Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Joan of Arc theory again - fear of public speaking comes from being burned in a past life

On Sunday, September 27th, psychic Ainslie MacLeod posted a brief YouTube video titled Fear of Public Speaking: Stage Fright - Your Soul’s Fear of Judgement which ended with a very dogmatic statement that:

“The fear of public speaking always goes back to a past life where judgment resulted in death.”

Back in July 2011 I blogged about a previous statement Ainslie made in his 2009 book, The Instruction: Living the Life Your Soul Intended. On page 126 he said:

“For almost every person who suffers from stage fright, a fear of public speaking, or who goes to pieces when forced to sit an exam, the root cause is a life in which judgment has led to death.”

I’d called that the Joan of Arc Theory, and found it rather incredible since I don’t think much of claims about past life regression. You can find an article about past-life regression therapy by Karen Stollznow on the web site of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

I looked around on Google and found a web page about various phobias including glossophobia titled Past Forward: WHO were YOU in a past life? which had a gruesome list of four ways you might have died: Hanged by the neck, Burned at the stake, Beheaded by blade, and Drowned in the cistern. (It also mentioned having your tongue cut out).

When I searched in Books on Google I quickly found three other claims about past lives and fear of speaking.

In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Reincarnation by David Hammerman and Lisa Lenard (2000), on page 188 they describe the case of Jane who became terrified every time she thought about public speaking. Regression revealed that, just like Joan of Arc, she was burned at the stake.

In Healing Lost Souls: Releasing Unwanted Spirits from Your Energy Body by William J. Baldwin (2003) he mentions that:

“Burning at the stake or being stoned to death by a crowd can induce a fear of public speaking, the most common phobia.”

In Healing the Present from the Past: The Personal Journey of a Past Life Researcher  by Heather S. Friedman Rivera (2012 on page 48 she discusses how:

“The client was afraid of public speaking and when he was regressed found out he was a Knight.  The cartoon illustrates a Knight losing his life for speaking his mind against the king. After remembering, the client was free from the fear of public speaking. “

I think it’s much more likely that fear of speaking came from something that happened in this life.

The image of a painting of the death of Joan of Arc came from Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE October 10, 2015

On October 7th New Scientist magazine had an article article titled Why resergence of therapy that unearths 'lost' memories is risky.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

If you knew our company name, then you wouldn’t even open this envelope

In today’s mail I received what at first glance looked like a hand-addressed greeting card from Chris Thomas. (I photoshopped out the street address). When I recognized the return address, I began to laugh. It’s the main address for DirecTV. Last December I blogged about getting a phony greeting card from them, and this was just another.

DirecTV recently merged with AT&T, and has over 20 million subscribers. I’m a bit surprised that they still are trying to sneak up on prospects. In the latest Sunday Idaho Statesman they already had four-page ads both in the SmartSource and Redplum ad inserts.

But DirecTV also included a plain white envelope with just that same return address (and no name whatsoever). I didn’t bother to open that one. It went directly into my recycle bin.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What can you communicate in 20 seconds or less?

More than you might guess. You can concisely answer a question, like What can you do for me?

On August 23rd in her Speak Schmeak blog Lisa Braithwaite posted about Storytelling in 30 seconds - can you do it? and showed a TV commercial as an example. But, there also have been 20-second TV commercials which famously were used back in the 1952 presidential campaign series Eisenhower Answers America. Here is one example:

You can find three more videos on a web page at the Museum of the Moving Image. Look at the line of Republican ones and click on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th (which also is shown above). A web page on 5 Most Effective Campaign Ads mentioned that there was a total of 40 in that series.

Why is there a drawing of a fireman with a hose at the beginning of this post? He is a polite illustration of what that roughly 20-second time interval also represents - the average time it takes for an elephant (or any mammal the size of a house cat or larger) to urinate. This year’s Ig-Nobel Prize for physics was won by a 2014 scientific article by Patricia J. Yang et al in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled Duration of urination does not change with body size.    

In 2011 I blogged about The 99 (or 100) second presentation, and in 2012 I blogged about 101-word stories and 50-second elevator speeches.

