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Kelly Snook and the Musical Gloves

One of my most unusual and inspiring friends, astrophysicist and music producer Kelly Snook, has been working on a fascinating project, the Gloves, with the Grammy-award winning British musician Imogen Heap. The Gloves are a cutting edge experimental gestural music ware originally developed for the purpose of Imogen Heap’s studio and stage work, but now, through a Kickstarter campaign, can be made available to any other experimental musician!

Kelly Snook and the Musical Gloves

Kelly Snook and the Musical Gloves

Kelly Snook and the Musical Gloves. Photo courtesy of Caeli Lohr

Today I asked Kelly a few questions about her inspiration and work on the Musical Gloves. Enjoy:

Kelly, As I was watching the new Cosmos program with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I kept wondering about the sounds of the outer space and your work while you were at NASA. Could you tell me how that work prepared you for the exciting new Gloves Project you have been working on with Imogen Heap’s team?

Kelly Snook:
Getting a Ph.D., working at NASA, and working with Imogen Heap have a lot in common – one thing they have in common is that they take you to new places and make you comfortable pushing boundaries and not being afraid to experiment. Also, they draw upon a confidence that impossible-seeming challenges are worth pursuing.

I have always admired that you seem to pursue anything with unshakable faith. What gives you that faith? And if experimenting is part of your daily agenda, how do you deal with failure?

Kelly Snook:
Failure is a good sign. It means we’re trying something new or something that will make us grow. Faith comes from first principles.

What first principles, if you do not mind elaborating?

Kelly Snook:

  1. Science is investigation of the knowable truths. Religion is investigation of unknowable truths.
  2. The knowable and unknowable are both worthy pursuits
  3. Everything else follows.

And a hand wrapped in a musical glove is a beautiful symbol of reaching towards the audio truth! Can you explain what the Glove is and what is your role in its creation?

Kelly Snook:
The glove is a wearable musical instrument that lets you control sound (through a computer) with your gestures. My role has been as one of the small team of developers of the hardware, software, and audio systems of the glove. My main focus has been on the software and audio side.

What is the Gloves’ team’s ultimate goal and how can we — musicians and techies — help?

Kelly Snook:
You can help spread the word about our Kickstarter to anyone who might want to try the gloves:

I sure will! Last but not least, going back to the theme of music in space, Bulgarians are very proud that the original golden disk that was sent with the Voyager contained a beautiful Bulgarian folk song. If you were the music curator of such a disk, what additional selections would you include?

Kelly Snook:
Ravel’s piano concerto in G, second movement. That’s the most beautiful thing ever written, in my opinion.

Thank you so much for your time, Kelly! Good luck and happy Nawruz (Baha’i New Year)!

Kelly Snook:
You too!

Modern Data Warehousing According to Microsoft: How To Leverage the Power of “Big Data”

Notes from a Data Warehousing workshop with PragmaticWorks hosted by Microsoft in Reston, VA

The morning started with a quirk: I had decided to ask the PragmaticWorks presenter the favor of inquiring if any of the attendees could give me a ride to the metro. There was an awkward moment when he said “I cannot do that, sorry” but when I asked the audience a nice pair of techies had mercy on me and my carlessness. To be fair, no one should expect a presenter to be a cab driver as well, of course; the gentleman was clearly knowledgeable making the whole seminar was very informative.

As I was sitting grateful for the assurance of a ride, a thought crossed my mind that I might win the random attendee reward, a Microsoft Surface 2 tablet. Who knew that not only this would happen but that my ride to and on the metro would turn into a fascinating conversation with a hyper intelligent and equally attractive geek with beautiful green eyes.

But let’s get back to the topic of…

What exactly is modern data warehousingaccording to Microsoft?

Not surprisingly, the presenter started with a sample of the old / new questions businesses are asking:

  • What’s the social sentiment for my brand or products? – Social and web analytics
  • How do I optimize my fleet based on weather and traffic patterns? – Live data feeds
  • How do I better predict future outcomes? – Advanced analytics

Referring to the #iatethebones social campaign during which KFC pulled data through Hadoop and stayed ahead of the million of submissions by using the social media response to predict their sales.

