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.

A Better Lotion Bottle

For many of us, winter in the Upper Midwest means dry, cracked hands and nasty splits at the ends of our thumbs and fingers.  The only way to avoid or at least mitigate this is to apply lotion to your hands after every hand washing, because soap removes too much of your skin’s natural moisturizing oils (lipids).

I’m not a big fan of pump dispensers when it comes to lotion.  When the pump has pumped all the lotion it can, there is still a lot of lotion left behind in the bottle.  And most of us don’t want to go through the extra effort needed to get to the remaining lotion, so we throw the bottle out rather than utilizing the remaining lotion and then recycling the bottle.

Wasteful lotion container on the left – Better lotion container on the right

Recently, just to see how much lotion was left in a Gold Bond® pump dispenser (excellent lotion, by the way), we used a razor blade to cut all the way around the midsection of the lotion bottle, separating it into roughly two halves.  Then we used a spoon to scoop out all the remaining lotion in the two halves and put it into a clean plastic tub—formerly a sour cream container.  The amount of leftover lotion is substantial, as you can see in the photograph below.  A many-days supply, to be sure!

Leftover lotion from a seemingly empty pump dispenser

We consumers need to put pressure on pump-dispenser lotion manufacturers to package their lotions in containers that make it easy to extract all the lotion.  Some lotion manufacturers are already doing this, and we should purchase their products.  O’Keeffe’s® Working Hands® is one good example.

You can get all of the lotion out of a container like this

Sometimes, lotion manufacturers package their product in both types of containers—pump dispensers and tub containers—but your local grocery store, pharmacy, or big-box store only carries the less environmentally-friendly pump-dispenser type of container.  Do your research, and meet with the store manager to ask them to carry the tub container alternative instead of—or in addition to—the pump dispenser.

Each and every day we can make choices that are better for our environment.  This is yet another example: use all the product and make it easy to recycle the container.

Renters and Flood Plains

The catastrophic flooding in Houston brings back terrible memories of  the flood I experienced during the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 26, 2015 when my apartment in the Meyerland area of Houston took on three feet of water and I lost most of my belongings including my car.  There was no warning that the Brays Bayou would leave its banks that night.  My Meyergrove apartment has flooded again twice since I left Houston in September 2015: once on April 18, 2016, and again this weekend.  This frequency of flooding is unprecedented in that area of Houston.

Flood scene from 2nd floor balcony of my apartment building during morning twilight, May 26, 2015.

Everyone with a ground floor apartment lost most of their belongings in my apartment complex during the Memorial Day Weekend 2015 flood.  No one I talked to had flood insurance, and everyone had renter’s insurance that did not cover their flood damage, so they lost a lot.

Brays Bayou from the 2nd floor balcony of my apartment building, morning of May 26, 2015.

Which brings up an important point.  Why are there not laws to require lessors to disclose to renters when the apartment or house they are renting sits in a flood plain?  If the lessor has flood insurance on their property, then they should be required to inform their tenants of that fact and clearly communicate that the tenant should purchase flood insurance in addition to their renter’s insurance.  After all, when you are buying a house, you cannot get a home loan unless you purchase flood insurance if you are living in a flood-prone area.  Why do not renters have the same protection?

Perhaps there are other areas of the country where landlords have to disclose to their renters if they will be living in a flood plain, but there appears to be no such protection for renters in the state of Texas.

 

 

Yellow LED Astronomy Flashlights

Back when I had my astronomy-friendly outdoor lighting business, I used to sell yellow-LED flashlights that I bought from Robert D. Mantell in North Hollywood, California, under the trademark Lo-Glo™.

The Houston flood Memorial Day weekend 2015 wiped out the remaining inventory I had and, sadly, these wonderful flashlights are no longer available.

It is not rocket science.  You need to start with a well-made flashlight, replace the regular bulb with a yellow LED and the appropriate current-limiting resistor, and voila!

Yellow may be better than red.  See the article by Robert Dick, “Is Red Light Really Best?”, in the June 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope.

There’s a great business opportunity here.  It wouldn’t take much to make a better astronomy flashlight than what Orion and others sell.  Besides, I have found these yellow-LED flashlights to be most useful for moving around the house after bedtime (such as a bathroom trip) to avoid being exposed to any bright light at night which would affect your night vision and even your circadian rhythm.

If you know of any astronomy-friendly yellow LED flashlights or would like to manufacture some, please post a comment here or contact me directly.

Bob Mantell’s wonderful yellow LED / amber LED astronomy flashlight

These flashlights are also perfect for getting around the house at night without having to turn lights on, the glove box of your car, reading at night, and many other uses as well.