Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A warped pie chart lets you cram in more than 100%

On August 10, 2018 Randall Munroe posted an xkcd cartoon titled Pie Charts. As shown above, he illustrated how to warp (or pleat) the chart out of the usual plane so you could somewhat legitimately cram in 130%.    

I detest pie charts and donut charts. On March 17, 2016 I blogged that 3-D Pie Charts are the Spawn of Satan. Since then I saw that on February 16, 2017 Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic had posted on her Storytelling with Data blog An Updated Post on Pies. She referred to a May 30, 2016 article by Robert Kosara at EagerEyes titled A pair of pie chart papers that discusses how they actually can work. One is titled Arcs, angles, or areas: individual data encodings in pie and donut charts; the other is Judgement error in pie chart variations. More recently there also was another article by X. Cai et al. titled A study of the effect of doughnut chart parameters on proportion estimation accuracy.

Sometimes people cram way more than 130% into a pie chart. On December 22, 2013 I had blogged about ‘tis the season for pies and artistic charts about them – and gave an example with an outrageous 271%. On December 1, 2009 at his Peltier Tech Blog Jon Peltier blogged about how I Keep Saying, Use Bar Charts, Not Pies. He showed a Fox News pie chart with 193% that really should have added another segment for a total of 251%.

There is a real object called a wave washer that can be used as a spring. You could cover with a warped donut chart. (The image came from Wikimedia Commons).  

Monday, August 27, 2018

Chasing the perfect presentation – TED Talks and the World Championship of Public Speaking

 Perfection is something we can approach but never quite reach. But professionals certainly put a lot of effort into the chase.

On August 6 th I blogged about Don’t fear perfection. In that post I used a graph of a hyperbola, as is shown above, and the idea of an asymptote – the limit that a function approaches. I used perfection as the theme for our Toastmasters club meeting on Friday, since their World Championship of Public Speaking was held on Saturday. (It was won by Ramona J. Smith).

On July 30, 2018 at Inc Carmine Gallo had an article titled 5 key steps to rehearsing a presentation like the best TED speakers. His five rehearsal steps are:

1]  Start with presentation notes
2]  Practice under ‘mild stress’
3]  Ask for specific feedback
4]  Record it
5]  Practice until it’s effortless

Carmine suggested you rehearse at least 10 times, but also described how Jill Bolte-Taylor practiced her My Stroke of Insight TED talk 200 times.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example with a hyperbola, as shown above. The percent perfect, Y, depends on the number of rehearsals, X, by: Y = 100 (1 – [1/X])
Most of us nonprofessional speakers might instead stop at 5 rehearsals and get to 80% perfect or 20% below that asymptote. To reach 10% below it, we would need to double the amount of rehearsals to 10.  

For a TED talk, a pro might instead rehearse 100 times, and as is shown above, get to 1% below perfect.

Since a TED talk is just 18 minutes long, 100 rehearsals would take 30 hours. 200 would take 60 hours. Was 200 worth it for Jill Bolte-Taylor? In the past decade the YouTube video of her My Stroke of Insight talk has been viewed over 5.4 million times.

For the International Speech Contest leading to the World Championship of Public Speaking held by Toastmasters International, the maximum speech time is just 7-1/2 minutes, so as shown above, a hundred rehearsals would take just 12-1/2 hours.

At the Toastmasters District 15 Conference in May (here in Boise) Ed Tate, the World Champion in 2000, discussed coaching the 2016 winner, Darren Tay. Just 36 hours before the championship they concluded that Darren’s speech wasn’t good enough, and started over. So Darren wrote a whole new speech, and rehearsed it, as Ed described in a June 18, 2017 article, The wisdom of a champion comes through. That was an amazingly focused effort. You can watch a YouTube video of Darren's speech.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Jousting with typos

If you don’t proofread, (and perhaps left Auto Correct on) hilarious typos can slip through. Today at her Jane Genova Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog she posted about Government’s Role in Deterring All Alcohol Consumption – Coming Regulatory, Business, Cultural Earthquake. She indirectly referred to an article that actually had appeared in The Lancet medical magazine which was titled Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990 -2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of disease Study 2016. In the first sentence of her first paragraph she claimed:

“The study just published in the influential Lancet Medical Journal is calling upon governments around the world to deter all consumption of a brisk seller in many economies.”

