Jumping Into Die-cast Model Collecting

As you get older, collecting things is a great way of expressing yourself.  With collections fitting into the life category of hobbies, just about anything can be considered a collection as long as you have more than a few of the same type of object.

As a car guy, I am an avid automotive follower, having collected just about every issue of Car and Driver magazine from 1992 to 1998. That is a lot of car magazines.  I even started writing my own automotive news and review journal when I started college called MotoCrazy.  Although I never actually published it publicly, it was a great for me to explore my automotive interest.

Fast forward to 2014 and my love for automobiles has not changed.  I still follow automotive news, review new models with skepticism and joy, and even yearn to take a new model for a spin.  While my current day job does not allow me to collect real cars, the world DieCast Models does.

It started with a search on eBay for a 2008 Mazda3 model by AutoArt.  I wanted to have a model of the very car I drive today.  However, I didn’t bid high enough and lost the first auction only to discover paying well over $100 for such a model would have been justified since I have not seen one come for auction since!  Urgh!

As I dove deeper into the world of diecast models, I found a fascinating world of scales, brands, and qualities that were as diverse as the planet we lived on.  My first purchase was a 1967 Pontiac GTO by Danbury Mint in gorgeous Purple Plum paint.  The 1/24 model was intricately detailed and set me back well over $100, but it is worth every penny.

After getting my first purchase behind me, I grabbed a 1995 Ford Explorer by Maisto and quickly learned what sort of quality I expected in a model.  While it was dirt cheap, the quality of this Explorer left me wanting more, almost feeling as though I had been cheated.  The door gaps were large and obvious, the headlights looked fake and the interior was more form than detail.  Clearly, future models were going to have to be a little higher quality.

Diving into DieCast Model Collecting is a lot like real world car shopping.  First, you get what you pay for.  Buy the cheap model and you will get a cheap car.  Buy a high end model and jump for joy, put it on the shelf and relish in its detail.   Second, shop around for the car that best fits your needs.  Numerous manufacturers make a 1966 Pontiac GTO and offer various levels of detail.  Even the higher end manufacturers offer different touches of details. Find the right mix that works for you.  Finally, size does not matter in the respect that 1/18 models are HUGE and 1/64 models are tiny and lack details.   Decide what you are comfortable with and how big of a shelf you have, then buy the scale that fits best.

I am quite happy with my collection so far.  In fact, I have concentrated on buying mid-1960’s GTO’s from a variety of manufacturers, but mainly in 1/18 scale.  My favorite is a 1/18 ERTL-American Muscle 1966 GTO in gold.   I am also collecting each and every model of Saturn I can find. Currently I have a 2002 Vue and SC2.

My 1/43 collection is taking shape, mainly in the form of European cars from the mid-1990’s.  From numerous Saab 900’s and 9-5’s to a Mercedes C180 and Mercedes C36, the 1/43 scale is nicely detailed and offers a nice compact size.  They are also a bit less expensive than the larger 1/18 scale.

DieCast model collecting offers an environment parallel to real world car shopping.   The best part is not having to have a 50 car garage to park them in.  Decide what makes your enthusiasm kick and buy it.  And if you come across an AutoArt 2008 Mazda3 5-door along the way, please let me know.

A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

The Best Hobbies

An interesting quote from Dr. Vogel on Dexter caught my mind recently.  They were referring to murder as a hobby when Dr Vogel said:

“The best hobbies take us furthest from our primary occupation.” – Dr Vogel, Dexter

If hobbies are at the opposite of our 9-5 jobs, then what does this mean?  As an Analyst with Marketing and Sales expertise, I spend my day job working with data, creating visualizations, and helping stakeholders understand the health of their business.   I bring to life the power of KPIs and creating conversation about the business through data.  Fascinating patterns and changes in trends spark the best conversations.

It is the more computer based hobbies I spend time on.  From flight simulator (FSX and X-Plane) to triathlon analysis, I do spend more time on the computer than sleeping.  Lately, I have split my time between BootStrap, a web authoring platform from Twitter, and analyzing the 2013 Santa Barbara Triathlon race results.

As a hobby, though, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer at home.  In fact, if Dr. Vogel is right, the best hobbies for me would not involve a computer at all and would focus on the physical as opposed to the virtual.   Interests of mine include art (sketching and watercolor), photography, gardening, triathlon, writing and music.   Interestingly, none of these hobbies are very frequent in my life other than triathlon training.

