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The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE

lucy-dec3(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco CA. Used with permission.)

Hey everybody, remember last month when everyone was posting things they were thankful for in the twenty-odd days leading up to Thanksgiving? (They might still be doing it… I don’t know.) I thought that was a great idea. So I started doing something similar this month that I’ll tell you all about now!!

But as many of you know, the Mayan Calendar is coming to an end, and we’re moving into a new world of completely undetermined proportion. Some predict a doomsday scenario, which means it will be very easy to see what’s changed. Others predict a BIG NOTHING, a non-event kind of like Y2K (well… that one actually had some ripple effects for me. But that’s another story that I’ll post later. I diverge.)

A non-event means IT’S UP TO US TO CHANGE THINGS. So my challenge to all of you for December 2012 is: let’s get in the habit of improving a least ONE thing a day between now and the much hyped “end of the world”. If the world does end, it will end being just a little better than it was at the beginning of December. And if it doesn’t end, we might have 1) developed a new habit or mode of self-reflection that will serve us well moving ahead into 2013, and/or 2) built some very useful social capital that will enhance the resilience of our individual communities.

(Disappointed that you didn’t get to the party on December 1st? Don’t worry! Make your improvement for today to START IMPROVING ONE THING A DAY, starting NOW!)

I’ll toss out some ideas for your own DAILY IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE at the end of this post.

But in the meantime, let’s broadly consider what would happen to our sociotechnical systems (composed of people, products, processes, and projects) in the event of a massive shift or change (of any variety, “new age” or “old age”!) The products will change. The projects will change. The processes will be adapted to make projects to create the new products, and since we don’t know what the environment will be like, or what the new products we’ll need will be…

… the only STABLE element in this mix is the PEOPLE.

When the world disruptively changes around us without killing us, we’re still left behind. Which means our personal capabilities and our capabilities working together in groups and communities – our social capital – becomes increasingly more important.

My friend Daniel Aldrich, who’s been seriously researching this for several years, has determined that social capital is the number one thing that helps communities revitalize after disasters. So if you think there’s a possibility of a major change, you could prepare by stockpiling food and fuel, or you could just work on building your own self-reliance and the social capital within your community.

So I challenge you to DO ONE THING EVERY DAY between now and December 21, 2012 to accomplish one of the following improvement goals, all of which are related to increasing positive feelings:

  • improve how YOU feel
  • improve how someone ELSE feels
  • improve something about your ENVIRONMENT, as long as it make YOU or someone else feel good/better
  • do something courageous to improve your SELF-CONFIDENCE or self-image (or someone else’s!)
  • improve your AWARENESS of other peoples’ beliefs, situations, circumstances, or beliefs
  • improve your BURDEN by getting rid of a grudge or negative feelings… even if only for a day

Think about the many sources of waste, or maybe read about 5S, to get you started with ideas for where you might begin. Scott Rutherford (@srlean6) also recommends this post  as well as this one for some background on 5S.

(For example, yesterday, I decided to improve someone’s day! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?)

The world changes when we change. So let’s go!! Let’s start some improvement habits that will spread good feelings and inspire ourselves and others. Let’s use this time to learn how to make it a daily practice.

And post in the comments – tell us what you have chosen to improve from day to day!

Access METAR Weather Data in R Statistical Software

Although this is neither quality nor innovation related, as a multi-decade weather geek and degreed meteorologist, I still really love my weather data. Today I wanted to learn how to retrieve historical weather data from within the R statistical software. I managed to get a list within R that contains METAR observations for an entire day for one observing station. Here’s how I did it!

1. First, I signed up for a KEY to use the Weather Underground API at http://www.wunderground.com/weather/api/ – I’m not going to tell you what my personal key is, but it has 16 characters and looks kind of like this: d7000XXXXXXXXXXX

2. Next, I installed the rjson package into R

3. Then, I used this code to find out that there were 46 observations for August 11, 2012 (the date of interest). You’ll have to try it with YOUR new Weather Underground API key in place of the d7000XXX… :


library(rjson)

# BE SURE TO PUT THIS ALL ON THE SAME LINE, NO SPACES,
# NO CARRIAGE RETURNS, AND USE YOUR OWN API KEY
x <- fromJSON("http://api.wunderground.com/api/d7000XXX/
history_20120811/q/VA/Charlottesville.json")

# THIS WILL TELL US HOW MANY OBSERVATIONS WE HAVE
length((x$history)$observations)

# GET ALL METARS FOR THE WHOLE DAY AND STORE IT TO A LIST
daily.metars <- rep(NA,length((x$history)$observations))
for (n in 1:length((x$history)$observations)) {
daily.metars[n] <- (x$history$observations)[[n]]$metar
}

