Statisticians and Sanity

October 30, 2010 | 1 Comment

My paper on data visualization next week may be the most useful thing I do this year, if I succeed in convincing my audience, that is.

Fact: Statisticians have failed in a very important respect.

This fact became apparent to me on a beautiful day lying on the beach in Santa Monica when it was over 80 degrees in late December. Some very well-respected polls have shown that 26% of Americans believe global warming is false.

As statisticians, we spend much of our careers doing things “right”, as defined by our peers, that being other people who almost always have Ph.D.’s and frequently have supercilious attitudes. We’re concerned about accounting for stratification because that will provide the correct standard error which will in turn give us the right significance level. We need to consider fixed effects versus random effects, the normality of the distribution and so on to a great degree.

The fact – and we KNOW this – is often those factors we are using to tear up our colleagues’ work are not substantively important. Yes, they may have inflated their standard error by a factor of three but if it was .0003 instead of .0001 , who the hell really cares.

Even if everything was done perfectly, if your article reads like a combination of instructions for replacing my hard drive, the Odyssey in the original Greek and my federal schedule C attached to my 1040 tax return – then you failed.

We’ve failed at telling our story. Twenty pages of tables of numbers complete with coefficients, effect sizes, training sets, test sets, F-tests, t-tests, eta-squared and more may be perfectly well done and impress people with our brilliance.

Listen to me very closely my fellow statisticians…

The goal here is not to get people to admire you.

It is to get them to believe you.



My friend demanded.

“Are you crazy?”

(Only your real friends feel free to begin conversations this way.)

“Why in the HELL are you doing five presentations at that conference? For free!  Can you even tell me how many presentations you’ve done in your life? No, you can’t, can you? It’s not like it’s going to make any difference if you did 217 instead of 212. You have a project you’re working on for one client and you better HOPE you don’t get that other contract under review because you’re going to be gone next week. …”

Well, you get the idea. My friend and I work together and as I am one of the principal people bringing in business, he is understandably concerned about the bottom line. Since we are friends and he’s a smart guy, I considered his position (which simply stated, is that I am  moron to give away work for free) and came to the conclusion that he is wrong. Here’s why:

Two of the presentations are co-authored with people who are much younger than me (that constituting the majority of humanity). They are both really smart and would not have submitted a proposal on their own. Now that they have one under their belt, having been pushed in that direction, and seen they are perfectly capable, next time they are much more likely to write a presentation on their own. It’s the kind of prodding and encouragement I received in my career and it’s only right to return the favor.

The other three papers were invited as part of a SAS Essentials section of the Western Users of SAS Software conference.

I remember the first SAS conference I went to – SUGI 10 in Reno, NV. It must have been about 25 years ago. Everyone seemed so much smarter than me. I was very happy when I found some sessions on topics like PROC REPORT that actually were not over my head. Partly, I wanted to offer something that was accessible to people like I was back then. There’s also the fact that more than half of the time I attend conferences these days, I don’t present. I don’t have to present to get my expenses paid. Any time I spend working on a presentation is taking away from hours billable to clients.

While some people go to conferences to travel, I’ve traveled so much I could tell you which terminal at LAX damn near every airline flies out of and the earliest and latest flights to get to the Midwest and east coast. I’m not looking for a job (another reason to attend) and most of our work comes through grants and contracts – not people I met at conferences. I go for one reason – to learn stuff. Conferences are a great chance to learn from really smart people. If I can, I’ll take a course before or after the conference, sometimes both. I’ll attend several sessions each day, check out the posters and talk to the exhibitors. In short, when it comes to knowledge, often, I don’t give, I just take.  Having been raised with the necessary dosage of Catholic guilt, I felt bad about that and started presenting again.

Here’s the funny thing that happened

…. Writing those presentations made me think about how I solve problems – and make no mistake about it, programming is far more about solving problems than typing words in some computer language. When I need to teach new people – whether in my company or teaching graduate students – I’ll be better at it next time.