How about ten seconds? Back in 2007 in his HELLO my name is blog Scott Ginsberg discussed networking via 10 different approaches for your 10-second commercial. Sodastream had a 10-second TV commercial.

What can you cram into just five seconds? A Glenn Hartzheim Dodge TV commercial said:

“You’re buying a car and you’re worried about financing. Go see Glenn!

At half that or 2-1/2 seconds we finally run out of room for words. About all that will fit is brief song titles like Todd Rundgren’s Hello, It’s Me or Joni Mitchell’s Help Me

Adding the 5, 10, and 20 second TV commercials produces this spectrum of nine brief presentation formats:

The fireman was adapted from this 1858 image at the Library of Congress.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eight memorable quotations from the late great Yogi Berra

Tuesday the famous catcher (and coach and manager) for the New York Yankees died at age 90. A memorial article in the New York Times was titled Yogi Berra, Yankee who built his stardom 90 percent on skill and half on wit, dies at 90.

Sports Illustrated reported back in 1986 he had protested that:

“I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Seven other of his quotations are:

“You can observe a lot by watchin.’ “

“It gets late early out there.”

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“We’re lost, but we’re making good time!”

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going ‘cause you might not get there.”

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

All eight appear in the Yale Book of Quotations, edited by Fred R. Shapiro (2006). The last quotation was Yogi’s answer to a reporter in July 1973 - when he was managing the New York Mets. At that point they were nine games out from first place, but went on to win the division.  

The 1960 World Series (where Yogi was catcher for the Yankees) provided another demonstration for that quote. The Pittsburgh Pirates won it for their first time in 35 years. The Wikipedia page notes:

“The Yankees, winners of their 10th pennant in 12 years, outscored the Pirates 55–27 in this Series, outhit them 91–60, outbatted them .338 to .256, hit 10 home runs to Pittsburgh's four (three of which came in Game 7), got two complete-game shutouts from Whitey Ford - and lost.”

An Associated Press story provides 20 quotations. The image of Yogi’s Baseball Hall of Fame plaque came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bureaucracies and workarounds

When your job involves a bureaucracy there often are ways to work around pesky restrictions.

Early this month on the Shark Tank blog at Computerworld there was an article titled Now that’s our kind of emergency! It described one software developer’s experience with the bureaucracy at a railroad.

Approval for installation of new software normally involved an elaborate process calling for signatures from the project lead, the development manager, and a variety of other managers. Also, approval had to be done by noon on a Monday, since installs only were  done on Wednesday nights.

But there also was an Emergency Install process that involved mostly the project lead (or alternatively a senior analyst) and one simple form. Better yet, emergency installs could be done at any time. Eventually almost half of all installs were being done on an emergency basis. Did management step in to fix the broken normal process? Of course not! Instead a memo went out stating:

"Effective immediately, all emergencies must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance."

Four decades ago I experienced an effective workaround done by a noncommissioned officer (NCO). From 1972 to 1978 I was a medic in the Air Force Reserve. That began with spending the second half of 1972 on an active duty tour that was planned to include basic training and  tech school, and finish with a month of on-the-job training (OJT). I still had plans to start graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in early January.

My orders originally called for OJT in the hospital at Scott Air Force Base, east of St. Louis. By the time I got there after the first week of December the schedule had slipped for a variety of reasons. I wrote my reserve unit a letter asking if if was still supposed to be there for a month.

After another week they called the NCO who handled ward administration for medics at the hospital, and told him my orders just had been amended to immediately send me back to my reserve unit in Pittsburgh. But those written orders got hung up in the pre-Christmas mail. The ward administration NCO took me off his weekly schedule. That left me hanging around the dormitory for medics.

For almost a week I was in limbo, mopping floors and doing other odd jobs as needed there. Then that NCO saw I was still there. He said, OK enough of this crap, we are going to get you home for Christmas via Verbal Order of Commander. He called Pittsburgh and got the only important feature from my orders - the charge codes saying what accounts should pay for my travel. A few hours later I took workaround paperwork he’d filled out to the travel section, and was given a plane ticket. Problem solved.

