Buying a Cup of Coffee – Data Becomes Wisdom

The Ancient Mariner could have as easily said “Data, Data, everywhere”,  as discussions regarding big data and other analytical approaches seem to be the order of the day Wall Street Journal.  We often make data out to be this mysterious element, but data requires context to be useful to anyone if they intend to make a decision, as I hope to show below.  For example, data becomes information when it is categorized, which then becomes intelligence when a decision can be made, and ultimately wisdom when an action occurs based on intelligence.

One of my favorite quotes about Coffee comes from Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgor, who said that the perfect cup of coffee should be: “Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”  I would agree that a good cup of coffee is a bargain at any price, so let’s think about how the decision to buy a cup of coffee can explain transforming data into wisdom.

The objective:  I would like to purchase a cup of coffee at Giddyup Coffee in Folsom, LA.  So, I asked the two baristas if I could do take a few pictures for this blog post.  They thought it funny that someone would actually do this, but they agreed.  So, the research question is: do I have enough loose change to purchase a cup of coffee.



Loose Coins – represent Data

There will be a cost of purchasing a cup of coffee, so I look into my coin purse.  These loose coins are simply data points, each representing a certain value.  (Coins contain other information, such as their size, year and place it was minted, as well as the coins condition based on circulation.  These data points are not relevant for this purpose are ignored.) However, beyond knowing that I have coins, I do not know if these coins are enough to purchase a cup of coffee.






Information:  The loose coins now need to be organized before I can actually make a decision, so the coins were put into different categories.  This act of putting the coins into categories, based on the relative value of the coins, resulted in the data about the coins becoming information.

Data becomes Information

Intelligence:  Now that I know the relative value of the coins, I next have to make a comparison.  Do I have enough to actually purchase the coffee with the coins that I have?  So, I add a new data element, namely the posted value of a cup of coffee.  So, the addition of the information posted on the menu allowed me to determine if I could make a purchase with my loose change.

Wisdom:  I bought the cup of coffee, once I had enough intelligence to make a decision based on the cost of the cup of coffee and my loose change.  (Wisdom is the only attribute with a future component, namely, data, information, intelligence are all static elements at the moment a decision is made, but Wisdom will influence my future actions.)


I learned this paradigm as the more formal DIKW: Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom.  While one could argue that the DIKW is based upon filtering data to make a decision, I changed Knowledge into Intelligence.  I see Knowledge represents a broad body of information, based on many factors, including not only the data itself but the cultural, contextual relationship of the researcher to the topic being researched.  For example, I could have taken the coins to a Coinstar or a bank, or made a different decision concerning these coins.  For my father who abhors coffee (his loss), the research question (can I purchase a cup of coffee) would mean nothing to him,  (much like saying “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”!)  For me, knowledge serves not as a filter of the data/information as normally discussed in the DIKW paradigm, but rather a filter through the act of transforming data to wisdom can even occur.

Finally, we can not remove the researcher from the research, but a good researcher should understand what data elements are useful to become transformed into intelligence based on understanding what answer is required.

Here is a toast to your health!


Defining Mississippi’s Transportation System

On Tuesday, October 30, I had the privilege of attending/presenting at the 2018 Mississippi Transportation Institute Conference.  There were many great speakers, including a thoughtful Tim Flick, who spoke on leadership, and the energetic Janie Waters, who discussed change while leading everyone in the Hokie Pokie.  With so many quality presentations, I was honored to have been invited to speak, much less during lunch.  After being introduced by Northern District Commissioner Mike Taggert (in my opinion, a great asset for the State of Mississippi), I presented the following presentation.  ( my presentation: lambert-MTI 2018)

Defined transportation as a benefit:

  • to passengers and users,
  • to support the economy through freight movements,
  • to other sectors in the Mississippi economy.

Often, these benefits are not linked to the role that the transportation system serves an integral part of the state’s commitment to its citizens. The average citizen benefits from a robust highway system, as transportation makes our modern life accessible, but the system does have a direct cost, such as through taxes, or indirect costs, such as closed bridges, vehicle damage, etc., to the citizens of Mississippi.

