Computing Cpk statistics using SQL

Part 1 – Introduction

For the past several years I have performed a myriad of projects for this favorite chemicals company client of mine.  Recently, I was called in to help design and develop a Production Reporting application for them, to meet new requirements from their new, German-based, owners.  The application reports on things like how much product is produced, what was consumed to produce it, production yields, etc.  Several factories are involved, so we’re tieing all the data into one database.

The first challenge involved converting all the English-based measurements into metric.  Yes, I did say it was one of those metric-loving European countries, right?  So, we’ve been going over different conversion equations – some of them are interesting, because they’ve involved variable factors like the energy content of natural gas and the specific gravity of  oil.

Still, though, a piece of cake – just linear equations to convert from one unit of measure to another.  Had more problems with the quality of data (often missing from several plants) than the equations themselves. So, we’re progressing fine on the application; then, one day I’m in a meeting with all the plant managers, and they start talking about CPK statistics. They talked like of course everyone knows what this statistic is.  I’m sitting there, though, going “huh?”  I have a computer science undergraduate degree, with oodles of calculus, differential equations and statistics, and a economics graduate degree with its own heavy mathematical load in correlation analysis and statistics.  Yet, I’ve never heard of Cpk (properly, that’s how the statisticians spell it, C sub pk.  I still don’t know what the initials mean).

Continue reading Computing Cpk statistics using SQL

Bridges and Phones – Social Media Economics

In microeconomics, economists like to talk about substitution goods and complementary goods. A classic complementary good to peanut butter is jelly: both are usually consumed together in that delectable sandwich known as PB & J. Economists care about this, because when consumption goes up in peanut butter, you’ll likely see an increase in jelly too, if the goods are tightly complementary. Price changes in one will likely lead to price changes in the other.

A substitute good, well that’s kind of obvious, it’s a good that can easily substitute for another. Soy drink is a substitute for milk – at least, if you’re in my household. Natural gas is a substitute for electricity, when heating your house. If the substitute is easy to switch, a price increase in one will lead to increased demand in another – a nice, easy economics predictive tool. Continue reading Bridges and Phones – Social Media Economics

First thoughts on presentation at HTC

This Wednesday I did a short presentation at the Houston Technology Center’s “Starting a Web-Based Business” lunch series.  My presentation was on “Open Source Tools for Software Development”, and I highlighted several tools that my development team uses regularly.

I’ll post that presentation shortly, but here I just wanted to jot down a few notes from reactions to the presentation – feedback I got after the talk.

  •  One manager, owner of a well-established software firm here in Houston, liked the idea of wikis for organizing his team; but he’s still looking for a better project management tool, something “larger” than Poi, the issue-tracker I demonstrated.  Something that could track milestones, and keep the team on track.

    Yes, I’d like to see better tools for PM too.  Traditionally, we’ve used MS Project.  Problem is, it’s not easy to share – at Interliant, we tried the Lotus Notes-based Project Gateway, but ultimately found it awkward to use.  Basecamp, an online service, looks attractive – not sure yet how well it scales, and compels your team to use it.

    One thing we do, though, when a project gets hot and heavy, is that we fix the milestone dates at regular intervals: once a week or once every two weeks there’s going to be a build.  That stays fixed; what adjusts, though, are which features that make it into the build.  Our only rule is that the feature must be a tangible end-user benefit – we can’t “deliver” just background architecture or design in the next release, and expect that to be considered progress by our client.  Managing at this point becomes simpler, as the project schedule just shows a set of period milestones; ts in the status meetings we discuss which features will make it into the next build – the customer, of course, sets priorities, and there’s some give-and-take on features that may slip because of their complexity, or unexpected problems.

    Still need a tool, though, to capture and display these milestones and feature deliverables!  Must search more …

  • One manager of IT at the Houston Chronicle mentioned they use Capistrano for deployment, instead of Ant.  It’s Ruby-based, but you can use it for automating all sorts of things.  It looks very promising, so I’ll have to check it out.  Ant is cool, is built into Eclipse, and does the job, but it’s XML.  Rather a yicky way to write out deployment scripts!
  • Another fellow approached me after the talk and said his friend is involved in a large-scale application that uses, of all things, Smalltalk!  It does heuristics, and I think it was oil field-related.  I’m hoping I’ll get to meet this guy, and learn more.  I still love Smalltalk … just can’t find any projects where it’s a winner here in town  🙁

Thoughts on GSM

My thoughts on the first Got Social Media Conference:

Erica O’Grady and Kelsey Rutger put on an excellent conference yesterday at the Houston Technology Center. Got Social Media was an advanced introduction to social media today. Many thoughtful presentations. Here’s a few insightful remarks I took away from the conference:

  • “Markets As Conversation” – yes, something I’ve always advocated, and is a sub-text of the “Austrian School” approach to economics. Sorely lacking, though, in mainstream economics.
  • “Customers like having a voice”. Echos of above
  • non-profits online (in social media space) are spending a lot of time saying “thank you”. This is a nice lesson that I think the non-profits I work with will love to emphasize.
  • “Women are motivated by respect, being listened to” – Laura Mayes. Yes, there are gender differences in markets, and marketing. I’ve often stated that shopping is the ultimate expression of capitalism, and women are, stereotypically, the ultimate shoppers … so, by extension, women are the ultimate capitalists! Recognizing this, I think we will see, in the long run, a “softening” of markets and businesses – there will be more listening, more give-and-take … and hopefully less exploitation, fraud, and con games in the marketplace. But, that takes me to: Continue reading Thoughts on GSM

iPhone 1.1.3 upgrade is awesome

Just downloaded the latest upgrade to the iPhone.  While the 1.1.2 upgrade was just some patch fixes, this newest upgrade is really a fantastic enhancement to the iPhone.  Stunning even.  Just one feature to mention: location finding!  Using cell tower triangulation, the iPhone can plot your current location on a map.  Very, very cool.  Click the location button on the Google map, and after a bit of a pause, to do some calculations, the map will zoom into your location, with a circle drawn around the most probable location.

The circle will be bigger or smaller, depending on how accurate the data it’s using.  Sometimes, it hits me dead on to my current location; at other times (like, when I drove along Westheimer, within the loop), it was a bit off, drawing a circle about a mile wide.  In any case, a very, very helpful tool – I guess I won’t be needing a GPS device anytime soon!

Map pinning is a nice new feature too, as is the ability to customize the home screen.  Now I can put my favorite web pages (like the Houston Transtar real-time traffic map) directly on the home screen as an icon, avoiding a few extra clicks – first click Safari, then click bookmarks, then click the Transtar link.  Very convenient.  More apps to come soon, I’m sure, so that’s why they’re making room on the home page.

Stunning.  Now, if I could only think of a cool corporate tax application to write for the iPhone.  Hmmm??!!


Well, no wonder my friend Luigi Bai has been so circumspect about his software development activities — his company has been in stealth mode! But now they’re out and about, and visible too. StashCast Media has just launched their website, and they’re promising to be a great new entry in the social media space.

Congratulations, Luigi, on your new venture, and best of luck to you!!


There was an old tradition in the computer world – especiallly in the Unix culture – of giving computers “colorful” named, grouped in some constellation of words, such as, oh, constellations, colors, cartoon characters, beers, and so on.This tradition has been supplanted, sadly, in much of corporate IT – coming from a PC culture. – of “embedded data” names or sequential numbers. You get computer names like HOUSQL001 – note the numeric range being reserved here, because you “might” get 998 other computers with the same location and function. Or, you get a simple US1421, a random number drawn out of a hat.This is boring. And wrong too. What happens if your computer changes location? Or function? Or takes on an additional function, like Mail? I have run in to IT managers that say “we just rename the machine”. Yikes!This is wrong, because computers have personality. Colorful .names are easier to remember and associate. I can always remember that Polaris is in our. Boston data center, and is our chief guidance center sits it runs DNS. I can never remember if US1187 is in Denver or Miami, nor what how it differs from US1178. This truly is a safety issue, if obe of them is a test machine and can be rebooted at will, while the other runs a life support system (and yes, I have logged in to the wrong customer’s machines before, about to issue a destructive command!) Continue reading Personality

SEC Day 2

I’m at UH’s Software Engineering Conference again. Notes on some of the speakers:- Ben Galbraith – ajaxian.comThe conference organizers gave out incentives for the audience to ask questions: free books!  In response to my one question (toward the end of the day), I received two books: Grady Booch’s classic on Object-Oriented Design (already had it), and another book I’ve never heard of:  What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counter-culture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. It’s been a very fun read so far: introducing personalities in our industry that I’m already familiar with (Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, etc.), but in a whole new light: sex, drugs, and rock & roll!  Lots of acid trips here. To note: Bill Gates completely missed out on this aspect of the personal computer industry 🙂 


I purposely keep a bit behind on the technology gadget curve; otherwise, I’d buy every new technology as soon as I could play with it! Instead, I wait until I truly “need” it. Well, I had been planning for quite a while to replace my current phone with something a bit more advanced, like keep my calender and contacts at my fingertips. But, verizon has crippled their Bluetooth phones , making such features highly unlikely. But, I was locked in a contract! I’ve had “October 2007” earmarked in my calender quite some time now! Coincidently, along came the iPhone. At first I ignored the hype. But after I got one of these babies in my hands, all I could say was “wow!”

This is a remarkably amazing interface. Apple has always been leaders in user interface/human factors design, and this device takes them to new heights. Awesome – are there any better superlatives I can use?

I’m hooked.

— from my iPhone