Friday, March 29, 2019

A wonderful illustrated essay by Neil Gaiman about Why Our Future Depends On Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming

In the new books section at my friendly local public library, I just found and read a wonderful little illustrated book by Neil Gaiman from 2018 titled Art Matters (illustrated by Chris Riddell).

On September 6, 2018 The Guardian published one of the essays from it,  the 19-page Why Our Future Depends On Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming. That essay came from the 2013 Reading Agency Lecture, which you can find at their web site (as both a YouTube video and a transcript). Compare the transcript with the essay, and you will see the power of editing.  

The image was adapted from a WPA poster at the Library of Congress.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bogus information from internet ‘research’

Earlier this month Scott Adams had a series of three Dilbert cartoons about internet research. First on March 18, 2019 there was one titled Boss Does Research on Internet:

Pointy Haired Boss: I was doing some research on the internet…

Dilbert (thinking): Uh-oh.

Pointy Haired Boss: And I learned that there is a secret CIA base inside the sun, but no one is talking about it.

Dilbert: Maybe you shouldn’t do research on the internet.

Pointy Haired Boss: Why are you afraid of the truth?

I suspect Scott may have been inspired by an old Polish Joke (#65) about sending a spaceship to the sun. They were going to go at night to avoid the extreme heat.

Second on March 19, 2019 there was another titled Humans and Parakeets:

Pointy Haired Boss: I was doing some research on the internet and learned that humans and parakeets can mate and produce offspring.
Employee: I don’t believe that,
Pointy Haired Boss: It’s true. I read about it in a blog.
Employee: I wouldn’t call that “research.”
Pointy Haired Boss: Deny science much?

Third on March 20, 2019 there was yet another titled Birds Cause Hurricanes:

CEO: I don’t know enough about climate change to sound smart when people talk about it.

Pointy Haired Boss: Try doing your own research. That’s how I learned that hurricanes are caused by birds.

CEO: Write that down for me.

Pointy Haired Boss: And did you know polar bears hate snow?

I have seen all sorts of nonsense on the internet. On March 6, 2019 at her SkepDoc web site Harriet Hall had an article titled A surfeit of silliness which began by noting that Jemima Packington (in Bath, England) claimed she could predict the future using asparagus. The only thing you can predict from asparagus is that soon after eating it your urine may smell funny.   

The computer user warning sign was adapted from an image at Openclipart.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

It might be best to skip the ray-gun sound effects when answering that question

A recent xkcd cartoon titled Space Mission Hearing had Megan rehearsing how to answer a question on funding. As shown above, she gave a serious answer but then continued with excessive enthusiasm. Ponytail told her to ‘dial it back.’ Have you ever gone overboard like Megan did?

Monday, March 25, 2019

According to the 2019 World Happiness Report, Americans are not exceptionally happy

We in the U.S. think of ourselves as being exceptionally powerful, and also happy compared with other countries.

But the latest World Happiness Report paints a different picture regarding our level of joy. As shown above, we ranked 19th in the world, and thus just barely made it into the Top 20. Five Scandinavian countries were prominent in the Top 10: Finland #1, Denmark #2, Norway #3, Iceland #4, and Sweden #7. At Today on March 17, 2017 Meena Hart Duerson had an article titled What is hygge? Why the world’s happiest country says this is their secret. And on August 11, 2017 I blogged about Get happy – Danish Style.

The image was adapted from a vintage Puck magazine cover at Wikimedia Commons dated April 6, 1901.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

If you want a puppy, then first ask for a pony

Many children figure out how to negotiate to get the present they want - either for Christmas or a birthday. They learn first to ask for more (a pony), and then back down to what they really want (a puppy).

When I was a child in Pittsburgh I observed more sophisticated negotiations between labor unions (like the United Steelworkers) and management. As shown above in a hypothetical example, the union started by asking for an 8% raise. Management countered that’s absurd, we can afford just 2%. The union replied how about 6%. Management replied no, only 4%. Finally with great fanfare they split the difference and converged on 5%.

Contrast that with President Trump’s fumbled approach to fulfilling his campaign promise of a southern border wall. When he didn’t get the $5.7 billion he wanted, he partially shut down the government for 35 days. Then he signed a bill that gave him just $1.375 billion. He followed that by declaring a national emergency to try for $8 billion – which likely will be overturned in court since he said it was not real:  

"I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this," Trump told reporters gathered in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, shortly before he signed a proclamation declaring the emergency. "But I'd rather do it much faster."

His latest budget has requested $8.6 billion from Congress.

