ART Forum 2012

One of my favorite conferences is the Advanced Research Techniques Forum (ART Forum) from the American Marketing Association (disclosure: I’m chairing the conference for 2012). At this year’s conference I was happy to announce that the 2012 conference will be:

June 24-27, 2012 in Seattle!

If you’re a researcher interested in the latest customer/marketing research innovations, please consider submitting your work. The CFP will be out soon, with abstracts due in late Fall. For ideas, check out the 2011 ART Forum program.

We also welcome suggestions for the conference: topics to include, tutorials you would like, or suggestions for speakers or future locations. You can find my contact info on the “about me” page, or on LinkedIn. We hope to see you in June in Seattle!

Tips on Learning R

Colleagues often ask me: “How can I learn R?”  Recently, I helped teach an “Introduction to R” class for the Advanced Research Techniques Forum ( So that’s one answer.  Here’s another:

Find an R-suitable project and force yourself to use it!  R is really a programming language, not a “statistics package” … and like any programming language, you can only learn it by using it to accomplish something.

What makes a project R-suitable?  I divide that into three groups:

1. Projects that need cutting-edge or custom statistical methods. R quite simply is the tool where new methods are developed first. If you need to try the latest in Bayesian, machine learning, classification, genomics, or similar areas: do it in R.

2. Processes that benefit from R’s language and object structure. This is why I started with the S language back in 1997: I needed to run hundreds of models and extract key information from them. If you need to bootstrap a process, or compare or iterate models, R is the place.

3. Something that you know quite well.  This is where R offers little attraction, but where you can leverage your knowledge. A frequency analysis you do every day; a regression model you run every month; a chart that you can make in 5 seconds in Excel – those are great places to replicate the work in R just to force yourself up the learning curve.

Note that groups #1 and #2 are the easiest and luckiest places to be: if nothing else does what you want (except complete custom code), then R is an obvious answer.  Group #3, choosing a problem you could solve elsewhere, is the most frustrating and requires enormous discipline. You’ll be questioning R every step of the way (“why can’t I just point and click?!”) … until something clicks and you discover the answer for yourself.  OTOH, #3 is the easiest place to start from the perspective of finding specific help for your task; if it can be done easily somewhere else, then a recipe has likely been developed for R.

There are scores if not hundreds of R books that can help you. If you use R for long, eventually you’ll own a shelf of them. Meanwhile, a great first book to learn and get stuff done is Paul Teetor’s R Cookbook ( 

But again, and most importantly: Pick a problem, use R to solve it, and stay with it until you’re done. Then repeat. R undoubtedly will frustrate you. It may take hours or even days for something that seems like it should be simple. Remember that you’re learning a new language, so progress should be slow. Yet every time you go through the process (choose, use, stick with it) you’ll know more and will work faster and better. Good luck!

Tasting my 2009 wines

Just did a taste of my five 2009 wines from their carboys. Four of these were made from Eastern Washington grapes (Cab, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah), while the fifth is a mix of my own grapes (Regent, Dolcetto) plus some of the Cab & Merlot.

The best two now are clearly the Merlot and the Regent blend. The Merlot has big fruit, moderate acidity, and is a little on the hot side.  The Regent blend is the darkest of all the wines — thanks to extended maceration — and has a complex Bordeaux profile with more tannin than any of the others (even the Cab). It could very well be the best of all the wines in the end. If so, it will be a testament to the extremely closely tended vineyard (because it’s in my yard and I could tend it almost daily). Every Regent and Dolcetto grape that went into that wine was an absolutely perfect berry.

The Cab has a good deep flavor but is not very complex. The Sangiovese is fruity but a bit thin and somewhat acidic. It is very light in color. I might go light on the wood with it and make it a chillable rose’ alternative. The Syrah is still a problem: it has good fruit and balance, plus a very distinctive Syrah pepper taste and a long finish. But it has lingering problems on the bouquet that I just can’t get rid of, a bit of faint H2S. the Syrah grapes were definitely in the worst shape when I received them and it’s showing up.

I’ll try the Sangiovese again in a month or two and then decide whether to go ahead and bottle that. The others get at least another six months and probably twelve months of aging.

Micro-vineyard in Seattle

I have a small vineyard growing behind my house in Seattle. Seattle is certainly on the cool side for wine grapes, but my plot is on a west-facing slope, so it’s relatively sunny. And I planted mostly a cool-weather varietal, Regent.  Regent makes a rich, red wine.

Currently I have 14 producting Regent vines, 6 more planted; and 4 Dolcetto vines (which need a little more heat, so they’re experimental). They’re planted in two rows with high density (3×4 spacing). My hope is to get 7-10 gallons of fruit once they’re all mature.

The first crop last year was small — due to vine maturity and a late freeze — but the wine (just finishing MLF phase) is excellent: dense, fruity, dark. I did an extended maceration and a couple of weeks after fermentation was complete, it was acidic and tasted very much like blueberry wine. Since then, it’s settled down and has a strong Bordeaux character.

