Stata Weights in the News

SSCC's statistical consultants frequently have researchers come in asking why sum and similar Stata commands don't allow pweights. Sometimes they've been told (not by us) that they can just tell Stata the weights are aweights instead. If misleading your statistical software about what your weights are sounds like a bad idea, that's because it is: you might get the correct results, or you might put out false information that influences the national debate about an important policy issue.

The Urban Institute recently discovered that using aweights instead of pweights had caused them to badly overestimate the amount of student loan debt owed by upper-income households, which led to discussions of whether student loan forgiveness programs were really give-aways to the affluent. The corrected numbers (which still show the highest income quartile owing the most debt, just not by nearly as much) can be found on their blog. As they put it: "May you all learn from our mistake and never confuse weight types!"

(The short explanation why sum doesn't allow pweights is that sum calculates summary statistics for your sample. If you're using weights you're making estimates for the population and Stata wants you to use commands like mean which are designed to do that, and do allow pweights. For the long explanation, see Stata's FAQ on the topic.)

Get a Wide Variety of Software from Software Center

We've noticed a substantial decrease in minor malware incidents (spyware, adware, etc.) as we've moved to having people use regular accounts instead of admin accounts on the computers SSCC manages. Most malware works by either tricking the user into installing it or making the computer think you did, so simply preventing accounts in everyday use from installing software stops it cold. This limitation is not about making computers easier for us to manage: it's about protecting you, your personal information, your research data, and SSCC's ability to store sensitive data.

But we know you still need software, so we've worked very hard to make the software you're most likely to need available through Software Center. If you're on an SSCC-managed Windows computer you can start Software Center just by clicking on this link (you'll be asked if you want to open the SCClient; say yes), and instructions for using it are found in our Knowledge Base. With Software Center, you can install everything from productivity software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite to utilities like LastPass, DropBox, and Zoom to research software like Stata, RStudio, and Matlab without needing an admin account. You can also install software from the Microsoft Store. If there's anything you need that isn't available, just let the Help Desk know and we'll install it for you ASAP.

Replacing SSCC's Emergency Pager

For some time now there's been quite a contrast between SSCC's state of the art IT and our very 1990's emergency pager. We're pleased to announce the time has finally come to retire it. If a system outage occurs after hours, instead of a number to call there is now a web form you can fill out to tell us about it. A link to the Emergency Contact Form can be found on our Help Desk page. The contents will be sent to AlertOps, a cloud-based service provider, which will notify SSCC staff via text, phone calls, and email. (If the form is used to report issues other than system outages, it will go to the Help Desk to be addressed when the Help Desk opens.)

You may be thinking "But what if SSCC's web server is down?" SSCC's web server was designed to be independent of most of SSCC's other infrastructure so we can use it to communicate in an emergency, but it could happen. However, the emergency contact form form itself is in Qualtrics, making it independent of SSCC. Of course you'd need a link to the form, so you may want to save the URL somewhere, or hold on to the SSCC News email for this month since it contains the link. Recall that your email is now provided by Microsoft rather than SSCC. If Microsoft, Qualtrics, AlertOps, and SSCC are down, you can safely assume that SSCC staff are well aware of whatever global IT crisis is apparently in progress.

Sign Out of Winstat When You're Not Using It

We've seen a rash of minor problems recently, caused by people who have Long Jobs access to Winstat keeping sessions open for weeks or months. This practice also prevents SSCC staff from performing maintenance or applying patches on the servers. To prevent this, we've set a maximum session length of three weeks for Long Jobs users. We've also written a new policy to clarify that Long Jobs access is for running long jobs, and people who have that access should sign out of Winstat as usual when they're not running long jobs. It also adds that SSCC staff may end long sessions that are not actually running jobs if they need to to perform server maintenance.

Signing out of Winstat and then signing back in is the equivalent of rebooting your computer, and doing so periodically can avoid a variety of problems. It will also move you to the Winstat server that is the least busy at the time you log in. Just remember that closing the Citrix Receiver/Citrix Workspace or logging out of the Citrix Storefront is not the same as signing out of Winstat. You can sign out of Winstat by right-clicking on its Windows logo button and then (left) clicking on Shut down or sign out, Sign out.

Account Renewal Time is Near

Account renewal time for full SSCC members is coming shortly, so look for an email asking you to renew your account. The account renewal process helps us identify accounts that are no longer needed and gives us vital information used for SSCC's budgeting process. We know too many phishing emails imitate processes like our account renewal, but look for the email to come from an actual member of the SSCC staff (Russell Dimond), be digitally signed, and reference information you can check on the SSCC web site.