It has been a while since I wrote on this topic, which, as I explained initially, was going to be a blog category called “Mama AnnMaria’s Advice on Not Getting Your Ass Fired” but it turned out out that doesn’t fit in the sidebar.

It was suggested to me this week by a couple of my less technical readers,

“You should write more posts that I actually know what you are talking about, like that 55 things you learned in 55 years.”

So, just for you, here is

How Not to Get Your Ass Fired: Part 3 – Realize you are NOT smarter than everybody

  1. Padding your hours isn’t fooling anyone. You might think you’re getting away with something but if your boss and co-workers aren’t particularly dumb, they know about how long it takes to create an SQL database, enter data or write a report. I don’t care if you say you were posting about your job during those 10 hours you were on Facebook. You’re not fooling anybody.
  2. Padding  your expense account doesn’t prove you’re smart, it proves you’re clueless. Just like with hours, everyone else in your organization isn’t stupid. They know what it costs to fly from LA to Denver, what you pay for a meal in Fargo, on the average. Do you really think they don’t have any idea that $3,000 is unreasonable for a week in Omaha?
  3. Don’t try to milk your employer. This is completely different from asking for what you need to get the job done. I need a cinema display monitor because I have very poor eyesight and need large fonts to read. I spend the majority of my time on my computer. I travel many, many weeks out of the year, so I need a good laptop. I don’t need three laptops, two of which I give to my children to do their schoolwork. Again, because I travel a great deal, I do need a phone, but I don’t need every new iPhone and iPad that comes out.

Here is a really important key fact – you may think you are getting away with any of these stupid habits, but you’re not. Yes, maybe you turned in that expense account and the business office paid it. Maybe they did pay you for those 47 hours of overtime you said you worked. Maybe they bought you the new iPhone even though they bought you another one last year.

Why do they do that? 

Let me give you three possibilities.

1. It may be that they don’t think you are worth bothering about. Yes, I know this hurts your little ego, but it’s a possibility. The business manager, in her head, makes a little black checkmark against you, thinking , “What an asshole”, but she has more important things to do than worry about some peon that overcharged the company by $700.

2. They are building a case. Did you ever hear the saying, “Don’t make a federal case out of it?” If you THINK you are getting away with embezzling money from the federal government, it may be that they are just collecting evidence. This may go with the first possibility, in that they are either in their heads or formally adding up the money you are costing them.

3. They know exactly what you are doing but they have decided that you are worth the pain in the ass of putting up with you – for now. Maybe you are a great software developer, attorney or accountant.  It isn’t that your organization doesn’t know that you are screwing them over, but rather that they have decided to overlook it – for now.

So hey, you’re getting away with it, what’s wrong with that?

Listen carefully,

“No matter how great you are at your job, there comes a point beyond which it is not worth the pain in the ass of putting up with you.”

When your organization no longer needs you that badly, if your work starts to decline, or if you get a little more greedy, you, my friend are going to get your sorry ass fired.

They may keep you around but they sure as hell are not going to trust you. If you wonder why you aren’t getting raises, aren’t getting promoted, maybe it’s because you aren’t quite as smart as you think, or the other people around you aren’t quite as dumb. You might want to give some serious consideration to turning it around before you get your sorry ass fired.


8 fish in a stack

Want to be even smarter? Check out 7 Generation Games.

It’s like push-ups for your brain.

Physicians say that once a patient hears the word “cancer”, their brain shuts down and they don’t hear anything else. To be fair to the patients, understanding survival statistics isn’t always simple.

Let’s take just one example:

The three-year survival rate is different from the third-year survival rate.  If you have been told that the three-year survival rate is 50% and now it is the third year since your diagnosis, your probability of surviving the year is likely to be much higher than 50%

Let’s take a look at this example, with the number of patients diagnosed each year and how many were alive the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year after diagnosis

Year |  N |  1st | 2nd | 3rd
2012 | 75 | 60 _ | 56 _| 48
2013 | 63 | 55 _|  31 _|___
2014 | 42 | 37 _| ___|___

The probability of survival year 1 = 152/180 = .84

The probability of survival year 2 = 87/115 = .76

The probability of survival year 3 = 48/56 =.86

To find the probability of survival in the THIRD YEAR you divide the number of people alive at the end of three years, which is 48, by the number of people alive at the beginning of the third year, which is 56. (The number of people who survived the second year is the same as the number of people who were alive at the beginning of the third year.)

48/56 =  86% probability of survival the third year.

So, IF YOU HAVE SURVIVED TO THE BEGINNING OF THE THIRD YEAR, your probability of survival in that year is 86%.

However, if you asked me on day 1 what your probability of living three years is, I would say 55% (actually, 54.9024% if you want to be precise).

How can your three-year survival be lower than third-year survival? Here’s how:

We can only measure third-year survival on people who survived the first two years … 

We followed (75+63 +42) = 180 people for one year. At the end of that year, we had 152 survivors (60 +55 + 37).

So, first year survival rate = 152/180 = 84%

Of those 84%, only 76% survived the second year. Of the people who survived the second year, 86% survived the third. So, what percent survived all three years?

.84 x .76 x .86  = .549024   or,  54.9%

Sometimes people will look at three-year survival rate and think, WRONGLY,

The three-year survival rate is only a little better than 50% and I have already lived to the third year, I must have a 50-50 chance of dying this year.


