Friday, November 29, 2019

A light bulb moment

In Shark Tank at Computerworld on November 20, 2019 there was an article titled A real light bulb moment. It described troubleshooting of an IBM 3420 tape drive used for backup storage  of digital data on an IBM 370 mainframe computer in London back in the mid 1970s. That drive was not loading tape properly. The Wikipedia article on 9 track tape describes how this should work:

“To load a tape, an operator would remove the protective ring (frequently called a ‘tape seal belt’ because its purpose was to prevent humidity and dust on the media) from the outside of the tape reel and install the tape on the supply hub, then thread the tape leader through the various roller assemblies and onto the take-up reel, installing three or four winds of tape to provide enough friction for the take-up motor to be able to pull the tape. The operator then initiated an automatic sequence, often by a single press of a button, that would start the vacuum system, then move the tape forward until the beginning-of-tape (BOT) foil strip was detected by an optical sensor in the tape path. The control electronics would then indicate to the controlling computer that the unit was ready for operation.

The sensing of BOT and EOT [end-of tape] was achieved by shining a small lamp at the tape's surface at an oblique angle. When the foil strip (glued to the tape) moved past the lamp a photo-receptor would see the reflected flash of light and trigger the system to halt tape motion. This is the main reason that photographic flash cameras were not allowed in data centers since they could (and did) trick the tape drives into falsely sensing BOT and EOT.”

The lamp was not burned out, so obviously the problem seemed to be somewhere else. They replaced the electronics connected to the sensor, but that did not fix things. Eventually someone presumably Read The Fine Manual (RTFM) which you can find online. On page 87 it says to Check that fiber optics lamp is on. They already did that! But there were two other less obvious things in the checklists. Way back on page 187 it also says to Reposition fiber optic lamp bracket to improve light output. And finally, on page 84 it says Fiber optic lamp – discolored (check when off with pen light). It indeed was blackened, so they replaced it. Problem solved – the lamp simply wasn’t putting out enough light to trigger the sensor.

Why does a lamp blacken? The Wikipedia article on Incandescent light bulbs says the tungsten filament slowly evaporates and metal vapor condenses on the inner surface of the glass envelope. Halogen lamps reduce that problem by redepositing tungsten vapor back onto the filament surface.  

Thursday, November 28, 2019

We should give thanks every day

At his Profound Living web site (blog) today Michael Kroth has an essay (or post) titled Thanksgiving Day is Every Day. Michael is one of those thoughtful people I am thankful to have met. On March 17, 2019 I blogged about Living Profoundly. And back on June 23, 2009 we wrote that You are not alone: fear of public speaking affects one in five Americans.

Albrecht Duerer’s drawing of praying hands came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Avoid falling on your face during a new product demonstration

On Thursday November 22, 2019 Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s innovative new electric pickup – the Cybertruck.

A 14-minute video of the demonstration shows clips with the Cybertruck winning a tug of war against a Ford F-150 (9:00), and outrunning a Porsche 911 (9:35). But that’s not what many media reports led with.

Metaphorically he fell right on his face. Elon told his chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, to throw a metal ball at the driver’s window (7:35). When he did, large circle of glass broke. Then Franz repeated the throw and also broke the passenger window (7:55). Mr. Musk should have followed the Law of Holes

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”

So, an article that day in the Daily Beast by Anna Kaplan is titled Tesla Cybertruck windows shatter during Elon Musk’s durability demo. Another article in Forbes by John Koetsier is titled Tesla demo fail: ‘transparent metal’ armored glass smashed during Cybertruck reveal.

Earlier, at 6:15 in the video, there were comparative ball drop tests showing conventional glass failing at a height of 3 feet, while the Tesla glass survived a height of 10 feet. Why did they take the unnecessary risk of throwing balls at the windows? The drop test setup already was an effective prop.

