Monday, October 23, 2017

Stories about troubleshooting in the Tales from the Cube blog at EDN Network

Before I retired I did failure analysis – figuring out why things busted or rusted. I just looked through the Tales from the Cube blog at EDN Network and found a bunch of interesting stories. But many of them have enough engineering jargon that they are difficult for an outsider to understand without looking at Wikipedia or elsewhere. (EDN stands for Electrical Design News, a publication that began back in 1956).

One of my favorites is Orin Laney’s February 5, 2015 story about Fixing a mainframe with a lunch bag. Back when he was just eighteen he had a summer job on the overnight “graveyard shift” as a supplemental customer engineer at an IBM computer center. One of their mainframe computers, a System/360 Model 50 would not turn on properly. Mr. Laney read the manuals on the power supply circuits and started checking the control relays.

As shown above, a relay just is an electromechanical switch. Applying a current to the coil (1) attracts the armature (2) and switches the moving contact (3) between fixed contacts. The fourth or fifth one was faulty – the blackened, dirty contacts moved, but no power came from the fixed ones. He knew that the contacts needed to be cleaned, but didn’t have a burnishing tool for rubbing them off. (That’s a very mild version of a file, as shown in Figure 7 of this article on Hard to find maintenance tips for electromechanical relays). But in the customer engineering room he found a discarded brown paper lunch bag. He tore off some strips, put them between the dirty contacts on the offending relay, applied power to close them, and repeatedly pulled them through until the contacts were clean enough to conduct electricity again. That improvised repair is an example of jugaad, a Hindi word that means:

to make existing things work, or to create new things with meager resources  
A couple other stories involve external alternating currents getting in due to insufficient shielding. One is Paul Mathews’s May 31, 2012 story Day at the races, where the current came from a radio station located a mile away. A second is John Loughmiller’s January 21, 2010 story Brown’s buzzer busts business at a broadcast studio where both the remote start control for a videotape recorder and power for a doorbell buzzer connected to a button on their loading dock wall used unshielded twisted-pair cables sitting in the same cable tray. When the United Parcel Service driver rang to deliver his packages, the recorder malfunctioned.

Stanley Pitman’s June 1, 2017 story titled False alarm involved an unexpectedly large signal to a radiation detector for a mill’s incoming train track spur located about 100 feet from the main line. It turned out that false alarms occurred every time a carload of bananas came down the main line. Bananas contain a small amount of naturally radioactive potassium, and there even is a Wikipedia page titled Banana equivalent dose. To shield that detector they had to put up a concrete block wall between the main line and their spur.  
Another unusual mishap is Douglas Forst’s August 25, 2011 story Going against the grain dust, where an unintentionally insulated replacement return roller on a conveyor belt became a Van de Graaff generator for high-voltage static electricity, creating half-inch long arcs.

Sometimes the wrong materials or processes accidentally get used during manufacture. In David R. Bryce’s March 17, 2011 story titled Acid test, the wrong type of room-temperature-vulcanizing (RTV) silicone was used to seal the ends of ultraviolet lighting tubes. The page on Wikipedia about RTV silicone mentions that some types release acetic acid during the curing process. That’s fine if you are caulking around your bathtub, and just get a temporary smell of vinegar. Sealing acid vapors inside an enclosure can corrode copper wires, lead solder, etc. (Two decades ago I ran into this problem in a load cell used for weighing trucks).

Images of an IBM System/360 Model 50 computer and a schematic relay came from Wikimedia Commons. The image of bananas came from the National Cancer Institute.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

F Minus cartoons about public speaking, listening, debates, and open body language

I enjoy reading Tony Carrillo’s single-panel F Minus cartoons. Today’s was about how someone got started:

“When I gave my first lecture on personal responsibility through the closed door of my teenager’s bedroom, I never imagined it would become a national tour.”

 On October 17th his subject was hearing versus listening, on October 13th it was biting in a debate, and on October 11th it was overly open body language.  

On September 26th it was about a prom date ready to make a dramatic entrance.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ask your speech audience to write their questions down on note cards

The Toastmasters International guide for trainers, TRAINING BASICS Getting it right, Making it Work, discusses dealing with difficult participants including The Silent Type, The Talker, and The Interrupter.

 At the Faculty Focus website there was an excellent article by Professor Meriah L. Crawford on October 13, 2017 titled A Simple Trick for Getting Students to Ask Questions in Class. She described getting a magic increase in feedback from passing out note cards and asking students to just write down their questions. If there are multiple questions, you can shuffle the cards to keep the responders anonymous. When there are multiple questions on the same topic, you can combine them. Written questions can draw out The Silent Type.     

This strategy also will work for speeches. Getting the questions in writing will help them be more organized, and shut down The Interrupter (a long-winded audience member who just wants to hear themselves talk). 

