Monday, December 1, 2014

Disconnecting in the age of information overload - a 4 day experiment with no internet

And no I wasn't on a camping trip, this is 4 days of no internet over Thanksgiving weekend and all that free time at home.


It all started with a stupid tweet on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, where I foolishly said I would try 4 days with no internet after reading Dean Anthony Gratton's (@grattonboy) article "My Life without Wi-Fi" and I thought why not try no internet at all. I binged on Wednesday, went crazy. I downloaded movies from VUDU so I could watch them offline. I downloaded music from Google Play so I could listen offline. I was starting to panic...

Day 1 

I couldn't trust myself to turn on my computer and work offline, I had already disabled Wi-Fi and cellular data on my iPhone, so I woke up and picked up a book. I decided to finish reading a book I had started years ago call "On Mexican Time" by Tony Cohan. Sat down on the couch and started reading and realized after putting it aside for so long I needed to start over. I got 4 pages into it and came across a word which in context I understood, but wanted to look up. Instinctively I reached for my phone and realized it would be of no use without the internet. So I got up off the couch and rediscovered the old standby - The Dictionary
Day 1 - Discovered dictionaries can still be useful

I ended up on a tangent after looking up insouciance:
1. Blithe lack of concern; nonchalance.
I continued on with blithe:
1. Filled with gaiety; cheerful. 2. Casual; carefree.

This was interesting to rediscover, the dictionary can take you down the if you give a mouse a cookie path.  Blithe was never a word I associated with cheerful. 

After this brief diversion I decided maybe I should blog about this experience without the internet and share my boring internet free 4 day weekend with the rest of you. I should I have just gone out of town into the wilderness or something, but I also woke up Thursday with a nasty cold and no internet. Could Thanksgiving get any worse?

The real genesis of this idea started when I was on the hunt for a new mobile phone plan and a new smartphone. Of course once you start searching for anything these days you are then followed all over the internet with banner ads galore. I was tired of the constant barrage (3. An overwhelming concentrated outpouring, as of words or blows.) of marketing messages going on about switching to this plan or that plan, with this much data or that much data and so on... I was beginning to wonder if I could wind the clock back a few years and live without the internet in my pocket. Trying to find the best deal in wireless these days is like opening the floodgates of a dam when you're living downstream. Thanks to @grattongirl's tweet 
Sarah-Jayne Gratton@grattongirl
"My Life without Wi-Fi" by Dean Anthony Gratton (@grattonboy)… via@ADVAOpticalNews cc @WiFiAlliance@garethspence
04:33 PM - 25 Nov 14
that led me to the inspiring article, I was thus fueled to proceed with my internet free experiment, but one thing I had forgotten was that without cellular data your phone won't text. I turned the cellular data back on to test it then back off and sure enough you can't send a text without it (or without Wi-Fi).  I immediately got out my most trusted word processor that required no internet connection and began to write about my experiences of the first day with no internet. My iPhone was now not much more than a camera and an iPod, which 10 years ago would have been an awesome idea and even with no internet still a useful device. 


My most immediate discovery on day one was the dictionary, then the typewriter, then the camera on my iPhone. One thing in reflecting back on the experience now I realize that the world actually becomes a lot more tactile when you take it all offline. Looking up a word in the dictionary with the pages and indented tabs to take you to sections more quickly, these were innovations at some point possibly heralded as the doom of reading or who knows what. My typewriter from the garage, humming and clacking (driving my wife nuts) and actually running out of ink mid-blogpost. Finding a new ribbon in the garage and getting my fingers all inky... do you see what I mean about the world becoming more tactile?

Day 2

Cut off from all internet access, including data on my iPhone. While day 1 wasn't too difficult with the Thanksgiving holiday, I basically woke up did some reading and writing and then had to head to the in-laws for an early dinner. I was fairly certain I could make it through day 1, and since I had nothing really going on in my pocket to distract me and no notion of going home to binge watch some show on Netflix we ended up spending the night at the in-laws, something I'm usually very reluctant to do. I found my disconnected self enjoying the company of real live people and taking in all the little things we tend to ignore in our daily lives. At this point I had left my phone at home realizing the temptation to pull it out and Instagram some moment, or text some friends would be too overwhelming. So I apologize I have no photos for this post so I'll try to keep it short.