But in the first sentence of her eleventh paragraph the magazine had changed to instead become about one of King Arthur’s knights:

“The research published in the Lancelot Medical Journal is based on reviewing about 1,000 studies.”

The image of jousting was cropped from here at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Do you have a target on your back?

This week I received a phony email offering a secret (or mystery) shopper job at the well-known Target stores. This fraud is particularly common near Christmas, and involves getting you to cash a phony check. Amanda Kline at PhishLabs discussed it on November 17, 2017 in an article titled Holiday phishing scams Target job seekers. Steve Mierzejewski at Secure your workplace network described it on December 11, 2017 in another article titled Target secret shopper job scam arrives in time for the holidays.

There was a more general article on May 16, 2018 by Emma Fletcher at the Federal Trade Commission blog titled A scam story: secret shopping and fake checks. On July 18, 2018 at WCPO in Cincinnati there was an entertaining article by John Matarese titled Dumb scammers target local police chief (in Newtown, Ohio).

The image was modified from one of a man painting a woman’s back at the Library of Congress.  

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Table Topics idea: tell us about a film that hasn’t been made yet

I often read Scene magazine – the tabloid weekly entertainment guide which comes with the Friday issue of the Idaho Statesman. Sometimes I shake my head at the film reviews. Who decided to make a sequel of that film?

For Table Topics this week I asked people to tell us about another film -  one that hasn’t been made yet but should be. For inspiration I provided a lead actor’s name and three real titles, like these two examples:

Arnold Schwarzenegger


Red Heat

Total Recall

Meryl Streep

The Manchurian Candidate

The Devil Wears Prada

Mama Mia!

One participant described a film where an aging Arnold had trouble remembering things – more like Total Dementia than Total Recall. He couldn’t save the world singlehandedly anymore. Instead he had to ask Honey, where are my pants? (the title of a TV comedy show in The Lego Movie).

I also described a more difficult variation where you had to change just a single letter from the title to get the new film. Start from a 1949 John Wayne film about Marines in World War II: Sands of Iwo Jima. Changing the first letter to a B turns it into Bands of Iwo Jima – which would be a musical mashup of The Music Man and South Pacific. Changing the first letter to a W turns it into Wands of Iwo Jima. What the heck is Harry Potter doing out here? Clearly we ran out of books to film, but still wanted to make even more piles of money.

An image at the Library of Congress of a theater in Lompoc was modified to add the title.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Celebrating 1600 blog posts

This blog just reached another milestone of 1600 posts.

If you thought that number was too large to be shown in a graphic, then just take a look at those masked emojis. (Click for a larger, clearer image).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lecterns in cartoons

In cartoons a lectern usually is a prop notifying us the topic is a speech or lecture. See this Savage Chickens one from 2010 and this Bizarro one from 2013.

Yesterday’s F Minus cartoon had a character proclaiming:
“Now hold on young lady. I just want to talk to you before you go out. Don’t assume it’s going to be a lecture.”

Other times it’s different, like this 1995 Dilbert cartoon where Dogbert goes to heaven. None of the Dilbert cartoons are indexed under the keyword lectern; they all are found under podium.

The drawing of a lectern was adapted from one at the Library of Congress.   

Monday, August 13, 2018

A statistic about retirees that leaves women out

For the past couple of months at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova has been repeating a claim (as in one of her June 22nd posts) that:

“…the Federal Reserve Board found that one-third of retirees bounce back into the workforce. There’s even a term coined for that: reverse retirement.”

