How to publish to a Slack channel with SAS

Slack is a tremendously popular app for team collaboration. At its core, it's an open messaging app that allows team members to communicate with each other in real time. It works well with "startup"-style teamwork, which requires constant communication among people who aren't always located together. I've heard a lot about Slack from colleagues and from podcasts (Slack is a frequent advertiser on tech shows), but I'd never tried it myself until recently.

I was most curious about their APIs, which allow you to integrate other applications into the Slack messaging platform. Months ago, a colleague had asked me whether it was possible to integrate SAS output with Slack. I suspected that we could do something with PROC HTTP, but didn't get around to trying until today. I can now answer for certain: Yes! It's possible...and it's sort of fun!

Get started with a Slack "webhook"

I won't go into how you get started with Slack, except to say that it's really easy (and free) to create an account and a "channel" (your message space) for a small team. Assuming that you have that going, I'm going to show you how to use SAS to publish to your channel.

Slack supports a feature called "Incoming Webhooks," which is basically a simple endpoint URL that you can send messages to. From your Slack channel, you can select to Add Configuration, which takes you to the option to add a new Incoming Webhook:

slackwebhook
Click the button and Slack will provision a cryptic URL that's your unique endpoint. Any process that uses HTTP calls to POST content to that URL can publish content. The content itself (called the payload) is delivered in JSON format to the API.

Example 1: Simple in-line message with PROC HTTP

The Slack documentation supplies examples that use curl (command-line URL tool), but PROC HTTP is the SAS equivalent. Here's a simple example:

%let webhookUrl = https://hooks.slack.com/services/<your Webhook URL>;
 
/*
  Simple example with direct text 
*/
 
filename resp temp;
proc http
 url="&webhookUrl"
 method="POST"
 /* IN= supports text in SAS 9.4m3.  Earlier release? Use fileref with content */
 in='payload={"channel": "#fromsas", 
     "username": "sasprogram", 
     "text": "Created using PROC HTTP!"}'
 out=resp
 ;
run;

To try this, you'll have to first get your own Webhook URL and plug it into the program. I'd loan you mine, but you're not on my channel so you can't check the results...which look like this:

Slack simple

Example 2: Share rich messages with PROC HTTP and JSON

Slack also allows multipart messages with simple formatting, including some colors, custom icons, and working links. This requires a little bit more JSON content in the payload, including an array of attachments. Here's a more complex example:

/*
  More complex messages, with multiple parts.
  Use the attachments fields that Slack supports
*/
filename rich temp;
 
data _null_;
 file rich;
 infile datalines4;
 input;
 put _infile_;
datalines4;
payload=
   {   
    "channel": "#fromsas", 
    "username": "sasprogram",
    "icon_emoji": ":fax:",
   "attachments":[
      {
  "fallback":
   "New SAS Dummy post!: <http://blogs.sas.com/content/sasdummy|The SAS Dummy blog>",
 "pretext":
   "New SAS Dummy post!: <http://blogs.sas.com/content/sasdummy|The SAS Dummy blog>",
         "color":"#3030F0",
         "fields":[
            {
               "title":"Great news!",
               "value":"That Chris...he's done it again!",
               "short":false
            }
         ]
      }
   ]
  }	
;;;;
 
proc http
 url="&webhookUrl"
 method="POST"
 in=rich
 out=resp
 ;
run;

Here's the result. See how I selected a nice modern emoji as the account icon? Slack has hundreds of these available.

Slack message

Example 3: Data-driven JSON payload published to Slack using PROC HTTP

But the real power of this integration from SAS is the ability to push dynamic, data-driven content to your Slack channel. To accomplish that, you need to dynamically generate your JSON content with the fields that you want to share. Here's an example that publishes the output of a SAS procedure (read from a data set) to the channel:

/*
 And finally an example that publishes values from data!
*/
 
/* Calculate some data */
proc means data=sashelp.class noprint;
var age;
output out=stats;
run;
 
/* file to hold the JSON payload */
filename msg temp;
 
/* Create the start of the JSON payload */
data _null_;
 file msg ;
 infile datalines4;
 input;
 put _infile_;
datalines4;
payload=
   {   
    "channel": "#fromsas", 
    "username": "sasprogram",
    "icon_emoji": ":fax:",
   "attachments":[
      {
         "fallback":"Latest Stats for AGE in SASHELP.CLASS",
         "pretext":"Latest Stats for AGE in SASHELP.CLASS",
         "color":"#D000FF",
         "fields":[
;;;;
 
