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!
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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)!
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…
Not surprisingly, the presenter started with a sample of the old / new questions businesses are asking:
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:
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 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:
Introducing Parallel Data Warehousing
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):
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):
Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP)
Massively Parallel Processing (MPP)
What intelligence driven organizations are focusing on:
Seamlessly add capacity:
Designed for parallel processing
Data loads in parallel into multiple instances of SQL Server.
Data loading options
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?
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 definition of the best story teller among web analytics evangelists, Avinash Kaushik, Web 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.
“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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.”
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!
I 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.
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.
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?
DELETE THE ‘ADMIN’ USER FOR YOUR WP 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.
CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS REGULARLY
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.
INSTALL SECURITY PLUGINS ON YOUR WP SITE
A terrific WordPress plugin, Limit Login Attempts is a good start.
PASSWORD PROTECT YOUR WP-LOGIN PAGE
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!
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.
I 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!
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.
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.
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!