Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jill wants a joint a lot more than Jack does

One of the more curious gender differences about public speaking I’ve seen this year was described in a magazine article by Julia D. Buckner, José Silgado, and Norman B. Schmidt titled Marijuana Craving During a Public Speaking Challenge: Understanding Marijuana Use Vulnerability among Women and those with Social Anxiety Disorder. It appeared in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2011, Vol. 42, No. 1, on pages 104 to 110. You can read and download that article on PubMed Central. 

They studied a sample of sixty college undergraduates in the southern United States, all of who had reported using marijuana during the past one to three months. Half were given a reading task, and the other half were given a speech task. Craving for marijuana and anxiety both were rated on a scale from zero to ten.

The first task was silently reading Popular Mechanics magazine at their own pace for five minutes. This reading task was designed to not make them nervous (affect state social anxiety).

The second task was giving a five-minute speech about their most undesirable characteristic. They were informed that speech would be videotaped and evaluated by a small group of faculty and students. This speech task was designed to increase state social anxiety.   

They were asked about their anxiety level and craving for marijuana during the experiment at four times:

1. At baseline (prior to being told whether they were to be reading or speaking)
2. Immediately prior to the task (the anticipation phase)
3. 2.5 minutes into the task (the during phase)
4. Immediately after the task

Section 3.4 of the article discussed the effects of the speech on marijuana craving by gender. The graph shown above combines what was shown in Figure 1 of the article. For men the craving was relatively small and roughly constant (about 1.5), while for women it was much larger and peaked during the speech (at about 6.75). The reading task resulted in lower cravings that were roughly constant - about 3.0 for women and 0.5 for men. A similar peak also was observed for people with social anxiety disorder. Very curious! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Soapbox Guru is a web site for posting videos of speeches or presentations and receiving evaluations

Soapbox Guru was created by two Toastmasters in Victoria, British Columbia.Evaluators have three boxes to fill in for giving a Speech Rating, describing The Good, and discussing The Path to Improvement.

This site seems friendlier than the alternative of just putting video out in the open on YouTube, where mean comments may just come from ten-year-olds who have nothing better to do.  

Critical comments and evaluations always should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, an expert on consulting, Alan Weiss, blogged on January 23, 2010 about the Help for Haiti telethon that:

“The worst voice and least talent on the stage all night: Taylor Swift. I don’t get what that’s all about, but when compared so closely with all the others, she has a weak voice and zero excitement.”

Perhaps Ms. Swift had an off night. But, a week later on January 31st she found out what the professionals in her industry thought of her. At the 2010 Grammy Awards (where she had been nominated in eight categories) she only took home four:

Album of the Year for Fearless

Best Country Album for Fearless

Best Country Song for White Horse

Best Female Country Vocal Performance for White Horse

The image of a young orator was adapted from one that once appeared in Harpers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning from two kinds of articles or books: recipes or mindless rules versus methods or ratios

In July 2011 Cam Barber in Melbourne blogged about how you should Get a method! Public speaking rules stop you thinking. Rules like open with a joke won’t work generally.

There are two kinds of articles or books we can use to learn about a subject. One is for beginners in search of a pinch of knowledge, and the other is for serious students in search of wisdom.

The more common kind are like most cookbooks. Those have a bunch of detailed recipes that we can mindlessly follow without really understanding what we are doing. There might be two recipes per page, or one with photos spread over four pages. If we have all the ingredients we can blindly follow their recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole. We can open a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, two 5 oz. cans of tuna, etc. and produce a mediocre dinner.  

The less common kind are at a higher level and are about methods or ratios. I’ve recently been reading one example - Tamar Adler’s 2011 cookbook An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. There are only 66 “recipes” in 250 pages (without pictures). The first chapter is on How to Boil Water. After 13 pages it has just one recipe - for (Italian) salsa verde. Another cookbook example is Michael Ruhlman’s 2010 Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.

My versions of Tuna Casserole are a method rather than a recipe. It can adapt to use whatever is in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. The oven preheats while the noodles and sauce get cooked. If I have fresh mushrooms, then they’ll go into a microwaved two-cup batch of white sauce made from milk, butter, and cornstarch. The white sauce gets cooked in an eight-cup glass measuring cup that then gets used to cook the vegetables (carrots, peas, red bell pepper) while the noodles are boiling in a pot of water on the stove. My baking dish also holds two quarts (eight cups), so that measuring cup finally gets used to mix in the right volume of noodles.  

