Predictive Analytics: The Audiobook

This is the latest audiobook I have finished and it is the first work of non-fiction that  I have narrated.  While I was afraid that something that included such a ball-bustingly exciting word as “analytics” would leave attempting to end my own life with my microphone, I was surprised to find that not only was the subject a fascinating look into the technology that is running underneath everything we do, but also that the writing itself was charming and approachable.  Eric Siegel makes predictive analytics easily understood no matter if you are a techie, a senior citizen, a fresh-outta-school engineer, or even a baby (note: Eric’s infant-teaching abilities have yet to be confirmed).

The audiobook is available viz Predictive Analytics World, and also on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.  You can also check out a silly yet catchy music video about predictive analytics here.   Keep an eye out and you might see me.

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Dedicated to My Current Hangover

Oh Hangover,

How do I – ow – love thee?

Let me count the ways;

. . .

. . . uh . . .

Well, there’s . . . no . . .

The highs aren’t as sweet if we do not travel to the low –

. . .

No, that’s not right . . .

. . . uhh, love is pain and – ow . . . no . . .

. . .

. . . I feel your love through every dry heave, through every churn in my stomach, through every pound in my head . . . no, that’s stupid . . .

Shit, I got nothing.

Fuck you Hangover, you dirty, filthy, rat-faced, sucker-punching, pig-tailed, knee-biting, party-crashing sonofabitch bastard.  Your cousin Hammered and his little brother Tipsy are just so cool, but they always bring you along for the ride because their mother feels guilty that no one likes you.

. . .

I’d say good riddance, but I know I’m going to be seeing you again tomorrow.

And the day after that.

And for the rest of my life.

Signed,

It Took Me All Day To Write This Because My Head Hurts So Much

A Search For An Answer That Isn’t There

“Nic, what the hell are you doing?”

I stopped spinning in the chair and looked for the source of the question.  My friend was standing in the doorway to her living room, her eyes droopy, still tired.  At least I assume they were, I couldn’t actually tell at the time.  Not only was the room still quite dark (it was 4:30 in the morning), but my head was still reeling from the swivel chair, in which I had been spinning for the past twenty minutes or so, and I could not focus on her face.

“I got up early and decided,” I said, pausing to give my mind some time to come up with a clever answer, “to go for a little spin.”

My friend stared at me (once again, I assume she was) in horror.  “Yes.  But for heaven’s sake, why?”

I stared at her.  I tried to think of an answer, truly.  Even taking into account my dizziness, I still had nothing to offer.  I merely started to spin in the chair again, gently chuckling as I did so.

Sometimes, there are no viable answers to the queries of life.

 

Long Lost Love

18 years ago my mother brought it home – a wedge of some sort of confectionery, light and resembling brown marble, that she kept in her sock draw.  She told me the name of it but I was only nine years old and spent whatever free memory I had in my head dedicated to memorizing every line of the Power Rangers.  But I remember that taste; chalky, sweet without being over imposing, and a distinct flavor that I have never been able to accurately describe.  I use this taste to describe other ones . . . although the fact that I could not remember the name of the confectionery made that difficult.  “This tastes like that thing I had that one time when I was a kid,” does not a useful description make.

Years later, I tried to get my mother to remember what it was, all to no avail.  It was not her fault since all the information I could give her was –

  • You brought it home.
  • It was like cheesecake, except not cold, or creamy, or made with milk.  It was nothing like cheesecake, but that’s as close as I can come.
  • You kept it in your sock drawer.

Alas, she said she had no idea what I was talking about, and went on to discuss something or other that I paid no attention to because I was researching this candy online.  And thus my life went, with an urge to taste this mystery food that had entered my life, and urge that I would never be able to sate.  I would lie in my bed and lament over my plight, to curse the gods for making me want something I had no name for.

Scoff if you must, but you can not imagine the true despair that would envelop me when this yearning began.  I lived to deal with it, a day at a time, until that lust was just a tickle at the back of my mind.  But I was never rid of it either, for that tickle was always there, reminding me that there was a candy out there that had stolen my heart.

Years later, again, and in the present, I was walking out of a deli late at night.  Whether I was on a diet or no, I had wanted pastrami and thus the pastrami had been gotten.  While at the cash register, I saw little candy bars in white and red wrappers, saying Halvah on the front.  I had seen these many time at this deli, and this time I felt a sort of pull towards –

Look, I’m not going to draw this out.  You know what it was, you can read the writing on the wall.  Or the web page.  Was it the candy I had been searching for?  Yes.  Was I elated to be reunited with it?  Of course.  Did my girlfriend like?  No, she spit it out immediately, after which I smacked her for disrespecting my soulmate-candy in such a manner.  Was it exactly how I remembered it, exactly what I had always wanted?

You’re darn-fucking-tootin’.

My lover.