She also repeated it on page 9 of her ebook, Outwitting Ageism to Land, Hold, and Move on to Better Work. But she didn’t link to an article from the Federal Reserve Board, and perhaps never ever even bothered to read it. Instead she just linked to another article about it at New Retirement from October 17, 2017 titled Reverse Retirement: find out why so many retirees are going back to work. The original 2016 article by Lindsay Jacobs and Suphanit Piyapromdee is titled Labor Force Transitions at Older Ages: Burnout, Recovery, and Reverse Retirement and it is Finance and Discussion Series 2016-053. The very first sentence says:

“Over one-third of men who identify themselves as retired later re-enter the labor force.”  

Are men meant in the narrow sense (males) or the broader sense (females and males)? When we look at Section 3 we find it says the former:

“The data we use come from the Health and Retirement Study panel of men and women in the U.S. age 50 and older. There are 10 biennial waves available, with the survey years beginning in 1992 with the most recent available being from 2010. We include males from the HRS Cohort, born 1931-1941 who were observed for at least five waves and worked during at least one. This gives us a total of 3,241 respondents.”

So women (over half of the population) weren’t even included, and the only data after the Great Recession are from 2008 and 2010! On August 7th Jane had whined about the one-third fraction that:  
“I find that a low number for retirees returning to work. I have a hunch the percentage is higher.”

Why were women left out? There are significant gender effects that would complicate model building. Data for married men and women are shown above, taken from another more recent publication - Nicole Maestas’s Working Paper #24449 (March 2018) from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled The Return to Work and Women’s Employment Decisions. (For simplicity I have just compared one set of data). At age 55 70% of men were working, compared with just less than 50% of women.    

For us men, the detailed data from the Federal Reserve Board still are very interesting, and graphics do a much better job of explanation than mere words. Figure 1 shows the fraction of men working full or part time versus age. At 56 80% are working full time, at 62 50% are, and at 68 just 20% are.  

The bottom graph from Figure 2 shows the percentages making transitions from not working to either working part-time or full-time. While Table 1 had said that the percent ever reverse retiring was 35.5%, the graph shows there is a large drop off as age increases.  

Every couple of days I take a look at Speaking Pro Central, which has articles about public speaking, PowerPoint, etc. Today Jane has one of the eight Trending Articles shown, but 24 of the 29 More Trending articles. She cranks out so much stuff it’s hardly surprising that much of it is not carefully researched. Caveat emptor!   

The ‘retired’ version of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic was modified from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Phony ‘LinkedOut’ and ‘Inlook’ phishing emails

Back on July 6th I had blogged about getting phishing emails, and that I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

On Friday I received a fake 'LinkedOut' email that claimed to be from LinkedIn. But the address was from somewhere else, and the message was grammatically wrong – “You appeared in 6 search this week.”

On Saturday there was one pretending to be from Outlook (Hotmail) with the wrong address, and that warned “Someone just used your password to sign in to your profile.”

The fishing boy silhouette came from Openclipart.

UPDATE August 13, 2018

Kim Kommando has described what happens if you reply to a similar email in a July 31st article titled Sneaky iOS scam spreading now.   

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Jordan B. Peterson on how a lecture really is a conversation

This year Jordan B. Peterson wrote an interesting best-seller book titled 12 Rules for Life – an antidote to chaos. He discussed it in a 24-minute video preview on YouTube. Kelefa Sanneh had a long article about it in The New Yorker on March 5, 2018 titled Jordan Peterson’s gospel of masculinity. I found it on the new books shelf at my friendly local public library and have been reading it. Some I disagree with, but I was impressed by his description of lecturing. That appears on pages 251 and 252 in the essay on Rule 9:  Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t:

“Another conversational variant is the lecture. A lecture is – somewhat surprisingly – a conversation. The lecturer speaks, but the audience communicates with him or her non-verbally. A surprising amount of human interaction – much of the delivery of emotional information, for example – takes place in this manner, through postural display and facial information (as we noted in our discussion of Freud). A good lecturer is not only delivering facts (which is perhaps the least important part of a lecture), but also telling stories about those facts, pitching them precisely to the level of the audience’s comprehension, gauging that by the interest they are showing. The story he or she is telling conveys to the audience not what the facts are, but why they are relevant –why it is important to know certain things about which they are currently ignorant. To demonstrate the importance of some sets of facts is to tell those audience members how such knowledge could change their behavior, or influence the way they interpret the world, so that they will now be able to avoid some obstacles and progress more rapidly to some better goals.