Assuming the same balls were used, how much more severe of a test was a throw compared with a drop. We can calculate the velocity from a 10 foot drop to be 25.4 feet per second (17.3 mph) based on changing potential energy to kinetic energy (proportional to the velocity squared). I showed how to do that in a November 2, 2019 blog post titled A thought provoking how to book by Randall Munroe. A major league baseball pitcher can throw a 100 mph fastball. Even if Franz only threw at 50 mph, that would still be far worse than the drop test. A drop test is more controllable than a throw. The rush of adrenaline during the demo could make you throw harder than you did during a rehearsal.  

Folks in the news media are not like the rest of the audience, who just want a presentation to succeed. They are looking instead for something startling to gain attention – a Man bites Dog story headline rather than the usual  boring Dog bites Man. Don Henley described that perverse attitude in his 1982 song, Dirty Laundry (see YouTube video):

“I make my living off the evening news

Just give me something, something I can use

People love it when you lose,

They love dirty laundry”

A cartoon man falling was Photoshopped from an 1890 lithograph at the Library of Congress. A man biting a (hot) dog was taken from this image at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Table Topics questions about college team names or mascots

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting. It is where members give a one to two minute answer to a question. A good topic category can generate a series of questions.

Colleges usually name sports teams either after fierce animals (like Tigers) or tough guys (like Visigoths). But other names just are demonyms, a recent (1990) scary sounding term, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as:

“a word (such as Nevadan or Sooner) used to denote a person who inhabits or is native to a particular place.”

Hoosiers refers to residents of Indiana, and is used by Indiana University. Hoosier has obscure origins. It really isn’t from the apparent paternity question, Who’s Your Daddy? Tunxis Community College might once have had the Mudsharks, which I’ve changed to the Mighty Mud Sharks. I recall an old Firesign Theatre routine where there even was a team called the Oyster Panthers.

What are the best, worst, or silliest team names you have seen? It would be best to leave a list of names for an entire conference or state on the lectern. Wikipedia has a comprehensive List of College Athletic Conferences in the United States and a List of College Sports Team Nicknames (UC Irvine has the rather silly Anteaters, UC Santa Cruz has the Banana Slugs, and Scottsdale has the Fighting Artichokes).

I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, which has the silly Tartans. The athletics web page testily explains that name refers to striped woolen fabric rather than warriors. Then their motto also should be something silly - like We Be Bad, We Wear Plaid.

Here in the Treasure Valley of Idaho, Boise State University has the Broncos, and College of Idaho has the Yotes (an abbreviated form for Coyotes). Northwest Nazarene University has the Nighthawks (who used to be the Crusaders). Boise State is in the Mountain West Conference, which also has the Falcons (Air Force Academy), Bulldogs (Cal State Fresno), Rams (Colorado State), Wolf Pack (Nevada – Reno), Rebels (Nevada – Las Vegas), Lobos (New Mexico), Aztecs (San Diego State), Spartans (San Jose State), Aggies (Utah State), and Cowboys & Cowgirls (Wyoming).  

The Big Ten Conference, which really contains 14 institutions, has the Wolverines (University of Michigan), Nittany Lions (Pennsylvania State University), Wildcats (Northwestern), Badgers (University of Wisconsin), Terrapins (University of Maryland), Golden Gophers (University of Minnesota), Spartans (Michigan State University), Hawkeyes (University of Iowa), Scarlet Knights (Rutgers University), Fighting Illini (University of Illinois), Boilermakers (Purdue University), Cornhuskers (University of Nebraska), Buckeyes (The Ohio State University), and Hoosiers (Indiana University). I think Boilermakers is almost as silly as Tartans. Demonyms like Buckeyes, Cornhuskers, and Hoosiers are unimaginative.  

This post was inspired by a November 15, 2019 newspaper article in the IdahoPress by Eric Bamer titled Sparkles sparks outrage: could a unicorn be CWI’s new mascot? He explains that back in 2008 the College of Western Idaho (CWI, our local community college in Nampa) began unofficially using a unicorn. Their academic building previously was used by Boise State University, so it had lots of Broncos (horse head logos) on the walls. Their vice president suggested adding horns to change them into unicorns, and later a graphic designer drew up a unicorn logo.   

