Paxata Launches, Data Services on a Blistering Roll

My very good friend Nenshad Bardoliwalla launched his latest company, Paxata. Nenshad is an amazing entrepreneur who co-founded Tidemark in addition to literally writing the book on implementing performance management with analytics.

What is really interesting about Paxata is that they are focusing on the fundamental problem anyone attempting to perform complex data analytics faces, which is that your data doesn’t live in one place and getting it into a model that improves over time is a bigger challenge than giving end users better tools for performing the actual analytics.

Data services in the context of big data and business analytics will be a rapidly expanding category in it’s own rite and as companies seek to integrate data they own with services they subscribe to or just gather from public sources, the data preparation steps and ongoing optimization will be far more valuable than just integration alone.

The Ingenuity of Man

I am a woodworker. It started when I was a teenager and worked in the construction trades for spending and school money, later progressing to a full fledged necessary hobby when we were facing a new house with a lot of empty rooms and I figured “well hell I’ll just build the furniture”. Today I can spend literally 18 hours in my workshop and not even notice the time slip by, I get completely lost in activity and thought with the result being my own form of therapy as well tangible output.

The act of creating is powerful and emotive on a lot of levels, and this skill that I have worked hard to develop over the years connects me to a basic drive for self-sustainability that I hope my children also develop an appreciation for. Knowing how to build something and looking at a stack of wood not as a pile of debris that needs cleaning up but the inspiration for endless possibilities is really pretty satisfying.

20131020_182849_editedEqually satisfying is knowing that I can make for myself something precisely what I want and unique in the world, and at this point in my woodworking journey I can build a wide range that meets every need and want we have in our home, as is the case with one of my current projects, four mahogany carriage doors to replace the typical rollup garage door that came with the house.

I had an epiphany of sorts while working on this and it came in the form of a scrap piece of word with some markings on it. While it would seem logical to measure everything with a tape measure or ruler, the fact of the matter is that the most reliable way to get consistent measurements and layouts is to transfer from one to another. The human eye can trick you and an unnoticed slip of the hand or momentary loss of attention can result in a ruined days work so I end up taking sticks and scribbling on them when I need to make repetitive measurements.

20131020_182059_editedIt was when I glanced at this scrap on my workbench that I appreciated how much information was stored on those markings, in this case I could layout 4 separate operations with great accuracy and little opportunity for error. However, the epiphany I had was really about the wonderful workings of the human brain; while I can’t perform a billion math operations a second I can adapt ordinary items into highly useful tools and in the process create my own computational system on the fly that is perfectly adapted to a particular problem. along with emotion and empathy, this makes humans pretty unique and unlike any computer.

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Presentations That Don’t Suck

I do a lot of presentations and enjoy the process of creating the content as much as delivering it. Over the years I have seen the full range, from the awesome to the truly bad, and this last Saturday I went to the Being Human conference with a friend. The speakers were impressive, very impressive, and I would encourage you to check them out.

http://fora.tv/conference/being_human_2013

I commented to Bryan that I was thinking about what made these presenters so compelling and 2 things jumped out. With a couple of exceptions, every speaker was a PhD, which means they spend a significant amount of their time teaching. This experience is unique because of the feedback loop that a classroom is and the opportunity for extemporaneous discussion about the material, which develops a high degree of comfort. Secondly, each presenter covered material that is their life’s work, they are not repeating talking points and reading from slides prepared by other people… they own the content and have deep expertise to back it up. Practice and content ownership make come together to make these presenters really impressive.

I was inspired and the experience made me think about what makes a good presentation in our business.

1) Kill the weak: Strong and assertive language is honed, eliminate weak words and phrases. Don’t equivocate, state your message clearly and with conviction.

2) Speak to the audience: Use language that everyone in your audience can relate to and don’t talk down to them.

3) Focus on the theme: Reinforce the central theme and keep it focused by revisiting main points, visually and in the narrative.

4) Would you like it? If you don’t love your own presentation then rethink it. Be honest with yourself.

5) Steel fist, velvet glove: Finish with a KO punch, don’t run out of gas halfway through. Save the best for last to burn in the central theme.

6) Math is graded: Do your numbers add up? Also take care to use numbers on a common scale to prevent confusion across multiple slides.

7) An image is always better: Bullets are for firearms… images are always better for communicating.

8) Speak to the slides: You are Batman, the slides are Robin… the sidekick. Run the show and build the slides to reflect that.

9) Less is more: Review every slide for stuff that doesn’t help… your presentation is a children’s book for adults. Another way to approach this is what is called "tweetable moments" which are nothing more than what 140 character message would you want tweeted by an audience after each slide.

10) It’s a conversation: Presenting is about creating a sense of comfort and intimacy as much as it is communicating a message. Be yourself and that means be animated with your body language, use anecdotes to personalize the content, be self-deprecating, and most of all be enthusiastic about it because enthusiasm and excitement are infectious qualities (unless you are presenting on something like genocide, in which case enthusiasm is not good).