Now fixing the Lenovo F1/Esc layout

Using CapsLk to mimic CTRL is going well. The frequency of my inadventent “FN-C, FN-V, FN-X” presses is down about 90%. (See previous post).

But a new annoyance has surfaced: I keep pressing F1 instead of Escape (which on Lenovo is by itself above the F1 key). It pulls up Help, which is esp. annoying in Office apps because it launches a new window.

Solution: I use Help very, very rarely, so I map F1 to be Escape. (And then I map F12 to be F1, since I have no idea at all what F12 does, and I occasionally do need F1.)

The program SharpKeysmakes this very easy: run it, add a new key map, write the change to the registry, and reboot. Only works for Windows (and works fine in Windows 7, which I’m using). It can also handle the CapsLk issue instead of the .REG file I posted earlier.

So now my Lenovo keyboard is mapped like this:
CapsLk –> Left CTRL
F1 –> Esc
F12 –> F1

I still wish I could swap FN and CTRL. It would save me at least 10 mistakes a day. Lenovo: please make your BIOS update available retroactively!

Improving the FN/CTRL keys on my Lenovo laptop

Got a new Lenovo X301 ultralight laptop that I absolutely love (thin, light, very quiet with the SSD drive) except for one horrible flaw: the FN key is where CTRL is on every other PC keyboard. Instead of CTRL-C and CTRL-V, I’m always hitting FN-C and FN-V, which are useless.

If it’s your only PC keyboard, you might get used to it. But if you switch back and forth with a desktop keyboard like I do, it will most likely be infuriating.

At some point soon, Lenovo will come out with a BIOS — on new machines only – that allow the keys to be swapped. Meanwhile, there are various workarounds ranging from removing the FN key to trying to glue FN and CTRL together. (Unlike every other key, the FN key cannot simply be remapped by itself because it does not generate a keyscan code.)

The solution I’ve adopted is to remap the (useless) CapsLock key to CTRL. This works across keyboards so it applies to both my laptop and my external desktop keyboard when docked. So now I can use CapsLk-C and CapsLk-V, which are pretty easy to learn and get accustomed to. Here’s discussion about the CapsLk issue.

If you’re using Windows, the easiest way to turn CapsLk into CTRL is to add a Registry key and then reboot:

1. Open Notepad and create a file called “RemapCapsLock.reg” (be sure to turn off the dedault *.txt file extension)
2. Put in these lines:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
“Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,1d,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00

3. Save it to Desktop. Double-click on it and say Yes to add to Registry. Then reboot and your CapsLk key will be remapped.

Lenovo: PLEASE make the BIOS update available for older machines!

Assessing persona prevalence empirically

I just obtained permission to post our latest paper on Personas. We argued previously that the personas method should not be considered to be scientific, and that a complete persona almost certainly describes few people or no one at all. In the new paper, we present a complete formal model, and evaluate the prevalence of “persona-like descriptions” with both analytical methods and empirical data. Full paper on persona prevalence.

There are two key implications here: (1) if you want to claim that a persona describes real people, you need strong multivariate evidence. (2) Without such evidence, we provide a formula you can use that will give a better estimate than simply assuming something. We show how this formula has a better than chance agreement with 60000 randomly generated persona-like descriptions in real data with up to 10000 respondents.

None of this says that personas are not inspiring or useful. It just says that they cannot be assumed to have verifiable information content, unless that is demonstrated empirically. As for alternatives to answer key design and business questions using empirical data, check out our paper on quantitative methods for product definition.


One of my papers from 2 years ago is still causing discussion: “The Personas’ New Clothes: Methodological and Practical Arguments against a Popular Method” by me and Russ Milham. Email from researchers I didn’t know led me to look up citations, and the article appears to be commonly cited when people present criticism of the personas method. Google search. The paper itself is here.

There are a few misunderstandings of our position out there. Our basic argument is simple. Persona authors often make two claims: (1) personas present real information about users; and (2) using personas leads to better products. In a nutshell, we argue that neither claim has been supported by empirical evidence; rather, the claims for personas’ utility are based on anecdotes, generally from their own authors or other interested parties (such as consultants selling them).

This does not mean that personas are bad, but they cannot be taken at face value. As researchers, we suggest that persona authors should either provide better evidence (and we suggest how) or make weaker claims.

Some persona users don’t make claims about their personas’ usefulness or correspondence to reality; they simply say that personas might be helpful for inspiration for some people or teams. We take no issue with that, as long as they don’t forget those caveats and reify the persona. Unfortunately it is probably very difficult for people to read a persona and not think that it describes a user group.

We’ve recently published empirical work on (quasi-)persona prevalence using several large datasets, demonstrating that once a description has more than a few attributes it describes few if any actual people. I’ll put that paper up as soon as I get reprint permission. (If you have access to HFES archives, it is “Quantitative Evaluation of Personas as Information”, Christopher N. Chapman, Edwin Love, Russell P. Milham, Paul ElRif, James L. Alford, from HFES conference 2008, New York.)

What should one do instead of personas? I advocate stronger empirical methods that have more demonstrable validity.