A Google search led me to a detailed 2014 magazine article by Steven Alter in the Communications of the Association for Information Systems titled Theory of Workarounds

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Do you see things differently than your audience? Explain how to them.

Whenever I look at a flat surface of a pipe or plate that broke in a brittle manner, I shine a penlight at a low angle to that plane. As schematically shown above, V-shaped chevron markings will point back to where the crack originated. Then I look more closely at the origin to see what happened there.  

On  May 20th the TV program Nature premiered a documentary about the high desert called The Sagebrush Sea. Most of it was about the sage grouse, but it also mentioned other animals. Out in the desert rocks substitute for trees, and birds use their cavities for nests. At 16:45 they said that:

“The tiny American Kestrel is the only falcon in North America that uses cavities. With their ultraviolet vision they track rodents by following their urine trails.”

For those feisty little birds the sagebrush looks like a road map to dinner. Scientists have known for a couple of decades that kestrels see differently than humans.

Insects also can see ultraviolet markings, as shown in this brief BBC News video: An insect’s-eye view of flowers.

The image by LInda Tanner of an American kestrel came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Please look at Andrew Dlugan’s Six Minutes blog about speaking and presentation skills

Back in 2007 Andrew Dlugan started an excellent blog titled Six Minutes speaking and presentation skills. Six minutes is the average length (nominally a range from five to seven) for eight of ten speeches in the  basic Competent Communication manual from Toastmasters International.

Like many blogs it eventually went dormant. Last month he revived it with a series of five Flashback Friday repostings. On September 7th he had a new post titled Spice Up Your Speechwriting (Epiphora).

Six Minutes is listed in the blogs at Alltop Speaking. If you aren’t familiar with it, please go take a look and bookmark the home page. I have long been a fan of Andrew’s well-researched posts on a wide variety of topics.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Beware of stilted language

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stilted as an adjective meaning:    

“A]  pompous, lofty 
  B]  formal, stiff”

A Google search on the word glossophobia led me to an article by Mark Migger at ATV Global with the curious title Geek Converse - Tech Discuss - Community Talking on Engineering Subjects that contained this sentence with some curious phrasing:

“....You may perhaps be excellent a providing speeches but come to feel reluctant to discuss about technology or you may perhaps have the skills and just have a typical panic of general public talking (regarded as Glossophobia).”

An awkward phrase like general public talking suggests that the article was stitched together for a content mill by an algorithm rather than written by a human. Public speaking or speaking in public are better phrases. 

Mark has another article titled Pie Recipe - Easy Recipe for a Delicious Apple Pie containing the following sentence:

“.... Fruit pie’s are the very hot favored all more than the entire world, and is quite often served with ice product.”

He didn’t say which other planets he’d also visited to decide fruit pies were favored more than this one.

An image of statues on stilts came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I heard it from a communications professor, so it must be true

In March there was a series of TEDx talks given at the California Polytechnic University in Pomona. Videos from them were posted on YouTube. One was Why Do We Fear Public Speaking? by Professor Dave Guin. At 2:36 in the video he proclaimed:

“Fear of public speaking is ubiquitous. Every person in this room has a fear of public speaking.”

Based on two surveys of U.S. adults done last year that’s probably not true. On January 5th of this year I blogged about Is public speaking universally feared? Of course not! One, the Chapman Survey of American Fears, found that over a third (34.1%) were Not Afraid At All of public speaking. It was done at a university less than thirty miles from Pomona, so there is no excuse for Professor Guin not having heard about it. The other YouGov survey found that almost a quarter (23%) were Not Afraid At All of public speaking.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Don’t be a sleeping watchdog. Take the 2015 Annoying PowerPoint Survey.

Every odd-numbered year Dave Paradi runs another Annoying PowerPoint Survey. I just got a reminder message from him that there are two more weeks left, and that so far over 150 people have responded and taken it. It took me less than five minutes to fill it out. You can find it here.

On June 10th I discussed the most common annoyance found in his previous surveys in a post titled Don’t annoy us by reading your PowerPoint slides.

