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.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Your presentation and slides need powerful headlines

On April 24, 2019 there was an article by Richard Dean at Enrepreneur titled Own the stage: here’s why your presentation needs a Twitter-friendly headline. It was subtitled by and opened with excellent advice to:
“Boil your presentation down to a single, snappy sentence that would fit into a single tweet.”

One example he gave described how in January 2007 Steve Jobs had introduced the iPhone with just a five-word headline:

“Today Apple reinvents the phone.”

On June 4, 2018 I blogged about how A presentation slide. Presentation, or blog post needs a great headline rather than just a title. The example of an eye-catching tabloid headline I used was a 1985 book title:

“Dwarf rapes nun; flees in UFO.”

The 1955 image of Senator Henry Ashurst buying a newspaper came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Incident and anomaly just are weasel words for failure

When something embarrassing happens, we may hear euphemisms from management and legal downplaying the situation. On Saturday, April 20th SpaceX had a ‘problem’ during a test. Yahoo reported Incident on SpaceX pad could delay its first manned flight, while Gizmodo reported SpaceX’s Crew Dragon suffers ‘anomaly’ during testing at Cape Canaveral. Forbes more clearly reported SpaceX’s Crew Dragon suffers ‘anomaly’ and may have exploded during a test.

Incident means something happened; anomaly means something unexpected happened; failure means something failed to function. This ‘incident’ ended with a large cloud of red smoke.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The City of Boise public library system costs just 7.3 cents per person a day to run

On April 18, 2019 there was an article in the Idaho Statesman by Hayley Harding titled ‘We should be trusting our government.’ says new Boise group backing $85 million library. Naturally the Idaho Freedom Foundation is against the long overdue new library:

“Spokesman Dustin Hurst told the Statesman that the Freedom Foundation objects to the library’s cost and believes the city has spent irresponsibly in the past.”  

To back that up there was an article at their web site on April 2, 2019 by policy analyst Lindsay Atkinson with the whining title Boiseans already pay $6 million a year to run the library system, and have received no estimate on how that number may grow. She declared that:

“In 2018, the latest fiscal year for which we have data available, the cost for running the entire library system was $6,033,430.”

But she never explained the relevance of that figure – what’s in it for me. That’s bad storytelling.  The US Census bureau had estimated the city’s 2017 population at 226,570.

Divide $6,033,430 by 226,570 and you get $26.63 per person per year. That’s roughly the delivered price for a pair of large pizzas. Further divide that 26.63 by 365.25 days per year, and you get a price per person per day of just 7.3 cents. That’s chicken feed.

Oscar Wilde once had said that:

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Page 110 of the 2019 city budget lists benefits for the library. The library circulated 2,600,000 items in fiscal year 2017 - 11.5 items per person each year, almost one per month. It answered 221,000 reference questions or almost one per person. There were 1,300,000 customer visits or 5.74 visits a year - almost one every two months. There were 119,000 registered borrowers - 52.5% of residents.

Back on July 12, 2016 I blogged about How to make statistics understandable. A novice writer like Lindsay Atkinson needs to learn from that post.  

The cartoon man and combo pizza images came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Another thoughtless tweet from Donald Trump: perhaps use flying water tankers to put out the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris

Our President has a horrible habit of tweeting without thinking first, as was mocked in a Late Show video by Stephen Colbert and in an article at CNN. Imagine how easily a cascade of water could have destroyed the priceless stained glass windows. Perhaps we should give him the derisive label of Dumb Old Donald (DOD).  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

What do award winning speeches look like?

At LinkedIn in the Public Speaking Network Group David Murray posted a link for a free download of 73-page .pdf file with a collection of 26 award-winning speeches titled These Vital Speeches – The Best of the 2019 Cicero Speechwriting Awards provided by Vital Speeches of the Day magazine. Get it while you can! It is of interest both to members of Toastmasters International  and the National Speakers Association.

The image of Theodore Roosevelt writing came from a July 20, 1910 Puck magazine cover at Wikimedia Commons.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Most commonly searched fears in U.S. states for both 2017 and 2018

On March 27, 2019 there was an article by Laura Schmitz at the Your Local Security web site about a study titled YIKES! America’s Top-Searched Phobias in 2018. (I saw it mentioned in an article at CBS Local Chicago on April 2nd titled Study reveals Illinoisans fear being alone more than most Americans). At the end she described how:

“The YLS team used Google’s autocomplete feature to find the 15 most common ways to end the phrases ‘why am I afraid of/to’ and ‘why am I scared of/to.’ Gathering data from August 29, 2017 to August 29, 2018, these phrases—and the respective scientific names of those fears—were then put into Google Trends to determine which phobias each state was searching more than any other state.”

A similar article titled Everybody Scream: America’s Biggest Phobias had appeared on October 16, 2017. It showed a map with the most searched phobia in each state (and also an alphabetical list by states which omitted my state of Idaho. For both 2017 and 2018 spiders topped the Idaho list.). There also was another list of the five most searched phobias in America. Note that these articles are confusingly titled, since they report fears rather than phobias (which are more severe, etc.)  For an explanation, see my October 11, 2011 blog post titled What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia?

