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?

What Do You Know When You Don’t?

Knowing something is half the battle. Communicating that something is the other half, but that is the subject of another post.

Knowing how your customers use your product and how they want to interact with you is a great thing. Two major steps toward becoming customer oriented.

But then you realize that what you know, might not be what you know. You see signs that your data may be incomplete or inaccurately measured. What do you know now?

1) You need to stop and reevaluate what you know.
2) Depending on the issue, you might be realizing that what you know, might be valid to some degree.
3) On the other-hand, you might be realizing that an entire rebuild of the data warehouse is in order.
4) You start making a mind map of the situation to visualize the scope of the problem.
5) You start counting the knowns, the unknowns, the could-be’s and the what-if’s.
6) You then start to think that maybe if you ignore it, it might, with a one in a trillion change, actually fix itself.

Then you realize you just reconstructed the famous Donald Rumsfeld speech:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld (more Rumsfeld quotes)

In the end you may know much more than when you started. But the process of determining what you don’t know and what you do know is a great one! It is called validation.

Everyone should have a process of validation.

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?

What You Are Paid For

An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision ~ James Whistler

The above quote speaks volumes for what you need to deliver day in and day out.  Like an artist, we all have vision in our positions, so when we deliver our product, it is the vision that we must deliver in a clear and concise way.

As an Analyst, when I create a chart, there is a vision that created that chart that must be communicated for others to use in their decision making process.  This is why analytics are truly an artform with the visual representation the key.  In this sense, I am not paid for my labor, but for my vision.

A trainer/coach is not paid for their workouts but for their long-term vision and commitment. – Aric Monts (taking inspiration from Mr. Whistler)

As I consider shaking up the fitness industry, it is not the workouts that clients want.  It is the long-term vision of their fitness and the commitment of an individualized trainer that they want.   Anyone can create a basic workout, but putting the workouts together with the vision in the form of a training plan and following up with commitment, the client will be loyal.

The next time you look at your pay stub, think about not what you physically delivered, but the vision that it represents!