Everyone should pause every now and then and ask themselves this question:
What would you want to be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Whatever “this” is, your answer will be revealing. If you excitedly exclaim,
“I would start a restaurant, using my grandma’s recipes, but it would be more of a modern look – kind of a Tuscany theme. The Venice area is coming up, I’d open it there.”
… then you have spent far too much time thinking about what you could be doing instead of what you are doing now. Maybe you should really take some steps to do something else instead of whatever your “this” happens to be.
If you ask me what I would be doing if I weren’t making games and analyzing data, I’d be hard pressed to give you an answer.
My first answer would be to protest,
“But I WANT to be doing this.”
It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. If I was not working, I could be doing any of these things:
- Going to the Aquarium of the Pacific with my family (I have a membership),
- Going to Disneyland ( I have a membership)
- Going out to eat with my family
- Writing a paper for a conference
- Teaching judo
- Riding a bike on the beach
- Reading a book
All of those are perfectly fine things to do – as evidence, I offer lunch today with The Perfect Jennifer and Darling Daughter Number Three = but notice that none of them is a full-time gig.
If I could not be doing what I’m doing now, I wouldn’t mind going back to teaching college. I wouldn’t mind going back to teaching middle school if they would start classes at some reasonable hour, say 10 am.
I have two memberships to tourist attractions because I tend not to take off work very often. The memberships mean that I have some incentive to get out of the office. It’s not going to cost me anything to go to Disneyland and it’s wasting money if I don’t go because The Invisible Developer paid for me to have a membership.
Maybe if your list of other things to do is too long, or when you come to one, you think longingly,
I really SHOULD go for a walk on the beach! I can’t remember the last time I did that!
…. you should take a break and do some of them.
At the moment, I’ve been doing better than usual at meeting friends for lunch, going to movies, calling my mom and cleaning the house. Asking myself on a regular basis,
“What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?”
forces me to focus on the things that I am NOT doing, whether it be in my business or personal life, and an evaluation of whether what I’m doing at this moment is worth giving up those other things.
Most of the time the answer is, “Yes.”
If, for you, most of the time the answer is, “No”, well, I think you know what you need to do.
FEEL SMART AFTER READING THIS BLOG?
WANT TO BE EVEN SMARTER?
This IS my day job.
In the past, I have questioned the extent to which we really suck at math in the U.S. While I’m still a bit skeptical that the average child in developing countries is doing dramatically better than children in the U.S., one thing is pretty clear from our results to date, and that is that the average child living in poverty** in the U.S. is doing pretty darn bad when it comes to math.
About a week ago, I discussed the results from a test on fractions given as part of our Fish Lake game evaluation. The pretest score was around 22% correct. Not terribly good.
There were also two questions where children had to explain their answers:
Zoongey Gniw ate 1/3 of a fish. Willow ate 1/3 of a different fish. Zoongey Gniw said that he ate more fish. Willow says that he ate the same amount as she did, because they both ate 1/3 of a fish. Explain to Willow how Zoongey Gniw could be right.
Explain why each of the above figures represents ONE-FOURTH.
Answers were scored 2 points if correct, 1 if partially correct and 0 if incorrect.
Out of 4 points possible, the mean for 260 students in grades 3 through 7 was .42. In other words, they received about 10% of the possible points.
These two questions test knowledge that is supposed to be taught in 3rd grade and 96% of the students we tested were in fourth grade or higher.
PUH-LEASE don’t say,
“Well, those are hard questions. I’m not sure I could explain that.”
If that is the case, feel sad! These are easy questions if you understand basic facts about fractions. “Understand” is the key word in that sentence.
SO many people, including me, when I was young, simply memorize facts and repeat them when prompted, like some kind of trained parrot, and with no more understanding.
When understanding of mathematics is required, they fail. Yes, some of the items tested under the new Common Core standards are harder. That doesn’t show a failure of the standards or tests, but rather of the students’ knowledge.
