Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rhythm, Poetry, and Music

            Rhythm is a repeating pattern of sound. We hear rhythm everywhere—from the crashing waves of the ocean, to the hypnotic sound of a train, to the speech we hear in our daily lives. Rhythm is part of nature. Summer rises and leads to fall. Fall leads to winter, and then spring arrives. The sun rises and sets. We wake up; we go to sleep. Rhythm is so engrained into our spirits, minds, and experience, that we often don’t stop to think about it.
            Rhythm is found in nature, but it is also learned. As we learn to speak, we naturally learn rhythm. Take some time to listen to someone that doesn’t speak English as a native language. Even if every vowel and consonant resonates with perfect pronunciation, they still may be difficult to understand. Why? They have pronunciation, but they don’t have a rhythm our ear is accustomed to. Our native tongue shapes our experience and conditions us to be drawn to certain rhythmic patterns. When those patterns are missing, we find things jarring, and it requires extra effort to extrapolate meaning.
            In English certain syllables are given more or less emphasis. We generally have three variations in emphasis: loud, which is a stressed syllable; medium, which is a semi-stressed syllable; and soft, which is an unstressed syllable. Let’s consider the word, “harmony”. It is generally said:
            HAR         mon         ee
Obviously, the emphasis is being exaggerated, but when the emPHASis is on the wrong sylLABle things sound a bit wonky. We've grown used to a rhythmic pattern for familiar words, and when someone doesn't follow that pattern, we find the sound cacophonous.
            Let's consider a pattern of rhythm for a moment:
            DUM         cha         dum         cha
Say it! Yes, I'm serious! Now, take it and repeat it in a cycle:
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
This rhythmic cycle is the most common pattern of rhythm found in Western music. No doubt other cultures may produce different rhythm patterns. Ever eat at a Chinese restaurant? At my local Chinese establishment (with its addicting beef lo mein), when the lady takes your order, she then barks it back to the kitchen staff in Chinese. You can hear all the cooks barking back and forth in a speech that sounds foreign and jarring to my tender American ears. Why does it sound so jarring? Because the rhythm isn't what I'm used to! Can you recognize music that comes from the Orient? It has a certain sound, doesn't it? Part of this is the rhythm.
            Ever wonder why someone sounds a little pompous when they never use contractions and always use "he or she" instead of the ubiquitous "they"? It's because they are grammatically correct, but rhythmically challenged. It ain't right, but sometimes grammar and rhythm collide. "It ain't" has a different rhythm then "it is not", and often the "ain't" paints a better melody. Contractions also change the rhythm of a sentence, because they shorten things one syllable. One syllable doesn't sound like much, but consider:
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
            DUM     cha  cha        dum         cha         DUM         cha          dum        cha
            DUM         cha         dum         cha         DUM         cha         dum         cha
Oh, that hideous third line of rhythm!
            Do you happen to have a friend that likes to curse, and is also funny? You can be honest and tell me the truth. I'm only a blog, so I won't tell anyone:) Part of you may be thinking, "He shouldn't be saying those frickin-frackin words, that son of a blizzard!" Yet, part of you finds his colorful metaphors (with all those bleeping words and even his grammatically deficient sentence structures) not only appealing, but raucously hilarious! Why?
            Consider cursing for a moment. It's okay, I won't tell your mother. Cursing often involves short words or phrases that are rhythmic in nature. "The man who had sexual relations with my maternal parent" isn't as rhythmic as that, "MOTHER F, . . ." Well, you can fill in the rest! If you consider cursing from the standpoint of rhythm, curse words and phrases are a rhythmic Lego set that easily allows one to construct rhythmically powerful language.
            When building rhythm, it's often easier to use short, concrete words as opposed to long, abstract words. How often do you hear the word "exponentially" in a song? In Western music, the most common rhythm patterns are based on two, three, and four "syllables". Okay, "syllables" isn't the correct technical term, but for the moment we're looking at the similarity between music and language. In many ways, the beat of music is similar to the syllables of speech.
            There is a rhythm to speech we find appealing. That rhythm is similar to rhythm we tap our feet to or enjoy when we hear Dr. Suess. Rhythm is a foundational element to music, writing, and poetry. If you want success in those disciplines, you need to get your groove on. Rhythm is also the point where the three intersect. Song lyrics can be viewed as poetry that is voiced with an emphasis on changing pitch. Poetry is a song without strong emphasis on changing pitch. Music can be written without lyrics, but even without lyrics, there are certain patterns of rhythm our ears find appealing. Many of those patterns come from the way we speak our language.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Could Collective Bargaining be Uberized?

