Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just in time for summer - an outlaw country song from Steve Earle about hotshots and the legendary Ed Pulaski



























It’s officially summer, which is the season for wildland fires out here in the intermountain west. During the Soda Fire, on August 15, 2015, I blogged about Fighting wildland fires: Hotshots, helicopters, and whatever else it takes. Hotshots are elite 20-man firefighting crews.

The Firebreak Line is a country song on the latest album from Steve Earle & the Dukes titled So You Wannabe an Outlaw. You can listen to it here on YouTube.

Further back on October 20, 2009 I blogged about A Heroic Forest Fire Story: Ed Pulaski and the Big Blow Up. In that post I quoted a 390 word version of the story from a 2007 publication on Leading in the Wildland Fire Service. But in the second verse of his song Steve Earle tells the Ed Pulaski story using just 80 words: 

“...Ed Pulaski is a friend of mine
When I’m cuttin’ out a firebreak line
He invented this thing like an axe I swing
And he never left a member of his crew behind
When the fire jumped across the line
Took ‘em down in an abandoned mine
Then he drew his gun, said he’d shoot the first one
That got it in his head to try and step outside
Got everybody out alive, Ed Pulaski is a friend of mine”


Steve’s version is almost five times shorter. It’s not totally correct, but some poetic license is allowed. There’s a live solo version of The Firebreak Line from Good Records in Dallas. In it Steve jokingly claims that, along with the axe-mattock Pulaski, there is another combination tool called a chingadera. But that really is a rude, indefinite Spanish noun which means “that f*cking thing.”    

The statue in Boise is in front of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A series of six Dilbert comics about a presentation disaster




























From June 12th to June 17th there were six daily Dilbert comic strips about Asok preparing and then giving a presentation to his CEO. In the first three he received bad advice - including June 14th where his boss told a flipped over version of “imagine the audience naked.” Only Alice gave him good advice.

Links to them, and their caption texts are:

June 12, 2017
Asok: I’m nervous because I need to make a presentation to our CEO. Do you have any advice?
Wally: Don’t make eye contact with him. He hates that.
Asok: You have made things far worse!
Wally: He also flies into a rage whenever he hears the word “THE”.

June 13, 2017
Asok: Do you have any advice for my presentation to the CEO?
Dilbert: Sure. If you make one small mistake, your career will be finished.
Asok: You just made me nervous and thus doubled my risk of failure.
Dilbert: I’m not the one who brought it up.

June 14, 2017
Asok: Do you have any tips for my presentation to the CEO?
Boss: When you are presenting, Imagine you are naked and everyone is laughing at you.
Asok: Why?
Boss: It’s just something I read. I might have the details wrong.

June 15, 2017
Asok: Can you help me edit my slides for my CEO presentation? I have 75 slides and ten minutes to present.
Alice: Get rid of 74 of them.
Asok: I’ll ask someone else.

June 16, 2017
Asok: I have 75 slides to discuss in ten minutes. Save your questions to the end.
CEO: Sit down and never talk to me again as long as you live.
Dilbert: How’d the CEO presentation go?
Asok: It was 75 slides too long.

June 17, 2017
Boss: Our CEO said he liked your presentation.
Asok: He made me shut up and sit down before I got to my first slide.
Boss: He’s not a big fan of content.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Avoiding a downward spiral of shame after a speech went badly






















The Harvard Business Review has an excellent web article by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries titled Don’t Let Shame Become a Self-Destructive Spiral.

There also was another article by Christine Clapp in the March 2013 issue of Toastmaster magazine titled When bad speeches happen to good people (how to recover from a disappointing presentation) that you can read in a .pdf file at her Spoken With Authority web site. Her advice is to:

Put it in perspective
Analyze what went wrong - and right
Troubleshoot
Craft a plan
Get back on stage
Measure progress
Consider a coach
Believe in comebacks


Shame (and resilience from it) is a large subject. Social work researcher BrenĂ© Brown has studied, written, and spoken about it a lot. In 2013 on the Oprah Winfrey show she gave brief advice on 3 Things you can do to stop a shame spiral. You can also watch her 21-minute TED talk on Listening to Shame, or listen to a long podcast of an episode  from On Being about The Courage to Be Vulnerable.

The spiral-staircase image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

How is a car GPS like a razor?
