4. Now you have a list in R called daily.metars that contains strings holding all of your METARs for the day! Here’s the header from the list that I produced:

> head(daily.metars)
[1] "SPECI KCHO 110408Z AUTO 00000KT 5SM VCTS -RA BR SCT003 BKN030 OVC075 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT SW P0001"
[2] "SPECI KCHO 110433Z AUTO 20005KT 6SM -TSRA BR FEW003 BKN033 OVC110 21/19 A2984 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE AND S AND SW TSE11B27 P0002"
[3] "METAR KCHO 110453Z AUTO 00000KT 5SM -TSRA BR SCT018 SCT046 OVC100 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-S TSE11B27 SLP093 P0003 T02060194 402940200"
[4] "SPECI KCHO 110529Z AUTO 00000KT 8SM -RA FEW070 SCT095 BKN110 21/19 A2982 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-SE TSE23 P0001"
[5] "METAR KCHO 110553Z AUTO 00000KT 8SM FEW085 21/19 A2982 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT NE-SE TSE23RAE30 SLP090 P0001 60127 T02060194 10250 20200 58004"
[6] "METAR KCHO 110653Z AUTO 18005KT 8SM BKN090 21/19 A2983 RMK AO2 SLP093 T02060194"

SPIE Chairs: Here’s Help Processing Your Reviewer Ratings

The Problem: You are a Chair for a SPIE conference, your review team has provided numerical ratings for all your oral and poster submissions, and now you have to sort through all the numbers and prepare a draft program.

The Solution: Use R!

1. Go into MySPIE into the “Review Presentations” section

2. Click on the Excel icon for “Reviewer Results” (with comments)

3. Save that file as a CSV into some directory on your machine. I saved mine to C:/SPIE12/PresRevs.csv

4. Download the R Statistical Software from http://www.r-project.org if you don’t already have it.

5. Open R and cut and paste the following code onto your R command line. (Note: Use YOUR OWN directory name or it won’t work… mine is SPIE12 on my hard drive for this year’s conference.)

setwd("C:/SPIE12")
spie <- read.csv("PresRevs.csv",header=TRUE)
names(spie)[1] = "tracking"
names(spie)[2] = "conference"
names(spie)[3] = "papernum"
names(spie)[4] = "title"
names(spie)[5] = "reviewer"
names(spie)[6] = "rating"
names(spie)[7] = "recommendation"
names(spie)[8] = "comments"
names(spie)[9] = "more.comments"
papermeans <- aggregate(spie$rating,by=list(papernum),FUN=mean,na.rm=TRUE)
t <-unique(spie$title)
all <- cbind(papermeans,t)
names(all)[1] = "papernum"
names(all)[2] = "mean.rating"
names(all)[3] = "title"
sorted <- all[rev(order(papermeans$mean.rating)),]
write.csv(all,file="ProcessedReviews.csv")
write.csv(sorted,file="SortedProcessedReviews.csv")

6. This will export two CSV files, one with all your processed reviews in order of the paper number, and the other in order of the highest ranked paper first.

7. Have fun preparing your program.

Note: If ANYONE uses this, let me know – would love to know that my solution for making my SPIE Chair life easier actually helped someone else too. Or, if you can think of improvements to make, I might be interested in coding those for future use too 🙂 Leave a comment or send an email. Thanks.

My 2012 Resolution is Myopium

The dictionary defines myopia as narrow mindedness, the inability to see things that aren’t right in front of you. However, the positive spin on myopia is that you can choose to hold only those things in your vision that support what you want to achieve, and where you want to go in life.

As a result, I propose my 2012 resolution: the choice to be blissfully afflicted by myopium: that is, becoming singularly focused on those things that provide me with ecstasy, beatitude, buoyancy, euphoria, joy and accomplishment – and turning away from grief, disappointment, and sorrow. This does not mean that grief and its cousins might not pay me visits occasionally, as is their nature – it just means that I’m going to minimize the time I spend with them this year.

Fortunately, there are many constructive things that I do (many related to my job teaching science and technology to college students) that provide me with feelings of joy. My goal is to do MORE of the things that make me feel good while I’m doing them, and LESS of the things that make me feel bad or make me feel nothing. Feeling good can only contribute to increased productivity… so that’s where I’m headed.

Happy 2012!

How I Passed My ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) Exam

I very recently took my ASQ CSSBB exam and passed! Here’s what I think helped me:

[And here’s my OTHER POST that has my notes attached! Enjoy!] – October 2012

[Note: On February 9, 2015 I added my Top 10 Statistics Topics for the CSSBB Exam to this blog]

1. I studied for about 4 weeks (2 weeks very gently, 1 week much-more-work-because-the-exam-is-getting-closer, and 1 week of panicked, freaked out all nighters) using these great references that I wrote up tons of comments about.