Results from both studies are shown above in a pair of bar charts. In 2017 The Unknown (10 states) was most searched, while in 2018 People and Spiders were tied at 10 states each. Driving was not in the 2017 study but was for 3 states in 2018. In the 2017 study the fear of public speaking (Glossophobia) was most searched only in the state of West Virginia. (Fear of public speaking didn’t appear at all in the 2018 study).

The 2017 study also lists the top five most searched fears in the country as: The number 13 (Triskaidekaphobia), The Unknown (Xenophobia), Clowns (Coulrophobia), Holes (Trypophobia), and The Ocean (Thalassophobia). The unknown was the most-searched fear in 10 states, holes was in 4 states, clowns was in 2 states, but neither the ocean nor the number 13 was in any states.

Back on March 7, 2015 I had blogged about Is that Top Ten list from a real survey or just a glorified stack of web searches.
The image of people searching the web was adapted from this one at Openclipart.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Another bogus blackmail phishing email

Back on January 23, 2019 I had blogged about getting A bogus blackmail phishing email. A few days ago another one came with the same threat, $2000 demand, and three-day deadline.

I asked my local independent Apple dealer, MacLIfe if someone even could remotely switch on the camera built into my iMac and record compromising video. He said no. 

The image of a Pistol Pete statue came from Billy D. Wagner at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Attention to detail – what time was my presentation scheduled for?

A week ago Nick Skellon put on the Public Speaking group at LinkedIn a story titled The Unfortunate General Mack which he had told on his Whole-Brain Presenting web site along with a YouTube video. Nick said:

“This story could be used to open a presentation that has to do with attention to detail. Let's say you have a new product launch and your account managers are preparing their presentations before visitng (sic) their major customers to tell them about it. You want to make sure that all the bases are covered, that every t has been crossed and every i dotted, that no sill (sic) mistakes have been made ...”

His main point is Austrian and Russian armies had planned to meet on October 20, 1805 to outnumber and confront Napoleon’s French army. The Austrians used the newer Gregorian calendar, but the Russians still used the older Julian calendar, which lagged by 12 days. The Russians didn’t show up until November 1st! Instead of outnumbering Napoleon’s forces General Mack’s Austrians were outnumbered, and rather than glory he won historical infamy.  

On that video Nick took about eight minutes to tell the story. For me it was so ancient as to be completely irrelevant. His story failed the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) test. It would be much better to talk about a contemporary problem we can have with different time zones. Neglecting them can lead a speaker to have a worst moment.

Suppose we were told we will be speaking in Ontario, Oregon at 2:00 PM. We might incorrectly assume that city is on Pacific Time since almost all of that state is. But Ontario is in the exceptional southeastern Malheur County which instead mostly is on Mountain Time. Economically it’s part of the Treasure Valley and goes along with nearby Boise, Idaho. When we show up at 2:00 PM Pacific Time it will really be 3:00 PM Mountain Time. As shown above, we came an hour late – which is completely unacceptable. Oops!

Another exception further south is the small city of West Wendover, Nevada. It was moved out of the Pacific Time zone because of strong economic ties between it and the neighboring state of Utah (on Mountain Time). West Wendover is best known for its casinos, and is the subject of a Lewis Black comedy routine containing very rude language.

As is shown above on a map, the majority of U.S. states (about thirty) are on a single time zone, but the others are split between two of them – typically divided east and west. But instead Idaho is split north-south. The north is on Pacific Time to match with adjacent eastern Washington, while the south is on Mountain Time to match our other neighbors Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. 

Another problem occurred when some areas like Indiana did not consistently observe Daylight Saving Time. (In Europe that shift is instead called Summer Time). Back when I worked in Columbus, Ohio (late 1980s to mid 1990s) I quickly learned to ask on the telephone before planning a meeting in Indiana, and make sure if their time matched ours or not.

Nick is in the United Kingdom, which instead all is on a single time zone. But as soon as you need to cross the channel to France you may have the same problem, as shown above in a map.

Yet another potential problem occurs when Daylight Savings Time starts in spring. Your smartphone or laptop computer will automatically move forward. But if you are staying in a hotel, the cheap ‘dumb’ clock in your room (or your wristwatch) won’t readjust itself.

Back on  March 16, 2015 I also had blogged about What time is it where you will be giving your speech?

Images of time zone maps for the U.S. and Europe came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Bikablo – using visual dictionaries to make serious cartoons for getting your ideas across

Over a decade ago a German consulting group in Cologne produced a visual dictionary book for training people in how to do graphic facilitation. In my last blog post titled Getting your big ideas across by using simple cartoons – learning from graphic or visual facilitators I noted that an introductory web page from Brandy Agerbeck defined:

“Graphic facilitation is the practice of using words and images to create a conceptual map of a conversation. A graphic facilitator is the visual, usually silent partner to the traditional, verbal facilitator, drawing a large scale image at the front of the room in real-time.”