/* fill in the data fields in the middle */
data _null_;
 file msg mod;
 set stats end=eof;
 put '{ "short":false, "title": "' _stat_ '",';
 put '"value": "' age '" }';
 /* separate values with commas, except the last */
 if not eof then put ",";
run;
 
/*
  And finish with the tail end of the payload
*/
 
data _null_;
 file msg mod;
 infile datalines4;
 input;
 put _infile_;
datalines4;
         ]
      }
   ]
  }	
;;;;
 
proc http
 url="&webhookUrl"
 method="POST"
 in=msg
 out=resp
 ;
run;

Here's the result -- the latest figures from SASHELP.CLASS!
Slack data

I've shared the complete example code on a public Gist on GitHub. Remember, to try it yourself you'll need to:

  • Create a Slack account, if you don't have one. Along with a new Slack channel.
  • Use the Slack site to add a new Incoming Webhook for your channel
  • Replace the webhookURL macro value in my example code with your specific Webhook URL.

Have fun! And if you create anything really interesting, I hope you'll invite me to your Slack channel!

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Build your Pokémon library using SAS and the Pokéapi

Definitely NOT a copyrighted Pokémon

Definitely NOT a copyrighted Pokémon

Today is #EmbraceYourGeekness day, and you are either reveling in this new crazy town inhabited by Pokémon GO, or you are hiding in your house trying to avoid all of the Pokémon GO zombies wandering around.

But since I'm living in SAS these days -- not just the place (at SAS headquarters), but the software -- I decided to see if I could use my SAS tools to "find" some Pokémon in my work. Thanks to PROC HTTP and fantastic service called the Pokéapi, I've managed some success.

Calling the Pokéapi REST API with SAS

PROC HTTP is the the SAS procedure that you can use to call REST APIs. And the Pokéapi site is a REST API that yields on-demand information about our new favorite creatures. Here's a quick example:

/* utility macro to put file contents to SAS log */
%macro echoResp(fn=);
data _null_;
 infile &fn;
 input;
 put _infile_;
run;
%mend;
 
filename resp temp;
 
/* Call the Pokeapi to list all available Pokemon */
proc http 
  url="http://pokeapi.co/api/v2/pokemon/?limit=1000"
  out=resp
  method="GET";
run;
 
%echoResp(fn=resp);

Here's a snippet of my "Pokémon log":

pokelog
I need a DATA step to read and parse some of the API response, which is in JSON. I'm using a simple INFILE with SCANOVER to parse out just a few bits and create a data set of all the character names (811 of them). The API response is basically one huge line of text, so I'm using the @@ directive to keep the INPUT statement working on the same "record."

data pokemon;
 infile resp lrecl=65635 scanover truncover;
 length name $ 20;
 input @'"name":' name $quote20. @@;
run;

If you're using the free SAS University Edition, this code should work there too! The Pokéapi site is accessed using HTTP and not HTTPS. (HTTPS doesn't work from SAS University Edition because the secure/encryption components are not included.)

pokenames
I can also use PROC HTTP and the API to gather an incredible amount of detail about each character. I found Jigglypuff at record 39, so here's my code to retrieve and parse some more details. Note that there are hundreds of attributes available for each character, and I'm pulling just a couple of them.

proc http 
  url="http://pokeapi.co/api/v2/pokemon/39"
  out=resp
  method="GET";
run;
 
data jiggly;
 infile resp lrecl=500000 scanover truncover;
 length weight 8 base_experience 8;
 input @'"weight":' weight 2. @@;
 input  @'"base_experience":' base_experience 2. @@;
run;

And the results:

jiggly

Going to "the source" for raw Pokémon data

Parsing JSON using SAS is fun and all, but sometimes you just want access to the raw data. And it turns out that the Pokéapi folks have a project on GitHub with everything we need. We can use PROC HTTP to get to that too! And then use SAS to join and analyze/visualize the results! These calls are to the GitHub site to access the "raw" view of data files in the repository. Note: GitHub does use HTTPS (sorry, SAS University Edition users...).

