Monday, November 29, 2010

SAS Goes To A Ceilidh (Sort Of)

My manager Wally Thiessen was lucky enough to travel to beautiful Halifax for the SHRUG user group meeting last week. I say 'lucky' through gritted teeth set in a face tinged by the horrible green of jealousy... I absolutely adore Halifax and Nova Scotia in general and selfishly try to get out there myself as often as I can! I think I may have made a deal with SHRUG Dictator-for-Life (or the foreseeable future) John Fahey to ensure that my colleague Sylvain and I are able to join them for their spring meeting: John has amicably agreed to guarantee good weather... so how can we say no? But that is then, and this is now.

Wally was good enough to contribute a guest post for the blog this week. He's already given me very glowing reviews of the meeting in general, and this spells it out in a bit more detail. With no further ado, take it away, Wally!

Checking In With the SHRUG ‘Family’

It had been a few years since I last had the opportunity to visit the SHRUG user community, and I was curious to see how the group was faring. Ever since its formation in ’02, SHRUG has fostered a wonderful spirit of cooperation for sharing ideas— with the kind of kinship that you often find in a number of the user groups based in key cities across the country. They may be smaller in size, but certainly not in engagement and energy! It’s a real thrill to watch colleagues connect and pick up conversations which had been left at the last SHRUG meeting, and to clearly see how this community of SAS users goes out of its way to support each other outside the structured confines of the SHRUG meeting.

Of course I was not to be disappointed in this meeting either. Under the leadership of the SHRUG executive committee—John Fahey, Pan Andreou, Jo-Anne Douglas, Barry Campbell, Jill Casey and Martha Cox, I was pleased to find that the group was continuing to find new and interesting ways to encourage participation from everyone in the room. A series of shorter tips and tricks presentations from Lynn Lethbridge, Pan, and John provided enough new ideas to keep attendees’ synapses firing until well into the New Year! Prior to the break, Jill Casey, our emcee for the afternoon, asked everyone to introduce themselves, share a little bit about how they used SAS as well as one problem they had used SAS for in the past year (or alternatively, what they would like to use SAS for). Not only was this great fodder for future presentations (as Barry Campbell diligently noted everyone’s comments), but it also provided a terrific starting off point for networking during the break.

The interactive nature of the meeting continued as Gordon Flowerdew challenged everyone with a quiz on missing values, for which a series of prizes following the meeting were awarded. And by the time Peter Eberhardt had shared his content-filled 45 minute presentation on SAS dictionary tables, it certainly seemed as if people’s heads were ready to explode with the sheer volume of new SAS knowledge gained that afternoon. To end things off on a lighter note, I shared Matt’s social media presentation with the group as well as discussed some of our initial plans around building a Canadian community site to complement the SAS user group and insights e-newsletter programs. .. but more on that in the weeks and months to come.

To finish off the afternoon on a happy - if not completely sobering – note, the SHRUG gang invited Peter and I to join them at a popular local establishment called the Henry House - the historic home of William Alexander Henry, one of the fathers of Confederation. Although politics and history weren’t on the menu, good discussion on alcoholic and non-alcoholic topics ensued as Peter shared his passion for craft beer-making as well as the making of his DVD “Brewing Made Easy”. I thought I saw a glint in John’s eye as Peter expounded upon the DVD, perhaps hoping to put his newfound marathon skills to the test by running home to give it a first watch. While our plans for bringing SAS Global Forum to Halifax, or at least to Canada, didn’t get quite as fully formed as we would have liked, the company, the discussion, the food, and yes, the drink, were all top drawer, leaving us in healthy anticipation of the next SHRUG meeting in the spring!


Thanks Wally, and again: I'm very jealous! I hope I'll have great stories myself after the next SHRUG gathering.

As for me: well, I've reached the natural end of my Fall user group season with more than a little sadness. I'm off to Montréal tomorrow with Rick Miller of CIBC for the Forum Analytique d'Affaires SAS de Montréal meeting on Wednesday: I hope you can join us, and stay tuned for my feedback within a few days time.