An interesting, and unexpected illustration of the use of predictive analytics to identify top items purchased before hurricane hits was shared. Whether it is an illustration of the power of big data or of the unpredictable nature of humans, you be the judge, but the top of the list is surely surprising:

  1. Strawberry Pop Tarts
  2. Bottled water
  3. Bleach, mops and other cleaning supplies
  4. Flashlights / candles
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Generators
  7. Batteries
  8. Ice

Then we moved to the claim that 75% of CIO desire to worry less about systems and more about innovation. I can only imagine the question being asked: “What would you like to worry about more?…” But let’s continue

Microsoft’s Data Warehousing Proposition

Microsoft aims to make SQL Server the fastest and most affordable database for customers of all sizes. The goal is to offer a simplified data warehouse management through:

  • Massive scalability at a low cost
  • Flexibility and Choice
  • Complete Data Warehousing Solution

Introducing Parallel Data Warehousing

  • Pre-build hardware + software appliance
  • Co-engineered with HP and Dell
  • Pre-built hardware
  • Appliance installed in 1-2 days
  • Microsoft provides full call support
  • Hardware partner provides onsite break/fix support

Microsoft Data Warehousing Solutions

Of course, at the center of anything Microsoft offers is SQL Server 2012 and its enterprise stack of data management technologies (SQL Server, SSRS, SSIS, SSAS):

  • Scalable / reliable SMP platform for data warehousing or any hardware
  • Ideal for data marts or small to mid-side


Where things got interesting is when the talk turned to the notion of a data warehousing appliance built upon Microsoft technology as a relatively affordable implementation of a parallel data warehouse.

Why Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW):

  • Scalable
  • Reliable
  • Fast

Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP)

  • Multiple CPUs used to complete individual processes simultaneously
  • All CPUs share the same memory, disks, and network controllers
  • All SQL Server implementations up until now have been SMP

Massively Parallel Processing (MPP)

  • Uses many separate CPUs running in parallel to execute a single program
  • Each CPU has its own memory
  • Applications must be segmented, using high-speed communications between nodes

What intelligence driven organizations are focusing on:

  • Retail services: what customers do we want to attract and how do we maximize our profitability?
  • Healthcare: how do we better analyze census, clinical and provider data together for an integrated view of our business?
  • Data services: how do we combine data from new sources faster and provide a platform for growth to our clients?
  • Major credit card firm: how does Hadoop better improve our ability to provide analysis to our analysis?

Seamlessly add capacity:

  • Smallest (53 TB) to largest (6 PB)
  • Start small linear, scale out
  • Add capacity up to 6 petabytes.

Designed for parallel processing

Data loads in parallel into multiple instances of SQL Server.

Next-Gen performance

  • xVelocity – Fast data query processing
  • Columnstore provides dramatic performance
  • Updatable and clustered xVelocity columnstore
  • Stores data in columnar format
  • Memory-optimized for next-generation performance
  • Updatable to support bulk and / or trickle loading
  • Up to 50X faster
  • Up to 15X compression
  • Save time and costs
  • Real-time DW

Design goals

  • Load data efficiently and non-obtrusively, respecting concurrent queries and loads
  • Reduce table fragmentation
  • Provide system recovery capabilities
  • Providing multiple data loading options

Data loading options

  • DWLoader Utility
  • SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS)
  • Create table as select (CTAS)
  • Standard SQL DML Statements (Insert / Select)

Hadoop ecosystem with its capability of handling vast unstructured data sets, creates a challenge of integrating the noSQL data into a SQL Server-based data warehousing solution. Microsoft’s answer is a very intriguing and is called Polybase but is, sadly, not available yet.

What is Polybase and what are its goals?

  • Seamless integration with Hadoop via regular T-SQL
  • Unifies relational  and non-relational data
  • Enables in-place queries and familiar BI tools
  • Part of an overall Microsoft Bid Data Story

Polybase Details

  • External tables and full SQL query access to data stored in HDFS
  • Imposing “structure” on the unstructured data in HDFS
  • Joining ‘on-the-fly’ PDW data with data from HDFS

The conclusion

Having attended a number of conferences (TDWI, Strata) and seminars, I take a very pragmatic approach to the choice of IT architecture, familiar as I am with the technical preferences and overall reality of my work place. I tend to gravitate towards Microsoft’s BI solution because so far it has proven very successful and relatively affordable answer to my team’s challenges.

Thus I was delighted to hear the fellow who would give me a ride, Jonathan, ask directly the most relevant question: on the approximate cost of the PDW solution. The answer — more of a informed guess was: a quarter rack would apparently priced around $250,000 not including discounts and excluding the data loading services.Let’s just say that while this is not pocket money, it is not Exadata either.

Having a previous Microsoft agreement would be helpful, of course. The maintenance agreement offered has two levels, and two providers — with Microsoft for the software, and with HP or Dell, correspondingly, on the appliance (the Dell solution is packaged and architected a bit differently than the one from HP but is available nevertheless.)