William looks at his half peanut butter sandwich. It’s all he can afford to eat. His wife, Wilma, a nurse, will be eating the other half later today at her lunch break. The only one in the family who eats a whole peanut butter sandwich is Willy Jr. And, sometimes, right before payday, even little Willy goes hungry.

William and Wilma work hard, yet they can’t seem to make ends meet. William picks at the blister on his hand. It has been bothering him all day, as he’s been making widgets for his company, Widgets R’ Us. William has sent out hundreds of resumes, all to jobs he’s highly qualified to do. But, none have panned out. He’s thinking about choking his neighbor Bob, who just yesterday was telling him, “If you don’t like your job, just find another.” Just find another! That’s not so easy. Like many workers, William has tried to find another, but jobs are scarce.

Meanwhile, Peter Pennipencher is riding in his limo to Widgets R’ Us. He is the CEO. His job is to screw everyone—workers, customers, the government; it doesn’t matter to Peter, as long as his company makes profit. That’s the only thing he’s hired to do—make profit for investors. If he does that in the short term, he gets perks on top of his multimillion-dollar salary. Right now he’s reading about a company that produces widgets overseas. They produce them cheaply, and it has Peter thinking about moving production overseas.

William is thinking it would be wonderful to unionize. But, he’s scared. He’s met Peter, and he knows Peter is a heartless bastard. He wouldn’t hesitate firing anyone who even whispers the word, “union”. Plus, William has been misclassified as an independent contractor, and word has leaked out that independent contractors don’t have the right to form a union. There have even been rumors about severe legal actions that would be taken against them. Peter is behind all the rumors. A union ruins his whole scheme. Just imagine workers wanting decent pay, legal protection under the law, and benefits? It would cut into the company’s profits—and, his stock options.

Peter is using every option at his command to “uberize” his workers. What he wants is a highly skilled, highly motivated, productive workforce; but, he doesn’t want to pay for it. He’ll use every trick in the book to cheat his workers out of pay and benefits. It’s what he’s paid to do! He uses all kinds of apps, computer models, and technological resources to coordinate his workers and eliminate the need for as many people as possible. It’s one of the reasons why his workers are so overworked.

But, let’s imagine for a moment that William and the other workers are able to unionize. The biggest barrier to that is fear. But, what if technology takes fear out of the equation? What if technology allows the workers to band together, but to do it anonymously? Without fear of retaliation, unionization might happen at the Widgets R’ Us factory, but workers are also afraid of outsourcing. But, what if the same technology that allows them to unionize, also allows them to coordinate with other workers in the factories overseas? What if it also allows them to coordinate with other workers in the same industry? All of a sudden, Peter’s power over his workers would fade. Right now, Peter’s workers are afraid of him? But, what if the tables turned? What if Peter was afraid of his workers?

Let’s imagine for a moment that a software developer comes up with an app called Unionize. It allows workers to anonymously sign up for an account and use a fake name on its online discussion board. It has to have an anonymous discussion board. Peter will eventually sign up for an account, and it’s important he’s sees how many of his worker want to band together, and what they really think of him and the company. It helps to increase the fear he experiences. It’s also good for Peter to know that his workers are coordinating their efforts with others in the industry, and the factories overseas. This increases his apprehension and his desires to appease his workers.

The app allows workers to pick their company, job title, and industry. As more workers sign up, it begins to build a database—of workers, companies, job titles, and industries. It also shows workers how many other similar workers are wanting to unionize to better themselves. It could be a powerful tool.

Imagine new features begin to be added to Unionize. It allows workers to chose whether they are classified as independent contractors or employees. It also has algorithms that estimate if workers were being misclassified, and if it is highly probably, the app immediately notifies the proper tax and labor departments. Now, more power is being given to workers.

Now, imagine the app includes categories of things such as wages, hours worked per week, paid sick days, paid vacation days, paid personal days, percentage of profit sharing, and cost of health insurance. The app could allow workers to choose what they felt were fair amounts for each of these categories. And, the app could include what the workers were actually receiving in each of these categories. Over time, the app would begin to give a picture of an industry. This information gives power to workers.

Now, imagine workers could supply estimates of how many workers were being employed by their employer. The app could track and make all this data available to users in real time. It could even provide algorithms that could estimate when a particularly company has enough workers interested in either forming a union or trying to improve worker pay and/or conditions. And, since the app already has information about wages and benefits, it could provide suggestions as to worker demands. Such an app could also calculate currencies worldwide to the home currency of each user, so it could give a global overview of an industry.

Because such an app could coordinate the activities of workers around the world in a particular industry, it could be useful for coordinating worker strikes; both locally and globally. Workers would now have the power to force an industry to its knees, and bring management to the bargaining table! And, they could do it anonymously.

