Solve if u r a genius

Solve if u r a genius - Less than 1% can do it!!!

I have some form when it comes to getting irritated by quasi-mathematical social media memes (see Facebook squares “puzzle” for example). Facebook, which I find myself using less and less frequently these days, has always been plagued by clickbait articles. Some of these can be rather unsavoury. One that does not have this particular issue, but which more than makes up for this in terms of general annoyance, is the many variants of:

Only a math[s] genius can solve [insert some dumb problem here] – can u?

Life is too short to complain about Facebook content, but this particular virus now seems to have infected LinkedIn (aka MicrosoftedIn) as well. Indeed as LinkedIn’s current “strategy” seems to be to ape what Facebook was doing a few years ago, perhaps this is not too surprising. Nevertheless, back in the day, LinkedIn used to be a reasonably serious site dedicated to networking and exchanging points of view with fellow professionals.

Those days appear to be fading fast, something I find sad. It seems that a number of people agree with me as – at the time of writing – over 9,000 people have viewed a LinkedIn article I briefly penned bemoaning this development. While some of the focus inevitably turned to general scorn being heaped on the new LinekdIn user experience (UX), it seemed that most people are of the same opinion as I am.

However, I suspect that there is little to be done and the folks at LinkedIn probably have their hands full trying to figure out how to address their UX catastrophe. Given this, I thought that if you can’t beat them, join them. So above appears my very own Mathematical meme, maybe it will catch on.

It should be noted that in this case “Less than 1% can do it!!!” is true, in the strictest sense. Unlike the original meme, so is the first piece of text!

Erratum: After 100s of views on my blog, 1,000s of views on LinkedIn and 10,000s of views on Twitter, it took Neil Raden (@NeilRaden) to point out that in the original image I had the sum running from n=0 as opposed to n=1. The former makes no sense whatsoever. I guess his company is called Hired Brains for a reason! This was meant to be a humorous post, but at least part of the joke is now on me.




The Kindness of Strangers

Tennessee Williams
“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” – A Street Car Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

It is so often stated that it has become a truism of sorts that on-line interactions, particularly those via social media, displace what is termed “real world” or “face to face” interactions. My view is that this perspective, rather than being self-evidently true, is actually apocryphal. I am sure that there are examples of people who have become more isolated (in a physical sense) through use of social media; those who are engaged in a zero-sum game where time spent on-line is at the expense of being around other humans. Most communications media can be accused of the same thing, though I am not aware that anyone ever told Jane Austen to stop wasting her time writing letters and instead get out and meet people. It wasn’t so long ago that people, particularly younger people, were berated for spending so much time on the ‘phone; even back when those were connected to a wall socket by a wire. The same barbs were thrown (and still are) at what we now call Video Games; another area which I admit has occupied a lot of my time in other periods of my life.

There is however a different way of looking at this supposed issue. As I explain in my now rather antiquated review of the Twitterverse:

I have been involved in running web-sites and various on-line communities since 1999.


I think that[1] can be an extremely useful way of interacting with people, expanding your network and coming into contact with interesting new people.

– Taken from New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 2: Twitter April 2010

I have indeed come in to contact with a wide range of different people through my, admittedly rather intermittent, use of what we now call social media. Importantly, a lot of these people are based in parts of the world, or even parts of my own country, where our paths would have been unlikely to cross. I suppose that a case could be made that any time I spend writing or reading blog articles, or talking to people on Twitter or LinkedIn, could instead have been more profitably employed sitting on a barstool; perhaps in the hope that someone with complementary interests would start talking to me. However, this does seem to be a doubtful assertion to make. As with most things in life (except chocolate of course) balance is the key. If you spend all of your time on social media (or indeed all of your time in bars) you will rule out some social experiences. If instead you spend some time on social media as part of a healthy, balanced diet, then this should lead to a wider range of associates and sometimes even friends. It is also a pretty frictionless way to find people who are passionate about the things that you are passionate about; or indeed to find out why people are passionate about areas that you think might be interesting.