… There’s so much to SAS, to statistics, that it’s impossible for everything to be in the forefront of my brain. Writing these papers has given me a chance to get back into the detail of a broader range of procedures and options than I would have encountered in my daily work.

Tip to young people …

When old people say to you that they have forgotten more programming than you’ll ever know, they mean that literally, they’ve forgotten it!

Ever since  I graduated from college, I have taken a ‘reverse sabbatical’ every ten years and gone back to a university for a doctorate, a post-doctoral mid-career fellowship and a consulting position. The up side of this is the opportunity to work with the latest technology, to delve deeply into a question. The downside is that, compared to the corporate sector, university salaries *blow*. I used to think that they hated me and then when I looked at switching positions I was astounded to find that other people were paid less!

The huge benefit of being at a university, of course, is that you get to associate with brilliant people, work with the latest technology and explore interesting problems. Of course, working on all of these papers has allowed me to do all of that – and, I didn’t have to quit my day job.

Ergo…  I am not a moron after all.

See you at WUSS in San Diego !



Statistics is definitely in.

In the last month I’ve gotten three invitations to “tech events” from organizations which will remain nameless on the grounds that I may want to do business with them some time in the current century. All of them wanted to do something with statistics. And apps. And social media. And whatever that other buzz word was. Maybe ketchup. Or Simpsons.

It reminded me of a Simpsons episode that I could not avoid watching. (What do rocket scientists do when they are not doing rocket science?  They sit in the living room and watch re-runs of the Simpsons over and over. Trust me. I know. )

Homer decides to open an Internet company. The comic book guy comes in as a customer and starts asking about T1 lines, backing up his hard drive on the server and upload and download speed. Homer stares at him for a few seconds and then asks plaintively,

“Can I have money now?”

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE statistics. I think World Statistics Day is a wonderful idea. I think treasure troves like data.gov , the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research are wonderful-squared. The next best thing to sex.

HOWEVER… There are a lot of other data/ statistics/tech/ I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-they-are-doing that are the next best thing to sex with a ketchup packet, with which they have a lot in common.

I must make three points that were not evident to the Homer Simpson wanna-bes.

  1. You are incorrect in the point you try to make in your invitations that, “We need to try all of these things or we won’t know if they work or not.”  Unlike a lot of other things I refer to on this blog, I have never actually tried sex with a ketchup packet and yet, having some knowledge of both sex and ketchup packets, I can still tell you that combining the two is very likely not going to meet with success. Similarly, even though action video games where you kill simulated people in graphic ways, data mining and iPhone apps are all big, having a two-day hack-a-thon where we all drink vodka and Red Bull while trying to create a Lethal Weapon Neural Network app is a bad idea. I’m not coming.
  2. No matter what you tell yourselves, most statisticians are really not all that much sexier than Homer Simpson. As photographic evidence, I have enclosed the following, uh, photograph.

Guess which one is the statistician? I’ll give you a hint. It is not the one with the pierced navel nor the one wearing a dress which caused her sister to punch her, which caused the punched sister to holler “Mom!” which caused the punching sister to mumble defensively, “Well, I THOUGHT they were padded.”

3. Statistics takes a lot of time and effort to get right. You can’t just throw out an invitation, have a bunch of people come into a room and prove that the Central Limit Theorem is incorrect and the answer to every statistics problem is, in fact, six. Let me give you a very simple example. I’ve been playing with some FCC data that I downloaded from data.gov. I wanted to do more with it than just create some maps but the data wasn’t in the format I needed.

