Doctors from Hell

Doctors from Hell is a fascinating account of the second round of the Nuremberg Trials which focused on medical personnel. These people, most of whom were MD’s, performed a wide range of often horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners. The book is written by Vivien Spitz, who was a young court reporter at the time. She describes her life in war-torn Nuremberg and her struggle of coming to grips with the horror she heard about and saw evidence of day after day.

The book also discusses the idea of “subhumans” that became part of the underlying philosophy of those who committed these crimes. The defense seemed to rest on the idea of “we were doing this for the state.”

When friendship and leadership collide

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I have been saddened to see the continued support from prominent leaders for a protestant pastor who failed to protect children who were sexully abused. His failure to lead by reporting this predator (and maybe others) to authorities led to more children being sexually abused in other parts of the country. His actions and inactions have destroyed many lives.

Yet, his well respected friends in leadership positions say he is being maligned and falsely accused. With court testimony and written testimony from dozens of witnesses you would think they couldn’t really be saying this, but they are. This is leadership malpractice.

I have wondered why they are doing this, themselves failing to do the right thing. I think it comes down to this: he seems like a nice guy and he’s their friend. They’ll make sure he has a position and that his books get published. “We’re here for you buddy.” I feel physically ill as I think about this. I have written to the publisher, but don’t expect a reply.

You can be someone’s friend who has screwed up. You can listen, encourage them to make it right, etc. When a friend has destroyed lives, though, you can’t make those consequences go away be trying to cover-up the cover-up. When someone has disqualified themselves for leadership and ministry, you should not yourself commit leadership malpractice by propping them up. This leads to bitterness, distrust and cynicism by the very people you have a duty to protect and serve. It needs to stop.

Online behaviors can reveal obsessive tendencies

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 I sometimes  come across commenters and bloggers on the internet and my training is psychology causes little alarm bells to go off. With commenters people can just “trolls,” but other times there is something else going on. Such is the case with someone who goes by the username “A-Thought.” He joined an Apple news and enthusiasts site about 18 months ago and constantly promotes his Microsoft Surface Pro while criticizing Apple iPads. He has posted hundreds of times, and many of his posts are quite lengthy.

“A-Thought” would insist that his behavior is intellectually based, that he is just serving as a counter-point of information. In reality, most counselors and psychologists would quickly label this behavior “obsessive.” It is obvious he obsessively checks the Apple-centric site and quickly posts derogatory comments about Apple iPads while pointing out the virtues of his Surface Pro 4. He is often the first commenter on news stories that are posted about the Apple iPad.

When someone is dealing with obsessions and compulsions, or both (OCD), it is not a pleasant life. Psychologists describe this disorder as the mind that won’t quit. Activities such as excessively monitoring web sites and posting essentially the same information over and over again help relieve the anxiety that a person experiences. The time and attention given to these obsessions and compulsions usually interfere with the person’s life and relationships.

There are online resources that can help people like “A-thought.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is one place to start: http://www.adaa.org.

Never assume your presentation tech is going to work

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I watched painfully a few weeks ago as a workshop presenter struggled with getting her laptop to connect with the conference hotel’s projector. For whatever reason, it never connected despite two different tech support people helping her. As about 50 people in the audience watched, she opened up her college email, emailed the presentation to herself, shut down her computer, opened up the loaner laptop brought in by tech support, signed into her email, downloaded the presentation, and opened it in PowerPoint. Half of the workshop was over and the presenter was very flustered to say the least.

While I felt sorry for the presenter, in some ways I did not. Despite giving a presentation on technology (I’m not joking here), she forgot one of the first rules of technology and presentations: the technology might not work. The presenter was not someone doing her first workshop, she was a veteran. She should have known better.

You should always assume your technology will not work when you are scheduled to do a presentation. How can you be prepared for this? I like to have my presentation in three locations: on my laptop, on a USB drive, and in the cloud. Since my laptop is a Macbook Pro and I use Keynote, the file I have on the USB drive is a PowerPoint copy. My cloud copy is on Microsoft Office online or Google Drive. If all this fails, I am mentally prepared to move ahead quickly using just my notes.

Wanting to show video clips is always great, but has the potential for even more issues. I prefer to have the video downloaded into my laptop and embedded in the presentation, but follow the same scheme as with the presentation. Personally, I have found Google Drive to be the best place to keep the backup copies of my video clips.

If all of this seems like overkill, perhaps you have not had the experience of struggling to get your tech to work while 50 or 100 people staring at you. If you have had that experience, you know it is one you want to avoid repeating for any reason.

The psychology of rude commenters on technology news and information sites

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I often read technology news and blogs and occasionally wander over to the comments section to see people’s real world experiences. You are always confronted with caustic comments that regularly include profanity aimed at the writers, those who choose the technology or service, and others who have posted.