This is one of those cases where “teaching to the test” is not a bad idea.
** The reason I limited my statement to children living in poverty is that the schools in our study had from 72% -98% of their students receiving free lunch. Being a good little statistician I don’t want to extrapolate beyond the population from which our sample was drawn.
I think I need some advice on appreciating how great my life is.
I haven’t been posting for two weeks, I realized today. First, I got sick and then when I got better, I was so far behind in working on our games that I just squashed bugs and held design meetings for days.
Now, I’m 99% back to my usual self. Here is what has happened lately, in semi-chronological order.
- The Spoiled One was elected senior class president at the La-di-da College Preparatory School, where they also renewed her scholarship for a fourth year and she earned a perfect 4.0. Actually, I think it is higher than that because Honors and AP classes count for 5 points in GPA. She was also signed to a club soccer team. It’s not very usual to start playing club soccer at 17 but she’s not a very usual kid.
- Darling Daughter Number 3 and Darling Daughter Number 1 co-authored a book that appeared on the New York Times best-seller list this week.
- In the past year, The Perfect Jennifer has gotten married, moved into a house and had her contract renewed to teach yet another year in downtown Los Angeles where she continues to be a blessing to her students (and lots of people consider her that besides me).
- Darling Daughter Number 3 had three movie premieres, including one this week, for Entourage I just watched it tonight with The Spoiled One. It was good.
- I spent all day on a set today for a commercial. Since there were big signs about not posting on social media, you will just have to wonder until it comes out.
- We received another grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop games for rural schools serving English language learners.
- Last month we had a successful Kickstarter campaign to develop another game, Forgotten Trail, to teach statistics.
- Darling Daughter Number 1 had a healthy baby and moved into a house, with her husband and three lovely children, that is about half a mile away from us.
- In August, I will be flying to Brazil to spend a week with all four of my daughters, while Darling Daughter Number 3 defends her world title.
So, basically, everything good you could imagine happening to anyone has happened to me.
Instead of savoring how awesome my life is, most of my time I focus on how much more I want to do on these games, teaching statistics, teaching judo, writing conference papers, reports, journal articles. Not that all of those things aren’t useful and important, but it occurred to me today that I’m certainly not unhappy but I feel as if I should be tap-dancing happy and no tap-dancing has been happening.
Are you kidding me?
If you are a programmer, analyst, statistician, professor or student who uses SAS this is an opportunity to get to know your people and to get known.
I’m in Dallas for the SAS Global Forum, which I try to attend whenever I can. Yes, I could watch videos on the Internet, read books, read web pages, but I often don’t because I have a to-do list a mile long.
By presenting at the conference, I have to review what I am doing in teaching with SAS Studio and why.
SHAMELESS PLUG: My session on Preparing Students for the Real World with SAS Studio is a good one for both anyone who teaches with SAS and for anyone who is new to the SAS world and wants a good introductory session.
Since I am at the conference, I have a little bit of downtime to look into SAS resources. My new favorite is SAS communities. It’s a combination forum and free library. I must have looked into it at some point, because I had an account, but it seems to be more active now. I even submitted an article and poked around in the forum.
Then, of course, there are all of the sessions that I will attend, conversations I will have with people, books I will hear about and buy, to read on the plane ride home.
It’s a week of learning.
But , but, you stutter like a motor boat, it’s expensive and far away. I can’t afford it. Besides, I would feel uncomfortable presenting at the same conference with all of those people who wrote the books on SAS (literally).
The expensive part I get. The not feeling like you could present at the same conference part is just silly, so I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.
If travel and cost is an issue, present at your local conference. The call for papers for the Western Users of SAS Software (WUSS) is open. Do it now!
It is painless. You submit a 300-word abstract. You can submit a working draft of the paper at the same time. That’s not mandatory but it improves your chances.
There is even a mentoring program where old people (like me), will help you revise your program and get ready to present.
