Saturday, July 20, 2019

Is nosology the medical study of noses?

No, although it sounds like it might be. Instead it is defined as a branch of medical science that deals with classification of diseases. (The Greek word for disease is nosos). Poet Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) once lamented:

“Not bring, to see me cease to live,

Some doctor, full of phrase and fame,

To shake his sapient head and give

The ill he cannot cure a name.”

Painted images of noses for Napoleon and George Washington came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 15, 2019

PETA wants Chicken Dinner Road changed to just Chicken Road – but they asked the wrong official

On July 3, 2019 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a press release titled PETA Asks Mayor to Change ‘Chicken Dinner Road’ Name. They asked the mayor of Caldwell, Idaho. But that road is outside of Caldwell, which is the seat for Canyon County. If you look on Google Maps west of Lake Lowell, you will find that Chicken Dinner Road runs north from Deer Flat Road up to Upper Ridge Road. PETA got newspaper coverage in the Idaho Statesman, but locals probably thought they were clueless.   

PETA’s objection was based on the story for the name involving folks inviting officials to drive down a road in need of maintenance before eating that chicken dinner. But the name equally well could refer to the joke shown above – What does a chicken eat for dinner?

I think that PETA should have been far more upset by the other name of Deer Flat Road. How do you make a deer flat? Run him over with a steamroller!

Back on July 25, 2017 I blogged about Answering questions about geographical names – the joy of impromptu speaking (Table Topics), and mentioned Chicken Dinner Road.

An image of a vintage steamroller came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A little research finds a remedy is questionable

Many people have some skin tags, like the one shown above on my neck. Wikipedia says that a skin tag (or archrodon) is a small benign tumor found where areas of skin rub together (or form creases) like the neck, armpit, or groin.

Over at Walmart I saw a package of ProVent skin tag remover. The label said the active ingredient was Thuja Occidentalis – an essential oil present at a homeopathic concentration of 6X. You are supposed to put a few drops of the liquid on the tag every day, and after a few weeks it will be gone. But before I bought it I decided to look up reviews at Amazon (and also Walmart) to see if others found it was effective.

First for comparison I looked up a serious pain relief product -  the Salonpas Lidocaine Pain Relieving Maximum Strength Gel Patch. As shown above, 69% gave it a 5 stars and only 9 % gave it 1 star.

For ProVent the Amazon reviews were relatively poor. As shown above, just 27% gave it 5 stars, but 53% gave it 1 star. At Walmart reviews were even worse – 29% gave it 5 stars but 62% gave it 1 star.

Looking around on Google, I found a dismissive article by Harriet Hall, M.D. on June 18, 2013 at Science Based Medicine about a similar product (with the same active ingredient and concentration) called Tag Away that had been advertised on television.

As shown above, reviews of Tag Away at Amazon were even worse than for ProVent – 19% gave it 5 stars but 56% gave it 1 star.  Back on January 6, 2016 I blogged about how According to Consumer Reports, homeopathy is an emperor with no clothes.

What really works for removing skin tags? The Wikipedia article mentions ligation – tying a string around it to cut off blood flow. Wikipedia also mentions cryosurgery (freezing). At PubMed Central I found an article in  Jay E. Taylor on pages 998 and 999 of Canadian Family Physician for December 2016, titled Just a pinch - Technique for skin tag removal in sensitive areas.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Chekhov’s Gun - speechwriting advice from a cartoon

Since July 23, 2018 Dave Kellett has been publishing Sheldon cartoons about famous writers in a series titled Anatomy of… On July 8, 2019 there was one titled Anatomy of Anton Chekhov (with lots of text in red) which taught me:
“ ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ is a dramatic principle that says every element of a play must be necessary; and irrelevant pieces must be removed. So if you have a gun onstage, the implicit dramatic promise is ‘that gun is gonna be used at some point.’ “

Both Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and the Yale Book of Quotations state it as:
“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”

At the TV Tropes web site the main page on Chekhov’s Gun lists a series of variations titled Chekhov’s Gun Depot which include:
“Chekhov’s Gunman: When a character seems to be there for no reason, they must be important.”