Until then...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Moustachio-ed Tim Trussell Returns to his Roots

One week after the Health User Group and I'm FINALLY able to pass on some great stories from the meeting! Boy oh boy, this backlog of blog posts has bothered me beyond belief. I'll be very pleased when I've caught up completely after this entry... I want to ensure I'm doing justice to everyone in an appropriate and timely fashion.

Last week's Health User Group meeting was notable for a few reasons. I would like to acknowledge Eugene Wen of CIHI who has stepped down as President of the executive committee after many years of sitting at the helm. Eugene steered a perfect route through the storm: he went out of his way to ensure that the mandate of the group - to support health industry professionals - was respected through and through. Health practitioners in Toronto, you'll be hard pressed to have as vocal and tenacious a champion again... thanks for all of your contributions, Eugene.

The second person I need to acknowledge is Ruth Croxford of ICES. I honestly don't know where to begin with Ruth. She's a tireless champion both of the Health User Group as well as the first person to step forward in order to support that community. Case in point: Ruth volunteered to not only research but deliver a large 'SAS Tips & Tricks' presentation specific to healthcare. The appreciative murmurs I heard running through the room told me that she hit the proverbial nail right on the head. Great job, Ruth, and thanks for personifying the spirit of the SAS user community so well.

Finally, I come to Mr. Tim Trussell. Those who know me are very well aware that Tim is a great friend of mine. Professionally and personally, he's been there for me above and beyond the call of duty.... and I'm not alone in this sentiment. In fact, Tim was the driving force (along with Ruth and Eugene) behind forming the health-specific user group around 5 years ago. His background is in epidemiology and statistics, meaning he speaks the language of the industry and understands the challenges, pains and priorities of this critical vertical. Given his demand as the analytics guru for SAS Canada, being able to secure his time for the meeting was a real coup and Tim certainly didn't disappoint (except in the patchy growth of his Movember moustache: to learn more and to sponsor him in this worthy cause, click here).

Tim's hour-long talk was on the topic of text analytics within the health industry, and I think it's fair to say that the presentation was both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Leveraging his intimate familiarity with all aspects of healthcare, Tim was able to bring forward non-Canadian examples of how text analytics is being used in new and dynamic ways in order to help parse health records, doctor's notes, journal articles, exit surveys, and much more. In fact, Tim's looking for some willing healthcare organizations here in Canada to help validate the utility of SAS' text analytics solution... and he's willing to make the solution available in order to do so! If this is of interest, definitely reach out to him via his email address to discuss further...

The meeting was a bit smaller than normal but this actually proved to be a boon, not a limitation. The intimacy of the room and the willingness of the presenters to engage with the audience ensured that the room was relaxed and ready to talk... and they sure did! I had a great conversation with a gentleman about the fact that it was Facebook's 'un-friend' day - ironic, considering that I was about to deliver a large social media-themed talk. All the same, I made note of some pleasant smiles and nods of understanding as I framed out SAS Canada's early social media forays specific to healthcare through the newly formed HUG LinkedIn group. A few individuals have already connected with me there and I'm looking forward to getting to know many more of you!

Tim was able to demonstrate the text analytics solution as a variety of scenarios and potential roadblocks were suggested by the group. Ruth's talk was punctuated by individuals validating or asking for further detail around one of her tips and tricks, and there was a lot of furious scribbling on SAS notepads. The sense of community and the desire to share knowledge was truly palpable, a consistent hallmark of this group. All in all, the meeting was a great success. It was really fun to watch Tim and the executive team help to set establish a warm, welcoming environment: my thanks to all of them for their assistance. I'll be posting the results of the evaluations in the LinkedIn group shortly for your feedback, and of course the presentations have already been posted at the Health user group site.

Next up: my manager is in Halifax attending the SHRUG meeting and will be guest-posting upon his return... and I learn to bellydance: with photographic evidence! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SAS Presents: Kerry Blanchard in Ottawa!

As promised, I'm turning over this space to my colleague Kerry Blanchard. Many of you will know Kerry as an indispensable asset in the SAS user community. Assisting with user group logistics, analysis and support, she's definitely made my life easier and helped grow the user community through her bright personality and eagerness to contribute. With no further ado, over to you, Kerry! I'll have the Health User Group post ready for your consumption within a few days.