Update 15Jul2016: Since I originally published this post, I've heard from Pokémon experts and data visualization experts. They correctly pointed out that my default PROC FREQ plot did not represent the best of SAS graphics nor Pokémon abilities. I've adjusted my code and republished with these changes:

  • Used PROC SGPLOT to show the PROC FREQ output with just the 20 most common abilities, instead of cramming ALL abilities into a single chart.
  • Added GUESSINGROWS=MAX to my PROC IMPORT steps to ensure variables are assigned the proper lengths. Robert Allison pointed out that some names were being truncated.
  • Added a tabular report of the less-common abilities -- those that show up in just one Pokémon character each.
  • Cleaned up the SAS code for readability here, and updated the entire thing on my GitHub Gist.
/* Location of the PokeAPI project on GitHub */
%let githubRoot=https://raw.githubusercontent.com/PokeAPI/pokeapi/master/data/v2/csv;
 
/* temp location for CSV files, works on UNIX or Windows */
%let csvOut = %sysfunc(getoption(WORK));
 
filename pk_csv "&csvOut./pokemon.csv";
 
proc http
 url="&githubRoot./pokemon.csv"
 method="GET"
 out=pk_csv;
run;
 
proc import file=pk_csv out=pokemon dbms=csv replace;
guessingrows=max;
run;
 
filename pk_ab "&csvOut./pokemon_ab.csv";
 
proc http
 url="&githubRoot./pokemon_abilities.csv"
 method="GET"
 out=pk_ab;
run;
 
proc import file=pk_ab out=abilities dbms=csv replace; 
guessingrows=max;
run;
 
filename pk_abn "&csvOut./pokemon_abnames.csv";
 
proc http
 url="&githubRoot./abilities.csv"
 method="GET"
 out=pk_abn;
run;
 
proc import file=pk_abn out=abnames dbms=csv replace;
guessingrows=max;
run;
 
/* Join the 3 data sets */
proc sql;
   create table work.withabilities as 
   select t3.identifier as pokemon, 
          t1.identifier as ability
      from work.abilities t2, work.pokemon t3, work.abnames t1
      where (t2.pokemon_id = t3.id and t2.ability_id = t1.id);
quit;
 
/* Frequency of Abilities among the characters */
proc freq data=work.withabilities noprint
	order=freq
;
	tables ability / nocum  
        scores=table 
        out=ability_freq;
run;
 
/* Create a more readable plot based on the most common abilities */
ods graphics on / height=800 width=800;
title "Most common abilities among Pokemon";
proc sgplot data=ability_freq (obs=20);
  hbar ability / response=count barwidth=.4; 
  yaxis discreteorder=data display=(nolabel);
  xaxis label="# Pokemon who possess it" grid ;
run;
 
/* Join the FREQ output with pokemon names and abilities */
/* for a report on "rare" abilities                      */
proc sql; 
  create table rareabilities
    as select t1.pokemon, t1.ability from
      withabilities t1 inner join ability_freq t2 on 
      (t1.ability=t2.ability AND t2.count=1)
    order by t1.ability;
quit;
 
title "Rare abilities among Pokemon (each possessed by only one character)";
proc print data=rareabilities noobs;
var ability pokemon;
run;

Here's what PROC FREQ and SGPLOT shows about how common some of the abilities are among the Pokémon. "Levitate" appears to be common (good thing, because I'm not sure that they all have legs).

pokeabilities
And the table of less common abilities and who has them? Simple to show with PROC PRINT. I see that "slow start" is uncommon (but that's an ability that I think I can claim for myself...).
pokerare
Full code: I placed all code presented here in a public Gist on GitHub. Enjoy!

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How to read the contents of a file into a SAS macro variable

I've been working on a SAS program that can add content to the SAS Support Communities (more on that in a future post). Despite my 20+ years of SAS experience, there are a lot of SAS programming tricks that I don't know. Or that I use so infrequently that I always need to remind myself how to accomplish them.

Here's one. I needed to read the contents of an external text file into a SAS macro variable, so that I could then use that value (a very long text string) as part of an API call. In searching for a technique that would work for me, I came across a similar question on SAS Support Communities -- one that had been solved by our resident SASJedi, Mark Jordan. Perfect!

