Benford’s law

Whilst talking to @StevieHamilton he mentioned listening to this great podcast called Radiolab Numbers. He also mentioned Benford’s Law and it’s applications, it sounded interesting and so I went and listened and indeed, it is.

Benford’s Law, also known as the First Digit law basically states that numbers will have a tendency to start with a lower digit number than a higher digit number, i.e. they start with a 1 or a 2 more often than a 8 or a 9. It was actually a guy called Simon Newcomb who first found this tendency because he noticed that in logarithm books (a book of Log tables), the pages at the front of the book, were much more worn than the other page, this lead him to ask the all important question of “why?”.

And that is actually the point of this post, asking “why?” is important. Very. Unless we ask that question, so many things will be undiscovered. It doesn’t matter if someone else has already discovered it, if it’s new for us, it can be something that expands our mind, leads us in new directions. As proof of that, you’ll note that Benford’s Law isn’t called Newcomb’s Law. You don’t have to be the first to ask “why?”, but you do have to ask.

What have you asked “Why?” about lately? and why is that?

What is an avatar?

If like me you work in the online world, you could be forgiven for thinking that an avatar is a picture or photograph used to represent yourself in online communities.

Yet, every definition I’ve found lists another, older definition in first place, and I found this interesting…

The wikipedia disambiguation page, the Google define:avatar & pages and more all say this of the word Avatar:

the manifestation of a Hindu deity (especially Vishnu) in human or superhuman or animal form.

Who knew huh?

Dunbar’s 150, or is it?

I read Seth Godin’s post Dunbar’s Number isn’t just a number, it’s the law and found that the idea there resonated with me, there is a limit to how many people you can truly keep up with.

It was in fact the first time I’ve heard of Dunbar and his ‘magic’ number of 150, further reading showed that it was in fact not 150, but is 148, or 147.8 and is commonly rounded up to 150.

This number of 150 has become “Dunbar’s Number” and has been popularized by various very popular business books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (summary), Duncan J. Watts’ Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (review) and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (review), and Mark Buchanan’s Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks (review), the ideas from which are the foundation of the various Social Network Services that I’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog. – source: Life With Alacrity

All of which shows that a lot of people believe there is an upper limit to how many people you can meaningfully interact with in before you start losing productivity/efficiency/usefulness. This is certainly true of the popular social media sites.

What it does for me is make me think how I can use this information to make myself more useful to the social networks I’m involved with. Does it mean I should follow fewer people on twitter? Or does it mean follow them by the bucket load and simply ignore those outside of my ‘Dunbar’ group?

What do you think? Perhaps you have some ideas that I’ve not thought of, if so, please let me know.

Command line terminal server

I’ve just come across a terminal server that wouldn’t let me log on. Turns out the maximum number of users the terminal server is licensed for has been exceeded.

Thusly, from another machine on the network, we open a command prompt and type
qwinsta /server:<servername>

This will give a list of the terminal server sessions on that server, note the ID number (aka sessionid) as we use them in the following commands.

We can reset a session by using
rwinsta <sessionid> /server:<servername>

or we can disconnect the session with
tsdiscon <sessionid> /server:<servername>

or we can logoff a session with
logoff <sessionid> /server:<servername>

Dan Rigsby has more info as does Scott Forsyth.

Highlighting rows in MS Excel

I have a schedule that I print for a community group. I use Excel to produce it and one of the things I’ve done to make it easier for people to see when they are rostered on is to highlight the row that relates to their assignment.

Now I simply change the name in the “Copy for:” box and the highlighting changes as appropriate.

The way this is done in Microsoft Excel 2007 is as follows:

1.       Select the rows and columns you want to highlight

2.       On the Home ribbon, select Conditional Formatting | New Rule

3.       Select Use a formula to determine which cells to format and enter the following formula:
Where $D5 (Absolute column, relative row) is the first cell a name on the schedule appears,
And $D$2 (Absolute column and row) is the cell containing the “Copy for:” name
Click the Format… button and select a solid yellow background fill.

4.       Now when you change the value in $D$2 the rows change highlight to match the name

Hope this helps others as it took me little to get this figured out.


Posted via email from Ben’s posterous

Social media workshops

Today I had the privilege of running 3 workshops at Brisbane Boys’ College for their Careers and Counselling department on the topic of “Social Media – the use of electronic social networks to advance your career“.

