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You Lost Me at “Compute Analysis of Variance by Hand” and When Your Server Went Down for 14 hours

I was reading the powerpoints that came with a textbook, you know, in the instructor’s packet, and I was already thinking this book was a little more focused on computation over comprehension for my liking when I came to the following learning objective:

“Compute an Analysis of Variance by hand.”

Are you fucking kidding me? I have given this a lot of thought and I have come to the conclusion, “Just, no”.

You know why? Because this is the year 2013 and we have computers. Now, I’m not saying you cannot compute an ANOVA by hand if that makes you happy. I’m also not saying you should be like my friend from graduate school who answered the question on her comps

“What is the multiple R-squared and how do you get it?”


“The multiple R-squared is the square of the multiple R and the computer gives it to you.”

I can tease her about this now because she passed her exams the second time around and earned tenure over a decade ago. Contrary to what you think at moments like that, not only WILL you live it down, you will go on to laugh about it.

There will be those who say, “What if your computer doesn’t work?” In that case, I think I’d have more pressing issues on my mind, like getting my computer to work. For one thing, I’m going to assume that you are not just finding sums of squares due to your complete absence of a social life but rather are part of some organization that has an interest in sums of squares, and also probably has more than one piece of hardware. In my case, if one computer doesn’t work, I have two more in my office and four more upstairs. Of course, one each is currently occupied by The Spoiled One and The Invisible Developer, but I’m pretty certain if it came right down to it, I could wrestle a computer away from almost anyone in this group and that includes the dog. (She’s a Dogo Argentino, in case you wondered.)

lovely family

Take tonight, for example. I am very, very annoyed because my class is using the SAS Web Editor and for some unknown reason the site has been down for the past 10 hours. Apparently, SAS has concluded that no one would ever do homework late at night or on weekends so there is no point in having the On-Demand for Academics available.

I do have SAS on my desktop, but that would involve switching over to boot camp. I also have SPSS but again, that would require restarting in Windows which I don’t feel like doing because I’m in the middle of writing a lecture. I installed Office 2010 on my laptop, was dismayed to find that there is no longer a data analysis tool pack for the Mac – yes, I do know it quit shipping with VBA at 2008 – and the third-part stat pack doesn’t do much.

So, what is the conclusion? Well, I guess I’ll see if the SAS Web Editor is up tomorrow. If not, I’ll finish the class that ends this month and go on to finally learn R. I thought the Web Editor was a great idea but you can’t run a program in the cloud that goes down for 14 hours and no one in your organization seems to notice. One of the reasons I have stuck with SAS is that they do have really cool statistical procedures, their model selection procedures are a neat idea and there is generally an enormous legacy of good stuff. I thought perhaps by moving to a web-based model SAS could recover some of the market share it has been losing, maybe even have both something students could use while in school and a product they could use once they graduated by paying a monthly use fee like Adobe has for its Creative Suite.

Contrast this with pair.com which we use for things like email, our MySQL databases, running our PHP scripts. I love pair. They have 24/7 support and not by some person reading out of a manual, but a person who can actually help you. Downtime on pair over the last several years (that we’ve noticed), hasn’t been more than two hours, total, and when we called them, they were already aware of it and able to fix it in under 30 minutes.

In fact, we’re already migrating away from SAS and for small clients that can’t afford a SAS license and require basic statistics, writing their applications in PHP and MySQL.

There are two points here.

First, nowhere in this situation did I think,

“You know what I need to do? I need to start computing statistics by hand, using a pencil and a piece of paper, like I did when I was in graduate school in 1978.”

Second, using SAS is becoming as laborious as computing statistics by hand.  Yes, it’s great if you have it installed on your desktop (and that is often a whole kettle of fish in itself), but that is often thousands of dollars per seat. The Web Editor is a great idea but if it isn’t available, it’s not so great.

Here are your choices – using something that’s thousands of dollars, use something that’s free but doesn’t always work when you need it or use something that’s free and you can download on your desktop. I don’t know that I’m ready to give up on SAS completely let but I have to admit that I see why so many universities have gone to R.


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  1. One other advantage to R is the incredible, spectacular resource that is CRAN. If there’s something you want to do, someone has a) probably already done it, b) written it up nicely, and c) made it publicly available. It’s wonderful.

    I know there are SAS routines and snippets and such available, and that the help environment for SAS is great, but … so is Google and the hundreds of thousands of blogs, mailing lists, Stack-Exchange posts, and so on that can help with R.

    The only reason I can see to stick with SAS over R is if you are doing work for a government or a clinical trial (FDA especially), where it’s practically (or completely) required. Then again, I have a bias, because time series are many times easier to work with in R than SAS, and that’s what I do 95% of the time.

  2. There is a lot of good stuff with SAS but, understandably, every student in my class has emailed me in the last 24 hours because they can’t get their homework done. You know who hasn’t emailed me? SAS. The big advantage SAS supposedly had over R is that when something didn’t work there was someone responsible you could call. I thought that the web editor would be a great solution, especially for online classes like the one I’m teaching now but I can’t see how it’s going to work if it goes down for days on end.

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