Of course, then comes the rub. Someone has to show up at the table. And, those workers would face possible retaliation. So, let’s give the app another feature. Imagine it allows workers to nominate third party arbitrators—people who would represent the workers, but not be attached to the industry. The app could also allow workers to reveal their identities if they would like to be representatives of a company’s workers or an industry.

If someone could only uberize collective bargaining, it would be a tremendous tool in raising income and benefits to workers worldwide. Unfortunately, I don’t have the skills to develop such an app. But, if you have the skills, please take my idea and run with it. We’re living in an era where our standard of living is plummeting, and the only reason I can see for it is so Peter can live even larger than he’s already living. We need the power to return to the people.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Looking for a Speaker for Your Next Event?

Brett A. Tipton is a professional speaker, writer, and educator. He is a high-energy, upbeat, positive communicator. He’s taught a wide range of speech, writing, management, and math classes at several colleges. He’s taught English to children in China. His speaking background includes: teaching, special event speaking and organizing, drama, singing, and standup comedy.

He’s written several books with a focus on the topics of creativity, teaching and learning, and dealing with loved ones suffering from cancer. He combines book smarts and life experience into dynamic, thought-provoking presentations. His speeches focus on the following topics:

Cultivating Creative Capacities

Creative ideas—where do they come from? How can you foster them? Why is your brain blank, and why are you only getting blank stares when you need a good idea? This presentation will help you uncover answers to those questions.

You’ll learn the biggest obstacle of creativity, and uncover a few concepts to help jump that obstacle. You’ll learn a little about how the brain functions, and with that understanding, will come more ease at hearing the cries of your creative inner voice. Along the way, you’ll also be entertained, inspired, and motivated towards a better life and more inventive workplace.

With Cancer Comes Blessings

When Cancer strikes, it’s catastrophic. And, yes, Cancer should be written with a capital letter—because Cancer isn’t just some nameless, faceless disease. Cancer is a foe that makes a frontal assault.

The speaker has had three family members die from cancer—a grandfather, an uncle, and a father. Cancer drug the speaker down into the pit, beat him up, left him whimpering, and then drug him down for another brutal round! Cancer attacks with brutal force and calculating viciousness.

But, the brutality of Cancer is not the whole story. The real story is that even in the pit, God brings blessings. Lives are changed, and with that change things become better. There is hope, laughter, and joy in life—even when life is in the pits. And, more importantly, there is newness of life after the pit. Cancer may strike, but that doesn’t mean we have to strike out!

Learning is Fun; But Education Stinks

Ever sit in a class bored to tears? To be honest, the speaker has taught that class! He looked out at the blank stares. He saw students not respond. He felt that battle of the will—between his desire to have a class of vibrancy, and his students’ desire to just make it through the semester. And, he’s taught some tough classes—math, English, and everyone’s favorite—public speaking! Oh no!

Along the way, he talked to students. He formed bonds. He learned that much of what we do in education doesn’t work; and, more importantly, it can’t work, because it’s working against the way our brain is wired. Our brain is wired to learn. There is the immediate pleasure of the AHA moment. But, in many classes, learning is more a chore than a blessing. So, why is that? It really comes down to the fact that learning is fun, but education stinks!

Contact Information

If you’d like to talk about having him as a speaker, please email and include the word “Speaker” in the subject line.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Goals for 2017

            I hate the term “resolutions”. I guess resolutions sound so static—a list of clearly defined things I want to accomplish. I’m too creative to nail down all the exact details, because I know they will be adjusted along the way. Also, I’ve found that life is messy. There’s too many things out of our control. We need to head in a certain direction, but be able to do mid-course corrections. So, here are my goals!

            I already have applications out there, so I’m taking steps. But, this one is something I can’t completely control. I can’t make someone hire me. Even if I had my own business, which I’ve started to take steps toward, I still would need clients. Somewhere along the way, I need someone to pay me to do what I do!
            I see two main reasons behind my desire to move. First, Ohio is a living hell. It’s constantly grey. It’s even grey in the summer. It’s not uncommon to go a week in June or July where sun never touches the ground. And, once October hits, the long dark grey begins and lasts for about eight months.
            A second reason is that my dad passed away last year. Akron is no longer my childhood home. After the staleness of death, I want newness—a new area of the country, new things to explore, new people to meet. I don’t want to be surrounded by the things of my childhood. When my dad died, something of my childhood died, and the attachment to the homeland of my childhood is no longer there.

            This one is pretty self-explanatory. But, I don’t just want to be somewhat healthy. No, I want to get back to the level of an athlete—with a pulse down in the 40’s, single-digit body fat, and renewed strength and stamina. It may take a while for me to get there, but once someone has been in this type of condition, that is the type of condition they want to be in.

