Cell Phone Fiasco

I am one of the holdouts who really has no interest in carrying around a smartphone everywhere I go. I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen, get far too many emails to keep up with, and have even less time for social media. I treasure the precious little time I have to be “unplugged” and do not want my treasured (and increasingly rare) face-to-face interactions to be interrupted by technology—nor do I want to be distracted by it.

To me, a screen is to be viewed, not touched. I much prefer a physical keyboard, and web browsing on a large screen. I hate all the pop-up ads on a smartphone browser, and all the places you go to accidentally while swiping to scroll.

For several years, I have had a great basic cellular phone with a slide-out keyboard, the LG Cosmos 3.

The LG Cosmos 3 – A Basic Phone with Slide-Out Keyboard

I do more texting than phoning, so this phone works great for that, and it is smaller than a smartphone. Recently, the charging port on my LG Cosmos 3 gave out and I could no longer charge the phone.

LG Cosmos 3 Charging Port
USB to Micro USB Charging Cable

There has got to be a better way to charge a phone like this that avoids all the wear and tear plugging and unplugging the micro USB plug into the phone. I first took the phone to a couple of phone repair shops in Madison, but they both said they could not fix or replace the port. I then took the phone to Verizon. Here’s what I found out:

  1. Verizon cannot fix the LG Cosmos 3 charging port.
  2. The LG Cosmos 3 is no longer available.
  3. The LG Cosmos 3 is a 3G device, and Verizon will be shutting that network down on 12/31/19 so even if the phone could be fixed, it won’t work after that date, nor will any other 3G device.
  4. No cell phone is currently available with a slide-out keyboard.

What?! No basic phone with a slide-out keyboard for texting? After spending several hours researching other cellular phone service providers and manufacturers, I discovered that no 4G/LTE phone with a slide-out keyboard exists. My only basic phone option was to go back to a flip phone where texting would require the multi-tap entry system on 12 keys. Slow and tedious, like it was on earlier generations of cell phones. This is progress?

After a second visit to the Verizon store, I decided to purchase the LG Exalt LTE flip phone. My very positive experience using the LG Cosmos 3 gave me a good reason to stick with LG. Though I like the LG Exalt LTE phone, texting is tedious. I really hope that LG will release an LTE version of the Cosmos 3. LG Cosmos 4, perhaps?

If you feel as I do that cell phone manufacturers like LG should once again offer a basic phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard, please sign this petition on Change.org:

https://www.change.org/p/lg-ask-manufacturers-to-make-a-4g-qwerty-flip-phone

Anyone Need a Good SAS Programmer?

My current company, despite my objections and expertise, is phasing out SAS, and I think it is a misguided decision.

I am only about three years away from semi-retirement, but you won’t find a more motivated worker.  Not only am I a top flight SAS programmer with many years of experience, but I’m also very good at teaching and mentoring others in the use of SAS—something I almost never get to do in my current position.

I need a change.

I have “big city” job skills in a small town where there appear to be no other employers who would be able to make use of my SAS expertise.  And, at this stage of my life, I can’t relocate and am unwilling to commute, so working from home appears to be the only option.

I’m looking at potential opportunities as an “encore career” and would really like to do something that directly benefits society.  I loved my 21 years at the Iowa Department of Transportation, and would love to be a public servant once again, or to work for a nonprofit organization. Or work on scientific projects—true science, not data “science”. Or, data for good projects.  Both salary and number of work hours (up to full time) are completely negotiable.  I’m at a point now in my career where I can be more flexible for the right opportunity.

I have my own personal SAS Analytics Pro license, so could do work for you even if you don’t have SAS.

SAS is a great product, and SAS Institute is a great company.  And SAS keeps getting better all the time.

Some say that SAS is difficult to learn, but, like many things, it is not difficult at all if you have a good teacher who has a thorough understanding of the subject matter and a passion for teaching it. That would be me.

In Praise of Indexes

SAS Press recently discontinued selling physical books, and now offers publications only in an electronic format (EPUB, Kindle, and PDF). I’m sure this is not an isolated incident and many other smaller publishing houses are going the same route.