The sleeping watchdog was adapted from this September 1897 Puck cartoon found at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A frightening lack of clarity about what a survey measured

The October 2015 issue of Men’s Health magazine has a brief article by K. Aleisha Peters on page 37 that is titled Outsmart Every Demon. The text box at the upper left says:

“Want to freak out your friends this Halloween? Ask them if they ever think about going bankrupt. In a survey of Americans’ fears, researchers at Chapman University in California found that men are most apprehensive or worried about the things they can’t control - with going broke edging out an unexpected visit from the Reaper. Heights and animals also make the list, as do random evils such as terrorist attacks, says study author Christopher Bader, Ph.D. Use this page to gauge how your own fears compare to what’s haunting other men, Then find out what causes you to quake so you can overcome it.”

Most of the page consists of a graphic that lists fourteen fears arranged in an oval with each percentage shown at the center of a small donut chart (color coded red, green, or blue). A caption at the lower right says:

“Terror triggers, and the number of men they scare the hell out of.”

Going clockwise from the top those percentages and colors [in brackets] are:

79% Growing old [blue] (C)
79% Terrorist attack [red] (B)
60% Heights [green] (A)
88% Going broke [blue] (C)
83% Illness [blue] (C)
56% Animals [green] (A)
60% Public Speaking [green] (A)
68% Job loss [blue] (C)
13% Clowns [red] (A)
36% Flying [green] (A)
26% The Dark [green] (A)
16% Zombies [red] (A)
68% Death [blue] (C)
50% Mass shooting [red] (A)

There is a big problem with comparing these percentages. They are one possible set of answers to three different questions, (A), (B), and (C) which are:

(A)  How afraid are you of...? with answers of:
Very Afraid, Afraid, Somewhat Afraid, Not Afraid At All, and (Refused)

(B)  How worried are you about...? with answers of:
Very Worried, Worried, Somewhat Worried, Not at All Worried, and (Refused)

(C)  How often do you worry about...? with answers of:
Almost Always, Very Often, Not Very Often, Hardly Ever, and (Refused)

Note that the color blue is used just for Question (C), but both red and green are used for Question (A). That’s just silly. Red also is used once for Question (B).

It appears that the percentages shown are for men and are the sum of the first three answers. They don’t exactly match the sums in the bar chart for ‘Phobias’ (see above) that I showed in my October 29, 2014 blog post. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view) But, those sums are far larger than what scares the hell out of men (just Very Afraid).

As is shown above in another bar chart, what’s being done with these different questions is like comparing apples, potatoes, and walnuts. You really can’t compare the percentage for public speaking with that for death. This Men's Health article is as silly as last year’s on the Top 10 things the average guy fears the most.

The image was derived from one at the Library of Congress.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Zach Leatherman presents A Hypocrite’s Guide to Public Speaking

This morning item 31 of 65 on my Google Alert on public speaking was a 17-minute YouTube video of a presentation by Zach Leatherman which humorously covers the following list:

1]   Picking the right topic.

2]   Don’t start your talk with an apology.

3]   Preparation is probably the most important thing.

4]   Be concise.

5]   The audience is your ally.

6]   The most inclusive language is clean language.

7]   Relax. Take a deep breath.

8]   Have a backup plan.

9]   Engage the audience.

10] Don’t blindly follow someone else’s rules.

Watch it!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Arguments and Occam’s Broom - What should we name the highest mountain in North America?

On September 1st Donald Trump tweeted:

"President Obama wants to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali after more than 100 years. Great insult to Ohio. I will change back!"

That statement is almost hilariously silly. Why? Look at the Wikipedia page on the Denali - Mount McKinley naming dispute.

First, that mountain originally was named Denali.  Second, Alaskans long have considered the name change from Denali to McKinley an insult. They have been trying to change it back for forty years - since 1975. Third, consider why it was renamed in memory of President McKinley. An NBC News article on August 31st pointed out that:

“Kimberly Kenney, curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio, acknowledged that the circumstances made it difficult to argue for keeping the mountain's prior name. 

‘McKinley didn't see it, didn't travel there, didn't do anything for the people of Alaska — it wasn't a state yet,’ Kenney said.”

On pages 40 and 41 of his 2013 book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking philosopher Daniel C. Dennett described Occam’s Broom:

“...the process in which inconvenient facts are whisked under the rug by intellectually dishonest champions of one theory or another.”

