Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What is our government sweeping under the rug? Paranoia in the 2017 Chapman Survey of American Fears

In the 2017 Chapman Survey of American Fears the most common fear was Corrupt Federal Government Officials. This year’s survey also included eight questions about the government hiding things.

The general question was: “The government is concealing what it knows about...” and eight specific questions were about:

Alien encounters (q28a)

The 9/11 attacks (q28b)

The South Dakota crash (q28c)

Global warming (q28d)

The JFK assassination (q28e)

The moon landing (q28f)

Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials (q28g)

The Illuminati/New World Order (q28h)

For each question people were asked how they felt about that event. That is, whether they:

Strongly Disagree



Strongly Agree

There also was a Blank category of Refused for those who did not reply to a question. Results for the sum of Agree and Strongly Agree were:

56.1% Global warming

55.7% The JFK assassination

55.0% Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials

46.7% The 9/11 attacks

39.9% Alien encounters

39.0% The Illuminati/New World Order

27.7% The South Dakota crash

25.2% The moon landing

In the 2016 survey the very similar general question was: “The government is concealing what they know about...” and ten specific questions were about:

Alien encounters Q32_1

The 9/11 attacks Q32_2

The North Dakota crash Q32_3

Obama’s birth certificate Q32_4

Global warming Q32_5

The JFK assassination Q32_6

The moon landing Q32_7

The death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia Q32_8

The origins of the AIDS virus Q32_9

Plans for a one world government Q32_10

I blogged about it on October 15, 2016 in a post titled What is the government concealing from us? Paranoia in the 2016 Chapman Survey of American Fears.
Results for the sum of Agree and Strongly Agree were:

52.4% The 9/11 attacks Q32_2

47.9% The JFK assassination Q32_6

40.8 Alien encounters Q32_1

40.3% Global warming Q32_5

31.5% Plans for a one world government Q32_10

30.6% The North Dakota crash Q32_3

28.9% Obama’s birth certificate Q32_4

28.8% The origins of the AIDS virus Q32_9

26.7% The death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia Q32_8

23.2% The moon landing Q32_7

From 2016 to 2017 the sum for global warming went up by 15.8%, and that for the JFK assassination by 7.8%. But the sum for the 9/11 attacks went down by 5.7%. The South and North Dakota crashes were meant to be made-up events, but their vague descriptions didn’t work and about 3 of 10 folks thought they referred to real events.

Very curiously Chapman University also swept the results for their 2017 survey under the rug. The Acrobat .pdf file linked to under Methodology Report shrank from 99 pages to 31 pages. The bottom line on the second page which said that Weighted Data Frequencies would be found on page 31 was erased.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Is a large audience one where the speaker needs a microphone? Is a small audience one where everyone can see a flipchart?

Our terminology is vague, and assumes people magically know what our dichotomy means. Is a small audience where everyone can see a flipchart? Is a large audience where the speaker needs a microphone?

On November 8, 2017 at Ethos3 there was an article by Stephanie Fulton titled Public Speaking Tips for Speaking to a Large or Small Audience. She referred to a September 28, 2017 article by Anett Grant in The Business Journals titled 3 differences between speaking to large groups and small groups. Anett discussed Movement, Concentration Level, and Style. Under Style she said:

You may think that the larger your audience is, the ‘bigger’ your style needs to be — that you need to be larger than life to grab the attention of a big crowd. In reality, the opposite is true. If you’re speaking to a large group, your style should be more personal — especially if you’re being projected onto a screen. The audience doesn’t need to be drawn to you because the camera is already giving them a close-up.

The ‘especially’ is confusing. Back on June 16, 2010 I had blogged about how Gesture size usually should match audience size, and showed the above graphic to illustrate how projected live video changed things. On October 19, 2016 Anett had a longer, clearer Fast Company article titled 5 Speaking Habits You Need To Adjust Depending On The Size Of Your Audience.

Another dichotomy is via room sizes, like boardrooms and ballrooms. In his The Extreme Presentation Method blog back on January 16, 2008 Andrew Abela posted about Ballroom vs. Conference Room Style Presentations.

How many people can be in an audience before you need a microphone? In his 2001 book 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking on page 63 Lenny Laskowski says that:

“…speaking to a group of more than fifty people requires a microphone and a good sound system.”