My in-laws are in an experiment of their own in raising to young children now 5 and 8 years old in a house that started out virtually free of any technology for the first 5 years of their parenting lives. The idea comes from the Waldorf education that discourages the use of electronic media for children kindergarteners and earlier. They stuck with it for the first child strictly through the first 5 years even going so far as to hide the television and computers and never using their iPhones around the kids. It was impressive and the oldest kid developed a great sense of imagination, language, and verbal skills. The younger kid who has been exposed slightly earlier to Disneyland, Disney movies, the iPad, Legos, and other commercial products seems to have a slightly different developmental experience. Of course personality differences could be just as much a factor as anything else.

The point in bringing all that up is the following anecdote. Friday morning we had eaten breakfast and were all planning to take a walk to the local farmer's market. Everyone is excited about the idea, but one of us has a slightly different idea for how to get to the farmer's market. The youngest kid is having a fit as the house alarm is being set and we are walking out the door. I get the story from the oldest kid who says the younger one wants to ride in a stroller and play the "Mickey game" with an iPad on the walk to the farmer's market. To keep it short this is how it all panned out, mom and oldest child begins the walk with me and my wife, while dad stays home with the youngest determined not to cave to the request for the iPad. We've gone about two blocks before we see them dad pushing stroller and youngest child with a stuffed animal clutched to her chest. A compromise had been reached and electronics had been left behind. 

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, we ate lunch, played around the house, and then we left to go home. One piece of internet I was missing at this point was just a simple check on the Los Angeles traffic via Google Maps before I hit the road. Fortunately my car has GPS with traffic provided via XM radio. On returning home the missing internet became more apparent as now my only media options were to dig through 1,000 old DVD's or watch one of three movies I had downloaded. Ironic how the one thing you are in the mood to watch is the one thing you didn't download...

Day 3

Perhaps some more background is necessary so you don't think I'm someone who would normally just knock around offline for the weekend anyway. Every vacation I've taken since 2005 has included a plan for how I would stay connected with work and the connected world in general. I'm a bit obsessive about tracking my financials regularly as well, every day I look at everything in my financial world to make sure I haven't been a victim of fraud or identity theft. You could say I'm a bit paranoid, but after all the breaches these days I'm wondering if I'm paranoid enough. I've rented pocket Wi-Fi devices in England, Scottland, Japan, Costa Rica (which didn't work most of the time), Italy, and Spain. I used my LG VX8700 flip phone as a tethering device for my laptop before most people were even aware of the term tethering. I stay connected no matter what. 

I've missed Black Friday entirely, at least the digital version, I haven't checked my email since going to bed on Wednesday, no Netflix, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Live365... what am I missing?? I tell myself I'm not missing anything but it is getting harder to believe. 

My wife has not joined me on this experiment but she's not even online and I resist asking her to look and see what deals are going on out there. As a result we've spent Saturday out and about looking for an open house that my grandma sent me a newspaper clipping of via the United States Postal Service. My grandma is offline and the biggest oversharer of them all somehow and all done with stamps and scissors and envelopes. I love my grandma, she's old school hipster all the way. 

On the way to the open house we see a sign for the USS Iowa battleship museum and remember we've been wanting to check it out so we go. I of course don't have my phone so no photos this outing exist, but I have the memories (and now the internet again which has tons of photos of it). 

We find a different open house and enjoy an amazing view from a beautifully remodeled home. We head back down to the hill and check out the craft market Crafted at the port where we find all kinds of gift ideas for the holidays and come across a taste of Choriman's now famous green chorizo and it's delicious. Back home as the rain begins to fall and we light a fire and sit around reading books and drinking hot apple cider. I almost feel like I'm on vacation. 

Day 4

By now I'm relaxed, I wake up Sunday morning and enjoy a leisurely morning with no email from work to remind me that Monday is coming. I'm starting to understand the German philosophy of a strict work life balance that fosters productivity. Without the constant distraction of notifications on my phone I'm more relaxed, more focused, more... productive? I check the newspaper for local movie times and I can't find them, maybe that was in Friday's paper? I realize I can't even remember the last time I used the paper as a reference for my daily life. Now I get it more out of nostalgia and because of my deeply rooted desire to be a journalist some day (thought I'd be there by now but got distracted by 19 years in advertising). It's early so I decide to head to the theater to see if I can catch a matinee of Interstellar and have a lunch of popcorn and Milk Duds. I'm in a luck, there's an 11:50 showing and it's only 11:40 now so I buy the ticket and take the ride. 