I use a similar method to cook up my speeches, and so can you. 

The 1942 image of a woman with a cookbook and pot is from the Library of Congress

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Power of Storytelling in Medicine

“Regardless of one's profession, the better a storyteller you are, the greater your chances of succeeding by fully engaging and inspiring your listeners.” - John Maa

That quote came from a four page article by Dr. John Maa in the Summer 2012 issue of The Permanente Journal titled Solving the Emergency Care Crisis in America: The Power of the Law and Storytelling. He described how his 69 year-old mother died from inattention while being held in a hospital emergency department. Then he discussed what could be done to solve the emergency care crisis.

In that article he referred to another ten-page one from the 2010 Journal of Patient Safety titled Story Power: The Secret Weapon. You can download a pdf file using the link at the bottom of this web page. Both articles are excellent.

I was inspired to look up those articles after reading a review of Paul F. Griner’s book  The Power of Patient Stories: learning moments in medicine by Dr. Harriet Hall on the Science-Based Medicine blog. Harriet discusses several of Dr. Griner’s stories. I had a good laugh at one about looking without seeing (or listening without hearing):

“He asked a patient with fever and chills if his teeth chattered. The patient grinned and said, ‘Let’s look in the drawer and find out.’ His false teeth were in the drawer of the bedside table! Griner stresses the importance of good bedside skills of listening, observing, and examining; and deplores the increasing tendency of young doctors to pay more attention to test results than to patients. The great majority of diagnoses can be made on the basis of the patient’s history alone, and most of the rest are made on the physical examination. Tests should be used to confirm diagnoses, not to make them.”

An image of a physician taking a patient’s blood pressure came from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Something significant will happen on December 21st

However, it won’t be the end of the world. It just will be the winter solstice. NASA has a web page that answers several questions about that bizarre prediction and others.

Yesterday on his Bad Astronomy blog Phil Plait posted that if you are Worried about the end of the world on Dec. 21? Don’t be. He pointed out that although it will be the end of the 13th b’ak’tun on the Mayan calendar the Mayans didn’t say it would be doomsday:

“The Maya also had bigger units of time, including the piktun (which was either 13 or 20 b’ak’tun), and the alautun, which was—get this—63 million years! So it doesn’t sound like they were predicting the end of the world ever, let alone by this weekend.” 

Information is Beautiful has an infographic you can view or download that summarizes opinions from both believers and skeptics.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some thoughts on the Newtown, Connecticut massacre

I’ve been appalled by that massacre of twenty young children and six teachers last Friday at the Sandy Hook school. Last night on CSPAN I watched Governor Malloy and President Obama speak at the prayer vigil. You can read a transcript of the President’s speech. I thought he gave an adult response, in contrast with Mike Huckabee’s off-the-cuff remarks Friday. Yesterday Jay Heinrichs thoughtfully blogged that It’s not a tragedy.   

It was amazing to watch the broadcast and cable media do their saturation coverage just after that event, since it was located conveniently close to New York City.

Contrast that with media coverage of the Syrian Civil War, which has been going on for 21 months but is difficult to get near. Estimates are that at least 40,000 have been killed. Assuming 30 days per month, that’s 630 days, or a death toll averaging  at least 63 people per day. We can focus on a single horrible event, but the enormity of the toll from a continuing conflict escapes reporting.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Refuting Ken Balsely’s bogus claim that public speaking is everybody’s number one fear

Yesterday, over in Washington state, Ken Balsely blogged at Ken’s Corner & The Real News about how Public speaking is not an art.  He made some good points, that you should both know your material and your audience. Ken never got around to explicitly saying that public speaking is a craft. But, he included the totally bogus claim that it’s everyone’s number one fear:

“And yet, survey after survey, study after study has found that public speaking is the number one fear among all people. Fear of speaking in public outweighs a visit to the IRS, a trip to the dentist or a day at your mother-in-law. Everyone’s number one fear is speaking in public.”

That’s not real news, it’s real crap. The About page for his blog says:

“I have not allowed space for you to respond to the articles or to make your own comments. If you want to do that – - start your own web page.”

On October 23rd I blogged about how when you look at surveys of if more people fear or people fear more, you will find that Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not out greatest fear. A week later I blogged about another more people fear survey by Accountemps. So, for the first type, public speaking came in number one in only six of twenty surveys.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The joy of understanding: how ink works

Last week I blogged about Joy and wonder - the science behind mayonnaise and other things. Today I’ll discuss one of those things. Chapter 9 in Michel Mitov’s 2012 book Sensitive Matter tells about ink.