Here's the solution that worked for me:

FILENAME msghtml "path-to-text-file" ;
data _null_;
   length text $32767;
   retain text '';
   infile msghtml flowover dlmstr='//' end=last;
   input;
   text=cats(text,_infile_);
   if last then call symput('MSGBODY',text);
run;
/* file contents is now in &MSGBODY macro var */

The RETAIN statement allows me to build up the "text" variable as the DATA step processes multiple lines. The END=last on the INFILE statement sets a flag when we hit end-of-file, so I know that we're done and I can CALL SYMPUT the macro value. The FLOWOVER option tells the INPUT statement to keep reading even if no input values are found in the current record. (FLOWOVER is the default behavior, so the option probably isn't needed here.) DLMSTR allows you to specify a multichar delimiter string that's different than the default delimiter (a space character). We're using the CATS function to concatenate a trimmed version of the input buffer (_INFILE_) to the RETAINed "text" variable.

For my project I needed to URL-encode the text value for use in an HTTP-based REST API. So for me, the last line is really:

if last then call symput('MSGBODY',urlencode(trim(text)));

The SAS Support Communities has been a big help to me during this project -- a project that is designed to improve the communities even more. It's a virtuous cycle! I hope that this helps some of you out there, too.

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Video: Demonstrating the new features in SAS Enterprise Guide 7.1

Would you like to see the latest features of SAS Enterprise Guide in action? Of course you would! That's why it's well worth the 12 minutes of your time to watch this video from SAS Global Forum 2016.


In the video, Casey Smith (SAS' R&D manager of the SAS Enterprise Guide team) shows off the favorite new features, including:

Casey also talks about his unique perspective as a second-generation SAS user. His Mom is a long-time SAS user; Casey was raised with SAS in the house! It's only appropriate that Casey went on to join SAS as an employee. He frequently presents for user groups and you can often find Casey (as CaseyS_SAS) on the SAS Enterprise Guide discussion board in SAS Support Communities.

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Assign a SAS library to a different path depending on your OS

One thing that we have a lot of at SAS: installations of SAS software that we can run. I have SAS for Windows on my laptop, and I have access to many centralized instances of SAS that run on Linux and Windows servers. (I also have access to mainframe SAS, though it's been a while since I've used it. When I log in, I picture a Rube-Goldberg style mechanism that pokes an intern to mount a tape so my profile can be reloaded.)

I often develop programs using my local instance of SAS and SAS Enterprise Guide, but deploy them for use on a central server. I might run them as batch jobs or interactively with SAS Enterprise Guide or SAS Studio or even in SAS/IntrNet.

Our IT department wants SAS employees to have seamless access to their files whether on Windows or on Unix-style file systems, and so they make it easy to access the same network path from Windows (using UNC notation, or "\\server\path" syntax) and Unix (using "/node/usr/path" syntax). As I develop my SAS programs, I want the programs to work the same whether run from Windows or Unix, and I don't want to have to change LIBNAME paths each time. Fortunately, SAS programs are usually portable across different operating systems, and while SAS data sets might have different encodings across systems, SAS can always read a data set that was created by a different version.

I have a simple technique that references the proper path for the operating system that I'm using. I build a SAS macro variable by using the IFC function and the &SYSSCP automatic variable to check whether I'm running on Windows, then assign the path accordingly.

/* Use the IFC function as a shorthand for if-then, returning a character string */
%let tgtpath = %sysfunc(
  ifc(&SYSSCP. = WIN,
       \\sasprod\root\dept\mydept\project,
       /r/node/vol/vol01/mydept/project
    )
  );
 
libname tgt "&tgtpath.";

When I run this on SAS for Linux, I see this in the log:

NOTE: Libref TGT was successfully assigned as follows: 
      Engine:        V9 
      Physical Name: /r/node/vol/vol01/mydept/project

And on Windows:

NOTE: Libref TGT was successfully assigned as follows: 
      Engine:        V9 
      Physical Name: \\sasprod\root\dept\mydept\project

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How SAS Support Communities can expedite your tech support experience

SAS Technical Support has earned a wonderful reputation for being friendly, knowledgeable, and thorough. Every customer that I talk to is delighted by the experience. That's why what I'm about to say might be heresy, but here it goes. If you have a question about how to accomplish a task using SAS software, you can probably find your answer faster on SAS Support Communities.

With over 50,000 topics already cataloged, the chances are high that your question has already been asked and answered on the communities. And if you need to post a new question, the peer network of SAS communities members represent thousands of experts who can respond to your question immediately.

Search communities.sas.com. Find solutions.

Search communities.sas.com. Find solutions.