So… I wanted to merge some datasets together and look at relationships between variables like the percentage of cross-owned stations and county population. Unfortunately, the variables weren’t coded identically. Here is just one tiny example. Some datasets would have a city listed for media area, such as Dallas. Others would have DALLAS and others still had “Dallas, ETC.” meaning Dallas and surrounding cities. So, I wrote a macro that converted city to uppercase and stripped out the etceteras. Actually, it would work without that IF statement, but it would leave messages in my SAS log and that would be messy.

libname in “e:\fccstuff” ;
%macro fx(dsn) ;
data &dsn ;
set in.&dsn ;
city = UPCASE(CITY) ;
fnd = index(city,”, ETC.”) ;
if fnd > 0 then city = substr(city,1,fnd) ;
drop fnd ;
proc sort ;
by city ;
%mend ;
%fx(tvdigital) ;
%fx(amstations) ;
%fx(lmbcast) ;
%fx(tvnstc) ;

My point is that even if you put the data out there, which is all kinds of wonderful, someone still needs more than rudimentary knowledge to put it together and get more than rudimentary statistics out of it.

It’s because issues like this arise far more often than not that getting to KNOW your data is a crucial part of statistics. That’s something that could happen in 24 hours, if you didn’t sleep, but then you still haven’t gotten to the statistical analysis part.

And maybe you shouldn’t. I read several articles the past few days where the statistics were acceptable, basic multiple regression type of stuff. However, when I read the part before that, where they collected the data, I actually said out loud,
“What are you doing? Your sampling is the equivalent of going outside and collecting rain drops and generalizing from that to the Pacific Ocean, or asking six drunk guys at a bar and predicting the general election! Don’t you know that?!”

The only ones around were the two frogs in the tank on my desk, Type I and Type II. They didn’t answer but I am pretty sure they could have designed a study equally well.

You can’t just skip over the sampling part and report on regression coefficients and t-statistics and think that it won’t be noticed.

My oldest daughter, who is not in the picture, being in Cambridge, wouldn’t notice. She said this requirement for great effort, time and actual numbers is the reason that she wouldn’t find statistics interesting even if you combined it with the Simpsons, sex and ketchup packets.

World Statistics Day is NOT followed by Whack Your Children on the Head Day. But it should be.



I am a huge fan of the OpenGov initiative. In brief, this is an effort mandated by executive order to increase transparency in government. One of the major benefits to people like me with equal parts curiosity, cynicism and gigabytes of RAM is that anyone can access just mountains of government data by going to data.gov and downloading what’s there.

For example, I was interested in mass media in America – who owns it, whether there is equal diversity across the country, and a whole lot of other issues. I just went to the data.gov site, selected “Raw Data Catalog” and went to the government agency I was interested in. (Even though the heading at the top says ALL AGENCIES, there is a menu that allows you to select a lot more than just the agencies in the Cabinet.)

I was interested in the Federal Communications Commission, clicked the box next to it and it gave me a eight choices. Now, eight doesn’t sound like a lot but each of these options includes a LOT of stuff. For example, the FCC Geographic Information System includes a *FREE* copy of ArcExplorer2 which, believe me, is way, way better than the prize you get in a Cracker Jack box.

ArcExplorer2 was super-easy to use. It took just a few minutes to install it, open the FCCgeo project that came with it and start making graphs, like this one, that surprisingly shows much sparser distribution of AM radio stations in the west than on the east coast.

Of course you can see that AM radio distribution pretty much follows the population, being much sparser in the western states. Although there are a lot of stations in California, like the population, the AM stations are clustered along the coast.

However, the relationship with population can’t be that high. Look how densely those dots cover the east coast compared to the west. Really, is North Carolina that much more densely populated than California? That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I’m not a geographer. Does anyone know? Does anyone know if geographer is a real job? Does anyone know any geographers? I don’t.

This example does demonstrate some of what is great about OpenGov.

  1. FREE cool software. Top that!
  2. Data available to answer questions you might have, such as the distribution of AM radio stations.
  3. Data.gov provides just an enormous amount of data available and very easy to find. Tops out manyeyes by about a factor of 1,000 on both the volume of data and usable search dimensions. People who question the ability of the government to do things efficiently and well should check out the data.gov site.
  4. You can do a lot more with the data you get than just what is obvious. For example, of course the map that was produced has data behind it. If you look in the folder that includes the fccgeo project you’ll also find some folders of raw data. You can open those with OpenOffice, Excel, SPSS, SAS or just about anything else that reads csv files. You can merge them together to answer far more questions than were probably considered when these data were made available. And that’s a good thing.

