wrote the list of roles on a flip chart, and then the few of us present volunteered to fill multiple ones. Our improvised meeting went smoothly, with a long Table Topics section where everyone spoke twice. That flip chart instantly replaced the normal preprinted agenda.  

A flip chart can be very effective during a presentation, as was discussed by Ray Anthony and Barbara Boyd on pages 235 to 237 in their 2014 book Innovative Presentations for Dummies. The same advice appears in an article at the Dummies web site. Older but still useful advice from 1992 on How to prepare effective flip charts is in another article at the Educational Research Information Center (ERIC) web site.
And after a presentation a flip chart can be used to record questions.

Friday, July 6, 2018

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck

In communication details like spelling and grammar are important. This week I received another pair of phishing emails that immediately revealed their fraud via simple mistakes in spelling or grammar.

One was a bogus ‘PayPal’ alert, with a salutation that misspelled customer!

The other was a 'Microsoft’ account update with an extra "will’ – a glaring departure from English grammar.

The 1939 turnip truck image for illustrating that idiom came from the Library of Congress.

UPDATE July 14, 2018

I got another phony PayPal email warning me "your account was opened form another devices." LOL!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

What should you do if a Toastmasters club member signs up to speak at every one of your meetings for the next 25 weeks?

In a Toastmasters club one important position is that of the Vice President Education (VPE):

“As vice president education, you schedule members’ speeches and projects and serve as a resource for questions about education awards, speech contests, and the mentor program. You are an important source of Toastmasters knowledge for club members, and it is your job to become familiar with all aspects of the Toastmasters education program.” 

The Toastmasters fiscal year starts on July 1st. Typically the VPE has a mechanism for planning meetings for the next quarter or six months, like a manual sign-up sheet, an Excel spreadsheet emailed to the club, or software like easySPEAK. Over at LinkedIn, on the Official Toastmasters International Members Group, someone had an unusual sign-up problem:

What should you do if one member has signed up to speak at EVERY meeting until the end of the year, and is unwilling to back down? Does the Vice President-Education have the authority to remove their name?

Yes, you do have that authority when someone is being emotionally tone deaf, and behaving like a spoiled child. Often each meeting has three speakers, so by asking to speak at each meeting that inconsiderate person is demanding to use a third (0.333) of those slots. Their fair share would be a much smaller proportion, one divided by the number of club members. For example, if there are 21 people in the club the fair share would be 1/21 or 0.0476. They are trying to be 0.333/0.0476 = 7 times as important as others. The VPE could tell that person to give a persuasive speech to the club at the very next meeting, with the subject being Why I Am Seven Times As Important As The Rest of You. After that speech the club could immediately vote YES or NO on whether they were persuaded. Problem solved.

A decade ago I was VPE for a club two years in a row. I never had that problem. Instead it was hard to fill all the speaker slots for the summer because members were gone on vacation. But in late spring all the slots would be filled. People were trying to finish up whatever program (CC, ACB, etc.) they were working on, so the club could get credit for and recognition as a Distinguished Club.  Some members might contact other clubs to find an open slot where they could be a guest speaker. My club, Saint Al’s, is small enough that we almost always can add a guest to our meeting program.    

The easySPEAK software has a person request a speech. Then the VPE replies by scheduling them in an opening.  

Being VPE is a balancing act. There may be some enthusiastic members who want to speak often, and have several speeches already prepared. They could be designated as back-up speakers, to fill openings that become open at the last minute due to others with illness or work conflicts. (I did that myself a decade ago). There also may be nervous new members who have to be reminded that they should schedule to speak or fill other roles. One of the rewards of being VPE is watching members gain confidence, grow, and blossom.