A good lecturer is thus talking with and not at or even to his or her listeners. To manage this, the lecturer need to be closely attending to the audience’s every move, gesture and sound. Perversely, this cannot be done by watching the audience, as such. A good lecturer speaks directly to and watches the response of single, identifiable people,* instead of doing something clichéd, such as ‘presenting a talk’ to an audience. Everything about that phrase is wrong. You don’t present. You talk. There is no such thing as ‘a talk,’ unless it’s canned, and it shouldn’t be. There is also no ‘audience.’ There are individuals, who need to be included in the conversation. A well-practised and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing. In this manner, he infers and reacts to the attitude of the entire group (insofar as such a thing exists).  

*The strategy of speaking to individuals is not only vital to the delivery of any message, it’s a useful antidote to fear of public speaking. No one wants to be stared at by hundreds of unfriendly, judgmental eyes. However, almost everybody can talk to just one attentive person. So, if you have to deliver a speech (another terrible phrase) then do that. Talk to the individuals in the audience – and don’t hide: not behind the podium, not with downcast eyes, not by speaking too quietly or mumbling, not by apologizing for your lack of brilliance or preparedness, not behind ideas that are not yours, and not behind clichés.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A discussion about giving feedback to speakers that only gets a grade of D

On August 6, 2018 at LinkedIn Pulse Joel Schwartzberg published an article titled A Better Way to Give Speaker Feedback: The 3 Ds. He said most people don’t know how to evaluate a speaker. Then, after some faint praise for Toastmasters International, he gave his guide:

“My recommendation focuses on the speaker’s most important task – delivering a point – and the decisions that the speaker makes to accomplish it, concentrating on the three critical Ds: Delivery, Distraction, and Detraction.

Delivery       Did the speaker’s decision to do X support the delivery of her point?

Distraction  Did the speaker’s decision to do X distract the audience from her point?

Detraction   Did the speaker’s decision to do X detract from the effective delivery of her point?

These questions can be applied to speaker decisions on everything from speech organization, point clarity, and word choice to pacing gestures, and movement. The key is not to measure each decision for its own sake (‘Did she gesture well?’) but as a tactic toward the one vital goal of conveying her point (‘Did her gestures emphasize the point or were they a distraction?’)”

I don’t like his 3Ds at all. If you look at the Merriam-Webster thesaurus, you will find that distract and detract are synonyms. Also, delivery without content is meaningless.

But Joel didn’t really get to the point with another 3 Ds - a Depth (of research resulting in) Details (and a) Deliverable. An evaluator needs a rubric with a ready-to-use form and instructions for evaluating a speech. Some excellent rubrics already exist.

Back in 2007 the National Communication Association published the second edition of The Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form. It has eight competencies (four each on content and delivery) and describes criteria for three levels (Excellent, Satisfactory, and Unsatisfactory). Pages 11 through 16 of the pdf file contain the forms and instructions. For example, speech organization, the fourth competency is:

“Uses an organizational pattern appropriate to the topic, audience, occasion, & purpose.”

For Excellent it says that:

“The speaker uses an appropriate introduction and conclusion and provides a reasonably clear and logical progression within and between ideas. (That is the introduction clearly engages a majority of the audience in an appropriate and creative manner, the body of the speech reflects superior clarity in organization, and the conclusion clearly reflects the CONTENT of the speech and leaves the audience with an undeniable message or call to action).”

