Saturday, February 24, 2018

Were you recently visited by the Table Topics Bunny?




























Where do Table Topics Questions come from? One answer is that each year the Table Topics Bunny (TTB) hops down the chimney and leaves a bushel basket of them for good little Toastmasters. The TTB does this on February 22nd - the birthday for the founder, Ralph W. Smedley.

If you didn’t get a basket on Thursday it was probably because the TTB won’t visit unless you already believe in him. He’s like the Great Pumpkin. Or, perhaps he’s just a tall tale from a decade ago.

So you have to make up your own questions, or borrow them from someone else. I’ve discussed six dozen in three recent blog posts. On January 27, 2018 I blogged about 25 Questions for Table Topics from Claire Lew. On February 12, 2018 I blogged about Falling in love and Table Topics questions – the famous 36 Questions. On February 14, 2018 I blogged about 11 Table Topics questions from the 2017 book Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss.

Claire Lew’s article was titled The 25 most popular icebreaker questions based on four years of data. When you search for other questions, remember to use the phrase “icebreaker questions” to broaden your search beyond Toastmasters. You will find an October 24, 2016 article by Carly Sims at MuseumHack that lists a hundred titled The only list of icebreaker questions you’ll ever need. There also is a January 5, 2015 article at Icebreaker Ideas titled 600+ Icebreaker Questions – Biggest List EVER!

The TTB is a mash-up of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. His image is a PowerPoint creation using two OpenClipart images - one of a rabbit-with-eggs and another of papers.   

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Want someone to change? Have a conversation with them!





















On February 15, 2018 Bill Lampton posted a YouTube video titled When in Doubt Leave the Word Out about how he was offended by one foul word in an article at LinkedIn that was otherwise creative, constructive, helpful, and made him think. He just stopped reading. (I saw a post about the video he put on the Public Speaking Network group at LinkedIn).

Bill said he’d never commented on that article, and didn’t identify it in his video. He calls himself the Biz Communication Guy. But in this case he just walked away rather than communicating his feedback. That’s a loss. Back on December 12, 2016 Bill had an article at LinkedIn Pulse titled Winners Get What They Want By Asking.  

On December 8, 2017 at the ETHOS3 blog Kelly Allison had posted about 5 Reasons Why You Should Join a Toastmasters Group. I blogged about it the next day in a post titled Not quite my name, and mentioned that post on the two Toastmasters International groups at LinkedIn. Most commenters at the groups told me to quit whining about her saying Group rather than Club, and to just enjoy the free publicity. But one asked if I’d bothered to speak up and comment on that Ethos blog post. I hadn’t yet, so then I did. First Kelly changed the wording, and then she also fixed the title. Now that post is a testimonial that a Toastmasters club can proudly point to.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Remembering Fred Rogers and the Children’s Corner



Most of Monday’s Fresh Air program at National Public Radio was about how It’s a beautiful 50th birthday for ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ That got me thinking about my joyful memories of Fred Rogers, from early childhood in Pittsburgh.

The Neighborhood actually was his third TV show. It was proceeded by Misterogers, a 15-minute program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1963 to 1966. His first show was only in Pittsburgh on WQED beginning in 1954. It was called The Children’s Corner, and ran for an hour on weekdays. There is a summary for one episode. Fred produced, wrote and played the music, but the visible hostess on live TV was Josie Carey (who wrote lyrics). 

Fred also operated his puppets, who engaged in impromptu conversations with Josie when the educational films they were showing broke. For example, there is a minute of YouTube video about building a house.

Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, Xscape the Owl, etc. all first appeared on the Children’s Corner. King Friday had a royally pompous version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat:

“Propel, propel, propel your craft

gently down liquid solution

Ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically,

Existence is but an illusion”

There was a 1954 book about the series called Our Small World. I vaguely remember that the Daniel Striped Tiger’s chapter contained several recipes, which all began something like: 

“Take four pounds of medium-grind hamburger.” 

