Wednesday, May 22, 2019

An actual top 50 blogs list - and another top 20 blogs list with only 16

Back on February 3rd I blogged about Another confused ‘Top 50 List’ of public speaking blogs. I was irked the the Feedspot blog list titled Top 50 Public Speaking Blogs Every Speaker Must Follow instead had 58 blogs. The May 16th update actually is correct and has 50!

But their May 11th list of Top 20 Presentation Blogs, Websites & Newsletters to Follow in 2019 only has 16.

I still detest having people point a finger at me and tell me what I must do. (The image was borrowed from a 1902 theatrical poster at the Library of Congress).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

In a 1943 study about twice as many college students feared public speaking as feared having an automobile accident

Thirty years before an endlessly cited 1973 Bruskin survey (that often is quoted to compare fears of public speaking and death) there was a magazine article by Howard Gilkinson in Speech Monographs (volume 10, pages 74 to 83) titled A Questionnaire Study of the Causes of Social Fears Among College Speech Students. There were a total of 432 students in the Fundaments of Speech classes at the University of Minnesota (264 women and 168 men).

In Table II he reported on Intervariable Comparisons: results for two fears – Are afraid of speaking in public and Are afraid of having an automobile accident. As shown above in a bar chart, almost twice as many feared speaking (30.6%) as feared an auto accident (15.5%). He also separated them into fearful and confident speakers based on their response to the 104-item Personal Report on Confidence as a Speaker (PRCS).  

Mr. Gilkinson also asked students how they described themselves and reported percentages for six items. 39.5% described themselves as self-conscious, 19.5% as socially sensitive, 15.7% as observant, 14.1% as thorough, 13.9% as persistent, and just 7.2% as shy. The 7.2% describing themselves as shy is much lower than the 40% reported by Philip G. Zimbardo on page 14 of his 1977 book Shyness – what it is and what to do about it. The six items are shown above in another bar chart.

Mr. Gilkinson reported percentages for eight fear symptoms (reactions) as shown in still another bar chart: 49% for rapid heartbeat, 41% for both tense body and trembling, 25% for sweating, 23% for short breath, 18% for tense throat, and 14% for both dry mouth and tense face.

In Table II he also reported total frequencies for 14 physical fears and 18 social fears. Unfortunately he did not list results for each individual fear. Physical fears were: high places, storms, darkness. Burglars, getting lost, closed places, being poisoned, sharp edges, suffocating, electric shocks, catching contagious diseases, deep water, guns, and taking an anesthetic. Social fears were: committing some sin, dimple, complexion, being small, physical deficiencies, your sex, personal habits, bad effects of heredity, violating religious teachings, speech defects, acts of close relatives, language spoken in your house, clothing you had to wear, nicknames, your name, failures, and being criticized severely. 

An image of an auto accident came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Simply Trumped-Up

I am both amused and appalled to find that our president’s last name shows up in the adjective phrase trumped-up, which Merriam Webster defines as fraudulently concocted; spurious, Cambridge defines as not true; invented and Oxford defines as invented as an excuse or a false accusation.

On April 27, 2019 the Washington Post had an article titled In 828 days, President Trump has made 10,111 false or misleading claims. Politifact keeps a scorecard on his statements, and listed the amazing percentages shown above. They found 70% were Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire. Only 16% were Mostly True or True. The remaining 14% were Half True.

The Trump caricature came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

An extremely entertaining flipchart presentation

On February 21, 2019 I blogged about how Flipcharts can be funny. I just found another brief YouTube video by comedian Bec Hill titled What this girl does with a flipchart will SHOCK YOU!

The music is a song whose lyrics she demolishes in another YouTube video titled Bec Hill translates “Non Je Regrtette Rien” (Edith Piaf).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Telling a gigantic story: the B Reactor tour in Hanford, Washington

The Manhattan Project created three nuclear bombs, which lend to the end of World War II. The Fat Man plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of 21 kilotons, or 21,000 tons of TNT. It weighed 5 tons, so it was ~4200 times more powerful than a conventional bomb.  

Plutonium for two bombs was created in a nuclear reactor – the B Reactor at the gigantic Hanford Engineer Works on the south bank of the Columbia River in Washington.

