I work three jobs, just to prove that there really is such a thing as a workaholic. I work full-time at a university, part-time teaching a class at another university and own a consulting company called The Julia Group. If you count being a full-time student as a job, then I have worked at least two full-time jobs since I was fifteen years old, except for a brief two or three month stint with retirement. To discover how retirement worked out, re-read the first sentence.

I retired because I realized that I was working 80 hours a week on automatic pilot. I had to do it to get through school, and then, when my husband was sick, and later died, I needed to do it to pay all of the bills and take care of the kids. The bills got paid, the kids grew up and I just kept going. So, I took off for a few months and discovered that it is really boring being retired when all of your friends are still working and your kids have their own lives. Besides, I like statistics, and I like programming, so I went back to work and the work piled up.

Then, this week, I had to have my knee replaced. Basically, they cut a nine-inch wound into my leg all the way to the bone, sawed off the ends of two bones (I wonder if this is where the term sawbones came from. Probably not), then replaced the ends with Titanium and sawed the whole thing back up. You can see pictures of what it looks like here, but I wouldn’t look if I was you, because it is pretty gross. The other not-fun thing I discovered is that much of the pain medication gives you nausea. So, the choices are to really hurt or puke your guts out. Having had morning sickness with four babies, I remembered that eating a little bit helped. Two tips, if you have to do anything like this, try to eat a little bit all of the time of the blandest stuff possible. I have lived on crackers and 7-up for the past five days. Also, don’t exercise within an hour of taking the medication. Try not to be male, too, if you can help it. I can only imagine what a catheter would be like if I was male. I am certain the phrase, “damned inconvenient” which was my experience, would not begin to cover it.

So, I made a solemn vow that I was not going to do any work this week. As more than one of my co-workers strongly emphasized to me,

“You are on medical leave. That means you LEAVE work for medical reasons and you do NOT do any. Get better.”

I work with some really nice people.

I am also the president of a national non-profit, but I didn’t do that either. That is work also, just work for which I don’t get paid.

It probably comes as no surprise that I did not succeed in not working for five days, although I did make it for four. I left my cell phone and computer at home for the first two days, so that helped. One thing I wanted to discover is what would I do, what would I think about if there was no work

One thing I discovered, is that my husband loves me unexpectedly more than I had thought. He is, literally,  a rocket scientist. He is a very methodical guy and treats marriage much like designing a program. There is a reason he picked particle physics over poetry as a college major. You need flowers on your anniversary, remember her birthday – and, of course, he uses iCal and various services for those things. Well, Dennis was so nervous when we went to the hospital he was actually shaking. When the receptionist asked for our insurance card, he gave her his Ralph’s Club card. He took most of the time I was in the hospital off work just to be there. I’d wake up and he would be sitting in a chair using my laptop. When I asked him,

“Why aren’t you at home?”

He answered,

“Because you’re here and I want to be here with you.”

I always tease him that if I left him, he wouldn’t notice and then three weeks later, he would look at our youngest daughter and ask,

“What happened to that lady that used to live here? I kind of liked her.”

I guess I was wrong. As for my daughters, two of them are in LA right now, the youngest, because she is eleven, and the second daughter, because she is in graduate school. I thought my eleven-year-old, who continually reminds us that she is in junior high now, despite the fact that she is attending the same parochial school where she started kindergarten, would be too cool to miss me much. Besides, she has dad. The second day I was in the hospital, Dennis showed up with two bags our littlest daughter had packed. He tried to tell Julia that it was a lot of stuff and she insisted,

“No, mom washes her hair with this one, and she likes this kind of soap, and she buys all her stuff at these stores in the Promenade and you know they don’t have that kind of thing at the hospital. Well, you don’t know, Daddy, but I do because I’m the one that goes with her.”

She started in on the litany of things that were not right once I got home. Apparently, dad does not help her with her science projects right and does not read her bedtime stories correctly.His contention that his knowledge of science was sufficient for the graduate school faculty at UCLA did nothing to convince her.

My second daughter took care of all of the emails and phone calls for the Julia Group and somewhere found time in there to bring my ice packs and cook for me while I was in bed. And this was the child we could not get to do her homework in high school even after we cut up her credit cards, disconnected her Internet, and took away her DVD, TV, phone and MP3 player.  One thing you might notice if you spent less time at work is that you have a pretty nice family.