All I can say so far is that to spend this type of money on a Parallel Data Warehousing appliance at the non-profit where I manage the Web & Data Services team, I would need executive support. When we get there though, it would be a move in the right direction — architecturally and technologically — for my team!

In the mean time, I will try not to be tempted too much by the Surface 2, and will enjoy this gorgeous first day of spring! For this beautiful day, thank you, PragmaticWorks and Ramsey Informatics!

Digital Analytics Helps You Measure Your Website Objectives

Anybody who has a small business website should sign up to this fabulous and free online course on digital analytics which will help us all take advantage of the enormous power of Google Analytics.

Digital Analytics tools like Google Analytics Help You Measure Your Website Objectives

Digital Analytics tools like Google Analytics Help You Measure Your Website Objectives

What is Digital Analytics, a.k.a the evolution of Web Analytics

In the definition of the best story teller among web analytics evangelists, Avinash KaushikWeb Analytics 2.0 is:

(1) the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from your website and the competition,
(2) to drive a continual improvement of the online experience that your customers, and potential customers have,
(3) which translates into your desired outcomes (online and offline).

Addressing the importance of digital analytics, this informative video guides us to address the type of customers we serve and the business goals we can address through the power of digital analytics.

Know Thy Site: What are your website objectives and how can you measure them through digital analytics?

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

According to Google’s Digital Analytics Academy, the five common business objectives for websites are:

  1. First, for ecommerce sites, an obvious objective is selling products or services, for ecommerce websites.
  2. Second, for lead generation sites, the goal is to collect user information for sales teams to connect with potential leads.
  3. Third, for content publishers, the goal is to encourage engagement and frequent visitation.
  4. Fourth, for online informational or support siteshelping users find the information they need at the right time is of primary importance.
  5. And finally for branding, the main objective is to drive awareness, engagement and loyalty.

I decided to use the list above and determine the type of business objective for some of the websites I manage either personally as a blogger, collectively  with my colleagues on behalf of my employer, or as a website optimization consultant on behalf of my clients. As it turns out, I have quite a variety of websites with diverse business objectives:

Taking the time to reflect on the type of objective applicable to a website is deeply satisfying — a delight for geeks, I would say — because it sets one on the course of actually managing, rather than just maintaining a website. And there is no better tool for managing through measurement than digital analytics. Peter Drucker would be delighted with the power of the tools we have easily accessible today!

A new site for Farhoumand Dental presents an SEO challenge

A new website for Farhoumand Dental presents an interesting SEO challenge

Two friends of mine, my dentist Foad Farhoumand, DDS and his sister Farah Farhoumand, DDS, hired TNT Dental to design a new website for their  Farhoumand Dental Practice and to rewrite the content for it. They asked me to assist them with implementing a coherent social media strategy and search engine optimization in order to address an interesting SEO challenge made apparent with the launch of their new website.

Farhoumand Dental launches a new website, and a new SEO challenge

Farhoumand Dental launches a new website, and a new SEO challenge

Google’s Hummingbird update presents an SEO challenge for small business

With the recent Hummingbird update of the Google Search Engine algorithm, the challenges for any small business are very real. In the case of Farhoumand Dental, the new changes translate into actual business loss.

Farhoumand Dental local search listing

Farhoumand Dental local search listing

Google generates the information in the right hand box automatically, pulling it from all over the web —  in this case the dental practice’s old website and its old Google + page. The problem is that the phone number listed is old, currently incorrect, and is in fact the phone for the newly minted competitor, Avanti Dentistry, which until recently was part of the original Farhoumand Dental Practice. This presents a real business problem because old and new customers are mislead to call the competitor, leading to actual loss of business. Herewith comes the value of search engine optimization!

SEO experts willingly share their knowledge and expertise

As always, the web is a wonderful source of knowledge. Just as during my early web development days back in the ancient 1995, nowadays there are still generous professionals  willing to share their knowledge and expertise. Among many others on Search Engine Land’s LinkedIn forum and Moz Community, several SEO experts shared practical suggestions, among which I am quoting Randy Tallman‘s:

I believe you are dealing with an issue of identity changes. This can be complex, but can be dealt with by integrating SEO strategy to enable the new site being found. The following are some things to consider. There are more, and hopefully other help will come forward with other strategies.

1. Purchase the alternate domains that are like the original domain, such as .net or others. Point the .net domain over to the new site. (In the future build a landing page for the .net site though.)

2. Be sure to use the original name in the Title, Description and Content on the page (near the top of content). This will enable you to obtain positioning organically.