I recently purchased the 3rd edition of Kirk Paul Lafler’s useful book, PROC SQL: Beyond the Basics Using SAS. I have the first and second editions of his book in softcover, and I was pleased to find that I could order a physical copy of his third edition through Amazon. After receiving the book, I quickly discovered that the third edition no longer includes an index!

I contacted SAS about the omission of the index, and received a prompt and courteous reply:

“You are correct about the index.  Indexes are no longer a standard part of our print books.  I do understand your concern, and have forwarded your feedback to the appropriate editors. All of our e-books are searchable. If you would like a complimentary copy of the corresponding e-book, I will be happy to forward that to you.”

I learned that neither the hardcopy nor the electronic version of the book contains an index.

I know I am 63 years old, and maybe not as immersed in modern technology as my younger colleagues, but since when did an index become a dispensable part of any non-fiction book?

First page of the index of PROC SQL: Beyond the Basics Using SAS, Second Edition

A good index is like a table of contents, only much more detailed. Sure, you can search a PDF for a particular term, but what if you can’t think of the term you’re searching for? For example, you might not remember that the type of many-to-many join you are looking for is called a Cartesian product, but when you see this term in the index it jogs your memory and you can find it on pages 237 and 242, which then leads you to the term cross join.

Another problem with searching through a document is that I have yet to see any search provide the ability to search for more than one non-contiguous terms at a time on a page or adjacent pages. A well-crafted index is often more effective than one-dimensional searching at finding topics that can’t easily be reduced to a single word or term.

Index subheadings, such as shown for CASE expressions above, are also hard to replace with one-dimensional searching.

Indexing is so important and requires such skill (to do it right) that there is even a professional organization for it: the American Society for Indexing.

I hope you can see now that every non-fiction book, printed or electronic, needs an index to help you quickly find the information you need.

In Praise of SAS

I’ve been writing programs in SAS since 1985. Back then, it was SAS 5.15 on an IBM mainframe computer (remember JCL, TSO, ISPF?) at the Iowa Department of Transportation. Today, it is SAS 9.4, under Windows 10 at home and Linux at work.

I love this language. It is elegant. It is beautiful. I’ve become an expert. I’ve never had a computational problem to solve, a data manipulation to do, a process to automate, or a report to write that I couldn’t do with SAS.

New features are being added all the time, and I am constantly learning and improving to keep up with it all. And the legacy code still runs just fine. Peace of mind. The company behind this success story is SAS Institute, based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS Institute has the best technical support of any company I have ever dealt with, and that is as true today as it was in 1985, and all the years in between. Again, peace of mind.

I’ve heard from multiple sources that SAS Institute is a fabulous place to work, and it shows in their software, their customer service, and the passion their employees have for making SAS software the best it can be—and helping us solve just about any analytics problem. Inspiring. And you won’t find a more passionate user community anywhere. At least not with any company that has been around as long as SAS has (since 1976).

SAS Institute is the world’s largest private software company, and being privately owned has much to do with their success and consistency, I believe. No greedy shareholders to please. SAS Institute need answer only to their customers, and to their employees. That’s the way it should be.

Computer languages have come in and out of vogue over the years: FORTRAN, PL/I, Pascal, C, C++, Perl, Java, R, Python, etc., and with each new language that comes along, SAS absorbs the best elements and moves forward to the next challenge.

Python is currently very popular, as is open source in general, and I have no doubt that SAS will incorporate the most valuable functionality of Python and open source (already in progress) and keep tooling along like a well-oiled machine. In another ten years, SAS will be incorporating another new language that will have supplanted Python as the programming language du jour.

You’ve got to admire a company like that. In an era when everyone wants — even expects — “stuff for free”, the old adage “you get what you pay for” still applies. Yes, SAS is expensive—and I’m hoping their mature “core” product will come down in price—but I can’t complain too loudly because quality, longevity, and dependability costs money. It always has.

I’ve noticed that our younger open source programmers use a lot of different tools to do their work. One big advantage of SAS is that I can do most of my work using one tool – SAS. SAS provides a beautifully integrated and far-reaching data analytics environment.



Year-Round Daylight Saving Time?

