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!

Anti-Cloud Based Tools for Personal Intelligence

Creating a personal intelligence platform for self tracking has never been easier.  While technology continues to push us toward the “cloud” and SaaS as a strategy of revenue generation, we cannot overlook the tried and true platforms available to keep data on your computer and away from prying eyes of Analysts.

As a data visualization and KPI development guru, I love finding those interesting trends in my own life that drive smarter, better habits.  If you are like me, you don’t feel comfortable sharing your dirty underwear with Mark Zuckerberg and you really wonder what Google is doing with all of that data they keep acquiring.   By maintaining a self database on my desktop computer which I can add to and tweak at a whim, I am able to give myself peace of mind and control over MY data.  Curious, about what KPI’s I track?  Stay tuned, that is a topic of another post.

Without further ado, here are some tools that you can use to create your own personal intelligence platform on your local computer:

  • Microsoft Excel
    • A stunningly powerful tool to use for even the novice user.  Create your own tables, link them how you want and design your own graphs and dashboards at your own pace and complexity.  Available for both Windows and Mac.
  • Numbers
    • A Mac only platform designed to compete directly Microsoft Excel which offers much the same functionality, but lacks some advanced capability compared with Excel.  The simplicity and robust visual que are 2nd to none, but as the data set grows, you may be wishing you chose Excel in the beginning.
  • Qlikview Free
    • I have been a fan of Qlikview for years.  I love the ability to create charts and dashboards from Excel spreadsheets and the gnarly level of interactivity that it provides.  The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think and well worth a few minutes reading their documentation.   The limitation here is the limited number of shared files you can open.  Windows only.
  • MySQL / Apache / PHP / HTML5 / HighCharts
    • Ok, if you are going with this option, you are a true geek with coding ability.  This isn’t for the lighthearted as configuring MySQL, Apache, etc etc will take time.  But the advantage is you are left with an enterprise class database and a truly blank slate in regards to dashboards.  You can even create your own forms in HTML to add data.  Mac/Linux/Windows
  • Microsoft Access
    • If you need something in between Excel and MySQL to store data, Access is a great option and can interface with Excel graphs and dashboards.  With a mild learning curve, the ability to store any kind of data, and the convenience of a query builder UI, Access makes for a very robust solution. But, it lacks more advanced visualization, so be prepared to connect Excel to Access. Windows only and available with Office Professional.

As you can see, creating a Personal Intelligence platform off the cloud is possible.  You can take full control of your data and keep it private at the same time.  As data becomes more and more of a commodity and SaaS business models continue to nickel and dime everything, home based data management will be more and more appealing.  Excel is the perfect anti-cloud.

A Citizen’s Role in Politics

The world of politics has been a touchy subject for years.  Everyone has their own opinion on policies and laws that will continue to make this country great!  It is part of our duty as citizens to express our opinions and even act on those opinions as we see fit.  While the most basic action comes in the form of voting, the citizenry is responsible for making an informed decisions on which leaders we elect and which propositions we pass.

This informed decision needs to be based on research, debate, and internal contemplation.  However, the media is usually pretty quick to provide opinions for us that aren’t always in line with reality.  Recently, while having dinner with a friend, I uttered the words “Obama is a socialist,” which then triggered a far greater discussion on exactly what this meant and what actions by Obama support this.  I have to admit that at this time I couldn’t speak to any specific actions.  In fact, I was guilty of regurgitating a line from the media without doing my homework.  This shocked me.

Normally, I am a very well spoken individual who seldom says anything that isn’t founded in concrete.  While I admitted that I was at a loss and we moved on, that voice inside me (the responsible citizen voice) wanted to know if Obama is really a socialist.

The answer is no.  Socialism centers around an economy owned by the state and or geared toward a common ownership.  Of Obama’s policies that I am familiar with, none of them fit into this category.  In fact, after researching this issue, I discovered that Obama is a well respect “centered” politician who has acted for the good of the country, moving between democratic and republican ideals to move this country forward.

What started to truly stir my passion for understanding the situation of our government was a text I received from the same friend containing a link to a rather interesting article.  The commentary article by Spiegel Online titled, “America Has Already Lost Tuesday’s Election, Destroyed by Total Capitalism,” is a rather passionate, European view of what the America has become.

After reading the article, I took a step back.  While I agree that America is controlled more by total capitalist, part of me wanted to believe that even total capitalists wouldn’t act in a way that would jeopardize the future of America.  Then I realized that capitalism is far more about profit than long-term sustainability.

Taking a look at Apple, for instance, who has banked billions and billions of dollars while the American education system experiences a financial crisis is perhaps proof that there could be something to this viewpoint.

In addition, during Hurricane Sandy, hospitals were evacuated because their backup generators failed, yet a few blocks away, buildings beloning to major financial institutions were bright with light and had plenty of power to spare.  The contrast of this image made me slightly angry.

The third piece of information that this citizen gained in recent weeks, is a book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein called “Its Worse Than It Looks.”  I came to find out about this book while driving on the freeway listening to NPR.  What really caught my attention was when the author equated House Republicans to American terrorists.  WHAT!

It seems the Republican party has done more damage to America’s future in the past few years than in the entire history of this country.  The Fiscal Cliff is a product Republican’s willingness to put their party over the good of the country, leveraging filibusters, and refusing to negotiate with the White House.   I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, let alone what I was reading after purchasing the book.

To make sure this wasn’t a Democrat’s way of condemning the Republicans, I did some research of my own and found that the circumstances listed in the book are true.  In fact, I found a fascinating website called “Republicans for Obama” that agrees with a fundamental shift in Republican policy.  Instead of voting for the good of the country, Republicans are now voting to destroy the White House and the President of the United States.

