Business Intelligence 101: Infographics

Another appropriate title for this blog would be, "Buying Myself More Time." I'm eager to share the results of my NFL 1-2 Punch analysis with you, but the latest discovery does need in-depth validation. A large number of NFL fans take the 1-2 scoring strategy as gospel, and I'd like to be quite certain of my results before I contradict them.

That certainty reminds me of a conversation with my friend Roland, a few years back. I was rattling off a list of Swedish rock bands, and included Golden Earring. Keep in mind, I love music trivia. I'm very confident in my music trivia knowledge. And for the better part of 30 years*, I was certain that Golden Earring was from Sweden. Roland, who's Dutch, informed me that no, Golden Earring is from The Netherlands. It took me a while to believe him, despite his rather obvious authority on the matter, simply because I had been so certain they were Swedish.**

Back to the subject at hand: infographics. I used the term "infographic" last week with a non-IT, non-corporate friend and was asked, "What exactly is that?"

Simply put, an infographic is a visual representation of data or information. Seems straightforward. Aren't you just trying to impress me by using a fancier word than "chart?"

Fig. 1: So, who was part of the band in 1997? 

Not exactly. Consider this differentiation: when you look at the visual, no matter what you call it, do you get a sense of overwhelming detail, or do you immediately get a feel for the overall picture?*** A good infographic should produce the latter. More detail on infographic functions in a moment.

I stumbled across a great example while checking some items for yesterday's blog on band compositions. Wikipedia has some excellent infographics showing membership in popular bands over time. Check out the two screen captures: the first gives a simple textual list of people who have been part of Styx. The second is a graphical timeline.

Fig. 2: Much easier to read, and actually provides some insight beyond simple membership.

Want to know who was in the band in 1978, 1997, or 2003? You'll probably answer those question far more quickly using the infographic. It also provides some immediate insights that you don't get easily from the text version. Apparently the band was inactive from 1984 through late 1990, and again from 1992 to 1995. And it prompts an interesting question: what was that brief stint in 1995? 

Those are the things a good infographic should or can do: first, give you a good feel for the overall picture. Second, provide a visual that helps commit the general picture to memory. Third, make it easy to answer basic. Fourth, call out significant insights, and finally, prompt questions that might be worth following up. And a good infographic should do these things more effectively than text or grid delivery.

If you're still with me, how about a little homework? Send me a link with an interesting infographic. If I receive a few of these, I'll follow up with another post to share people's favorites.

* 30 years is nothing compared to the astounding 48 year+ consistency of the band. George Kooymans and Rinus Gerritsen founded the band in 1961 and have stayed together the entire intervening time. The two other current members, Barry Hay and Caesar Zuidewijk, have been with them since the late 60s or early 70s. Freaking amazing. I see you guys aren't planning on any Texas visits, probably because of my transgression with the whole "they're Swedish" thing, so maybe I need to visit Oss in July. 

** I was right about ABBA, Europe, and Ace of Bass, at least.

*** In my opinion, this is one of the top flaws with business intelligence delivery. Report consumers love big scorecards with dozens of KPIs, but the report author should always consider time to action. When a consumer sits down to look at this report, how long does he or she need to determine the action to be taken?

**** This was a brief reunion, re-recording songs for a greatest hits album. They planned to tour as well, but unfortunately, John Panozzo was in bad health and passed away. 

Music, Mushroom, and Re-Purposing the Caves

Re-purposing is important. The more use we get from something, the less waste we produce, right? That's why there's an old whirlpool bathtub in my backyard. When we remodeled the bathroom, we discovered that there's not a lot you can do with a fifteen year old bathtub. Having enjoyed The Martian so much, I decided to use the bathtub as a potato-growing container.* Works perfectly, too. The bottom is certainly impervious to weeds and invasive plants, it's shaped to funnel water out, and of course, has a drain.**


During our summer trip to London I learned that Europe is all about re-purposing. One of my favorite examples is Chislehurst Caves, just a short train ride southeast of London. 

The caves are actually a 21 or 22 mile set of tunnels, and are completely man-made. The first of the tunnels was begun sometime back around the signing of the Magna Carta.*** Local residents dug into the ground to extract chalk and flint, and beforeyou knew it...there was a whole lotta excavated space.

Fast forward to the 1900s. In between, the locals were pretty straightforward thinkers: dig the chalk, dig the flint, have a pint, repeat. However, during World War I, the British Army decided the caves were an excellent place to store ammunition and explosives. Lots and lots of ammunition and explosives. I don't recall the exact numbers, but let's just say that Chislehurst was temporarily the Wal-Mart of stuff that blows up.