How is a GPS like a razor? Both can be sold using a razor and blades business model. Blades go dull and need to be replaced. Map data for navigation on a car GPS will need to be updated. About six years ago I finally bought a little TomTom XL335SE GPS with a 4-1/4” screen diagonal (as shown above with a Gillette Mach 3) for about $75. Map updates at their web site weren’t included, so after two years I paid $50 (on sale) for an annual package that regularly was $75.

















Once I got it securely mounted in the car, the TomTom GPS was very useful both around Boise, and on road trips. But came with a suction cup mount for the windshield that has a ring which snaps into the back, which it often didn’t stay there (perhaps due to dust). It also came with a black plastic disk that mounted on the dash via two-sided foam tape. That was a little better, but the GPS still fell off the dash unpredictably.





















I looked over on eBay and found another GPS mount which fit into the cup holder to the left of the instrument cluster on the dash of my Honda Fit. That worked much better. I could pick up the GPS and mount, key in the destination, and then drop it into the cup holder. An address is entered going from general to specific - state, then city, then street name, and finally the number.

Around town I prefer side streets to the Interstate (I-84), and the I-184 spur to downtown (locally known as The Connector). But the GPS usually tried to send me via the Interstate. After I ignored it three or so times, it finally let me go the way I prefer. My TomTom GPS has been very useful for long trips. It showed me the exact lanes to take at busy unfamiliar interchanges, like on I-15 near the Salt Lake City airport.  

After two more years I updated again. Last month I got a single map update for $25. But, when I tried to download it, they warned me that my now clearly obsolete GPS just  didn’t have enough memory to hold the whole U.S. from their latest map. So I only fit in the western half. It was time to look for a replacement.

This time I went looking for a GPS with a larger screen (and more memory), and with lifetime free map updates. I found a $100 refurbished Garmin Nuvi 67LM with a 6” screen at Amazon. The GPS is very nice, but their suction cup mount was even worse than on the TomTom - even with the black plastic disk that mounted on the dash. I found a web article on Replacing the Garmin Nuvi suction cup mount that recommended other brands of mounts.








































I got another cup holder mount to try. It didn’t work because the Garmin was too wide to fit down in the space between the door and dash. So, I cut a block from 1” pine to fit on the dash, painted it black, attached the suction cup mount via four sheet-metal screws, and used two-sided foam tape to hold it on the dash to the right of the speedometer. The power cord from the GPS dropped two feet straight down to the power (cigarette lighter) socket on the center console.      

When I turned on the Garmin it immediately required me to Agree with the following legal disclaimer:

WARNING
Do not attempt to enter route information or adjust this device while driving. Failure to pay full attention to the operation of your vehicle could result in death, serious injury, or property damage. You assume total responsibility and risk for using this device. NOTICE: Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit use othis device. It is your responsibility to know and comply with applicable laws and rights to privacy in jurisdictions where you plan to use this device. 


 On my new Garmin GPS an address is entered going from specific to general - first the number, then street name, then city, then state. Usually it guesses the city. I really like that it warns me a half-mile before each school zone (speed limit 20 mph when yellow caution lights are flashing). The first menu shows Where to? and View Map as the primary options. Under Where to? the next menu Options are Go Home, Address, Restaurants, Gas Stations, Foursquare, and Add Shortcut. But when I looked for restaurants near home, I found several out-of-date listings.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

What happened in history on June 16th?























Yesterday I looked on Easy-Speak and found to my horror that we didn’t have a Toastmaster for today’s meeting of the Saint Al’s Toastmasters club in Boise. So, I volunteered and looked up ideas for themes, mostly at Wikipedia, and via Google.

There is more than one holiday for every darn day of the year. If you were listening to morning-drive-time-radio today, then you might have heard that it is National Fudge Day, or National Flip-Flop Day, or (at NPR) even Bloomsday. Any James Joyce fans out there?

But, as Toastmasters, we are all about public speaking. Thus we first celebrate that it is the 159th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s House Divided Speech.




























The House Divided Speech

“Political newcomer Abraham Lincoln, beginning his campaign for the Illinois US senate seat, addressed the Republican state convention at Springfield Illinois and made a controversial speech that has become known as the House Divided speech. Attacking the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Lincoln said:

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other!’ ”


That description I just quoted from came right out of the 2016 edition of Chase’s Calendar of Events, which I blogged about on June 9th in a post titled June is Effective Communications Month, but somehow I didn’t get the message. It is an annual, 1-1/2’ thick, 8-1/2” by 11” $80 paperback reference book. This weighty tome is a conversation piece for victims of insomnia. But the reference desk at your friendly local public library probably has a copy. If you call them up, you might get a much better idea for a Toastmasters club meeting theme than from doing a quick Google search.   