I found a few things of interest:

  • Almost all the students were on Facebook (a guess, 80%)
  • A lot of the students were on MySpace (a guess, 60%)
  • Only 3 of the students had heard of LinkedIn
  • maybe 1/3 of the students knew of twitter, 1 read, but none posted much

This does line up with what I’ve read elsewhere, that is, that the largest demographic using twitter are older than the students at BBC. Although it seems that this doesn’t account for other twitter clients such as tweetdeck, twhirl, seesmic desktop. (Bonus link: Australian stats for twitter)

I have to say that I did push the view that they should be creating themselves a LinkedIn profile now!

Before they enter the workforce, they should in my view, fill it in with:

  • their educational history,
  • encourage their lecturers, any part-time employers and members of any sporting clubs they are a part of to also join up to LinkedIn,
  • they should then connect with each other via LinkedIn
  • then they need to ask for recommendations.

This gives them the opportunity to write their own history online, to actively create the content that google will find when a potential employer checks up on them.

Thanks to both David Ogilvie and Renate Falkenhagen at BBC for inviting me to be a part of the program today and a special mention to Lee Hopkins, because I’ve learnt a lot about social media and communication from him.

My own LinkedIn profile is here:
I encourage you to connect with me there, also, you can follow me on twitter at

VStrom aluminium topbox

I’ve been looking for some time for a good topbox to mount on the VStrom (my daily commute) and couldn’t find anything I’ve been happy with. Either to small, to much plastic, “how much for that!” shock, unhappy with the shape, you name it, haven’t seen anything I liked.

The closest I’ve come is side boxes (panniers) and top box combo by yellowbirdrs. So a hat tip & thanks here to yellowbirdrs for leading my thoughts in a different direction to a pre-built, off-the-shelf unit.

But at this point, I don’t want panniers, I just want a box big enough to put two helmets in the top box or do a camping trip with (1 x tent, 2 x self inflating matteresses, 2 x sleeping bags, 1 x camp oven, food and clothing for two).

Thusly, I hereby introduce my custom built aluminium topbox.

External dimensions 580mm wide (across the bike), 380mm long (front to back), 340mm high (big enough for all the kit :).

It isn’t finished yet, but fitted to the bike this weekend and road tested it over approx 300km (a ride over Mt Glorious, out to Esk, Somerset, Kilcoy, Woodford, Mt Mee, Dayboro).

I’ve got a little rattle in it which I think is the latch on the top of the box, so this week while doing the commute (550km/week) I’ll be testing things to eliminate the rattle.

Apart from that it’s come through really well. Likely line the inside with foam or rubber this week.

I’m just a “Wee-bit-excited” to tell the truth! My BOX is finally a reality! hehe.

Thoughts on new communication methods

Lately I’ve been using some social media tools more.

Today while discussing an upcoming presentation with one of the other participants, it occurred to me that some of these tools have in fact become indispensable to me.

I’m using IM in the form of Google chat to keep other employees up-to-date with my movements and availablity, a second Google chat account that my kids communicate with on, tweeting what I’m working on, direct message tweets to key people, mostly ACT!/Work related, SMS’s to those without twitter or google chat on their mobile phone.

These have become more important to me. Why, because they allow me to quickly communicate with the individuals and the greater peer group. I’m finding that while I’m talking with a client, I can check if another employee is able to discuss and issue with said client right now or do I need to book a time.

I’m beginning to wonder how these communication methods will evolve.

Should you use a twitter auto DM?

At the moment, there seems to be a backlash against using twitter auto DM’s (Direct Messages) to automatically send a new twitter follower a message.

I have a somewhat different point of view on this.

If you’re going to have a message auto sent to a new twitter follower and do one or more of the following, it’s SPAM:

  • include a link,
  • say how happy you are,
  • ask them to visit your site,
  • say your looking forward to working with them.

For the above cases, I don’t like them.

However, and this is the “but…”, I do use a DM myself. Why?
Because the “followers” I’m after are those interested in my interest – ACT! CRM Software.

