Lifehack: Labels for Laptop Ports

Laptop Port Labels I spent 3 cents and changed my laptop life forever.  I got pretty tired of having to look at the ports on the side of my laptop, so I made some quick labels and slapped those babies on there.  These little labels delight me every time I bust out my laptop.

I love the idea of “fixing what bugs you“.  Check out the TedX talk by Paul Akers (a Lean Superhero) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4LIWHE5Lhs

There’s also a movement called “Civic Hacking” that is a bunch of civilians in different cities, who are living out the methods of Continuous Improvement & Lean Startup, and donating their computer hacking skills (don’t worry…that means “coding”).  Check it out: www.hackforchange.org

Calculation: Label roll = $9.45, Length = 23′, Price per inch: $0.034; Length of this label = 1″


Data Analysis Story: Floral Monogram for artist Isabel Arenas

Artist Isabel Arenas is creating greeting cards out of her floral monogram collection on Society6, and she asked for my help to create them in the order of most popular first and last initials.

For the dataset, I used my LinkedIn connections, exported to csv, and created the chart below.  From that data, I then used the metric min(Rank of First Initial, Rank of Last Initial) to rank the letters.  She already has A,B,C, and from this data, we determined the next to create will be J,M,S,D,H.

Going forward, I will work with her to analyze her Society6 data, and monitor it as she makes the cards, to get a feel for the impact on her sales.

Data Floral

First name and last name of Brent Brewington's LinkedIn connections

First name and last name of Brent Brewington’s LinkedIn connections


ISO 9001: 2015 – Fewer Procedures?

I think that after ISO 9001:2015 rolls out, Quality Professionals will shift from being writers of forms/documents/procedures, to managing the governance of information systems (a.k.a. “Documented Information”). If this includes you, it may not hurt to find some freely available information online to learn Management Information Systems (“MIS”), and learn some basic IT information. I know I will!

I hope this all drives quality systems to be more business-relevant and lean, and more embraced by upper level management. Some companies already do this, but it doesn’t tend to be something that ISO 9001:2008 has “required” (although it’s written in there as Management Commitment)


How Frequent are Palindrome Weeks?

I saw some buzz on Twitter around Palindrome Week, and I got curious, so I did an analysis in Excel to find out (here’s the file: Palindrome Calculator)

From all the weeks in 1900 – 2015, there have been 12 full-blown palindrome weeks (all 7 days, Sunday-Saturday).  That’s 0.2% of all weeks, or 1 out of every 500 (a.k.a. every ten years).

It would be interesting to expand this range thousands of years in each direction, and come up with some statistics, but since that would increase the records by 53 * 1,000 * (# of thousands), I’d have to probably use a Data Analysis software (my preference: R).  Maybe in a future post!  (hint hint: June 2016)

Anyway, enjoy this new knowledge nugget, and say hi to TacoCat for me!

Here’s the heatmap:

Palindrome Date Report

I may lose Data Science cred for this, but I made the heatmap with an Excel PivotTable w/ Conditional Formatting, and Copy+Pasted it to MS Paint.  Sometimes, you just have to go with your chops 🙂

taco cat


Frugal Living Tip: Plan Week-by-Week for Groceries and Recipes

I created a tool to help plan ahead for meals, and the groceries needed to get them.  It’s a great way to save trips to the grocery store, and also planning ahead helps to reduce the number of times eating out.  If you’re like me, eating out is one of the top money sinks in your budget, and it tends to be caused either by reactive thinking (hungry on the way home from work), or running out of groceries.

Here’s how it works:

Click here to download the grocery list file: Grocery List

  1. Plan out your meals
  2. Figure out which ingredients you’re missing for each of those meals, and add them to the spots for that day
  3. Get groceries, and get cooking & saving money!

If you have other tips for meal planning, or other ideas for how to improve this list, leave a comment below!


Continuous Improvement – 4 Critical Terms


In the Continuous Improvement world, there are a bajillion different definitions for these terms, so for future reference I wanted to share my take on them…

  1. System – a set of things or parts forming a whole
  2. Problem – when there is a gap between where some part of the system is, and where it is wanted or needed
  3. Cause – something that produces a problem
    1. ROOT Cause – the source of the causal chain that produces a problem
  4. Countermeasure – something that is put in place to control or eliminate a set of causes

For #4, people tend to use the word “Solution”.  “Countermeasure” is better, if the goal is for people to think deeply into problems to get to the root cause.  In this blog post by Karen Martin, she experimented with both terms:

1. I created a double-sided worksheet. The first side has two columns: Problem and Solution. The second side has three columns: ProblemRoot Cause, and Countermeasure (notice that “countermeasure” has replaced “solution.”).
2. At the beginning of my problem solving workshops or problem-solving section within an improvement activity or other type of learning activity—before I deliver any content at all—I ask workshop participants to pair up and list 2-3 problems in the problem column. When it’s an in-house gathering, I suggest that the problems be business-related. For public gatherings, the problems could be societal, political, etc. I give them 10-20 minutes, depending on the group.
3. Then I ask them to write down the “best” solution(s) or the solution(s) they felt would adequately address each problem in the “solution” column (10-20 minutes).
4. Then I introduce the PDSA (plan-do-study-adjust) improvement cycle. Naturally I include a discussion around root cause analysis during the “P” but here’s the difference: I don’t introduce any tools, not even the simple five why’s. (15 minutes).
5. Then I have them turn the worksheet over and list the same 2-3 problems in the left column. And then I have them list possible root causes for each (10-20 minutes).
6. Finally, I ask them to list the potential countermeasures that would address the root causes they’ve identified (10-20 minutes).