It's not worth it, Interstellar is no Gravity and as odd as it is for me to say this McConaughey and Hathaway are no Bullock and Clooney it just didn't work for me. Love is apparently all you need to solve the question of time travel, well that and a black hole. It was an hour too long and too corny of an ending. Think of the movie Contact with Jodie Foster and you'll know what I'm talking about, or you'll have no idea either way. 

At least the movie has killed over three hours of my day without the internet and now I'm ready for lunch and a good book. 

It's now Monday morning and I'm reflecting back on the whole experience as I write this post. I feel more relaxed than I have even after a week or two of "connected" vacations. I've forgotten a lot of things without my phone around to remind me, but I don't feel I've missed anything important being offline. I feel I've gained a new sense of awareness of how distracted life can be when you're connected and I feel like I will moderate my use of technology moving forward. I will definitely still be binge watching on Netflix in the future, but when I'm with family and friends I'm going to leave my phone offline. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

A brief review of Paulo Coelho's new book Adultery

There were some of the emotional insights into the human condition that we've come to expect from Mr. Coelho in this book, but I really think he should have made the characters older, they do not read like 30 year olds, they read more like 40 year olds (if you feel this way at 30 man you're life really sucks). I found I could relate to almost all of it though as I hit 38.  I'd give the book 3 stars, I liked it I don't regret reading it, it was a quick and easy read compared to my other projects of trudging through Tolstoy's War and Peace or Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century this was like reading a comic book).  I could see why this book would generate mixed reviews though, I think you'll either hate it, be annoyed by it, think it was entertaining, or you'll love it... it all depends on your frame of reference. Bottom line though it was written for entertainment and it delivers on that front no problem at all. 

My favorite lines are noted below as well as my final thoughts on the book.

page 4 "I mean, what's wrong with routine and boredome? To be honest, nothing at all. It's just... it's just the secret fear that everything could change from one moment to the next, catching me completely unawares."

page 6 "I think that passion is strictly for the young. Presumably, its absence is normal at my age (30), but that isn't what terrifies me. Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days."

page 19 "Being riddled with guilt because you have no reason to feel like this when there are so many people in the world who are really suffering."

page 29 "Not everyone needs to feel happy all the time. Besides, no one can be happy all the time. I need to learn to deal with the reality of life."

page 45 "I can't stand myself any longer. My life is like a film endlessly repeating the same scene. When we meet with friends, we always talk about the same things and the same people. The conversations seem new, but it's all just a waste of time and energy. We're trying to prove that life is still interesting. Everyone is trying to control their own unhappiness."

page 51 "And all these things make us feel old, make us feel that we're leading dull, in adventurous lives as our skin grows ever more flaccid..."

page 123 "There is nothing else to discover, and we try to get as much pleasure as possible from the same things. This is like eating chocolate every day, without changing brands or trying new flavors: it's not a sacrifice, but isn't there anything else? For me I could eat the same chocolate every day if it's a good one like Godiva or better. Sometimes you try other brands and they are crap."

page 138 "One week later, I do what I promised myself I would never do: see a psychiatrist."

page 143 "If the man in the middle had been born today, everyone -especially Catholics, in France and around the world -would call him a terrorist. His name is John Calvin, and Geneva was his field of operations."

page 150 "Everything is awful. Please, leave me alone, because I have no more tears to cry or heart left to suffer. All I have is insomnia, emptiness, and apathy, and, if you just ask yourselves, you're feeling the same thing."

page 206 "I watch people coming and going, all so busy in their own worlds, tiny enough to fit on the screen of their smartphones from which they are unable to unglue their eyes and ears."

page 216 "What is really contagious is fear, the constant fear of never finding someone to accompany us to the end of our days."

page 242"Do you think all this beauty an grandeur can fit in a little square of film? Record things in your heart. It's more important than trying to show people what you're experiencing."