Between WWI and WWII the caves were turned to a more peaceful pursuit -- mushroom farming! Makes sense, right? Mushrooms love caves. 

But World War II is the time period for which the Chislehurst Caves might be most famous. Britons seeking shelter from air raids took to the caves. Eventually, as many as 15,000 people had taken up residence. Electricity was run, and engineering work was undertaken to keep air flowing and temperatures down. Keep in mind, these are caves. They're typically much cooler than ground temperatures, but with so many people living in them, the temperature of the caves rose dramatically. I believe our guide mentioned the temp rising to nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit, until improved air circulation was hastily engineered, and after the war it took around 20 years for temperatures to fall back to normal.


The amount of organization that took place in the caves is incredible. The temporary residents had a post office, chapels, stores. Of course, bunk assignment alone was a major undertaking, considering the numbers involved. 

After WWII the caves became an entertainment venue. Jimi Hendrix performed there, as well as Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and if I remember correctly, the Stones. Our guide even played the drums in one cave while we listened from farther down the passage. He mentioned that the music had to be shut down, ironically, not because the music itself was too loud -- as residential areas closed in on the cave entrance, the local population found that people exiting the caves in the wee hours of the night were annoying.

Some things never change.

The caves have also been used for TV and film production. At least one Dr. Who episode filmed there, and the caves have shown up on documentary programs. The site is also used for live-action fantasy pastimes as well; when we were visiting, a large group of SCA or LARP folks were there for an event.

Without a doubt, Chislehurst Caves was one of my favorite stops on our London trip. It was a nice train ride from central London, a very enjoyable walk around the village, and something great to see. Since the caves don't show up at the top of every tourist search for London attractions, we're fortunate to have stumbled upon them, but I highly recommend making time to stop in if you're in the vicinity. And don't forget your lantern.

* It would have been more appropriate, perhaps, to plant my Martian potatoes in a toilet, but a) we didn't have a toilet to discard and b) you can grow more potatoes in a bathtub.

** When you repurpose a bathtub for growing plants, it's important to keep plants actually growing in there. Otherwise, you just appear to be the slob who threw an old bathtub out into his yard. 

*** Look it up. You're on the Internet, for crying out loud.


Technology - Screwing Me Up Faster and Easier

First, a kinda apology for the blog hiatus. I've had two vacations* in the past month, plus general busy-ness with various "Is this what I'm going to do for my next job?" projects, and I just haven't taken the time to blog. I've been writing during that time, though, so I should have a veritable slew of blogs coming out soon. Fear not, my three loyal readers, there's more to come.

Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

Maybe I should get a smaller music device...

I ran three miles this morning to sweat out some of last night's Johnnie Walker, and as I've mentioned before, I don't run without music. Running without music would be exercising, and since exercise is strenuous and tiring, I try to avoid it. My current Spotify playlist for running is "Dr. Usual's 5k Run." I know, very original. The song selection is important. Each song has a good tempo for my 5k running pace, and most have a running theme.**

Just over one mile in, Spotify jumped to Men At Work's, "Who Can It Be Now?" Now, I like Men At Work, but I know Colin Hay and friends are not on my running playlist. Somehow, Spotify had switched to radio mode, whereby deep data analysis, alchemy, and wild guessing, it attempts to serve up music I might like.

You know what music I'd like during my 5k run? That's right -- my 5k running playlist.

I fumbled around at the Spotify controls while trying to keep pace. Pace and heart rate are important. I definitely can't stop or walk. It takes about two walking strides for my legs to say, "Hell yeah, looks like we're done here! Let's go sit in front of the computer for a few hours!" So, while running at a consistent 165 BPM, watching for cars, and avoiding the massive Texas drains where Pennywise the Clown hangs out, I had to get Spotify out of radio mode and back to my playlist.

Mission accomplished -- or so I thought. Though the playlist was back up and running, my ear buds* were silent. While bumbling my way through the Spotify menus I apparently switched the playback device from "This iPhone" to "Dr's Tap." That's right, the Amazon Tap, sitting on my desk back at home. I'm sure my wife and daughter were delighted with Saga's "On The Loose" suddenly blasting from my vacant office.

I diverted into the park, where I at least didn't have to worry about traffic, and got my devices sorted out, then enj-- finished the run without any more technological assistance.

The next step in my fitness regimen is pretty obvious.  Design a new skin for Spotify with three and only two buttons: "Volume Up," and "Call 911." Make a note, Spotify. This stuff doesn't have to be complicated.