At its simplest, black Chinese or India ink is a suspension of small particles of soot (carbon black) in water. But that suspension is not stable for more than a few hours and a process called sedimentation occurs. The particles grow and fall to the bottom of the container.

Adding less than half a percent of gum arabic changes the behavior to produce a suspension stable for a year or more. Gum arabic contains long polymer molecules that coat the pigment particles. They act like little hairs, with one end attached to a particle surface and the other sticking into the liquid. Those particles look like little brushes. If too much gum is added, then those molecules get tangled up and form a thick gel rather than a liquid.     

Chapter 4 of the 1996 book Fragile Objects by Pierre-Gilles de Gennes and Jacques Badoz also discusses The Egyptian Scribe, Arabic Gum, and Chinese Ink. The book documents lectures that de Gennes gave to French high school students after winning the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physics. He  adds the detail that the long-chain polymer is polyhyaluronic acid. The mechanism by which it stabilzed the suspension was only explained in the mid 1980s. Dr. de Gennes adds that:

“I consider the story of Chinese ink a perfect example in more than one respect. It illustrates the properties of finely divided matter, which plays so prominent a role in our daily lives. Witness the products of the food industry (creams, margarine, mayonnaise), of the oil industry, of the cosmetic industry, and of many others. It also provides another example of the radical changes in physical properties which can be imparted by a seemingly weak action, in this case the addition of small quantities of polymers. This effect is the principal characteristic of what I have already called soft matter.

I also like the story of Chinese ink because it shows that even a product so trivial in appearance that we no longer accord it any attention has the power to amaze us by the marvelous quality of the invention which gave birth to it and by the subtlety of the physical phenomena which explain its behavior. We should be equally amazed by many of the industrial products which we use in our daily lives.”

The image from a Botticelli painting was on Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When a physics demonstration went awry

On December 2nd the Ginger Public Speaking blog had a post about When Props Attack! How to Use Visual Aids for Good, not Evil. It reminded me of a story my mother told about a parents night at Wightman Elementary School. Mrs. Strauchler, our science teacher, did a physics demonstration. She swung a half-full bucket of water quickly over her head to demonstrate that centrifugal force would keep the contents safely inside.

The Youtube video shown above with Paul Hewitt portrays how the demonstration is supposed to work. Unfortunately Mrs. Strauchler moved too close to the first row of desks. Her bucket struck the front edge of one, and immediately dumped a gallon of cold water on her startled audience. My mother had trouble telling us the story, because she kept laughing too hard.

The bucket image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In Brisbane a bloke’s biggest fear is running out of beer

In Idaho right now people already are skiing over at Sun Valley. As winter approaches, local TV news broadcasts here in Boise are including ski reports.

Meanwhile, down in the Southern hemisphere it’s almost summer. An article in the December 6th Brisbane Times proclaimed:

“It's usually spiders, heights and public speaking that rate highly as common worst nightmares, but as summer hits and the mercury hits the high 30s, Brisbane men have a new one: running out of beer.

According to shameless publicity by Great Northern Brewing Company, Brisbane men may fear running out of beer on a hot summer day worse than anything else.”

A bar chart based on that article about a survey shows the three biggest fears, which were running out of beer (33%), having no air conditioning (25%), and changing a flat tyre on the highway (23%). The article also suggested that Australian men should prepare for summer by putting an emergency beer map on the refrigerator, with a list of nearby bottle shops and pubs (and their opening and closing times). 

Another article in the next day’s Morning Bulletin mentioned two other fears: losing a marlin you reeled in and not having the television work for the Boxing Day Test. But, they didn’t cite any other percentages, or mention public speaking. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cyberathazagoraphobia - fear of forgetting your password?

On November 26th Doug Barney blogged at that:

“Forgetting a password is a fear that ranks right up with spiders, public speaking and meeting future in-laws. That's why so many choose such weak passwords -- weak passwords are easy to remember.”

How big of a problem are weak passwords? This year Kaspersky Labs had a worldwide survey done that included asking over 11,000 users what they had used as passwords. Their disconcerting results (from page 9 of the report) are shown above. (Click to see a larger, clearer version). 17% had used their birthday, 10% had used their phone number or their middle name, 9% had used their pet’s name, 8% had used “123456” or something similar, and 5% had just used “Password”. There were sizable regional differences in the percentages that used various weak passwords - 26% in Asia and the Pacific had used their birthday.

