Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cooking pakoras in a waffle iron

There is more than one path for reaching an objective, like writing a great speech. A decade ago during August in Portland we attended the Bite of Oregon. One of the local Indian restaurants sold us excellent spinach and onion pakoras. They are delicious  deep-fried fritters made with a chickpea flour (besan) based batter as shown above.

A few weeks later I found a recipe, bought a bag of besan, and mixed up a batch. Then I realized that  a) we didn’t have enough oil to deep fry, and b) anyway it would undesirably heat up the kitchen.

That’s when I decided to try ladling the batter into our waffle iron, and baking a few waffles rather than frying a bunch of little fritters. Those pakora waffles got cut into squares for serving. They were great, and not as oily as the deep-fried ones.

I was inspired by having watched a 2002 episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats TV show (This Spud’s for You Too) where he made Rösti, a Swiss cake like hash brown potatoes in a waffle iron.  

Late this summer Daniel Shumski published a book titled Will It Waffle: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron. One is for Fawaffle, a waffle iron version of another chick pea based food, falafel. You can also find Mr. Shumski’s recipe here. Falafel is often served with hummus, which contains more chick peas and tahini (sesame seed paste). Mr. Shumski suggests substituting peanut butter if you don’t have tahini, but I’ve also seen toasted sesame oil used. Use what you have, and go make something great.   

Back in 2011 Nick Morgan had an article both on his Public Words blog and at Forbes on How to Write a Great Speech: 5 Secrets for Success. Those secrets were that:

Great speeches are primarily emotional, not logical.
Small shifts in tone make an enormous difference to the audience, so sweat the details.

A great speech has a clear voice speaking throughout.

A great speech conveys one idea only, though it can have lots of supporting points.

A great speech answers a great need.

Images of pakoras and a waffle iron came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Room at the Table: a song for Thanksgiving

A well-crafted song tells a memorable story with both words (poetry) and music. In April singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer released her latest CD, A Permeable Life. Six of the twelve songs are out as lyrics videos on YouTube. Her song Room at the Table fits very well with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

The other five songs with lyrics videos are:  

A Light in the Window

Every Little Bit of It


Forever Ray


You can download all the lyrics in a pdf file here.

The other six songs are:

The Work of Our Hands

Thank You, Good Night

The Ten O’clock Line

Writing You a Letter

Please Don’t Put Me on Hold

An Empty Chair

The lyrics sheet explains that An Empty Chair was inspired by seeing the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It has a field of 168 empty chairs representing each person who died in the April 19,1995 bombing of the Murrah Building.

The image was adapted from a 120 year-old Harper's Bazaar cover.


The November 26th episode of On Being was Carrie Newcomer: A Conversation with Music.
On November 5th Carrie appeared on Mountain Stage.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to fry a turkey without burning down your home

Sometimes a demonstration is the best way to present a topic. Deep frying is one way to quickly cook a juicy turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. If done wrong, it’s also possible to start a fire that could burn down your home and wreck the holiday celebration.

Last year the Boise Fire Department did this video demonstration of what could go wrong. It isn’t the only cautionary video out there, but I think people are more likely to listen to their city fire marshal than someone distant. Underwriters Laboratories has one and State Farm has another.   

At the Food Network, Alton Brown has an instructional video along with a detailed description of how to build a Turkey Derrick

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Turn back your cocks?

On Sunday, November 2nd, Daylight Savings Time ended. Brief newspaper articles advised us to turn back our clocks. Some added that we should also:

A. Change the batteries in our smoke alarms.
B. Program our thermostat for heating.
C. Change our water filter.

A comment on a blog post by Patricia Saxton from 2011 titled Why bother to proofread? mentioned that a front-page headline in the Lake County News-Herald  from Willoughby, Ohio instead advised their readers to:

 "Turn Back Your Cocks Tonight"

That headline is an example where You All Know What I Really Meant, which I’ve given the long silly acronym of a YAKWIRM. Please proofread, and keep those naughty yakwirms away.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Serving your audience by answering their questions

An after-dinner speech provides a unique opportunity for answering questions after a presentation. There is not another speaker waiting for you to finish so he or she can start. You can provide a more detailed answer that shows how it fits into a broader subject.