Writing and presenting the paper will force you to think about what you are doing and why. You will likely make some contacts of people who will be potential employers, collaborators or drinking buddies.
What are you waiting for? A personal invitation?
Fine! Here you go.
Need a topic? Here are 10 I would like to see
- The 25 functions I use most.
- Uses of PROC FORMAT .
- Multinomial logistic regression.
- The many facets of PROC FREQ.
- Factor analysis
- SAS for basic biostatistics
- Macro for data cleaning
- Model selection procedures
- Mixed models vs PROC GLM
- SAS Graphs without SAS/Graph (because SAS/Graph appears to be written in Klingon)
My point is that if I sat here and thought of 10 off the top of my head after two glasses of Chardonnay and half a glass of the champagne someone who will remain nameless bought at Costco and brought here from a state in the WUSS region, then I’ll bet you could come up with something really awesome stone-cold sober and given more than 60 seconds.
Let’s recap what we have learned here, shall we?
- Join SAS communities,
- Attend conferences, whether national or global,
- Don’t be a wallflower – present!
- Texas steak and wine is a good combination (not particularly related to SAS but true nonetheless)
Is that enough acronyms for you? I’ll be speaking at Celebrating Equity: Women in STEM at ELAC.
STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
ELAC – East Los Angeles College
It’s 12:15 – 1:15 pm and it is free. There are six panelists (including me).
I presented last year and our company also had a booth. We hired two people who I met there.
Often, I hear people say that their company is all white/ Asian /under 40 because all of the developers / animators/ audio engineers that applied just happened to fit that demographic. Here is a thought – perhaps you could go to, say, a college that is predominantly Hispanic and just maybe Hispanic potential employees might meet you there.
Here is another thought – perhaps if you attended events targeted at women in STEM, you might meet some there.
Wonder what a game would look like if it was created by a design and development team that was predominantly women?
Any time I hear someone brag,
“I’ve never used X in my life,”
I automatically assume that whatever it is, they haven’t learned it very well. Just about everything I’ve learned has come in useful, and the better I learned it, the more useful it is.
Take statistics, for example. There is nowhere in my life that knowledge of statistics isn’t helpful. Darling Daughter Number 3 competes in mixed martial arts and I’m the worrying type.
Whenever her next fight is announced, the very first thing I do is check the fight odds. For the one coming up in Brazil, she is a 15-1 favorite. Knowing that makes my stress level go down a little. I’ll still drop by her gym a time or two during camp just to reassure myself that all is going well. As I said, I’m a worrier.
The latest thing I’m worrying about is our Kickstarter campaign, but here again, statistics cheer me up. Two years ago, we did a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $20,000. I should have researched a bit better in advance because even though Kickstarter touted the 44% success rate that is an average (there’s that knowledge of statistics again). Things that were less likely to get funded were projects seeking over $10,000, game projects and projects not featured on Kickstarter. We fit all three. Pretty depressing. In fact, looking at the statistics after we had started our campaign last time I found that less than 5% of campaigns raised over $20,000.
Well, we made it. You’d think we have learned our lesson, but due to a couple of reasons, I’ll go into another day, we decided to do ANOTHER Kickstarter two years later. So, here we are today.
The bad news is that the success rate on Kickstarter has gone down. The overall success rate is now 39% . The semi-good news is that the success rate for games actually ticked up a bit – it was 33% two years ago and it is 34% now.
The really good news: success tends to be all or nothing – 79% of projects that raised 20% of their goal ended successfully funded. Of projects that raised 41% of their goal, 94% went on to be successfully funded. We’re at 42% and we still have two-thirds of our campaign to run, so I’m feeling somewhat less worried.
There is not nearly enough replication in scientific research. It’s unfortunate that funding agencies and academic journals always want to see a new twist – a different technique, a different population. Personally, I’m very interested in reading studies that say:
“I did the exact same study as Mary Lou Who and I found pretty much the same thing.”
