Winding Back and Up Tobacco Roads

green autumn leaf with touches of yellow

Green autumn leaf with touches of yellow

It’s October in NC, and nature’s colors are glorious right now.

With familial roots stemming in eastern NC, I know well the colors of the NC countryside, and a portion of my collective memory is devoted to the colors that I’ve seen while cruising down tobacco roads.

One of the most distinctive colors of the field that stands out in my mind, besides the white of cotton bales, is the yellow-green color of North Carolina’s tobacco leaves.

So many of us from eastern NC have connections to the tobacco plant. For example, my childhood home was located two blocks from a downtown tobacco warehouse, and my father’s law office was located on the same block.

One night, that huge tobacco warehouse burned down. I’ll never forget awakening to learn that local firefighters were spraying water on my dad’s law office building to prevent it from burning. And, I’ll never forget how all the homeowners on our block were stricken with fear, as burning cinders from the tobacco warehouse blew down our street, landing in our yards and along our rooftops.

Looking back now, that tobacco warehouse fire seemed to signal a new time and thinking about the tobacco plant, thinking that had more negative connotations than in the past.

Yes, it seems that as I came of age in NC, the tobacco plant alternatively began to lose its luster. As world health organizations made the connection between smoking cigarettes and the incidences of lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, tobacconists and those with livelihoods connected to the tobacco plant seemed to wane and disappear. Tobacco warehouses didn’t burn, but more and more stood empty.

The tobacco plant, however, never became non-existent in N.C., and now, ironically, a relative to the tobacco plant of old is helping to turn people’s thinking back to the positive when it comes to the topic of tobacco.

How? “Biopharming,” or developing plant-based drugs is the answer. You’ve probably already heard how Owensboro-based Kentucky BioProcessing has developed the Ebola-fighting serum, ZMapp, from tobacco plants. Have you heard of the NC-based biopharmaceutical company, Medicago, who recently produced 10 million flu vaccines in 30 days using tobacco plants? You can learn more about these two positive applications for tobacco in the CNN article, “Tobacco plant may be key to Ebola drugs.”

The nostalgic part of me will never let go of my roots tied to traditional NC tobacco farming but the more modern side of me is prouder than ever of the new biopharmaceutical, plant-based drug development and manufacturing efforts that are underway, and, best of all, happening right here in, “The Old North State.”

And, I admit…I’ve always loved a comeback story.  What about you?

Gold Mining Versus Data Mining

glittering gold

glittering gold

Being a North Carolina native and current North Carolina dweller, I enjoy shared N.C.-related factoids.

Were you aware that the first discovery of gold in the U.S. occurred in North Carolina? It’s true. The birthplace of American gold was not in California, as you might guess, but, rather, was here in the Old North State. Gold was first discovered here on the Reed Farm in Cabarrus County in 1799.

I recall studying The California Gold Rush during my youth, and I remember wondering about the character traits and motivations of those thousands of gold-seekers. I imagined that they were adventurous and driven souls, daring to immigrant to California and brave harsh mining conditions in order to attain a golden precious metal that could offer life-changing opportunities.

Today, we live amongst miners of a different type – data miners. Hundreds of thousands of them, and I wonder…what character traits do those successful in data mining hold?

Are the data miners of today similar in nature to the gold miners of yesterday? Are they adventurous and driven by the promise of better opportunities? Or, are data miners today “safer” in outlook and more rigid in nature, preferring mathematical and statistical rules and order, steps and procedures?

Back in 2005, while answering a question about the difference between analytics and data mining, Larissa Moss explained that those engaged in data mining often do not know what they’re searching for: “One of the official definitions for data mining is: ‘Data analysis without preconceived hypothesis to unearth unsuspected or unknown relationships, patterns or associations of data.’ Simply put, ‘without preconceived hypothesis’ means you don’t know exactly what you are looking for…”

In our Big Data world, data miners have to sift through daunting amounts of systems-generated data, and not knowing what they’re looking for means data miners must be open-minded, curious, seeking, and, to at least some degree, adventurous.