Really she should consider herself lucky it was only a year, for some people this madness and depression lasts a lifetime. If only we could all fuck our way out of depression and loneliness with no consequences for our actions, we'd all be a lot happier.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Display ad click through rate - courtesy of John Oliver

It's not often I discover the latest benchmark rates for display ads while watching HBO, having a glass of wine and trying to forgot about what I deal with for a living. But last week on Last Week Tonight I was confronted with advertising stats out of the blue from my favorite weekly news source Mr. Oliver. 

Now considering this was news from #doubleclick in April I should have known this already and as a user of the internet I should know how rarely (never) I click on ads myself. The rate of .17% seemed even lower than I imagined but then again it's not much worse than our "targeted" acquisition email campaigns for a large wireless carrier that will remain unnamed but that falls later in the alphabet than the other three large wireless carriers. Our email campaigns have a response rate of .22% on a good day. 

Oliver's joke about what happens when you click a banner ad (AKA display ad) taking you to a site that insists you must need help and an ambulance has been called is probably not far from the truth. 

The facts he shares next are no surprise to those who browse the news online and find that series of images at the bottom or side with teasing tag lines that in turn will take you through a paid advertisement for a weight loss product endorsement. These thinly veiled sponsored content pieces garner better click rates but what is the conversion I wonder?

Native advertising or branded content basically drives all the revenue for online media channels like BuzzFeed and now companies like Time Inc and even now the Los Angeles Times. Native advertising blends in so well as legitimate news content on the sites that less than half the visitors to the sites can tell news content from sponsored ad content. 

While this may be good news for struggling old media companies like newspapers and news magazines it is a bit alarming as to the future state of journalism in this country. Time Inc has effectively dismissed the notion of editors and advertisers being completely separate entities, how soon before journalists and ad men are one and the same?

Others that have lost objective separation of their advertising unit and the editorial unit are The Atlantic, The New York Times (Chevron sponsored articles already appeared), and many more will follow. "Press can't be free and independent if we aren't willing to pay for it. And it seems no one is willing to pay for it." - John Oliver

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gallup poll claims social media #fail

I’d be curious to see the latest poll on the influence of television and radio on purchase decisions, is 30% really a failure considering businesses only invested about $5.1 billion in the channel last year? The issue may not be with the channel as much as with the infrastructure needed to support accurate measurement of the effectiveness of that channel. Last year the Gallup Business Journal released a study about social media failing but also pointed out the opportunities in that space through engagement.

Now it appears in their latest Gallup Poll that they’ve decided to spin against social media. The poll results show that most people use social media to connect with people and basically use it to be “social”, which doesn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. What did surprise me however was that 35% of people claimed social media had some to a great deal of influence which to me signals a great opportunity still to be had in the space. Breaking it down 30% said some influence, 5% said a great deal of influence; and we won’t start talking about how some, none and a great deal aren’t the best ways to categorize influence, but I suppose Gallup knows more than I do about surveys.

In addition you can see that the influence of social media on purchasing decisions is moving steadily toward more influence in the younger generations. 43% of Millennials reported that social media had some influence on purchases and 7% said it had a great deal of influence. If the trend continues you can’t rule out social media as a failure when nearly half your audience is influenced by it. With the cord-cutting generation around the corner TV is going to see itself moving to the no influence on purchases column sooner than later unless they find a way to reinvent themselves and that may just be related to social media (see the Twitter feed streaming on your live TV broadcast later tonight).

The traditional media channels have years of experience tracking and measuring their results against the bottom line. When television was invented in 1927 they had the experience of radio advertising behind them already and it wasn’t a major disrupter at first for radio advertising. Fast forward to 1989 and the invention of the internet, this was a disruption and at first it sort of turned into a print media ad fest with banners in the style of billboards popping up all over the place disrupting your browsing experience. The big difference between the internet and other channels is that for the moment the internet is still largely an unregulated space whereas radio and television are owned media channels where you expect your listening or viewing experience to be disrupted.

The internet is a whole new space and yes it’s been around for 25 years now, but it’s still a toddler compared to radio and television. I say give social media a chance to begin measuring its impact on sales, it took a while for them to figure out ecommerce and measuring sales from website traffic, now it’s a well-oiled machine of measurement.  In fact the most accurate way to track individual customers direct impact to your bottom line is through their purchases on your website. You don’t get that with television or radio and for the moment you are not getting it from social media yet, but the potential to get there is on the horizon and in some cases already here.