On May 8, 2019 I took a tour of the B Reactor National Historical Landmark. B Reactor at Hanford was the first nuclear reactor able to operate continuously. (Its two brothers the D and F reactors came a bit later). The tour took four hours, and mine started at 9:00 AM. It began at a visitor center in Richland, Washington. We took a bus trip (an hour each way) out to the reactor site.

On the wall of the corridor there are a pair of blue wall posters that succinctly explain the B reactor and Hanford. Starting in March 1943 95,000 people worked on the site. Construction of B reactor began in June 1943. It started operating at the end of September 1944, and by summer of 1945 it had produced plutonium for two bombs.

At the site you can look at the front face of the reactor and the inlet ends of the fuel tubes. The core is a 36’ high by 36’ wide stack of graphite blocks 28’ deep. A couple thousand aluminum tubes go through it and hold the natural uranium fuel.

The tubes also carried 30,000 gallons per minute of cooling water to remove heat from the fission reaction – 250 million watts. As shown above in a closeup, a maze of piping and valves distributes water to all the tubes.  

The room where you look at the front face of the reactor also has a scale model of the adjacent part of the site. On the overall view I put a red circle around the B reactor. Other buildings for processing the water for cooling dwarf the actual reactor building (#105). There were three systems for providing cooling water. The primary normal one used electric pumps. A backup used steam powered pumps. A third emergency gravity fed system used a pair of large water tanks.

The room also has a another model showing how the graphite blocks were stacked to make the core.

There also is a poster explaining the fission reactions which almost magically create plutonium from natural uranium.

In the control room there’s a console with a chair for the operator. To the right of it is a whole wall full of running time meters that keep track of how long the fuel loaded in each tube was in the reactor.

What Hanford was doing was top secret, and you could get into big trouble by talking about it. Near the control room is a room with a safe which curiously has a roll of toilet paper sitting inside. The woman tour leader told us a story about that. One day a schoolboy told his class that he had figured out what they were making at the site. He’d seen his dad smuggle a roll home, so it just was toilet paper!     

The tour leader told us that the most popular part was a poster showing dining halls on the Hanford site. Along with it there was a list titled A Lot of Workers, A Lot of Food. Everyone could appreciate what was involved in feeding that mass of workers. She said the 30,000 donuts a day were an incentive plan to get people to show up early or on-time for breakfast and then work. If you weren’t early you wouldn’t get one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

We all make lots of spelling misteaks

We all make lots of spelling mistakes when writing, but usually catch almost all of them. It is particularly embarrassing to leave typos in slide or presentation titles when using PowerPoint or Keynote.

My most typical typo is to capitalize the first two letters in a new sentence, like THe. Some typos will still be words - but other than what was intended, and will not be caught by the spelling checker in our word processing software.

On May 9, 2019 there was a BBC News article titled When spelling goes wrong: famous typos from Trump to NASA. It recounted how the Reserve Bank of Australia misspelled ‘responsibility’ as ‘responsibilty’ on 46 million of their new yellow fifty-dollar banknotes.

I got curious and Googled responsibilty. There were web articles titled both What Is Social Responsibilty for an Organization? and Shoveling: Who’s Responsibilty? Blogging software like Google Blogger (which I use) and WordPress have the post title entered separately. When you are in a hurry, it is easy to add the title just before you post. I long ago learned to write both the title and text in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages so the title also went through a spelling check.

The image of two steaks came from Jon Sullivan at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A very recent quote about self-confidence and overcoming fear

On page 56 of the May 11, 2019 issue of New Scientist magazine there was an interview with Tanya Harrison. She is a planetary geologist and director of the NewSpace Initiative for Arizona State University. When asked what the best advice anyone ever gave her, she replied:

“A friend once said: ‘Remember, you know more about the specific thing that you are talking about than anyone else in the room. Be confident in that.’ That really helped me get over my fear of public speaking.”

The cartoon image of a confident female speaker was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Does verbosity come from having lots of time to kill?

John Cadley writes a humor column called Funny You Should Say That that appears at the back of Toastmaster magazine. For the May 2019 issue it was titled Verbosity with a long subtitle - Why do we use more words than we need when we could say what we mean with fewer words?

John pointed out how we use excess verbiage and say due to the fact that rather than just although, or at this point in time rather than just now. He pointed to the Fearless Flyer newsletter from Trader Joes as an example of prolixity. But he did not theorize about why we get more verbose and kill time when common sense would suggest we instead should be getting less verbose due to the faster pace of modern life.