One reason this is interesting is that it controls for the history effect. Maybe a specific event determined the outcome. A second reason I find replication interesting is that people are very quick to generate causal hypotheses to explain relationships after the fact. In a subsequent study, those hypotheses can be assessed. Do they still stand up?
Here is an example that comes up in my personal life a lot. People assume since Darling Daughter Number 3 is on TV and in the movies a lot that it helps my business.
Let’s take a look at the graph below:
This shows website statistics for The Julia Group site. Those lines are average daily visits to this site in months when my little pumpkin had UFC world title fights. I used average daily visits to control for the fact that some months have more days than others. Contrary to expectations, the months when she had fights I had stagnant or declining number of visitors. Hearing this, some of the same people who had suggested her career would have a positive effect on business, without blinking an eye reversed themselves and said it must be because I was distracted and away from the office during those months.
Let’s replicate that graph with data from 2012-2013. You see a pretty similar trend between the top and bottom lines. Over the past couple of years, visits have been rising, so the average daily visitors is higher than in 2012-13 but the pattern is the same – an increase during the months from September to December and fewer visits in the summer months. December 2012 was a little unusual compared to most years – usually there is a drop over the holidays.
Because I see these same trends year after year, I realize it’s not at all attributable to how much Ronda is in the media in a given month. It’s a seasonal trend. Since I write about statistics and programming a lot, I’m pretty sure more people come to this blog during the academic year when they are taking a class. Also, people can read my blog at work and pretend it is work-related, even if I’m just ranting about something that day, because, hey there is a possibility that it COULD be about something relevant.
This assumption is further supported by the fact that the lowest days of the week for website visits are Saturday and Sunday.
It’s also interesting when you don’t find the same thing
If one defines “interesting” as not getting what you want, I had an interesting experience with a research project recently. Replicating the project a second year, we ran into all kinds of technical difficulties and the results were far from significant. In short, the subjects did not receive the planned intervention so no effect of intervention was observed. Much swearing ensued. I’m now analyzing data from the third year of the same project.
Multi-year studies make so much more sense to me and it troubles me that there are not more of them. I understand the reasons. For one thing, there is so much pressure to publish in many institutions that people put out as many articles as they can as quickly as they can (everyone except for YOU, of course). They are expensive and it is hard to justify funding to study something you already supposedly studied and reported the results.
Yeah, I get it, but just like those people who confidently explain my website statistics, without replication it is too easy to be persuaded that one’s first, or completely contradictory second, hypothesis is correct.
We were driving to the hospital to get some tests done and complaining about the traffic with Colorado Ave. closed for a couple of blocks for construction on the new train line. The Invisible Developer, brilliant, as usual, commented,
At least we have the luxury of worrying about every day things.
He was right, of course. After a few hours in the hospital, this was even more evident. There are a thousand reminders of how lucky we are. In the bathrooms, there is a cord to pull in case you need assistance. Let that sink in for a moment – there are procedures in place just in case going into use the restroom turns out to be beyond your physical capabilities.
Sorry to tell you, fellow citizens, but north Santa Monica is to Los Angeles like Florida is to the rest of the country – a place where old people go to die comfortably. This area must have the most people using walkers per square block outside of, well, Florida.
Everything turned out fine and by evening we were at The Fish Co with our granddaughter drinking Chardonnay and eating oysters (well, she was drinking milk and eating cherries).
Today was a sort of unproductive day. I worked on PHP code that did not work all day. By the end of the day, I had some ideas but nothing that actually ran. I worked on two different problems and didn’t solve either of them. Much swearing ensued. I cannot find the photoshop file for a piece of artwork anywhere and I need it modified. Our wonderful artist is on vacation in Peru for another week.
We are out of dishwasher soap and the housekeeper comes tomorrow so someone needs to go to the store and buy cleaning supplies.
Maria had a baby and is writing a book and has been unavailable for several months.