It’s not easy to find what you’re NOT being told, but it’s not impossible. That takes some more looking around. Articles with multiple viewpoints like those at Wikipedia are one starting point. Another is to systematically look for the other viewpoints - Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, science and religion, etc.   

What should those upset Ohioans do next? I saw one suggestion in a comment that they consider renaming the highest point in Ohio after McKinley. Apparently the 1,550 foot Campbell Hill already was federally owned, so their congressmen could easily request a change. 

Naming a mountain really isn’t the most important thing about it. In the chapter on The Making of A Scientist in his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? physicist Richard Feynman recalled what his father told him when he was a child:

“....One kid says to me, ‘See that bird? What kind of bird is that?’

I said, ‘I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of bird it is.”

He says, ‘It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything.’

But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: ‘See that bird?’ he says. ‘It’s a Spencer’s Warbler.’ (I knew he didn’t know the real name). ‘Well, in Italian, it’s a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatsoever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing - that’s what counts. (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something).”

The argument image came from a 1909 cartoon found at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don’t open your mouth until you’ve done your research

That means chasing startling statistics all the way back to their source BEFORE you use them in a speech, or blog post, or on a LinkedIn group. If you don’t, then you can look pretty silly. Don’t rely on third-hand information like a newspaper article written based on a press release about a survey or magazine article. The press release even may be wrong. For an example, see my blog post on What do the most Americans fear? The Chapman Survey on American Fears and the press release copying reflex.

You need to ask research questions like:

A]  Who said that?

B]  What did they say?

C]  When did they say it?

D]  Where did it appear?

E]  How do you know that is right?


Recently on the Metallurgy & Materials Science group at LinkedIn there was a post by a recruiter that said:

“question for you all - we need 587,000 engineers by 2017, basically our country is a mess it seems! What should/can we do to change this?”

Presumably the country was his (UK), and perhaps he meant that huge number had to be found just in the next two years. Really? Also, did he mean just engineers, engineers and technicians, or all workers?

When repeatedly quizzed by another recruiter in the U.S. about where that number he’d used came from, he said it was “from Engineering” and that you could find the article just by looking at Google. I searched, found there was an organization called Engineering UK, and eventually found their press release titled Over Half a Million New Engineering and Manufacturing Workers Needed by 2017. It instead said:

“In order for the UK economy to recover, the manufacturing sector will need to recruit over half a million (587,000) engineering and manufacturing workers with state-of the-art-skills by 2017, according to a report launched today by EngineeringUK, the independent organisation that promotes the vital contribution of engineers, engineering and technology in our society.”

When I looked further I found a June 2014 LinkedIn Pulse article by that same recruiter titled The War on the engineering shortage in which he said:

 “the engineering industry must recruit 587,000 new, skilled workers before 2017.”

That was workers, not engineers. After I pointed it out in a comment, he took down the post at the Metallurgy & Materials Science group.

Further search lead me to a .pdf file with the report’s Executive Summary and Conclusions for the Engineering UK 2009/10 Report, which concluded:

“The UK will need to recruit 587,000 new workers into manufacturing over the period 2007-2017.”

The time period turned out to be ten years rather than the two I might have guessed. I still have not found a .pdf file with the full report from Engineering UK


In December 2014 I blogged about how Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show. Sometimes their information is hilariously out of date. For example, their Rabies Virus Statistics page now lists a Research Date of March 12, 2015, but as is shown above their table shows CDC data from way back in 2001 rather than their most current data published in November 2014. Statistic Brain still has the same old data they first posted with a Research Date of July 23, 2012. 


Not everything is meant to be taken seriously. There is news satire from sources like The Onion. On August 17th I blogged about one of their articles in a post titled Did a survey find that Americans’ greatest fear is a waitress forgetting about them - pedisecaphobia? No! Just for that post I made up pedisecaphobia, and back in 2013 also hoplocynohydrophobia. In June an ABC News article discussed All the Times People Were Fooled by The Onion.

The statue image came from Wikimedia Commons, and the dunce image from a Puck cartoon at the Library of Congress.