One possible culprit is radio coverage of professional baseball games. An article at Sports Illustrated by Scooby Axson on October 2, 2017 noted the Average MLB game time rises to record 3:05. That is 185 minutes. At PunditFact on April 6, 2018 there was another article by Louis Jacobson which asked Are there only 18 minutes of action in a baseball game?, and found there indeed were. 18 minutes is a single TED talk! So less than 10% of a ballgame is action. Most of the other 90%  (other than commercials) is filled by a color commentator - a second sports commentator who assists the main play-by-play commentator by filling the time between plays. Typically he adds anecdotes and background about statistics, strategy, and injuries. 

Another possible culprit is talk radio. Rather suspiciously a typical syndicated show (like Rush Limbaugh) also lasts for three hours. In a comedy routine by Lewis Black mistitled Facebook rather than Same Arguments that you can listen to on YouTube he laments (using very bad language):   

“One of the reasons that I feel we that we age in this country is because from the time you’re born until the day you die you listen to the same arguments over and over and over and over again. They never end. They don’t. Major issues - we bang them back and forth all the time. We’re a democracy, and that’s what you do. That’s one of the prices we pay for having a democracy, is to discuss things until our ears bleed.”  

The time to kill image came from a World War II poster of a B-26 Marauders strafing. I was reminded of a 1975 Soundstage TV show titled 60 Minutes to Kill, which can be seen on YouTube. 


Sometimes filling up time has a wonderful side effect. Hugh Masekela’s trumpet instrumental Grazing in the Grass, which hit number one in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reportedly was created because his album was running about three minutes short of the contracted for 30-minute length.

On March 20, 2019 there was a Sheldon comic that ended by describing an extremely verbose alternative title for the musical Cats

“Adult humans who could be doing something else, who have chosen to dress up in cat suits and sing for you in the dark.”


Friday, May 10, 2019

That phony ‘faster horses’ quotation again

Yesterday at the Official Toastmasters International Members Group on LinkedIn someone posted about the new Pathways education program with what he thought was a quotation from Henry Ford (as is shown above). His point was that visionary leaders looked out for our future needs rather than what we would have said we needed right now.

I commented by pointing him to an article by Patrick Vlaskovits on August 29, 2011 at the Harvard Business Review web site titled Henry Ford, innovation , and that “faster horse” quote. It wasn’t the first time that unreal quote popped up at that LinkedIn Group. On August 26, 2017 I had blogged about Don’t hang your article from a bogus quote (and also watch your social network etiquette).

He replied that he was more focused on the words and meaning of the quote than with who said it. But he used a photo of Ford, so it clearly was an Argument from Authority. Those words just don’t carry the same weight when paired with an old Puck cartoon (as seen above).

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Table Topics - judging magazines by their covers

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting, where people give one to two minute answers to questions. Ideas for those questions (the role of Table Topics Master) can come from anywhere. This topic came from looking at the magazine rack while I was standing in a supermarket checkout line at WINCO.

It occurred to me the National Enquirer has a  very misleading title. Based on the stories shown on the cover, it instead really should be titled Misbehaving or Dying Celebrities, as is shown above.

On February 17, 2019 I blogged about Table Topics – Tell us about another magazine with a similar title. When I got around to being Table Topics Master for our last meeting in March, I realized that I needed to provide more information than just the title. For each magazine I brought both some background information and a copy of a cover (showing article titles).  
I also suggested how the answer might be aimed. Was an adjective in the title rather weak? For example, back on June 5, 2016 I had blogged about Was Fairview really the best street name you could come up with? Why just Fair, and not Good, Better, or Best (the categories from a Sears catalog)? I also noted you might change an adjective to its opposite, like Clean Eating into Dirty  Eating. Here are four examples.

One woman got a cover from Good Housekeeping (which began way back in 1885). Story titles included Awesome Makeover Ideas for Every Room, Top-Tested Solutions for Dry Skin, and Your Happiest and Healthiest Year Ever. She said the title should also be a superlative, like Very Best Housekeeping to top Better Homes and Gardens. I don’t have time to waste hearing merely good ideas.  

I gave one man a two-year-old cover from the National Enquirer with a feature story titled Cher Dying, and noted that Cher seem to still be with us. He said that’s just what they want you to believe. She actually died but was reanimated - we secretly have that technology. The Queen of England also has died but was brought back.