I Have No Idea Where I’m Going With This

When I was a child, I was under the impression that clouds were solid objects.  This was before science class taught me that just because my eyes saw something as solid and tangible didn’t make it so.  In fact, science taught me that most of what we see is a simplified version of what actually is; that the human brain can not perceive the world in real time and must filter and process things together so everything makes sense and we all don’t go utterly insane and starting shrieking manically at the realization that we are no more than cosmic vapor clinging to what is essentially a pebble being hurtled through space around a small (really really small) insanely hot furnace.  It was my first understanding of the duality of human existence: Our brains are incredibly smart, able to devise ways to destroy anything larger than us and create marvels such as an Etch-A-Sketch and, I don’t know, the Parthenon or whatever, but they were also incredibly dumb when it came to things as truly imagining the size of the universe.  We can create words (like infinity) to describe a loose concept of the size, but the truth is simply too big for the human brain.

This understanding wasn’t so bad for me, as the wonder that my imagination created had been replaced by an even bigger wonder of all the crazy crap we live through everyday.  And yet there was some magic lost when I grasped that if one were to try to step on a cloud they would plummet to their deaths.  It’s the same magic that will make a kid run down the street with a garden hose in their hands, trying to chase and catch the rainbow that has suddenly appeared out of thin air (and a fine spray of water and a sun positioned behind you, as I later came to know).  I did not mourn for the actual idea of walking on clouds, but rather for the childlike sense of unending possibilities.

The first true instance of the separation of fantasy and the real-world is jarring because it’s not just drawing lines in the sands of our contemplation.  As a child, everything is sand, a desert where what is and what could be imagined have no distinction.

It’s like Schrödinger’s cat (sorry, I’m about to use and twist this famous intellectual experiment in an utterly incorrect way, but fuck it, it’s my blog), except the cat is the child’s reality and the box is the kid’s perception.  As a child, the reality and the fantasies are the same thing, existing both at the same time, which would explain imaginary friends.  It’s not that the children are unknowingly conducting their first thought experiment, they are thought experiments.  And when school/parents/the world comes in and starts to show them the difference between make believe and reality, it’s not simply saying, “This doesn’t exist,” or, “This doesn’t happen.”  To the kid, it’s the end of the experiment; it’s opening the box and finding out that, yes, the cat is dead.

It is a horribly unfair, and yet completely needed, alteration of how they perceive their world.  As they grow, they will have that done many more times, and hopefully they will start to do it on their own accord.  But that first time is the hardest, because with the understanding that the fantastic is different, separate, and only in our heads, comes the realization that we can never go back.  We can not trick ourselves into being in that dark box again, where both reality and fantasy collide and mesh.  We can visit it through movies and books and other such things, but we can never live there again.  It’s a hard lesson, no matter what age it happens, because if you were aware enough, you would actually be able to feel yourself grow.

I also thought that if you were on a street named Colorado Street in New Hampshire, it was the same Colorado Street you would find in Utah.  This wasn’t out of childlike wonder, I was just stupid kid.

A Side Chosen For Me

This man has done nothing to me.  In fact, for the price of a penny and the fare of a fifty,  this man is putting himself in mortal peril, putting himself at risk of dismemberment, disembowelment and decapitation, and all for my amusement.  While I gorged myself on roasted chicken, spare ribs, and half a baked potato eaten off of a pewter plate, this man battled next to horse and hawk to merely to entertain me.

And yet I hate him.  I hate him more than I can describe.  I hate him more than that one guy who took that last package of oreos that one time I wanted to buy oreos and there was only one package of them left and he took it (I guess he was going to give it to the cute four year old girl, whom I also hated), and I wished the worst death known to man to happen to him.  I hated this man in front of me now panting, sweat dripping from his face and the smell of horseshit permeating all of his clothes, more than that oreo-taking bastard.

And all because my server told me he was my enemy.  While pouring my iced tea into my pewter mug, she pointed across the arena to a section of the audience lit up by green lights and stated, “That color is your enemy.  You must boo whenever he appears in the arena.”  I not only booed.  All because a wench told me so, for two hours my bloodlust knew no boundaries and I dreamed of this honest, hard-working and decent man strung up by his hind-quarters and split in twain.

This is the real reason Medieval Times is awesome.  Not the horses, or the food, or the fighting, or the costumes.  Not even the crazy amounts of liquor they serve you.  It’s the facts that they give you leave to imagine a horrible horrible deaths for these brave knights, they make it easy by choosing for you, and then they make you feel okay about your violent thoughts.

May the Green Knight know no boundary to his pain in anguish!

