Why Fudge Your Own Numbers?

Data is good and can be very useful. Manipulated data is bad and can hurt you. What’s the point of collecting information in the first place if you’re going to mess with it? Your method of collection isn’t as accurate as you would like? You must stand behind the data you collected so far and move forward with another method instead. By adjusting numbers you’ve collected, you are misrepresenting the method or formula. Ethically better, I think, to publicly acknowledge a broken metric than stand behind massaged lies.

If the numbers are not for you and instead for someone else (boss, investor, customers, etc.), get to the bottom of why you want to change the numbers. If you feel the data misrepresents your business or project and worry that the numbers might throw you under the bus, it’s important to push back against the people asking for them in the first place. Again, better to admit a broken method than stand behind numbers that aren’t true. Honestly, I can think of no situation where it is ethically or practically appropriate to manipulate data you collected. It’s fine to do that in a budget or estimates, but actual cold hard data should not be toyed with. No one can learn anything from our lies except for the person with something to hide (or of course until the truth is revealed – don’t put yourself in that situation).

Be honest with yourself and your numbers. Don’t lie. Try a new formula instead.

Leaving A Data Legacy

I would love to know how my grandparents lived their lives half a century ago. Now that all but one have passed, I’m left with only a few pictures and stories. While there may be a Big Fish fantasy charm to the finite amount of information I have, my curiosity endures.

FoursquareI finally adopted Foursquare in January and checked in nearly a hundred times since. To this day, I struggle to find direct utility in the service (beyond specials, which I have never successfully used). That said, I am a data nut. I appreciate the value of collecting information on my life, whether I do anything with it or not. I’m too lazy to keep a journal, so social and location services help a lot. Despite the fact that my data may be used to serve the gains of others, I (perhaps naively) trust that these services will evolve to capture and interpret the nodes of my life back to me and all who follow.

I am of the camp that sees big data not as a violation of personal privacy, but as a path to building a data legacy. I don’t presume to become wildly famous and expect the world to care what I ate for breakfast yesterday. No, I mean to say that I want to leave slices of history for my children and children’s children to better understand me and the times I live in. Does anybody really care that I had Pad Thai for lunch yesterday? Fuck no. But the next generation might appreciate a rich data set on American dining habits and dietary evolution. My grandchildren might appreciate that Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes.

Like donating your body to science, I want to donate the computed history of my life to the next generation of sociologists, historians and nostalgics. I want my grandchildren to have access to anything they could possibly want to know about me and learn from my mistakes. We all have an opportunity like never before to contribute to the nuance of our generation’s history books.

So, in spite of all this privacy hooplah, I will continue to check in and contribute to big data through applications and organizations that lend to a long shelf life and value for greater societal context.

The Power of Spreadsheets and Accelerated Systems

Monotony and redundancy are not in my vocabulary. I refuse to be bored. Wasting time on repeat tasks is unacceptable. Sick of doing the same thing everyday? Optimize systems that perform repetitive tasks for you.

ExcelI worked for Lions Gate Films in 2008. Like most movie studios, they had interns manually entering box office data from Box Office Mojo to fill out research and market decks. It took between three and five hours to profile a small handful of films across international territories. Through Microsoft Excel, I crafted a formula to pull and format all of that data with a single copy and paste. Hours of work hacked down to mere seconds. To my knowledge, that spreadsheet template is still being used three years later.

No tool has earned me more reverence in the workplace than Excel. With over 340 functions and a limitless combination of formulas, Excel is one of the most robust problem-solving weapons in your software arsenal. If the problem is complicated enough and the data set large enough, I guarantee Excel has a solution.

Most people are afraid of it. Spreadsheet formulas are an abstraction of algebra, riddled with nested parenthesis, absolute and relative cell references, and a dictionary full of possible function combinations. I’ve had a cell formula 296 characters long that took me an afternoon to engineer and revise (a single extra parenthesis was breaking the whole thing!). Few people can rationalize the effort or focus that hard. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Engineer the right formula and you can save hours (or days even) on setting your computations straight. In addition to time saved, you can solve your problems with greater accuracy and ease.

Do not be afraid of Excel. Embrace the power. When you have a problem you want to solve, google Excel functions that can help you get where you need to go. I only know a dozen functions off the top of my head; I can search for the rest. Understand the fundamentals of Excel, and there will be no bounds.

People who understand spreadsheets are better situated to rule the world. Trust me: it’s worth learning. I even argue that high school math teachers should cover spreadsheet language as modern arithmetic, but that’s another post entirely.

How to Track Your Sleep And Earn A Better Night’s Rest

The key to a higher quality life is through self assessment. To improve performance, break habits and adjust personal behavior, one must quantify his or her life with gadgets, apps and spreadsheets that help track personal trends and identify areas for improvement. I am very much on board with the Quantified Self school of thought. I maintain spreadsheets galore.

I have never been able to track my sleep in spreadsheets. Why? Well, because I am asleep.

Enter Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. My friends Drew and Nicole introduced me to this rather handy iOS application that graphs your sleep phases. Place your iPod or iPhone on the bed next to you at night and the accelerometer will monitor your every move to determine which phase of sleep you are in. The main purpose behind the app is to wake you during your lightest sleep phase where you feel rested and relaxed (in a specified time range rather than a hard alarm time), but I have found it more useful for the sleep graphs.

Sleep Cycle Graph

Above, my graph from Friday – went to bed at 1:40am, woke up at 9:59am and slept a total of 8 hours and 19 minutes (believe it or not, college friends – I actually sleep now!).

With only a week of data, I can already see trends. I am taking notes on pre-sleep activity, successful bed times, successful waking times and more. Apparently, a glass of wine within an hour of bedtime has helped me to sleep quicker. Uh oh!

Keep track and you can unlock self improvement.