Professor Crawford also suggested that for large audiences you could ask for questions online (perhaps at Twitter).

The image of note cards came from openclipart.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What do the most Americans fear? The fourth Chapman Survey on American Fears, and being innumerate

It is almost Halloween, and thus time for folks to scare us with surveys about fears. On October 11th Chapman University released results from their fourth Chapman Survey on American Fears with a press release mistitled What do Americans fear most? and a blog post titled America’s Top Fears 2017. Their overall web page provided a link to an Acrobat .pdf file with details for the survey methodology and results.  

A commercial polling firm, SSRS, surveyed 1207 American adults from June 28 to July 7, 2017. In their main survey each was asked around eighty questions with the general form:

“How afraid are you of the following…:”

and replies of

“Blank (skipped answering this question)

Very Afraid


Slightly Afraid

Not Afraid”

Data processed by the university for the blog post apparently was blank corrected (rescaled) to correct their results in percent by multiplying by a factor of (100/(100 – Blank percent). The list of fears in the blog post reportedly was ranked by the sum of the percentages for Very Afraid and Afraid. So they actually reported what most Americans fear and NOT what Americans fear most. (You actually can calculate the latter as a Fear Score, as I have previously blogged about back in 2015).    

When I compared the list of fears in the blog post with percentage results in the .pdf file, I found lots of discrepancies larger than what could be explained as rounding errors. Fifteen of them were for items where there is no blank correction, so they must just be incorrect sums. Others had more complicated problems. The worst discrepancy was for Cyber-terrorism which was listed as 39.1% and ranked nineteenth but really was 47.9% and should have been ranked ninth. So, not even their Top Ten list was correct! The word to describe this sort of nonsense is innumerate, which the Oxford Dictionaries defines as:

“without a basic knowledge of mathematics and arithmetic”

There actually also were 81 fears rather than the 80 shown in the blog post, and that 81st fittingly was that of Being fooled by ‘fake’ news.

Here is my corrected ranked listing of all the fears, with the Chapman rankings shown second in curved brackets {} and the page number, question number, [blank corrected sum], (sum), and sum reported in the Chapman blog post :

