Susan Slaughter

Archive for the ‘Detritus’ Category

Computer says…my job is safe

In Detritus, Everything, Writing on January 12, 2018 at 11:04 am

The purpose of this blog is simply to post this link to an article in The Economist.

Click here to read the article “How soon will computers replace The Economist’s science writers?

At this point, I could stop writing because this article falls into the category of No Comment Needed, but that would be too easy.  As a conscientious blogger, I will add that while computers have clearly failed to master technical and scientific writing, they should have no trouble writing literary criticism.

Turkzilla Strikes

In Detritus, Everything on December 11, 2014 at 10:32 am

TurkzillaWhen good graphs go bad….

In case you need a justification for all the turkey you ate on Thanksgiving, this article from Economist magazine explains all while providing a great example of the use and abuse of statistics, in particular why extrapolation is risky business.

And to those who may have consumed more turkey than was good for them:   We thank you!


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.

2013 in review

In Detritus, Everything, Little SAS Book Series, SAS Global Forum on December 31, 2013 at 10:54 am

I am certainly not one to decline when someone offers to write a blog entry for me. Here, courtesy of the stats monkeys at WordPress is the annual report for the blog:

And here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,600 times in 2013. (Yes, that’s more than I expected too.) If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

To all my colleagues and friends

I send best wishes for a

Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Susan’s Life Lesson No. 2

In Detritus, Everything, Life Lessons, SAS on September 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

You have a right to ask for what you want.

You may not get it, but you have a right to ask.

My son took a summer job with the understanding that he would work 20 hours/week.  This would allow him to enroll in summer school at the same time.  At first everything went fine.  Then some of the staff got sick.  There were other staff who would have been happy to increase their hours, but the management didn’t want to pay overtime.  So instead, they increased my son to 40 hours/week.  After two exhausting weeks, he finally spoke up.  But instead of saying, “I would like to work 20 hours/week,” he said, “If it’s all right, I would prefer to work not more than 30 hours/week.”  Sure enough, they gave him 30 hours/week.

I told him “Here’s a lesson I have learned from experience.  You have a right to ask for what you want.  You may not get it, but you have a right to ask.  If you don’t ask, how is anyone supposed to know what you want?  You should never feel awkward about asking for what you want.”

Roadside Wisdom

In Detritus, Everything, Life Lessons, SAS on November 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

I’m not normally a fan of graffiti. But I have been quite taken with one particular instance of graffiti that appeared in my neighborhood a few months ago. Here it is:

Sign saying "Yield to Traffic in Circle of Life"

I don’t know who wrote this, but I like their way of taking something ordinary and injecting it simultaneously with humor and profundity.

For a while now you might say that I have been yielding to traffic in the Circle of Life. But the traffic seems to be thinning out these days, and I have a backlog of half-written posts. With a little luck, I hope to be moving along in the Circle of Life and have more to say in the future.

Big Data in the News

In Detritus, Everything, SAS on November 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

As a SAS programmer, the idea of Big Data is nothing new to me.  Decades have passed since I first wrestled with the special challenges of making sense out of huge data sets. Some things have changed, of course.  A million records doesn’t seem as remarkable now as it did 20 years ago, but the basic principles involved are still the same; we just have a lot more computing power at our command now.  So it’s interesting to me to see that the idea of Big Data has finally–even suddenly–hit the mainstream.

Here’s a prime example from National Public Radio: The Search for Analysts to Make Sense of Big Data.

I don’t agree with every claim this journalist makes. (Math and Statistics are not the only routes to success in data analysis. What you need is a logical mind and you’re just as likely to find that in someone majoring in Home Ec or Art as in Math and Stats.) And no discussion of Big Data is complete without mention of the fact that SAS Institute practically invented the field.  Despite those shortcomings, the fact that Big Data has attracted this much attention is good news for SAS programmers everywhere.

The Promise of Living

In Detritus, Everything on May 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

In Memorium

Robert D. Jensvold

The Promise of Living

November 13, 1928 to March 10, 2011

During the few weeks when my father was sick, I discovered an instrumental version of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land Suite” and fell in love with one particular movement, playing it over and over and over….

I just learned that “The Tender Land” is an opera with libretto by Horace Everett—and the movement I fell in love with is named “The Promise of Living.”  The story is about a family living on a farm in the Midwest during the Depression.  As a young boy, my father lived on his family’s homestead in Kansas—until a massive swarm of locust ate all the crops and the farmhouse burned down.  In other words, he grew up on a farm in the Midwest during the Depression.  Coincidence?

Here are the words:

The promise of living
With hope and thanksgiving
Is born of our loving
Our friends and our labor.

The promise of growing
With faith and with knowing
Is born of our sharing
Our love with our neighbor.

The promise of living
The promise of growing
Is born of our singing
In joy and thanksgiving.

For many a year I’ve known this field
And know all the work that makes her yield.
Are you ready to lend a hand?
I’m ready to work, I’m ready to lend a hand.
By working together we’ll bring in the harvest,
the blessings of harvest.

We plant each row with seeds of grain,
And Providence sends us the sun and the rain.
By lending a hand, by lending an arm
Bring out, bring out from the farm
Bring out the blessings of harvest.

Give thanks there was sunshine,
Give thanks there was rain,
Give thanks we have hands
To deliver the grain.

O let us be joyful,
O let us be grateful to the Lord
For his blessing.

 The promise of ending
In right understanding
Is peace in our own hearts
And peace with our neighbor

The promise of living
The promise of growing
The promise of ending
Is labor and sharing and loving.

Berkeley Opera, April 2010 video by Jeremy Knight copyright 2010 echidnamedia

PowerPoint: A Cautionary Tale

In Detritus, Everything, SAS, SAS Global Forum on March 8, 2011 at 9:52 am

PowerPoint: A Cautionary TaleWith SGF 2011 fast approaching, I’m sure I’m not the only speaker  hard at work preparing my PowerPoint presentations.  I can remember the old days when speakers brought actual slide trays full of film slides.  I don’t miss the expense of those slides or the amount of room they took in my suitcase, and it is wonderful to be able to fix any typos you may discover at the last minute.  Still PowerPoint has its limitations….

If you haven’t seen Peter Norvig‘s Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation, then you definitely should. It’s not new, but I just recently learned about it from my son.  Click here to see what is possibly the most entertaining PowerPoint presentation ever created.

Greatest Hits of 2010

In Detritus, Everything, SAS, SAS Global Forum, SAS Papers on January 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

I should have posted this a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been hard at work writing papers for SAS Global Forum (more about that in future posts!).

These were the popular posts and pages on in 2010.

1) What can I use SAS for?

2) Top 10 Reasons to Use SAS Enterprise Guide

3) SAS Papers, Etc.

4) A SAS Horror Story

5) Highlights of SAS Global Forum

Best Wishes for a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!