So, what’s the point of all of this?  Balance.  Dr. Vogel’s comment illustrates the need for moderation and balance in our lives.  Spending too much time behind the computer is not healthy.  So is spending too much time at work.   The balance involves leaving the computer behind after hours, heading outside and experiencing a wider variety of activities in life.   Hobbies are a way of expressing ourselves while relieving stress and spending time with like minded people.   Get as far away from your day job when not in the office as possible!

The Road Not Taken

I was thinking about how connected technology has become and how much resources it takes to get a startup off the ground these days.  Then I remembered a poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler,long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost (source internal.org)

Doesn’t innovation come when one takes the road less traveled?

Developing KPI’s: Accountability for Remote Workers

While Marissa Mayer’s decision to remove the privilege of remote work from Yahoo!’s culture was met with shock and bewilderment initially, the truth was that Yahoo!’s remote workforce have been slacking.  Since the company is only as good as its best slacker, putting an end to an easy pay check outside the office was the right move.

Since remote work is here to stay, companies need an objective way to monitor their employees.  Just like an employee sitting in office, a remote employee needs to guarantee a certain level of access to their co-workers.  So, how do you know your remote employees are actually working?

As an employee with a few years experience working remote and working with remote bosses, I’d like to discuss some of the data points I think are pertinent to measuring remote employee connectedness and availability.  As a former Citrix Online employee, I am all too familiar with using GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting as tools to enable a positive, productive remote work experience.

Lets take a look at some data points that could give any boss reason to reign in a slacking remote worker:

  • VPN Access – Timed Logged In
    • Most remote employees access company resources through a VPN for security.  Just like Mayer discovered a lack of VPN use at Yahoo!, tracking the amount of time an employee spends on the VPN is essential to understanding their connectedness.  One could also monitor GoToMyPC usage as an alternative to VPN access.
      • While the goal would be agreed upon between employer and employee as some employees may not need to be connected 8 hours a day, the employee should be accountable for at least 90% of the VPN requirement.
  • Phone/Skype Availability – Calls Answered or Callback Time
    • This is simple, if you call the employee, whether via phone or Skype, do they answer?  If they don’t answer, how long does it take for them to call you back?
      • The goal here is to have the employee answer the phone approximately 33% of random calls, with a response time of four hours for messages left.
  • Email Use – Messages Received/Response Time
    • This may or may not be for all employees but since email is taking over for phone calls, remote employees should expect to be in contact with their manager on a routine basis.  The KPI should focus on proactive emails during the period (i.e. did I receive an email from employee) and the response time for emails sent to the employee.
      • Goal is defined as receiving X number of emails from employee with a 24-hour response time for emails sent to the employee.
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings Attended/Attendance Time
    • Is the employee actually attending team or company meetings?  This KPI tracks their attendance and how long they are connected.  After all, an employee who sits out of team meetings is not likely to be a productive member. Services like GoToMeeting make it easy to know who is connected to a meeting.
      • Goal is to have the employee attend 90% of a meeting’s length and attend 100% of meetings.  Making sure the employee knows to attend a meeting is, of course, the manager’s responsibility.

As you can see, any contact point the employee has with the company can be used to monitor their engagement.  You might be asking yourself how to track these KPI’s and who owns it.  Well, it depends on whether the company has a KPI program or whether a manager is interested in tracking their own team.   In my opinion, whether or not an employee is productive falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct report manager and it would be up to them to create the KPI’s suitable for the situation, leveraging IT and BI departments to access data.

Once a manager begins monitoring remote worker KPI’s, they enable an objective analysis and discussion of expectations between both parties.  Putting the KPI’s onto a shared dashboard is a great way to start off a one on one meeting.

What does an actual dashboard for remote employees look like?  Stay tuned, a mockup is in the works.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on remote employee KPIs?  leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@mooney1).

Why Use Google Adwords to Get Started on Marketing

I run a startup called TrainingMetrix, a company dedicated to bringing accessible analytics to fitness users around the world.

With a beta release of our first online product for triathletes, we needed to start a marketing campaign or two to draw in traffic beyond the inner circle of developers and “friend” based beta testers.   We aren’t fans of Facebook, so using a Facebook Ad campaign was not an option.

Google Adwords was a suggestion from a friend of mine.  As it turns out, Adwords is a great platform to get started on.  You can set a budget, big or small, you can run one or many campaigns for as long as you want and the text “adwords” means you don’t have to have a graphic artist and fancy banner ads to attract customers.  For us, the control, flexibility, and simplistic nature was why we chose Adwords for our first marketing platform.