1. {1} Corrupt Government Officials p79 q29c [74.1%] (73.8%) 74.5%
2. {2} American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare p79 q29e [55.7%] (55.4%) 55.3%
3. {3} Pollution of Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes p52 q13c [54.0%] (54.0%) 53.1%
4. {4} Pollution of Drinking Water p52 q13b [52.6%] (52.5%) 50.4%
5. {5} Not having enough money for the future p53 q14a [51.4%] (51.3%) 50.2%
6. {6} High Medical Bills p53 q14c [49.2%] (49.2%) 48.4%
7. {7} The US will be involved in another World War p62 q22n [48.6%] (48.3%) 48.4%
8. {9} North Korea using nuclear weapons p63 q22s [48.3%] (48.3%) 47.5%
9. {19} Cyber-Terrorism p58 q21c [47.9%] (47.8%) 39.1%
10. {8} Global Warming & Climate Change p53 q13f [46.8%] (46.7%) 48.0%
11. {12} Extinction of plant and animal species p52 q13d [45.9%] (45.9%) 43.5%
12. {10} Air Pollution p51 q13a [45.3%] (45.3%) 44.9%
13. {15} Biological Warfare p63 q22q [45.3%] (45.3%) 41.8%
14. {11} Economic/Financial Collapse p61 q22k [44.7%] (44.5%) 44.4%
15. {14} Identity Theft p72 q25o [44.6%] (44.5%) 41.9%       
16. {13} Terrorist Attack p63 q22r [44.1%] (44.0%) 43.3%
17. {17} People I love dying p51 q12d [42.1%] (42.1%) 39.7%
18. {16} Credit Card Fraud p72 q25p [41.9%] (41.7%) 40.3%
19. {18} People I love becoming seriously ill p51 q12b [41.4%] (41.4%) 39.1%
20. {21} Nuclear Weapons attack p61 q22i [41.3%] (41.3%) 39.0%
21. {20} Widespread civil unrest p62 q22m [41.1%] (40.9%) 39.1%
22. {23} Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition p79 q29d [40.9%] (40.7%) 38.6%
23. {22} Terrorism p73 q25r [40.2%] (40.0%) 38.8%
24. {26} Oil spills p52 q13e [39.0%] (39.0%) 36.2%
25. {24} Government tracking of personal data p59 q21e [38.2%] (38.0%) 37.4%
26. {28} Being hit by a drunk driver p69 q25e [37.8%] 37.8%) 35.5%
27. {27} The collapse of the electrical grid p61 q22h [37.4%] (37.3%) 35.7%
28. {25} Corporate tracking of personal data p58 q21d [36.6%] (36.5%) 36.7%
29. {30} Pandemic or a major epidemic p62 q22l [35.9%] (35.8%) 32.8%
30. {29} The Affordable Care Act/Obamacare p78 q29b [35.4%] (35.3%) 33.9%
31. {32} Nuclear accident/meltdown p61 q22j [32.6%] (32.5%) 30.3%
32. {31} Being unemployed p53 q14b [31.9%] (31.9%) 30.7%
33. {35} Random/mass shooting p71 q25j [30.8%] (30.8%) 28.1%
34. {36} Government use of drones within the US p78 q29a [30.6%] (30.5%) 27.2%
35. {34} Heights p66 q23l [30.0%] (29.9%) 28.2%
36. {33} Losing my data, photos, or other important documents in a disaster 
  p54 q14d [29.0%] (29.0%) 29.0%
37. {38} Break-ins p71 q25k [28.4%] (28.3%) 26.2%
38. {40} Theft of property p71 q25l [28.4%] (28.4%) 25.4%
39. {42} Computers replacing people in the workforce p58 q21a [28.0%] (27.9%) 25.3%
40. {37} Devastating drought p60 q22f [27.9%] (27.8%) 26.6%
41. {43} Devastating tornado p58 q22c [27.6%] (27.6%) 24.3%
42. {39} Becoming seriously ill p50 q12a [26.9%] (26.8%) 25.7%
43. {41} Sharks p65 q23f [26.1%] (26.0%) 25.4%
44. {45} Devastating earthquake p59 q22a [24.8%] (24.8%) 22.6%
45. {47} Racial/hate crime p70 q25i [24.6%] (24.6%) 20.9%
46. {57} Gang violence p71 q25m [24.0%] (24.0%) 19.4%
47. {44} Reptiles (snakes, lizards, etc.) p64 q23d [23.9%] (23.9%) 23.6%
48. {51} Financial fraud p72 q25q [23.4%] (23.4%) 20.0%
49. {46} Devastating hurricane p59 q22b [23.3%] (23.3%) 21.4%
50. {59} Police brutality p70 q25f [23.3%] (23.3%) 18.4%
51. {52} Public speaking p67 q23m [23.3%] (23.3%) 20.0%
52. {50} Insects/arachnids p64 q23c [23.2%] (23.2%) 20.3%
53. {53} Devastating flood p60 q22d [23.0%] (23.0%) 19.8%
54. {60} Murder by a stranger p69 q25c [22.1%] (22.1%) 18.3%
55. {54} Mugging p68 q25a [22.0%] (21.9%) 19.5%
56. {58} Sexual assault by a stranger p70 q25g [21.9%] (21.8%) 19.0%
57. {48} Dying p51 q12c [21.6%] (21.6%) 20.3%
58. {49} Illegal immigration p63 q22p [21.1%] (21.1%) 20.3%
59. {55} Small enclosed spaces p67 q23n [20.9%] (20.9%) 19.8%
60. {56} Walking alone at night p57 q20b [20.2%] (20,2%) 19.8%
61. {61} Deep lakes and oceans p66 q23i [20.1%] (20.1%) 18.2%
62. {62} Abduction/kidnapping p72 q25n [18.9%] (18.9%) 15.5%
63. {65} Stalking p69 q25b [17.8%] (17.7%) 14.1%
64. {63} Devastating blizzard/winter storm p60 q22e [17.6%] (17.6%) 15.2%
65. {--}Being fooled by ‘fake’ news p57 q20d  [16.4%] (16.4%) ---
66. {66} Sexual assault by someone you know p70 q25h [15.6%] (15.6%) 12.4%
67. {67} Murder by someone you know p69 q25d [14.9%] (14.9%) 11.6%
68. {64} Technology I don’t understand p58 q21b [14.8%] (14.8%) 14.9%
69. {70} Large volcanic eruption p60 q22g [14.2%] (14.2%) 10.6%
70. {72} Flying p66 q23j [12.7%] (12.7%) 9.5%
71. {68} Germs p65 q23h [12.7%] (12.7%) 11.5%
72. {71} Needles p62 q23b [12.5%] (12.5%) 10.4%
73. {69} Whites no longer being the majority in the US p62 q22o [10.8%] (10.8%) 10.7%
74. {73} Strangers p67 q23p [9.8%] (9.8%) 8.4%
75. {75} Significant other cheating on you p57 q20a [9.2%] (9.2%) 7.5%
76. {76} Clowns p65 q23g [8.0%] (7.7%) 6.7%
77. {74} Others talking about you behind your back p57 q20c [7.2%] (7.2%) 7.5%
78. {78} Zombies p67 q23o [6.7%] (6.7%) 5.3%
79. {77} Blood p65 q23a [6.4%] (6.4%) 5.5%
80. {79} Ghosts p66 q23k [5.6%] (5.6%) 4.3%
81. {80}Animals (dogs, rats, etc.) p65 q23e [4.1%] (4.1%) 3.7%

Note that fear of public speaking came in around fiftieth, far from the silly usual claims that it is the number one or greatest fear. You won’t be hearing many speaking coaches quote that result for marketing purposes!