DEATH KILL DESTROY MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA MORE MEAD WENCH, I CARE NOT THAT I AM SHOUTING TOO LOUD

The Things We Miss

I sat there, leaning over the bar, a half shot of Jack Daniels swirling in my hands, punching in the numbers of my cell phone into a small solar-powered calculator.  Sunlight and bars aren’t usual bedfellows, but the bars on Bourbon Street in New Orleans have huge doors and windows that are always kept wide open to allow as many drunken people to stumble in as possible.  It’s a different kind of system, one I admire for its openness and acceptability of drinkers, sots and alcoholics of all sorts.  In Los Angeles bars are kept behind dark windows and dim lighting, opting to hide the drinkers in the guise of sports, swank and greasy chicken fingers.  But not in here, not in this little NOLA blues bar across the street from the hotel that my mother and I are staying at.

What drew me to it was the live band that was playing there.  It was a simple band of aging rockers, one of whom played a mini-accordion, and another a back-up singer that seemed to do more dancing than singing. The music wasn’t great, or very good really, but fuck it was live.  A live blues band in a blues bar in New Orleans and like hell I wasn’t going to go and have a shot and drink it up along with the music, the atmosphere and that beautiful goddamn city.

The bar was mostly empty.  A few people sat near the stage, obviously friends of the performers, singing along with the band.  In another time or place this transparency would be sad and pitiful, but they were all having such a good time that no one seemed to care.  Behind the bar stood a young, attractive brunette with a large bust and her hair pulled back.  She was the kind of girl that I fantasized talking to, flirting with.  Not for any ulterior motives or in hope of getting some action (although it wouldn’t be unwelcome), but because she was beautiful; a pretty girl pouring whiskey in a small dive trying to block out the inane blues band wailing away in the corner.  I wondered what her laugh sounded like and imagined being the sort of man that would, that could, talk with her and make her smile.

I ordered my shot and paid with cash.  Instead of gulping down the shot in one go, I weighed the inherent loneliness of sitting in a bar without a drink against the awkwardness of sipping Jack from a shot glass for five minutes and decided to take my time.  It was my vacation after all; not so much a period of time when you never feel awkward, but simply a period of time when you stop caring if you do.  I drank my shot over eight minutes, listening to the longest rendition of “Proud Mary” I had ever heard.

“You want another one?”

I looked at the bartender who had placed her hand on the shot glass, waiting to move it until she heard my answer.  Her eyes were hazel.

“Sure, why not?  It’s only 2:30 on a Friday.”  She filled my glass, and I took out my wallet.  I gave her my credit card this time because I wanted to save some of my cash for the rest of the trip.  When she passed me the check and I gave my usual gratuity and my signature.  My actual signed name is quite normal: a lot of loops and swishes and squiggles that leave an undecipherable moniker.  But along with my signature I always draw a little stick figure, holding up a glass with a straw and a lemon wedge in it, with a huge open grin on his face saying, “Thank You!”  I do this in the hope that one day I will be known across the country as the “Stick Figure Drinker”, but also because I enjoy doodling and I figured that a little more gratitude never hurts.

I drank my Jack Daniels like a normal man this time, tipping my head back and letting the bourbon fly down my throat.  I shivered a little, placed the glass on the bar and slipped my copy of the bill into my wallet.  The band finished playing “Proud Mary” and I was about to get up and walk out before they started their next song, when the bartender laughed out loud.  I looked around to see her smiling widely, one hand on her chest and the other holding my bill.  She looked at me and held up the bill, still laughing.  “This is the best tip anyone has ever left me.”

I sat there dumbfounded for a moment.  I had never seen a reaction to my “Little Man” before.  I always imagined servers smirked at him, but I never thought they actually laughed.  Understanding that she had paid me a compliment and I was getting dangerously close to being silent for too long, I said thank you and turned back towards the bar.

She walked over to me and asked, “Do you do this on every bill?”

“No, not really,” I lied.

She raised one eyebrow.  “Just for me?”  Her tone had turned to one of playful sarcasm, and my heart melted.

“You’re just over there all by yourself.  The place is pretty empty.  Seems like a boring Friday afternoon, so I thought I’d try to brighten it up.”

She giggled.  “Well, this certainly brightened up my day.  I’m just sad that it has to get turned into accounting, so I can’t keep him.”

She looked straight into my eyes and I knew it was my turn to say something if we were to get past the pleasantries and onto the real flirting, and yet I was speechless.  The speech portion of my brain has been slightly damaged by drugs, liquor and spinning in my chair fast far too many times, so I brought out my wallet from my back pocket and took out the receipt.  I picked up the pen that still lay on the bar and drew the Little Man again, adding more words to say, “Here’s an extra doodle for your personal use, brought to you by Nic.  Thank You!”  I handed her the receipt.  She read it and smiled again.  She put her hand out and I put mine out and we shook.

“Hi Nic.  I’m Rebbeca.”

“Howdy.”

“So do you have any other day brighteners to share?”

“I can also make an origami piano out of a gum wrapper, and create large, unstable sculptures from the things on the bar.”