As is shown above, that visual dictionary was a spiral-bound block of picture cards (a bild karten block). A typical German description would be to string together those three words into a long compound one. Instead they mercifully just took the first few letters from each, and trademarked the word bikablo.

A three-minute YouTube video titled Frank Wesseler’s quick demo of the bikablo method shows how bikablo works.

It contains an example of how to represent an idea, solution or inspiration by drawing a light bulb - which you can easily remember via the letters U, Z, M, and O, as shown above. That’s excellent for making flip charts of putting into PowerPoint.

There is a web page describing the first book (Bikablo 1), a downloadable 21-page pdf description (with a keyword index), and a German YouTube video whose description translates to:

“Bikablo® 1 is your ticket to the world of visualization: Martin Haussmann has put together hundreds of successful pictograms and keyframes and sorted them into 120 pages. This visual dictionary is specifically tailored to the needs of visualizing trainers, facilitators and consultants. The drawings are so simple that you can easily mark them with felt markers, vary them and recombine them on the flip chart. In the latest edition, we have completely revised our bestseller and adapted to the current, once again simplified drawing technique.”

There also is another web page describing their second book (Bikablo 2.0), a downloadable 16-page pdf description (with a keyword index), and another German YouTube video whose description translates to:

The successor to bikablo® 1 continues the success story and expands the visual vocabulary with new image motifs. It starts with tips and tricks for quick visualization, followed by the most popular figures, graphics, pictograms and poster layouts. The main part consists of keyframes on dialogue methods, situations in team and leadership, personality and organizational development up to project management and IT. So if you are looking for simple yet sophisticated image ideas, bikablo® 2.0 should not be missing in your moderation case.

There is yet another web page describing their third book (Bikablo Emotions), a downloadable 11-page pdf description, and yet another German YouTube video.

I had not heard of Bikablo before I found a web article at The Illinois Model by Lou Hayes, jr. on March 2, 2019 titled Presentation Hack: Death by Bikablo.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Getting your big ideas across by using simple cartoons – learning from graphic or visual facilitators

An introductory web page from Brandy Agerbeck defines that:

“Graphic facilitation is the practice of using words and images to create a conceptual map of a conversation. A graphic facilitator is the visual, usually silent partner to the traditional, verbal facilitator, drawing a large scale image at the front of the room in real-time.”

In 2012 she published a 306 page book titled The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide: how to use your listening, thinking & drawing skills to make meaning. You can find an excerpt.

Simple cartoons like Doug Savage’s Savage Chickens can convey lots of information. For an example, see this 2013 one about those nasty interview questions on your greatest weakness. Cartoons can wind up either on flip charts or in PowerPoint presentations.  

As shown above, how to draw is demonstrated in a 4-1/2 minute YouTube video titled Learning Graphic Facilitation – 7 Elements by Bigger Picture. Two follow ups are a three-minute video titled Learning Graphic Facilitation – Tools by Bigger Picture and a four-minute video titled Learning Graphic Facilitation – 8th Element by Bigger Picture.

How can you begin learning this pared-down style of drawing without attending a training course? There is a free 89-page Visual Facilitation Cookbook from 2016 by Torben Grocholl, Deniss Jershov and Kati Orav which is described in a web page and can be downloaded. Pages 31 to 35 are very useful illustrations of visual vocabulary for concepts. Goodreads has a web page with a list of 42 Popular Graphic Facilitation Books.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Blasting rocks

Yesterday shortly after 4:00 PM our house shook from a nearby explosion. When I looked out a back window I saw a cloud of yellowish smoke rising in the southeast. Close to where I live contractors are digging trenches to bury plastic pipes below the frost line for the Locale subdivision (formerly called Syringa Valley). Work is proceeding east of Cole Road and south of Latigo Drive.

As is shown above, south of Lake Hazel Road there are Ingersoll Rand and Atlas Copco percussion drills (presumably owned by Superior Blasting) working together making holes in the ground prior to blasting for removing those stubborn rocks.

Further east there also is a large stockpile of plastic pipe.

An excavator and an enormous Trencor trencher also are working north of Lake Hazel Road. (I blogged about the trencher on March 30, 2016 in a post titled Explaining something by comparison with the familiar). But some of the ground is apparently rockier than the excavators or trencher can handle.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Phil Plait’s TEDx talk about how science learns by making mistakes…and admitting them

On March 19, 2019 at his Bad Astronomy blog Phil Plait posted about My TED talk: Science learns by making mistakes…and admitting them. A revised version of his TEDx talk titled The secret to scientific discoveries? Making mistakes posted at the main TED web site. On July 12, 2018 I had blogged about the previous version in a post titled Failing upwards.

Phil’s blog post mentions that his back had been bothering him, so he took a pain medication which had the unfortunate side effect of giving him a dry mouth.

Some otherwise intelligent people don’t understand that science isn’t just ‘facts.’ For a recent example see Jane Genova’s March 23, 2019 silly blog post titled Facts – smirk.