But now there is a committee to select an official mascot using highfaluting criteria like being professional, Idaho specific, and embodying values (courage and valor). They left the Unicorns (Sparkles) off a preliminary list of six: Bighorns, Birds of Prey, Garnets, Horned Owls, Otters, and Tumbleweeds. A follow-up article on November 19, 2019 is titled Sparkles the Unicorn not included in CWI’s top mascot options said the latest three were Bighorns, Horned Owls, and Otters.

Tumbleweeds are from an invasive plant (Russian Thistle), and thus not Idaho specific (and very silly). Birds of Prey is non-specific; instead it should have been specific like a Kestrel.    

A cartoon image of a shark came from Wikimedia Commons, and was flipped and colorized to create the mythical Mighty Mud Sharks. (Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention once had a song called The Mud Shark). The tumbleweed image also was cropped from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What is a frunk?

It is a front trunk on a car, as shown above on a Volkswagen Beetle. That old idea has a relatively new name - a portmanteau word. On September 16, 2019 I blogged about The joy of portmanteau words. At Fritinancy on April 2, 2018 Nancy Friedman discussed the Word of the week: Frunk. She noted that the British version (based instead on boot) is called a froot. Nancy also linked to an article at Jalopnik on July 31, 2017 by Jason Torchinsky titled The Tesla Model 3 Frunk Is A Triumph of Marketing. The triumph was the frunk on that Tesla is designed to hold an airline carry-on bag.

That Jalopnik article showed a photo of an opened Volkswagen trunk, which holds the spare tire just behind the bumper. Another Jalopnik article on October 22, 2018 by Jason Torchinsky pointed out how The spare tire windshield washer system in old Volkswagens is both ridiculous and clever. Instead of the usual electric pump they used compressed air to spray washer fluid.

A side and top view of a Volkswagen were cropped and colorized from an image at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Please don’t just tell us about ‘the pause’ – because there are several different types and lengths

When I looked at titles of YouTube videos, I found examples like the following five which implied there is one type  “The Pause”:  

But pauses really are plural. There are different types (and lengths) that are analogous to punctuation in written text, as is shown above. I discussed this before on May 31, 2018 in a post titled Pausing properly during your speech.

On page 29 of the July 2019 issue of Toastmaster Magazine there is an article by Bill Brown titled Silence is golden. Bill mentioned both a pause and  what he called a micro-pause, a silence no longer than a second. He also embedded Karen Friedman’s YouTube Video: Boring to Brilliant (-) Power of the Pause.

At the Presentation Guru web site on March 6, 2019 there is an article by John Zimmer titled The Power of the Pause, which also appeared as a post at his Manner of Speaking blog on November 12, 2019 with a longer, more descriptive title of Pauses in a speech: why, when, and how. John’s post has five sections titled:





In the section titled WHEN TO PAUSE he describes seven situations, The pause:
 1]  before you start

 2]  to signal that something important is coming

 3]  to let the message sink in

 4]  when moving to a new topic

 5]  for emphasis

 6]  to get your audience to reflect

 7]  when answering questions

Then, in the section on HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PAUSES WHEN SPEAKING IN PUBLIC he gave some advice:

“5.  If you are a fast talker who never pauses, try this. Take a novel from your bookshelf and read out loud for a few minutes. Every time you come to a comma, pause for a second. When you come to the end of a sentence, pause for two seconds. When you reach the end of a paragraph, pause for three seconds. Yes, it will feel artificial, and no, you should not normally pause like this. However, it will help make you more aware of pausing.”

How can you designate pauses in a script, like one that would go into a teleprompter? In her YouTube video, Learn the art of the pause!, at 3:00 speech language pathologist Jayne Latz gives an example of her Strategic Marking System (using slashes /) with the following Winston Churchill quotation:

“The three most difficult things a man can do // are to climb a building leaning toward him, // kiss a woman leaning away from him, // and deliver a good speech. ///”

Linguists already have other systems for transcribing speech that can be used for designating pauses. They use parentheses with a period (or periods) inside to denote pauses of various lengths, or put in the time, t, in seconds - like 2.0. To linguists a micropause is one too short to reliably measure, perhaps 0.2 or 0.5 seconds. That’s shorter than Bill Brown’s one-second micro-pause. At his Speech and Language Therapy Information web site on February 11, 2016 there is an article by Graham Williamson titled Appendix 1: Transcription Conventions with the following notations:

(.)  micropause  t < 0.5 sec. (comparable perhaps to an average syllable duration)

(..)  brief pause  0.5 sec. < t < 1.0 sec.