Just to remind you the Gallup folks aren’t immune to sensationalizing their little surveys into headlines, just 12 years ago Gallup was questioning whether advertising is dead in a two part series and yet we’re all still here. And while they may be condemning social they currently have great things to say about mobile technology and how it is increasing it’s impact on purchases.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Graphing and Safecracking?

photo credit: Si-MOCs via photopin cc

Most importantly let’s not ask the question how I came across this little piece of entertaining trivia, but you can thank me just the same. I would also recommend not clicking any of the links in this post as you may end up on a government watch list as I’m sure I am now. Okay now on to the good stuff!

We’ve all seen scenes in movies with the safecracker sweating and drilling into a safe while someone else keeps an eye out, or them attaching some computer to an electronic lock to unlock it in seconds. Apparently there is a company that sells a product to do just that, but it is so expensive you’d have to have a lot of electronic locks to open with lots of valuable things inside to make it worth the purpose but governments and locksmiths are some of their customers. 

Have you ever thought what you would do if you forgot your safe combination and couldn’t open it?

Fortunately locksmiths know just how to open your safe, but it takes a considerable amount of time (if you want the safe to still work when she’s done opening it) and some data analysis. Okay maybe not analysis as much as graphing and recognizing the pattern in the graph that indicates a successful code from the lock, but still I bet you never thought graphing and safecracking would ever go hand in hand. Below is an excerpt from the site where I came across this information and no I did not forget the combination to my safe. 

Graphing the Results
Knowing the contact area and number of wheels, the safecracker resets the lock by turning several times to the right. Then parking the wheels at zero, the safecracker turns the dial slowly to the left. The safecracker listens for the tell-tale clicks that indicate the position of the left and right sides of the contact area. Making note of this on a graph, the safecracker repeats this step, only this time parking the wheels three numbers to the left of zero. Each time the process is started from a different position, the contact area will vary slightly. The safe cracker repeats this process in intervals of three until all the positions on the dial have been graphed. You don't see that in the movies!The final graph representing the left and right contact points for all the positions will converge on itself at several points. These points of convergence should match the number of wheels that were determined by parking the wheels. They will also represent a range of numbers that hold the combination.
Though the graph will reveal where the wheels are in the proper position, it won't reveal in what order the wheels are to be lined up. The safecracker must now dial the numbers, in all possible variations, until the safe opens. A three-number combination could have six possible variations. Let's say the three numbers the safecracker must use are 4, 37 and 61. Therefore, the six possible combinations are:4-37-614-61-3737-4-6137-61-461-4-3761-37-4By trying all these variations the safe will eventually open.Lock manipulation is used more by locksmiths than safecrackers because of the skill and time needed to pull it off.

Turns out nefarious safecrackers use much less sophisticated methods usually, like stealing the entire safe and taking it apart later, finding your combination in the room  your safe is in, or using the combination the safe shipped with since you never reset it. Beyond that they deploy the blunt force methods of drilling, torching, or exploding. Advice for today, make sure you don’t write your combination down and tape it to your safe, and always reset the combination the safe came with. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

First, the death of telemarketers... now the data brokers?