Self-service is self-satisfying

No matter how pleasant the experience, calling customer support is a last resort for many people. Studies show that millennials are much happier when they can solve a question themselves by using a self-serve option (like an online community!). I'm not a millennial (missed that cutoff by a decade or two) -- but I feel exactly the same way.

There are additional benefits to using SAS Support Communities. For starters, you'll come to learn who the experts are in your field. By following them and reading their work, you can learn more about questions that you don't even have yet. In addition, many SAS employees read and reply to topics in the communities. For example, you might read an answer about SAS Enterprise Miner from a developer who actually works on the product. That direct line of communication is relatively rare in the software industry, especially for a company like SAS that has so many products and customers worldwide.

SAS Support Communities DO work for SAS users

Because we're SAS and we measure everything, we have ways of measuring user success on our communities. First, we can look at the data around the topics viewed. Solved topics make up 30% of all page views on the site. Many users who visit the communities site look at just one topic per visit -- the one that solves their immediate issue. That tells me that they found what they needed right away, and then moved on with their lives.

The second way we measure success: we ask. In the past few months, nearly 4000 people completed our "Tell us what you think" questionnaire. 72% of survey respondents say they found what they were looking for on SAS Support Communities. That's a solid benchmark that we strive to improve -- but our industry experts tell us that our success rate compares very favorably to other communities sites.

Communities respond fast -- no SLA needed

Communities reply time, past 90 days

Communities reply time, past 90 days

If you've used SAS Technical Support, you might be aware of their policies around response times. Support tracks can have different levels of severity, and the more severe tracks have a quicker SLA (service-level agreement, or promised response time.) In practice, most customers experience much faster service than the SLA policies promise, but that's not guaranteed. While SAS Support Communities don't offer a service-level agreement, they are "open" 24 hours a day, every day, around the world. Our data show that community members respond quickly, often within minutes of your question. 92% of well-phrased questions receive a reply within a day. For questions that eventually show as solved, the reply that solves the question arrives in 8 hours -- 72% of the time. Can you see how tapping a community of thousands of experts can expedite your path to learning and to a solution?

How to ask a good question and receive a fast reply

Experts who respond on the communities have tremendous experience and intuition, but they aren't mind readers. You have to form good questions if you want to receive a helpful response. Here are some tips for success:

  • Use a precise subject line. Try to include your goal, error message, SAS procedure name, function -- whatever keywords will help an expert to "pick up" your question as something he/she could answer. (Pro tip: "Urgent help needed!" or "SAS question" are not effective subject lines.)
  • Share example data. Many questions can be answered properly only when the responders can see the "shape" and characteristics of your data. Don't share anything proprietary, of course.
  • Show what you have tried. Community members love to nudge you towards the proper solution, but it helps if you share what you've already tried and if you hit any walls...explain. If you have special constraints (must use a older version of SAS, certain product set, etc), share that too.
  • Search on communities site first, before posting a new question. The act of entering a new question helps with this because you'll see the subject line "autocomplete" with suggested matching topics, even before you post. That's another reason that the first tip (precise subject line) is so important.
  • Post into most appropriate board. There are boards for most SAS products, and these are monitored regularly by experts who specialize. Posting on the correct board helps your topic to be seen by the best experts.
  • When you receive a helpful reply, come back and mark it as an Accepted Solution, or at least click Like for the replies that are helpful. This action will help you and others to find the answer in the future.

When to call SAS Technical Support

Your peers in the community cannot solve every problem that you encounter. If you're experiencing slow performance that you can't explain, or having installation troubles, or seeing "crashes" -- you probably need to open a track with SAS Technical Support. The support consultants are experts in diagnosing and getting to the bottom of such issues. You'll most likely need to share details and logs that you would not typically share in a public forum. However, the sweet spot of the communities is the "how do I" question -- a syntax, best practice, or simple usage query that you encounter as you learn to use the software. And SAS users never stop learning -- even those of us who have decades of SAS experience.

askfindshare_icon

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Tell SAS to read a database field as CHAR instead of INT or BIGINT

Yesterday a frustrated SAS user complained on Twitter. He's working with a database that stores an ID field as a big long number (perhaps using the database BIGINT type), and SAS can't display a number greater than 15 digits. Well, it's actually 16 digits, depending on the value:

%put Biggest Exact Int = %sysfunc(constant(EXACTINT,8));
>> Biggest Exact Int = 9007199254740992

It's a controversial design decision to use an integer to represent an ID value in a database. You might save a few bytes of storage, but it limits your ability to write programs (not just SAS programs) that have to store and manipulate that value. And if you don't need to do math operations with the ID, your data consumers would rather see a nice character value there.