So far, in 100% of the cases, the “countermeasures” they’ve listed are different from the “solutions” on the first side of the worksheet. It appears that merely inserting the “root cause” step, has fundamentally changed the thinking and, therefore, the outcomes of their problem solving work […] in all cases the countermeasures they proposed have been significantly better than the habitual band-aid path they would have otherwise gone down.

By the way, bajillion is a real term.  Google says so.

What do you think of the definitions shown above?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Using Likert Scales to organize recipe information

Using recipes is not easy for a linear thinker.  The information is a blob of text, action steps aren’t as logically presented as they could be, and the info is scattered among books and online websites in lots of different formats.  I wanted a way to manage my recipes and groceries in the same place, so I created an Excel-based “recipe database”.  I’m going to use it to do meal planning, and to create quick shopping lists.  It’s not 100% developed, but I wanted to share a nugget from it in the mean time.

In addition to keeping a list of ingredients and cooking steps, I’m cataloging the recipes using these fields: Recipe Title, Servings, “Healthiness”, and “Taste Awesomeness”

For the last two, I’m using a tool from the Quality world called a “Likert Scale“, where a range of values is assigned to on-off data.  So instead of saying “Is it healthy?”, I can say “how healthy is it?” – which allows for better organization, planning, and sorting.  That way, I can make sure that I have enough recipes of 2’s and 3’s in the mix so I’m equipped to eat healthy

Here are my scales:

How Awesome (0-3)

0 – delete off list; very not-awesome and not worth keeping
1 – Meh
2 – AWESOME – must. eat. often.
3 – MIND BLOWN – deserves a recipe honeymoon (eat for every meal for a while)

How Healthy (0-3)

0 – little to no nutritional value (i.e. desserts)
1 – some nutritional value, but either is high in sodium, fat, or sugar
2 – average nutritional value
3 – has superfoods, low sodium, and low in added bad fat

I’m thinking that zero’s in healthiness are going to be mainly desserts and zero’s in awesomeness are going to be deleted.

If you’re reading this, and would like a copy of the finished recipe database, leave a message in the comments below, and I’ll hook you up once it’s done.


Email overload isn’t worth it: 5 steps to cure it

Email can be terrible if gets out of control; but it doesn’t have to be that way…

I just watched a  video by Derek Halpern (blogger and founder of Social Triggers) where he gave some tips on how to manage email, by curing the root cause rather than the symptoms.  Here’s his method in a nutshell (each point is linked to that spot in the YouTube video, for easy reference)

  1. Categorize email by type (1:34)
  2. Knock out easy categories (2:03)
  3. Categorize emails that need a response (2:17)
  4. Create email templates to respond to each category (2:25)
  5. Respond (and delegate) (2:51)

If you don’t have employees of your own to delegate #5 to, there are services out there that can take care of that problem…here’s an article by slate.com explaining how personal outsourcing works.

This seems pretty simple, but when this tool is used, it can cure a huge productivity sink in all of our lives.  I don’t know about you, but having a mountain of email, especially when it’s unread, can cause a ton of stress.  And I’m willing to bet that at least 50% of our email inboxes fits into #2 above.  I’m definitely going to start using Derek’s tips, and spend more time blogging rather than scanning my gmail!

I love watching peoples’ problem solving reflection online, and connecting it with the quality tools that I’ve grown to love (NERD!)…here are some that Derek used: Affinity Diagram / Root Cause Analysis / Standard Work

Here are some links to Derek’s content: Twitter / Email Overload Article / SocialTriggers.com

Do you have any tips for managing email that have worked for you?  Know of any good resources?  Would love to hear about it in the comments (or you can email me <– that’s called irony…go for it, though!)


My first Arduino Challenge

This video is one of my first Arduino projects (in response to a challenge by a Software Engineer friend of mine)

So…I’ve caught the Arduino bug. In case you’re not familiar with Arduino, it’s a neat little circuit board that is super versatile, and pretty easy to use.  I got a starter kit on Amazon for $55

Here is a great explanation by MakeUseOf: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/arduino-technology-explained/ …basically, it’s a circuit board that is pretty easy to program on the computer, which makes it easy for non-electronics experts to use electronics. And that leads to lots of people making lots of cool stuff!

So this isn’t exactly related to quality per se, but it most definitely is going to tie in later on, because now that I’ve gone Arduino, the automation world has just opened up to me. And automation = less need to do mundane things, which = more productivity and better ability to innovate & improve.  I’m going to be using this exciting new tool at work, and will be sharing some thoughts in posts to come.

Here are some questions I have for you:

  • Have you heard about Arduino?
  • Are you interested to learn more?
  • Have you seen people use this tool to solve problems at your workplace?

(I’d be glad to help you get started in case you’re interested)