There also is a newer Public Speaking Competence Rubric (PSCR) which I blogged about back on July 9, 2012 in a post titled A new scale (rubric) for evaluating speeches. That scale has nine performance standards (and two optional ones) ranked on a five-point scale (Deficient = 0; Minimal = 1; Basic = 2; Proficient = 3; Advanced = 4).   

Joel Schwartzberg is a member of Toastmasters, and he has written four articles in Toastmaster magazine. In the present LinkedIn Pulse article he had said that:

“Toastmaster members have access to pages of assessment advice and a wide range of evaluation questions. That’s good training for a Toastmaster Evaluator to give an official Evaluation Speech. But in the real world, the targets are different, and one’s a bulls-eye.”

He linked to the web page for purchasing Item 317, Giving Effective Feedback, rather than to the web page for downloading it free. He did not mention Item 202, Effective Evaluation, a basic document that was furnished to every new Toastmaster.

Nor did he mention a course called The Art of Effective Evaluation, which has another speech evaluation rubric (Individual Speech Evaluation Form) you can find on a club web site. That rubric has categories ranked on another bipolar five-point scale (Needs Considerable Improvement  = 1; Needs Some Improvement  = 2; Acceptable = 3; Very Good = 4; Excellent = 5). Joel didn’t give us a numerical scale for including Distraction (or Detraction). Perhaps it should be bipolar as follows: (Distracts Considerably = 1; Distracts Some = 2; Acceptable = 3; Helps Some = 4; Helps Considerably = 5).     
Neither did he mention how evaluations are being done in the new Pathways educational program, a topic that I blogged about on April 3, 2018 in a post titled Speech evaluation rubrics: how many levels should be on the scale, and which way should it point.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Don’t fear perfection

On July 17, 2018 at his Manner of Speaking blog John Zimmer posted about Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 288) – Salvadore Dali:

“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”

That quote also appeared in a May 11, 2018 article by Jennifer M. Wood at Mental Floss titled 25 Outrageous Quotes from Salvador Dali – where it was #4 and punctuated with a dash rather than a period between the clauses. Another version with a semicolon has been attributed to Marie Curie.

I was surprised that John hadn’t also referred to his February 13, 2011 blog post that Perfect Public Speaking is an Asymptote, which had inspired my February 20, 2011 blog post on Effort and an asymptote and the graphic shown above.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A useful and a less-than-useful article about reducing use of filler words

On August 1, 2018 there was an article by Noah Zandan at the Harvard Business Review that was mistitled How to Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know.” That article instead discussed how to reduce the use of filler words and it said:

Using research that incorporates behavioral science, AI, and data, the people science firm I run, Quantified Communications, determined that the optimum frequency is about one filler per minute, but the average speaker uses five fillers per minute — or, one every twelve seconds.

Back in February 13, 2014 I blogged about how Adding a few uhs and ums improved recall of plot points in stories. A psychology experiment I discussed showed that fillers are useful and should not be eliminated. Their presence is a quantitative problem rather than a qualitative one.  

On July 31, 2018 Joel Schwartzberg posted on the BK Blog (from Berrett-Koehler Publishers) about The 4 enemies of making your point. Joel said the four enemies were And, Badjectives, Nonsense Words, and Apologies. He claimed filler words often were nonsense:

“Obviously you want to be making sense, and not nonsense. But these common words often fall into the category of nonsense: Umm, Ah, So…

In official Toastmasters meetings, a member is typically assigned the role of ‘Ah Counter,’ and that person literally counts the number of times a speaker says one of those nonsense words.

But while it’s important to know how often you use nonsense crutches – especially knowing what your crutch words are – knowing them hardly puts you on the path to correcting them. It’s just hard to stop doing something instinctual, even when you know it’s wrong.