Fortunately, when working with databases, you can tell SAS to read numeric values as character values into your SAS data sets. In addition to solving the precision problem I've just described, this can also help when you need to join database fields with other source systems that store their key fields differently. It's usually much easier to convert the field "on the way in" rather than try to mangle it after you've already read in the records. Use the DBSASTYPE= data set option to tell SAS how to read database fields. Here's a sample SAS program that shows how I access a table using ODBC, one step without and one step with the DBSASTYPE= option.

libname wpblogs odbc datasrc="wpblogs";
 
options obs=10;
data users_IDint (keep=ID display_name);
  set wpblogs.wp_users;
run;
 
data users_IDchar (keep=ID display_name);
  set wpblogs.wp_users 
    (dbsastype=(ID='char(20)'));
run;

Here are the resulting tables; you can see the simple difference. One has ID as a number, and one has it as a character. Magic!

dbsastype_out
The DBSASTYPE= option is supported for virtually all SAS/ACCESS database engines, including the ubiquitous SAS/ACCESS to ODBC.

Oh, and you might be wondering how things turned out for our frustrated user on Twitter. Our SAS Cares social media team heard his plea and responded -- as they always do. And our user not only found the information useful, he took it a step further by replying back with an additional syntax tip.

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Copy McCopyface and the new naming revolution

As a parent of children who love books, I can tell you that there is something humorous about taking a first name, adding a "Mc" and then a rhyming surname to make up a brand new character name. My daughters always loved to read the adventures of Harry Mclary from Donaldson's Dairy, and we loved to read it aloud to them. It was just fun.

The Boaty McBoatface phenomenon has taken this to the next level by adding "face" as a suffix, which often has a funny punctuating effect ("silly face", "Chu chi face", "doody face," etc. Hilarious!).

I thought that I was done writing blogs about Boaty McBoatface, but I've been hearing from so many people about this topic that I need at least this one more to finish it off.

Name our ship: final results

Spoiler: NERC is not going to christen the new vessel "Boaty McBoatface." Instead the name comes from the 4th-highest vote-getter, "David Attenbourough." The famous explorer earned over 11,000 votes, or 2.78% of all votes cast. However, as a crowd-pleasing nod to the plebians, NERC will name one of the ship's remotely operated submarines "Boaty McBoatface." Hooray! I grabbed the final voting results from the NameOurShip website and re-ran my analysis. Here's the final top 10 standings.

boatyfinal
I also ran a three-panel visualization, using the method that Rick Wicklin shared, so you can see how unevenly distributed the votes remained at the end.

3panelboaty

Many imitators, but original stays on top

The original entry of "Boaty McBoatface" inspired many copycats who submitted names with a similar formula. None of them seemed to have the wide appeal of Boaty, probably because they weren't first and original, but here they are with their vote counts.

boatycopy
I found these in the data with a simple SQL LIKE operator, finding those names that had the pattern "blank-y Mc-blank-y".

proc sql;
   create table work.TheMCs as 
   select t1.title, 
            (sum(t1.likes)) format=comma20. as totalVotes
      from work.votes t1
      where t1.title like '%y Mc%'
      group by t1.title
      order by totalVotes desc;
quit;

Boaty Mac: start of a popular movement

rockymc
Silly names are not limited to research vessels. The world has embraced the Boaty McBoatface pattern. A colleague sent me news about Parsey McParseface, an open-source project from Google. Grumpy McNoisybutt was proposed as a name for a rattlesnake. Even my own daughter has created Rocky McRockface, a major character in her rock cycle project.

I won't say that this is my final Boaty post. Who knows? In a couple of years I might be reporting on "Boaty McBoatface"-inspired baby names. I'm confident that at least one poor child will bear the name; that's the sort of world we live in. Fortunately, children usually find a way to have revenge on their parents (which is why I have nothing but praise for Rocky McRockface).

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Ad-hoc reporting with SAS: Tips for the e-mail jockey

What's the most common data reporting mechanism? Is it web-based reporting? PDFs? How about spreadsheets? Maybe, but in my experience many reports are delivered using a less-scalable and transient mechanism: e-mail.