So, that is what  I am doing now, merging datasets, aggregating data, and just looking at it from eleven different directions. Husband says,

“You know, hacking is not generally considered to be a good thing.”

Just because he was right about the hash tables now he’s the programming God of the house. Hmmmph. I plan to ignore him and go right back to happily  hacking at the opengov resources that I downloaded.



I just got back from the Tedx American Riviera. The American Riviera (Riviera apparently being an ancient Indian word meaning “place with nice weather and scenery that is full of rich people”) was held in Santa Barbara.

I liked the TED Talks I saw on youtube and Eric Greenspan had recommended it on Twitter, and he usually has good ideas so I thought “What the hell- ” which is my main motivation for just about everything I do.

It was not what I expected. That being said, if you have a chance to go to any of the TED Talks, I recommend it.

The TED originally stood for Technology Entertainment Design, and I expected more Technology. That being said, what technology that was discussed was way cool. I most liked Jamey Marth’s talk on nanomedicine, Yulan Wang’s on health care robotics and Debra Lieberman’s on health care games. Not only did I like Jay Freeman’s talk on jailbreaking the iPhone but it garnered me major “coolness points” with both my children and my husband. When you have three daughters in their twenties, coolness points are rare, so thank you, Jay.

The most interesting (to me) person I met was Don Oparah. His company, VAI Global, seems to be exactly what I was looking for, sort of a Facebook for grown-ups. I just signed up for it.

Well, obviously, I liked all the technology talks. There was more on environment and sustainability than I expected, and also a lot more of the sort of “live your bliss” new age-y stuff. I’m not a very touchy-feely person but some of it was worth thinking about. Certainly the speaker on the 100 reasons not to have an affair was thought-provoking. In short, he said people have excuses to have affairs like “We never talk” “Our sex life is boring.” His suggestion was that you’d be a lot better off trying to build the relationship you want with the person to whom you are married than find it somewhere else. If you never talk, well – TALK!  He acknowledged it may not be simple – but hey, have you ever tried divorce?

As far as “wanting less” and trying to consume less – I thought those were terrific messages but I was not the only person who noted the irony of that message delivered on California’s coastline of multi-million dollar homes.

On the other hand, if you’re going to pick one group to tell to consume less, this is certainly a good place to start.

Of course, photographer Chris Orwig had the most stunning visuals in his presentation (duh).

I was least looking forward to Shaun Tomson’s presentation. In fact, I almost skipped it. Yeah, he was a world surfing champion. I was a world judo champion. Not that becoming world champion isn’t a hell of a ride – but hey, I already know that story. I don’t want to ruin it for you but let me just say I was riveted to my seat during his talk and drove straight home to see my little girl. Next on my list is to buy his book.

The only disappointment in the event is that there was not that much discussion. I mean, there were random people I struck up conversations with who were really interesting and nice, but I expected some type of organized discussion – discuss with people around you after each talk, or each hour. Instead, it was one (very interesting) talk right after another. During lunch, I was very amused by several people who spent the entire time checking their email and text messages at the table. I can only conclude that they must have been VERY important.

The vision wall was a very cool idea. I heard that was Don Oparah’s idea also so double interesting-cool points for him.

Still, it was well worth going. The non-technology talks were interesting because they brought up ideas I normally would not have thought about in the course of the day – or month. Some ideas, I am still thinking about – like the simple joy of being able to kiss my daughter goodnight when she has fallen asleep on the couch watching some stupid vampire show I told her not to watch.

Driving home I was reminded of the line from Oliver Wendell Holmes.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Yeah, it was very much like that.



We interrupt the prior rambling discussion of high performance computing for a new rambling discussion.

A lot of things bother me – hate crimes, domestic violence, terrorism, drug-related crimes in Mexico, low college graduation rates of minority youth – well, it’s a very long list.