            Five years ago I declared myself a freelance writer and speaker. I even put it on my LinkedIn profile. Since that time, I have made some money doing it, so I can consider it a job. It’s been a way for me to monetize my hobbies. When I declared that, I was thinking it would eventually become a career. I wasn’t sure all the details, but I believe in life you can’t wait for all the details. If there’s an itch, you have to scratch and see where it heads.
            Now, things are starting to come into focus. I want to focus on speaking and training people on creativity. I’ve written a book on it. I’ll likely need to write a second book that contains activities to spur creativity. I’m organizing information into a non-linear PowerPoint, so I’ll have a starting point to speak about it. I’m writing some song parodies on creativity, which I can incorporate into training and seminars. I’ll need to start small and see where it heads—probably just as a volunteer speaker. Then, maybe a small seminar. The details will start to become clearer. I’m starting to see the groundwork being laid.

            So, there you have it. These are three things I’d like to work on for next year. Wish me luck. This will likely be the last blog of 2016 for me!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Don’t Have Standard Students

            Auto manufacturers machine engine blocks to extremely tight tolerances. Each cylinder is exactly same—not just for a single block, but for every block for that particular engine model. The reason why is obvious. They need the pistons to fit, and every piston for that particular engine is also exactly the same—machined to extremely tight tolerances. It’s one of those round-pegs-in-round-holes type of situations.
            Standardizing education is like machining engine blocks to tight tolerances. Some believe if the block is machined correctly, the outcome will be a smooth running learning machine. But, there’s a problem. Students aren’t like pistons. Each one is different. Some may fit the system like a glove, but some are a little more awkward—fitting like a boot up someone’s ass. Or, even worse, some don’t fit at all.
            Suppose for a minute that auto manufacturers were no longer able to machine their pistons. Imagine they had to get all their piston from an outside source, and all the pistons were of various sizes. The only way they could make functioning engines is to start designing engine blocks to custom fit whatever pistons they had. The same applies to education. Bureaucrats have tried to mechanize learning, but in doing so, they haven’t followed a basic engineering principle. The peg must fit the hole!
            I am currently teaching online English classes to kids in China. One of my kids is a five-year old boy who is extremely energetic. Can you say ADHD? I knew you could! Now, imagine trying to teach English to this hyperactive little boy through an online system that resembles Skype. If I was in a face-to-face classroom, and had the freedom to teach him according to his learning style, I’d teach him English through calisthenics. J is for jumping jack: jump, jump, jump. P is for pushup: push, push, push. Today’s verb is run: run around the building, run around the building, run around the building. After he reached the point of exhaustion, I’d drag his little limp body to a desk and enjoy the 5 minutes of complete attention he’d give me until he fell asleep. Then, I’d go take a nap—a long nap, because this kid is exhausting!
            What do the “rules” of education say? They say when you’re teaching someone something that is new to go slowly—very slowly. The training the company I’m teaching for taught me to go very slowly for young kids. My thousands of hours of experience in the classroom say the same thing. We keep machining those cylinders that say, “for new material, go slowly—very slowly!” Now, I challenge you! Try to hold the attention span of a hyperactive, five-year old boy by going S-L-O-W-L-Y! I’m going S-L-O-W-L-Y, and all I see on my monitor is this kid crawling all over his room—jumping on the bed, showing me his feet (don’t ask me why, because I don’t know), playing with whatever toy he has in his hands, drinking his juice, . . . well, you get the point!
            Today I was teaching him the letter T—yeah me! Instead of going slowly, I instead tried speeding things up. Instead of, “T is for t-a-b-l-e” and then cupping my ear and waiting while he dances around the room, I sped it up and turned it into a little chant. Yes, I was being a little cheerleader with little dance moves and everything! “T is for table! T is for table! T is for table! T is for table!” While I wasn’t completely successful, because he has the attention span of a gnat, at times he starting parroting my cheers. High-speed, energetic chants seemed to work better than slow speed, patient conversation. Maybe this student is just a high-speed, energetic piston, and in order to reach him, I have to give him a high-speed, energetic cylinder. Today I broke the rules and I think it may have been the most successful lesson I’ve had with this kid in a long time. Sure, his attention faltered after about 15 minutes into his 25-minute lesson, but 15 minutes of decent attention was a miracle. Yes, I’m not an ordinary teacher. I’m a miracle worker! His attention did start to refocus near the end of the lesson as well. After class, I went down to the lake and was walking on water! Yes, I’m that good!

            Before we declare me a miracle worker, maybe I’m not the second coming. Maybe I was just following a basic principle of engineering—that the hole must be the right size for the peg. I don’t have any standard students. So, why does everyone want to keep forcing me to standardize education?