5月 042016

In celebration of SAS Global Forum, the folks at SAS Press gathered tips from SAS Press authors.  Here is my contribution:

This is the best time ever to learn SAS!

When I first encountered SAS, there were only two ways that I could get help. I could either ask another graduate student who might or might not know the answer, or I could go to the computer center and borrow the SAS manual. (There was only one.) Today it’s totally different.  I am continually amazed by the resources that are available now—many for FREE

Here are four resources that every new SAS user should know about:

1. SAS Studio

This is a wonderful new interface for SAS that runs in a browser and has both programming and point-and-click features. SAS Studio is free for students, professors, and independent learners. You can download the SAS University Edition to run SAS Studio on your own computer, or use SAS OnDemand for Academics via the Internet.

2. Online classes

Two of the most popular self-paced e-learning classes are available for free: SAS Programming 1: Essentials, and Statistics 1. These are real classes which in the past people paid thousands of dollars to take.

3. Videos

You can access hundreds of SAS training videos, tutorials, and demos at Topics range from basic (What is SAS?) to advanced (SAS 9.4 Metadata Clustering).

4. Community of SAS users

If you encounter a problem, it is likely that someone else has faced a similar situation and figured out how to solve it. On you can post questions and get answers from SAS users and developers. On the site,, you can find virtually every paper ever presented at a SAS users group conference. The site is a wiki-style compendium of all things SAS.

For more tips from SAS Press authors, click here to read them all.


5月 132015

Many colleagues and customers at SAS Global Forum ask me, why I write books beside having a full-time job as SAS consultant and being lecturer at universities. Valid question. SUSTAINABILITY. I have been working in so many analysis projects in different domains and industries. Some of them were longer, others were […]

The post Top 3 benefits of writing a SAS book appeared first on The SAS Bookshelf.

7月 112014
You’re walking around the bookstore at SAS Global Forum, looking at the new books and upcoming titles. There are lots of titles that look helpful, and a couple that are on your must-have list. You see SAS users and students eagerly talking with the authors, treating them like rock stars. […]
6月 042013

Werken Met SASOne thing that impressed me about SAS Global Forum 2013 was the number of international attendees–28 percent!  While SGF (and it’s predecessor SUGI) always claimed to be the worldwide SAS conference, only recently has this actually become true.

One longtime international attendee is the SAS author, Erik Tilanus, who hails from the Netherlands.  Erik works as a consultant through his company, Synchrona, specializing in the airline and travel industries.  Not only has he attended SGF, he has even served as a section chair.

This year, Erik brought a copy of the newest edition of his book Werken met SAS which he showed to me at the Opening Night Dinner.  I can’t read Dutch, but, by coincidence, the person sitting on the other side of Erik could!  He was from South Africa and could read the book because Afrikaans is similar to Dutch.

Here is a description of Werken met SAS:

Er is een nieuwe editie van het Nederlandse standaardwerk over SAS: Werken met SAS. Deze nieuwe editie is bijgewerkt tot en met SAS 9.3.  In ongeveer 600 bladzijden wordt niet alleen de basis van het werken met SAS duidelijk gemaakt, maar worden ook diverse geavanceerde technieken besproken, zodat het boek zowel voor beginners als al enigszins gevorderde SAS gebruikers een hoop te bieden heeft. Alle technieken worden aan de hand van duidelijke voorbeelden toegelicht.  In totaal staan er meer dan 100 voorbeeldprogramma’s in het boek.

For those of you who don’t read Dutch, here is a rough translation:

There is a new edition of the Dutch standard treatise on SAS: Working with SAS.  This new edition has been updated to SAS 9.3.  In 600 pages it makes clear not only the basics of working with SAS, but also discusses various advanced techniques, so that the book offers a little hope for both beginners and advanced SAS users.  All techniques are explained using clear examples. In total there are more than 100 sample programs in the book.

Werken met SAS is a comprehensive introduction to the SAS system.  You can get an idea of the topics covered by viewing the table of contents.

5月 142013

The Little SAS Book: A Primer, Fifth EditonOne of the problems that Lora Delwiche and I face as authors of two books with similar titles (The Little SAS Book and The Little SAS Book for Enterprise Guide) and multiple editions (five of LSB and three of LSBEG) is explaining how the books are different.

