Lessons in Avoiding Data Entry

I’ve been amazed over the past 2-3 years in the proliferation of mobile apps to customize our savings and shopping experience through just about every national brand. One of my most frequently used mobile apps is the Kroger mobile app for both iPad and iPhone.  I was able to easily add my Kroger Plus Card number to my online account and begin to keep track of my coveted fuel points for discounts as well as add electronic coupons to my card. I find this process much easier than rifling through the Sunday paper and finding very little worth while. (Quick aside, who is actually buying those elastic pants and moo moos anyway?) Finding coupons on my phone and tapping away while I’m shopping demonstrates just how real-time all of this data is integrated.

Today, I ran into a snafu. One of the difficulties with the conversion from our wallet or key ring full of loyalty rewards cards is the barcode itself. Apps like KeyRing do a nice job of organizing all of your loyalty cards in one app and the iOS Passbook feature does this nicely as well for a variety of loyalty cards. However, handheld barcode scanners don’t always recognize the barcode on your phone’s display. Sometimes there is a glare, you have a really thick screen protector, or as the cashier would say, “It’s all in the wrist.” Regardless, this usually results in the cashier resorting to hand entering your loyalty number. I do a pretty good job of remembering random digits, but keeping my 12 digit Kroger Plus number wedged in my brain is not one of them. I had no idea if she typed in correctly. I trusted she could translate the numbers on my phone to her keypad. I figured I would do as most consumers do and study the receipt while I walk out the door. This usually involves bumping into people and shopping carts. Humans are not meant to multi-task, especially while walking.

To no surprise, I noticed that my receipt did not have my total fuel points from last month and this month. I also noticed that the 75 cent coupon for Totino’s Pizza Rolls hadn’t applied (I haven’t had pizza rolls in about a decade. The coupon lured me into it!). I marched back to the customer service desk to claim my well-deserved 75 cents and I explained the hand-entry of my Kroger Plus number. I got my 75 cents (woo hoo!), but I was directed to call an 800-number to get the fuel points transferred from some random account to mine. This is where the technology broke down. I’m not certain why a customer service person at the store location doesn’t have a CRM portal that allows them to transfer things like this from one account to another to resolve disputes like this. Regardless, I half-gave up when it came to dreading an automated phone tree plus several minutes of hold to transfer a whopping 54 fuel points. I figured I would just send an email so I could spend my time more constructively on this blog post.

This whole process reminded me that we are all human. We can easily make simple mistakes, including data entry errors. Technology solutions for today depend on an automated recognition through barcode, OCR, magnetic stripe, RFID, etc. In the end, though, hand entry becomes the backup solution. It made me ask the question, “Are we less accurate now at hand data entry then say, 10-15 years ago?” I would almost bet that since our workforce has moved beyond keyboard data entry into other forms of input into corporate data stores, that we are even more prone to error, in general. Regardless, for those of us involved in building technology solutions for consumers and business end-users, controlled choice and the limit of hand data entry will continue to foundation to ensuring that our business intelligence systems report accurate data to make decisions. For us consumers, giving us controlled choices and limited hand data entry will give our apps a user-friendly interface and hopefully, cut down on the fat-finger errors we all encounter. I’ve heard it several times over, but the family friendly version is, “Bad data in equals bad data out.”

I’m not sure where I’ll get with my 54 Kroger fuel points, but I sure hope the scanner works on my phone next week. I’d hate to start loading up my key ring again.

Presentation on Big Data at Millikin on 10.2

On Thursday, October 2, 2014, Al Naqvi, Executive Vice President & CFO, Illinois Health and Science, will be giving a presentation entitled “The power of big data to transform our world.”  The presentation will take place in the East Room of lower RTUC at 7:30 PM, and is free and open to the public.

Mr. Naqvi will discuss our current age of big data, where today the data produced in a single day exceeds the total data produced by the human civilization since its inception through year 2003.  The talk by Al Naqvi will introduce big data technology, and discuss how we might be able to use big data technology to turnaround Decatur’s economy.

Mr. Naqvi’s presentation is being hosted by the Millikin University Institute for Science Entrepreneurship whose mission is to connect Millikin University, its students, and the greater community to opportunities for personal, professional, and organizational advancement through science entrepreneurship.

The remainder of the Fall 2014 Millikin University Science Entrepreneurship Speaker Series is as follows:


Thursday, October 2
Al Naqvi, Executive Vice President & CFO, Illinois Health and Science
7:30 p.m., Lower Richards Treat University Center
Topic: The power of big data to transform our world

Thursday, October 23
Mark Rank, Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare, Washington University
7:30 p.m., Lower Richards Treat University Center
Topic: Chasing the American Dream

Thursday, November 20
Bill O’Grady, Chief Market Strategist, Confluence Investment Management
7:30 p.m., Lower Richards Treat University Center
Topic: Entrepreneurship, inequality and inflation.