When I was younger, so much younger than today …..

The reason I was fascinated by statistics was because I believed that as (I think it was) Galton said, “If anything exists, then it exists in some quantity and that quantity can be measured.”

My imagination was captured by the idea that EVERYTHING was measurable, from the weight of your cat to your love for your spouse, just some things we hadn’t quite figured out how to measure yet. I also wasted a great many hours reading science fiction books with no real socially redeeming value, and those that painted a picture of a time when we could accurately predict EVERYTHING also enthralled me. On the one hand, those were pretty scary, the idea that some authority would know everything you would do. On the other hand, knowing not to go down that alley or you’ll get knifed, not to have a baby with that person during that month or the child will be anencephalic, well, I can certainly see some value to that.

We now have unthinkably more powerful computers than when I was young and equally incredible masses of data, and yet, we haven’t really come all that far. I mean, it’s great that we now have 46 brands of ketchup, but I think we could do better.

So, I got to thinking  — why not a kind of wikipedia for data? The great thing about wikipedia isn’t that it has facts that you can’t find anywhere else. Quite the contrary, I can’t think of a single topic from sea horse to stars (either the kind tracked by astronomers or the kind tracked by paparazzi ) that you couldn’t find more information on somewhere else. I know a lot of academic researchers look down their noses at wikipedia, but the fact is that it is accessed about a million times more than any academic journal. The three main advantages of wikipedia seem to be:

  1. It’s free, so anyone can use the information.
  2. It’s organized all the topics in one place.
  3. It’s added to by lots of people all the time without a lot of bureaucracy in place. So you have information accumulating at a very rapid pace.

There are a lot of people out there with Ph.D.s. A lot of them aren’t full-time academics.  While we have a lot of awesome open courseware and some really good journals that are free and open access there isn’t that much “open research”. There are masters students, doctoral students, really, really smart people who for whatever reason never finished their bachelors, masters or doctorate and are now teaching high school math or delivering pizzas. (I once knew a guy with a degree in economics from Johns Hopkins who was a pizza delivery person. He never volunteered why and I never asked.)

My point is that there are a lot of smart people out there who could contribute.

What if we had everything from NCES to Census to Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research to data gathered for dissertations and from grant-funded projects just referenced in one spot. (You wouldn’t have to upload 90% of it again, you could just link to it with a description.)

And if people put the results of their analyses up there.

Kind of like ManyEyes with numbers added meets wikipedia.

This would be as different from a refereed article as wikipedia is. And, in the same way, some of the results would be wrong and other people would have to notice and correct them.

You could do this group effort virtually.

Or, you could actually collaborate in person on occasion, kind of like the hack-a-thons.

Why would anybody do that? After all, the prize in these marathon coding sessions is you develop an app and maybe some venture capitalist will give you money and you can work night and day and then be rich and girls will set fire to their scarves in your dorm room.

Maybe some agency could award the winning team a grant to further develop their research. Or maybe we could just do it for the intellectual joy of it and the possibility of discovering knowledge in data that could make the world better. And that knowledge would be available to everybody, not just some central authority or the people who can pay $2,000 for a report.

If you know of anything like this already, please let me know. It’s possible that I just missed it because, you know, there are a lot of websites out there and I have not checked out all of them yet.

Yes, I’d rather do this than making a game where zombies kill people by running over them with stolen cars and then eat their brains.

I know, it’s self-defeating attitudes like mine that keep women from being major players in tech. I’m going to do it anyway.



Hurray, you! You read my last post and now have your data on the high performance computing cluster wherever it is that people were silly enough to give someone like you access.

You have an account. You have data. Now what?

Oh, yeah, you need to connect to your host computer and do stuff.

If you have a Mac …

A) It came with X11. You may have installed it when you installed your OS. (I’m running Snow Leopard and that’s what I did.) If not,
B) according to the forum on dealmac

“Open the Optional Installs folder on the Snow Leopard DVD and run the Optional Installs.mpkg installer.”

