Documentation Scavenger Hunt

“I try to take it one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once.”

If  Erma Bombeck wasn’t really the first to say that, she could have been. I shouldn’t complain. Part of my overly full days are that I have one more child than Erma did and the same number of husbands. (Okay, well, I admit that I had more husbands TOTAL than Erma did but I had the same number at a time – one. ) Still, they are good kids and a good husband, even if I did have to practically dig out the house with a shovel so we could get the new carpets put in last week.

Well, my life with SPSS and SAS has been that way lately. Glad I have this stuff but sometimes I ask myself,

“Is it really necessary to be this much work?”

Who was it that said,

“You should have to figure out a mystery novel. Code should be read.”

That describes my view on programming quite well and documentation, too.  Lately there has been too much of what I call “Scavenger Hunt Documentation”.

Do you want to know how to define a path for SPSS on a Macintosh? I wonder if this changed at some point because I found several websites that had it wrong.  For example, I logged into my computer as annmaria and I want to open a file on my desktop in a folder named examples.

GET FILE = ‘/Users/annmaria/Desktop/examples/mystuff.sav’.

Let’s say the file is on a flash drive named something  like “Kingston” because I did not bother to rename it. Then the statement would be:

GET FILE = ‘/Volumes/Kingston/mystuff.sav’.

Of course, if I had a Mac with SPSS installed at the time, I could have just opened a file, looked in the output window and seen what was written. It just so happened that I was answering a person’s question from a computer that ran Linux and did not have SPSS on it. (Yes, I know there is an SPSS for Linux, but I only have the Mac and Windows versions and at that moment every Mac in the house was occupied by a child, spouse, child’s friend or visiting niece. I know,  I am deprived).  So, I ended up looking all over the web and documentation to find the simplest piece of information. I feel immeasurable guilt because I cannot remember the url of the helpful person’s page where I found this.

This is my next project on my infinite to-do list. I am going to start a 20 basic questions page for SPSS, SAS and SAS Enterprise Guide and then a 20 totally random questions page just because I think it would be kind of fun.  I remember a time when writing code was the only way to use SPSS and a GET File statement was the most basic beginning – but now it kind of falls under the heading of random and you have to dig through the drawer with the egg separator, the garlic brush and the beaters from the cake mixer you threw away last fall to find it.

And SAS – the install tragedy continues…

Today, I wanted to create two single-layer DVDs to install the 64-bit version of SAS. I could not remember how to create DVDs because I usually install via download from a server or off an external 160GB drive. We had created some DVD several weeks ago, but I couldn’t remember how, having done approximately 246,173 other things in the intervening weeks. I popped in the SAS Software Depot and the three options were Install SAS software (nope), Manage Software Depot (you can view and remove SAS software orders with this option) and Create a New software depot (nope).

I did find my answer in a page on the website , stimulated by a vague memory. Sure enough, to create DVDs you ignore what it says the Manage Software Depot does because someone apparently forgot to insert after that Manage Software Depot option – and create media. If you click on it anyway based on the assumption of  “What the hell”, this last phrase describing a good bit of my life, by the way, you’ll be happy and pleased to find that it actually does break the depot into separate folders each of which will fit on one single-layer DVD.

I have concluded that my problem is that I am in the 20. You know that 80 – 20 principle, that 80% of your usage can be accounted for by your most common 20% of the features? Well, I am in that other 20% that uses everything, the Date and Time Wizard in SPSS (cool thing, by the way), the Surveymeans procedure in SAS and the histogram plots with a normal curve superimposed on the Distributional Analysis task in SAS Enterprise Guide. At least once during the month I will use Ubuntu, Mac, Windows XP, Solaris, Vista 32 and Vista 64. I guess, like the houseful of family, that is mostly good. Unfortunately, it means that first 80 hits on Google are never what I want. It is like someone once said to me at a party,

“If I call a company’s tech support and it is obvious that it has been outsourced to some other country, I hang up because all the guy there is going to do is to tell me whatever he read in the manual. If I call on Thursday, he is going to say, ‘Did you try A, B & C’ and I will have to say, ‘Yeah, on Tuesday. I also tried D through Z, and then I called you.’  There oughta be a manual for those who already read the manual.”

I wonder if such a thing exists? IBM used to have something like that years ago for their mainframes. I know one thing, if there is such a thing and it’s in my house you’ll probably find it in a corner of the closet under a pile of unused blankets and dirty laundry. We lost my youngest brother that way once. You think I’m kidding but I’m not.

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  1. Sounds like you need “SAS: The Missing Manual” (or for SAS geeks would it be “SAS: The . Manual”?) The trouble is that if it existed, you wouldn’t be able to lift it. The fact is that there is *a lot* that you could know about SAS. You need to know only a small slice of it to be productive in your job…but that slice is a bit different for each person.

    I try to cover some of this in the SAS Dummy blog: knowledge nuggets that I know you won’t find anywhere else. But even I have a skewed world view within SAS, so there are lots of topics I’ll probably never cover. I do take requests though.

    But the answers are out there: SAS-L, discussion forums, Samples, Usage Notes,, and are all great places to look. A really good tech support question usually turns into a really useful Usage Note on the support site because, like me, tech support consultants like to re-use their answers when possible.

    Chris (@SAS)

  2. SAS: The . Manual

    That is awesome! I am going to steal that.

    Funniest thing I heard this week. “I am working on it now-ish” has moved to second place.

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