A decade ago I heard George Vander Voort speak about Metallography of Welds at a dinner meeting of the Oregon Chapter of ASM International in Portland. George delivered a PowerPoint presentation containing lots of images of cross-sectioned, polished, and etched weld joints in a wide variety of materials. Then he took several questions about that specific presentation. (More recently George discussed that topic in a 2011 magazine article).

Next he asked the audience if there were any questions about metallography in general. George said I’m here to serve you, so ask away. His answers to several questions each  included showing a series of images from other presentations stored on his laptop. It was a virtuoso performance. George has a very rare breadth and depth of knowledge. (I have a copy of his 750-page book, Metallography: Principles and Practice). But, you don’t need  that depth to adopt his attitude of servant leadership.

Thinking back, what George’s performance reminded me of was watching someone set up an extension table for a family Thanksgiving dinner. Small pieces are fitted together to form a larger, more inclusive whole.      

The image of puzzle pieces came from OpenClipart, and the extension table from Scientific American.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Perspectives from Epictetus on luggage, property, eloquence, and writing obscurely

In Chapter 43 of the Enchiridion (authored by his disciple Arrian) the Stoic philosopher Epictetus reportedly says:

“Everything has two handles, by one of which it ought to be carried and by the other not.”

That’s still excellent advice about luggage. He continued that:

“If your brother wrongs you, do not lay hold of the matter by the handle of the wrong that he is doing, because this is the handle by which the matter ought not be carried; but rather by the other handle - that he is your brother, that you were brought up together, and then you will be laying hold of the matter by the handle by which it ought to be carried.”

In the following Chapter 44 he points out that:

“The following statements constitute a non sequitur: ‘I am richer than you, therefore I am superior to you’; or ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am superior to you’. But the following conclusions are better: ‘I am richer than you, therefore my property is superior to yours’; or ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore my eloquence is superior to yours’. But you are neither property nor eloquence.”

Then in Chapter 49 he says:

“When a person gives himself airs because he can understand and interpret the books of Chrysippus, say to yourself, ‘If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this man would have nothing about which to give himself airs.’

“But what is it I want? To learn nature and to follow her. I seek, therefore, someone to interpret her; and having heard Chrysippus does so, I go to him. But I do not understand what he has written; I seek therefore the person who interprets Chrysippus. And down to this point there is nothing to justify pride. But when I find the interpreter, what remains is to put his precepts into practice; this is the only thing to be proud about....” 

I’ve quoted from pages 527, 529, and 533 of W. A. Oldfeather’s 1928 translation of the Enchiridion. Reading a book by Henry Petroski, the Duke University professor of both civil engineering and history, got me to look up Epictetus. He used another translation of the first quote at the beginning of Chapter 2 in his 2006 book Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Does it take 9, 90, or 900 seconds to lose your audience’s attention?

On page 87 of the 2008 edition of his book Presenting to Win Jerry Weissman said:

“Always remember the importance of the start of your presentation. If you lose your audience within that first 90 seconds, chances are that they will be lost forever.”

On November 10th Dr. Michelle Mazur blogged about Gone in 9 Seconds: Is Your Presentation Losing Your Audience? She claimed instead that:

“You only have 9 seconds to capture your audience’s attention.

Is your jaw on the floor? Are you thinking ‘Michelle’s nuts where is she getting this information?’

In Sally Hogshead’s new book How the World Sees You, I was astounded to learn that you have 9 seconds to fascinate your audience.”

Really? Is this a stunning new insight which came from careful public speaking research on audiences? Well, of course not! Sally started out as an ad copywriter. She dug up and has been peddling that 9 second claim for several years. On page 58 of her 2010 book Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation she said:

“According to BBC News, ‘The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds - the same as a goldfish.’ “

That BBC News article was titled Turning into digital goldfish and it appeared back on February 22, 2002. Sally just quoted the opening sentence.