Of course, you also could got to Wikipedia and look up their page for June 16th. You will find lists of Events, Births, Deaths, and Holiday and observances. Much is boring stuff, like in 1903 the Ford Motor Company was incorporated, and in 1911 IBM was founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. Birthdays include economist Adam Smith in 1723, Geronimo in 1829, and John Tukey in 1915. Tukey mashed up binary and digit into the trendy word bit.























National Fudge Day

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says as a verb fudge goes back to 1674, and it means to fit together or adjust in a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner. As a noun it goes back to 1766 and means contemptible nonsense, a made-up story, a deceit, etc.

Fudge is a Victorian confection dating from 1889, described by a student at Vassar College. The Vassar fudge recipe became quite popular. Word spread to other women’s liberal art colleges in the Seven Sisters, like Wellesley and Smith.

Fudge is made by mixing sugar, butter, and milk, followed by heating it to the soft-ball stage at 240 F, and then beating the mixture while it cools so that it acquires a smooth, creamy consistency. Chocolate, nuts, and other flavors are sometimes added, either inside or on top. It is often bought from gift shops in tourist areas.

OED says another early 20th century meaning for fudge (as a noun) is a blank patch on a newspaper page - for example, the Daily Mail. It was set aside so especially late breaking news, like race results, can be inserted via a second press run - just for that outer page.


























National Flip-Flop Day

Flip-flops are a type of inexpensive, waterproof two-piece sandal for casual wear. They consist of a flat sole (often foam) held loosely onto the foot by a Y-shaped strap that passes between the first and second toes and around both sides of the foot.

This style of footwear has been worn by the people of many cultures throughout the world, originating as early as the ancient Egyptians around 1500 BC.  The modern flip-flop descends from the Japanese zori, which became popular in the US following World War II - when returning soldiers brought them back.


Flip-flop has been used in both in American and British English since the 1970s. It is an onomatopoeia of the sound made by the sandals when walking in them. In Austria they are called Schlapfen, and in Ghana the are called Charlie Wote. They also are somewhat xenophobically called Japonki in Poland, and Vietnamki in Russia. Flip-flop also refers to changing your opinion, as politicians commonly do. 



























Bloomsday

Bloomsday is named after Leopold Bloom, the central character in Jame Joyce’s 265,000 word long stream of consciousness novel, Ulysses. It takes place in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Why was that date chosen? Well, Joyce met his muse, Nora Barnacle, on June 10, 1904 in Dublin. Reportedly they had their first romantic liaison on June 16th. But they didn’t get married until 1931. That novel was published in Paris on February 2, 1922.

Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. Post Office burned copies of the novel as obscene. In 1933 Random House arranged to import the French edition and have a copy seized by U.S. Customs. The publisher contested the seizure in a lawsuit, affirmed in 1934 on appeal, so the U.S. became the first English-speaking country where the book was freely available.

Images of Abraham Lincoln, fudge, and Leopold Bloom all came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wonderful storytelling - a prop demonstration early in the movie Deepwater Horizon






I just borrowed the DVD of Deepwater Horizon from my friendly local public library and watched last year’s big-budget Hollywood biopic disaster (and even IMAX) movie. What impressed me most was the brief prop demonstration shown above in a one-minute YouTube video. At the breakfast table Mike Williams little daughter Sydney jams a brass gizmo into the bottom of a full Coke can, and then squirts honey into the 'straw' on top. (NPR took note of that demo in their movie review).

If you were wondering how people possibly could drill a well into a pressurized gas and oil deposit, they just showed you the answer to your question - it’s a column of ‘mud.’ You didn’t have to go to Wikipedia and look up the page for Drilling fluid, and read the section under Control formation pressures. And then you saw the “well” go out of control and blow out.    

That’s effective storytelling - show rather than just tell. It reminded me of how another complicated story instead was told poorly - David Lynch’s 1984 science fiction epic Dune. It was based on Frank Herbert’s long 1965 novel about a revolt on the desert planet of Arrakis. A 2011 article at The MARY SUE showed both pages from The Glossary that came with Dune... The Movie. As we walked into the theater, they handed it to us. Here are two examples from that glossary:

MELANGE (May-lahnj): the “spice of spices’” the crop for which Arrakis is the unique source. The spice, noted for its geriatric qualities, is of great importance in empowering the Guild Navigators with the ability to “fold space,” thus uniting the Universe under the Emperor.

