ERROR: Ambiguous reference, column xx is in more than one table.

Sometimes, SAS messages are not all that they seem and a number of them are issued from PROC SQL when something goes awry with your code. In fact, I got a message like the above when ordering the results of the join using a variable that didn’t exist in either of the datasets that were joined. This type of thing has been around for a while (I have been using SAS since version 6.11 and it was there then) and it amazes me that we haven’t seen a better message in more recent versions of SAS; it was SAS 9.2 where I saw it most recently.

proc sql noprint;
select a.yy, a.yyy, b.zz
from a left join b
on a.yy=b.yy
order by xx;
quit;

Turning off the admin bar in WordPress 3.1

Work on WordPress 3.1 is in full swing at the moment though I initially though that they were taking a little break after 3.0. From what I can see, many refinements are being made to the multi-blog functionality and behind-the-scenes work is ongoing on the administration screens too.

Another under-the-bonnet change has been to make WordPress less tied to MySQL since the possibility of dropping in support for an alternative such as PostgreSQL is now a reality even if it isn’t part of the default package. For now, it looks as if this is going to be plugin territory rather than default multi-database support though that may become a sensible development in the light of Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL and its sabre rattling with regard to Java patents. So far, the change to WordPress has affected my use of its database engine to power an offline version of my online photo gallery but a quick spot of code editing sorted that issue.

One more obvious alteration is going to be the addition of a WordPress.com style administration bar to the top of all content and administration screens for a user who is logged into the system. It is going to be turned on by default but there will be the option of turning it off for those among who prefer things that way. All that will be needed for this is to add the following line near the top of wp-config.php:

define( “WP_SHOW_ADMIN_BAR”, false);

The chance to see new additions like those above and be ready for is my main reason for following WordPress development. It’s best to be ready than surprised though it has to be said that the blogging or CMS platform is a very polished one these days.

ERROR 22-322: Syntax error, expecting one of the following: a name, *.

This is one of the classic SAS errors that you can get from PROC SQL and it can be thrown by a number of things. Missing out a comma in a list of variables on a SELECT statement is one situation that will do it, as will having an extraneous one. As I discovered recently, an ill-defined SAS function nesting like LEFT(TRIM(PERIOD,BEST.)) will have the same effect; notice the missing PUT function in the example. The latter surprised me because I might have expected something more descriptive for this as would be the case in data step code. In the event, it took some looking before the problem hit me because it’s amazing how blind you can become to things that are staring you in the face. Familiarity really can make you pay less attention.

ERROR: Invalid value for width specified – width out of range

This could be the beginning of a series on error messages from PROC SQL that may appear unclear to a programmer more familiar with Data Step. The cause of my getting the message that heads this posting is that there was a numeric variable with a length less that the default of 8, not the best of situations. Sadly, the message doesn’t pin point the affected variable so it took some commenting out of pieces of code before I found the cause of the problem. That’s never to say that PROC SQL does not have debugging functionality in the form of FEEDBACK, NOEXEC, _METHOD and _TREE options on the PROC SQL line itself or the validation statement but neither of these seemed to help in this instance. Still, they’re worth keeping in mind for the future as is SAS Institute’s own page on SQL query debugging. Of course, now that I know what might be the cause, a simple PROC SQL report using the dictionary tables should help. The following code should do the needful:

proc sql;
select memname, name, type, length from dictionary.columns where libname=”DATA” and type=”num” and length ne 8;
quit;

Self-hosted web analytics tracking

It amazes me now to think how little tracking I used to do on my various web “experiments” only a few short years ago. However, there was a time when a mere web counter, perhaps displayed on web pages themselves, was enough to yield some level of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction in many a case. Things have come a long way since then and we now seem to have analytics packages all around us. In fact, we don’t even have to dig into our pockets to get our hands on the means to peruse this sort of information either.

At this point, I need to admit that I am known to make use of a few simultaneously but thoughts about reducing their number are coming to mind but there’ll be more on that later. Given that this site is hosted using WordPress software, it should come as no surprise that Automattic’s own plugin has been set into action to see how things are going. The main focus is on the total number of visits by day, week and month with a breakdown showing what pages are doing well as well as an indication of how people came to the site and what links they followed while there. Don’t go expecting details of your visitors like the software that they are using and the country where they are accessing the site with this minimalist option and satisfaction should head your way.

There is next to no way of discussing the subject of website analytics without mentioning Google’s comprehensive offering in the area. You have to admit that it’s comprehensive with perhaps the only bugbear being the lack of live tracking. That need has been addressed very effectively by Woopra, even if its WordPress plugin will not work with IE6. Otherwise, you need the desktop application (being written in Java, it’s a cross-platform affair and I have had it going in both Windows and Linux) but that works well too. Apart maybe from the lack of campaigns, Woopra supplies as good as all of the information that its main competitor provides. It certainly doe what I would need from it.

However, while they can be free as in beer, there are a some costs associated with using using external services like Google Analytics and Woopra. Their means of tracking your web pages for you is by executing a piece of JavaScript that needs to be added to every page. If you have everything set to use a common header or footer page, that shouldn’t be too laborious and there are plugins for publishing platforms like WordPress too. This way of working means that if anyone has JavaScript disabled or decides not to enable JavaScript for the requisite hosts while using the NoScript extension with Firefox, then your numbers are scuppered. Saying that, the same concerns probably any JavaScript code that you may want to execute but there’s another cost again: the calls to external websites can, even with the best attention in the world, slow down the loading of your own pages. Not only is additional JavaScript being run but there also is the latency caused by servers having to communicate across the web.

A self-hosted analytics package would avoid the latter and I found one recently through Lifehacker. Amazingly, it has been around for a while and I hadn’t known about it but I can’t say that I was actively looking for it either. Piwik, formerly known as PHPMyVisites, is the name of my discovery and it seems not too immature either. In fact, I’d venture that it does next to everything that Google Analytics does. While I’d prefer that it used PHP, JavaScript is its means of tracking web pages too. Nevertheless, page loading is still faster than with Google Analytics and/or Woopra and Firefox/NoScript users would only have to allow JavaScript for one site too. If you have had experience with installing PHP/MySQL powered publishing platforms like WordPress, Textpattern and such like, then putting Piwik in place is no ordeal. You may find yourself changing folder access but uploading of the required files, the specification of database credentials and adding an administration user is all fairly standard stuff. I have the thing tracking this edifice as well as my outdoor activities (hillwalking/cycling/photography) web presence and I cannot say that I have any complaints so we’ll see how it goes from here.