These bits of information have awaken my role of citizen in politics.   While I intend to vote for Democrats going forward to give them back the majority, I will also spread the word regarding the new American terrorists sitting in the House.

What does citizenship have to do with Data, Creativity, Patterns, and Inspiration?  Everything.  Citizens must collect data, understand patterns in politics, and find the inspiration to act creatively to form the future that believe in.

I am sure this post will alienate employers/recruiters (probably won’t be working with Apple anytime soon) and create some controversy within my family.  But, it is my role as Citizen of the United States to research, understand and speak for what I believe in.

Balance, Don’t Forget It!

Balance is one of those things that I think a lot of people go through life without. It applies to just about everything and can be hard to achieve. In fact, we often forget to look for the balance in every situation.

Here are some examples:

1) Horseback Riding – The rider must balance their weight on the saddle. Lean too far right or left and you risk falling off. Lean too far forward descending a steep hill and you risk tumbling forward, horse and all. Constantly maintaining balance in the saddle is the key to happy horses and happy riders.

2) Triathlons – During a triathlon, the triathlete is balancing speed with energy exertion, meaning that you want to finish in the fastest time possible but still have energy left to make it across the finish line. Fail at fueling your body correctly or pushing yourself too hard and your performance will show it. Balance the speed and energy to be a successful triathlete.

3) Swimming – The key to moving through the water is perfect balance, which creates minimal drag. Michael Phelps (sorry, you can’t talk about swimming and not mention him) is somewhat of a scrawny guy, but his success comes from finding the most streamlined position and movements in the water. Phelps does not need power when he is not losing speed to drag; he just needs enough to maintain. Balance makes you a happy, efficient swimmer.

4) Nutrition – Eating lots of one thing, really doesn’t work for the human body. In fact, the phrase concerning moderation is right on. Eating a balance of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and fats is the key to feeling great and losing weight.

5) Personal and Professional Life – Working too much can lead to burn out. Not working enough can lead to bankruptcy and foreclosure. Not having enough fun can lead to depression. Not exercising enough and eating too much can lead to obesity. I think you know where I am going with this. Life balance is about getting paid to do something you enjoy, hanging out with the people that make you laugh, going to the symphony, and even sweating a lot playing basketball or running through the neighborhood. Finding balance in life can be difficult and many die never having it.

As you are reading this, ask yourself, Where is the balance in this moment? Is the lighting just right? Is your chair comfortable? What can you do to bring balance to the moment?

When you get up tomorrow, keep balance in mind all day. Observe your world and find the places that you may have forgotten where balance exists or needs to exist.

DON’T FORGET IT!

Immersion, The Good, Bad and the Ugly!

Immersion is the concept of surrounding yourself with a given subject to concentrate on learning it.

The GOOD
The good is that immersion is a very efficient way of learning something. You can jam pack a lot of information in a very narrow window of time. Picking up the basics of a new language or skill is possible over a long weekend.

The BAD
Immersion usually occurs for a limited time. From a day to a few weeks, immersion is not something that you want to do for long. The learner risks burn-out as the human body needs to time break old habits and adjust to the new knowledge.

The UGLY
Immersion can overwhelm the learner. In such a short time, a lot of information gets thrown at you. While it is important to absorb as much information as possible, sometimes grasping the larger picture and concepts is all you can do.

My weekend at the Total Immersion swim clinic was definitely, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1) It was good because I made huge improvements with my swim stroke.
2) It was bad because it was so short and I wish I had a little more than two days to grab all the information and absorb more detail.
3) It was ugly, by the end of the second day, my brain was so overwhelmed with information that it was almost exploded.

Have you ever tried immersion and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Collaboration, Do You Have It?

Collaboration.  It is a powerful word.

Cities are built on Collaboration.

Business rely on Collaboration.

The future of your career depends on Collaboration.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, some of the most intelligent people go untapped because of their isolation.  It seems the truly successful outliers were well connected with those that helped them take the steps toward world success. They had collaboration.

Collaboration is what you need to use to do anything large successfully.  Afterall, two heads are better than one.

If you don’t use it, you will find yourself in very different circumstances.

I think I will make that phone call to a friend that had a great idea to help our community.

How about you?  How are you going to collaborate today?

Winning, Are You Ready?

Wins only come every so often. If they come too frequently, they lose their value. If they are too sparse, our willingness to achieve them dissipates.

When a win occurs, we often find ourselves on cloud nine. All of the sudden, your world is the happiest place on earth; you want to share the good fortunes. All of the hard work put forth payed off; the stress, the pain, the lack of sleep, the lows and the highs. Wins become the ultimate motivational tool toward bigger and better wins. They almost become addicting.

For every winner, there is a loser. No one likes being the loser. Just as winning is a great motivational tool, so is losing. However, losing can also be made terribly worse by winner whom rub it in. While you should be happy for yourself, you should always be respectful of those who competed with you.

Winning is a delicate thing. Sure, you want to be happy, strive for that next big win and continue life in your happy place, but it is a double edged sword. Ask yourself:

1) Is your next big win real? Making decisions and setting goals on cloud nine can be like getting stuck at the craps table in Vegas.

2) Do you fully understand what it took to win? Knowing how far and how hard your journey to the win was helps set realistic goals for the next win.

3) Did you take the time to address the losers? Addressing the losers is a great way to build their confidence and yours. Ask them what they think about your win and their views on the competition. If they don’t want to share, then they are sore losers.

With these questions, you can be ultimate winner. Are you ready to win?