Others divide audiences into more than two groups. In an article titled Size Up Your Audience by Cliff Suttle on pages 18 to 20 of the December 2007 Toastmaster magazine he used four –

“Here’s the basic breakdown:

Talking to 10 people or fewer is a conversation.

Getting up in front of 20 people is a speech.

If there are 40 people in the audience, it’s a performance.

100 people or more is a show.”

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall used four distances to discuss different types of spaces (Proxemics), as shown above. Can we relate audience size to distance?

As shown above, we can assume that (for dense, theater seating in a square room) a person requires a 3 by 3 foot square, so the distance will be the square root of 9 times the audience size. I first discussed this in a December 7, 2008 blog post titled Audience size determines working distance and thus presentation style.

When we look at audience sizes defined by different powers of two, we can make a table relating audience size, distance, and venue name, as shown above. 21 types will cover the range of audiences from one to about a million. I first discussed this in a December 6, 2008 blog post titled Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience. Hall’s four types of spaces fit neatly into the table. Many other audience sizes don’t have venue names though.

Real venues usually are not square, may have stages, and they will offer event planners a variety of seating options. A speaker needs to check on how his room will be set up. For example, at the Riverside Hotel here in Boise the 76’ x 120’ Grand Ballroom could be set up with Theater seats for 1000, Round tables for 600, or as a Classroom for 500. The 27’ x 15’ Garnet meeting room could be set up with Theater seats for 40 or Conference seats for 20.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The joy of listening to podcasts

Audio podcasts are one way of getting information about a topic like public speaking. They can fit into your day when you are spending a half hour walking or doing other exercises. Recently I have been listening to AlejAndro Anastasio’s One Hand Speaks podcast. His latest  (27th) one is on Talking TED Talk with an X. In it he discusses both speaking and coaching. This year AlejAndro is Vice President - Membership for St. Al’s Toastmasters Club here in Boise. (I’m Vice President – Public Relations). His previous podcast talked about going to the semifinals of the 2014 Toastmasters World Championship in Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia.
There are other podcasts about public speaking, like the Toastmasters Podcast, Lisa B. Marshall’s The Public Speaker Quick and Dirty Tips, and Fred E. Miller’s No Sweat Public Speaking! Podcast.

I sometimes listen to podcasts from a couple of radio shows - ON BEING with Krista Tippett, and BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music.

Eight years ago I got an iMac to replace my vintage PC (rather than accept having to use Windows 7). Then I got a little iPod Nano that painlessly synced with iTunes on the iMac. My 2012 Honda Fit has a jack inside the glove box for plugging the iPod into the radio, so it’s easy for me to take my music and podcasts along in the car.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Make your PowerPoint charts effective rather than pretty

On October 29 at the Ellen Finkelstein PowerPoint Blog there was a guest post by Yousef Abu Ghaidah titled A simple 4-step guide to beautifully visualize data in your presentations.

His four steps are:

1]  Tell the right story

2]  Add less, not more

3]  Add flair that is relevant

4]  Add creative details

His example began with a table listing the fifty most followed users on Twitter in 2017. Then he showed 28 of them in an abominable pie chart.

For the first step he showed a column chart with all fifty captioned HOW POPULAR IS KATY PERRY ON TWITTER?

For the second step he limited the chart to the top seven. Inside each column he listed the number of followers via a silly vertical label (e.g. 106 M FOLLOWERS for Katy Perry). At the bottom of each column he put a two-line label with the name and hashtag, like Katy Perry, @katyperry.

For the third step he changed the background color, moved the title to the left of the column chart, and spread it over four lines.

Finally, for the fourth step he sensibly switched the layout to a horizontal bar chart, added a small circular image for each person, and put a ladder between Justin Bieber (103 M) and Katy Perry (106M) and a caption to the right noting ONLY 3M FOLLOWERS BEHIND. Here’s his ‘finished’ chart:

It’s pretty, but it’s still not very effective. What needs fixing? The name labels identifying those top seven users are too small to read, and we don’t need to see their hashtags too. Make them bigger, and we won’t need to identify them by their pictures. Make the data number labels bigger too. Also, we don’t need to see the word FOLLOWERS repeated inside all seven columns. A single axis label would work better. Finally, taking up a third of the image width with a four-line title to the left of the chart is pretty silly. Why not make it one line at the top? Here’s my simpler version:

What do you think? And if I was picking what to include, I’d probably have shown the top five users rather than seven.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

‘Active’ stylus means it needs a battery

When your car won’t start the first thing you think about is if the battery is dead. But when the stylus on your tablet computer won’t work, opaque jargon means you might not realize there even is a battery inside.

