Brighten Your Day with a Light Therapy Lamp

It is that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the days are getting shorter, the nights longer, and the sun hangs lower in the sky. Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) probably affects all of us to some extent. What to do?

Well, I understand that studies have shown that exposing your retinas to bright light, in the sunlight wavelengths, can improve mood and functioning. A variety of therapeutic lamps are available. Some of the least expensive ones sit on your table or desk, and shine up at a slight angle while you read or watch a movie. An example of this type is the Nature Bright SunTouch Plus ( $49 ), shown below. The lamp is ideally positioned quite close to your eyes, say 12 inches (30 cm), in order to get the recommended photons into them.

Our family has gotten a lot of mileage out of a somewhat more expensive but more versatile lamp. This is the Day-Light Sky lamp  ($113).

It has joints at the top and the bottom of its support arm, so you can use it like a desk lamp, to give strong lighting to some project you are working on, or have it therapeutically shine into your eyes, like this happy camper:

In that mode, you’d want to keep your gaze level or only slightly downward, since not much light would get into your pupils if you had your head down reading. Our family uses this on the counter or table whilst preparing or eating breakfast (it is best to get your photons in early in the day). It also works well positioned beside your shoulder as a cheery reading light.

Camping in Style in an “Instant Cabin” Tent

This is the time of year when we often think of gifts to give to others, or for others to give to us, if they are so moved. So I will share an item which took a bit of research to lock in on, and which has worked out very well in practice.

When I was in my teens, I was content to throw a sleeping bag on a tarp right on the ground when camping. In my 20s, I used a half inch thick dense foam pad, a classic Ridge Rest. I wanted a little more cushion under me in my 30s, and so graduated to a 1.5 inch thick self-inflating sleeping pad like this Stansport. For backpacking in my 40s and 50s, I craved yet more air space underneath me, especially for curling up on my side, and got good usage out of a narrow, 2.5 inch thick inflatable sleeping pad.

Now my wife and I are pretty much done with roughing it. We still enjoy the great outdoors, but find we enjoy it even more when we have essentially all the comforts of home, which includes a full size queen air mattress. It takes a pretty big tent to accommodate that plus all our other gear, without feeling squashed.

I have had some large tents in the past, which were very tedious to set up. So I was pleased to find a huge, airy tent, which almost erects itself. This is the Ozark Trails 9-Person Instant Cabin.

Image from Amazon website

The main room is 9 x 14 ft, which is plenty big for glamor-camping (glamping) for two people. In huddled masses mode, probably 8 bodies would fit comfortably. The tent has a screen room across the front, for a bug-free place to sit. The fly over the screen room provides a roof over the door to the main room, keeping out rain even when the tent door is opened.  Here are two views from within on our latest camping trip, first looking out the door through the screen room, and then looking straight up through the roof before we put the fly over the tent at the end of the day.

As an engineer, I am tickled by the clever joints that allow you to make the structure arise with just a few strategic tugs. Going from stage 2 to stage 3 in the photo below takes all of fifteen seconds. Taking the tent down for storage simply involves doing all these motions in reverse. The tent itself stays always attached to the poles.

Image from Amazon website

The only major drawback is the price, about $300, which is a lot for a tent. Considering our wants at this stage, for us that is a fair exchange. It gives us much of the space and utility of a small pop-up camper trailer, for a fraction of the cost.

Teaching with SAS Viya: First Report

I teach a 400-level data analytics course to undergraduates at the Samford business school. Every semester, I have students apply the concepts we learn by using some analytics software. This semester, it was imperative that I choose a product that students could access from their own computers. We cannot all be together in the computer labs due to Covid.

For the first time, I am using SAS Viya for Learners. Currently, the students are learning SAS Visual Analytics through the Viya platform. SAS makes detailed tutorials that make it easy to teach software to a class. Something that I’m particularly happy about this Friday is that the product works. Class time is not getting chewed up by students who get errors that are difficult to troubleshoot.

(Of course, I tested the software myself before asking students to use it. Anyone who has taught large classes knows that there is no way to fully anticipate the problems that could arise when dozens of humans with different computers all try to do something.)