I'm a data steward at SAS. Specifically, I look after the operational data around our blogging program and our online communities. Even though we have many self-serve reports already set up for these programs, I'm often approached with specific one-off questions. When I get asked the same question multiple times, I'll create a report that runs automatically and stays current for future requests. But for most jobs I find myself running queries and pasting the result into e-mail. Just because the request is ad-hoc doesn't mean it has to take a lot of time or appear as "quick and dirty." Here's my process for creating solid e-mail responses that please my stakeholders.

Step 1: Select data values, then Copy with Headers

This is one of my favorite new features in SAS Enterprise Guide 7.1. I use this technique several times per week. It's a big time saver because it grabs the selected data values and their column names. It places them onto the Windows clipboard as tab-delimited data.

emailst1
If you don't have version 7.1 then you can approximate this technique by selecting Send To->Microsoft Excel. This launches Microsoft Excel, opens a new sheet and populates it with all of the data in the data grid, including the headers. You can then copy your selection from the sheet and continue.

Step 2. Paste selection into new e-mail message

When you paste tab-delimited data into Microsoft Outlook, you get a raggedy-looking set of lines. But don't worry -- Step 3 will take care of that. Other e-mail programs might actually create a table for you automatically.

emailst2

Step 3. Apply "Convert text to table" action

In Microsoft Outlook, this is an option on the Message menu, under the Table pulldown. It converts your selected text into a true table, offering you options to confirm the number of columns and rows. Or use this shortcut: simply select Insert Table with your data selected, and Outlook creates the table.

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Optional Step 4: Beautify

Microsoft Outlook offers a number of canned crowd-pleasing table layouts that will format your headings, rows and columns so they look fancy yet readable. Pick your favorite and apply.

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You can see me stumble through all of the steps in this animation:

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The result is an attractive table that answers a question. It looks like something that might have taken you hours to prepare. There is one danger though: because you accomplished the task so quickly, your constituents might feel emboldened to ask more difficult questions, and with greater frequency.

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How to run SAS programs in Jupyter Notebook

We've just celebrated Earth Day, but I'm here to talk about Jupyter -- and the SAS open source project that opens the door for more learning. With this new project on the github.com/sassoftware page, SAS contributes new support for running SAS from within Jupyter Notebooks -- a popular browser-based environment used by professors and data scientists.

My colleague Amy Peters announced this during a SAS Tech Talk show at SAS Global Forum 2016. If you want to learn more about Jupyter and see the SAS support in action, then you can watch the video here.

Visit the project on GitHub: sas_kernel by sassoftware

Within Jupyter, the sas_kernel provides multiple ways to access SAS programming methods. The most natural method is to create a new SAS notebook, available from the New menu in the Jupyter Home window and from the File menu in an active notebook:

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From a SAS notebook, you can enter and run SAS code directly from a cell:

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There is even a Notebook extension (./nbextensions/showSASLog) that can show you the SAS log.

The second way that you can run SAS code is by using special Jupyter "magics" supported by the sas_kernel. These magic commands look almost just like SAS macro calls (imagine that!). From within a Python language notebook, you can inject your SAS program code and pull in SAS results. This allows you to move easily between Python and SAS in a single environment. Here's a simple example:

%%SAS
proc means data=sashelp.cars;
run;
ods graphics / height=500 width=800;
proc sgplot data=sashelp.cars;
histogram msrp;
run;

How to get started


Update 25July2016: Support for Jupyter is now part of the SAS University Edition! See the SAS University Edition documentation for information about how to use it.


In SAS environments outside of SAS University Edition, here's what you need to run SAS with Jupyter:

  • SAS 9.4 or later running on Linux
  • Python 3 installed on the same machine (that's basically part of Linux)
  • Access to the Linux shell to install/configure the Jupyter Notebook infrastructure and the sas_kernel.

End users of Jupyter Notebook do not need special privileges. And you can access it from a browser on any system: Windows, Mac, Linux...whatever. In the SAS Tech Talk video with Amy, we were running on my Windows laptop using Chrome, connecting to a Linux instance of Jupyter and SAS. The GitHub project has all of the doc and step-by-step instructions for installation.

What's next for SAS and Jupyter?

This is just the start for SAS in the Jupyter world. Amy says that she has already received lots of interest and feedback, and SAS is working to make the Jupyter Notebook approach available in something like SAS University Edition and SAS OnDemand for Academics. Stay tuned!

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