“Can’t that get a little dangerous?”

“Tell me about it.”  I pointed at a tiny scar on my wrist.  “Johnny Rockets, 2007.  The result from a valiant piece labeled, “Sharp Utensils on a Napkin.”

She laughed for the third time.  She had a good laugh.  She asked me what brought me to New Orleans.  I explained I was on a vacation with my mother.  We were going to go on a week cruise and the boat sailed out of the New Orleans port, but I had never been to New Orleans and so we decided to spend a few days taking in the city.  And because I know talking about your mother can kill the mood about as fast as if your mother actually walked in and forced herself into the conversation, I turned the questions around.

“What about you?  You work in a bar directly on the famed Bourbon Street.  I’m sure you have learned a few bar games.”

“You’d think so, but no.”

“No drunk magicians sharing a few tricks with the pretty bartender?”

“We just get a lot of wasted college kids.  No one so charming as you.”

So this is what flirting is like, I thought.  I was not only surprised about how it was exactly what I imagined it would be, but also that I was doing so well at it.

“I do know one thing.”  She reached behind the bar and brought out a calculator.  She placed it in front of me and turned it on.

“Is this one of those math jokes where you plug in some equations, press equal and turn it over to find a word spelled out?”

“Nothing so lame.  Here –“

And she proceeded to give me the following instructions:

– Take the first 3 numbers of a phone number
– Multiply by 80
– Add 1
– Multiply by 250
– Add the last 4 digit of phone number
– Add the last 4 digits of phone number again
– Subtract 250
– Divide in ½

I followed her instructions, using my cell phone number, and what I ended up with after I pressed enter was my full cell number laid out (so 123-4567 turns into 1,234,567).

“That’s crazy,” I laughed, “Where did you learn that?”

She said an older student had taught it to her in high school in a boring math class.  I asked her to write down the instructions for me, and then we started to talk about how you learn the most random things during high school classes: how to braid hair, how to cover your text book with shiny gum wrappers, how to make weird noises with your mouth, how to turn any pen into a projectile weapon.  After that we talked for another half hour but I can’t remember what about.

At some point, I looked at the piece of paper she wrote the instructions on and asked her, “Does this work with every phone number?”

“Yeah. Try it with mine.”

She told me her number and I followed the instructions, reaching the exact same conclusion.  I looked up at her.  “Yup.  There’s your full number.  All that’s missing is the area code.”

She didn’t say anything.  She looked straight into my eyes again and smiled.  This is the moment, I thought, this is where you ask.

Suddenly, a loud group of young men stumbled up to the bar and called for drinks.  Rebbeca looked at me, rolled her eyes, and then went to take their orders.  I glanced at my watch and saw it was getting close to the time I had said I would be back at the room.  I folded her instructions and slipped it into my wallet where the receipt had been.  I looked back up to Rebbeca, who was getting beers and pouring Hurricanes, and waited until I caught her eye.  I mouthed, ‘I have to get going”.  She nodded, I waved, and she smiled her sweet smile and waved back.  I walked out of the bar and back to the hotel room so my mother and I could figure out where we were going to go next.  Had there been sadness in that smile as well?  I like to think so.

I have wondered many times what would have happened if I had asked for her number.  It’s not like I had my own room, or my own car, or even a whole lot of time; my mother and I were having dinner in an hour or so, and then we were set to embark on our cruise the next day.  But it would have completed the realization of my fantasy – that I was a guy who could flirt with a girl who was far more attractive than I, ask for her number and then actually get it.  I would have become who I wanted to be.

About a year later, I was emptying out my wallet to purge cancelled cards and expired Starbucks coupons when I came on Rebbeca’s instructions, folded and tucked away into a corner.  I took it out and read through them.  I went through the instructions (by long hand since I didn’t have a calculator) because I had forgotten what the trick was.  As I did, I relived the forty or so minutes I spent in that bar, talking with the pretty brunette pouring whiskey.  By the time I got to end to see my cell phone number written on the paper, I remembered my regret for not having asked for Rebbeca’s number.

As I sat there staring at the instructions, it suddenly dawned on me that I had gotten her number; she had given it to me when I plugged her number in to see if the instructions worked on every phone number.  Without me even asking, she had given me her phone number.  I never wrote it down because so inexperienced was I at the game that I didn’t even know what was going on.  But I realized that on that day I hadn’t become the guy who could get numbers when he asked for them, hadn’t become who I wanted to be.  I had become some else, something more.  For that forty minutes (and those forty minutes alone as I have not been able to reproduce the result), I had become the guy who could get numbers without having to ask.

The instructions are still in my wallet to remind me to not get so caught up in who I’m trying to be that I miss who I am.  And to remember to take notice of everything that is around me.  And also as proof that doodling stick figures can get you women, if the figures are cute enough.