What do you think? Do you think the practice of data mining isn’t for the faint of heart? Or do you think yesterday’s gold miners would say today’s data miners have it easy?

Imagine a data miner of today traveling back in time to the early 1800s. Imagine that data miner sharing a cold beer in an Old West saloon with a gold miner, tired from spending hours in a mine searching for gold. Imagine the gold miner complaining to the data miner about the challenges of gold mining. How do you think the data miner would respond?

I imagine that the data miner might answer with, “Aw shucks! At least you know exactly what you’re looking for!”

Delving Into Outsized

Joan Rivers image

Getty image of Joan Rivers as seen on CNN, 09/07/14

While driving to work about a week ago, I heard a radio DJ use the term, “outsize.”

The first definition of the word, “outsize,” listed at The Free Dictionary is a noun that means “an unusual size, especially a very large size.” The second definition is an adjective that means “something outsize, such as a garment or person.”

When I think of “outsize people,” I think of individuals who have “larger than life,” flamboyant personalities, and I admit that I’m often intrigued by those sorts of people, usually attracted to their seemingly carefree and spirited souls.

Growing up in a small NC town, I encountered a few outsize personalities in my town, but, most often when I was young, I encountered larger than life personalities on a TV or movie screen.

One of the outrageous personalities that I recall from my youthful, TV-watching days was Joan Rivers. I remember listening to all of Joan’s quick-witted, over-the-top, and, sometimes, off-putting jokes. And, I remember all of the times that Joan’s oversized personality put an oversized smile on my face.

What about you? Do you know any “outsize personalities?” If so, what do you think of those people?

Or, are you the holder of an outsize personality? Or, maybe your favorite outsize personality belongs to one of your pets? Or, maybe the most outrageous personalities that you’ve encountered have been characters within the stories that you’ve been told, written or read? For example, Tom Wolfe a favorite author of mine, has introduced me to many “over the top” fictional characters.

So, let me know. Let me hear about the outsize personalities who have most impacted you.

Picturing Your Life Data

wedding day smile

wedding day smile

I’m not a mother, but I’ve heard that a mother’s love sometimes can be described as “an awful love.”

I’ve witnessed a bit of that awful side over the past couple of days, as female friends of mine have taken to social channels, like Facebook, to share photos and express melancholy feelings, while leaving their first-year kids on college campuses for the first time.

It seems to be a time for “both sides of things.” Joni Mitchell famously pointed to these times in life with her “Both Sides Now” lyric, “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.”

For all the different kinds of data analysis and exploration that’s happening right now on the business analytics front, wouldn’t it be interesting to apply a “Things Gained vs. Things Lost” filter to our own life experience data and examine the results?

What if you could quickly and easily assess all that you’ve gained and lost along life’s way? Would you conduct that type of personal analysis?

Or, maybe you wouldn’t prefer to examine your life in terms of gains and losses? Maybe you’d apply a different filter to your life experience data?

If I could analyze my life experience data, I’d create a frequency distribution report to reveal all the occurrences of my greatest personal joys – those moments when my smile was widest.

Until then, like my friends who are mothers of first-year college students, I’ll have to rely on pictures to record and reveal my most significant milestones. Pictures like the one, taken on my wedding day a few years ago, when my smile stretched to its limit.

Going Beyond Surface Data

tennis racket

a shadow beneath the surface of a racket

Working in the business analytics arena, I’m always interested to learn about the myriad ways that organizational and business data can be mined and explored to reveal insights for enhanced decision-making, productivity and overall business improvement.

What excites me the most is when I hear about businesses that are using data mining and data analytics techniques to improve our quality and way of life.

One way of life is the way that we play (in my case, tennis, that is).

As a USTA League tennis player, you can imagine how excited I was to read about consumer sports analytics system provider PlaySight Interactive Ltd. and its new PlaySight™ Smart Court, which captures a player’s on-the-court performance data and enables the player to access a plethora of real-time and post-match, personal performance statistics. Talk about awesome!