So, we signed up with Google Adwords and started experimenting.  We had two goals for this project:

  1. Test the waters with different keywords, messaging, and landing page styles to understand trigger words
  2. How effective Adwords are in terms of cost

We setup four different campaigns, each with two separate Ads and sat back.  Before too long, we were getting plenty of traffic to the site.  We let the campaigns run for one week and then ran a report.  The results were fascinating to us and exactly what we were looking for.  Our first goal was met.

As for our second goal, the cost of Adwords was within our budget, but the overall cost per acquisition (CPA) was quite high, higher than we expected.  If we had Lifetime Value data to compare against, we could make a smart decision as to whether or not to continue on.  Since we are in the beta phase and not collecting revenue, the overall costs of the campaigns were acceptable, on budget and appropriate for the knowledge that we gained.

If you have a startup, please consider using Adwords as a jumping off platform for marketing. Leverage the simplicity, the control and the knowledge that you can get from it.

When a Farmhouse and Barn Collide

My creative side has been thinking about the architectural collision between a farmhouse and a barn.  While I am not sure what prompted this to consume my mind, but the problem I am trying to solve goes like this:

“You purchase a property, a former farm with rolling hills, trees, a creek, and two dilapidated structures; a barn and a two-story farmhouse.   To pay homage to the dwellings and the people who owned the land previously, you decide you want to keep the feel of the two buildings.  The problem is that you can only build a single structure and this structure needs to represent both the farmhouse and barn and must include salvaged materials. “

This problem has been at the forefront of my thoughts for a few days now.  So far, I have done a bit of research on barns and farmhouses as well as produced two quick sketches.  What I am keeping in mind is the structure needs to morph between the two structures.  What I see first is the farmhouse, but as the eye moves away from the front door (bright red, of course) the structure morphs into the barn to leave the viewer with the question, what is it, a barn or farmhouse?

I really think this presents an interesting dilemma as there are numerous approaches you can take to solving the problem.

  • For one, you can either start with the farmhouse or you start with the barn.
  • Second, you can focus on representing the barn through use of materials and let the farmhouse dominate the view.
  • Third, you can leverage the “rolling hills” and have a two faced structure such as a two story farmhouse on the hilltop and from the bottom all you see is a three story barn.

In both of my sketches, I started with the overall shape of a barn and appended farmhouse type features to it.  A farmhouse to me is represented by massive porches, multi-pane windows with shudders, white clapboard siding, and gables.   After looking at pictures of farmhouses, I added dormer windows to the list as well as brick fireplaces.

In sketch A, the basic barn shape exists and appends a massive front porch and white clapboard siding while the rest of the structure is in red barn siding. All first story windows match the windows on the front porch elevation.  The second floor windows are much more in tune with the simple square windows of a barn with 12+ windows placed in a row above the farmhouse roof line.  To represent the hay loft, I placed a massive window on the second story with a pulley above.  Out the back is an addition with a gable that represents a later addition to the simple farmhouse wrapped in white clapboard siding.   The interesting thing about this version is it appears to be a farmhouse pancaked with a barn on top of it.

Farmhouse meets barn... sketching the problem

Farmhouse meets barn… sketching the problem

In sketch B, I wanted to distort the rectangle shape of the barn, so I added a typical farmhouse gable to one side, extending out with a wrap about porch and front door.  Again, this is wrapped in white clapboard with black shudders and some type of wood shingle on the roof which would contrast with the metal roof of the barn.  The barn itself would be red and would feature a mix of square and rectangular windows.  One end of the barn would have massive wooden doors that open to reveal glass doors.   Out the back of the barn (opposite side the gable) would be an additional structure, possibly made of stone that features a scaled down gable.   After taking a look at this version, I see a barn with a farmhouse attached to it. Wether or not the barn or farmhouse dominates, depends on the size of the front gable as the sketch’s gable is not the right proportion for my vision.

What is missing from both of these sketches are dormer windows and the brick fireplaces.   It would also be interesting to think of the lot the structure would sit on.  In fact, a number of questions pop into my head that can help this take on more detail:  Is there a creek nearby?  What is the terrain?  Where would the driveway go?  How can the interior layout leverage the transitions between spaces?

As I develop the idea, I am more inclined to find a middle ground between A and B.  I like the pancake nature, but I would like to break away the barn shape.  Again, leveraging material type and color would be key to taking this ho-hum to an awesome home that belongs on a magazine cover.

As I continue to develop this idea, I will post more.  For now, think about the complimentary nature of farmhouse and barn and how they come together and where they don’t.   If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.