I didn’t find a specific Latin or Greek compound word for fear of forgetting your password. The Phobia List had cyberphobia for fear of computers, and athazagoraphobia for fear of being forgotten or ignored or forgetting. So, I put them together to create the very silly Cyberathazagoraphobia.  

Using a lazy default like “Password” isn’t new behavior. In an essay titled Safecracker Meets Safecracker his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, physicist Richard P. Feynman described meeting a locksmith at Los Alamos in 1945 who had just opened the safe in a captain’s office:

“....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.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Joy and wonder - the science behind mayonnaise and other things

I have been reading a curious book on soft matter by Michel Mitov that came out earlier this year called Sensitive Matter: foams, gels, liquid crystals, and other miracles. Dr. Mitov is Director of Research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. It is written for non-scientists, and thus uses words and graphics to elegantly make the complex simple. 

His seven-page first chapter discusses mayonnaise. It describes how the amphiphilic lecithin molecules in egg yolk act as mediators to create a stable emulsion from oil and water based ingredients. Those molecules have a head which likes water (but not oil) and two tails which like oil (but not water).

He illustrates a lecithin molecule with a simple schematic, rather than a more detailed chemical formula (which only would be understandable to chemists). 

In the sixth chapter he describes how other amphiphilic molecules are responsible for making a stable foam - the bubbles in champagne. Lecithin also shows up in the second chapter on digestion, where bile salts make cholesterol into an emulsion. On page 14 he shows us a ternary phase diagram for bile salts, lecithin, and cholesterol.

I was surprised to see that diagram, since I’m much more familiar with seeing ternary diagrams for three elements, like the one shown above that describes the colors for alloys of very expensive gold, less expensive silver, and inexpensive copper used to make jewelry. 

The mayonnaise jar and ternary diagram images both came from Wikimedia Commons. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A 1952 magazine article surveyed fear of public speaking in U.S. university students

Sixty years ago Floyd I. Greenleaf published An Exploratory Study of Speech Fright in the Quarterly Journal of Speech (Volume 38, 1952, pages 326 to 330). You can read the abstract here. The only survey about fear of public speaking that many people know about is one reported in the 1977 Book of Lists. Greenleaf’s results were published 25 years earlier! (His Masters thesis, An Exploratory Study of Social Speech Fright, was done back in 1947). Mr. Greenleaf surveyed 789 students at the University of Iowa (664 males and 125 females) that were enrolled in the Communication Skills course. He asked them to rate their degree of fright as None, Mild, Moderate, or Severe.

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (click on it to see a larger, clearer version. 11% reported none, 32% were mild, 47% were moderate, and 11% were severe.   

Another bar chart compares the percentages for men and women, which differ by five percent or less.

Rating scales later were used to compare many fears via fear survey schedules. Most articles about fear survey schedules don’t provide this detail of percentages at each level. Forty years after Greenleaf’s article, another one by Douglas M. Klieger did. He studied 508 males and 352 females, with fears being ranked on a scale from 0 to 4.

His results for fear of speaking in public are shown above. For females the mean was 2.04, and the standard deviation was 1.20. Although the mean was very close to 2, about 30% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, and about 20% ranked it at 3. For males the mean was 1.84, and the standard deviation also was 1.20. There is a large spread in the results, similar to what Greenleaf saw.  

Klieger’s results for fear of dead people are shown in another bar chart. For females the mean was 2.25, and the standard deviation was 1.28. Although the mean was close to 2, over 20% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, 3 or 4. For males the mean was 1.91, and the standard deviation was 1.22.  

The vintage image of Nathan Straus speaking came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Member of Scottish Parliament bought Public Speaking & Presentations for Dummies book on her expense account

The Sun had an article about how new Labour MSP Anne McTaggart spent £141 ($226)  on books - including a £10 ($16) yellow and black one with the notorious word Dummies in its title. Scots are notoriously frugal, and Bill Leckie ranted:

“Don’t know about you. But the thought crosses my mind that someone who goes for a job paying £57,521 per year and which is all about communicating ideas in a way that sways the opinions of others might already be half-decent at speaking in public.”

Ms. McTaggart retorted that that book was bought for training some of her staff. Still, that loaded word made for a very interesting headline, and a caused her a lot of unwanted notoriety for a small expenditure.