How meaningful is an average (median?) of nine seconds spent on a web page? I looked up an often-cited magazine article from February 2008 by H. Weinreich, H. Obendorf, E. Herder and M. Mayer titled Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use that appeared in the ACM Transaction on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1. They looked at a sample of 25 web users. Figure 4 of that article presents a histogram of the distributions of stay times for all participants at one-second intervals. They had shown results for both first-time visits, and all visits.

The histogram shown above just displays their results for all visits. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). They noted:

“....participants stayed only for a short period on most pages. 25% of all documents were displayed for less than 4 seconds, and 52% of all visits were shorter than 10 seconds (median: 9.4s). However, nearly 10% of the page visits were longer than two minutes. Figure 4 shows the distribution of stay times grouped in intervals of one second. The peak value of the average stay times is located between 2 and 3 seconds; these stay times contribute 8.6% of all visits.”

You could describe this “attention span” as including 0.9, 9, and 90 seconds. 
How long ago has a nine second attention span been discussed in books? At least 45 years - describing some work done at Northwestern University. But, it hasn’t gotten much traction and mainly has been forgotten. A Handbook for the Advertising Agency Account Executive, published back in 1969 by Addison-Wesley claimed on page 69 that:

“Over the past several years, research has been conducted at the Northwestern School of Speech on the attention span of adults. They found the average attention span of an adult is approximately 9 seconds.

That makes a sudden death situation for the speaker in that he holds his audience for a time period about as long as this sentence.”

Then David A. Peoples 1992 book Presentations Plus: David Peoples’ Proven Techniques summarized it on page 75 as:

“The Northwestern School of Speech reports that the attention span of an audience is approximately nine seconds.”

Lenny Laskowski repeated exactly what Mr. Peoples had said on page 79 of his 2001 book 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking.

How about 900 seconds (15 minutes)? TED Talks routinely run for 18 minutes, and people don’t seem to lose their attention for less than that interval.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is trying to cure fear of public speaking hopeless?

Of course not! But you might get that impression after reading an infographic that was posted recently. On October 17th Tom Woods blogged about and posted one titled Six Ways Your Public Speaking Fear is Ruining Your Career. On November 7th Shane Purnell reposted it at Platform Giant with the title How is Fear of public speaking ruining your career?

When I visually put together two of Tom’s statements, I reached an appalling conclusion.

One of Tom’s statements was that:

 “75% of people have a fear of public speaking.”

He illustrated it with two rows of five person icons that had 7 out of 10 colored blue. I have correctly shown it above with 15 out of 20 (although elsewhere I have also used the minimum, 3 out of 4).

Another of Tom’s statements was that:

 “Only 1 in 7 people manage to cure their fear of public speaking.”

We can show that roughly by checking off 2 of the 15 people, as shown above.

Now what we would have left is still 65% of people with a fear of public speaking. That sounds rather hopeless, but really is not - because the first statement is silly. Back in February I blogged about Busting a myth - that 75% of people in the world fear public speaking.  

In his infographic Tom also spouts the same old Mehrabian Myth that how you communicate is 55% body language, 38% tone of your voice, and 7% what you actually say. He does not say where it came from, although he has elsewhere in his Quick Start Guide.

Shane ends his post by stating what he calls a practical tip to for today, but it’s just the Mehrabian Myth. Aargh!


The infographic now can be found here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The 90th Anniversary of Toastmasters International and the role of women

On October 22, 2014 Toastmasters International officially celebrated its 90th anniversary. The press release noted they currently have over 313,000 members in more than 14,650 clubs located in 126 countries. That is a remarkable achievement for an organization almost completely run by volunteers. 

The Toastmasters web site has a web page with links to documents about celebrating the Anniversary.

Joining a Toastmasters club can be a useful way to improve your public speaking skills via practice in a relatively nonthreatening environment (an audience of less than 30 people). In a blog post on January 1st I discussed how to choose a club.