Why would anyone read an article about a product or service they may have never used, then leave some off-topic caustic comment? While we might never know because they are almost always anonymous, psychologists can make some guesses based on patterns of this rude and socially deviant behavior.

Disappointment with where they are in life is the underlying cause. Naturally, they would protest and say, “No, I’m not.” Deep down, however, there is a burning dissatisfaction with how they are treated in real life, the position they hold in society, their salaries, and lack of recognition. They often feel they are disrespected, which is largely imaginary, but real to them nonetheless.

Displacement is taking out your anger or frustration on a non-threatening target. Tech writers, who are perceived as knowing less than they do, are a favorite target. The comments about female tech writers are particularly abusive. Other targets might include commenters who remind them of their dad or boss.

Often you will see wholesale attacks on entire user groups such as those who use Macs. Probably, the “vile executive who keeps putting me down” uses a Mac, so all the millions of people who use one are just like him. Or, the “rich girl at college who wouldn’t give me the time of day” used a Mac, so all Mac users are like her. Remember, this is not intellectual, this is emotional. Emotions are often messy and often don’t make any sense to outside observers.

Should we ignore them? Absolutely. Bitter people rarely become better people, so leave them to their own misery. They have grown attached to it.

Is PowerPoint 2013 now better than Keynote?

A year ago I would have accused you of technology sacrilege and lacking in the nuances of presentation design if you had said that PowerPoint 2013 was better than Keynote. While both are available as web apps, the comparison may seem strange because PowerPoint 2013 is a Microsoft Windows product and Keynote lives on Apple products. However, I think a number of professionals live in both worlds, having a Windows desktop and an Apple product such as a MacBook Air or iPad.

For four years I always picked up my MacBook Pro or MacBook Air to design a presentation. I didn’t even think about it. A few weeks ago I was designing a presentation and needed to group a text box with a photo so they appeared together at the same time. Keynote wouldn’t let me do it. Grouping was grayed out (probably some kind of glitch in the newly updated Keynote software).  I also needed to graphically demonstrate a process, which is possible in Keynote, but easier with PowerPoint’s SmartArt features.

So, I did the previously unthinkable and used PowerPoint 2013 to design my presentation slides. At times this was painful, because PowerPoint does require an extra step or two (or three) for some tasks that are just drag and drop for Keynote. I noticed that PowerPoint does have some new modern looking templates with modern fonts. This is a nice change from the 1992 templates that I often see in PowerPoint users presentations. Keynote handles video better, and slide transitions seem more seamless and professional.

All of these issues and which software to use come down to presenter choice, style and what kind of information you need to communicate. While I am not ready to switch completely, the choice of which software to use is not as easy as it used to be.

 

Four strategies for people with vision or hearing issues that help everyone

When we provide faculty training for the Center on Aging @ AACC, we always talk about making classroom adjustments for vision and hearing losses. With more than 4,000 students over the age of 60, almost everyone will be experiencing some decline in hearing, vision, or both.

As I look at our recommendations, one thing we need to think about is that all of these strategies not only help those with hearing or vision declines, they actually are helpful to everyone.

Here are a few of our recommended strategies that every student will likely find helpful. 

 Bigger fonts on PowerPoint presentations. How often have you heard “I know you can’t read this, but…” This always makes me wonder why the text is up there if the audience can’t see it. We recommend using nothing smaller than 30 point font. Whether the student is 18 or 78, who doesn’t appreciate a large, clear font that is easy to read? The truth is that everyone does.

Speaking clearly, and facing the audience. It is difficult enough to hear someone who is looking down at their notes the entire time, it is even worse when the person turns their back on the class and begins reading their slides. Powerpoint slides are not speaker notes. Again, this is not just about people with hearing loss, this is helpful for everyone.

Stop the “I don’t need a microphone” people. I can’t help but cringe and scowl when someone stands up to ask a question or make a comment in a 300 seat auditorium and says “Oh, I don’t need a microphone.” I don’t know whether this is hubris or whether the person is scared of the microphone, but whoever is talking on stage needs to stop them cold. If there is a microphone available, everyone should use it. Period. We all appreciate being able to clearly hear what is being said, whether a hearing loss is involved or not.

Make handouts more readable. Microsoft Word 2013 defaults to Calabri 11 point type. In my opinion, this is probably too small for people with any kind of vision issue. Numerous studies suggest that larger font helps with reading comprehension, and of course we all appreciate how larger font reduces eye strain over the course of a day. I typically use 13 or 14 point font text in my own handouts.

A principle to consider is that when we design documents, or teaching, or other environments with consideration of those with physical limitations, we are really improving the environment for everyone.