I’ve never been a fan of daylight saving time. During the warmest months for stargazing and other astronomy activities, daylight saving time (DST) puts the end of twilight (and every other astronomical event) an hour later: near, at, or past bedtime for children and early-rising adults.

The last time we tinkered with DST in the U.S. was to extend it in 2007 to begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November (previously it was the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October). We currently observe daylight saving time 65.4% of the year (almost ⅔) and standard time the remaining 34.6% of the year (a little over ⅓).

DST is a zero-sum game. Getting that extra hour the first weekend in November sure is nice, but we pay for it when we lose an hour the second weekend in March. For a few days in November, we feel like we’re sleeping in an extra hour, but for a few days in March, we feel like we’re getting up an hour earlier than usual.

While I would much prefer to stay on standard time all year long nationwide, there doesn’t appear to be much public support for that. On the other hand, there is a groundswell of support for going to year-round DST. Even this would be preferable to our current system, in my opinion.

We have toyed with the idea of year-round DST once before: from January 6, 1974 to October 27, 1974. During the winter months in early 1974, there was a lot of public outcry about schoolchildren going to school in the dark, and I’m sure the pre-sunrise cold was a factor, too. So, the year-round DST experiment was terminated early (it was supposed to last until April 27, 1975). Would it be any different this time around?

Northern states (where the winter nights are longest) would be most affected by year-round DST, as would areas in the far-western reaches of each of the time zones. Here in Wisconsin, we would see something like the following:

Some Highlights of Year-Round Daylight Saving Time in Wisconsin (times are for Dodgeville, WI)
  • Earliest End of Evening Twilight: 7:08 p.m. (around December 6)
  • Earliest Sunset: 5:26 p.m. (around December 9)
  • Latest Sunrise: 8:32 a.m. (around January 3)
  • Latest Onset of Morning Twilight: 6:50 a.m. (around January 6)
DateSunriseSunset
November 17:35 a.m.5:53 p.m.
November 157:53 a.m.5:37 p.m.
December 18:12 a.m.5:27 p.m.
December 158:25 a.m.5:27 p.m.
January 18:32 a.m.5:36 p.m.
January 158:29 a.m.5:51 p.m.
February 18:16 a.m.6:13 p.m.
February 157:59 a.m.6:31 p.m.
March 17:36 a.m.6:51 p.m.
March 157:12 a.m.7:08 p.m.

I have an idea. If we extend DST to year-round, why not also start the school day an hour later? There are studies that show that most students would benefit from a later start of the school day. Of course, that would also mean that many parents would probably want to start their work day an hour later, too. But if we do that, then what’s the point in going to year-round DST in the first place?

Many states are currently considering and some have even passed legislation extending DST to year-round, but federal law will have to change to allow any of these states to do this. Right now, states only have the right to opt out of DST altogether, as Arizona and Hawaii currently do.

Retirement Advice?

I’ll be 63 in a couple of months. My the years go fast, faster still of late.

Naturally, I’m beginning to look toward retirement when I can finally devote nearly all my time and energy to astronomy, preservation and restoration of our nighttime environment, and classical music. These three avocations have been my primary interests all of my adult life.

I’m in need of some retirement advice by someone who is not trying to sell me a financial product. I’d like to semi-retire as soon as possible, but want to wait until age 70 to collect Social Security when the monthly benefit reaches a maximum. So, I guess that means gradually cutting back work hours and supplementing the lost income with some retirement benefits.

I’m in a good position in terms of having a marketable work skill for the semi-retirement years. You’d be hard pressed to find a better SAS programmer. I’ll be at SAS Global Forum 2019 in Dallas this spring if you want to talk.

Honestly, I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I started this blog back in December 2016. First, Trump got elected, and that made me realize how bad things have gotten in this country. That someone so boorish and with zero job skills as a public servant got elected as President of the United States is both frightening and depressing. And the national nightmare continues. Then, last fall, my employer moved everyone except for management into an open office environment, which I hate. Throughout my work career, I’ve always had my own office or a cubicle and now I’m in a big open room with lots of distractions and a desk half the size of what I had just a few months ago, and no place to put my books, so I had to bring them all home. No one wants to learn SAS at my company anymore, even though I do amazing things with it every day. I’m in high demand, but they’re not hiring anybody anymore with SAS skills. That’s depressing, because it is a great language and a great company and SAS Institute most definitely continues to innovate. But open source is the name of the game where I work now.