3. If you can, blog about the transformation — as search engines love Blogs. If you add the appropriate content which your clients are searching for on a consistent basis, you may be able to move your position to the top in time.

4. Reach out to your prior clients, and ask them to get the message out to others.

5. Connect with Social Media where your clients most likely hang out.

6. You may want to have similar page names to the old site which are optimized as much as possible to bring them to the new site.

I wish you the best in your transformations.


I will be tracking on this blog the adventure of optimizing the new Farhoumand Dental website for the search engine as well as user experience.

Website Optimization When Business Is Closed

Google pulled an ironic prank today by featuring the Yosemite National Park on its Google Doodle the exact day, 123 years after its creation, when the National Park Service is shutting down because of the government’s inability to come to an agreement and keep its basic services running.

Google's irony: As government shuts down, Google marks anniversary of national park you suddenly cannot see

Google’s irony: As government shuts down, Google marks anniversary of national park you suddenly cannot see

Search Engine Optimization and Web Site Optimization

Having your website featured on Google’s front page with a creative Google Doodle is, of course, the ultimate search engine optimization accomplishment. But a website rarely exists as an abstract entity not related to business, organization or a person. When that business is closed but its website is open to the biggest web traffic imaginable, the user-friendly thing is to update the website and clearly indicate of the closing or the limited working hours.

When online does not reflect offline reality

The National Park Service, no doubt hoping for the best, has no indication on its website of the possible closing.

National Park Service - Yosemite

A better alternative

YosemitePark.com run by DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service, has put a simple warning indicating the possibility of the park closing.


The value of Website Optimization when business is closed

Thinking holistically about how a website is used improves its usability and solves a number of potential problems particularly when the website represents a physical place of such enormous beauty as Yosemite National Park. I had wonderful time when hiking Yosemite with my cousin’s family 4 years ago and would not want to be among those who have just arrived at the park to only be told they need to leave. Of course, the closings are not the fault of the National Park Service, but whoever operates the websites should have been prepared enough to use the web as communication medium and clearly indicate that, sadly, the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite, will not be celebrated.

Tools for reporting on search engine rankings

Recently I have been working with a couple of small local business and the question of reporting on their search engine rankings came up. I had started my foray into the web design and development back when Netscape was in beta, into web site optimization back when Google was in alpha and then — a decade ago — would participate in search engine optimization knowledge sharing on forums like HighRankings. Today, I see no better place for finding professional advice than LinkedIn. Not unlike during my early days as a web master, I found endearing the openness and willingness by those who were much more experienced than me to share knowledge and experience. I wanted to summarize the responses I got in the hope that others might benefit from them!

Tools for reporting on search engine rankings and other SEO-related activities

Search Engine Ranking, graph courtesy of WrenSoft.

Search Engine Ranking, graph courtesy of WrenSoft.

I asked the experts on the Search Engine Land LinkedIn discussion group: “What tools do you use and recommend for reporting on search engine rankings and other SEO-related activities?” Here is what the participants in this LinkedIn discussion suggested, in alphabetical order:

It is quite interesting to compare this list to a similar one I had put together more than 10 years ago!

Valuable SEO Advise

Tool suggestion aside, I found most intriguing the opinions of a couple of experts: Andrea Berberich shared her whole methodology of ensuring high search engine rankings:

“For keyword discovery and competitive analysis here is what I do:

  1. Use within Keyword Planner “Display Planner” to get a variety of keywords combination
  2. Use Chrome SEO SERP Bench to figure out my competitors rank on the keyword variation
  3. Go back to Keyword Planner and see the search volume of all the keywords that are high on the list with my competitors (best rank)
  4. Work with the SEO Content Strategist and recommend to create the content.
  5. Once content is create with recommended keywords (2 non-branded; 1 branded per page) I get them submitted into BrightEdge for continual monitoring and tracking
  6. I also review the “untracked keywords” that BrightEdge provides
  7. Ones keyword and PLPs (preferred landing pages) are in BrightEdge Web Manager can monitor the page ranking.”

Scott Stouffer blankly stated that “Rank Trackers are dead — they are based on the query stack of a search engine, which has become incredibly noisy from the personalization (filters like social,local,etc…).” Lastly, Geoffrey Hoesch confirmed “… you’re better off focusing on organic traffic and conversions than keyword rankings, as few keyword rank tools track keyword rankings based on location, which makes regional/local tracking very difficult. In the end, Moz linked up with Google Analytics can help you create the best reports.”

Tough day for spelling at WashPost

Indeed, this is old news – it took place on July 30, 2013 and was fixed relatively quickly. Sadly, the cause is there to stay:

Because they’ve laid off half the editors!