Musings from a TRUE Outlier
– by Kerry Blanchard

To begin my first guest blogging experience on Matt’s wonderful blog ‘Musings from and Outlier’, I must say I’m a little intimidated! I’ve read quite a few of his posts and he always writes with such eloquence, passion and pizazz that I don’t think that it’s at all possible to mimic the feel that he gives to his readers…but I’ll give it a shot!

As a TRUE newbie to SAS (a mere 6 months young) I was both nervous and excited to head out to my first on-the-road user group meetings for the Ottawa Area SAS Society (OASUS) and the Ottawa Platform User’s Society (OPUS.) Arriving the night before and staying in downtown Ottawa was such a nice experience as I’m familiar with the area having grown up about an hour away in Brockville. There is something about Ottawa that is so peaceful to me - I’m not sure if it’s the stunning beauty of the Parliament Buildings or the Chateau Laurier, or just the fact that it seems a lot less busy than downtown Toronto (even during rush hour!) – but it was nice to be back in a city that I knew and loved.

The morning of the meeting started bright and early and even though I made it to the National Arts Centre by 7:15 am, the executive committee was already hard at work setting up. I have to say a few ‘thank-yous’ here to the entire executive for making me feel so welcome even though I had never met any of them face-to-face. Hing-Poon Chan was diligently working at the sign-in table and cheerfully greeted me as I walked into the room. OASUS President John Ladds gave me such a warm smile I would have thought I was visiting a dear old friend. It was great to see that even though I thought I was an outsider, they definitely didn’t make me feel like one.From then on the day went quite smoothly. The sound, computer and equipment tests were all completed before the first guest arrived and the NAC staff was more than happy to get any little extra thing we asked for (they even photocopied more evaluation forms for us!) The only issue throughout the whole day occurred around 8:45 am when we realized that we wouldn’t have enough SAS pens for all the attendees. Now, we still aren’t 100% sure what happened, but somewhere between receiving 200+ pens in the mail from our Toronto office the day before and 8:44 am when most of them had been given out… well, let’s just say that they were ‘misplaced.’ I’d like to make a formal apology to the attendees of the OPUS meeting in the afternoon because of this unfortunate incident and I hope that many of you had brought your own pens which hopefully made up for it …but I will say this: someone out there must really be enjoying about 50 SAS pens right about now, and shame on you for not sharing with the others!

Regardless of this little mishap, OASUS and OPUS went flawlessly. We had a wonderful turn out with 132 people at OASUS in the morning, and although attendance was smaller in the afternoon, Joel Orr and the rest of the OPUS executive gave members who had attended the past five OPUS meetings with a token of their appreciation for being so dedicated. I have also been informed that this little ritual is going to continue, giving you all the more reason to make it out to the next OPUS meeting on June 1st (shameless user group plug, I know!) We also had some great presentations such as Robert West’s ‘SAS & Excel Targets’ in the morning, a pair of very detailed book reviews, a great explanation and demonstration of how to use OLAP cubes by Benoit Morin (I especially liked the NHL sample data he used) and a phenomenal panel discussion around the ‘Challenges of BI’ moderated by SAS’s Tara Holland in the afternoon.

As OPUS began to wind down at around a quarter-to-four I was suddenly struck by feelings of sadness. My on-the-road user group experience had just begun and it was already time to go home! The people I had met that day and the whole trip to Ottawa had been such a fun and educational experience that it didn’t feel right to just up and leave. It wasn’t until I was in the car on the way back to the airport did the excitement from the day begin to fade away and tiredness settled in.

I’m not sure where I’ll be next, but I’ve been told that I may get to experience more user group meetings on the road in the spring time. Will I get to experience the mountainous West, or possibly an ocean-side city in the East? Only time will tell. In the meantime I just want to let my new-found friends in Ottawa know that I am extremely grateful for the warm wishes and friendliness you showed me. Not only did you give me an experience I will never be able to repeat, it was also something I will never be able to forget.