It is easy to feel isolated living in a small town. As my friend Jeff Dilks once said when he was a physics teacher in Shenandoah, Iowa, the chances of finding anyone else in a small town (or rural area) with similar interests and abilities are vanishingly small if you have “big city” interests and a specialized education. That’s true, but where else are you going to live if you want to do observational astronomy and ride a bicycle to and from work? Quality of life issues like that, you know. But loneliness, yes, and I imagine that gets to be more of a challenge in our later years.

For something like 30 years, I’ve wanted to help develop and nurture a science-oriented and education-oriented intentional community where astronomy is a major focus. I even have a name for it: Mirador Astronomy Village. Can’t think of a better way to spend my retirement years, but it takes serious money to get something like this off the ground, and money I don’t have.

With open office and all (which is pretty much ubiquitous nowadays), I’ve soured on the idea of working for “Corporate America” any longer. I’d be much happier as a public servant, trying to make the world a better place and helping to solve the many problems for which Corporate America is not the answer, and has no answers.

Desiderata

The word desideratum has been a part of the English language since at least 1651, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which provides this definition:

Something for which a desire or longing is felt; something wanting and required or desired.

This word comes from the Latin dēsīderātum “thing desired”, and its plural is desiderata.

The French astronomer Auguste Charlois (1864-1910) discovered the asteroid 344 Desiderata on 15 Nov 1892 at the Nice Observatory, in southeastern France near the border with Italy. Like most of his 99 asteroid discoveries between 1887 and 1904, it is named to honor a woman. In this case, that would be Désirée Clary (1777-1860), French woman who became Queen Desideria of Sweden.

On 25 Feb 2019, I recorded 14.1-magnitude 344 Desiderata passing in front of the 14.6-magnitude star UCAC4 639-020401 in the constellation Auriga. Right before the event, star and asteroid formed a 13.6-magnitude blended image, and when the asteroid covered up the star, the brightness dipped 0.5 magnitude to the brightness of the asteroid alone. This great cover-up event lasted 16.8 seconds. Here’s a light curve of the event as a function of time.

Light curve of asteroid 344 Desiderata passing in front of UCAC4 639-020401 in Auriga

That dip to the right (after) the asteroid covered up the star suggests that a smaller satellite of the asteroid might have also passed in front of the star. Alas, it is only noise. We can tell this by looking at the light curve of a nearby comparison star at the same time.

Wind gust caused a dip in brightness of both stars at the same time after the main occultation event
A view of just the comparison star clearly showing the dip in brightness from a wind gust

Here is the smoothed and fitted light curve of the asteroid occultation event.

Asteroid occultation of the star UCAC4 639-020401 by the asteroid 344 Desiderata on 25 Feb 2019


Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) wrote a prose poem Desiderata (Latin: “things desired”) in 1927 that has since become well known, and for good reason.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Pet Peeves

Here is a list of 10 irritations, in no particular order, that make me feel like an alien on my own planet.