I think they’re probably not lying. You should try that.

If you’re not sure if you have X11 installed:

  1. Look in your dock. See if you see a white square with a big grey X. That’s it. Click on that.
  2. If it’s not in your dock, open your applications folder and look in your UTILITIES folder. You should see something named X11. If so, click on that.
  3. If neither of the above, look in the same UTILITIES folder and see if you see something named Terminal. Click on it.
  4. If none of the above work, go back to B above !

If you have Linux ….

If you were paying attention to the last post, you would know that you can find Terminal under the APPLICATIONS menu under ACCESSORIES in Ubuntu.

Once you have X11 (or Terminal) open, type

ssh -Y   username@hostcomputer


ssh -Y annmaria@hpcc.myu.edu

If you forget the -Y, you’ll still be able to do command line commands but anything that requires using windows, like opening up SAS interactively and using the program editor window, using emacs, etc. will give you nasty error messages and you will wish you had paid more attention to me. (As I always tell my children about life in general.)

If you have Windows …

On Windows, I use X-Win32 simply because it is very easy to use and you can download a free 30-day trial if your institution does not have a site license.

  1. Download and install X-Win32
  2. From the START menu, select ALL PROGRAMS then INTERNET TOOLS then X-WIN32 and, finally, under that, select X-CONFIG

The window below will pop-up

3. Select WIZARD and click OK
4. Give your connection a name, like hpcc
5. There will be four types of connections to choose from. Click on SSH and click NEXT
6. You will be asked for a host name to connect to. This is the name of the high performance computing installation at your organization. It will be something like hpc.myu.edu . Fill in the host name and click NEXT.
7. You will be asked for your user name and password. Enter that information.
8. The final window asks you for a command. This is the point where you wonder what the heck you are supposed to put. It also has a window underneath where you can click on a number of choices such as Linux, Solaris, etc.  Select Linux. For command, type:

/usr/bin/xterm –ls

(This  command will start a terminal emulator. The –ls specifies that the shell started in the xterm window will be a login shell.)

9. Click FINISH
10. The new connection name should show up in your window under Shared Sessions. Click OK.

You only need to do the steps above once. Now you have configured your session, in the future you can just X-Win32 from the START menu. When you double-click on it, the window will appear showing all of your sessions. Click on the hpcc session and click the LAUNCH button. A window appears that looks like the one below. You are now connected.

Yes, yes it is very much more complicated with Windows.

And this surprises you, why?

OH! Very annoying thing …. if you click on XWIN32  from the start menu and you don’t see anything, for some weirdo bizarre reason sometimes it just decides to hang out at the bottom right of your screen. Look at the bottom right of your screen for a blue box with an X in it. Click on that and it should open up the window you need.

You can now type in Linux commands – if you know any.



“How often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we hold the key.”

I remember listening to that song by The Eagles at the Mississippi River Fest back when I was a teenager.

Yes, the Mississippi River existed back then.

It’s a good point. So often we are held back in life thinking,

“I could never do that.”

Just think how much faster that job that takes 40 hours on a desktop could run if it used 1,000 CPUs. Many people who are proficient programming on Windows, Mac and even Linux desktops are daunted by the idea of tackling a supercomputer.

I have seen an unfortunate trend among some people in tech, to act as if using any new technology requires god-like powers, or, at a minimum, wizardry.Well, just like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, they’re selling you a bill of goods.

The Truth, in three parts

Here’s the truth – If you know a fair bit about computers, say you can write a SAS or Stata program to merge a dataset, compute a variable and conduct an ANOVA, have a good understanding of one or more operating systems – you probably could learn everything you need to know in a couple of weeks, max, if you put your mind to it.

The second part of the truth – during that week or two, you will swear, be tempted to break things and wonder if you really do need to buy a magic wand and sacrifice a chicken to the computer gods after all.

HOWEVER, after you get through that week or two you will never believe that you used to spend hours waiting for a job to run, that you would put a book on the space bar to keep the computer from going to sleep and stopping your job, that you would submit a job before you left for the day, or for the weekend.