All of my problems are nothing.
The book Maria is writing is a memoir with my other daugher, Ronda, who has been quite successful. Maria is a brilliant writer and the book is selling well months prior to publication. If it doesn’t make the best-seller list, I will be shocked.
I have problems to solve because we have work. I live in an area with low crime, good weather and a good economy, which is why we have construction and traffic. People want to live here.
Years ago, when The Spoiled One was about 11 years old, she had an infection and there was a very brief period – about 24 hours – when she was in the hospital getting all sorts of tests, including for leukemia. Lots of very kind people tiptoed around us talking in hushed tones. It turned out to be nothing serious. We went home and back to the luxury of worrying about every day things.
This week, she was accepted on a club soccer team, turned 17 years old, took her SAT and was awarded a scholarship (again) for her fourth and final year of a college prep school that she will appreciate much more once she actually goes to college.
We took a picture of her in the hospital and I keep it to remind me that it is a luxury to be able to worry about every day problems.
As further proof that God has a sense of humor, my career has been full of reversals. Where I was once the pain-in-the-ass young hotshot who knew everything and thought my boss was stuck in the past century, now I have to deal with people like that.
For my first few years as an employee, I thought that managers were pretty much leeches on the productivity of the “real workers” like me.
How could they claim to be busy all of the time when they weren’t actually making anything?
These days, I have to fight to get an hour or two to actually write code, and yet, I often work 12-14 hour days.
What do CEOs do all day? Let me give you a not-so-brief list, not at all in order because it never is in order.
- Monitor budgets. I meet with our accountant, usually by phone, and review files she sends documenting where our expenditures are in comparison with budgets for each line item – supplies, travel, developer salaries, marketing expenses. It’s my job to see that we don’t run out of money. Because I am the owner of one company and CEO of a separate corporation, I make sure that expenses are apportioned to the right entity. I look over our corporate tax returns.
- Review contracts and documents. Speaking of tax returns, there are a number of documents – tax returns, federal reports, contracts for employees and freelancers, rental agreements – that bind the corporation in some manner and require the signature of someone with that authority, that being me. Because I am not an idiot, I read all of these before I sign on the dotted line.
- Answer questions requiring approval. Do we want to extend Joe’s contract as an animator/ software developer/ janitor ? If so, how much do we want to pay him? Should he get a raise? Has he done a really bad job this year and should we consider letting his contract lapse and replacing him? Do we want to continue paying for a license for Unity / Coherent UI / Adobe Creative Suite etc etc. Some of these discussions are very quick and some take an hour or more.
- Answer questions on priority. What do I want Mary to work on first? Is the new radio commercial more important than the video for the Kickstarter campaign? Should Sue document the module she just finished on the wiki before going on to the next part of the game or is our deadline just so tight that she needs to knock that level out immediately? Again, some of these discussions take a while. Is there someone else who can do the documentation while Sue goes back the previously level and debugs that? Is there anyone on the project part-time that could work more hours?
- Calls and meetings with people who are very important to our company. These can be people who give us money, potentially give us money, representatives from schools that our beta test sites. No matter what you do, there are people who you really want to keep happy because they are critical to your organization. You don’t want to take the chance that they will be given the wrong information and put off to tomorrow because the person they are meeting with doesn’t have the authority to make a commitment.
- Meetings with people within the company. We have meetings weekly or bi-weekly with staff just for communication. Everyone needs to know what repository we are using for the latest game, who is in charge of starting the section of the wiki for that, who is doing the artwork and where it is stored and dozens of other things. Yes, maybe we could send out email or create a Google doc, but a meeting insures that as of noon on Monday everyone knew all of these things.
- Applying for money. I spend probably 20% of my time on this. Some days it is 0% and other days it’s 100%. This may be grantwriting, attending a meeting with an investor to determine if this is a good fit for us.