Here are some of the references I used in preparing my remarks:

Southern Legislative Conference Comparative Data Reports on Transportation 2018 Report
Mississippi Department of Transportation Statewide Transportation Plan Mississippi Department of Transportation Fiscal Year 2017 materials
Mississippi Department of Transportation Freight Plan

1987 was the last concerted effort in Mississippi for a comprehensive statewide highway network program, which was the same year I graduated from Louisiana State University.  Since that was also the last year the State raised the gas tax, I am paying the State of Mississippi the same per gallon of gas from when I drove across the state after my graduation in 1987 as I did this week when I purchased gas to drive to the conference.

The problem is not one of identifying projects, but in securing funding for these projects,  While the state has recently taken steps to address this need, it took shutting down bridges to get some attention on this issue.  Maybe the citizens of Mississippi just need to eat more Domino’s Pizzas to fix the state’s potholes!

How Super is Paying Taxes?

This cartoon was published by WUMO in 2015,

Superman is arguing that he does not want to pay taxes for roads since he flies everywhere!  (I think he probably filed under Clark Kent, but that is another story.) Superman’s complaint is that he should only pay for what he uses reflects the question of public sector spending and how that ties into each individual person uses/requirements.  (In fact, the gas tax is indirectly based on usage- you drive more, you pay more tax- here is a good discussion on the history of the gas/fuel tax.)

While most spending on highway infrastructure is funded by the Federal Gas tax, there are funds (such as from the general revenue) that support infrastructure investment.  (Missouri did a good citizen’s guide to transportation that is worth a look-!, as well as a New York Times editorial on New Jersey’s gas tax and the associated comments  While gas taxes cover other activities, such as the gas tax pays for transit programs, there remain expectations that a consistent system lies outside one’s front door.

Everyone requires different transportation needs, based on location, access, but even driver patterns change over a lifetime (  Like all taxes, the linkage between transportation taxes and investment is not equitable, not is there any way to really make such taxes neutral to all parties.  Although Superman can fly, he needs access to goods and other services. (I wonder if Batman pays fuel taxes for the Batmobile.)  Someone made Superman’s costume (Edna Mode, or maybe he bought it online!)  As such, Superman enjoys the benefits of public investment in infrastructure, even if he does not drive, and thus does not pay any fuel taxes.

A Checklist for Economic Development- A Dead Poet Speaks

As I was putting together a sample market study for Scott County Missouri for the ITTS member states (Working Paper 13), there is a lot of information regarding transportation, economic activity, and a host of elements concerning sources of additional economic data, especially when combined with the Executive Briefing Book (Working Paper 21).  However, know this source data does not necessarily mean this information will generate additional economic growth independent of some active leadership.  That question could be summarized as “how do I tell a story that is actionable”.

After writing those reports, I realized that there are two stages to this quest to attract and retain economic development – I call the first step “the Dream”, where a vision is created and sold to regional and potential partners, while there is a second stage I call “the How”.  This is the actionable part of economic development, where leadership and commitment are necessary to move a project forward.

The dream…

  • Elevate your branding
    • Zero in on potential customers
    • Reach consensus with local partners
    • Aggressively identify competitive assets attractive to all parties

The how..

  • Pursue realistic timelines
    • Outline budgetary and regulatory approval needs as early as possible
    • Understand your competitor’s capabilities
    • Negotiate project review checkpoints
    • Deploy resources until completed

(And yes, the acrostic is a poet’s name. I love playing with the Acrostic word games.  One of his most famous poems is an impression of a metro station – another transportation angle!)


Hello and welcome to my little slice of the internet.

When I was growing becoming a transportation econoimst was the farthest thing from my mind, but such is life!

This website is more for me to focus/share my thoughts on trade and transportation topics, from planning to policy to economic and data analysis, into a single place, but I hope you enjoy the ride.

Even as the floodwaters in 2016 were  receeding around my house, I’m still taking pictures of trucks!  I know, its a sickness 🙂