 FTC Wants Data Brokers To Be More Transparent

I recently came across a fairly big piece of news for the data business, somewhat buried in a little article inside the The Wall Street Journal. With my marketing ears piqued, I went online and found several other news agencies covering the story. Perhaps the most damning was a post by Al Lewis comparing the private data brokers to the IBM punch-card sorting machines the Nazis used to collect data to round up Jews. Ever wonder how someone got your information to send you an email or direct mail? Or how they’ve targeted ads to you on your smartphone browser, or in your Facebook News Feed? (Well, the last one isn’t exactly a great mystery, considering we willingly surrender our info to Facebook.)
Edith Ramirez at the FTC was interested in finding the answers to these questions and, so, started an investigation back in 2012 focusing on nine of the larger data brokers in the business: Acxiom, CoreLogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, PeekYou, Recorded Future, and RapLeaf. I’m guessing you’ve heard of some of these. All collect tons of data on everything you do—from online shopping behavior to offline credit card transactions and anything else they can get their hands on. The FTC has found that these organizations operate with a “fundamental lack of transparency” and wants Congress to pass legislation to require more transparency about where and how they collect their data, as well as who they sell it to.
The DMA (Direct Marketing Association) is not a stranger to this type of threat against some of their members’ core business, and has a powerful lobby in Washington effectively bribing Congress to do nothing. But the telemarketing industry failed to block legislation for the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry more than 10 years ago now (because even Congress thinks phone calls at dinner are annoying). Now the FTC wants a similar system for data brokers: an online database disclosing the source of their data and giving consumers the opportunity to opt out of data collection.
Surprisingly, six of these nine companies already offer an opt-out option. But finding them is another story. And because there are hundreds of data brokers, there’s a good chance your data has been sold to several dozen others that you’d have to hunt down. This is where the FTC wants to simplify things for the consumer by creating a single database listing all sources and one opt-out option for all—much like the DNC Registry that has killed off just about all legitimate telemarketing operations. The same would likely happen with data brokers and I imagine the response to being able to opt out of data collection in the post-Snowden era might be huge, leaving us with very little data to use in marketing.

Personally, I’m all for transparency and the option to opt out. I’m on the DNC as well and I would be one of the first to register as an opt-out with the data brokers. On the other hand, unlike random ads or spam email, relevant targeted banner ads and email marketing are, in fact, attractive to some recipients. The full report is available on the FTC website here

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Minor changes in college majors over the past 40 years and immigration reform; how are they connected?

This is a fun data visualization I came across on NPR, but you have to really look at the percentages on the interactive version to get the clear picture of how much things have changed over the past 40 years.


One thing is clear from this snapshot though: Education majors have declined considerably since 1970. Over the same period, there was an increase in majors for the health professions, no doubt correlating with greater opportunities as baby boomers age. Business majors also saw an increase. Sadly, math, engineering, and computer science majors still constitute a pretty small piece of the pie, which is why immigrants are responsible for about half the startups in Silicon Valley, and why Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley heavy-hitters were putting their money behind immigration reform in 2013 (@FWD_us). For Silicon Valley, immigration reform is really a recruiting strategy to bring science, technology, engineering, and math talent to the U.S.
Other leaders in Silicon Valley are focusing on education reform and also trying to make computer science education more exciting and accessible. There are now several online schools that cover everything from how toprogram a robotic car to learning to code Ruby on Rails the zombie way—and all for free (well, now Udacity is charging $150 a month for access to its more advanced courses, so if you want to program the next Google car, you’ll have to pony up some cash).
All that to say, it’s clear the U.S. could use some more kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees if we’re going to stay innovative in the future. We could also use a boost in the agriculture and chemistry fields if we want to continue eating for the next 40 years, although I just heard McDonald’s is moving to lab-created chicken for its McNuggets… to that I say, weren’t they already some sort of lab creation?

Monday, May 5, 2014

The science of boarding an airplane: much more complicated than you’d think.

