Susan Slaughter

How I Got Started with Computers

In Detritus, Everything, Writing on July 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm

This is not your typical tech story.

I trace my life as a programmer back to ninth grade, not to a computer class or even a math class, but to English. 

In ninth grade, I was fortunate to have English with Miss Burke who, along with the standard Shakespeare and expository writing, slipped in material which was decidedly not part of the official curriculum.  She taught us substantial, meaty lessons in grammar.  This was not the namby-pamby stuff that usually passes for grammar.  (Does ANYBODY care about the subject and predicate?  I certainly don’t.)  Instead we studied the logic of natural language: dependent and independent clauses, direct and indirect objects, and the sacred eight parts of speech.  Ok, I made up the sacred part, but just because I’m still so excited about this.  She told us, “A sentence is a complete thought”—and it was an epiphany for me.  I loved it!

Little did I know at the time that syntax is syntax is syntax whether you are talking about a spoken language or a computer language.  The rules of some languages are more arbitrary than others (anyone remember JCL?) , but if you don’t follow the rules, then what you write won’t make sense regardless of whether you are talking to people or computers.

That’s why it bugs me when programmers mess up English syntax such as the correct use of subjective and objective pronouns like who and whom.  I think, “It’s all syntax.  You should know this!”  But I digress.

The point I would like to make is this: Women are still grossly underrepresented in the computer field.  Maybe women would be more interested if someone explained to them that talking to a computer is a lot like talking to a person.

SAS Global Forum 2015 Here I Come!

In Everything, SAS, SAS Global Forum, SAS Papers on March 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

I first attended SAS Global Forum (then called SAS Users Group International) way back in 1987.  Since then I have attended as often as possible.  Unfortunately, 2014 is not one of my years.  I will not be there in Washington DC March 23-26, 2014 to hear the great presentations, or learn about exciting new features from developers in the Demo Room, or see the many friends I have made over the years.  You can be sure that when March 23 comes, I’ll be hanging out in front of my computer to catch the Opening Session and any other live-streamed events I can glean.

Since I can’t be there this year, I’m already looking ahead.  I plan to be in Dallas next year for SGF April 26-29, 2015.  I might even make a presentation or two. I’m already trying to figure out possible topics for a paper or panel.  So I was intrigued when I heard a segment on the public radio program Marketplace about this very issue.  They have developed a Panel Generator to invent promising session topics for you.  Here’s the link.  Just click the Pick a Panel button, and they will create an original topic just for you.

Here are a few I’m considering:

Programmers Are Dead, Long Live Programmers

The Path to Freelancing: Innovation Sauce

Data Is Dead, Long Live Data [sic]

7 Things Coders Need to Know About Maximizing

Infographics Are Dead, Long Live Infographics

Your Profile is Your Brand

Coders as Employers: The Big Shift from Interaction

How to Redesign Developers with Artisanal Selfies

From Incubators to the Digital Divide: An Introduction to Success

Let me know if you’d like to hear me talk about any of these topics at SGF 2015, and I’ll try to figure out what they are.

NOWINDOWS Goes Out the Window

In Everything, Little SAS Book Series, SAS, SAS Global Forum on February 18, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I just discovered by accident a new “feature” in SAS 9.4, one that apparently wasn’t glamorous enough to be mentioned back at SAS Global Forum last spring.

Starting with SAS 9.4, by default, PROC REPORT runs in noninteractive mode.

In other words, you no longer have to specify the NOWINDOW option in order to avoid that clunky interactive REPORT window.  If you are one of the half dozen people who actually want that window, you can still open it by specifying the WINDOWS option on the PROC REPORT statement.  (Be sure you type that S because it’s WINDOWS not WINDOW.)  But since I have always detested the REPORT window, you won’t find me doing that.  So you would think I would be happy.  Instead, this change leaves me feeling conflicted and confused.

This is the kind of change that makes programmers cheer—and technical writers cringe! 

Why, oh why, couldn’t the good developers at SAS have defenestrated the REPORT window back with SAS 9.3 so that we could have incorporated this change into the newest edition of The Little SAS Book?  Arrrrg!  The Fifth Edition is only one year old and already obsolete—though fortunately only slightly so.

If you want more information, you can find this change documented in the What’s New in Base SAS 9.4 Procedures Guide.

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