2. I took about 10 pages of really good, concise notes. (I’ll share those with you sometime before the end of the year… want to write them up for public consumption.) (Note from October 4, 2012: OK, so I didn’t package them for public consumption, but I did post PDFs of EXACTLY what I brought in with me to the exam.)

3. I brought about 15 super sharp #2 pencils just in case 14 of them broke. I made sure all the pencils actually SAID #2 on them, so the Scantron machine wouldn’t fail me.

4. I brought my SMART RULER. I’ve had this ruler since the late 1980’s, and every time I’ve taken a tough test, I’ve had my smart ruler with me in case I need to underline anything, or draw dividers between notes. I usually never have to USE the ruler. Usually, its presence is enough to make me do better on any exam.

5. They (the people who say such things) say that peppermint makes you smarter. So I got a new pack of Orbit peppermint gum and chewed it like I had obsessive compulsive disorder for all four hours. (Afterwards I found out that the peppermint thing isn’t really backed up by research, but I didn’t know that going into the exam, so I believed that the peppermint would make my brain work better, and that belief probably helped me out. Got to stack the deck in my favor… didn’t want those 4 weeks of studying NOT to pay off.)

6. When I wasn’t chewing gum, I was nibbling on a Reese’s peanut butter bar. Best 300 calorie investment ever made… the protein made my stomach stop growling so it wouldn’t bother the other test takers.

7. I also brought a couple very cold Diet Cokes, to wash down the peanut butter and the gum taste.

8. To appropriately address my superstitious nature, I wore my Ganesh necklace. In Hindu parlance, Ganesh helps break through obstacles, and I figured the exam that stood between me and CSSBB-hood was definitely an obstacle I wanted broken. (Hey, whatever works, right??)

🙂

Nicole

A New Social Media Blackout at Harrisburg University!

Last September, I wrote about the Social Media Blackout experiment conducted by the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was particularly intrigued by their exercise, blocking all messaging and social media on campus for a week to get students to reflect on the issues surrounding ubiquitous connectivity, because I had just finished doing my own experiment on myself – and publishing the journal of the experience in my 2010 book, Disconnected.

Last week, I participated in a panel that discussed the issues associated with connecting and disconnecting at Harrisburg University’s Social Media Summit 2011. It was tremendously fun! If you’re interested in these issues, consider attending their Social Media Summit in May 2012.

This year, they’re at it again! I’ve attached the hot-off-the-press news release that describes the exercise, which will be conducted between September 21 and 27, and their results from last year.

 

Contact:  Steven Infanti, AVP Communications, 717.901.5146/717.982.3772 (cell) or Sinfanti@harrisburgu.edu

Back in Blackout: HU to Shutdown Social Media Access September 21 to September 28

Sep 21, 2011–Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, beginning 8 a.m., Wednesday, September 21, will block access over its network to several popular social media sites including, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Additionally, access to all instant messaging services will be blocked.  This exercise, which will affect all students, faculty and staff at the University, will conclude September 28, 2011.

The intent of this consciousness-raising exercise is to inspire thinking about how, when and where the University community uses social media as well as awareness about uses and/or abuses of social media, says Dr. Eric Darr, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University.

“It is not intended to be a punishment nor is it intended to be an indictment of social media. In fact, access to all social media sites was still possible over mobile wireless devices, proximate public networks or home-based networks.  The hope is to make habits and effects of social media use more visible and understandable, particularly in the classroom, through temporary abstinence.”

Additionally, a panel of educators and authors recently discussed social media addiction and the benefits and drawbacks of unplugging from social network during the 2011 Social Media Summit held September 14th at the University.  One conclusion from the panel is that insights gained through unplugging can be used to set healthy personal boundaries around future social media use. The University will encourage journaling by students and staff in an effort to preserve and reflect upon opinions, feelings and ideas.

The sites being blocked include: Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5, Linkedin, Twitter, Twitxr, Plurk, Tweetpeek and texting outlets.

The private STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focused comprehensive university is home to several academic programs that focus on social media and mobile application development.  In addition to the annual Social Media Summit, the University is home to the annual Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum (LEEF) and the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies.
“Obviously, this is a University that weaves technology into most of our daily activities. We believe that technology is not inherently good or bad. Rather, technology becomes useful or destructive in the hands of users. This exercise is an attempt to better understand an important technology, social media, that clearly impacts how we live and work It might inspire students, faculty and staff to think more about their social media habits and to further raise awareness about the impact that social media has on daily life and work,” says Darr.