I mention above that – despite the observations I make later in the same paragraph – my own use of social media has been sporadic[2]. Having made some progress in understanding some elements of the area in an earlier stage of its evolution, jumping back in as I am doing now can feel a little daunting. These fears have been somewhat ameliorated by reconnecting with a lot of people, who still seem interested in me and what I have to say[3]. I have also connected with some new people and acknowledging this second occurrence is the actual purpose of this article.

First, I’d like to offer thanks to Ontario-based Pauline Cabrera (@twelveskip) of Pauline describes herself thus on Twitter:

Savvy Digital Strategist / Blogger / Web Designer / Virtual Assistant ( I dig #SEO, blogging, social media & content marketing.

I found Pauline’s web-site when I was thinking about sprucing up my Twitter header and looking for some advice[4]. Pauline’s observations were clear and helpful, but while I get by OK in creating images (both in a business context and with many of the diagrams on this site), I am not a graphic designer. Given Pauline’s greater experience, I decided to reach out to her. The fruits of this interaction can now be viewed on my Twitter site, @peterjthomas.

Pauline and I reached a commercial arrangement, so I’m not here referring to the kindness of strangers always meaning doing stuff for free. However, while I am sure many other people provide the services that Pauline does, I’m equally confident that very few do it with such speed and professionalism. When you couple these attributes with her being ultra-friendly and displaying an evident delight in doing what she does, you end up with someone it is a pleasure to do business with.

I mentioned that Pauline resides in Canada, I live in the UK, we wouldn’t have bumped into each other without those modern inventions of the Internet, search engines, web-sites and (the subject of the search that allowed me to find Pauline) Twitter.
Michael Sandberg's Data Visualization Blog

Second, I recently composed an article with a Data Visualisation theme and as part of researching this looked at a number of blogs covering this area. One that stood out was Michael Sandberg’s Data Visualization Blog. Michael describes himself thus:

My main work-related areas of interest are in developing self-service interactive, dynamic reports for Web and Mobile (most notably iPad). I currently develop using MicroStrategy in the Cloud with Netezza.

Michael and I also share a mutual connection in Cindi Howson (@BIScorecard) of BI Scorecard. Despite this, I had not been aware of Michael’s work until recently. I did however connect with him via his web-site. Today he has been kind enough to feature the data visualisation piece I wrote on his blog. It is always gratifying when a fellow professional thinks that your work merits sharing with their network.

In this case, Michael is based in Arizona. The chances of us bumping in to each other, except though us both blogging, would have been slim as well.
Simon Barnes Author

The final person that I would like to mention is Simon Barnes, the award-winning sports and wildlife author and journalist. I based my recent blog article, Ten Million Aliens – More musings on BI-ology, on his book of a similar name. Aside from his articles for various newspapers being published on-line, Simon has not been noted for his social medial presence until recently. This has now been remedied via his blog Simon Barnes Author and Twitter account, @SimonBarnesWild; Simon has been using the former to showcase chapters from his book.

The kindness that I wanted to point out here is the diligence with which Simon responds to comments on his site. Of course, on a personal note, there is always a frisson of excitement when someone whose work you admire and who is also something of a public figure in the UK replies to you directly as Simon has to me. Politeness and consideration for others pre-date the Internet of course, but treating people reasonably gets you a long way in social media. As Simon seems to do this naturally, I am sure this characteristic will stand him in good stead.

I can’t claim that Simon lives a long way from me, his home in Norfolk is pretty adjacent to my current one in Cambridge. However, despite having read his articles for years, it was only once Simon established a web presence that the opportunity to correspond opened up.
So, in the couple of weeks during which I have dipped my toe back into the social media water, I have had the privilege to connect (in a number of different ways) with the three people that I mention above. Each of Pauline, Michael and Simon are on-line for different reasons and each have different things to say about very different areas. However, I am interested in what each of them does, as are many other people around the world. It’s hard to imagine an easier way in which I could have formed connections with these three people, one from Canada, one from the US and one from my native UK, than via the Internet and – in these cases – Twitter and Blogging. I think these are useful facts to remember in the face of accusations that social media makes people insular, closed-off and lonely. It may do that to some people, but this is a million miles away from my own experiences and – I strongly suspect – those of many of the people who are now able to access a wider world through their keyboards or touchscreens.

