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2009

Most productive work week of the year

A few years ago I accidentally stumbled on a very productive vacation strategy which through design or accident I've been using ever since. The week before and after Christmas (and to a lesser extent around Thanksgiving) are so quiet that they present a really great opportunity to collect thoughts, write-up ideas that have never quite made it above the noise floor, consolidate wish-lists and really think about the year ahead.

While not sustainable forever, mainly since it's rare that anything actually gets built or shipped, this last week has been exceptionally productive.

I'm not the only one. Scott Berkun explores the idea in more detail:

The week between Christmas and New Years, is the worst time to use vacation. It’s when everyone else is on holiday, turning even the most stressful workplaces into calm zones of highly indepenent and low interruption work time. Spending your vacation dollars to avoid a paid vacation in the office, is the worst bet in the vacation world: sometimes it’s a forced bet, as family plans force your hand, but it’s still a lousy value.
via When should you take vacation? A strategy « Scott Berkun.
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Sunset at Dash Point State Park

On the way to Cabela's we made a brief stop at Dash Point State Park today, it's just a few minutes off I-5 going south towards Olympia.

IMG_0142

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Christmas Day at the arboretum

After a fine Christmas dinner of defrosted hot dogs (we're trying to empty out the freezer), it was a lovely cool yet clear afternoon. We headed to the Washington Park arboretum to walk around a bit of the lake and to get some fresh air and exercise. It was nice to see others had similar thoughts but it was far from busy.

[flickr album=72157623069910938 num=30 size=Medium]

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Thinkpad W700 arrived

Just in time for Christmas (well, not really) my ThinkPad W700 arrived this morning. First impression: this thing is a monster. While it's big, it's not as heavy as I was expecting, but was really snappy right out of the box and has a fabulous, vivid screen. The built-in tablet, calibrator and webcam all seem nice too. I'm now loading up Photoshop, Lightroom, Office and VS ready for our trip which is just a few weeks away now.

Aside: this little box has come a long way to get here.

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More PivotTables in PowerShell

Similar to the Simple PivotTables in Excel script I wrote a while back, today I needed to do a different type of pivot by hierarchy. I had a flat table of rows which I wanted to group by several columns recursively.

[sourcecode language="powershell"]

Given data such as

A B C

------- ----------- ----

red lisbon cat

blue venice dog

green paris cat

blue london dog

green lisbon fish

green paris cat

Output the following

cat

red

lisbon 1

green

paris 2

dog

blue

venice 1

london 1

fish

green

lisbon 1

$list | output-hierarchy "C","A","B"

function output-hierarchy

$groups = $input | group $hierarchy[0]
foreach ($group in $groups)
{
    if ($hierarchy.length -gt 1)
    {
        # Emit title at this level
        "`t"*$depth + $group.name

        $group.group | output-hierarchy $hierarchy[1..($hierarchy.length-1)] ($depth+1)
    }
    else
    {
        # Figure out how many spaces to right align count
        $spacer=(60-$group.name.length-$depth-$group.group.count.tostring().length)

        # End of the road, count the remaining items that fall into this category
        "`t"*$depth + $group.name + " "*$spacer + $group.group.count
    }
}

} [/sourcecode]

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Recent trip to Colorado

As a mini pre-Christmas vacation, Amy and I travelled to Colorado for a few days last week.

We left Seattle early on Wednesday and were in Denver by noon. I called in to several meetings and continued to work through the afternoon and early evening from our hotel room to finish up some items from the week.

Thursday was an entirely different experience. We were up early and headed to a nondescript warehouse in the suburbs of Denver to witness the filming of a Food Network Challenge starring our very own Eve Samonsky. It was great seeing the behind-the-scenes set up; the coordination effort, number of people involved, logistics and sheer volume of recorded video was surprising to me, overshadowed only by the impressive creations of the competing pastry chefs. While the competitors worked non-stop for some 10+ hours, we broke up the day with a good breakfast at Lucile's and a walk around Wash Park. We returned for a tense ending and to admire the result of a day of hard effort but you'll have to wait until the show airs some time in 2010 to see it all.

Oakley-9902

Oakley-9917

On Friday morning we headed up to Winter Park for a couple of days of skiing. There had been about 6” of snow the day before but continues were dry, clear and cold by the time we arrived shortly after lunch. The first few runs of the season are always a bit of a challenge but it came back quickly. We enjoyed a good few hours on the slopes surrounding by great views of the snow-covered Rockies before retiring to a ski-in condo at the Iron Horse Resort (bargain found online just the night before!). More skiing on Saturday, followed by a good soak in the hot tub. Aching bones.

The views from the slopes are something you can't really capture with a camera. The bright clear sunshine at 9,000+ ft, crisp 15 degrees F and brilliant blue skies are all around.

Mary Jane run, Winter Park Colorado

Back to Seattle on Sunday morning.

Wash Park on Flickr

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5 Best Data Visualization Projects of the Year 2009 | FlowingData

It was a huge year for data. There's no denying it. Data is about to explode. Applications sprung up left and right that help you understand your data - your Web traffic, your finances, and your life. There are now online marketplaces that sell data as files or via API. Data.gov launched to provide the public with usable, machine-readable data on a national scale. State and local governments followed, and data availability expands every day. At the same time, there are now tons of tools that you can use to visualize your data. It's not just Excel anymore, and a lot of it is browser-based. Some of the tools even have aesthetics to boot. It's exciting times for data, indeed. Data has been declared sexy, and the rise of the data scientist is here.

via 5 Best Data Visualization Projects of the Year – 2009 | FlowingData.

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Optimizing consumption by bring supply nearer to the need

The cafeterias at work recently changed from centralized distribution of napkins (i.e. big pileswith the flatware) to per-table dispensers.

On the face of it, this would seem to be more costly in both the one-time cost of dispensers (not huge) and ongoing cost of having a personkeep them all stocked. At the same time, having a disposable resource so close to hand would seem to encourage more wasteful consumption through sheer convenience.

My suspicion is that the numbers tell a different tale. Once the habits are changed, I suspect patterns shift to a more just-in-time consumption model where napkins are pulled as needed and not in bulk 'just in case'. Waste through claimed but unused napkins likely drops as a result.

Obviously this post isn't really about napkins.