Until next time…

Thanks for that great contribution, Kerry: I had no doubt you'd have a warm reception in Ottawa. Those two groups are standard bearers for community and support: thanks John and Joel for being yourselves and for once again surpassing expectations.

My brief hiatus from this space will resume a little later this week. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be writing about the Health user group meeting which took place last week within a few days... but my manager, Wally Thiessen, is headed out to the east coast with SAS legend Peter Eberhardt for some SHRUG-style user support: I have to admit, I'm incredibly jealous! I'm sure he'll have great tales to tell upon his return as well, and I've asked him to contribute an upcoming post as well.

Stay tuned, lots more to come!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rain, Sunshine, Sleet and Fog: Just Another Day in Vancouver

Vancouver strikes me as a bit of an abnormality on the west coast, at least in one sense. With its frantic, hurry-up, always-changing weather patterns it reminds me in some ways of the pace of life here on the east coast which is so markedly different from the more relaxed, outdoors-focused way of life we generally associate with BC. OK, so maybe it's just the weather that reminds me of the east and I'm likely stretching that comparison just a teensy bit too far, but the weather analogy is also useful as it serves to reflect my general inner-state of being upon landing in Vancouver.

I've stated many times in this blog how fortunate and grateful I am to be able to do what I do. Travelling from one end of the country to the other for the purpose of sharing experiences and supporting SAS users is a fantastic opportunity to broaden my horizons culturally and socially. However, it's not just my horizons being stretched: it's also my constitution and health! Adjusting to time zones and constantly looking at my watch are both minor irritants to what is an otherwise amazing occupation. The constant stress on my body systems does eventually take it's toll, unfortunately, and I was a sorry sight stepping off the helicopter upon our landing in Vancouver. Thankfully, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was about to have an energizing and revitalizing encounter courtesy of former SAS Customer Value Award winner and past-President of TASS, Rupinder Dhillon.

This is yet another great example of SAS users supporting SAS users. One of Rup's best friends from her school years now lived as an actor and presentation coach in Vancouver. Knowing full well the importance - as well as the challenge - of encouraging and supporting new presenters from within the user group community, Rup had suggested that we take the time to connect in hopes that we could pick her brain. It was certainly worthwhile! Colleen McGahan and I chatted at length with her about common fears and limitations which presenters deal with and also put on themselves as well as some suggestions on how best to approach a presentation. This was incredibly valuable insight for myself as someone who presents quite often in front of large groups, and even moreso in terms of recognizing how to support new presenters. Thanks for the introduction, Rup: if I could give you the CVA again, I would... ;)

The meeting the next morning was truly outstanding. the VanSUG executive committee are an incredibly engaged and innovative group. I was meeting some of them for the same time, and they definitely lived up to the exceptional feedback I'd heard. Sharon Relova - a relatively new member of the team - drafted one of her colleagues and faithfully manned the registration table (without complaint, might I add!). Mei Chong the new president was omni-present, socializing and helping out where she could. Of course, perennial dynamos Colleen McGahan and Nate Derby - in addition to presenting once again - ensured that the catering was set-up, that the networking functioned smoothly, and that all possible logistic issues were dealt with far in advance. I need to single out Colleen here. Dealing with some difficult home issues which had suddenly sprung up, Colleen pushed on to both support the group and deliver her presentation flawlessly. My respect for her - which was already very high - has gone through the roof.

Content-wise, the meeting was a great one. As I mentioned, Colleen and Nate reprised their talks to exceptional acclaim - with Nate somehow managing to populate his presentation with some small coding errors in the 12 hours between deliveries. Nate is a master at dealing with adversity and the group really engaged around his transparency and willingness to admit and address his errors. Of course, the content was exceptionally valuable as well! Colleen's talk found a receptive audience able to grasp the complex concepts she was illuminating. And yes, Cheryl Sivertson's demo went off fantastically this time (albeit with her working in a version of Enterprise Guide she was unfamiliar with: version 4.3). She's a natural with the software, though, so it went off without a hitch.