Toastmasters began as a men-only organization and did not admit women for almost five decades. Their Anniversary letter says:

“In 1973, the Board of Directors made a decision that profoundly impacted the growth and development of Toastmasters: Membership was opened to women. Before this decision, women attended meetings as guests of friends or spouses, but could not participate as members. Instead, they could join the International Toastmistress organization, chartered in 1938, or seek training in college speech courses and seminars.

Since 1973, five women have served in the role of Toastmasters International President, and countless women have served as mentors, club officers and district leaders, and have participated in speech contests. The decision to open membership to women was perhaps the most important and valuable one ever made by the organization.”

That letter puts a positive spin on some historical details that can be found only in District newsletters. An article in the April 2005 District 78 newsletter said on page 2:

“1938: The Toastmasters organization helped to establish International Toastmistress Clubs, Inc. By 1966, a study was conducted at the board level, and Clubs were given permission to form ladies auxiliaries. As you can imagine, this would never do. In fact, some wily clubs encouraged women to join by listing their initials and surname, or give false names, on the member application form.

1973: At the International Convention in Houston, Texas, Clubs were permitted the option of opening membership to women. In 1978, Clubs were no longer allowed to organize along gender lines.

1985: First woman is elected International President: Helen Blanchard.”

Another article in the Aug 2013 District 45 newsletter (page 6) added:

“In 1971, a motion was put forth at the business meeting at the Toastmasters International convention to allow women to become members. The motion was defeated. Meanwhile, the US Federal Government said they would not support clubs meeting in their facilities that did not allow women to join. This had the potential to seriously affect Toastmasters, as there were many clubs meeting in federal government facilities. In 1973, the motion was made again and this time it was carried.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day and Armistice Day

Our holidays evolve and change. Today in the U.S. it is Veterans Day, which celebrates all military veterans who served. (Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, remembers people who died serving in the military. It started out as Decoration Day, after the Civil War).

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day (after World War I), which commemorated those who died while serving. Over in the U.K. they still celebrate today as Armistice Day. The BBC has a long story titled Armistice Day: Final Tower poppy laid as UK honours fallen.

The image was cropped from a 2004 Veterans Day Poster at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Scary things can happen when a survey is discussed on the Web

On October 29th there was a press release at PR Newswire titled CareerBuilder Releases List of 10 Jobs American workers Fear Most that began:

“When it comes to what some of America's workers fear most, looking death in the face has nothing on public speaking, exposure to germs or enthusiastic teens. Just in time for Halloween, a fun, new CareerBuilder study shows the idea of being a stand-up comedian, kindergarten teacher or even a parent is just as chill-inducing to some people as being a stunt person, crime scene investigator or mortician.
The nationwide survey, commissioned by CareerBuilder and conducted by Harris Poll between August 11 and September 5, 2014, included 3,103 workers across industries.
Asked to choose from a list of the jobs they found the most frightful (or submit their own), workers provided the following answers – with some surprising results.”

Their top ten list was as follows:

1. Politician
2. Microbiologist for Infectious Diseases
3. Security Guard at Teen Pop Idol concert
4. Kindergarten Teacher
5. Crime Scene Investigator
6. Animal Trainer
7. Mortician
8. Radio, Cellular and Tower Equipment Installers and Repairers
9. Stand-Up Comedian
10. Parent

Note that stunt persons (who were discussed in the text) are not on that list.

They also showed the number of people who had that job, and the median hourly pay. For example, there are 56,857 politicians/legislators and they make $9.89 per hour.

At the end of the press release they had a paragraph about  the Survey Methodology which mentioned a sampling error of plus or minus 1.76 percentage points. That suggests that what they measured really was which jobs the most Americans feared, rather than the jobs Americans feared the most.

What happened when that press release got discussed on the Web?

On October 31st, over in Singapore at a web site called HumanResources the headline became The 10 scariest jobs in the world. The U.S. really is somewhat smaller than the whole world.