At Computerworld on November 1, 2017 there was a Shark Tank article titled The question isn’t WHETHER to replace – it’s WHAT. It described what happened to the local tech guy at a satellite office of his state's environmental agency. Last year they got new HP tablet computers to replace their Microsoft Surface Pro 2s. A few months later a user was complaining about the stylus not working on his tablet.

The tech guy tried it, and found the little AAAA battery inside was run down. He bought a pack with a couple replacement batteries and put one in. Problem solved. But:

“ ‘Thanks,’ user says. Then he drops a bombshell: ‘Gee, the other IT guys said they were throwing away the styluses that stopped working, and getting new ones.’ "

A new HP Active Stylus costs about $60, while a battery costs about $2. If you look up support topics, you will find an article titled HP PCs Touch Screen Stylus Pen is Inaccurate or Stops Working which describes two types of styluses or pens:   

“Active stylus – requires power source (usually batteries)

Passive stylus – Does not require power”

The local tech guy emailed the agency’s help desk with a reminder about the two different types.

Perhaps those active styluses should be labeled with a generic Battery Inside sticker, like the Intel Inside trademark campaign which began a couple decades ago. Or they could team up with a manufacturer and, as shown above, put Duracell Inside.

The image of batteries was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.   

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Ten years of experience, or one year’s experience ten times?

The question shown above, about whether most of your experience really counts, appeared in a Refuse 2 Be Boring blog post by Joseph Popovich on October 21, 2017 titled When 10 x 1 = 1. How do you rate experience? I remember my father saying something similar when he was recruiting engineers back when I was in high school, five decades ago.

When I searched on Google to see where it came from, I found an excellent quotation by Steve McConnell on page 832 of his 2004 book, Code Complete: 

“The bottom line on experience is this: if you work for 10 years, do you get 10 years of experience or do you get 1 year of experience 10 times? You have to reflect on your activities to get true experience. If you make learning a continuous commitment, you’ll get experience. If you don’t, you won’t, no matter how many years you have under your belt.”

But it goes back much further. I found another version by W. F. McMullen in an article titled Engineering Education - Have We a Problem? which appeared in the January 1962 of the Engineering Journal (from Canada) on page 54:

“It is the obligation of industry to provide the climate for growth, and where necessary, the tools. Experience alone is not necessarily the best teacher; it is the slowest and very likely the most expensive. Ten years of experience is not too valuable if it is one year of experience repeated 10 times.” 

What matters is to not be just coasting, running on cruise-control, or going through the motions. I remember an example from over two decades ago, where our just doing a “same as last time” failed misearably.  

We had gotten the water inlet hose from a washing machine to analyze for cause of failure. The insurance company who sent it in had paid the loss, and now wanted to pass the bill on to the manufacturer – a process called subrogation. There was no manufacturer identification on the outside of the hose, but the insured had given the claims adjuster a purchase receipt that was supposed to identify them. 

Then the hose manufacturer sent an engineer to visit us and inspect the failed hose. He told me to cut off a three-inch length from the other end of the hose, split it longitudinally, and then make a cut parallel to the surface and peel back the outer cover from the inner tube to reveal the braided reinforcement yarns inside. There also was a colored maker yarn inside. He said, that’s not MY COLOR, so THIS is not MY problem. See you later.

Oops! We hadn’t known about those marker yarns. Now we had to research them to find who really had made that hose. The story behind them was that the Society of Automotive Engineers (later SAE International) had a standard called SAE J1401 for hydraulic brake hose assemblies which had an appendix that listed a set of marker yarn color identification codes (one to three colors) they assigned to different manufacturers. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) decided that was a great idea for all kinds of hoses. They mentioned it in their Hose Handbook, and they created a broader standard coordinated with SAE. Other products like wire rope also may contain identification.