Hype-Loop

Elon Musk is an enviable entrepreneur. He resides in the rarified air of a credible tech celebrity and can command the rapt attention of the tech media with little more than a 57 page term paper for something that he, in his next breath, declares he won’t build.

Never mind the construction costs, rights-of-way, economic model, reliability. On the other hand there is no new science here either, he is proposing pneumatic pressure instead of vacuum pressure and that is a well understood force.

We need more people like Musk, who has built three companies in completely separate markets and in each case are capital intensive, highly regulated, and dominated by bureaucratic morass. If anyone could build high speed transportation that wouldn’t suck in California (e.g. high speed rail) I would put my money on Musk. too bad he won’t actually do it.

UPDATE:

The Chromebook Dulls…

Back in June I wrote a post about my plunge into the world of Chromebooks. I thought it would be a good idea to provide an update on that experience and highlight the reasons why I am putting it on the shelve, or more precisely handing it over to my son…

First the good, which is that it really is a viable alternative to Mac and Windows. Almost everything we use these days is browser based so running a sub-compact laptop that relies exclusively on a browser for applications is workable. It is inexpensive, the battery life is fantastic and it does the job for most tasks.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

  1. The Samsung is slooooooow and the display is actually rather weak, rising to the “good enough” level on the best of days. Admittedly these issues can be resolved with a more capable alternative like the Google Pixel but why would I spend $1,300 on a laptop that has other significant shortcomings? 
  2. Google Print and remote desktop both rely on the host being available (no surprise, right?) but in the case of print this is particularly debilitating. We have no fixed computers in our house, everything is either laptop or tablet and when it comes to printing, which is still a required capability, the Chromebook became a problem because it was looking for one specific laptop that I had sourced with the Google Print capability. It was not always available and this resulted in frustrating moments when I really needed to print something and could not. Google needs to sort out this print feature set to enable direct-to-printer interfacing, even if with a generic driver.
  3. Can’t run installed Java therefore Gotomeeting, Webex, etc. are not possible… this was a major problem for me. There is a way to do this with remote desktop but then we come back to the issue above, if the remote desktop is not available you are out of luck.
  4. Could not connect USB devices I wanted to connect, like my camera. This surprised me, I just assumed that any device connected with USB would be treated as external storage… not the case. #fail.
  5. The last issue is a strange one and it is only when you use the laptop for a while that you notice how annoying it is. There are odd caching behaviors that result in pages being reloaded way too often… for example, if you shift focus away from your Gmail tab for more than a few minutes and then return to the tab it will reload Gmail. This is massively frustrating if you are like me and are in and out of Gmail literally hundreds of times per day. Add up all those 10-15 second intervals over the course of a day and it adds up to a good chunk of wasted time.

On balance I am still happy to have the Chromebook, and for my son it will work really well, but the fact remains that with the significant shortcomings this device is not adequate for business use.

Turning off Comments

I have turned off comments for the time being… 2 reasons:

1) Spam: I am getting inundated with spam comments masquerading as legitimate comments. The better ones are hard to detect at first glance, only when I see the link in either the commenter ID or in the comment itself is it then evident that someone is looking for a free ride on my SEO juice.

2) Alternative Channels: I actually don’t get that many comments, most people that I interact with are doing so via Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. For this reason above all else I am not concerned about shutting down comments, the discussion will not be impacted.

I should also highlight that the way I am doing this is by pushing every comment into moderation by default, which means the comment functionality will still display but comments will not immediately post. The way I figure it, if spammers are going to waste my time I might as well turn the tables and waste their time by allowing them to believe they are posting comments but then not having the fruits of their labor display… eventually they will move on.

 

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Terms and Conditions May Apply

This is a really interesting movie about how consumer services are building businesses on the private data that consumers are handing over, and by extension how big data is fueling new concerns about how that data can be reconstructed and infringe on our personal liberties.

The Return of Mike and Ike

The movie trailer style advertisement for Mike & Ike candy is, in a word, completely awesome (2 words).

This really underscores a broader movement that the less time constrained online media world started, advertising as storytelling and entertainment, not just another commercial. We all want to be entertained, we don’t want to be sold to…

 

Google+ Turns 2: How Hangouts Completely Changed My Work Routines

Google+ turned two this week and by all accounts Google has won over critics with a compelling social network experience. I have been a fan from day 1 and perhaps what I admire most about Google is that they ignore the pundits while playing a very long game of their own making… so while my initial reaction that Twitter and Tumblr would be the biggest losers, which obviously was not the case, there are other factors that are worth looking at.

Simply put, Hangouts have been enormously impactful on me and how I work. Here is something they nailed and it is so profound that I didn’t even realize it until just this week, Hangouts are built around the notion that a video experience is YOU first, and then whatever you are sharing second.

Think about how Gotomeeting and Webex handle video, it is something that is added to the act of presenting something and despite a significant push to feature video, I have encountered few instances where someone says “hey share the camera!”. Contrast that to Hangouts where video is a primary experience… Google just figured this out while Webex and Gotomeeting are still locked into their traditional mode, which also limits their ability to have an instant video conference in the absence of a persistent conference room.