What you need is something to replace that destructive activity – a rhetorical Nicorette. In the case of nonsense words, the appropriate replacement is a pause. An intentional pause is one of your best communication allies because it creates time for you, suspense for your audience, and typically is forgotten by the audience later. So train yourself to sense when a nonsense word is coming, and use a pause instead.”      

That single sentence in his second paragraph has four different problems. First, a member is always (not just typically) assigned the role of Ah-Counter at a Toastmasters club meeting. (In smaller clubs that role sometimes is combined with the Grammarian role, and the combination is called the Ah-Grammarian). Second, I have been to other official Toastmasters meetings (Toastmasters Leadership Institutes held by Divisions, and District Conferences), but they never have an Ah-Counter – only a club meeting does. Third, literally is redundant. Fourth, those really are filler words, and they are not nonsense. 

Joel previously had referred to bad adjectives as Badjectives. Similarly both typically and literally can be called Badverbs.    

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Are tow trucks a boring subject? No, eh.

You might imagine that tow trucks (wreckers) would be a boring topic, but they are not. To see why all you need to do is take a look at some YouTube video clips from the Canadian reality TV show Heavy Rescue 401. For those unfamiliar with southern Ontario, Highway 401 (also known as the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway) runs for 514 miles east from Windsor (at the U.S. Border) to Quebec. In metro Toronto it is the busiest (and one of the widest highways) in North America. Add high winds, winter snow and freezing rain and you get a plethora of accidents involving tractor-trailer rigs flipped on their sides or roofs. With the high temperature today for Boise forecast to top 95 degrees, watching winter snows on TV at Netflix is a pleasant change.

This was the second series of its type. The first, Highway thru Hell, was about the Coquihalla Highway through the mountains of British Columbia. Both use the mantra that ‘closure is not an option.’ One Heavy Rescue 401 episode showed eight wreckers working together to clear a row of three rigs (the morning after the 402 had been closed due to whiteout conditions). And, one of those rigs is a double tanker full of propane! Some of the companies have several generations of families.    

When you watch Heavy Rescue 401 you will learn lots of trucker jargon. There also is some Ontario jargon. Lanes for through traffic on the 401 are express lanes, but the local ones feeding them are called collectors. An intermodal container is called a sea can.

There are lots of impatient drivers doing dumb things on the 401. (At 0:50 take a look at the display wall of traffic cameras in the COMPASS Traffic Operations Centre at the Ministry of Transport). Those dumb things include trying to sneak around the diagonal echelon formation of 14 snowplows trying to clear the road.

Wreckers on the 401 often are monsters called rotators –  really custom built, half-million dollar, mobile cranes with telescoping and rotating booms and a capacity of 70 or 80 tons. They are Kenworth or Peterbilt trucks with four or five axles. Rotators also have several other winches.

A trailer is attached to a tractor to form a semi-trailer truck using a kingpin, which engages a fifth-wheel coupling. It is easy to back a tractor up and hook onto an upright trailer. But when the trailer is on its side or upside down, it’s tough to uncouple them. Sometimes the trailer isn’t stable, and just a single sledgehammer blow can upset it.     

Rigs have air brakes. When the air pressure is removed, springs set the brakes. Before you can tow, you have to hook up air to release all the brakes (or you will have to mechanically undo them individually). On one show the tow operator had to patch a puncture in an air tank with a self-tapping screw. On another the operator had to use a screwdriver to chisel and turn a broken brass fitting, which he then replaced. (That guy was a refugee from the civil war in Sri Lanka, who started driving in Canada by delivering pizzas!).  You also need to remove a tractor’s driveshaft before you tow.

Intermodal containers are locked onto their flat trailers at four corners. The locks have to be opened before you can flip one filled with 20 tons of whisky.

Sometimes a trailer is torn at a seam (and it holds 15 tons of beer which has to be handled delicately). Other time it is split open, or buckled (like a banana), and is so damaged it has to be unloaded before it can be moved. (That buckled trailer turned out to have extra tons of ice that had settled at the center of the roof).