*How does one have a vacation when one is unemployed? Let me explain. I scheduled these trips before Microsoft decided to replace me and my team with outsourcers on the other side of the world. Therefore, on my calendar they're both still referred to as "vacation." Travel scheduled AFTER my former manager replaced us with contractors from his former company is referred to simply as "travel." See? Easy definitions.

**Here's a link to the Spotify playlist. Get running.

***That's right, ear buds. Screw you, Apple, I'm not paying for your Air Buds. Headphones shouldn't cost as much as a damned phone. Especially when there's a chance they'll fall out of my ears and roll down there with Pennywise.

Man, Motion, and More Music

Yesterday I mentioned in a tweet that John Parr's Man In Motion was on my running play list.  That song has been on my running list for a long time; besides the obvious theme, it's got a good beat for my stride length.  Also, I've loved the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack since it came out in 1985.  After sending that tweet, though, I was a bit embarrassed* to realize that the only other John Parr song I could name was Naughty Naughty

(At one point during game development we played with the idea of adding music and soundtrack elements to Film Tycoons, but ultimately took that out; we just weren't finding a way to fit it into the game flow.  We might revisit that in future editions, since movie soundtracks account for some of the best music in the world.)

In fact, there were a number of artists with great songs on the St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack, a few of those artists were pretty much unknown to me beyond their soundtrack contribution.  Did some of them record one and only one song before moving on to a career as a database analyst somewhere?  Or have they had decade-spanning, prolific careers, and just somehow stayed under the collective radar of my demographic, geography, or social group?  I started out with a hypotheses that John Parr is similar to Cliff Richard** in that both are fantastic artists whose major body of work has managed to escape the ear of 40-something guys in Texas. 

Research time, starting with one of my favorite tools, Spotify.

Bingo.  To say "Parr is prolific" is somewhat akin to mentioning "water is wet."  But Spotify neatly summarizes (and unfortunately, perpetuates) the "American audience" versus "non-American audience" of many great artists.  Despite offering six John Parr albums, including the truly enjoyable Letter to America (with 29 tracks!) Spotify's "John Parr Top 5" songs actually shows only three songs: St. Elmo's Fire (twice), Naughty Naughty, and Restless Heart (twice).  Expand that to ten songs and you get six distinct songs.  What the hell, Spotify?

Side note: apparently Mr. Parr is touring the U.K. in November with two other favorites of mine, Foreigner and Asia.  Clearly, this is worth a trip to London.  Especially if Asia will play Days Like These and Don't Cry.

Back to St. Elmo's Fire.  After the discovery of so much more great John Parr music, I decided to have a closer look at each artist on the soundtrack.  Here's a summary for my other audiophile friends or 80's music lovers:

  1. St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) by John Parr.  Covered above, right?
  2. Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire, by David Foster.  I'm already familiar with the amazing David Foster, and trust me, you are, too.  He's written or produced a couple million hits.  If you're in a trivia contest and get the question, "Who (wrote/produced) this hit song from the 1980's" and you have no idea, just guess David Foster.  Good chance you'll win.  Incidentally, I think Foster wrote or co-wrote every song on this soundtrack.
  3. Shake Down, by Billy Squier.  I'm just going to classify Billy Squier as popular enough in the U.S. that if you don't recognize him, you need a more remedial music appreciation*** guide than my quick blog.
  4. This Time It Was Really Right, by Jon Anderson.  You probably recognize the voice -- he's the lead vocalist for Yes and responsible for some of my favorite Yes songs, like Leave It and It Can Happen.
  5. Saved My Life, by Fee Waybill.  Ah, yes.  If you grew up in the 80's, you know Fee Waybill without actually knowing Fee Waybill.  Remember She's a Beauty, by The Tubes?  That's Fee Waybill.  Every music device I've owned since fifth grade has included She's a Beauty.
  6. One Love, by David Foster. 
  7. Stressed Out (Close To The Edge) by Airplay.  First of the "I don't know who this is," groups on the soundtrack.  Turns out Airplay was David Foster and Jay Graydon, and was fairly short-lived.  However, listening to their offerings on Spotify, it's very clear that most of Toto is in the band, and you can easily hear the style that Foster brought to Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chicago.
  8. Young and Innocent, by Elefante.  One of the most evocative songs on the soundtrack, but who the heck is Elefante?  Apparently there are two Elefantes, John and Dino.  John was the frontman of Kansas for a time, but it looks like the brothers have spent more of their careers producing.
  9. If I Turn You Away, by Vikki Moss.  Wow, talk about weird coincidences.  First, Ms. Moss's singing career was apparently sadly short lived.  There isn't much available from her other than this excellent song.  While researching, though, I realized that I've actually seen her brother before, many times.  Joey Moss is a locker room attendant for the Edmonton Oilers and frequently appears on camera during the national anthem.  He has Down Syndrome, and of course, I love to discover positive examples of people with DS being accepted as happy members of society.  Very cool connection to stumble upon this morning.
  10. Into the Fire, by Todd Smallwood.  Looks like I'm stymied for the first time on this soundtrack.  From what I can find Smallwood has written for Mick Fleetwood and for some additional movie soundtracks, like Under Siege, but his web page is defunct, no Wikipedia page, and Spotify has very little.  Still, I found a number of songs that made it into my Spotify library -- particularly Funeral In Berlin and Leave The Radio.
  11. Give Her A Little Drop More, by Todd Smallwood.
  12. Respect, by Aretha Franklin. 
  13. For Just a Moment, by Amy Holland and Donny Gerrard. I think many people don't realize that there ARE lyrics to the soundtrack's love theme.  The instrumental version got massive airtime, and I don't recall ever hearing the lyric version on the radio.  But it's great; excellent lyrics and excellent performance.  First, Ms. Holland.  She's another long-time contributor to soundtracks, and she's married to Michael McDonald, with whom she's collaborated on some of her work.  This morning I listened to her 2016 album, Light on My Path.  She's got a great voice, it's nice to have finally found her "other work" after 30 years of listening to just one song. 