 On November 9th at Stunning News the headline became 8 Most Scariest Jobs Which Need More Respect Because We Need Them. Parents and Stand-Up Comedians both were thrown out. But, they claimed:

“This is according to a survey of 56,857 Americans conducted by the jobs website”

Oops. They changed the sample size to the reported number of politicians, making it over 18 times larger than reality. That’s almost as scary as watching a friend turn into a werewolf!

Back in 2008 I blogged about I saw it on the web, so it must be true. The takeaway is that you need to always go back to the original source (in this case that press release) rather than believing what someone else says.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Telling a big story with little puppets

On this date eighty years ago Carl Sagan was born. Last year to celebrate his memory Death by Puppets posted a humorous video, Cooking from Scratch with Carl Sagan, about how to make an apple pie starting with a well-aged universe.     

That fictional sponsor, The Ellie Arroway Charitable Foundation, is an inside joke. Ellie was the main character in Sagan’s novel and movie Contact. Death by Puppets also posted a video of their outtakes (which contains some obscene language that is not suitable for work).

The 6th annual celebration of Carl Sagan Day was held yesterday. In March I blogged about Telling a big story - Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which was an updated version of Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.   

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A useful Top 20 List of blogs about public speaking and presentations

On Thursday, November 6th, at his Presentation Hero blog (aka La Fabrica Della Realtà) Matteo Cassese posted his list of Top 20 Presentation and Public Speaking Blogs - 2014 edition. It includes several that I have not been following so far, and now plan to browse.

But, he didn’t mention the obvious - which is that you can view headlines for the five most recent posts on half of them just by going to Alltop Speaking. That site lists his #1, #3, #11, #12 (usually), #14 (titled as PowerPoint Tips Blog), #15, #17, #18 (titled as Jim Harvey’s Presentation Skills Advice), #19, and #20. Alltop also list four he had mentioned under the title of The Long Tail of Public Speaking Blogs: Nuts and Bolts Blog, Michelle Mazur Blog, Professionally Speaking, and Make a Powerful Point.

I was amused by his omission of Alltop Speaking, because his Presentation Hero blog appears there on the bottom line, under the title of La Fabrica Della Realtà.

The image was derived from one about Saving Daylight.    

Friday, November 7, 2014

Where in the heck did this data really come from?

Back on October 21st Chapman University put up a web page titled What Americans Fear the Most, that contained the vertical bar chart with top five concerns and worries about government and environmental policy I’ve shown above. (At first they showed it twice, but soon fixed that after I commented on it). A caption at the bottom claims that it shows percentages for either “Very Concerned” or Very Worried.”

Those percentages should match the data pointed to by a blue link box titled Complete Survey Results that are on the main page titled The Chapman University Survey on American Fears. In my horizontal bar chart shown above (click on it for a larger version) their mostly sky-high percentages are shown in blue, and the data indicated by their caption are shown in red. Four of the five percentages are much higher, and even the fifth doesn’t quite match. For Government corruption the 67.3% they show exactly matches the cumulative percentage shown on page 42 for Very Worried (39.5%) plus Worried (24.8%) plus Refused (3.0%). It is not obvious to me where the other four percentages came from. I commented on the web page the day after they posted their chart, but so far they haven’t replied. On October 29th the UK Progressive reposted that bogus vertical bar chart.         

There also is a conceptual problem with their comparison of answers from two different questions. One question was:

Thinking about the Federal Government in Washington D.C., how worried are [you] about the following?

Corrupt Government Officials [see page 42 for data]
The Affordable Health Care Act, also called Obamacare
with possible replies of:

Very Worried
Somewhat Worried
Not Worried At All

The other question was:

Please indicate the extent to which you feel concerned about each of the following environmental issues.