- Being the public face of your company. This can be presenting at a conference, doing an interview with the press or a guest speaker at a meeting. If you are a start-up, your biggest competitor is apathy. Any way you can increase awareness that you exist is time well spent.
- Administrivia. This is my name for all of the stuff that somehow collects and needs to be done. Email from people I met who I may or may not want to respond to and ever meet again – but I need to read it. Invitations to present at some conference, contract offers I may want to decline. Most of these things I can glance at and delete, but I get hundreds of emails a day. Over the past couple of months, I have brought my unread emails down from 1,600 to under 1,000. In-box zero, here I come!
- Questions no one else seems to be able to answer. What’s our EIN number? Are we a C-corp or an S-corp. What’s the password for our SAM account?
Multiply each of these by a dozen times and you see why I’m writing this blog at 3 a.m.
It is unnecessarily cold at 6 a.m. in Minneapolis in the middle of February, just in case you were wondering. If you know me at all, you know that two of the things I hate most in this world are getting up early and cold weather.
Despite that, I’m pretty satisfied this morning. I have cappuccino, free wi-fi and an electrical outlet to plug in my laptop. The installer for the demo version of Fish Lake that I built before taking off is now uploading while I type this. (You can download it here and play for free.)
Most of all, I’m happy thinking about the fact that I don’t live in the Midwest any more. I hate cold and I love the ocean. Also, I’m not polite enough to live in the middle of the country. When someone says something incredibly stupid, like, I don’t believe that measles can kill you because it’s natural, I say,
Quit being such a dumb ass!
People in the Midwest just politely demur,
Well, that’s a different opinion!
Nonetheless, I’m quite grateful to the Midwest. I got two degrees here, one at Washington University in St. Louis and the other at the University of Minnesota. Still, I wanted to get the hell out, which I did, 18 years ago. Some of my friends and colleagues who just as strongly expressed a desire to leave are still here. Their reasons, on the face of it, all sound understandable.
My job is here.
My family lives here.
I don’t know anyone in (insert tropical place name here)
This reminds me of a course I taught years ago on Conflict Resolution. One of the exercises went like this:
You and your spouse want to buy a lamp. You want a pink lamp. Your spouse wants a blue lamp. List all of the ways you could resolve this conflict.
The book listed over 20 possible solutions, including:
Kill your spouse. Bury him or her in the backyard and buy whatever the hell kind of lamp you want.
Divorce your spouse. There are probably a lot of other things they do that bother you. Good riddance. Let them keep the furniture in the divorce and buy all new stuff exactly how you want it.
There were also several less anti-social solutions including:
- Don’t buy a lamp. Spend the money on a really nice dinner for two instead.
- Keep your old lamp. Save up your money and buy a pink and blue checked couch.
- Agree that you’ll get a blue lamp but that the next piece of furniture, you get to pick.
Then there were the more off the wall solutions, like
Go off the grid! Move somewhere without electricity and live in the dark.
The author’s point was that we often restrict ourselves to the most common solutions, and while that may sometimes be a good thing (I am not advocating killing your spouse, unless maybe they are really really irritating) it often prevents us from getting out of a rut.
Your job is in Minnesota? Find a different job. There are jobs all over the country. I ended up moving to San Diego and it was great.
Your whole family lives in North Dakota? You know what would show your family that you really love them? Moving them to somewhere that Mother Nature doesn’t try to kill you six months out of the year.
You don’t know anyone in the new place? Your kids have friends in New Madrid, Missouri? You’ll make friends in the new place.
I’m not trivializing the difficulty in moving to a new situation, whether it is for better job, better weather or a better relationship where your significant other does not refer to you as “Hey, Stupid!”
What I am saying is that if you believe you will be happier and have a better life in Place X then there is no excuse not to do it. Maybe you can’t do it today but start looking for jobs, saving your money and most of all, quit waiting for the perfect time or opportunity.
Your other alternative is to stay where you are forever. If that prospect makes you depressed, well, get moving.