Not much video of the show is easily accessible, but there are some audio recordings on YouTube, like from the 1958 LP Around the Children’s Corner.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Can you see what really had happened?










































The preliminary step of visual examination is an important part of a failure analysis. An analyst needs to look carefully at the failed product or component with his naked eyes, a magnifying glass, and a stereo microscope (at a magnification up to ~50X). He takes photos to document that examination process. He asks himself where failure began - the origin or origins, and how it grew - in what direction(s) by what mechanism(s). 

Over two decades ago I worked on a consulting engineering case that already had turned into litigation. Fuel oil had wound up under the slab foundation to a home. There were two conflicting stories about where it all had come from. The owner alleged that his fuel oil supplier has overfilled the outdoor storage tank in the fall, and was responsible for spilling oil on the ground. The supplier admitted he had overfilled that tank, but said it was by just a few gallons. Then he looked at the other components. There was a fuel oil filter assembly similar to this one on the supply tubing leading from an outdoor storage tank to the furnace. It had a pinhole in the housing wall at the bottom. 

The owner claimed that the supplier must have drilled that hole to confuse the situation and cast doubt on his negligence. His attorney had an expert look at the housing, and he said the hole looked drilled. The attorney for the fuel oil supplier brought me the filter housing. When I looked at the hole from the outside it seemed nearly round. But what did it look like from the inside? The usual 1X lens on a stereo microscope had too short of a working distance to let me see in there.

Getting a close look inside took a slightly unusual setup, as is shown above. A 0.5X objective lens was used to double the working distance for the stereo microscope. I used cyanoacrylate instant glue to mount a small front-surface mirror on a wooden block at a 45-degree angle. (You still can find surplus mirrors for less than $10 here or here). A forceps was used to place that block on the bottom surface of the coffee-cup sized housing. The housing was put beneath a stereo microscope mounted on a boom stand. A fiber-optic light source was used to illuminate the inner wall of the housing. Now it could be examined and photographed with the attached 35-mm camera.

There were clusters of pits on the interior at the bottom. That pinhole was at the center of the cluster with the deepest pit. What had happened? Moisture in the tank air had condensed to produce water, which later dropped to the bottom of the housing (the lowest point in the system) and corroded the bare steel interior. Oil might have been leaking for months. 

The attorney for the fuel oil supplier eventually deposed the expert hired by the owner’s attorney. When he asked the expert why he hadn’t looked inside, the expert replied that his stereo microscope had too short of a working distance for him to see in there. The attorney for the fuel oil supplier said well, our expert had looked inside. He laid out my photographs of the interior like the cards from a winning poker hand. Then he asked that expert if he’d like to revise his opinion, and the expert said yes. It may have been one of his worst moments. Oops! 

In legal cases the attorneys and experts often get around to agreeing to a protocol for doing some destructive testing. The filter housing might eventually have been cut open so it could be more easily examined. Getting a look inside before then was very useful.    

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Whether that dedicated server room is secure (or not) hinges on something simple












I enjoy reading stories in the Shark Tank series of articles at Computerworld. My latest laugh came from one on January 25, 2018 titled Throwback Thursday: Oops!

A company had finished building a dedicated secure server room. Then they proudly gave a grand-opening tour. That room had a raised floor (in case of flooding), and a fireproof and reinforced door with an electronic security lock. But as the tour group left, and they began to close that door the article author noticed that, as is shown above, the two removable hinge pins were located on the outside of the door. The locked room could easily be entered just by using a flat-bladed screwdriver or pry bar to remove them. A week later a contractor fixed the hinges.
       