The image was adapted from this one at openclipart.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s October 4th Conservative Party conference speech became a media train wreck

On October 4th, in Manchester, Theresa May spoke for about an hour. She had a coughing fit, drank lots of water, and was handed a throat lozenge by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. Then she joked I hope you’ll notice the chancellor giving away something for free. Her coughing might have happened to anyone. But other things also went wrong, and were gleefully reported by media.

Frank Langfitt at NPR reported Britain’s Theresa May had to give a major speech. It didn’t go well. James Masters at CNN reported Theresa May’s nightmare speech: a prankster, a lost voice and a stage-set fail. Stephen Castle at the New York Times reported Theresa May, coughing and caught by a prankster, endures a speech to forget.

About halfway through her speech comedian and serial gate-crasher Simon Brodkin strode up to the lectern and handed her a phony P45 form (shown in the New York Times article). That’s the equivalent of a pink slip. The space for gender had been expanded, and listed MALE, FEMALE, and ROBOT - which was checked. (Last year John Crace at the Gurdian had christened her the Maybot). Under Reason for Termination it listed NEITHER STRONG NOR STABLE, and WE’RE A BIT WORRIED ABOUT JEZZA (slang for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn). When she recovered from the security lapse, Theresa joked that she’d like to give Jeremy a P45.

Both the lectern and backdrop behind her had the slogan BUILDING A COUNTRY THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE. As shown above, the left and right letters in the bottom line on the backdrop fell off during her speech.

BBC’s Newsnight had a 5-1/2 minute YouTube video with excerpts, and you can also view the whole thing at Orion Prime.

The next day Ragan’s PR Daily had an article titled Fixing speaking disasters on the fly: Lessons from Britain’s PM. So, when you have a day full of worst moments, you can serve as a bad example for others to avoid.

The train wreck image came from a 110-year old Casualty Company of America ad at the Library of Congress.

Monday, October 9, 2017

It must be true, since I read it in a book

I recently got a four DVD plus hard-cover book set titled The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking from my friendly local public library. It was written by chef Bill Briwa (from the Culinary Institute of America), and published in 2012 by The Great Courses. Lesson 12, Herbs and Spices – Flavor on Demand begins on page 83 with a very curious discussion of salt (my italics added):

“Kosher salt is a very pure salt. Because it is ground coarsely, nothing needs to be added to it to make it flow freely or keep it from caking up. Iodized salt, on the other hand, is ground a little bit more finely than kosher salt. Iodine is added to salt to keep it from caking up or to keep it flowing freely. There is also a flavor that is associated with iodine, so iodized salt is not as true a flavor as kosher salt.”
But that is utter nonsense. A quick glance on the side of a Morton Iodized Salt container reveals that the ingredients are:
“Salt, Calcium Silicate (An Anticaking Agent), Dextrose, Potassium Iodide.”
The Salt Institute has a web page on Iodized Salt, and there also is a Wikipedia page on Iodised Salt. Both discuss how iodine instead is added to counter iodine deficiency.
There is another Wikipedia page on Anticaking agent which lists a variety of additives for preventing the formation of lumps in powders. Of course, potassium iodide is not on that list. Recalling high school chemistry and the Periodic Table, you would expect potassium iodide and sodium chloride to behave similarly. And the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service document on Potassium Iodide says it tends to absorb moisture from the air (is hygroscopic):
“Potassium iodide is stable in dry air but slightly hygroscopic in moist air. “     
An image of Abraham Lincoln studying a book was adapted from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What you write is not finished until you have proofread it

Being professional means that you produce documents that don’t contain typograsphical or grammar errors. That includes brief ones like posters, blog posts, slides, or other visual aids.

The presidential inauguration poster for Donald J. Trump initially contained an error, as shown above. The first sentence said: “No dream is too big, no challenge is to (sic) great.”

It could have been even worse, with a shredding challenge. Spelling or grammar checking software built into programs like Microsoft Word won’t catch everything. A single-page document from California State University describes 14 Proofreader’s “Tricks” you can use.

Lately Jane Genova hasn’t been proofreading some of her blog posts. I’ve added my corrections in [brackets] to three. She’s one of my favorite sources for bad examples:

“For example, Daily Mail TV, which is new this fall, had Nancy Grace ranting about how a witness had not be [been] called to testify in that infamous double murder trial a lifetime ago.”

“On [One] role he can take on is that of imprisoned Watergate lawyer Chuck Colson.” 

“That could [be] homicide, suicide or both.” 
ALIVE! -We Woke Up, Had Coffee from October 2, 2017:

“In the days of Queen Victoria, limited medical science and place [palace] intrigue usually meant early deaths.”