And finally, Donny Gerrard, the other voice from the love theme.  Need a definition of "smooth?"  Go grab his song Darlin' from Spotify.  Then you've got to listen to some 1970's Skylark.  (Which, not surprisingly, featured David Foster on keyboards.)  You might remember their best-known hit, Wildflower

And that's my music appreciation session for today.  After following St. Elmo's Fire a bit deeper I've got a fantastic new set of music to enjoy -- not to mention tickets to buy for November.

* Yes, it's possible to be embarrassed while alone.  I do it all the time.  Usually the embarrassment is accompanied by a mental image of Rob Garden saying, "Dude, really?"

** I love Cliff Richard's work, but face it, most Americans only recognize We Don't Talk Anymore and perhaps Devil Woman.  There are only a few of us with Suddenly on the Xanadu soundtrack, and I'm going to guess that nobody else reading this recognizes I'm No Hero or All I Ask of You.

*** I've always wondered what goes on in a music appreciation class.  Not having taken one, I'm going to assume that if you start to look behind the music a bit more, you're appreciating it.  Or maybe you just have to watch Pop Up Video marathons.

Radio Edits and Down Syndrome

I've been on a little vacation this weekend and busy with the last mile of Film Tycoons, so no blogs for a few days.  I've debated for a while whether I want to share any of my essays on Down Syndrome and decided to post at least one here this week -- after my younger daughter was born with DS the first couple years were a little rough, to put it mildly.  I started a journal/essay collection of sorts and haven't shared any of it until now.

I haven't edited this at all since writing it eight years ago, just a bit before Kelsey turned two.  Usually I try to make my blogs somewhat humorous and this one really isn't, but that's okay.  Not every day needs to be a laugh riot as long as the majority of them are fun.

People have been asking me "what it's like" to have a child with Down Syndrome.  The really short answer is that it's like having any other kid, but that's not completely true.  There's the day to day or week to week stuff -- she has regular therapy appointments that I never would have expected for any other kid.  There are also the Down-specific things, like the early checks for heart perforations and the looming specter of childhood leukemia, which is far more common in kids with Down and did hit our best friends' son.

I think people want to know something less practical or obvious, though, and I think about it a lot.  I thought I knew "what it's like" based on our friends' experience, but when Kelsey was born I realized that there's still a world of difference between being very close to a family with Down and being a family with Down.  It's hard to understand "what it's like" without actually being there.  So, I've been looking for ways to describe it to a "layman."

I love music and I greatly dislike radio edits.  I specifically dislike edits for time.  Most radio stations shy away from playing songs that are outside of their three to four minute range.  It's pretty simple; three to four minutes is the average length of a contemporary song and a radio station's business model is built around it.  They plan their airtime carefully and a six or eight minute song is hard to fit into the play list. 

Ever heard the missing verse from Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady?"  I thought not.

Ever heard the missing verse from Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady?"  I thought not.