A retired club member got the March 2016 issue of Sunset magazine, with article titles of A Modern Guide to Mexico City, Easy Spring Brunch Ideas, and Design a Daring Succulent Container Combo. I told him the magazine began in 1898, and once had the subtitle of The Magazine of Western Living. (Currently the subtitle is Experience the West, but it only is in the Table of Contents). He asked if the magazine was for people in their sunset years, and might better be called Grandparent’s Digest. Another possible title, Coasting Downhill, is shown above. Later I found that at Lenny Mud you can buy a $10 ceramic picture frame with a pretend cover titled Grandparent DIGEST and subtitled The Magazine for the Grandest Family Members. One article title is 365 Ways to Spoil Children. Also, the April 8, 2019 issue of The New Yorker had a cartoon on page 29 showing a cover for Grandma Digest with titles like Top Ten Pieces of Furniture to Wrap in Plastic.

Another woman got the February 2019 cover for Real Simple (subtitled Life Made Easier). I pointed out that issue had 130 pages. She said if it really was simple, then it would be less complicated and more like thirty pages long. And don’t give me a long discussion of how to cleverly organize my kitchen – just tell me to throw some things out. Later I realized that you could start from that title and change it into Real Pimple (the teen magazine of zits).

Images of an old man on a bicycle and a painting of Marat both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Steve Jobs was not a psychic

A few times a week I look at the Speaking Pro Central web site to look at their list of about three dozen trending articles. But when I do about half are silly ones from Jane Genova that aren't related to public speaking.  

On April 28, 2019 at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova posted with the title Steve Jobs – Was he psychic & did that help with product development? On April 27, 2019 she had posted with the title “Small Fry” – How it was growing up Steve Jobs’ Illegitimate Daughter about a 2018 book written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. In the April 28 post she speculated that Jobs must have been psychic - since had told his daughter both that someday he would be famous, and that he would die young. That speculation merely is wishful thinking based on hilariously shallow research. That book said something more specific and different about him dying. Lisa’s mother reportedly said:

“When they were dating in high school, even before they started selling the blue boxes that let you call anywhere in the world for free, he predicted that he would become famous. ‘How did he know?’ ‘He just did,’ she said. ‘He also said he’d die young, in his early forties.’ I was pretty sure that since the first prediction was right, the second one would be right too. I began to think of him as a kind of prophet, with loneliness and tragedy at the edges.”

And Lisa also reported:

“ ‘I’m going to die in my early forties,’ my father said to me around this time. He’d come to pick me up at a friend’s house for the first time. His delivery was dramatic, as if to stir some action, but there was no action I could see to take. Forty seemed pretty old from my vantage point of eight.”

If Jobs really was a psychic, then his prediction would have been correct, and he would actually have died in his early forties. A few seconds checking of  the Wikipedia article about him reveals that instead he lived over a decade longer to age 56 - dying from pancreatic cancer.

An October 11, 2011 article in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell titled The Steve Jobs Nobody Knew reported:

“ ‘Steve always had that James Dean, live-fast, die-young thing,’ says Steve Capps, one of the key programmers on the first Apple Macintosh. As they worked late into the night to design and build the device that would revolutionize personal computing, Jobs would talk about death a lot. ‘It was a little morbid,’ Capps recalls. ‘He’d say, ‘I don’t want to be 50.'  Brennan recalls Jobs making similar comments when he was only 17. ‘Steve always believed he was going to die young,’ Brennan says. ‘I think that’s part of what gave his life such urgency. He never expected to live past 45.’ ”

The Wikipedia article refers to the official biography by Walter Isaacson which indicates he consulted a psychic:

“To the horror of his friends and wife, Jobs decided not to have surgery to remove the tumor, which was the only accepted medical approach. “I really didn’t want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,” he told me years later with a hint of regret. Specifically, he kept to a strict vegan diet, with large quantities of fresh carrot and fruit juices. To that regimen he added acupuncture, a variety of herbal remedies, and occasionally a few other treatments he found on the Internet or by consulting people around the country, including a psychic.”

How did Jane miss the details? She was way too busy cranking out three blog posts on the 27th and four on the 28th to do a careful job on Jobs.

An image of Felix the Cat came from Wikimedia Commons.   