This is the second consecutive year the University has conduct this exercise.  During the week of September 13 -17, 2010, the University shutdown access over its network to several social media sites.  In an attempt to understand basic usage patterns and opinions following the 2010 ‘blackout’ exercise, students, faculty and staff were surveyed about their social media habits and reactions to the blackout.  An initial survey was completed on the first day of the blackout, and a follow-up survey was completed during the week following the blackout.  Additionally, multiple focus group sessions were conducted with students and faculty in the middle of the blackout week.

One-quarter of the 822 students and 40% of the faculty and staff at Harrisburg University responded to the 2010 surveys.  The surveys revealed that the majority of students, faculty and staff are regular users of social media.  In fact, many are heavy users of various social media outlets. Specifically, two-thirds of the sample reported using Facebook on a daily basis, while 10% said they use Twitter on a daily basis.  Among Facebook users, 25% cited mainly “social” purposes, including contact with friends, as the primary reason for using the site.  Students and staff also use social media for “entertainment.”  In fact, 13% of student responders said they rely on Facebook to combat boredom between classes. Exactly half of student responses cited the use of YouTube regularly for “academic and social purposes.”  Instant messaging is also used by a large segment of the student body, with 35% usage among this sample.
Darr notes that one question that is routinely debated is whether people can become addicted to social networking.  The results from the 2010 survey suggest that this is possible.  Specifically, it is remarkable to note that 20% of the student respondents spend between 11 and 20 hours a day using social media sites.

“One has to believe that this level of usage would likely interfere with school work and jobs.  Further, it is somewhat disturbing to note that several faculty and staff reported spending more than 20 hours a day on social networking sites.  Clearly, this level of usage would interfere with many of life’s routine responsibilities,” says Darr.

Initial reactions to the 2010 blackout were similar for students and faculty.  Both groups were skeptical and upset at the onset of the social media blackout.  And, both groups became more positive about the event after reflecting on the week.

Information about student behaviors during the blackout was also collected.  The results suggest that a healthier, more productive life style was practiced by a significant portion of the students during the week-long social media blackout.  Specifically, 25 % of students reported better concentration in the classroom during the blackout week.  In fact, 23% of students found lectures more interesting.  Interestingly, 6% of students reported eating better and exercising more during the blackout week.  School work was given a higher-priority when social media was unavailable.  Specifically, 21% of the students used the time that they usually spent on Facebook to do homework, whereas 10% used the time usually spent on Facebook to read online news.

An obvious question is “Did anyone learn anything from the blackout?”  Survey results show that 44% of the students reported that they learned something, while 76% of faculty and staff reported learning something from the blackout.  Focus group sessions and student commentary uncovered several specific lessons learned during the blackout week.  Several students reported gaining a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Facebook.  They used Facebook for its obvious ability to connect with friends, but they also used Facebook for collaborating on a business plan.  During the blackout, these students were forced to use another tool for working on their business plan, and discovered that it was easier than Facebook.  Additionally, they reported that it had become increasingly difficult to distinguish business related posts from social posts on Facebook.  These students learned that document management is not one of the core strengths of Facebook.

A second lesson learned was a better understanding of the value of face-to-face communications versus conversations carried out solely over social media.  Several faculty were reminded about the power of face-to-face dialogue when they discovered that complex biology concepts that had confused students for weeks when discussed over social media, were readily learned when explained in a series of face-to-face meetings.  In fact, 10% of the students reported enjoying face-to-face conversations during the time they would normally spend on Facebook.

Further, an additional lesson learned was that social media use can cause stress. Nearly 33% of students reported feeling less stressed during blackout week.

“Social media have become ubiquitous on university campuses.  These technologies have many strengths and weaknesses.  And like any tool, social media should be used with care and understanding,” says Darr.  “Harrisburg University’s 2010 social media exercise demonstrated some of the challenges and issues associated with these technologies.  Students, faculty and staff learned much about themselves during the 2010 exercise and there is still much to learn as we continue to push, prod, question and otherwise explore social media.”

The University plans to discuss the social media exercise at its 2012 Social Media Summit, set for May 23 at Harrisburg University.

Founded in 2001 to address Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Harrisburg University is an innovative and ambitious private institution that produces graduates who provide increased competence and capacity in science and technology disciplines to Pennsylvania and the nation. Harrisburg University ensures institutional access for underrepresented students and links learning and research to practical outcomes. As a private University serving the public good, Harrisburg University remains the only STEM-focused comprehensive university located between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

For questions about the exercise, contact Communications at 717.901.5146 or CONNECT@Harrisburgu.edu

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