You might also notice some things about your co-workers. One person sent me FIVE emails during the four days I was in the hospital, each progressively marked more urgent. My initial thought, I must admit, was WTF? This is actually a very nice, intelligent person. He is also very focused on his job and very much like I have been nearly all of my life. I don’t think he gave a thought that it was unreasonable to expect me to answer email the day I had surgery. I don’t think he gave a thought to the fact that I had surgery. No, no one had died and the fate of the universe wasn’t hanging on this project. He just thought it was really, really important that this particular thing get done because some people might be unhappy if it didn’t come out exactly right. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. I know, though, that I won’t be working with that person in the future. It’s not that I am mad at him. On the contrary, I know exactly how he thinks because I have thought that way most of my life. However, I decided that I no longer think that nothing short of your own death is a sufficient excuse for being out of work more than a day. I don’t think that I will be less successful because of that change in attitude, if anything, I’ll probably be more successful by some standards.

My manager at the university wanted to speak with me before I left. He said,

“I know we talked about you working from home, but I just wanted you to know that if you don’t feel you can put in a full day, just stop working. We’ll work it out. Just get well.

One of my clients emailed me twice while I was in the hospital, both times to ask how I was doing. Those are two people less focused on work than the first one, but I guarantee you that I will be working with both of them in the future.

If I hadn’t worked so many hours, I would have noticed more about how amazing the people are that I work with. My business partner for 19 years was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. How he has kept going, kept writing presentations, working on grants, running a business, meeting with people all over the country, while having radiation treatment, driving 180 miles round trip from the reservation for every doctor visit – it just amazes me. Another one of my co-workers has been in a wheelchair since an accident 25 years ago. He occasionally mentions having a pressure sore or how much of a hassle it is, but having to lie in bed for a couple of days and make a conscious effort every hour to move this part or that part, having to actually have a plan for getting around the house in case something is in the way. I am a little embarrassed to admit that this last week has caused me to have more respect for people who I should have had more respect for all along, Not in a condescending “Isn’t he inspirational?” sort of way but more in a “Damn! You’re even more amazing than I realized. How dumb am I?” sort of way.

If there was no work, I think I would pay more attention to bigger affairs of the world, like politics and economics. Of course, lately, I have been thinking about health care reform. I have no real complaints about the health care. It cost $3,000 for the surgeons, $3,000 a day for the hospital. Once you throw in the anesthesiologist and the home physical therapy, I am guessing the insurance company will pay out about $17,000 and we’ll pay about $2,000. I think the monthly cost for our health care is around $2,000 a month, of which we pay $200. Interesting fact there is that I don’t even know what the company pays, but it’s a lot. No matter what health care reform passes or doesn’t pass, we will be fine because we are in that elite group that companies want badly enough to pay benefits to keep. Do I seriously think that there will ever be a system where everyone in America stays at a hospital where you only have private rooms and you have a view of the Santa Monica mountains? No. I feel lucky I have that. Part of it is luck. Part of it is choosing to study the right things (and marry the right person). No one in America will lose access to this type of health care because any bill passes because

A.) Very few people have access to it now, and

B.) There is never a problem in America with being able to buy things you want if you have the money to pay for them. Hell, this is true of illegal drugs now and they’re, well, illegal. How much truer will it be of legal drugs?

If you are like me and work essentially all of the time, I strongly recommend you try this exercise. You might say that is nothing more than a vacation or the weekend, but, if you are really like me and a lot of people I know, you spend your “vacations” and “weekends” just working in a nicer location or for only eight hours a day. As my oldest daughter patiently explained to me,

“Mom, when you meet with a client over lunch, that’s not lunch. That’s a meeting with food. Stop working. Just try it some time.”

Try it sometime. Don’t work. Not at all. Even one minute. See what you would think about if there was no such thing as work. If you have the option, skip the being sliced open and try it in the Bahamas. You’ll save money, be  a lot more comfortable and hopefully learn just as much about yourself.



Went to the “See it in SPSS” event at the Westin Bonaventure this week and, as always, it was well done. The two most interesting parts, based on a non-random sample of one, i.e., me, were:

The new PASW 18 runs on Snow Leopard on the Mac (big plus for Mac people). Doesn’t run on the earlier Mac OS’s (big minus for Mac people).

There is a new boot-strapping option for some statistics, which is cool, but costs extra, (by which I mean a lot extra, according to the SPSS website)

One interesting addition was better integration with R. This will get me thrown out of the “in-crowd” with statisticians, I know, but I have never had much need for R. I have everything I can handle with SPSS, SAS and the occasional Stata, less occasional JMP and rarer S-plus. However, if you are not me (which I am fairly certain is the case) maybe you are interested in it, so there you R.

There is a Direct Marketing module, which is also cool and has applications far broader than marketing, but also costs extra. According to the SPSS website they had this in 17 but I have never seen it before.