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Public speaking really isn’t very dangerous

At xkcd  on April 26, 2019 Randall Munroe had a cartoon titled Dangerous Fields. As shown above, it ranked the probability that you will be killed by what you study. I have added public speaking (in red) - which isn’t really very dangerous. Relatively few people have died, but not none as some have claimed. On May 31, 2017 I blogged about Spouting Nonsense – Nobody ever died from public speaking. In that post I reported just finding about thirty people.

On April 8, 2018 I blogged about Misquoting Jerry Seinfeld and inflating fear five times. In that post I discussed how a Seinfeld joke had played with results from a 1973 survey and moved death up to supposedly being the number two fear.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Do you believe everything that you read?

Sometimes the written instructions you receive just are wrong. On April 10, 2019 there was an article at Computerworld in Shark Tank titled Don’t RTFM, and subtitled Do you believe everything you read? RTFM is the overused acronym for Read That Friendly Manual.

It told a story about a radio transmitter used by the army. The storyteller, who maintained electronics, had been in a unit where that equipment first was deployed. He and others were trained by the manufacturer, or by those who they had directly trained. Their units had only minor problems with the transmitter. But other units had many failures of the large, expensive final amplifier tube similar to one shown above.

Eventually he and a senior operator were assigned to visit one of the other units. That senior operator watched what the others were doing, and was horrified. Before shutting off power to the transmitter they were turning the gain control knob for the final amplifier fully clockwise (CW) to maximum power. Instead they should have been turning that knob fully counterclockwise (CCW) to minimum power, as shown above.  

They said we just were following orders. We did exactly what the manual told us to do! They didn’t think about whether that instruction made any sense. He corrected the manual to say counterclockwise, and informed  all other units to do the same.

What had gone wrong? Presumably whoever began writing the manual meant to use the abbreviation CCW but accidentally left off one C – a simple typographic error. Then during editing the words got spelled out but incorrectly.

I remember once seeing a case about a tall retaining wall in a book on construction failures. The drawing had specified 1-1/4” diameter steel reinforcing rods. When the drawing was copied the ‘1’ got so light it was illegible, and much thinner 1/4” rods were used instead!

An image of a vacuum tube came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sometimes change is good; other times it is not

Here are three cases where a change was bad.

I wrote an article for the September 1995 issue of Claims magazine titled How to Investigate Corrosion Damage to Goods Stored, Shipped. One case I briefly discussed involved coils of steel wire which were wrapped in a laminate of plastic and paper treated with a vapor phase inhibitor. Right after their purchasing department changed packaging suppliers a customer rejecting an entire shipment of wire. When the new supplier had asked what they wanted to protect, purchasing told them it was steel wire. They omitted a crucial detail – that it was bronze plated wire for use in tires. The surface was plated so it would properly adhere to rubber. The inhibitor they got was intended only for steel (not copper), and corroded the plating an ugly blue.      

When Microsoft introduced Office 2007 they changed their default for saving PowerPoint files from type .ppt to a new type .pptx. We were using my laptop computer and projector for meetings of Capital Club Toastmasters, but it had an older version of Office. Very soon we ran into their new filetype. At the last minute one of our speakers had to figure out how to instead connect her laptop to my projector. Then I had to find and  download their PowerPoint Viewer software to cope with those .pptx files.   

On April 9, 2019 there was an article at Computerworld in Shark Tank titled Grease is the word. It described a case from back in the early 1970’s where the card reader on a mainframe computer was causing the system to repeatedly crash. Support technicians sent to handle the situation were baffled. Finally the manufacturer sent their design engineer, who arrived on a Friday afternoon. On Monday morning employees arrived to find the reader disassembled, a high voltage probe on an oscilloscope attached to the ground wire, and the engineer lying on the floor laughing hysterically. Eventually he calmed down, and told them what caused the problem. Bearings on the roller shafts of the card transport mechanism were supposed to be lubricated with a special conductive grease. Instead regular nonconductive grease had accidentally been used. Static electricity charges built up as cards were being read, until a high-voltage spark discharged them. The card reader was behaving like a Van de Graff generator. It was replaced by one with the proper lubricant. Electric arcing is a common enough problem with bearings that it is discussed on pages 16 and 17 of the Torrington Company Bearing Failure Prevention Guide.
The Currier and Ives image of A Changed Man came from Wikimedia Commons.