I'm saving some of my biggest praise for David Dobson. The Vancouver community has been wrestling for some time with what type of interesting, new content to deliver to their members. Coming primarily from a health, academic and telecommunications background, there seemed to be diverging ideas of how best to support everyone. Enter David, our willing guinea pig! An additional session was added on to the user group meeting with David delivering an hour long talk on the importance and future of business analytics within Canadian industry... and more than 50 people stayed to hear the talk! It was extremely well delivered and generated a lot of questions afterwards. I think it's safe to say that we'll be seeing a lot more business analytics-themed talks taking place in Vancouver in the near future. As always, all of these presentations will be posted over the course of this week on the VanSUG website as well as a VanSUG newsletter update and more.

Finally, a word or two about the Vancouver SAS user community: what a warm and welcoming group. I'd like to first give a hat-tip to Mr. Howard Cherniack. Howard is familiar to many in the SAS world in Vancouver; a long-time user and supporter, Howard has presented and been an active supporter of VanSUG since it's inception and before! At any rate, Howard is the first person to answer a challenge I often throw out to the user groups. I have one prize in particular which has been a mystery to me: it's full of strange, seemingly unrelated components and I've been utterly flummoxed. Without instructions, it seemed that the item would remain shrouded in confusion. I've made the commitment to every group I've offered it to that if it can be deciphered, I will be happy to ship one of every single other item I have to the lucky solver of the 'mystery prize' riddle. I'm happy to report that Howard has done so! Thanks, Howard! Just in case there are other entrants reading this, I'm going to keep your solution a mystery for now...

I'd also like to share a little about the community itself. In the span of the morning, I connected with a young lady from BC Hydro looking for some Enterprise Guide help, a recent UK transplant hoping to connect with other SAS users with an overall goal of finding SAS employment, a faux-celebrity (great to see you, Mr. Mel Gibson!) and a wonderful gentleman from TELUS who - to my absolute shock - used to pack 5 double Americano's into his body EACH EVENING... and then he would go to sleep! I'm also pleased that I've already had a few members of the community connect and start discussions within the VanSUG LinkedIn group. If you haven't yet joined, please feel free!

Although my second-last roadtrip of this user group season has come to a close, there's still lots more to report from last week. As I was in Vancouver, my colleague Kerry was experiencing her first user group meeting in Ottawa. She's been good enough to write a guest-blog post at my request, and I'll be sharing that with you in the next few days. Finally, I still have to tell all of you about the Health User Group meeting which featured impossibly long titles, sublime SAS tricks and one very happy quasi-epidemiologist... but more on that in the next few days!

Thanks again, VanSUG: sorry to leave but looking forward to the spring meetings already.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Penultimate Road Trip

This past week was the busiest of the fall 2010 Canadian SAS User Group season... and it certainly didn't disappoint in any way! To be honest, I hardly know where to begin. There are so many tales to tell and people to recognize it makes my head spin a little. Actually, I think that spinning is due to this blasted cold I just can't get rid of! Something tells me cruising at 35,000 feet across the country twice in three days may have contributed to this.

But you're not here to metaphorically paddle a canoe down the stream of my tears, are you? Rather than complain, allow me to celebrate the first of this week's meetings in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia.

One of the reasons I enjoy travelling to the BC-based groups so much is because it affords me the opportunity to spend time with the executive committees. In many ways, these groups have embraced the concepts of community and mutual support since their earliest days. I expounded for some time in my presentation about how the executive committee members and in fact some of the regular attendees have become friends as well as colleagues. The professional relationship remains the same, but it's undeniable that we have a great time together when we're able to interact outside of the more structured confines of a user group meeting!

I must admit a wry smile just flashed across my face as I try to associate the word 'structured' with the SUAVe user group. One of it's most endearing and valuable qualities is that it is so informal. In the meetings I have attended, side debates have become points of general discussion and the networking sessions are so popular, it's a challenge to pull everyone back to the presentations. The point of the meeting is not only to learn, but also to connect with a colleague and a stranger. Academia is well-represented amongst the attendees as are a variety of provincial ministries and even a few retirees who attend simply for fun and fellowship. In the words of one of these individuals, 'it's nice to see everyone and keep up with what's going on with their work and with SAS. It's fun. I'll see you next time'. What better testimonial can there be for the positive impact of the user group community?