The two books are totally different–and complementary.

So I was delighted to see that someone at SAS Press has written a great summary comparing the various editions.

Did you know that the title The Little SAS Book was originally a joke? We explain that and give a little history on

11月 202012

Cover of The Little SAS Book: A Primer, Fifth EditonFive editions is a lot!

If you had told me, back when we wrote the first edition, that some day we would write a fifth; I would have wondered how we could possibly find that much to say.  After all…it is supposed to be The Little SAS Book, isn’t it?

But those clever folk at SAS Institute are constantly hard at work dreaming up new and better ways of analyzing and visualizing data.  And some of those ways turn out to be so fundamental that they belong even in a little book about SAS.  That’s especially true of this edition.

SAS 9.3 introduced several fundamental changes.  So we rewrote the book to reflect these.  One of the new defaults is that output is rendered as HTML instead of text.  That meant that almost every section in the book needed to be updated to show the new default output.  And since text output still has its uses, we added a section on how to send output to the good old LISTING destination.

In addition, ODS Graphics has matured a lot since it was introduced with SAS 9.2.  It has new default behaviors, and is now part of Base SAS.  The fourth edition of our book included a few sections on the SG procedures (SG stands for Statistical Graphics), but these procedures have developed so much that we felt they now deserved their own chapter.

In addition, here and there we split sections in two or added new ones to expand on features that were only mentioned before.

Here’s a short list, in no particular order, of new or expanded topics in the fifth edition:

  • Linguistic sorting
  • Concatenating macro variables with other text
  • AGE argument for the YRDIF function for computing accurate ages
  • LISTING destination for text output
  • Graph legends and insets
  • Graph attributes such as lines and markers
  • Image properties such as DPI
  • Saving graphics output
  • Many new graph options such as NBINS= for bar charts

Along the way, we removed topics or sections that had begun to feel dated or out of place.  For example, we took out the appendix on Coming to SAS from SPSS because it is now available as a free download that is both better and more complete.

So even though we have added a lot to this edition, it is still a little book.  In fact, this edition is shorter than the last—by one whole page!

To order a copy of this book, or view the table of contents or a sample of the book, visit the SAS Press web site.

7月 192012


1. The Pain

I read from Lex Jansen (@LexJansen) that CDISC SDTM v1.3 and SDTMIG v3.1.3 were newly released. It’s pretty nice since CDISC SDTM was supposed to be released semiannually in the new publishing cycle. We can see the team put great efforts on this new version, but frankly speaking, this delivery (the way to display, not the content itself) is far away elegant.

The new SDTM Implementation Guide (IG) v1.3 is just a temporary workaround shipment, as an embedded file “How to Use SDTMIG 3.1.3” indicates,

SDTMIG 3.1.3 is presented as an annotated version of SDTMIG 3.1.2. This approach was taken for SDTMIG in order for the document to be released quickly without an extensive rewrite. The content presented as annotations will be incorporated into a single version of documentation in a future release.

What does “annotated” mean? When you replace “should” to “must” in the file,

  • strikethrough the word “should”
  • insert the replacement “must”, and
  • add a sticky note to indicate the change above


This is annoying. There are 143 sticky notes throughout the whole documentation, including replacement, deleting, files attachment and such and the reason, is said to ensure “the document to be released quickly without an extensive rewrite”. BUT 143 sticky notes in a PDF file! it’s already huge editing effort ever!

2. The Reason (or The Conjecture)

Almost everybody complains of Microsoft Office Excel and Word, but Ура(!), they are still dominant in our working spaces (especially heavy in clinical world? I’m not sure). I didn’t have any personal connection with CDISC publishing team, but from the documentation released, I’m pretty confident that these files (SDTMIG v3.1.3 and others) were edited in Word and then published into PDF via Adobe products (very common practice, isn’t it?).

Now you may understand why CDISC publishing team delivered this “annotated”  version due to limited time and human resource (although editing 143 sticky notes was also a big work load). The clue is Word! Word! Word!

Microsoft Word is extremely popular for its WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), but it can’t separate contents from formats and it will a disaster when maintaining a frequent updated Word file by multiple users. In this CDISC SDTMIG case,  there are about 143 content updates supplied by CDISC community worldwide, but when applying such content updates to the original Word file, you are always reasonable to worry about that such updates would change something(yes SOMETHING) unexpectedly! The biggest concern for CDISC standard files, I guess, again with confidence, is if such updates destroy the in-text links  or other cross references which offers the nice navigation throughout the documentation.