Thus, my DM is as follows:
Hi - if I can help you with any questions re ACT! by Sage or CRM let me know, Ben.
That’s it. No link. No request to visit my web site. If they think it’s SPAMMY then that’s fine, they can un-follow, it merely shows that they are not the type I’m looking to connect with.
Those that remain, they do ask questions, either via twitter or email or phone.

To me, my auto DM to those that choose to follow me on twitter, is a follower filter.

What do you think? let me know via the comments here or via twitter.

Looking ahead

Exercise this morning was riding the mountain bike, while riding I kept hitting rocks.

I found that I was focused on the section of path just ahead of me, the next 1-4 metres.

Once I started looking forward further, 30-80 metres ahead, I began to avoid the rocks, my perhipheral vision was working for me, avoiding the bigger rocks, picking which smaller ones to ride over, the ride became much much easier.

It was at this point that I realised that life is the same. The more I focus on the immediate problems, all I can see are the immediate problems. Once I start focusing on my goals, the problems become smaller, more manageable.

I’m quite sure this thought is not new, but it really got me inspired this morning, gave me some renewed energy.

One of my goals is to become a better blogger, more active, with better quality of content. It does mean my spelling will have to improve, my grammer also. But more importantly, the frequency with which I post and the focus of the topics on which I post.

So rather than continue to be inspired by myself, I thought this would be ideal to share with everyone. 

I’m looking forward to doing more, and would love to hear from others what they are looking forward to doing more of.

Take care, Ben.

Become a blogger

Yes – I signed up to – after reading the free road map PDF and watching the 10 free Howto videos.

Even tho I’ve been blogging since 2002, in the last 24 hours I’ve already learnt stuff. Plus I’ve got access to a private forum (ie no trolls) where like minded ‘students’ and experts like Yaro and Gideon answer questions.

What it means for my readers is improved quality from here on in.

Caramel goodness

I recall watching my mother make caramel by boiling a can of condensed milk, but do you think I can find ANYWHERE on the ‘net that tells me how to do so? nope. Seems everyone is afraid of exploding cans. Managed to find some stories of cans having exploded and the resultant mess.

Thusly, here are two links to making caramel with condensed milk that doesn’t involve boiling the can.

Changing the world one ACT at a time!

Do you love your job? I do. Let me tell you why. I get to change ‘someones’ world on a daily basis. And I love it. 

I do technical support for a small marketing firm, all of our clients use ACT!, which is a contact management application. When you show someone how they can improve their productivity, improve their bottom line they get excited, and by extenstion, so do I. 

Just this week we demo’ed a customisation that will totally change the clients ability to track the jobs they do, the items associated with those jobs, the people and all the rest of it. The client was literally getting out of his chair, walking around “of course”, “WOW!”, “does that mean…” – “yes it does”. It was a the HIGHLIGHT of my week. To have spent the time delving into their business to work out what they do, how they do it so as to figure out what they needed was fun, it was truely enjoyable, but to see the reaction, the excitement, the realisations for what would now be possible – that was GOLD.

I love my job.

[note: the title “Changing the world one ACT at a time!” is a hat tip to an insightful guy with a Blue Monster]

[note: edited to fix a typo and add URL for]

Why use LinkedIn?

I use LinkedIn and find it useful to keep in touch with the business people I deal with. Also it has enabled me to find key people in companies so that I can get the information I need quicker, for example I needed some technical help with an IBM product, I was able to find a contact on LinkedIn that had close contacts with IBM technical people – shortcut to the answer I was looking for.

Thus, if you use LinkedIn, link to me. What goes round comes round. I’ve found others useful, other have found me useful – my LinkedIn profile is here:

Here are some lists that others have compiled of ways you can use LinkedIn to benefit yourself:

Also worth reading is Mitch Joels take on Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn and the difference between them.

Why LinkedIn and not Facebook

Ok, I’m not accepting any Facebook invites. All Facebook does for me is consume my time and I’ve got work to do.

LinkedIn on the other hand is my online resume, it does keep me in touch with other working professionals. I often get asked “Why LinkedIn?” – well I’ve found this slideshow that details what and how you can use LinkedIn, go check it out.

If you want to connect to me via LinkedIn there are two questions I need to be able to answer first before I’ll accept:

  • Are you (or your company) someone I know or deal with or about to deal with?
  • Is there any value in us being connected?

If your invite answers those, all is good. You can find my LinkedIn Profile here.