While considering the concept of PlaySight Smart Courts and how the technology enables players to go beyond the court surface to discover new insights into their personal tennis games, I recently began to think a bit more philosophically and wondered…exactly how much lies beyond the surface of our lives?

What about you? How would you answer that question?

I tend to think that the universes inside each of us seem hidden and that we often make assumptions about others, based on surface realities that we see without “Smart Court”-access to their truths and feelings.

Would you agree? When you interact with others, how often do you consider what’s not being said? And, how often do you consider what you may be missing, as you consider their points of view?

While driving my car and listening to the SiriusXM radio Bluegrass Junction channel 61 earlier this week, I heard Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers sing their fantastic tune, Some Kind of War, a song that includes a lyric of advice that I think is appropriate to share as the conclusion of this post:

Lord, help me stop and understand, before I rush to judge my fellow man.

On Pines and Needles

NC pine needles surrounding a tree

NC pine needles surround a tree

The air is full of excitement in North Carolina right now.  You might even say that folks are on “pines and needles,” anticipating one of the largest golf weekends of the season.

North Carolina, in fact, is making golf history this week by hosting both the women’s and men’s U.S. Open Championships at one of the most revered sites for golf, the No. 2 course of the Pinehurst resort in Pinehurst, N.C.

For North Carolina natives, like me, it’s a time to celebrate and share all of the things that make our state great with golf fans and U.S. Open golf spectators around the world.

Those who attend the championships this week will see a lot of golf but no doubt will also witness the beautiful, majestic pine trees that line the greens and surround the small village of Pinehurst and its neighboring communities of Southern Pines and Whispering Pines.

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I had the pleasure to befriend natives of the Pinehurst area, several of whom invited me to visit their childhood homes. I’ll never forget the simple beauty of the countless pine trees that I saw while visiting my friends’ special “neck of the woods.”

In honor of those friends and in celebration of the N.C.-hosted 2014 U.S. Open Championships, I’m sharing the official North Carolina State Toast, which was adopted by the N.C. General Assembly in 1957 and which opens with a reference to N.C. pines:

Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “Down Home,” the Old North State!
Here’s to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
‘Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!
Here’s to the land where the galax grows,
Where the rhododendron’s rosette glows,
Where soars Mount Mitchell’s summit great,
In the “Land of the Sky,” in the Old North State!
Here’s to the land where maidens are fair,
Where friends are true and cold hearts rare,
The near land, the dear land, whatever fate,
The blessed land, the best land, the Old North State!

Yes, here’s to our state, in this week, and in all those that follow!

May I Ask?

 

knockout roses

May 2014 knockout roses

As a youth, I was taught the difference between the words, “can,” and “may.

For some reason, knowing when to use those two words confused me when I was younger – especially at lunch or dinnertime.

I can recall the occasions when I would catch and correct myself at restaurant tables when placing my orders. I’d start to order and ask the waiter or waitress, “can I have…” and I would stop myself and ask, “may I have…” instead.

“May.” What is it about the word?

In my opinion, just the sound of that word carries with it a gentle tone. Some might argue “genteel” versus “gentle,” but I don’t think there’s anything pretentious about the word, “may,” when it’s being used to ask for permission.

Similarly, I think that the noun, “May,” used to describe the fifth month of a year, is anything but stuffy or pretentious when spoken or experienced.

Each year, May seems welcoming, like a young mother reaching to her offspring with outstretched arms. And, May calls out the spring season so kind and sweetly.

Glancing outdoors during May, we see nature’s bright colors come alive again after a winter’s leave, bursting forth like a newborn’s skin, full of the color of life yet simultaneously fragile.

Natural beauty abounds in May, yet May seems achingly beautiful. Why? Because we know that the beauty of May and spring won’t last forever.

Again, May can never be too self-important, because May, like all of us, is limited by a beautiful youthfulness that eventually comes to an end.

So, every year, with resiliency and an unpretentious air, May sings: “Hello, friends. Look at me now in all my youthful glory. Don’t be angry or sad that I can’t stay, but make the most of the beautiful gifts that I reveal.”