  1. High color temperature headlights – Traditional automotive headlights have a yellowish-white color temperature of 3200K. Xenon headlights emit a bluish-white light around 4500K. LED lights are even bluer at around 6000K. These new “blue” headlights make me want to give up night driving altogether. They are too glary and too bright for oncoming traffic. Add in the same for so-called “fog” lights, and the result is often blinding for other drivers.
  2. High color temperature LED lights – While we’re on the topic of lighting, most indoor and outdoor LED lighting should have a color temperature between 2700K and 3000K. This provides a soothing yellow-white light instead of the garish and glary blue-white LED lights in common use today with a color temperature of 4000K or even higher.
  3. Dusk-to-dawn lighting – With the availability of modern light sources, control, and dimming technologies, most outdoor lighting does not need be on or running at full brightness all night long.
  4. Television advertisements – I don’t know how anyone can stand to watch television because there are so many advertisements. I’ve given up watching anything that has advertisement propaganda embedded within the program.
  5. Dystopian movies and television programs – Why would anyone find a dystopian portrayal of the future entertaining or even desirable? I find it utterly horrifying and we should do everything possible to make sure such a future never occurs. Furthermore, I find the amount of violence and aggression in movies and television appalling. This is entertainment? No thanks, I’ve got better things to do with my time.
  6. TV Screens in Restaurants – When I’m dining at a restaurant, just about the last thing I want to see is the distraction of one or more television screens. I’m there to enjoy the food and the company I’m with and screens of any kind are intrusive.
  7. Overuse of smartphones – So many people seem addicted to their smartphones. I don’t generally use one and get along just fine. As much as I use computers in my everyday life, I don’t want one with me everywhere I go. I am really thankful I grew up before personal computers and smartphones existed. Gives one a different perspective.
  8. Sports – I have absolutely no interest in sports. Physical fitness and healthful living, yes, but sports seems like a big waste of time. I don’t see how so many folks can get so excited about something that does absolutely nothing to make the world a better place.
  9. Hunting – I don’t see how anyone can derive pleasure out of depriving another animal of its life. It’s just sick. It is one thing to kill an animal if it is necessary for survival, or self-defense, but for sport it is disgusting. For necessary animal population control, why not use high-tech science-based birth control methods instead?
  10. Pets – I love seeing animals in nature, but have no interest in owning or taking care of a domesticated animal. I much prefer solitude or the company of people. I’m too busy to have any time for a pet, anyway. Don’t like it when you visit someone and their dog or cat jumps on you or licks you. Yuck.

Office Blues

I’ve been in the work force for 38 years, and I have always had a cubicle with full-height partitions or an office of my own.  As a computer programmer, I’ve always needed to concentrate intensely for most of the work day.  That requires a certain amount of freedom from visual and auditory distractions.  I need to focus.

This week, the work environment I have had throughout my career is being taken away from me, forcibly, as it is for all of us where I work.  We had no input.  No explanation was given.  The decision was made at the highest levels of our company’s management.  We are moving to open office.

We still have cubicles—if you want to call them that—but no partition is higher than eye level when sitting in an office chair.  No more upper shelves, no more book shelves.  Only a work surface and a meager amount of drawer storage underneath.  No more physical barriers between rows.  Just one big, noisy, overilluminated room.  Everything and everyone exposed for all to see from anywhere in the room.

Speaking of illumination, as part of the office “improvements” they have also replaced the warm white fluorescent lights we have used for decades—with a correlated color temperature (CCT) around 3000 to 4000 K—with significantly brighter and bluer LED lights having a CCT of 4000 to 5000K or higher.  It provides a cold, harsh, clinical illumination, not at all like the natural daylight they are trying to emulate.  LEDs are, of course, readily available in the warmer color temperatures of 2700K to 4000K.

I am not alone.  Many of my coworkers—some much younger than me—do not like open office nor the bluer, brighter lights we now have to endure.

This just adds additional stress to an already stressful job.  When is management going to learn that one size does not fit all?

Anyone need a top-flight SAS programmer with good communication, mentoring, and teaching skills?

Further reading…

The Unintended Effects of Open Office Space
https://www.hbs.edu/news/articles/Pages/bernstein-open-offices.aspx

One Good Shirt Deserves Another

Who hasn’t tried to replace an article of clothing when it finally wears out, only to find that it is no longer available?  When I find something I like, I like to stick with it—or at least something quite similar.  Increasingly, I am having a harder and harder time finding clothing I like.  Is it my age?

Take, for example, long sleeve shirts.  I like button-down dress casual shirts, but if you’re looking for a pattern shirt that doesn’t include blue, good luck.  Look at the shirt below.  It goes well with tan or brown pants, but I can’t find anything like it anywhere!  For such a basic style, this really surprises me.

Here’s a close-up showing the pattern:

So, the moral of the story is if you find an article of clothing you like, purchase another two of them right away, because there’s no guarantee it will be available (or of the same quality) in a couple of years when you’ll be wanting to replace it with something comparable.

Unless, of course, it is blue.