(…)  pause  1.0 sec. < t < 1.5 sec.

(2.0)  longer pause showing time in seconds

//  point at which current utterance is overlapped 
    by that transcribed below  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Not a warning from Netflix

Details like spelling and grammar matter a lot in getting a message across. But some phishing emails assume you can be distracted like a squirrel (as shown above).

A few days ago I received an email (shown above) claiming my Netflix subscription would end today, and asking me to click on a link to update my payment methode. I didn’t fall for that fraud.

What’s wrong with that email? First, the subject line contains phrases in both Dutch and Italian. Second, the address it came from was not Netflix. Third, the spelling and grammar are wrong –
“please update your payment methode for continue Netflix feature.”

The email reminded me of a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon on October 11, 2019 with the following dialogue:

Bearded guy: You’re doing the ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam. That’s the oldest con on the internet. You’d have to be an idiot to fall for it.  

Scammer: Precisely.

Why do you think all e-mail scams are stupid? Why do they feature implausible stories and badly written English? It’s a low-pass filter for morons.

I am selectively locating the most catastrophic bumblef*cks on the planet and extracting their wealth.

Bearded guy: But is that okay? Aren’t those people the least likely to have wealth and power?

Scammer: Hoo boy. We need to have a talk.

UPDATE November 29, 2019 

Today I got another email with Spanish and outrageous French as is shown above.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Our signature dish - literally

I got a big laugh out of yesterday’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon, which had the following dialogue in a restaurant:

Waiter: Here you go sir.

Pig: What is that?

Waiter: It’s what you ordered.

Pig: Some man’s name written in mustard?

Waiter: Our signature dish. If you ask me, it’s not worth fifty bucks.

An image of an oval dish came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Public speaking only is the seventh most embarrassing situation for Americans

On November 7, 2019 there was a press release at SWNS digital titled Majority of Americans feel pressured to go to work even if they’re very sick that described results from a survey of 2000 Americans done by OnePoll for cough-syrup maker Robitussin. It also showed up as an article in the New York Post.

At the very end of the text was a list of the Top 10 Embarrassing Situations, which I have shown above in a bar chart. Coughing in a quiet place (52%) came first, second was Getting an answer wrong in front of the boss (43%), and third was Forgetting someone’s name (40%). Then at fourth came a tie between Falling asleep in public and Passing gas in public (both 37%), and fifth another tie between Having the hiccups in a meeting and Tripping in public (36%), sixth a third tie between a Child having a temper tantrum in public and Significant other having a temper tantrum in public (34%), and finally seventh Speaking in front of a large group (32%).  

Friday, November 8, 2019

Homophones – cue and queue

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a homophone as:

“One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (such as to, too, and two).”

The homophone queue showed up in a blog post on October 7, 2019 at Fearless Presentations titled Body Language in Public Speaking. The first paragraph said:

“Body language in public speaking is the nonverbal queues that your movements make during communication. Presenters often focus on what they are going to say and their visual aids. However, we often overlook an important part of the speech — body language. In public speaking, if you look poised and confident, your audience will believe you are poised and confident.”

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a queue is defined as:

“A waiting line especially of persons or vehicles.”

As shown above, that blog post probably meant to say a cue, like Senator Josh Lee shaking his fist. When you watch a queue, you often will see body language cues like frowning and folded arms, indicating people really don’t like standing there.

Back on August 13, 2015 I blogged about Should you "take a queue" or "take a cue"? 