It's done in every genre of contemporary music.  The editor clips out a few (or many) seconds of music in a place where he thinks the music can be brought together with as little continuity break as possible.  The most glaring example I've heard is Billy Joel's Piano Man, where the radio edit actually cuts the second half of one verse and the first half of the next, thus merging two verses into one.  You can also hear it somewhat more subtly in songs like The Little River Band's Cool Change or Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.  (Or anything else written by Jim Steinman.)

The problem is that no matter how deftly the edit is done, anyone with even a slight passion for music recognizes the omission.  If you know the song, you notice at least subconsciously that "something's off here."

Of course, the radio edit doesn't ruin the song for you, or ruin music for you.  I don't think anyone hears a radio edit and decides he's never going to listen to that song again.  But in my experience, there's often still some little touch of frustration or disappointment when the radio edit comes on and you know that that one piece is missing.  If you listen to Total Eclipse of the Heart 100 times on the radio, you might hear the missing verse once (and in my opinion it adds a lot to the song.)

That's one of the answers I've come up with so far for "what's it like?"  You can't help but notice that a few of the notes are missing but you still love the song.

Gamifying My Daily Run

I have a rule about running: I don't run without music.  Unlike bicycling, running for the sake of running holds no pleasure for me.  If my headphones are broken or Spotify won't work and I don't have a handy MP3 player, I'm not running.  I'm talking about running for exercise, of course. I will run without music if I'm being chased by a bear, an ex-Nazi dentist, or the giant incarnation of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.  Though in the case of the latter I'd probably be part of a montage and thus, there would be music.

This practice began long before I grew interested in Octalysis, but it was an obvious subject for analysis once I read Yu-kai Chou's Actionable Gamification.  (The first time.)   The primary Core Drivers motivating my running are pretty obvious: I run so that I'll be healthier and look better.  Looking fit is the easy one; CD#5: Social Influence.  I think being healthier is most commonly CD#8: Avoidance (hopefully avoidance of young death) but I also like to think of it as being somewhat on the White Hat side of CD#4: Ownership.  I.e., I wish to possess a long life.  With White Hat's propensity for driving long-term results, I feel that viewing the motivation through the CD#4 lens rather than CD#8 might be a better choice. 

(That little theory alone tempts me to sign up for Premium option on, since I'd like to know what Yuk-kai thinks of that concept and might be able to ask him during office hours.  But I'm digressing here.)

Now that I'm well in the habit of running I also run for the challenge: I used to struggle to run one mile without feeling like I'd collapse.  Then it was two, then three.  I constantly have that urge to "be able to run just a little bit more," despite not feeling like I ENJOY running.   (Incidentally, I feel this way about eating spinach, too.)  As soon as I feel like I've hit a comfort level with one distance, I'm pushing for the next.  CD#2: Accomplishment.

But here's what I think is the really fun part of the game.  Remember the music I mentioned?  I almost always use a Spotify play list when I run, and that list contains some of my favorite songs.  As a rule, I don't listen to them any time other than when I'm running.  Aha!  CD#6: Scarcity.  Also, I vary my route every single day.  Why?  Because I use a Microsoft Band to track my running, and it buzzes my wrist at every mile.  I don't want to know exactly where it's going to happen because then I'll be training my body to hit only the immediate goal, not the stretch goals.  Variation of the route, CD#7: Unpredictability.

I realize these are both Black Hat motivations, but I don’t see any problem with that.  The desired action here is not to make me run for an extra three hours on any given day, the goal is to make each run a bit more enjoyable, so that tomorrow I'll feel like I want to run again.  The short term Black Hat motivators do that pretty well.

There are a few more elements to this game.  My Spotify play list tends to include only songs with a title or theme related to running.  Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Starship's Run Away, Bon Jovi's Runaway, etc.  Michael Jackson with Don't Stop is making an appearance this week, too.  (And I admit, The Village People somehow snuck in there with Macho Man.)  Since I try to regulate my pace such that my heart rate stays in a particular zone, I also look for songs with a beat to match my stride.  (Saga's On The Loose was the first of these.  A live version, great guitar solo.)  These little mechanics around compiling the song list are quite fun to me and I'll actually muse about other songs to add while I'm running.  CD#3: Empowerment of Creativity. 

And let's hit one last motivator while I'm at it.  I like to share my playlists with other runners and see theirs, which is very obviously CD#5.

There you have it, my first attempt at some Octalysis Core Drive analysis.  Not a game design, of course, and I didn't even touch on actual Game Techniques, but it was certainly a fun and worthwhile exercise.  Thanks Yu-kai!