In terms of the content itself, Mike Atkinson and Cheryl Sivertson - SUAVe executive committee members - were partially thwarted in their attempt to work through their demo and presentation around tweaking graphics generated by Enterprise Guide and SAS/GRAPH by a complaining remote CPU connection... something SAS users are completely unfamiliar with, right? ;) Mike did a fantastic job of elaborating upon his portion of the presentation while we attempted to troubleshoot Cheryl's computer unsuccessfully. I hate to tell you this, SUAVe-ites, but Cheryl was able to deliver her demo the next day at VanSUG after a re-work and moving it to my machine. Hopefully we can convince her to give it another shot at the next meeting.

I have previously mentioned the 'user group executive exchange' taking place between VanSUG and SUAVe. Colleen McGahan and Nate Derby had converged from Vancouver and Seattle respectively to deliver presentations around Proc LOGISTIC and ROC curves in the case of Colleen and with Nate delivering a talk on Proc SQL. Suffice it to say, all presentations will be made available shortly on the SUAVe website. Without minimizing the interesting case study and thorough walkthrough offered by Colleen, I have to single out Nate for delivering one of the most entertaining and engaging presentations I've seen this fall and winter. He alternated between hilarious and forgetful with a heavy dash of genius thrown in the middle. The audience was stunned both by his tremendous knowledge and his willingness to engage them in what can only be called a 'group participation presentation'. Great stuff, Nate!

One of my absolute favourite elements of any user group meeting across the country is SUAVe's 'Open Problem'. In a nutshell, the executive committee posts a problem on their website. Submitters then present their answers to the problem at the meeting and they all receive a small gift - and thunderous applause - for doing so. It's really fun to watch four or five individuals attack a problem in different ways and give some tremendous insight into how robust SAS can be as a solution.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to not recognize Peter Ott for his tremendous work. My colleague from the SAS Canada offices in Calgary who was meeting him for the first time asked me 'is he really 6'8"?'. I just smiled. Peter was not only an outstanding MC and inquisitive audience member, but he also submitted one of the solutions to the 'Open Problem'. His energy and dynamism are a fundamental reason the meetings are so successful and I thank him for it.

After the meeting, it was a quick scramble to the Helijet port for a quick helicopter ride over to the mainland. I have to admit, the inner child in me felt like a member of G.I. Joe! Colleen and Nate had left the meeting early to catch the car-carrying ferry back to Vancouver and Cheryl and Mike were doing the same afterwards to fulfill their part of the executive exchange by presenting at VanSUG the following day. But first, all of our forces would converge again that evening in Vancouver to meet for dinner, drinks and a fantastic encounter with a presentation coach - but these are all stories for my next post. Until then, thanks to the 45 members of the Victoria SAS user community who attended the meeting: it was great to see you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

To Tall Pines & Temperate Climes

I'm sipping my morning coffee and preparing for my last truly big push of the user group season... and boy oh boy, it's a big one. In just a few hours time I'm headed off to beautiful British Columbia for the Victoria (SUAVe) and Vancouver (VANSUG) user group meetings. It's always a real pleasure for me to head to the left coast and spend time with two truly tremendous executive committees. This time, they've managed to dazzle me once again; even before the meetings themselves take place!

In the spirit of growing and connecting the SAS community in British Columbia, several of the executive committee members have committed to an 'executive exchange' of sorts. Nate Derby and Colleen McGahan of VANSUG will be travelling to Victoria to deliver two technical presentations and then Cheryl Sivertson and Mike Atkinson of the SUAVe executive will repay the favour the following day in Vancouver. This spirit of collaboration is fundamental to the success of my desire to further grow and connect the network of SAS users, especially here in Canada. While executives sometimes do take part in this type of travel, this situation is a 'first' I believe: I can't recall ever seeing members support each others groups in such numbers and with such fervor.... awith pologies to all the groups in the Greater Toronto Area, of course, who have geography on their side and are able to pick and choose where to go much more easily!