Friday, March 22, 2019

An apparently authoritative statistic about fear of public speaking that really lacks any support

On February 20, 2017 a blog post from the National Social Anxiety Center titled Public Speaking Anxiety and Fear of Brain Freezes by J. R. Montopoli began by claiming:

“The fear of public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, or heights. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population. The underlying fear is judgment or negative evaluation by others. Public speaking anxiety is considered a social anxiety disorder.”

Many would consider the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) an authoritative source, so they have thoughtlessly quoted that blog post and referred to that 73%. For example, on March 20, 2019 at Real Clear Life Kirk Miller referenced it in an article titled If you are afraid of public speaking, follow this advice. On February 18, 2019 at Dan Robb Writes he referenced it in an article titled How to overcome the fear of public speaking. On November 14, 2018 at Entrepreneur Shawn Doyle referenced it in an article titled Wringing the fear out of public speaking.

But the National Social Anxiety Center does not say where the statistic came from. Alas, it was not from NIMH but rather from the jerks at a web site called Statistic Brain. The 73% is from their 2012 web page on Fear of Public Speaking Statistics, which as shown above (retrieved from the Wayback Machine), lists 73% for men, 75% for women, and an average of 74%. Back on July 15, 2012 I blogged about Another bogus statistic on the fear of public speaking. I had contacted Statistic Brain but they never replied.

As shown above, just the 74% appeared at the top of the 2012 Statistic Brain web page on Fear/Phobia Statistics. I blogged about it on December 7, 2014 in a post titled Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show. In that post I noted having contacted NIMH, and having been told that the statistics mentioned by Statistic Brain did not come from them. More recently Statistic Brain hid behind a paywall. On May 23, 2018 I blogged about The Statistic Brain web site now requires a ~$20 per month subscription. There are better ways to spend your money.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Doesn’t everybody make their hamburgers exactly the same way we do?

Obviously the one and only right way to make a hamburger is to grill a quarter-pound (~110 gram) ground beef patty (flipping it once), and then serve it on a 4” (100 mm) diameter bun. But that’s a dangerous fallacy.

Even right here in Boise Big Juds is well-known for serving one-pound beef burgers on double-sized buns. Over at Carl’s Jr. you can find a plant-based Beyond Burger and turkey burgers.

When you look in the frozen-foods section of a supermarket, you also will find the little 2-1/2” square White Castle ‘sliders’ with five holes, as shown above. They were steam-grilled on a bed of chopped onions and never ever flipped.

In New Mexico the default is a green chile cheeseburger. In Salt Lake City, the cheeseburgers also include pastrami. See the Serious Eats article titled Salt Lake City: Tracking Utah’s Pastrami Burger at Crown Burger which says “Greek immigrants in a Mormon town take an all-American food and top it with Jewish luncheon meat.” Near Oklahoma City they mash ribbons of onion right into the meat patty, as is described in a Parade magazine article titled Try Oklahoma’s famous fried onion burger.

There is no one right way. The hamburger image came from Len Rizzi at the National Cancer Institute.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Living profoundly

Michael Kroth’s Profound Living is one of the blogs I enjoy reading. He is a University of Idaho professor. Michael thinks and writes essays about getting deeply into serious topics without getting overly pompous, as indicated by the sculpture shown above at the Portland Zoo. (For example, look at his January 6, 2019 post titled Thinking About Irreverence).

Back in June 2009 Michael and I wrote a web article titled You are not alone: fear of public speaking affects one in five Americans.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Too many hand gestures – are you playing an invisible accordion?

Almost as soon as Beto O’Rourke announced as a Democratic candidate for President, Donald Trump mocked him for his "crazy” hand gestures – as shown above in a clip from The Daily Show. In reply Tevor Noah said that:
“…Every single Trump speech looks like he’s conducting every orchestra in the world at the same time.”

An article in the March 15, 2019 Washington Post by Allyson Chiu was titled ‘You’re playing an invisible accordion’: Trump ripped for mocking Beto O’Rourke’s ‘crazy’ hand gestures. (She quoted Seth Myers assessment of Trump).

I think both Beto and Donald are overdoing things to where it is distracting.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

What are the biggest fears in Wyoming?

 Radio stations need interesting content to talk about, like polls about fears. On July 10, 2017 there was a web article at the KISS Casper (radio 104.7 FM, in Wyoming) web site titled What are Wyomingites biggest phobias [poll results]. They reported results from a poll but omitted details of who was polled, when they were polled, and how many replied. Results are shown in a bar chart (click on it to see a larger, clearer view).