We have a very distributed company and on any given day I will have between 3-6 planned video Hangouts and a bunch of ad hoc ones. This has become such a fundamental mode of communication for me that I invested in SteelSeries gamer headsets to provide the best audio quality while also improving the comfort factor.

The integration with Google Calendar is another winner, where adding a video conference to a meeting is as simple as clicking the link. No scheduling service, passwords, dialin numbers. and so on… it just works.

Another experiences I had recently that drove this home was at HP with one of their sophisticated teleconference systems. Yes, it was remarkable but I kept thinking that I could do something a lot easier with Hangouts… instead of getting a bunch of people in dedicated rooms just to talk to each other, we could have each run a separate video in Hangouts and the result would have been the same in terms of what we accomplished… and for free.

The integration of Talk with Hangouts is a mixed bag and I hope that Google restores the ability to place voice calls from the Hangouts add-on in Gmail. Google has an interesting integration challenge that is a result of an embarrassment of riches with a robust chat product that built on XMPP, Google Voice, and Hangouts. A big change they announced last month was the abandonment of XMPP, which has a lot of features as well as a big developer community, and the replacement of Talk with Hangouts. I like the user experience and having my chats pop up in Hangouts in addition to Gmail, but the degradation of features is disappointing, most significantly the inability to place voice phone calls right from Hangouts.

I don’t know where they are going with this but the result for me is that I now use Skype more frequently for voice calls instead of hitting the phone icon in Talk and placing a call.

Lastly, the mobile experience is completely seamless, and that extends to video as well. On my Samsung S4 the mobile video conferencing is surprisingly good and glitch free… how far we have come from commercial video phones that started showing up in the 1980′s that used super expensive hardware and puts POTS through an extreme gymnastics routine.

Design Principles and the Value of Experimentation

I have been watching Chris Harris’ Youtube channel while on the treadmill and yesterday I caught this fantastic segment on the legendary 1987 Porsche 962 that dominated Le Mans.

There were 3 distinct parts of the video that are worth highlighting. Le Mans is a unique motorsport event, a 24 hour event that features a wide range of classes racing together on the same track and combining the technical prowess of manufacturer sponsored teams as well as the innovation of privateer teams. The race was held this weekend and Audi won in their class, again.

1) Norbert Singer, the Porsche engineer who had a strong hand in every one of Porsche’s 16 victories at Le Mans, talks about Porsche’s reliability, a hallmark of the Porsche customer racing car program (you could actually walk in and buy a 962, hand over some money and get a set of keys… imagine that, a race car with a keyed ignition!). At about 1:30 in the video Singer is talking about reliability and how everyone in the Porsche racing program oriented their worldview around Le Mans because of the demands the race presented. Running a high performance vehicle for flat out for 24 hours and crossing the finish line is no small feat, and as Singer highlights it “first you have to finish the race and then you see where you are”.

This is a great commentary on design principles and everything in life and work has attributes that can be isolated to drive this degree of clarity. Now, if the car isn’t fast, handles poorly, or any one of a thousand other factors you won’t win but if the car isn’t reliable you won’t finish, much less win.

2) The 962 had for it’s time some pretty revolutionary ground effects, which also reduced drag as well as generating downforce that contributed to the extraordinary handling of the car. Following the successful 917 program, Singer sought to create ground effects by mimicking what Formula One cars were doing at the time and dramatically increasing downforce irrespective of the consequences on drag because with 1,000 horsepower they had plenty of power they could tap into to overcome deficiencies in aerodynamics.

Through experimentation the engineers learned that controlling the airflow over AND under the car improved the downforce while at the same time improving the slipperiness of the car itself. Conventional wisdom held that the two goals were in conflict, Singer developed the science of design based on his observations of air flow and continued testing to learn the science. Testing and experimentation can always be relied upon to overcome the power of repeated anecdote.

At around 11:40 Harris asked Singer some interesting questions about the handling of the car and Singer went into some detail about how the increase of ground effects on the rear of the car, with the extended tail, has the effect of improving the force on the front axle. This is really surprising and again points to the value of experimentation because what Singer and the Porsche team were learning is how the air moving over and under the car can be shaped to deliver specific forces with outcomes that are very desirable in a race car.

3) Finally, Singer is asked about the dramatic performance gains that were created in just a few short years. As is the case with new technologies, the biggest gains come in the beginning and after the big steps are taken everything is incremental. I am struck by this because I think we, as an industry, adhere to the notion of disruption but far too often deliver incremental. Therefore, if we more finely tune our appreciation for big steps we will then seek to upend the balance with new invention rather than fine tuning the status quo… as Audi did when they introduced diesel powered cars that were not only more durable than competitors but also more fuel efficient which resulted in fewer pit stops.

I would encourage you to watch this video because the lessons that are revealed extend well beyond racing.

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