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!

Search Engine Battle Gets Interesting: Bing Rewards

There is no question about Google being the dominant player in the search engine market.  Internet search evolved from Dogpile to Alta Vista, all the way to Google with many more players in between.

Bing search result resembles Google closely.

With my 2012 goal of ridding Facebook and Google from my life (I feel both of these companies are too big and have too much data), seeking an alternate search engine is high on my to-do list.  There are few alternatives, so I have been testing Bing over the past few weeks.  Overall, Bing is a competitive alternative with a very similar look and feel of Google

What was surprising to me, was the pop-up window in the upper right of the screen. The pop-up suggests that I signup for Bing Rewards (more on this later), do 2 additional searches and enter a sweepstakes for an Xbox 360.  While I wasn’t wild about entering a sweepstakes for an Xbox, the concept of trading searches for product was intriguing. So I dug deeper.

Example products/services to redeem your ‘rewards’ on.

It seems that Microsoft is eager to get people to use Bing, so they’ve come up with something called Bing Rewards.  Very much like a rewards program for your credit card, you earn points for each internet search.  Once you collect enough points, you can redeem them for coupons and product like a $5 Amazon.com gift card or even 60 minutes of Skype credit.  The part I thought was especially thoughtful was the ability to turn your rewards into a charity donation to an organization like TeachForAmerica or DonorsChoose.org.

While I will happily use Bing as my default search engine going forward without the inspiration of collecting BingRewards, I have to hand it to Microsoft to sweeten the search engine Battle and reward customers for their data, rather than stealing it (as Google does).

If you use BingRewards and can speak to the program, please leave a comment.  I, and the rest of my readers, would love to hear about your experience.

Designing An iPhone App

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As I expand my business model, reaching out to my mobile users is hugely important. While some CEO’s might hire an expensive consultant or purchase expensive software, this CEO is old school. Using pen, paper and ruler I sketched out an 8-page iPhone app for my online fitness log.

While I am sure a lot of our world focuses on technology to make life more efficient, it’s the pieces that start on the napkin that are most intriguing. To capture something from the mind and turn it into a real thing is a process that takes time and a team of talented people. But it’s the old school tech that really makes it happen.

I wonder how many of my iPhone users realize that what they are using today got a low tech start?

Keeping It Simple

KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid

Complex things overwhelm.  Simple things are easy and build confidence. 

So why not take complex things and break them down into many easy simple things?

Losing weight isn’t about one big thing.  Its about a number of small things that lead to the big thing, weight loss.

You don’t replace a transmission in one big motion. You take a series of smaller steps to remove the transmission and then reinstall it.

You don’t build a successful business overnight, you build a team, design a product, create a website, and build the business one step at a time.

KISS

Visualizing a Weather Forecast: WeatherSpark

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Came across this awesome new weather forecasting site that really lets the visualization geek get intimate with the weather forecast. WeatherSpark is in beta and uses historical weather to predict the weather going forward, offering not only a map, but charts to boot! Check it out.