Going Beyond the Box

Think outside the boxBoxes are great for containing things. Whether moving or just trying to clear the clutter, a box comes in very handy.  You might even choose a box with some character, scratched out handwritten labels, shipping stickers and ancient yellow packing tape.  Yes, the box is a great thing.

But a box can also describe the perspective we live in.  Along the lines of “stuck in a rut,” living inside the box is a familiar place.   The box is the universe we live in, not only the physical space of home, work, the grocery store and the coffee shop, but also the mental world, the thoughts, the emotions, and the perspectives on the world.  By this definition, the box can start to take on a different feeling.

The life you live is the sum of the decisions and actions you make.  These decisions have many different types of influences, be it from your friends or networking group or from the thoughts which pass through your mind.  While many of us are quite content with the box we’ve built for ourselves, others may not be.

Change is how your box changes shape, color, and even location.  “Think outside the box” is a phrase we often use to set loftier goals for ourselves.  In fact, personal growth happens most when we step outside the box we’ve come to love.  A life of learning, new places, and new people is a great way to keep your box changing forever.

Here are some ideas to go beyond your box:

  • Take an online course – many are free and cover a wide variety of topics.
  • Join a book club – Sure, Oprah comes to mind, but reading is a great way to expand your box, as is engaging in discussion.
  • Invite a peer out to lunch – Not only do you get to experience a new atmosphere, but you share the experience with someone and bond with them.
  • Learning a new language or instrument – Learning to speak German or how to play Pachelbel’s Canon on the piano, the process of learning something new stimulates brain activity and makes you feel good.
  • Meditate – breathe, let your thoughts go, and relax.  Reflect on the thoughts which come up naturally and be prepared to write them down afterward so you can take action.
  • Take a vacation – it does not have to be an exotic place like Thailand, but a change of scenery is enough to get you thinking differently and open your horizons
  • Take a different route home from work – this is one tip I love and practice daily. You never drive home the same route day after day.  This opened me up to new routes and I found some places to visit at the same time.

While the box is a really cool thing, it is okay to think about life outside the box.

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.

The Problem of Facebook Only Updates

There is an assumption in our society that everyone has a Facebook account.  The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth.   Here are some points on why putting all of our eggs into Facebook is a HUGE problem:

  1. If Facebook is the only place companies go to send updates, this would mean Facebook is a monopoly and needs to immediately be dismantled.
  2. Facebook has not demonstrated that they have our societal values as a priority.  The purpose of Facebook, especially now they are public, is to profit from the data their users give them – for free.
  3. Facebook is just like any other web site and experiences outages (accidental and caused by hackers) more than the radio or other forms of media.
  4. Is Facebook really the best “platform” for dispersing information?  What about email, weblogs, and other systems?  Diversification ensures survivability.
  5. People, like myself, who don’t find Facebook as beneficial as having true one on one contact, are left in the dark.  One could argue this is discriminatory toward those who choose more personal relationships.
  6. In the end, the electricity goes out, so does Facebook and a bunch of other things.  Ink or pencil and paper will survive.
  7. There is very little in evidence that shows Facebook is beneficial to company revenue.

I hope this gets you, the reader, thinking about the role Facebook should play in our future.  I would argue that any business or entity that only offers updates through Facebook are just being lazy and not investing the true potential of their business.

As a solution, members of the media and anyone trying to disseminate information to the public should follow an example from Lois Capps:

“Please keep in touch with me through my website, by liking my Facebook page, following me onTwitter, or sending me an email.”

Website updates along with Twitter updates and  blog posts should not be overlooked and replaced with Facebook, period.  To do so is lazy.

Evening Hike

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Adding sublime moments to our modern, technologically advanced lives is an important strategy for keeping our sanity.

This evening I went for a short hike through Parma Park during the last moments of light. The peaceful air, moisture, greenery, and vast highlighted peaks in the distance make me appreciate just how important we preserve the wonderful, wild nature we live in.

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?