That story reminded me of another story about safes that were unsafe – because the combination never was reset from one supplied by the factory. It appears in Richard P. Feynman’s 1985 book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, at the end of a chapter titled Safecracker Meets Safecracker. At Los Alamos Feynman met a locksmith who had been asked to drill a safe. But it turned out he didn’t have to:

“Oh, yeah. I knew that the locks come from the factory set at 25-0-25 or 50-25-50, so I thought, who knows; maybe the guy didn’t bother to change the combination,’ and the second one worked…

[Then Feynman said]

I went from office to office in my building, trying those two factory combinations, and I opened about one safe in five.”

How about locks with keys? The beginning of that chapter says:

“It turns out that picking ordinary tumbler locks—like Yale locks—is easy. You try to turn the lock by putting a screwdriver in the hole (you have to push from the side in order to leave the hole open). It doesn’t turn because there are some pins inside which have to be lifted to just the right height (by the key). Because it is not made perfectly, the lock is held more by one pin than the others. Now, if you push a little wire gadget—maybe a paper clip with a slight bump at the end—and jiggle it back and forth inside the lock, you’ll eventually push that one pin that’s doing the most holding, up to the right height. The lock gives, just a little bit, so the first pin stays up—it’s caught on the edge. Now most of the load is held by another pin, and you repeat the same random process for a few more minutes, until all the pins are pushed up.….What is not really appreciated by most people is that they’re perpetually locking themselves in with locks everywhere, and it’s not very hard to pick them.” 

Now it is even worse since there is a faster procedure (using a special key) called lock bumping.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

11 Table Topics questions from the 2017 book Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss


Last year there was a book by Timothy Ferriss titled Tribe of Mentors (and subtitled short life advice from the best in the world) in which he asked a bunch of people to answer some of the following eleven questions:

1] What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?



2] What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.



3] How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favorite failure’ of yours?



4] If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)



5] What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)



6] What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?



7] In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?



8] What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the ‘real world’? What advice should they ignore?



9] What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?



10] In the past five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?



11] When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I found out about those questions from a February 12th LinkedIn Pulse article by Timo Lorenzen titled “The tribe of mentors” by Timothy Ferris. He had posted about it on the The Official Toastmasters International Group at LinkedIn under the title Timothy Ferris’ questions also are great for Table Topics! (Table Topics is the question-answering impromptu speaking portion of a Toastmasters club meeting).

But Timo didn’t always post the entire questions that Mr. Ferriss had asked. For example, for No. 4 he just listed the first sentence but left off:

“It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)”

Mr. Ferriss also had later said:

“Self-explanatory, so I’ll skip the commentary. For would-be interviewers, though, the ‘if helpful…’ portion is often critical for getting good answers.”

And for No. 8 Timo listed just the first sentence:

“What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the ‘real world’?”

but left off the second:

“What advice should they ignore?”

Mr. Ferriss’s discussion of that question had said that:

“The second ‘ignore’ sub question is essential. We’re prone to asking ‘What should I do?’ but less prone to asking ‘What shouldn’t I do?’ Since what we don’t do determines what we can do, I like asking about not-to-do lists.”  

Mr. Ferriss’s longer, clearer versions are better questions than Mr. Lorenzen’s truncated ones. This is another example of why when using quotations it is important to go back to the source.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Falling in love and Table Topics questions



























On January 9, 2015 there was a very popular article by Mandy Len Catron in the New York Times titled To fall in love with anyone do this. She wrote about applying a technique from an article by Arthur Aron et al titled The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: a procedure and some preliminary findings which had appeared in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin way back in April 1997 (Volume 23, Issue 4). On January 16, 2015 co-author Elaine Aron blogged at Huffington Post about 36 Questions for intimacy, back story.

That article described a procedure where two people play a sharing game using 36 slips of paper, each with a question (organized into 3 increasingly personal sets).  One reads the question, and then both do what it asks. They alternate who reads aloud. Another New York Times article listed the questions, and there also was an app. Reader’s Digest also published the list. Here are those questions.

Set I

N01] Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

N02] Would you like to be famous? In what way?

N03] Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

N04] What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?