And, yes, it’s because they’ve crammed too many seats on the plane, but there are other more subtle reasons as well. If you’ve flown Southwest Airlines, I’ll bet you were just watching the clock waiting to be able to check in so you could get an earlier boarding group and a decent seat. Did you feel this was an efficient way of getting on the plane? Contrast it with an experience where you have a designated seat and think about how long it took to board in that context.
For me, it always feels like 90% of the people on the plane have never flown before and are completely unaware of how the process works. But as it turns out, there is no standard process for loading a plane. Boeing apparently does research on the time it takes to load and unload every model of its planes and sells this valuable info to airlines. It’s a fascinating bit of research for airlines trying to increase efficiency at the gate.
The figure below is a Boeing trend-over-time study of its 757-300 model, showing that we’re boarding more slowly every year for nearly the last four decades. And interestingly enough, Boeing’s big selling point for this plane was the fact that it wouldn’t take any longer to load and unload than the previous model. Quick, where can I buy one of these?!?
Just in case you don’t “jet off” to the Boeing site to read the study, I’ve included some extracts here that give you the background of the serious science of boarding a plane, complete with its very own acronym.
The Boeing Passenger Enplane/Deplane Simulation (PEDS) offers airlines an additional tool to help reduce turn time. Depending on an individual airline’s operation, other elements of turn time, such as cargo handling, cabin cleaning, or galley servicing, may also be improved.
Boeing has a team of turn time experts that can work with airlines to analyze specific areas of concern. Airlines interested in evaluating solutions to their turn time problems should contact their local Field Service or Customer Requirements representative for assistance.
Simulation predictions were compared to the 757-200 passenger boarding test to validate results. Based on these validated predictions, it was possible to identify significant potential reductions to overall turn times for the 757-300. For example:
  • Using Door 2 instead of Door 1, boarding time (enplaning and deplaning) was reduced by one minute.*
  • Using Door 1 and Door 2 together saved five minutes.
  • If alternative loading procedures were used — such as the “outside-in” method of loading (window seats first, middle seats next, and aisle seats last) — the savings could be as great as 17 minutes. (figure 5b)
PEDS showed that the new 757-300 could be operated within the normal 757 turn time window of 60 minutes without making notable changes to existing procedures. It also showed that turn time could be reduced significantly if airlines used alternative passenger boarding methods.
*Emphasis mine
Normally, we think of things improving with new technology, especially over relatively significant periods of time. But in the airline business, apparently we’re just hoping to not get any worse. Eric Chemi of Businessweek poses some theories in his article and provides the data to back up the notion that things have, indeed, gotten worse.
Data back this up: Boeing’s (BA) research showed that boarding a plane was 50 percent slower in 1998 than in 1970. “Boeing believes that these trends will continue,” the study noted, “unless the root causes are understood and new tools and processes are developed to reverse the trend.”
One theory for the boarding dilemma is that airlines have no incentive to improve the process because they can upsell us on preferential treatments for a small fee or in return for our loyalty. So despite the fact that many methods for boarding a plane have been tested, and industry leaders like Boeing even offer insights on how their planes could be boarded more quickly, only some airlines take advantage of such methods. It turns out the “back-to-front” method most of us are used to experiencing is the worst and that Southwest’s seemingly random boarding is the faster approach at this point.
I’d like to thank the folks at KPCC on the Take Two show for bringing this topic back to the front of my mind and sharing Eric Chemi’s story from Businessweek.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Data visualization in the news: the bloody facts!

Once again my planned blogpost was pre-empted by the news this morning of a brutal incident outside of Pittsburgh and this time it wasn’t gun related it was a mass stabbing. Not something I was expecting to hear and it got me thinking about the seeming increase in these incidents of mass violence so being a data person I had to find some research.

The FBI defines a mass murder as involving 4 or more persons and as the latest tragedy unfolds in Pennslyvania over a year after Newtown we still don’t have any clear understanding of what is driving this rise in violent crime. Back in 2013 following the Newtown tragedy some news agencies were reporting that mass murders were on the rise since 2006, some linking it to the overall economic crisis and some to the widening income inequality gap.  

Well USA Today did a follow up piece digging further into the FBI data which turns out was slightly flawed by being underreported in some cases. It also turned out, not surprisingly, that certain stories got more attention and made it into the data while others did not. Local law enforcement agencies self-report the crime data to the FBI and in some cases don’t report it at all. This created a misperception that these crimes were on the rise when in reality they are pretty much the same just more sensationalized by national media. 

Looking at the graphic below you can see a fairly regular trend of mass murder (based on the FBI definition). 

As you can imagine the larger circles represent a higher volume of victims for that incident. In reviewing the data USA Today found that the majority of mass murder incidents were generally between family members and usually with a legally purchased handgun. Different groups will review this data differently but you have to admit the data visualization tells the story clearly and simply as any good data visualization should. To see the full USA Today piece and the interactive graphic visit here.  To help future victims you can donate blood or support the American Red Cross.   #StopTheViolence 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Having trouble navigating the marketing technology landscape?

If you aren’t that would be surprising, over the past 4 years the number of companies offering some sort of marketing software has exploded (see the evolution of the infographic for the Marketing Technology Landscape here – thank you to Dana Mondelesi for sharing this on our Rauxa Jostle site and derailing my original post for today which was going to be about me using Predictwise to help me pick the March Madness brackets for the office pool – but we’ll save that till March Madness is over). 

Just pick one area of marketing services and I could list at least 20 companies that claim to support that service with a software/technology solution. For example take a look at Web and Mobile Analytics and just some of the companies that play in that space in 2014.