“Chekhov’s Volcano: If it wasn’t going to erupt, it would have just been a mountain.”

“The Legend of Chekhov: If someone tells a fairy tale or legend, it’ll turn out to be true.”

The July 8 Sheldon cartoon was playfully preceded by one on July 5 titled Anatomy of Chekhov, but it instead was about Ensign Pavel Andreieivich Chekov – a character from the original Star Trek television series.

Obviously not everything in these cartoons is true. For example, the August 8, 2018 cartoon about J. R. R. Tolkien says his initials stand for Jebediah Ricky Roscoe although they really stand for John Ronald Reuel. And the August 22, 2018 cartoon about Carolyn Keene (collective pen name for authors of the Nancy Drew mysteries) claimed that:
“Nancy carries like seven flashlights on her at all times, in case you need her to pose for a book cover…. (She will flat-out refuse to solve a mystery if it doesn’t feature a flashlight).”

The image of Calamity Jane holding a rifle came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Club officers in Toastmasters International (VPPR and VPM) should use all the brains they can borrow

They can learn from articles published in the Toastmaster magazine. Also they can learn from what other Districts have been doing – via the Golden Knowledge Base. For the Division A Toastmasters Leadership Institute on June 29, 2019 I prepared a handout about Toastmaster magazine articles and Districts for the training sessions on both Vice President of Public Relations (VPPR) and Vice President of Membership (VPM).

Toastmaster magazine has a web archive of issues from 2012 to 2019 (and a separate Gallery for even older ones). For each issue there are links to individual articles in the web version (back to June 2016), and for a .pdf file of that issue. Here are dates, page numbers, titles, and links for some relevant articles.

Articles about Membership and Marketing
2019 05 P14 Build the club you want Link
2018 03 P16 Membership Retention: is your bucket leaking? Link
2017 07 P16 Stir Up Excitement with an Open House or Demo Meeting Link
2017 04 P17 How to resuscitate a struggling club Link
2016 10 P20 A roadmap for club growth Link
2015 09 P2 What do prospective club members want to know?
2015 08 P12 A ‘top notch turnaround
2012 01 P20 Building club membership

Articles about Public Relations
2019 04 P16 In public relations, persistence pays Link
2019 01 P7 Quick Tips: create a quality video Link
2018 11 P7 Did you know? Get the word out with good pr Link
2018 02 16 Spread the word: grow your club Link
2017 04 P14 When bad things happen to good clubs Link
2015 08 P14 Social media tips for your club
2015 08 P16 The power behind proper branding
2015 08 Putting the ‘PR’ in professional
2013 10 P12 Getting the message out
2011 01 P28 Stand out with video

Lark Doley is the 2018-29 president of Toastmasters International. She has a personal web site
containing the Golden Knowledge Base described as follows:
“Toastmasters Districts around the world have some AMAZING documents on their websites that can be used as resources to start, build, and strengthen clubs and their members. The Knowledge Base pages on this website have collected hundreds of these documents in one place sorted by category for you to use.”

The Base has pages there about Club Building, Club Coach, Club Meetings, Club Officers, Conference, District Officers, Education, Fliers, Membership Building, Membership Retention, Mentoring, Public Relations, Speech Contests, and Youth Programs.

I found a few mistakes there so far. In her page on Membership Building there is a line titled D28_Hundreds of Membership Building Ideas_ with an incorrect link instead to a pptx file on Executive Leadership Panels. I looked around and found the correct link to a wonderful eight-page .pdf file with 236 ideas. In her page on Fliers there are links to D49_purple-pill dot doc and D72_Pill vsn 1_Dale Hartle. But pills are forbidden - page 44 of the Toastmasters Brand Manual says:
“Images that should never be used alongside the Toastmasters brand:

Animals, landscape, children, food and appliances (this includes toast and toasters), MEDICINE (my capitalization), cartoons, architecture, other images or designs.”