The painting of an unidentified man came from Wikimedia Commons, and the painting of acute dementia came from the U. S. National Library of Medicine.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A humorous story about ‘healing’ a laptop computer with a dim screen


Sometimes having faith in an employee can heal dimly understood technology. At Computerworld there was a Shark Tank article on October 16, 2017 titled Hey, a little showmanship never hurt anyone! It described someone who was asked by an executive in a nearby office what was wrong with her new laptop computer.

The monitor brightness adjustment was a thumbwheel (like the tuning control shown above on a radio) on the frame around the screen, and she accidentally bumped it to dim.

The employee put a hand on each side of the frame, and slid them both down while commanding the computer to Heal! Of course, it was healed to normal brightness.

A long time ago one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons was titled Appliance Healers. That healer  said:
“I command the foul demons that have clogged this vacuum cleaner to come OUT!”

The faith healer was adapted from an 1896 carton at the Library of Congress, while the image of a transistor radio came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A scary web article based on a couple of press releases

On October 27, 2017, at the Inc. web site, there was a scarily superficial article by Eric Mack titled Forget dying and public speaking: here’s the 47 things Americans fear more in 2017. First, the title is wrong - he ends by listing what more people fear and not what they fear more. In my October 29, 2017 blog post titled What do Americans fear most? Fear Scores from the 2017 Chapman Survey of American Fears I show what people fear more. Superficial journalism based on reading press releases is scary. There were press releases issued in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. There also were blog posts in 2015, 2016, and 2017 all titled America’s Top Fears (year). Those fears were ranked based on the sum of percentages for Very Afraid and Afraid. Detailed results for 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 are in a set of .pdf files you can download.     

Eric’s first three paragraphs say:

“You've probably heard over the years that public speaking tops the list of things people fear most, freaking us out more than even the inescapable existential problem of death. But fear in America has grown and shifted dramatically over the last year or two, leaving death and public speaking buried beneath a long list of more pressing things to stress about. 

When Chapman University first conducted its ‘Survey on American Fears’ in 2014, ‘walking alone at night’ topped the list, followed by ‘becoming the victim of identity theft,’ ‘safety on the internet,’ ‘being the victim of a mass/random shooting’ and that familiar fear of public speaking rounded out the top five.

Earlier this month Chapman released the fourth annual edition of its fears survey and ‘walking alone at night’ has dropped all the way to be ranked number 56 on a list of 80 total fears that a sample of over 1,200 Americans were asked about. Public speaking ranks as fear number 52, while random mass shootings are at 35, safety on the internet didn't make this year's survey and fear of identity theft is ranked 14.”

When you actually look at the questions from the detailed results of that 2014 survey, you find a rather different picture than what Mr. Mack described in his second paragraph. Two questions were not on how afraid you are but how safe you feel, so they had answers on a scale running the opposite way from three others.

A question on page 18 under the heading for Safety asked:
“(Walking alone at night?) How safe do you feel:”
with possible answers of Not at All Safe, Somewhat Safe, Safe, Very Safe.

A question on page 53 under the heading for Fear of Criminal Victimization asked:
“How afraid are you of being victimized in the following ways? (Identity theft/Credit card fraud).”

Another question on page 18 under the heading for Safety asked:
“(On the Internet) How safe do you feel:”
again with possible answers of Not at All Safe, Somewhat Safe, Safe, Very Safe.

A question on page 55 under the heading for Fear of Criminal Victimization asked:
“(Being the victim of a random/mass shooting) How afraid are you of being victimized in the following ways?”

A question on page 66 under the heading for Phobias asked:
“[Public speaking] How afraid are you of the following?”

The press release for 2015 contained this warning about the 2014 rankings, which Eric apparently missed:

The researchers continue to improve the survey as its results and continuing interviews provide more information about fear, as well as how best to collect fear-based information. The second wave of the survey modified question wording such that all questions about fear use the same response categories: ‘Very afraid,’ ‘Afraid,’ ‘Slightly afraid,’ and ‘Not afraid.’ Consequently a comparison of fears between 2014 and 2015 should not be conducted without consultation with the researchers, who can explain the proper method for conducting comparisons across waves."