I've previously mentioned how I feel very lucky in my role here at SAS. Not only do I get to travel this beautiful country but I get to meet many of the wonderful people who inhabit it. From Halifax to Whitehorse, there are tremendous SAS users everywhere. I must admit, however, that the BC groups never let me down in terms of connecting with SAS users, learning new SAS tricks and, critically, laughing. Yes, we have fun together: a lot of fun. Remind me to tell you all the story of 'The Big Cookie' incident in Victoria at a previous meeting sometime: the Cole's notes version is that I was (almost) bested by an enormous virtually-raw cookie the size of a dinner plate, with both executive committee members and the kitchen staff taking bets on when I would give up. I could also tell you about the time that 6 of us gathered around a tiny table at the trendy restaurant Guu in Vancouver, eating tiny plates of food and drinking large saké-flavoured mojitos until our laughter was the only thing you could hear in the otherwise noisy restaurant.

I could also tell you tales of incredibly dynamic and engaged meetings. I've seen the SUAVe group erupt into fierce - yet friendly - debate around the virtues of a variety SAS programming techniques in the 'Solution To the Posed Problem' element of their meetings... and I've grinned in Vancouver as Colleen McGahan tells the 75+ attendees the rules of their famous ice-breakers: an extremely effective technique for bringing together strangers into the common bonds of SAS-founded friendship. I have no doubt that the next two days meetings will be just as amazing. If you're in the area and can attend, please do use the registration links found on the websites I've linked above: I'd love to see you!

Two more quick notes from me before I scramble to complete my packing. First, my colleague - and SAS rookie! - Kerry Blanchard will be headed to Ottawa for their massive user group meetings on Wednesday. She'll be 'guest posting' her experiences and impressions shortly after that, so do stay tuned! There's truly no rest for the wicked (or for me either! ;) ): I land back in Toronto around 11:30pm on Wednesday, my head touches the pillow for a few minutes, and I'm off to help with the Health User Group in Toronto on Thursday, November 18th. I hope that Kerry or I will see you at one of the four meetings this month!

Time to fly, so I'll say so long for now. Here's hoping you all have a fantastic week and I'm looking forward to posting lots over the next few days... now, where's my passport?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

MONSUG the Magnificent!

Sitting back at my desk in Toronto, I can't help but wish I was still in beautiful Montréal. There's something magical about that city... whether it's the warm people or the wonderful food, I find myself consistently sad to leave. I suppose it's a Québec thing moreso than simply a Montréal phenomenon: I recall being just as wistful when departing Québec City a week ago! Ah well, at least I'll have one more chance to visit Montréal on December 1st for the Forum analytique d'affaires SAS de Montréal so I suppose I shouldn't complain. You'll find the agenda for that meeting - featuring Vice-President of Credit Risk Data Solutions at CIBC, Mr. Rick Miller, reprising his incredible 'Supercharged Analytics' talk from last year's SAS Global Forum - on the link I just provided.

Meanwhile, I have stories to tell of MONSUG!

The meeting was extremely well attended considering that the executive committee and I were forced to settle on a Monday morning due to venue availability. Almost 100 individuals turned up for a fantastic morning of conversation and presentations. Éric Lacombe and Mathieu Gaouette are the two gentlemen who do such a fantastic job of maintaining the MONSUG website, finding and supporting local guest speakers and helping to spread the message about the meeting to their contacts in the Montréal community: and it truly is a community in every sense of the word. Allow me to illustrate by referencing yesterday's meeting.

Éric and Mathieu made themselves completely accessible to the community by MCing the meetings and working at the registration desk. I watched the two of them greet colleagues and acquaintances from a whole host of industries and SAS environments as old friends. It was great to see people connecting through the common bond of SAS once again! The camraderie and open conversation between the SAS community and the many representatives of SAS Canada who were on hand put an exclamation mark on the sense of collaboration which clearly exists between SAS users and SAS employees.

This sense of collaboration really came to bear during the meeting itself. I need to single out Rupinder Dhillon of Toronto for really stepping up to the plate at a difficult time during the meeting. Some confusion around the MONSUG meeting date meant that our keynote speaker was unavailable: we needed to deliver a valuable presentation to the room, we had an hour of agenda time to fill, and we needed to figure out what to do over the break.