Actually, that is not correct. As the example shows, your chance of surviving the third-year may be substantially greater than the three-year survival rate.


Want to exercise your brain while having fun? Play Fish Lake, canoe down rapids, escape your enemies and review fractions. If you are already smart enough, consider donating a copy to a low-income school or after-school program.

Enemies in forest

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.




baby mashing cake

Kappa is a useful measure of agreement between two raters. Say you have two radiologists looking at X-rays, rating them as normal or abnormal and you want to get a quantitative measure of how well they agree. Kappa is your go-to coefficient.

How do you compute it? Well, personally, I use SAS because this is the year 2015 and we have computers.

Let’s take this table, where 100 X rays were rated by two different raters as an example:

Rating by   Physician 1

————-Abnormal   |  Normal

Physician 2

Abnormal        40             20

Normal             10            30


So ….. the first physician rated 60 X-rays as Abnormal. Of those 60, the second physician rated 40 abnormal and 20 normal, and so on.
If you received the data as a SAS data set like this, with an abnormal rating = 1 and normal = 0, then life is easy and you can just do the PROC FREQ.


Rater1    Rater2

1                1
1                 1

and so for 50 lines.


However, I very often get not an actual data set but a table like the one above. In this case, it is  still relatively simple to code

DATA compk ;

INPUT rater1 rater2 nums ;


1 1 40
1 0 20
0 1 10
0 0 30


So, there were 40 x-rays coded as abnormal by both rater1 and rater2.  When rater1 = 1 (abnormal) and rater2 = 0 (normal), there were 20,  and so on.

The next part is easy

PROC FREQ DATA = compk ;

TABLES rater1*rater2/ AGREE ;

WEIGHT nums ;


That’s it.  The WEIGHT statement is necessary in this case because I did not have 100 individual records, I just had a table, so the WEIGHT variable gives the number in each category.

This will work fine for a 2 x 2 table. If you have a table that is more than 2 x 2, at the end, you can add the statement


This will give you the weighted Kappa coefficient. If you include this with a 2 x2 table nothing happens because the weighted kappa coefficient and the simple Kappa coefficient are the same in this case.

See, I told you it was simple.


As you have no doubt cleverly deduced from the title, this is the second installment in my series, “Mama AnnMaria’s Advice on How Not to Get Your Ass Fired.”

In Part 1, I explained why employees who (in their view) never make mistakes end up getting their asses fired.

Today’s lesson is:

Understand that your boss doesn’t have to explain everything to you.

Let’s say that you believe that you are doing stellar work. Let’s further assume that the work you are doing is both something objectively difficult –  3-D modeling, software development, teaching probability theory – and that you believe to be important.

You are doing a great job and are highly skilled but they are not paying you the salary you believe you deserve

As I see it, there are four possibilities.

  1. The organization cannot afford to pay you more than you are getting.
  2. Your boss is a moron.
  3. They are hoping you will quit.
  4. The work you are doing is not of the quality or importance that you believe it is.

Let’s consider possibility number one. If that is the case and everything you assume about your performance is true, then the organization should be trying to make it up to you in other ways. I once worked for a non-profit where my boss couldn’t offer me a raise but cut my hours 25% and gave me the same pay. They might give you flexible hours, a nice office, a travel budget, an impressive-sounding title. None of those things are the same as cash but they at least show the organization is making an effort.

Let’s assume that they do none of that and you are treated like a peon. They even make you wear that Hotdog on a Stick uniform even though you don’t work at Hotdog on a Stick. There remain the last three possibilities.

Why would your boss want you to quit? In my experience, the two most common reasons are:

  • You are a pain in the ass
  • The work you are doing is not of the quality or importance that you believe it is.

There are things your boss may not tell you for very good reasons, say,  non-disclosure agreements.

It is possible that your work is not really all that important.

Yes, you have done a fabulous job creating the company website. However, the company is in merger negotiations after which the website will be taken down and all of the products listed under Acme Giant Corporation, Inc. You may be fabulous at teaching probability theory but the university is discontinuing its Statistics major due to lack of students enrolling in Northern Alaska On a Mountaintop University.

They also may not be telling you that they are hoping you will quit to avoid the unpleasantness of having to fire you.

Why on earth would anyone ever want to fire you, other than that your work isn’t as important as you think?


Another possibility, as much as this may cause you pain, is that your work isn’t as good as you think it is


Perhaps you suffer from the Big Fish in a Small Pond Syndrome. Maybe you know more about Windows 8 than any of your friends. Let us at least entertain the notion that you may have particularly stupid friends. Yes, you were the IT expert at your old job but there were only six people in that company and they were in the janitorial business. Now you work IT at Microsoft and they are not impressed that you know what a printer driver is.

You should be aware of the Performance: Pain in the Ass Theorem

To whit, there is no performance so great that it cannot be exceeded by the pain in the ass of putting up with you. (Note that even Steve Jobs got fired from Apple).

Since it is past 2 am in North Dakota, from which I returned at midnight on Friday, and I have not one, but two meetings in the morning, further explanation of this highly important theorem in the field of Not-Getting-Your-Ass-Fired will have to wait until another post.