I blogged about the Woodrow Wilson quotation back in June 2017. The image of a brain was adapted from one by TilmannR at Wikimedia Commons.  

Friday, July 5, 2019

The first time you use an acronym you need to define it

At the LinkedIn Official Toastmasters Members Group I recently found a post with a link to an article on June 19, 2019 at the website for the Operational Excellence Society titled Five leadership styles behind the success of giant MNCs. But the authors never bothered to define what that Three Letter Acronym (TLA) meant. If you didn’t know, then you would have to look it up. In biz jargon it is an acronym for a Multi-National Corporation. What else could MNC mean? Here are ten more possibilities:

Macadamia Nut Cookie

Major Non-Conformity

Masonry Non-Combustible

Maternal and Neonatal Care

Media Nusantara Citra

Missouri Nursing Coalition

Mobile Network Code

Modified Numerical Control

Mother Nature Calls

Mythical National Championship

MNC as an acronym for Multi-National Corporation is not what you might expect - Initial Letters of Three Words (ILTW). Instead it is made from Initial Letters of Two Words and a Hyphenated Prefix (ILTWHP), as are MNC for both Major Non-Conformity and Masonry Non-Combustible.

By the way, Macadamia Nut Cookie was a code name once used by Google for a version of the Android operating system on mobile phones. Media Nusantara Citra is an Indonesian Media company. ILTW might also mean that I Like To Watch.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

An unusual pushbutton failure on computer tape drives

On June 25, 2019 there was a Shark Tank article on the Computerworld web site titled Ready, set, go. It described how the operations manager of a computer center figured out why pushbuttons on their mainframe computers were repeatedly breaking during the night shift. The story took place back in the early 1980s and it involved large IBM 3420 tape drives used for data storage. Those tape drives were used for offline data storage, and the computer operator was told to mount a tape before running a batch job. After the tape was mounted, he or she was supposed to push the square READY button located on a control panel over five feet above the floor, as is shown above.  

The operations manager sneaked into the basement computer room and was horrified by what he saw. Instead of using a finger to press the READY button the rambunctious young operators were grabbing an overhead horizontal pipe, like an Olympian on the uneven bars, and doing a high kick. He applied a generous layer of soap to lubricate that pipe and discourage those late-night gymnastics.   

Images of a tape drive and an Olympian came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Magazine article on how to prepare and deliver a great talk

The Federation of European Biochemical Societies publishes The FEBS Journal, which recently had an excellent seven-page Words of Advice article by Rita Gemayel and Seamus J. Martin on How to prepare and deliver a great talk. The first gray box in it had advice on being a good audience member. The second gray box had seven items of bad advice, the first two of which are:

“Do not rehearse your talk. Spontaneous talks are much better, just like spontaneous pension plans and spontaneous climbs of Mount Everest. What could possibly go wrong?

Never start a presentation from scratch. Just cobble together slides from old presentations and explain any key missing diagrams in words as it occurs to you. The audience will figure out what you mean, even if you do not really know what you want to say. Or what you mean. Either way it will be fun, right?”

After telling us what not to do they proceeded to give good advice. Way back on June 24, 2008 I also used the format of telling what NOT to do in a post titled Don’t be a “Flip Chart Charlie”. The Uncle Sam poster previously appeared in my 2016 New Year’s post titled Remember that only YOU can prevent bad presentations.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Jargon Poisoning

Wednesday’s Dilbert cartoon is titled Jargon Poisoning. In the first frame someone said:
“Let’s plan a huddle to ideate around that opportunity.”
Dilbert replied:
“Gaaa! I have jargon poisoning!”

Thurssday’s cartoon titled Jargon Canceling Headphones prescribed a solution – headphones which translated jargon into normal words. But nothing came out of them for:
“Let’s stay in our swim lane while the tiger team gets buy-in on the verticals.”