N05] When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

N06] If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

N07] Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

N08] Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common?

N09] For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

N10] If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

N11] Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

N12] If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?



Set II

N13] If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

N14] Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

N15] What’s the greatest accomplishment of your life?

N16] What do you value most in a friendship?

N17] What is your most treasured memory?

N18] What is your most terrible memory?

N19] If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

N20] What does friendship mean to you?

N21] What roles do love and affection play in your life?

N22] Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.

N23] How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

N24] How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?



Set III

N25] Make 3 true ‘we’ statements each. For instance ‘WE are both in this room feeling…’

N26] Complete this sentence ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share…’

N27] If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

N28] Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

N29] Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

N30] When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

N31] Tell your partner about something you like about them already.

N32] What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

N33] If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

N34] Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

N35] Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

N36] Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.


These are excellent impromptu (Table Topics) questions for a Toastmasters club meeting, except for N11 which is an Icebreaker speech. On January 26, 2015 there was an article in The New Yorker by Susanna Wolff titled To fall out of love, do this which flipped the questions over, and instead both began and ended with:

“Given a choice of anyone in the world, whom would you like to punch in the face?”

The question sounds like something that Rat might say in a Pearls Before Swine cartoon.

An Appendix at the end of the Aron et al article listed another set of 36 questions for a small-talk condition. Some of them refer to the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Set I

S01] When was the last time you walked for more than an hour? Describe where you went and what you saw.

S02] What was the best gift you ever received and why?

S03] If you gad to move from California where would you go, and what would you miss the most about California?

S04] How did you celebrate last Halloween?

S05] Do you read a newspaper often and which do you prefer? Why?

S06] What is a good number to have in a student household and why?

S07] If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?

S08] What is the best restaurant you’ve been to in the last month that your partner hasn’t been to? Tell your partner about it.

S09] Describe the last pet you owned.

S10] What is your favorite holiday? Why?

S11] Tell your partner the funniest thing that ever happened to you when you were a yound child.

S12] What gifts did you receive on your last birthday?



Set II

S13] Describe the last time you went to the zoo.

S14] Tell the names and ages of your family members, include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and where they were born (to the extent you know this information).

S15] One of you say a word, the next say a word that starts with the last letter of the word just said. Do this until you have said 50 words. Any words will do – you aren’t making a sentence.

S16] Do you like to get up early or stay up late? Is there anything funny that has resulted from this?

S17] Where are you from? Name all the places you’ve lived.

S18] What is your favorite class at UCSC so far? Why?

S19] What did you do this summer?

S20] What gifts did you receive last Christmas/Hanukkah?

S21] Who is your favorite actor of your own gender? Describe a favorite scene in which this person has acted.

S22] What was your impression of UCSC the first time you ever came here?

S23] What is the best TV show you’ve seen in the last month that your partner hasn’t seen. Tell your partner about it.

S24] What is your favorite holiday? Why?



Set III

S25] Where did you go to high school? What was your high school like?

S26] What is the best book you’ve read in the past three months that your partner hasn’t read. Tell your partner about it.

S27] What foreign country would you most like to visit? What attracts you to this place?

S28] Do you prefer digital watches and clocks or the kind with hands? WHY?

S29] Describe your mother’s best friend.

S30] What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial Christmas trees?

S31] How often do you get your hair cut? Where do you go? Have you ever had a really bad haircut experience?

S32] Did you have a class pet when you were in elementary school? Do you remember the pet’s name?

S33] Do you think left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people?

S34] What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s albums do you own? Have you seen them before? Where?

S35] Do you subscribe to any magazines? Which ones? What have you subscribed to in the past?

S36] Were you ever in a school play? What was your role? What was the plot of the play? Did anything funny ever happen when you were on stage?

I recently ran across a discussion of the 36 questions on page 243 of Chip and Dan Heath’s 2017 book The Power of Moments. The Hearts for Valentine’s Day came from Openclipart.