State Farm Red Out Day 9/22

State Farm Insurance is hosting their annual “Red Out Day” on Monday, September 22. Throughout the day, State Farm representatives will be on campus with a tent in the quad, a table in ADM/Scovill, and visiting a few classes.

If you are interested in pursuing an internship or career with State Farm, I highly encourage you to stop by. They have great opportunities for I.S. majors and various other disciplines as well. Shake hands, introduce yourself, and meet several Millikin alums who work at State Farm. They will be conducting interviews in early October for summer internships. Now is the time to make a connection, share a resume, and give a quick pitch on your strengths and skills.

Using I.S. Skills to Make Pesto

For the past several years, my wife and I spend a day making large batches of homemade pesto to freeze for winter eating. We keep an herb garden near our patio and usually plant enough basil in the spring to reap a bountiful harvest by the end of August. Pesto is a versatile Italian staple that goes great in pasta, soups, or used in spreads for sandwiches. It contains just a few simple ingredients (the Italians wouldn’t have it any other way): basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. As we were in the throes of laboring in the kitchen on Labor Day, I couldn’t help but think how my I.S. skills and experience in upgrades contributed to this herbal project. These weren’t, however, the technical skills I had learned (my food processor is not yet wi-fi enabled). The skills I used in this home project were process thinking, attention to detail, and iterating over time.

Process Thinking
In order to start with a couple of large basil plants and other ingredients, a step-by-step process had to be created to end up with pesto at the end. In addition, proper preparation had to take place to make sure all of the ingredients were on hand. I can relate this to getting ready for a big upgrade. In order to pull it off, you had to create your recipe. This usually included a combination of instructions from the vendor, which needed amended to fit your environment, your own in-house steps to complete, a list of steps to include prior to and following the upgrade, and testing. The same was true for making pesto. We started with a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook; a staple for all households. There was a lot to do before and after making the pesto (setup and cleanup), and we had our own flair to the recipe we employed. Naturally, we tested the product after we were done 🙂
Attention to Detail
While we could have just thrown all of the ingredients into the food processor and hit liftoff, the results wouldn’t have been favorable. The same can be said for upgrades I completed in the past. Server processes needed monitored, scripts needs reviewed before execution, and verification by painstakingly reading log files must be done to ensure all steps were completed successfully. When making pesto, we ensured to wash all of the basil leaves and pick out the bad ones. When running through the food processor, the olive oil should be added very slowly so the herbs, cheese, and nuts can absorb the oil over time. Otherwise, it’s a bit gommy.
Iterating Over Time
I was confronted on more than one occasion why I needed so much time to complete an upgrade. My response was simply, “There are a lot of steps and waiting. I can’t rush it, unless you want me to risk something going wrong.” Over time, I learned that I could automate certain steps of an upgrade by creating my own scripts in advance and running some unrelated steps in tandem. It was process refinement through iteration. We make several batches of pesto and store them in small Gladware containers, so the food processor gets refilled several times. I learned that just refilling the food processor left the remnants of the previous batch. The oil, cheese, and bits of basil were left behind. Over a few batches, the pesto started to become a bit “muddy”. I realized that I needed to begin washing the food processor bowl after each batch. I believe iterating is learning. You can’t learn without making a few mistakes.
Pesto Tips
So where does all this pesto leave us? For me, it’s a step away from technology for a day (albeit this blog), time with my wife, and the creation of good, natural food to use for quick dinners. Here are a few tips to get you started in making your own.
  • Fill your food processor with (in this order*):
    • 3 cups of torn basil. Be Italian, tear it by hand. Using a knife bruises the leaves. We will sometimes mix in spinach or parsley to the basil for a different flavor.
    • 1/3 cup of nuts. Pine nuts are super expensive, although the traditional Italian ingredient. We have experimented with walnuts, pecans, and almonds. Just toast them in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes to extract the oils. Let them cool prior to room temperature before placing in the food processor. If still warm, it will turn the basil leaves black.
    • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Not grated. Shredded works the best and don’t scrimp on this one. Buy some good quality cheese.
    • 2 roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Use fresh garlic. Don’t buy the minced stuff in a jar. It has preservatives.
    • Salt and Pepper
    • * The pesto processes better with the heavier ingredients (nuts, cheese, garlic) on top of the leaves.
  • Now, pulse all this together in the food processor and scrape the sides if need be.
  • Turn on the food processor and pour a slow steady stream of extra virgin olive oil for about 8-10 seconds  I wish I could tell you a measurement, but it’s all by feel. When the pesto is bound together, you have enough. It will be loose if you haven’t added enough oil.
  • Scrape the sides again if need be and pulse a few times to finish it up.
  • Taste and enjoy.
Cut basil from the garden
Basil plant after cutting