The “.com” was still in use back in 2010
This is something that I cover in another earlier article: Four [Social Media] Failures and a Success. The section describing the first failure (in this case a personal one) begins:

Failure 1 – Thinking that you can dip in and out of Social Media

Articles per month

Probably strongly correlated to me being interested in what they have to say of course.
I think that the actual search terms were the rather prosaic “twitter header dimensions“.



The 23 Most Influential Business Intelligence Blogs

BetterBuys 23 Most Influential BI Blogs

I was flattered to be included in the recent list of the 23 most influential BI bloggers published by Better Buys. To be 100% honest, I was also a little surprised as, due to other commitments, this blog has received very little of my attention in recent years. Taking a glass half full approach, maybe my content stands the test of time; it would be nice to think so.


It was also good to be in the company of various members of the BI community whose work I respect and several of whom I have got to know on-line or in person. These include (as per the original article, in no particular order):

Blogger Blog
Augusto Albeghi Upstream Info
Bruno Aziza * His blog on Forbes
Howard Dresner Business Intelligence
Barney Finucane Business Intelligence Products and Trends
Marcus Borba Business Analytics News
Cindi Howson BI Scorecard

* You can see Bruno and me talking on Microsoft’s YouTube channel here.

BI Software Insight helps organizations make smarter purchasing decisions on Business Intelligence Software. Their team of experts helps organizations find the right BI solution with expert reviews, objective resource guides, and insights on the latest BI news and trends.


Facebook squares “puzzle”

This blog primarily deals with matters relating to business, technology and change; obviously with a major focus on how information provision overlaps with each of these. However there is the occasional divertimento relating to mathematics, physical science, or that most recent of -ologies, social media.

The following article could claim some connections with both mathematics and social media, but in truth relates to neither. Its focus is instead on irritation, specifically a Facebook meme that displays the death-defying resilience of a horror movie baddie. My particular bête noire relates to the following diagram, which appears on my feed more frequently that adverts for “Facebook singles”:

24 or 25?

It is generally accompanied by some inane text, the following being just one example:

I got into a heated battle with a friend over this… I got 24 she say’s 25. How many squares do you see?

Nice grocer’s apostrophe BTW!

I realise that the objective is probably to encourage people to point out the error in the ways of the original poster; thereby racking up comments. However 24?, 25??, really???, really, really????

Let’s break it down…

24 or 25?

Well there is clearly one big square (a 4×4 one) staring us in the face as shown above. Let’s move on to a marginally less obvious class of squares and work these through in long-hand. The squares in this class are all 3×3 and there are 4 of them as follows:

24 or 25?


24 or 25?


24 or 25?


24 or 25?


Adding the initial 4×4 square, our running total is now 5.

The next class is smaller again, 2×2 squares. The same approach as above works, not all the class members are shown, but readers can hopefully fill in the blanks themselves.

24 or 25?


24 or 25?


Skip a few…

24 or 25?


Adding our previous figure of 5 means our running total is now 14; we are approaching 24 and 25 fast, which one is it going to be?

The next class is the most obvious, the sets of larger 1×1 squares.

24 or 25?

It doesn’t require a genius to note that there are 16 of these. Oh dear, the mid-twenties estimates are not looking so good now.

24 or 25?

Also we shouldn’t forget the two further squares of the same size (each of which is split into smaller ones), one of which is shown in the diagram above.

Our previous total was 14 and now 14 + 16 + 2 = 32.

Finally there is the second set of 1×1 squares, the smaller ones.

24 or 25?

It’s trivial to see that there are 8 of these.

Adding this to the last figure of 32 we get a grand total of 40, slightly above both 24 and 25.

Perhaps the only thing of any note that this rather simple exercise teaches us is the relation to sums of squares, inasmuch as part of the final figure is given by: 1 + 4 + 9 + 16, or 12 + 22 + 32 + 42 = 30. Even this is rather spoiled by introducing the intersecting (and interloping) two squares that are covered last in the above analysis.

Oh well, at least now I never have to comment on this annoying “puzzle” again, which is something.

Global Readership

World-wide stats

I quite like’s latest data visualisation tool, which allows you to see the spread of people reading your blog. The data only goes back to February 25th 2012 and presumably a number of hits can have no country attributed to them, but it’s still a nice addition and interesting for me to see the number of different places that readers come from.