You will find yourself agreeing with the young man who reportedly said, after having sex for the first time,

“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? To hell with baseball!”

[DISCLAIMER: This is not to imply that high-performance computing is better than sex. For one thing, sex takes longer. If it doesn’t for you, re-check your code. If it still doesn’t, well, it’s probably a personal issue and I think they have doctors for that. ]

First of all, what exactly is a super-computer? There is no one set definition, in part, because capacity keeps changing and the speed that was a supercomputer thirty years ago is a lousy desktop today. The preferred term by many centers now is high performance computing. Even that is a misnomer. The “super-computer” at the University of Southern California is actually a cluster of computers.

Basically, you need to know:

1. How to get an account on a high performance computer. All that takes is finding the right person at your organization to give you that access. It shouldn’t take much more effort than signing up for an email account.

2. Getting data on the server. Any ftp program should do. I use Fetch or Cyberduck when I am using a Mac and Filezilla on Windows. When I am using a Linux computer, I just open a Terminal window and use the sftp command. If you are already whining, “I don’t know how to do any of that” – cut it out!!! If you can sign up for Yahoo and send email with it you can use any of the programs I just mentioned. It takes about that level of technical knowhow. You’ll need to know the hostname. That is the name of the computer you log into. It should be something like hpcc.myschool.edu . You’ll need to know your username, which is something like rrousey.  Of the connection options, you want to select sftp . It is more secure than regular FTP, which most organizations won’t even allow and if they do, they shouldn’t. If you need to fill in a port number, use 22. That’s not guaranteed to work, but it’s a very good bet.

As for using the Terminal window – you can find it under the APPLICATIONS menu under ACCESSORIES in Ubuntu. If you have a Mac it is in your APPLICATIONS folder in the UTILITIES folder. Open the Terminal window type

sftp username@hostcomputername

<hit enter>

You’ll be asked for your password. Type that and hit enter.


put /directory/filename  [like,  put /Users/bob/Documents/somefile.txt  ]

<hit enter>

Now type


So you can quit.

[Don’t you hate it when no one tells you how to quit and you are typing “bye”, “logout”, “quit”, “hastalavista” and every other damned thing?]

According to Forbes Magazine, which seems to be run by morons who hate the president of the United States, but that’s another issue, 301 of the top 500 supercomputers in the world run Linux and another 189 run Unix. Having used both systems and very rarely noticed any differences,  for the rest of this post, and maybe  the next post, until I get bored and go on to do something more productive, I’m going to assume that you are using Linux.

3. Some stuff about Linux.

Don’t freak out, Linux isn’t that hard and from the pictures, Linus Torvald, who invented it, looks kind of cute. (The nice thing about being my age is you can say men are cute because even if they think you are hitting on them, no one cares. )

As I said, Linux isn’t that hard, it just takes some getting used to. A lot of times, instead of Windows, icons and folders to click on you just see a blank screen waiting for you to type something on it.

Let’s talk about directories for a while. These are pretty much the same as folders on a Mac or Windows machine, subdivisions of your whole computer which can then be subdivided further.

Your home directory is your personal space. Think of it like the hard drive on your desktop computer. It has your stuff. Normally you don’t need to do anything special to write to it, open files or delete files and no one else has access to it. The two problems with your home directory are that it usually isn’t very big and it isn’t a good choice for sharing files with others.

A project directory is not “yours” even though it may even have a subdirectory with your name on it. I’m going to belabor this point because I have seen it drive people crazy. How can you not have access to your files that are in your subdirectory of the project directory? Simple, really. If I created a folder on my laptop with your name on it, you wouldn’t automatically be able to see it would you? Think of this like a network drive on a windows server. It has a lot more space, which is nice, but someone has to give you access to it. Often project directories have multiple users who can read, write and execute files. Be aware of this before uploading sensitive or potentially embarrassing information.

Read more


WP Themes