When I saw the multiple imputation option I thought that was part of PASW-18 but when I installed the faculty pack, there it was, as part of the Missing Values module.

Speaking of the Faculty Pack – that is not new but it’s an awesome deal ($250 for  a one year license for 12 modules – 13, if you have Windows). It’s an awesome deal compared to buying each module and if you teach using SPSS you should definitely get it. I am going to spend some of my weekend and the next two weeks when I am laid up in the hospital playing with it.

Predictive Modeler I kept thinking looked a whole lot like Clementine and could not quite figure out the difference. Then I read that PASW modeler was formerly Clementine. It has all of the pluses and minuses of data mining software in general.

One question I asked the presenter which intrigued me was how long it took to install. He said an hour and a half. I have NEVER been able to install SAS Enterprise Miner on any computer.  Part of this is no doubt me. I have an extremely long list of projects that really need to get done, like updating our statistical consulting website at the university, writing new courses, re-writing a program that creates static web pages to be dynamic, possibly using SAS IntrNet (which requires learning more about it), doing programming for consulting clients, re-designing client websites to have RSS feeds from their employee blogs, etc.  It may only take 8 hours to install Enterprise Miner but I can’t see when in the foreseeable future I will ever have eight hours to spend installing something I really have no current need to use and am just interested in.

This is an interesting barrier for technology products, I think. There are things like R and the open source qualitative analysis program that all of us at lunch remembered trying and no one could remember the name. These are free. I know I won’t have time to learn either of those in the foreseeable future unless someone invents a machine to give you 48-hour days. (THAT I would buy! ) There is S-plus which looks interesting and I can pretty much bet I will never have time to learn. I have had the new SPSS modules for a few months and am finally getting time to look at those. I have been meaning to learn JMP for a year and have opened it and spent an hour or so looking at it, as well as attending an event sponsored by the JMP folks. I could go on … here is my point … all of this stuff is free to me because the university pays for the licenses, or it is open source. If you can’t get people to use your stuff even if it is free … well, that is a pretty tough market to penetrate.

What’s the secret? If I ran the world, I would start more of these events with “Here is how you get it installed and working on your computer, connected to your server, etc.” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED the stuff on Bayesian statistics that Bob Rodriguez talked about at WUSS and I really liked the person from SPSS whose name I so ungratefully forgot, who discussed using equal N’s in groups (e.g., died/ not died) in creating an equation, for the training set, but proportional groups in the validation set because it is one of those simple, brain-dead obvious things that is too often forgotten (including by me). There needs to be a balance. I am busy and so is everyone else I know, except for my 18 month old granddaughter and my 76-year-old mother, and neither of them needs statistical software.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a license for PASW Modeler, so I am not sure how to test the claim it can be set up in 90 minutes, including installation of PASW Statistics. I have to say that I am intrigued.

My point is, even if your software is amazingly amazing, if it takes days to get it configured, no matter how great you are, people just won’t bother.

It reminds me of years ago when a relatively young woman offered to work for a company where  I was a partner. She presented herself to the only male partner and told him that she would be “willing” to work for us and named what I considered an astronomical sum, since it was more than any of the three partners made. (Whatever book she had been reading about job-hunting, I hope she got a refund.)

I asked my partner,

“You interviewed her. What did you think? Was she worth that kind of money.”

He said,

“Let me put it like this. I wouldn’t pay her that if she #$@%ed me with my morning coffee.”

My point, and I do have one, is that no matter how awesome you might be, you can price yourself out of the market, whether it be in salary or just the pain in the ass of getting the thing to work. From what I saw of PASW 18 this week, the pain in the ass cost is really low.



WUSS: I see smart people

September 2, 2009 | 4 Comments

You know how some days everyone just seems put on this earth for the express purpose of getting on your last nerve?

Well, today was the opposite of those days.

Even before I got to the WUSS (Western Users of SAS Software) in San Jose, I was surrounded by smart people. My wonderful colleagues at USC. Justin and Andrew, helped me in a knock-down drag out fight with VMware and the Vista operating system (a.k.a. further proof that Microsoft is secretly run by evil trolls who hate the human race). After turning off hibernate, running disk clean-up, selecting “more options” and deleting every file that wasn’t hanging on to the operating system by its virtual fingernails, I was able to install SAS.

Fortunately, fortunately, fortunately we had just received the new, non-evil, electronic SAS download, which I copied on to three DVDs, installed on my laptop and it was running by the time the plane took off for San Jose.