May (pun intended) I ask: what gifts are you bringing to the table of life? What beautiful, May-like contributions are you making during your limited time here?

How Good Are Your Goodbyes?

a wave goodbye

a wave goodbye

Earlier this week, I learned that a favorite blog of mine, teamgloria, will be retired, so to speak.

In this “goodbye, gloria” post, the blog’s author and digital marketing phenom, Sophia Stuart, explains how she has decided to move on to the next chapter of her life — a chapter that cannot, to the disappointment of teamgloria fans like me, include future teamgloria posts.

Stuart’s announcement of the blog’s conclusion reminded me of the many crossroads that we all face in life — the countless times that we make starts and stops, and then changes in direction, as we write out the truth of our lives.

What about you? How have you handled your farewells so far? Do you find it easier to let go and walk on toward new horizons, or do transitions make you afraid and hesitant?

American songwriter Paul Simon once wrote that there are “50 ways to leave your lover.” The song’s title has always made me chuckle, but, the truth that lies behind the jest is the fact that there actually are at least 50 ways that one could leave a lover, a friend, a family member, a pet, a job or a career.

Often, though, individuals feel trapped by circumstance and view their available departure options as limited, when considering making exits of significance in their lifetimes.

Frankly speaking, goodbyes have never really been my cup of tea. I’m much more of a hello person.

But, let’s get back to you. How do you handle farewells, and how much good have you found in your goodbyes?

Happiness Mining Circa 1975

red gold miner's pick image (original image aurorahistoryboutique.com)

red gold miner’s pick (original image aurorahistoryboutique.com)

In a prior post, “What Kind of Model (Data) Are You?,” I referenced the business trends of data visualization and data mining, but, today, I want to discuss mining another kind – that is, happiness mining.

What is happiness mining?  I think happiness mining is the process by which you can uncover those people, places and things that bring joy into your life.

What tools and techniques can you use to mine for happiness?  Well, one tool that I use is music. I’ve mentioned before that I often listen to music to resurface positive personal memories and bring my inner self back “in tune.”

Using music to discover personal joy is a habit I began when I was very young.  My parents have a photo of me at approximately 3 years old holding the 45 record, “The Little White Duck,” which was one of my listening favorites.

As a young girl growing up in the 1970s, I had many musical friends beyond the little white duck. Today, I refer to those friends by first name, because their words and lyrics still bring me joy (click on each name to hear a specific song that brought me joy then and still brings me joy now):

Olivia
Judy
Barbra
Elton
Neil
Bette
Gladys
Willie
Diana
Michael
Frank
Elvis
John
Karen

In one of his famous songs, Neil Young sings about mining for a heart of gold.

What about you?  What joys are you mining for?  Listening to music is just one way to mine for happiness. I’d love to hear which tools you use to siphon out the golden bits of life that make you happiest.

 

Big Memes and Big Data

Wordle: Memes and Data
Internet memes are one form of Internet phenomena that I haven’t exactly gravitated towards.

What about you?  Do you have any favorites?

If you want to see some Internet memes recently highlighted as best of breed, check out these “best of” lists:

The Best Memes of the Last 15 Years
The 25 Best Internet Memes of All Time
The 100 Greatest Internet Memes of All Time

If you’d like to create your own meme, there are many sites that you can access to do so, such as Imgflip or Makeameme.

Working for a business analytics software provider, the topic of data and data analytics is always top of mind for me. However, all you have to do is browse the Internet, turn on the TV or open a newspaper or magazine to see how the word, “data,” is dominating the collective mindset today.

Without doubt, more and more companies across a variety of industries and locations are recognizing the tremendous business value that they can realize from better managing and analyzing their organizations’ “Big Data.” Yes, it seems that more and more eyes inside organizations are focused on examining data to gain insights for enhanced business decision-making that yields increased efficiencies, customer satisfaction and profits.

Recognizing this new data-centered world that we’re all living in, I was inspired to create my own Internet meme.  Check it out:

ShowMeTheDataMeme

 

 

 

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