Industrial pollution of rivers and streams [see page 33 for data]
Pollution of drinking water
Soil and water contamination from toxic waste [see page 34 for data]

with possible replies of:

Very Concerned
Somewhat Concerned
Not at All Concerned

Worried and concerned are not precisely synonyms. I interpret Concerned as possibly being a broader concept than Worried - one that also would include just being Interested, as shown above via a Venn diagram.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Coast to Coast AM - A conversation piece for insomniacs

I am a light sleeper, and sometimes am awakened late at night by a noisy motorcycle or truck passing by. When that happens, I flip on my clock radio to get entertained by the circus on Coast to Coast AM, where George Noory is the ringmaster. There often are more fairy tales than you can shake a stick at. They are easier to accept when you aren’t completely awake. I’m grateful that so far they haven’t done the ultimate combo plate of Elvis and JFK in a UFO.

For example on November 1st George had Dr. Michael Salla, who has a web site called Exopolitics. Michael told us about UFOs watching the International Space Station, and even docking with it. His web pages often link to YouTube videos. He pretends to be slightly skeptical by ending titles with a question mark, like the October 26, 2014 one: Did NASA Try to Hide UFO Watching Space X Dragon Departure From ISS?

I looked at some more, and my favorite is his February 5, 2014 page, Did a UFO dock with International Space Station for alien astronaut meeting? He embedded the video I’ve shown above, titled What is this please NASA? That video is literally fishy - the UFO looks like an out-of-focus fish. Was the design  based on a Christian fish symbol, or was it perhaps inspired by a Vorlon fighter in the TV science-fiction series Babylon 5? Also, why is the UFO parked sideways rather than lined up to really dock?

Coast to Coast often has long, convoluted conspiracy theories. Some of these stories are so poorly told they are harder to believe than this recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic about alien spaceships powered by ennui.

Back in June 2012 I blogged about Babylon 5 in a post titled Advice about speech writing from a guy who wrote the book on screenwriting. The excellent brief speech shown above from that series is where Delenn indignantly tells some Earth Alliance destroyers If you value your lives, be somewhere else.

An image of the full moon came from Allen Watkin at Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Brilliant answers to car repair questions - Tom Magliozzi and Car Talk

It was sad to hear that Tom Magliozzi, 77, had died on Monday. MIT trained engineer Tom and his younger brother Ray used to host the Car Talk radio program on NPR. If you ever heard it, you wouldn’t forget Tom’s infectious laugh and how he didn’t seem to take much seriously. (Their Harvard Square office window had gold lettering with the name of the mythical law firm, Dewey, Cheetham and Howe). 

Car Talk had an apparently absurd premise - that the brothers could diagnose automobile repair problems over the phone. Beneath their silly banter, like “Is that Cindy with a y, or Cindi with an i?” and “Was that a blue car?” they asked a series of pointed questions that eventually led to a solid differential diagnosis.

In September 2011 Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal even wrote a brief magazine article about Car Talk titled The Mechanics of Reasoning in the Journal of the American Medical Association. You can read the first page here, or download a pdf of both here.

Yesterday the Boston Globe had a wonderful article celebrating Tom titled “Don’t Drive Like My Brother’: Tom Magliozzi’s Biggest Hits.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Great storytelling can enliven a seemingly dull subject

Before your airliner takes off there is a mandatory safety briefing that tells passengers how to:

A. Use your seat belt

B. Use an emergency oxygen mask

C. Brace for a crash landing

D. Find an emergency exit

E. Locate and use a flotation device


This can be quite boring when done live by a flight attendant. It can also make for a boring video, even if you spend some money to dress up the flight attendants (and perhaps a pilot), and show some pretty scenery.

When you get creative, like Air New Zealand, you instead can produce The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made. It involves the audience and welcomes them to Middle Earth.

If you instead just want to bore people, you could make Safety is global - United inflight safety video. At  4:34 it’s actually four seconds shorter than the Air New Zealand video, but I agree with Consumerist, who described it by United Fliers, Prepare to Be Bored By This Punishingly Long “Humorous” Safety Video.  


Air New Zealand's 2012 An Unexpected Briefing was not as good, since it just took place inside a plane.