I made  it to the first statistics session this morning where Robert Rodriguez talked about cool stuff like PROC MCMC and methods of doing Bayesian statistics with older procedures like GENMOD. He also discussed PROC TCALIS which he said will eventually be rolled back into PROC CALIS.

The next session on segmented regression, by a speaker from Kaiser Permanente Colorado. The paper was short, sweet and to the point, demonstrating how you can do a regression before an intervention, after an intervention and have an intervention variable as well, coded 0=not after intervention, 1=after intervention. In brief, she showed that putting an electronic “stop” in the computer for frequent drug interaction problems caused pharmacists to take action to prevent these, whereas just having “alerts” or warnings, was not enough.

Then there was the amazing Tom, from SAS. (I am sure there is only one guy named Tom who works at SAS, right?). I was doing a Hands-On Workshop on SAS Enterprise Guide. I got in at midnight and could not get in the room until 20 minutes before my presentation only to find out that EG 4.2 was not working. My fallback plan at that moment was to give the presentation using SAS EG 4.0, with no slides and making it up on the spot because it would have been really difficult for novice users to follow a presentation where the PowerPoint slides showed one thing and the computer screen in front of them showed another.

A smarter person than me would have brought a presentation that used the SAS EG 4 screens and a second presentation for SAS EG 4.2.   Unfortunately, a smarter person than me was not giving the workshop, I was.

(In self-defense, I have to say that I did email several times in advance and was assured that SAS EG 4.2 would be on the computers. Hence, I prepared accordingly. Note to self: In the future, never believe anything.)

So, TWELVE MINUTES BEFORE THE WORKSHOP, Tom, from SAS, shows up. (There’s only one guy named Tom among the 11,000 SAS employees, right?)  He trouble-shoots the problem and comes up with a solution that is something like this:

Go to the Start Menu

Select run

type CMD.

Type the following:

cd \program files\sas92\sasfoundation\9.2

sas /regserver )

That was obvious, wasn’t it? He makes up a PowerPoint slide, guides all 20 or so people in the workshop through this, then my presentation starts which was on SAS Enterprise Guide: SAS without programming.

Of course, after that, I could have made them write a database program and it would have seemed intuitive.

I did ask one of the conference organizers, Sally Carson (notice she has a last name) who at SAS I could thank for this and she introduced me to Andy (second note to self: find out why so many people at SAS apparently do not have last names). I told Andy how above and beyond Tom was and she said,

“That’s what we expect at SAS.”


I work in Information Technology Services and if I came up to myself and said,

“I have this major problem I don’t know what is but I need you to fix it on all of the computers in this room in the next TWELVE MINUTES….”

I would have slapped myself in the face just for suggesting it. That isn’t within shouting distance of a reasonable request. Hell, that expectation is so far from reasonable that you can’t even see reasonable from there.

Other expectations I have learned from having attended numerous conferences of various types is that the food is nasty and the lunchtime speakers are boring. Actually, the Fairmont Hotel is very nice, the food was good and the keynote speaker, who I think was named John Sall (he was definitely from SAS and had a last name although I cannot swear this is either his correct first or last name) was pretty cool.

His presentation was pretty much an early history of SAS, complete with pictures (or Polaroids, as they were known back then – look it up) . I don’t know how interesting it would be to a young person but for all the people my age it was a trip down memory lane. I heard all of the older (defined as anyone my age or older) people at the table exclaiming “Oh, my God, I remember that!” every time he mentioned having to invert matrices by hand (well,  we didn’t actually use our hands, paper and pencils HAD been invented back then) or showed a deck of punched cards or an IBM 360 or mentioned how you drew a line on your card deck with a marker in case you dropped them and they got out of order, or typewriters, or dumb terminals or paying (big bucks) for computer time.

The young person next to me asked, wide-eyed,

“Did you really use punched cards?”

in the same awestruck tone that one would use to say,

“And how was it flying a pterodactyl to conferences instead of Southwest Airlines?”

(I don’t fly Southwest and I have never personally flown on a pterodactyl, but from what I have seen at Terminal 1 at LAX my recommendation would be to go for the flying dinosaur.)

Tomorrow morning, I am heading to a session on macro programming. There are two at once so it will be hard to choose. In the afternoon, I am taking a class from Greg Fernandez on mixed models. He is the same person who did the really good discriminant function analysis presentation today.  So, it looks like tomorrow will be just as good as today. I am looking forward to it.

If you didn’t go to WUSS this year, you missed out. It is fabulous. Try not to screw up next year (it will be in San Diego, November 3-5, 2010). Then, you, too, can be one of the smart people.


WP Themes