So, this “annotated” version at least is safe (and SAFE is much more important than what it looks): no links proven worktable in v3.1.2 will broken in this time pushing new release, and things would get better in the future (from the same source, “How to Use SDTMIG 3.1.3”):

CDISC is currently discussing how future documentation will be published ensure documentation is easy to navigate and read and at the same time easy to maintain.

3. The Prospective

Yes I will end with a (set of) suggestion(s). The bottom line is no Word anymore and I promise no additional cost and pain compared to digging into Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat.

Take SDTM IG v3.1.3 as a demo project:

  • Convert all the contents of SDTM IG v3.1.2 (from PDF, or original Word) to a text based format. Personally I prefer Markdown and reStructuredText. Actually it doesn’t matter which one is chosen for test purpose, because such text based formats can be easily transferred (much easier than from Word/PDF). The benefits of these two formats are separation of contents and formats, and very intuitive to learn (much easier than HTML; almost WYSIWYG). This task is machine doable somehow but also needs manually modification. But all in all,  it is not a big deal, it is only about 300 pages.
  • Edit these text files according to the new SDTM IG v3.1.3 updates.
  • Distribute these text files (and rendered output files in PDF/ HTML formats) to a vendor supported or self hosted collaborating site, like GitHub.
  • Call for CDISC team members and users to report any issues and even encourage them to directly edit them online (don’t worry, it won’t be mess; we are in a version control system like GitHub). 
  • Then the next version will come out naturally (and peacefully).

then I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas.

4. Additional Notes

The markup standards mentioned above in my proposal,  Markdown and reStructuredText, are not replacement for CDISC metadata standard, ODM and its XML derivatives Define.xml. Instead, they are better formats to get rid of Microsoft Word for community collaborating of editing the “narrative” parts of models (the PDF files we read from CDISC), for example, SDTMIG we discussed before.

6月 022011

…about something

…and it’s up to you to figure out what.

At SGF I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion titled “So You Want to Be a SAS Press Author!”  The panel was organized by Nancy Brucken, moderated by Michael Raithel and included authors Art Carpenter, Cynthia Zender, and Mike Molter.

During the discussion, the topic of reviewer comments came up.  I mentioned that when Lora Delwiche and I first sent our proposal for The Little SAS Book to SAS Institute, one of the reviewers said, “It’s not possible to write a book like this, and if you do, then you will be doing a disservice to readers!”  That was a pretty strong statement, and it stung—a lot.  I mentioned this to make the point that you can’t let negative comments derail you from following your dreams.  However, I now realize that I may have left people with the impression that they can safely ignore any comments they don’t like.  On the contrary, I have learned the hard way that

There is something to be learned from every reviewer’s comment.

Those comments you don’t like…they’re the ones you should pay the most attention to.  Maybe, just maybe, that reviewer knows something that you don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that reviewer is even right.  If that is the case, wouldn’t you rather find out before your book goes to press?  Yessiree, that reviewer might be doing you a favor.  Maybe you should (politely!) ask that reviewer for more information.  At times like this, it is important to set aside all defensiveness and listen because there is something to be learned from every reviewer’s comment—although it is not always what the reviewer intended.

For example, you will likely get some comments that are just factually incorrect.  When you do, it’s tempting to think, This reviewer doesn’t understand!, and then ignore the comment.  However, when you get such comments, you should ask yourself, Why doesn’t this reviewer understand?  If the reviewer didn’t understand, then perhaps readers won’t understand.  Can you make your writing more clear?  Did you fail to explain something?  What does this reviewer need to know in order to understand?

So what was the lesson to be learned from the reviewer who said that it was impossible to write The Little SAS Book, and that if we did, we would be doing a disservice to readers?  The lesson I learned is that some people will react very negatively to a book that is small and friendly.  Of course, Lora Delwiche and I never imagined that we were writing a book that would appeal to everyone and that would meet every SAS programmer’s needs.  But we also never imagined that some people would react so violently.  Honestly, I do think that some people need to get a life.  It’s just a book, for goodness sake.  But even so, this reviewer did us a favor by warning us.