Perhaps we’ll gloss over the Mercator Projection and also how annoying and fiddly the WordPress app for iOS is; then things are always harder on iPad – right?

What should companies consider before investing in a Business Intelligence solution?

Racking up for a climb

linkedin   Business Intelligence Group

The following is a lightly edited transcript of a reply I posted to a question asked on the Business Intelligence Group. This was entitled What should companies consider before investing in a BI solution?.

I suggest some of the following:

  1. What business problems would a BI solution address?
  2. Within these, what questions do people want to ask and what action will the answers lead to?
  3. Why can’t these people get the answers today, or – if they can – what is wrong with them (incomplete, inaccurate, not detailed enough etc.)?
  4. What is the business impact of the lack of these answers (poor decision-making, missed opportunities, inefficient processes, poor monitoring, lack of tools to manage people’s performance)?
  5. If these questions were to be answered, broadly speaking, which different data sources would need to be brought together (assess different country / divisional systems and different types of systems – sales, Finance, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, complaints, external data, others)?
  6. How aligned are the various different elements within these (e.g. customer records, products, territories etc.)?
  7. To what level is the data required to answer the questions identified above captured (are there gaps and does new data need to be entered)?
  8. How accurate is this data (does it actually reflect business events)?
  9. What is the overall quantity of both historical and current data that needs to be looked at and how much of this regularly changes?
  10. How frequently will users need to ask questions and how up-to-date does the answer need to be?




England retain The Ashes in Australia (Jan 2011) vs India win ICC World Cup (April 2011)


I have used this column to write about my favourite sport, cricket, on a number of occasions[1]. In general my articles that have referenced cricket have also been related to some other business-focussed issue.

For example in Accuracy I compared a lack of precision in cricket journalism with analogous concepts in both Twitter and Business Intelligence. In The Big Picture I contrasted cricket all-rounders (people who both bat and bowl) with the general tendency to pigeon-hole people as one thing or another (in particular details people or vision people – some people can do both).

There have been a number of other cricket-related postings, but each has been used to shed light on what might seem an unrelated area. This piece may well prove to be purely a cricketing one, but I suppose that the reader will have to get to the end of the article and make up their own mind.
Some background

As in earlier posts involving cricket, this margin is too narrow to contain a comprehensive overview of this most complex of sports. If you don’t know about it already, then try The Font as a place to start, or find a friendly ex-pat Brit or Indian to help you (or someone with any of the nationalities appearing below).

There are nine nations that play in the top tranche of Test Match Cricket (international matches that are played over five days – for US readers think about a team visiting a city for a series of games in baseball). In total these account for 25% of the world population; a list appears below.

Rank Team Matches Points Rating Population (m)
1 India 32 4,001 125 1,210.1
2 South Africa 21 2,469 118 50.0
3 England [2] 32 3,759 117 62.2
4 Sri Lanka 23 2,486 108 20.2
5 Australia 27 2,692 100 22.7
6 Pakistan 23 2,132 93 170.6
7 West Indies 23 2,039 89 36.3
8 New Zealand 19 1,485 78 4.4
9 Bangladesh 11 144 13 142.3
        Total 1,718.8

There are an additional 36 affiliate nations – including some surprising names such as Japan and the USA – and 60 associate nations – including Afghanistan[3] and China – so, while the top flight is mostly confined to countries previously in the British Empire, cricket is a pretty global sport.

Speaking of being global, cricket is close to religion in one of the world’s most populous countries, India. The above list is of the Test-playing nations by their current ranking (a score derived by a rather labyrinthine algorithm, with which I will not bore readers) and India is currently number one. This is after what seemed like an eternity of domination by an Australian team that contained some of the sport’s greatest ever players; but which is now laid low by the twin curses of retirements and less able replacements.

India has been a perennial underachiever in Test cricket, its performances not consistent with the vast pool of human capital available to it. However, in recent years, this performance had come more into line with both demographics and the expectations of a billion Indian cricket fans. The current team’s achievements in both the ODI and Test arenas have been built on the foundation provided by a crop of truly great players, in particular that of Sachin Tendulkar, who is viewed as a demi-god by his compatriots.

