The Power of Questions – Part 1

I do know that a question led to the purchase of a 1440 page book, yet on another level it is quite possibly proof that I did indeed injure my brain in a skateboarding accident many, many years ago…

It is said that the average 5 year old asks between 300-400 questions per day which to me is both insanely disturbing yet absolutely incredible. If we think about our day to day lives (now much older than 5), how many questions do we ask vs. how many statements to we make? My guess is that at first we likely don’t ask as many questions as we once did, yet we likely ask more than that because there are many questions we didn’t even realize we were asking.

Yes, of course it’s not about the quantity but the quality, right? Well generally, however, who are you to decide what a quality question is or not? Ok sure we can likely agree that rhetorical questions are not quality, but other than that, will you not ask because of you’re allowing your bias to screw up your judgment? Lets skip the debate over what makes a question good or not and purely focus on the actual power of asking a question.

While wandering through the book store I was skim-browsing some of the titles in the business section when I started to notice books by economists. Now having learned a bit more about economists and how they perceive and explore the world around them, titles I recognized started popping out. Always the junkie for purchasing books (reading optional – the intent is always there to read the book, yet it could take some time before I get to starting it.. Finishing it is a whole other topic.), I started to explore a couple books. What is this book about? Where do I know that author name from? Is this book really what I’m looking for? Is there something better right in front of my eyes that I’m not seeing? How much is this book in my hands? That much? Why? and so on…

After picking up a particular book to explore further and then looking for a more suitable perch for my coffee than the last precarious location, I noticed a massively thick book sitting on the top shelf. Ooooh, what’s that? Now the title of the big book is rather intriguing: “The Real Price Of EVERYTHING” edited with an introduction by Michael Lewis. At first I wondered if it was literally a book filled with items and their price at the time of compiled all printed insanely small and on bible paper to ensure maximum pages – thankfully it was not (but if the print was really small, and you were able to gather the data in a relatively short period of time – how many items could be listed in ~1400 pages?).

Rest of the long story short, I found myself asking: What if I actually read this entire book?, and the power of a simple question now sees a gaping hole where this book was located in the store, a surprised look on the cashier’s face as it slams into the counter, a little old lady thinking it was a bible then realizing it is not, and this book on the end of my desk in one of the cat’s many favourite sitting places. Sure there was the expected justification before, during, and well after the purchase, yet the power of a single question changed everything.

To be continued… (Part 2 in a couple days)

Own Your Data

A while back I was talking with some people regarding a specific type of database and the true impact it could have on the user to client conversion for businesses. While mapping out the current possibilities, limitations, and ‘the great unknowns’, the realization was made that much of what was required has already been done by the likes of Google. One of my first reactions was simply “Crap. They’ve already done it, are doing it, and have a few years and billions of dollars head start..“. This was shortly followed by “Crap! They’ve already done it, and are doing it!“.

So shift gears for a second here. Sure, there is the Google we all know and love for searching, SEO, email, chat, shared documents, YouTube, etc. etc.. Literally, the list goes on for quite a while.. But how much user data are they actually harvesting from a) the people that use their sites, and b) the sites that gladly log their data with Google in trade for some poor analytics? It’s one thing to gather some data from your own group of sites, but now hook up millions and millions of websites with billions of users logging data into your systems. The best part is that all you have to provide in return is some approximate/estimated metrics that are older than 24h. You don’t need to provide database access, and they’re completely limited to exactly what you give them. Do you honestly believe that because a specific item of user data isn’t available in your GA account that they’re not storing it?

So why then are we using it? Well, for small sites it’s cheap and it’s good. Even for medium sized sites it’s a good solid platform that can provide the necessary data to make good decisions. The challenge here is that  I have a big issue with large corporate sites giving away their data. Ok, but what are the alternatives, right? Well, sadly there isn’t much. There are a bunch of companies that claim to have superior analytics, and one I’ve found that answered a lot of questions about the specific database that started all of this.. Not sure how good their product is, however, it is very interesting to say the least.

Anything available that is Open Source? Well, actually, now that you mention it – sorta. While doing some of this digging I came across PiWik:

Piwik is a downloadable, open source (GPL licensed) web analytics software program. It provides you with detailed real time reports on your website visitors: the search engines and keywords they used, the language they speak, your popular pages… and so much more.

Piwik aims to be an open source alternative to Google Analytics.

Oh really? After installing it on my trusty webserver, and noticing how truly dismal my traffic is (meh, most of the content is ready by RSS anyways which sometimes makes me wonder why bother having anything other than an RSS feed), I began to notice that this crew is onto something. Sure, it’s still got a ways to go before it becomes a serious contender to GA – but wow!

Ok, so now look at it this way: GA is top dog, but barely gives a dog a bone – right? PiWik is out proving that you can own your own data, they have made great strides in gathering data just like GA, and really, if they had some funding/more coders they could be in serious contention in a very short time. The question now begs, if you’re a massive corporation who has the bankroll + developers who could actually make this happen – then why are you giving your data away?

Data is everything, because without it you cannot convert it to information, you cannot gather sufficient information to convert it to knowledge, and without knowledge, you cannot take action.