Later in that blog post they dragged out a myth, which I blogged about way back on July 25, 2009 in a post titled Bullfighting the Mehrabian Myth.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Excellent advice on how to deal with a distraction or an emergency during your speech

The November 2019 issue of Toastmaster magazine has an excellent article by Barbara Augello about Dealing with Distractions. It has sections titled:
Ignore or resolve the situation?

How to deal with people problems.

Understand some situations can’t be fixed.

The November-December 2019 issue of Speaker magazine (from the U.S. National Speakers Association) has another excellent four-page article by Tim Richardson titled What Would You Do? How to prepare to handle emergencies when you’re onstage. He has stories about three real-life scenarios, and then discusses Essential Information and Lessons Learned.

On May 30, 2019 I blogged about A very worthwhile article on dealing with presentation distractions. Planning ahead and getting help from both your audience and event organizers can prevent you from having a worst moment.

Images of a big green and a big red pushbutton were adapted from those at Wikimedia Commons.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

What a word means can be completely different in the U.S. and South Africa

One misunderstood word can completely derail a conversation. In the U.S. a napkin is something used to wipe your mouth, while in South Africa it is clothing for a baby’s bottom.

That difference is the basis for a hilarious six and a half minute comedy routine posted on June 24, 2019 at YouTube where Trevor Noah Orders His First Taco. The dialog (at ~3:20) goes as follows:

Taco Truck Vendor: Hey, my friend, your tacos are ready.

Trevor: Thank you, man thank you very much.

Taco Truck Vendor: Yeah, do you want a napkin?

Trevor: I’m sorry, what?

Taco Truck Vendor: Do you want a napkin?

Trevor: And now, LA, this is where it gets weird for me. Because, you see, where I’m from napkins are the things babies wear to hold their sh*t. The thing for your mouth we call a serviette. But I didn’t know that…

Images of a stack of paper napkins and a sleeping baby came from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Another eight questions to ask people you just have met – other than ‘what do you do?’

At the Harvard Business Review on January 30, 2018 there was an article by David Burkus titled 8 Questions to Ask Someone Other Than “What Do You Do?” They are:

What excites you right now?

What are you looking forward to?

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?

Where did you grow up?

What do you do for fun?

Who is your favorite superhero?

Is there a charitable cause you support?

What’s the most important thing I should know about you?

Any of them could be asked for Table Topics, the impromptu speaking, one-to-two minute question-answering portion of a Toastmasters club meeting.

The image of a conversation is part of a drawing by Arthur Burdett Frost published August 1891 found at the Library of Congress.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A thought provoking how to book by Randall Munroe

How can you tell a good idea from a bad one? You can get some data or do some calculations. I have been having fun reading xkcd web cartoonist Randall Munroe’s latest book, How To: absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems. There are 28 chapters beginning with How to Jump Really High and ending with How to Dispose of This Book. For the first one he says you can either devote your life to athletic training or cheat, and the pole vault is a good way to cheat. Randall shows an equation for how high you can get, which comes from the simple energy transfer consideration I have shown above in an image.

Chapter 2 is on How to Throw a Pool Party. For an above ground pool (a circle with a 30 foot diameter) Randall uses the Barlow formula for stress from the weight of water to calculate how deep you can make a pool using aluminum foil (just five inches) or an inch of wood (75 feet).

If you think a border wall is beautiful, then you probably would like Chapter 9, How to Build a Lava Moat (around your home). But, as is discussed in the four-minute YouTube video shown above, this turns out to be a very bad idea.  

My favorite is Chapter 5: How to Make an Emergency Landing (A Q & A with test pilot and astronaut Chris Hadfield). Chris discusses a lot of different situations, including how to find a place to land the space shuttle. Runways for the shuttle are 15,000 feet long (nearly three miles). They carried a book showing every possible emergency runway in the world  and the direction you could land - which Randall illustrated via a cartoon of a book cover titled BABY’S FIRST emergency spacecraft landing.

There also are full-page cartoons discussing How to Listen to Music, Chase a Tornado, Go Places, Blow Out Birthday Candles, Walk a Dog, Build a Highway, and Change a Lightbulb.

The pole vault image came from Pearson Scott Foresman at Wikimedia Commons.