Tough day for spelling at WashPost

Tough day for spelling at WashPost

Questions for Big Data in Government Summit

Big Data and Analytics in Government

Big Data and Analytics in Government SummitI will be speaking with my colleague Stephan Mitchev on Big Data and its application at a presentation titled “Unity in Diversity: Towards Unified Data Future” at the Big Data & Analytics in Government Summit.

As the title suggests, we will focus not on the size aspect of “big data” but on its diversity — the fact that we work at an organization that deals with data of varied systems and formats and yet we need to put it to good use.

The Era of “Datafication”

Starting with the notion that, as Kenneth Cukier eloquently explains, we have arrived at the era of “datafication”, we need to consider what we do with the massive volumes of data we collect.

Unless we make use of data, should we collect it?

Is there value to data that is collected but not used? Shouldn’t we it a rule that:

- If we collect data, we need to analyze it

- Unless we analyze data, we should not collect it

Establishing these basic principles, we can then approach the architectural challenges of processing and analyzing massive volumes of data in order to gain insight from it.

What challenges do you face? How do you approach and resolve them?

Bulletproofing your WordPress site against a brute force attack

Bulletproofing your WordPress site against a brute force attacBlogs throughout the world are reporting that there is an on-going and highly-distributed, global attack on WordPress installations across virtually every web host in existence.

HostGator and LunarPages hosting both posted on what to do to protect your WordPress-based site:


Before you do that, make sure to create a new administrator account, log out from the original admin account, log into the new account and only then attempt to delete the old admin account.


That should be a no-brainer but it is surprising how many sites get hacked because of simple passwords being used. The Geek Stuff offers some ideas for creating strong passwords but if your WordPress is updated, it will tell you if the new password is strong enough.


A terrific WordPress plugin, Limit Login Attempts is a good start.


Your hosting company should offer this and if not, you should perhaps change your web hosting company. I can highly recommend LunarPages! Use code “aff15off” for 15% off of a new shared hosting account if you sign up today!

Stay safe!

Data Visualization of the Food Commute

Food Access Research Atlas

Just after yesterdays data visualization of the average commute time in the U.S., now we get another powerful data visualization tool courtesy of USDA, this one mapping the food deserts and average time we commute to get to our food.

Food and Commute

Food Access Research AtlasI am grateful to have grown up in a family which continues to produce quite a bit of its own fruits and vegetables in addition to my dad’s beekeeping, back in the Bulgarian village where my parents live and where I spent every weekeend and vacation as a child. Here, in the U.S. it is a very different story for the majority of people.

For a vast country as the U.S., it is not surprising that there are massive areas where getting to food requires long commute. The problem I am sure is multi-dimensional and is partially rooted in the way cities in this country are built but also in the frontier culture which pushes many people to sacrifice the convenient proximity to food and work for the independence of living on your own piece of land.

I am personally lucky to live within walking distance from Giant, Harris Teeter and, most importantly, Trader Joe’s groceries stores. Occasionally  I would drive to Costco for some big purchases but as a whole if I needed to, I could walk or bite for my groceries every day — just like I did early this morning when I needed yogurt and bananas.

Just as the Slow Food movement and Michael Pollan’s call to know where our food comes from, there are more and more people who demand to know the origin of their food and the way it travels to their tables. Thus the emergence of search engines like BuyLocal.com.

The new Food Access Research Atlas should help with this noble endeavor as well!

Data Is Contextual, Powerful and Beautiful

When Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research presented at the 2013 Strata Conference, she gave powerful examples of how big data analysis and visualization can be skewed unless coupled with depth and context.

As NPR reported about the Food Access Research Atlas:

The atlas, which is a big upgrade from the USDA’s two-year-old Food Desert Locator, is intended as a tool for state policymakers, local planners, and nonprofit groups concerned about food access.

The team working on the Atlas have made this powerful data visualization tool doubly more useful by mashing data on the distance to food sources with data about car ownership. They admit regretting not being able to add information about public transportation which would have made the tool even greater by providing contextual depth but such data is apparently not available on a national level.

Accessible Data is Usable Data

Just as many of the presenters at the Strata Conference illustrated, when data is beautiful, we are more willing and able to consume it — not unlike healthy, organic food: if it is accessible and affordable, we will gladly opt to take advantage of it.

I wish the Atlas were not Flash-based. I wish it were built on a more open, flexible platform — Google Maps perhaps? I would have loved to be able to move from address to address quicker. But these are minimal complains. The Food Access Research Atlas is a welcome and powerful tool and its authors should be proud!