Sachin Tendulkar Rahul Dravid VVS Laxman

Sachin would be in any cricket fan’s fantasy team and is arguably the greatest batsman the game has ever seen; unarguably he is in the top two[4]. The current Indian tour of England may be the last chance that people in the country have to see this legend of the game play “in the flesh”. The glowing star that is Tendulkar is however surrounded by a constellation whose members are not much less bright. It is possible that India will face the same challenges so recently experienced by Australia when Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (all now in their late thirties and cricketing twilights) retire over the next few years, or even months.

The prolific Jonathan Trott, England ODI Captain Alastair Cook and England Test Captain Andrew Strauss

Ranged against these batting titans is what is becoming a rather formidable England batting line-up. This features the current number 4 and 5 ranked[5] batsmen (Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott sporting averages since the start of the 2010/11 season of 115.6 and 79.1 respectively). Sachin is currently above both at number 2, but India’s only other top ten batsman is the inured Virender Sehwag. England’s captain Andrew Strauss also comes into the match on the back of scoring 187 for once out against the tourists in their warm-up game.

James Anderson and Graeme Swann

But perhaps of more relevance is the fact that England also have the number 2 and 3 ranked bowlers in the world in the shape of Graeme Swann and James Anderson respectively.

England, have had a chequered history in Tests in the last few decades, but are currently on a positive trajectory. In particular they just beat the declining Australians in home and away series; something that is very dear to the hearts of all England supporters. This means that quite a lot hangs on the result of the England vs India series that kicks off on 21st July. Given that the number two team, South Africa, does not play Test cricket again until November 2011, the England / India games could have a profound impact on the ranking of Test teams; something that is illustrated in the table below[6]:

The impact of different outcomes of the England vs India series on the ranking of the top three teams

The fact the tomorrow’s first England vs India Test Match is also both the 2,000th ever Test and also the 100th between England and India adds piquancy; as does the fact that Tendulkar currently has 99 International centuries (scores of 100 or more) spread between Tests and ODIs and is poised to become the first person ever to have a century of International centuries.
The Wager

Ajay Ohri of

Given the high-profile of the series that starts tomorrow, it is not surprising that it has been the subject of conversation between supporters of both teams. As well as discussing cricket with Indian friends (or friends of Indian heritage) in the UK, the debates also have a more international flavour. For me in particular, there has been some [mostly] friendly banter between myself and Ajay Ohri (@0_h_r_1) of

Ajay and I have never met – we are entirely virtual friends. I have had virtual friends before (see the preamble to New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging), some of who have become real-life friends as well. The non-cricket element of this article (tenuous as it may be) is that the friction associated with forging such friendships with like-minded people is now lower than ever before. Ajay may correct me, but I recall that we first came across each other via Twitter, but now are connected on LinkedIn and Facebook as well. In part due to the explosion in Social Media and the related formation of global communities coalesced around certain specialist subjects (information in all its various guises for Ajay and me), it is now not only feasible for people to have friends across many continents, it is becoming quotidian.

Anyway the result of our discussions was a small bet between the two of us. If England win the series, then Ajay has to write and publish an article extolling the virtues of the superior team. If the unthinkable occurs through some freak of nature and the outcome is reversed, I will have to post a similarly congratulatory piece, devoted to the victorious Indian team here. Social media truly reflecting life!

Let the games begin!


Explanatory notes

[1] Regular readers may wonder what happened to rock climbing, the activity in which I am currently most engaged; well I’m not sure that rock climbing really a sport, more a way of life.
[2] Actually England and Wales, though effectively the UK, Ireland and (or so it seems of late) South Africa as well.
[3] Afghanistan is currently the highest-ranked associate nation.
[4] Supporters of Don Bradman might argue that his record stands alone: 52 matches, 6,996 runs at an average of 99.94; compared to Tendulkar’s 177 matches, 14,692 runs at an average of 56.95 (as at the date of this article)
[5] A full list of world cricket rankings may be viewed at:
[6] To the bafflement of many, although Test Matches are played over five days, they may still result in a draw.