Innovation Session: Tony Gonzalez Infographic Part 1

My idea for this week’s session was to look at some stats about Tony Gonzalez.

I originally thought I would be coming up with something like a ‘5 reasons why Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t retire’ post – but after thinking about it I realized that data wasn’t the issue here. Tony doesn’t need convincing that he still has it, or that the Falcons are so close – his decision, whatever it will be, is driven by personal reasons. I respect that and don’t want data to add needless pressure.

So, already knee deep in data about the career of Tony Gonzalez, I decided to honor his career by creating an infographic.

I am about 7 hours in and it is looking sweet – I will likely have to finish it this weekend though – so look for the final product next week.

In the mean time, here is a sneak preview…


Innovation Session: The Most Normal State – Part 1


The idea started as I was driving back from a caving trip in southern Utah. My friend Mark & I drove through Colorad City, Arizona, known for its community of polygamists.

“Wow” we thought “this is not a normal town.”

Like I mentioned, we had just spend a few days in Utah, a state known for its disproportionate percentage of followers of the Mormon faith. And as we drove back we crossed through Nevada, a state that you are always aware when you enter on account of the immediate presence of large casinos on the border. Not exactly normal.

As we pondered what it was that we meant by ‘normal’ we realized that our beloved home of California certainly wouldn’t fit the mold.

“So,” we asked ourselves “which state is the normal one?”

If the states were family members in a bizarre sitcom – which one would be the main character? The relatable one. The one who’s character wasn’t saturated with stereotypes and caricature.

We debated for the better part of a few hours – which is nice on a 12 hour drive. Illinois and South Carolina seemed to come out on top – but none of this was based on anything solid.

So, operating under a belief that there is a state more normal than the others – I am going to attempt to pull together some data that will make clear which one it is.

Wish me luck.

Step 1: What makes a state normal?

As we drove we began to brainstorm a list of ideas of attributes of a state that could help to determine its normalness or lack thereof.

We settled on a few major categories:

  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Social Norms
  • Geography & Climate
  • Cultural
  • Sports

Each category could then be broken down into a number of attributes that are more quantifiable. For example – in politics, we would look at the state’s popular vote breakdown as compared to the nation’s in the most recent presidential election.

The methodology we will take with this project is to assign, for each attribute, an absolute value z-score for each state. This will show which states are closest to the national mean – the ones with low z-scores – and which ones are not – those with higher z-scores.

We realized that it didn’t matter if they were above or below the national average because we will be comparing across attributes that are in no way related. If we tried to keep track of positive and negative values we would be presented with the challenge of determining whether high amounts of rain was more of a Democrat or Republican thing. We don’t care – if you’re not close to the mean – you’re not normal.

Step 2: Getting the data

Now that we know what we know what we are measuring and comparing against, we need some data. I’m really hoping there is a massive state info API out there – but in the likely case that there is not – it might be time to start web scraping & mechanical turking. This is going to be the fun part.

I will be keeping all code publicly viewable on github – so feel free to contribute: Most Normal State Github Repository


You can ready part 2 here, where I attempt to get data from the US Census.


2013: Goal, Theme & Challenge

Every year since 2008 I’ve done an exercise on December 31st where I jot down a few notes about the previous year and make predictions about the next year. I make guesses on 20 items regarding my life, the world, etc. The answers usually resemble a probability density function that I then evaluate the following year.

This year I wanted to add something new to my repertoire of yearly focus that I think fits well in a public setting like this blog. Stating these items publicly and providing regular updates should provide a bit of extra accountability and pressure to achieving them.

Goal – Something I want to accomplish that is measurable and relatively continual. eg. exercise more or watch less TV.

Theme – A central topic for the year – something I can look back on and pinpoint that N was the year of X. eg. develop independence or work like crazy

Challenge – Something big that I want to conquer. eg. climb Mr. Everest or run a 10 hour Ironman

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2013 Goal: Create With My Hands

I am more and more realizing the consumer state I am immersed in and the many unintended consequences of it. Where once there were imperfect hand made goods we now have conformity.

A lot of my furniture is from IKEA – you probably have some of the exact same furniture. When I was younger I had furniture and toys that my grandfather made with his hands in the wood shop. These are some of my favorite things. They are unique and they were made with love. They took time to make and that time leaves room for thought.

I’ve made a few things with my hands; a surfboard, a bed frame and some art. I always enjoy it, even if it doesn’t work as well or look as nice as the store bought kind. It has a story to it and I get to tell that story to friends when they come to my house. I enjoy having company over and being able to share with them those stories and the use of the items I made.

So for 2013 my goal is to create more with my hands. To not buy when I can build.

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2013 Theme: Grow As A Leader

In 2012 I was introduced to a lot of new leadership opportunities. At home, I got married – at work, I started managing a team that grew to 5 people. Leading is tough. No longer can you optimize your patterns and goals to your own interests and styles. You have to be flexible, you have to communicate more than you would think necessary and you have to be prepared for a lot of the unexpected.

Leading is something I intend to do a lot more of in my life. I would like to start another company and grow it. I would like to have kids. I have a lot to learn, but fortunately for me I have a lot of people to learn from.

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2013 Challenge: Surf Mavericks

I set this goal for myself last year on Facebook.


I took a few steps towards it, (including getting a board) but unfortunately, I never achieved it.

In June I injured my shoulder taking me out of commission from surfing for a few months. I thought things would heal up, but it is taking longer than I would like. I can surf some, but not enough to paddle into a 25ft+ wave.

Mavericks breaks in the winter, which means my next real window is next November-December. I’m hoping to be able to heal up, start training and get it done next December.

I plan on making regular updates for each of these to show what steps I am taking and how I have been progressing at each of them.