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We’re back! v5.238

There is a part of me that wants to start a blog that just contains blogs posts about the future of the blog and things that are planned, yet never delivered. Creativity would be high, but long term caring would be tough..

So, in an attempt to not actually re-produce that blog here (yet this very post is in that general theme), we’ll keep this one short and concise.

Are we back? Yes.
Who is “we”? The guy writing this, and his brain – sometimes singular, yet sometimes not…
Why are we back? Figured some things out.
Like what? Well, things like massive blog posts take a lot of time, but Twittering doesn’t. Big blog posts can provide much content/context/etc., but tweets cannot. Blog posts can be any number of characters (*DING!*), but Twitter posts can only be 140 characters…
So what? That means I don’t have to spend hours cranking out a blog post, but I can provide more than a tweet for things that need more. Blog posts from now on will be greater than 140 characters, yet less than my previous novel-like posts. Frequency should increase, and anything that is an ongoing theme/exploration can be split into bite-size posts where they can be re-explored with new things learned since the last post on the subject.
Are you going to change your theme 10 times and blog about it each time? No. Theme stays for a while and it should meet the needs of the new posting concept (new to me anyways).
Do you still have readers? I have no idea.

Ok, that’s it – and yes – I have posts lined up.

If you can’t win, ever – don’t even play

spymaster_logoA few weeks back I was introduced to the game called Spymaster. Spymaster is a fantastically addictive game where you play a spy, and based on your Twitter following this will provide you with certain benefits. Within the game you can go on missions for money, you can buy items to increase your attack/defense levels, and my personal favorite part, you also have the ability to assassinate other Twitter users who are also playing the game. The user interface is pretty good, it can take as little as 30 seconds to play a turn, and it’s quite well thought out.

So here is the challenge. Along the way you gain experience points which in turn helps move you up the levels. At the time of writing this I am at level 20 out of a possible 40 levels – I’m half way there. Now, because there is no level 41 (currently – they may add more levels later), there are potentially hundreds or thousands of people at this level. Also, much of your strength in the game is determined by the number of Twitter followers that you have. So we now have a ceiling on how high you can go in the game, if you don’t build your Twitter followers you will always be the whipping boy of larger players, and really, once you make it to the top – it’s really really crowded with no clear winner. Basically, all the people who have reached level 40 are now just collecting money, buying stuff, and attacking each other. There is no victory – just wasted time. Sure, you could make the argument that the entire thing is a waste of time, and no doubt, some will. That’s fine.

Looking at life however, how many games do we play where there is no possibility of winning? I believe that Sun Tzu put it best when he wrote:

Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

The true hardliners take the stance that if you haven’t already won, don’t even play. In life, it’s always a bit challenging to be that definitive, but the basic principle of  that if you don’t even stand a chance of winning – don’t play. But what about all the glorious learning through failure that could be had? Well, how much fun has it been so far? Sure, there are times where we fail, and we learn, but to actively go out and look for things to fail at? I agree, it doesn’t make much sense.

The fact is that if there is the possibility of winning, then you have the possibility of winning. That’s a good thing. You also have the possibility of losing, however, in this case you have the opportunity of learning so that you can win in the future. Also a good thing.

It came to the point in Spymaster where I suddenly realized that unless I wanted to game Twitter and dramatically increase my following in a very short time, for no other gain than the game, then there was no possibility of ever winning. Why was I even playing? We don’t need more things in our lives that we can’t win at. We need more things that we can win at and we need to take the time to recognize these.

If you can’t win, ever – don’t even play.

Meet the neighbours

Fishing Boats

A while back I discovered a great little tool that allows you to see all the sites hosted on a single server. is hosted on a shared server (in Texas?), which means that I get a chunk of hard drive space in a server along with a whole bunch of other sites, and we all share the same server. Think of it as an apartment building where your main address is the same, but you still have apartment numbers that let people find you specifically. This little tool lets you see who else is living in the building. Pretty neat, eh?

Ok, so who else is sharing on this server, right (I’ll pull some highlights)? – um, it’s young, it’s music, there’s Britney in there… yeah.. – “Improving data for decentralized planning” – in Indonesia! – The Covert Rationing Blog: Healthcare Rationing in America – Scholars for 9/11 Truth: Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths (possible crazy people warning!) – Conscious Coffees – the Clear Channel Taxi Media site for all your taxi advertising needs! – Camp Uganda, “an educational camp in wildlife conservation for underprivileged seventh grade Ugandan children and their teachers.” Cool! – A multimedia designer with some great work – and I quote: “The hottest guys modeling bikinis, thongs, g-strings and nude” – you can’t always pick your neighbours – DJ Pollo who is actually pretty good! hrm… – “helping owners, breeders, and shelters pair Canaan Dogs in need of a new home with a forever home.” – The Evangelical Anglican Church In America – oh lord…. RRRRUUUUNNNNN!! – Electric Bike World! – for the hardcore train lover in America. – a spanish Bruce Springsteen fan site! Crazy! – Gateway Knives – for all your knifey needs? – The World Angelfish Forum

… and that’s about it. Quite a few more religious sites, a bunch of dead forums, and a few photographer sites. Where this tool gets really interesting is when you start to use it on various company sites where they might be developing something new on a subdomain.

Oh right, the site – is where all the fun begins!