Presumably the translation process would use a dictionary like Lucy Kellaway’s Guffipedia, which I blogged about on December 16, 2015 in a post titled Jargon and guff.

An image of a Death Skull came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A comment with a suggestion about homophones

On June 24, 2019 I received an email from Alejandra Villalobos commenting that she had enjoyed reading my November 12, 2009 blog post titled Stage freight and other true typos or yakwirms. In that post I had linked to the English-language Wikipedia page on Homophone. Alejandra said English is not her native language, and reading Wikipedia had helped her learn.

She recommended an article by Katherine Torgersen at Website Planet on June 6, 2019 about homophones titled Are you talking aloud? Or is talking allowed? Watch what you write, to make sure it’s right. Examples there (shown with humorous illustrations)  include: chile-chili-chilly, which-witch, brake-break, bare-bear, exercise-exorcise, bear-beet, pea-pee, flea-flee, whine-wine, aisle-isle-I’ll, throne-thrown.

Linking to Wikipedia pages has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that links to their pages usually are stable, in contrast with web sites from persons or organizations that get lost from sites being reorganized. Another is that some pages describe the history of very specific terms, like a subtype of thrown being Defenestration (throwing someone out of a window).

A disadvantage is that some Wikipedia pages are rather shallow. For example, the page on Stage fright says nothing about how common it is. On August 12, 2015 I blogged about how There’s really no mystery about how common stage fright is.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Overcome the Curse of Knowledge by bringing numbers down to earth

Experts may be like Icarus in the painting shown above illustrating that Greek myth. We can soar so far above our audience it is difficult to see their earthbound view. Nick Morgan said this on April 25, 2019 in a post at his Public Words blog titled How can you make a technical subject interesting?:

“You’re too deep in the field to remember, but the interests of a general audience are so primitive by your standards that they don’t speak your language, they don’t understand your numbers, they don’t hold their breath over what you find controversial, and they don’t recognize the stars in your sky. So you need to start, not with your expertise, but with your beginner’s mind.”

Chip and Dan Heath’s 2007 book Made to Stick discussed it as The Curse of Knowledge. They said:

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners state of mind.”

 On May 17, 2019 I had blogged about Telling a gigantic story: the B reactor tour in Hanford, Washington. That nuclear reactor produced the plutonium for the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan which led to the end of World War II. It was located on the south bank of the Columbia River. I mentioned that the fission reaction generated 250 million watts (Mw), and they circulated 30,000 gallons of cooling water per minute through the aluminum tubes holding the uranium in the core to remove that heat.

How could I bring 250 million watts to life for my hometown of Boise? An electric two-slice toaster uses around 850 watts, and a toaster oven uses 1200 watts. In 2017 Boise had a population of  226,570 people. Imagine if everyone in town simultaneously left on a toaster or toaster oven!

And how could I explain what 30,000 gallons per minute means? Current showerheads have a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. The capacity of Taco Bell Arena (just renamed ExtraMile Arena) where the Boise State Broncos play their basketball games is a bit more than 12,000. Imagine all 12,000 people taking a shower at once.

My career as an engineer has made me so familiar with metric prefixes for thousands (kilo or k) and millions (Mega or M) that I don’t even have to think about them. I have to think just a little about the prefixes for billions (Giga or G), trillions (Tera or T) and quadrillions (Peta or P).  

A ratio might the best way to compare two things. The Wikipedia article about the Fat Man bomb said it had a yield of 21 kilotons (of TNT), and that the bomb weighed 10,300 pounds. That is 21,000 tons of TNT and the bomb weighed 5.15 tons. Then the ratio is 4078. That is, the nuclear explosive was 4078 times as powerful as a conventional TNT bomb. 

Some numbers are difficult because they truly are huge. On July 15, 2011 I blogged about the Kennecott Bingham Canyon open pit copper mine west of Salt Lake City in a post titled What can we say about a really big hole in the ground? The Wikipedia article says every day they dig up 450,000 tons of ore and haul it away using a fleet of 64 giant dump trucks that each carry a load 255 tons.