Presumably the proper method is to use a lot of hand waving and weasel words. Let’s take a look at the answers - detailed results for those questions across all four surveys. In the following comparison tables I’ve included both the sum for Very Afraid and Afraid, and the grand sum for Very Afraid, Afraid, and Slightly (or for 2014 Somewhat) Afraid. (Click on each table to see a larger, clearer view).

First, as shown above, for fear of Walking Alone at Night the percentages were (56.0), 16.0, 20,8, and 20,2. As soon as the question changed from safe to afraid the percentage plummeted.

Second, as shown above, 2014 was the only year with a combination for fear of Identity Theft/Credit Card Theft – which likely explains getting a higher percentage. For Identity Theft the percentages are [49.7], 38.4, 34.8, 41.7. For Credit Card Theft the percentages are [49.7], 35.7, 36.4, 42.5.

Third, as shown above, the 2014 question How Safe Do You Feel on the Internet (53.1) was replaced by Cyber-Terrorism 43.1, 30,0, 47.8.

Fourth, for Random/Mass Shooting the percentages are 24.7, 15.9, 26.4,30.8.

Fifth, as shown above, for Public Speaking the percentages are 25.3, 27.5, 25.5, 23.3. The mean is 25.4%, so the deviations from it are relatively small: -0.1% for 2014, 2.1% for 2015, 0.1% for 2016, and -2.1% for 2017.

Finally, for Corrupt Government Officials in 2014 the question was being Worried About (64.3%) rather than a fear by 56.1% in 2015, 58.9% in 2016, and 73.8% in 2017.    

The takeaway from this blog post is that to see what actually is going on, you need to look at the actual data not just press releases.

The image came from the collection of Images from the History of Medicine.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What do Americans fear most? Fear Scores from the 2017 Chapman Survey of American Fears

In the 2017 Chapman Survey on American Fears 1,207 adults were asked 81 questions that began with:

“How afraid are you of the following?”

They were asked to choose from one of four answers (fear levels):

1] Not Afraid

2] Slightly Afraid

3] Afraid

4] Very Afraid

(There also was a Blank category for the less than 1% who didn’t answer a question).

In the Chapman blog post about the survey on October 11 titled America’s Top Fears 2017 there was a Complete List of Fears ranked by the sum of the percentages for Afraid and Very Afraid (and also shown alphabetically). The most common fear was Corrupt (federal) government officials (74.5%). But the press release on that same day was incorrectly titled What Do Americans Fear Most? It instead should have said What Do the Most Americans Fear? Sadly many others have copied that incorrect description.  

In my previous post on October 26, 2017 titled How can you make a public speaking coach run away like a scared zebra? Just tell them where fear of public speaking ranked in the fourth Chapman Survey on American Fears I showed a series of six bar charts ranking the percentages.


Where was that fear score for Corrupt government officials? Was it way up near 4.0, and enough to make us Scream like that man in the famous painting by Edward Munch? A fear score can be calculated from the answers for each question in the Survey Methodology Report. The formula simply is a weighted average of the proportions:

Fear Score = [ 1x(% for Not Afraid) +  2x(% for Slightly Afraid)
 + 3x(% for Afraid) + 4x(% for Very Afraid)]/100  

I discussed Fear Scores in an October 30, 2015 blog post titled According to the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears, adults are less than Afraid of federal Government Corruption and only Slightly Afraid of Public Speaking. All the Fear Scores are shown above in a horizontal bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view).

For 2017 the Fear Score for Corrupt government officials was 3.118, or somewhat above Afraid (3.0) In 2016 it was 2.678.

For Public speaking the Fear Score is 1.909, or not even Slightly Afraid The very lowest Fear Score for Your significant other cheating on you was only 1.048.  

Those fear scores cover a range of 2.07 out of a possible 3.0, or 69% - not much over 2/3 the total. Things still could get even worse. Stay tuned for next year. 


How do rankings based on Fear Score and the Sum of percentages for [Very Afraid + Afraid] from my previous post compare? As shown above in a table, sometimes they are very similar – within one or two places. But other times, like for Global warming and climate change (17 vs. 10) and Extinction of plant and animal species (18 vs. 11) they differ by seven.