Something to know about SAS Viya for Learners is that it is free but the free version does not come with the whole range of functionality that SAS Visual Analytics offers. What seems most significant to me currently is that students cannot upload data into the program. There is a library of datasets to work with. That is what we are using for demonstrations and homeworks.

In previous semesters, students have been instructed to find their own data online and use that for their final project. This semester, students will use data that is pre-loaded into the SAS Viya for Learners library. There are many right ways to do a final project. Having less decisions to make about what data to use will allow students to focus more on the analysis and presentation.

So far, all we have done is logged in and built confidence with the interface. That’s the first step with any software. It works. The tutorials give excellent guidance. I will post another update as we get further along with SAS Viya.

No coding is needed (not even SAS coding). I have concluded that coding and data analytics are separate skills. They are both good skills to have. Sometimes teaching coding along with data analytics is appropriate. But the trade off needs to be recognized. Time spent learning to code, to some extent, takes away time spent learning about data analytics. Feel free to fight me on that in the comments if you disagree.

I also use a textbook to teach this course. So, SAS Viya is not the only resource.

Least Hypocritical Artist: Rich Mullins

I’m creating a new award: Least Hypocritical Artist Award. Rich Mullins is the winner.

The most human and not-overly-polished collection of works by Rich Mullins can be found here. You have to order it as a CD. I do not know of any digital platforms selling it. I bought a used copy for less than $3.

Since I have a CD player in my kitchen (left there by prior home owner) I have been listening to this album all week. Rich Mullins is a tremendously talented musician. These album tracks are live concert performances with jokes and introductions. Maybe I appreciate it especially this month because concerts and public gatherings cancelled for Covid. A DVD of a live concert is also included with the CD.

Because of social media, artists are getting in trouble when they say something that doesn’t fit the polished image their managers try to cultivate. Public figures disappoint sometimes. The spectacular fall of Jerry Falwell last month is an example of someone who presented a certain image to the world that turned out to be false.

Rich Mullins claimed to be a Christian, but he didn’t claim to be perfect. Rich Mullins put his whole heart and life out there. No surprises. You can’t disappoint your fans if you never tried to hide anything. Mullins was a bit self-deprecating in public but radically generous in his private life. He followed the example of St. Francis of Assisi. He lived very simply despite his modest professional success.

Mullins tragically died in a car accident at the age of 41 in 1997, when I was still too young to fully appreciate him. You can find his best selling albums and you can buy his popular songs on iTunes. This album is the best one that I have found for getting to know the man.

Bento Lunchbox Centerfold

The magazine version of school lunches is like the magazine version of humans. It’s unbelievable. My header image for this post is a picture I took of a glossy centerfold in Parents magazine.

I can’t stop looking at these bright colors and whimsical shapes. Are there parents who cut food into stars for their kids on a daily basis? As soon as women were told that we don’t have to physically measure up to supermodels, we immediately joined the bento lunch rat race. Check out this one from Instagram!

Personally, I am content to drool over the contrasting bright colors in the pictures of supermodel bento lunches and yet also never make them myself. I am new to the school lunch packing world. So far I have made PB&J on wheat every day. Take it or leave it, kid. Nothing smiles at my son when he opens his lunchbox.

As much as I refuse to join the bento beauty contest, I do like to pack fun sides in my son’s lunch. Fruit, cookies or pretzels add crunch. It was the cute unattainable pictures that inspired me to invest in this bento-style lunchbox.

That link will take you to the product on Amazon that I bought and really like. My 5 year old can navigate the snaps. It’s well made. You can take it apart and clean it easily. The extra compartments make it easy to add snacks that stay crisp.

The alternative is to send several items in zip lock plastic bags that mush around in a (semi-waterproof, maybe) zipper lunchbox. ‘When I was a boy’ (girl, actually) that’s what we had. I love NOT having that mess of moist flaccid baggies to deal with.

Econ Pop Up: Lunch boxes are qualitatively better than they used to be. Cell phones are obviously better than they used to be. This makes is difficult to accurately measure inflation. The US government tries. They track how prices of products change over time. Usually, products become a bit more expensive every year. We say that the real purchasing power of $100 declines with inflation. However, I’m glad that I live today. I’d rather have $100 to spend today on our better stuff than $100 to spend in 1994 when I was toting my soggy lunchbox to school.