In my blog post I noted that the daily load was described as a multiple of 50-ton humpback whales. But humpback whales are not part of our everyday experience. Have you ever been at a whale crossing? But most people have sat in a car waiting at a railroad crossing and seen 110-ton hopper cars of coal in a train. 450,000 tons corresponds to 4091 of those hopper cars, or roughly a hundred trains each with 40 cars! Similarly, each of those 255 ton dump trucks carries ~2.3 times what a hopper car does.

Why do they dig up so much material at Bingham Canyon? Wikipedia also says the mine produces 300,000 tons of copper per year, which converts to 821 tons per day. Divide that by 450,000 and you get that the ore only contains 0.183 % copper. (There are other more precious metals as well).  

Some numbers just sound big until you ask what a person’s share of them is. Back on August 17, 2011 I blogged about How to make a large number incomprehensible – or comprehensible. I discussed an article which said that in the U.S. we use 5.7 billion gallons of water per day to flush the toilets. But when you divide that among a population of 308 million it becomes 18.5 gallons a person per day. That article had claimed 5.7 billion gallons was incomprehensible - it isn’t. It’s about 9% of what goes over Niagara Falls. If I were discussing this here in Boise I would instead compare with Shoshone Falls.

Costs based on the calendar can be expressed several ways. Netflix doesn’t say they charge me $189 per year – it’s billed as $13.99 per month. Charities like Shriners or Wounded Warriors Project don’t advertise $228 per year – it’s just $19 per month. Coast to Coast AM has an Insider program that lets you listen to an archive of radio shows for $54.99 a year – which they say is only 15 cents a day.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Making a flipchart easel or banner stand for your Toastmasters club

When you look at web sites like Amazon or Wayfair, you will see that you can buy a bewildering variety of flip chart easels for prices ranging from about $60. Fancier ones also have whiteboards (as shown above) and may even be magnetic.

But if your club has more time than money (and some crafty members), you might prefer to make rather than buy. At YouTube I found a four-minute video by Andy at westvalley411 on How to make an easel for a flip chart (and why) for $20.00 in 30 minutes. He mentioned it might be useful to have the legs fold. The Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College has instructions for Building a folding flip chart easel. If you prefer plastic, PVC pipe also can be used. At The Owl Teacher there is an article on using 3/4” PVC pipe in a DIY easel for your classroom.

Toastmasters International sells a $110 black portable stand (Item 324) for holding a 35” wide by 47” high club banner. Our club instead uses a $25 banner stand bought from Amazon. At the Instructables Living web site there is an article on using 1 /2” PVC pipe to build A simple banner stand. That design uses a five-way cross fitting that you can buy from Formufit to make an x-shaped base. District 53 Toastmasters has another base design using only tees and elbows. To find their .pdf file just search on Google for the phrase “Toastmasters_Banner_Stand_Instructions”.     

Images of a flipchart easel and a crosscut saw came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Be careful when you count out your points

At The Buckley School web site on May 10, 2019 there was a useful article titled Questionable presentation advice:  count out your points. Enumerating your ideas is useful because it shows your plan and guides your audience from one idea to the next. As shown above by the auctioneer selling a pitchfork, when you have just four points it is easy for both the audience and you to get a handle on each of them.

There are pitfalls though. First, a speaker might promise some number of points but not deliver them distinctly so the audience becomes confused.

Second, the speaker might fail to deliver all the points he said he would. (That might also come from bad planning).

Even worse he might keep adding additional ones. There is a classic comedy sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus where the Spanish Inquisition appears and their leader says:

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, fear and surprise. Our two weapons are fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons are fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Our four…Amongst our weapons…”   

Third, when there are multiple speakers on a program the tendency to enumerate can be contagious and its repeating bore the audience.

Fourth, the speaker might promise an overwhelming number of points (perhaps 24) and actually deliver them. Then, as shown above, the speech will have a structure like a comb. Without more of a hierarchy the audience can get hopelessly lost. Back on March 22, 2011I blogged about Speech geometry: lines, circles, forks, and combs.