SANDWORM (known as Shai-Hulud): Sandworm of Arrakis. Sandworms grow to enormous length. Some are 1500 feet long and 125 feet high.; they live to great age, unless drowned in water, which is poisonous to them. 


But If you hadn’t previously read the novel, you still were really lost for the next two hours and seventeen minutes. Too much about that strange world was left untold or unsaid.

Watch a teaser from Deepwater Horizon that cuts between the tabletop demo and the following disaster.   

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sometimes a quotation just gets lost in translation




























At the Decker Communications blog on April 27, 2017 there was a post by Ben Decker about feedback titled Iron Sharpens Iron. The King James Bible version of Verse 17 from Chapter 27 in the Book of Proverbs says:

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

This verse typically is interpreted as being positive. For example, a web page at Got Questions.org titled What does it mean that iron sharpens iron? says:

“There is mutual benefit in the rubbing of two iron blades together; the edges become sharper, making the knives more efficient in their task to cut and slice.”  

Our common experience is that to sharpen an edge you use a tool like a file or a whetstone to remove material. We might picture that one of those ‘blades’ was a steel file used to hand sharpen the edge of a tool such as a Vermont farmer’s scythe, as is shown above in an image from 1937. The Wikipedia article on scythes says they first appeared in about 500 B.C. Scythes might not have been around when the Book of Proverbs was written, but other edged tools like knives or swords were.

That Got Questions page refers to a 1995 book by Howard and William Hendricks titled As Iron Sharpens Iron - building character in a mentoring relationship. On page 18 it explains:

“The Bible puts it this way: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ (Proverbs 27:17). Have you been sharpened against the whetstone of another man’s wisdom and character.”

I found a May 21, 2016 blog post by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition titled What If “Iron Sharpening Iron” in the Book of Proverbs is actually Something to Avoid? He referred to a magazine article by Ronald L. Giese, Jr. titled “Iron Sharpens Iron” as a Negative Image: Challenging the Common Interpretation of Proverbs 27:17 that appeared in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2016, pages 61 to 76 (Vol. 135, No. 1). Dr. Giese concluded:


“The meaning of the verse is therefore along these lines: Just as a hard iron hammer pounds soft iron into something sharp, ready for battle, in the same way a man causes his neighbor to go on the attack (i.e., have a ‘sharp face’).”
If we assume that the Bible is referring to wrought iron, I agree with Dr. Giese that the typical positive interpretation is wrong. He notes that there weren’t iron files back then, so the rubbing interpretation is not valid. But there is one more important detail to complete the meaning for that verse.

Wrought iron doesn’t behave like steel. Steel contains enough carbon that it can be heat-treated to produce hard iron carbide particles. Wrought iron is low carbon iron (plus slag particles), without enough carbon to harden it like steel.

The only way to strengthen (or harden) wrought iron is by work hardening. That means permanently deforming it at room temperature, typically by hammering on the edge supported by an anvil (a process called peening). The Wikipedia article on swords notes this is the same method previously used for bronze swords. You don’t remove material – you just change its shape, which increases its strength.

There is a section by Michael Bussell on wrought iron in the Construction Materials Reference Book, which I found at Google Books. Table 6.8 says that wrought iron has an ultimate tensile strength (UTS) of 53.1 ksi in the hot rolled condition and increases to 86.1 ksi in the cold drawn condition. Similarly, wire in the hot rolled condition has a UTS of 53.1 ksi, versus 92.1 ksi in the cold drawn condition.  




























Wikipedia says softer European scythes still are peened. What “iron sharpens iron” really means is likely as shown above for peening a scythe blade, a 2014 image from Gilles San Martin. You also can watch the process in an eight-minute YouTube video by Botan Anderson titled Zen and the art of peening a scythe blade. 

Writing this post was interesting. I haven’t looked up information about the behavior of wrought iron for ~25 years and that was the only time in my consulting career. It was back when I worked in Columbus, Ohio. After the 1991 fire at Adelbert Hall, a civil engineer I worked with was reviewing documents regarding rebuilding that included measurements of the strength of wrought iron structural beams. He asked me to check if there were any ASTM standards, like those he was used to seeing for structural steels. I finally found a printed copy of the old ASTM standard on the top floor of the main library at Ohio State University. To locate it, I had to look in their old card catalog rather than the current computerized one.