Some of these names I’m sure you recognize (Adobe, Google, webtrends, IBM) and I’m sure at least 4 more that you’ve never heard of. I’m familiar with Adobe, Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, IBM, webtrends, mixpanel (applied for a job there when they started I thought they were so cool), bitly (not sure how this one really counts) and probably one or two others that I’m having trouble seeing through this mess of logos right now. Anyway the point is this is just one small piece of the marketing technology landscape, pick one you are familiar with from the high-resolution PDF version of the infographic you can download here and you’ll see what I mean.

Just to keep you on our blog a moment longer here’s where it gets interesting, because of this explosion of marketing technologies, we’ve even got a new space the folks at the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog are calling marketing middle-ware (marketing middleware — software to help all the other software in marketing work better together) and these are companies that have stepped in to help you manage your CRM or marketing automation platforms and databases and their interactions with all the marketing experience technologies. So here’s a shot of probably the most densely populated marketing experience channels, social media marketing which should give you an idea of why middle-ware solutions have sprung up in
 the market.

Recognize any of those? Now take a look at the whole picture and it’s really not a surprise you are having trouble navigating these waters.  In my mind this is the next bubble, it seems we have a surplus of marketing technologies, at this rate every major corporation could pick a different technology and then good luck in a merger (i.e. Comcast and TW) getting your marketing to be unified. This is definitely a picture that is unsustainable and hopefully soon the true leaders in marketing technology will emerge and clear the landscape. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Do you trust with your CRM data?

An important note here is that is a publicly traded company (hence the SEC inquiries) and they were a dotcom who survived the bubble and were talking about the cloud before most of us knew what that was. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a company worth over $4 billion on the market has no idea where its revenue comes from? Despite that statement there is a clear picture they put in their financials that shows since 2011 they’ve been losing money with which begs the question are they really worth the market value and are they really good at CRM?

The SEC became curious after their purchase of ExactTarget for $2.5 billion last summer and wanted to know where’s revenue growth was coming from. Even more interesting it appears officers of the company have sold over $16 million in their shares in the company over the last 6 months. I’d like to talk to Maria Martinez the President of Sales and Customer Success at to get the story behind her sale on March 7th of over $4 million of her shares in the company.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some scandal erupts at in the near future as the SEC continues to investigate, at the very least I suspect a market correction of their stock price and I know I will think twice before recommending their services to clients until they get their finances in order. For a company known as a leader in the CRM space (and even holding the CRM ticker on the NYSE) they really should have a better understanding of their revenue streams. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The biggest Oscar winner: the data scientists!

For the past two seasons of the Oscars, a group of data enthusiasts have been blogging predictions (they also cover sports and political elections) for the winners of the big night, and they’ve been doing it rather accurately. In 2013, they correctly predicted 19 out of 24 categories, and only three of those were truly major upsets given the margins of error provided. For this year’s Oscars, they hit 21 of 24 again with only three major upsets.
Who were you thinking would win (or should have won) best actress, for example?

I hadn’t even heard of the film Blue Jasmine prior to reviewing the predictions and no one I knew had been talking about it. But everyone I knew had seen Gravity and were talking about it. If water-cooler predictions were anything to put money on, I would have guessed Sandra Bullock would be winning an Oscar this year. Fortunately, I had the folks at PredictWise to help me out. When it came time to throw in my vote for the likely Best Actress winner, I knew the smart money was on Cate Blanchett.

As Oscar night unfolded, David Rothschild kept his PredictWise blog up to date on the accuracies of his team’s predictions—as well as his choice of beverage for the night (beer, always a winner for me). The final predictions for the Oscars were posted on March 1, and as the night progressed, it seemed as if 2014 might not be going the data scientists’ way—an hour into the show, only six out of nine categories were accurately predicted! But the rest of the ever-lengthy proceedings would go their way and by 9 p.m. PST, they wrapped up Oscar night with the Best Picture award and 21 out of 24 categories correctly predicted.
Not surprisingly, the most important data elements feeding the predictive formulas were the outcomes of awards shows preceding the Oscars. You can see from the chart from the 2013 Oscars below that the error rates dropped as more award shows results came in.

If you want to get into the formulas and the data behind all the predictions, you can read all about it in PredictWise’s (not yet published) academic paper on the matter here.