The auctioneer image came from the Library of Congress.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Is it true that Idaho teens aren’t working, even though jobs are plentiful? Not recently!

On June 7, 2019 at the Idaho Freedom Foundation web site Mr. Wayne Hoffman posted an article titled Jobs are plentiful, but Idaho teens aren’t working. That article was republished on June 10, 2019 as an opinion column in the Idaho Press. The first two paragraphs stated that:

“Though their population has increased, there are fewer Idaho teenagers in the workforce than there were 20 years ago. In 1998, more than 25,000 Idahoans between the ages of 14 and 18 were employed, two decades later, about 24,500 Idaho youngsters earn a paycheck, according to government data.

That four percent drop in the number of young employees today versus 1998 is amplified by the fact that Idaho’s population was 1.2 million then, and 1.7 million now. The state’s total workforce has grown by 35 percent.”

But a drop of 500 from 25,000 to 24,500 is a decrease of 2%, not 4%. Wayne should ask an Idaho teen to show him how to calculate percentages.

Is that a realistic description of teen employment in the state? Mr. Hoffman did not bother to specify where in the government he got the data from. Actually it comes from the U.S. Census and is on a web page for the QWI Explorer.

The tables shown above describe how employment has actually changed from 1992 to 2018 for eight age groups in Idaho.

They also are shown as a series of line graphs. Look at the light green line for Ages 14 to 18. It looks like a roller coaster. After the Great Recession employment for all eight groups increased linearly.   

I replotted just the data points using an Excel spreadsheet. As is shown above, employment peaked twice - in 2000 (26,886) and in 2007 (26,721). It also had two minimums in 2004 (22,189) and 2011 (13,576). The latest point for 2018 (24,559), and one for 1998 (25,051) [green arrows] Mr. Hoffman cherry-picked to compare teen employment do not do the data justice. From 2013 to 2018 it increased linearly, by an average of 1731 per year [as shown by the dotted red line]. What teens actually have been doing recently is increasingly going to work. Mr. Hoffman’s ‘drop’ came from cherry-picking just 2 points two decades apart, and ignoring the complicated details of what went on in between them. He equally well could have started 25 years ago at 1993 (20,812). Then he would have said employment rose by 18% rather than dropping by 4%. (The average for all 27 years is 21,859 so the 1993 number is more representative than the higher 1998 one).    
After Mr. Hoffman ‘viewed with alarm’ that alleged drop, he went on to ‘point with pride’ at his own teen employment. But a look at all the data instead leaves us with the title of a 1965 song Pete Townshend wrote for The Who – The Kids Are Alright.   

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A hilariously overinflated pie chart

At the web site there was an article on June 3, 2019 titled Parents get MORE STRESSED about an UNTIDY HOME than anything else (including the health of their children and lack of sleep). It reported results in percent from asking ~4000 members of that community what their stress triggers were. But the text instead claimed to have asked about the biggest stress trigger or fear:
“Only 16% of parents stated that their biggest fear was losing their child in a crowd…”

Results were reported in the eight-slice pie chart shown above (to which I have added a syringe to indicate overinflation). That is because that chart is overinflated to a total of 273.6%. The two largest slices for Untidiness of house (60.8%) and Lack of sleep (55.2%) add to 116% - while all the slices should only add to 100%. Look at the angle of slightly less than ninety degrees covered by the dark green slice for Untidiness of house. It really represents 22.2%, which is what you get when you divide 60.8 % by 2.73. People had reported on several triggers rather than just their biggest trigger.

Back on December 22, 2013 I had blogged about ‘tis the season for pies and artistic charts about them, and discussed another pie chart that totaled to an absurd  271%. This one is even worse.

Those Childcare results should have instead been reported via a horizontal bar chart, as is shown above. The syringe image came from the Database Center for Life Science at Wikimedia Commons.