They really reported fears rather than phobias. Back on October 11, 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and as phobia? Apparently they asked directly about fears of spiders, snakes, and heights (and maybe more), and also had written-in answers for others. Results are shown above in a bar chart scaled from their bar chart. Their text had reported somewhat higher numbers, like 22% for spiders rather than the 20% shown in the chart. I don’t recall having seen fear of slime reported in any other polls.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What warnings should be in the operating instructions for a magic wand?

A product can be considered defective if there was inadequate instruction or lack of appropriate warnings. This is known as Failure to Warn. (You didn’t warn me not to do something dumb, so I did). It is discussed at great length in a law review article from 2000 titled Warning! Failure to Read this Article May Be Hazardous to Your Failure to Warn Defense. 

If we think about failure to warn and the Harry Potter books (involving use of magic wands), then we find a paradox. How could you write the instructions and warnings for an infinitely abusable product? Perhaps they would look something like this:


1]   Read all operating instructions before using this product. Keep these instructions with the product at all times.

2]  Always wear eye protection when using this product.

3]   Grasp straight end firmly. Wave pointed end using a vigorous circular motion, and chant an appropriate incantation. Speak clearly and distinctly.

4]   Keep away from sparks and open flames. May be used to cause sparks, flames, lightning bolts, and volcanic eruptions.

5]   Use only with adequate ventilation. May be used to create breezes or minor gales. Avoid causing excessively high winds.

6]   Keep away from corrosive chemicals or excessive moisture.

7]   Do not place in microwave oven. May be used in place of microwave oven.

8]   Handle with care. Keep away from small children and attorneys.

9]   For external use only. May cause skin irritation. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting.

10] Hand wash only. Blot dry. Do not iron. Do not place in electric dryer. Do not dry clean. Do not fold, bend, spindle, or mutilate.

11] This product complies with applicable FCC regulations (Subpart J of FCC Part 15). It will not cause interference with electronic equipment - unless you want it to.

12] Do not place this product in the glove compartment of a motor vehicle, or any location where it will be subject to temperatures higher than 140 F or lower than 0 F.

13] To avoid hazard of electrical shock, do not open this product. Opening product voids warranty. Batteries are not included (or necessary).

14] This product is warranted to operate for a period of not less than three years, after which it will turn back into an ordinary soda straw.

15] Do not abuse this product. Don’t worry, be happy.

These instructions and warnings are much shorter than the infamous Standard Disclaimer supposedly written by R. Bruce Farnsworth. An image of a magic wand was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Does the Dalai Lama eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast?

No, instead he has a roasted barley flour product, as was discussed in a January 10, 2015 article by Rebecca Seal in The Guardian titled Breakfast of champions: the Dalai Lama’s tsampa. (It is dangerous to assume that everyone else obviously does things the same way that we do). On Feb 20, 2019 there was a Harvard Business Review web article by him titled The Dalai Lama on why leaders should be mindful, selfless, and compassionate.

I read about tsampa in a 2008 book by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid titled Beyond the Great Wall: recipes and travels in the other China. As shown above, I tried making some from pearled barley. It is an interesting instant alternative to oatmeal. Another is an Indian rice flake product called poha, which I discussed in a September 29, 2013 post titled What did you have for breakfast this fall morning?

In Korea they also make a tea called boricha from roasted barley, which I had read about it on page 667 of Mark Bittman’s 2005 book The Best Recipes in the World. I brewed a cup of it, but was not impressed.   

An image of a bowl of oatmeal came from Renee Comet at the National Cancer Institute.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A warning on the tailgate of a rally pickup truck

On February 6th, as I waited for the light to turn green so I could exit the Overland Park Shopping Center here in Boise, I was right behind a rally pickup truck. I used my cell phone to capture the image shown above. An upside-down warning at the bottom of the tailgate says:

That SVT Raptor version of a Ford F150 has a 6.2 L (379 cubic inch) V8 engine which produces a very serious 411 horsepower.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Ideas for props and visual aids from BusinessBalls

I found a very useful web page from the English firm BusinessBalls Ltd. titled Visual Aids and Props Ideas. It lists and discusses almost 70 ideas for props, including the use of an oilcan for the role of facilitator:

“…The concept of lubricating and liberating, without actually becoming part of the machinery or structure, enabling people and teams to work better – enabling them to do it, not doing it for them.”

The cartoon was modified from a February 1, 1911 Puck magazine at the Library of Congess. An image of an oilcan by Wammes Waggel is from Wikimedia Commons.