'No problem', said Rupinder.

Fortunately I had a presentation I've previously delivered at other user group meetings on the topic of formatting and reporting using Enterprise Guide on my machine. Working quickly during the break, Rupinder began tweaking the data in order to demonstrate both how to move older EG presentations to a newer version as well as how to take advantage of parameters within EG 4.3 to facilitate users accessing the right type and amount of data in the most efficient way possible. Within 30 minutes, a new presentation had been born! Unbelievably impressive. This willingness to step into the breach is partially why Rupinder won the Customer Value Award last year: nominations are now being accepted for NEXT year, might I add! I'm looking forward to getting one lucky individual down to this year's SAS Global Forum in Las Vegas from April 4-7th.

I would also like to take a moment to salute Nadia King of the Banque Laurentienne. She delivered her first ever presentation, and to glowing reviews, might I add! I couldn't tell she was a novice at public speaking and given the reaction of the audience, nor could they. Great job, Nadia! I hope we can see more presentations from you moving forward.

You'll find the presentations from the MONSUG meeting on their website within the next week or so. If you weren't able to attend, I invite you to join us for the spring meeting. We already have a few presenters lined up to deliver some incredibly interesting talks. Once we have full details around the date and agenda, you'll be able to find information in the MONSUG LinkedIn group, Facebook group and of course, on the MONSUG site itself.

Special thanks to both presenters and to both executive committee members. Adversity was overcome and the attendees left happy which is always the most important goal! I'm very much looking forward to my return to Montréal for my last road trip of the year in about a month's time.

In the meantime the blog posts will be coming fast and furious over the next few days. I have lots to tell you about. Next week features 4 separate meetings spread from one of the country to the next. I'll be in Victoria and Vancouver for their respective meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday and flying home to facilitate the Health Users Group meeting here in Toronto next Thursday. My colleague Kerry will be attending her first solo user group meetings in Ottawa at the same time: you're in great hands Kerry, the Ottawa groups are incredibly well organized and full of wonderful people. The following week, my manager Wally will be attending the Halifax meeting which is rapidly growing in attendance... what a flurried frenzy of frenetic activity! I wouldn't have it any other way.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Fall Day in Montréal

One slightly uncomfortable - yet thankfully short! - plane ride and I've landed in Montréal for a whirlwind tour. I'm very grateful and excited to be travelling with Rupinder Dhillon from Toronto as the featured speaker at tomorrow's MONSUG meeting! Rup is well-known and admired by SAS users in the greater Toronto area for her expertise of SAS Enterprise Guide and coding techniques as well. This time, Rup will be exploring Enterprise Guide 4.3! I'm very excited to see what she does and how it works.... excited and a bit nervous. She'll be using my machine and I had EG 4.3 installed on Monday! Let's hope we're bug-free... :)

Tomorrow's meeting also features Jean Hardy reprising the talk he gave on passing results to and from Excel last week in Quebec City as well as Nadia King who will be looking at the A.I.D.E. methodology. It promises to be a great meeting with around 130 registered. I'm looking forward to an energetic, boisterous room as per usual.

I'm also very excited to see the MONSUG executive committee, M. Eric Lacombe and M. Mathieu Gaouette. The last two SAS Global Forum's I've attended have been punctuated by having a fantastic time with both of them. Lots of laughs and great meals, to be sure! I'm looking forward to more of the same following tomorrow's meeting.

Speaking of SAS Global Forum, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that registration officially opens this Monday, November 8th. This year's edition is taking place in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada from April 4-7, 2011. I will be attending and will be hosting the (in)famous Canadian Night Out... this year's theme, TBD (we're moving away from the Canadian Trivia model: while lots of fun, it's getting a little too dangerous!). the conference is a tremendous opportunity for learning, networking and socializing with the greater SAS global community: don't miss out if you can help it.

My next few weeks are going to be really hectic ones. There are a whole host of meetings taking place across the country: I'll be in British Columbia next week while my colleagues attend the Ottawa and Halifax meetings which are right around the corner. I'll be running the Health User Group in Toronto as well, and I'll have one last trip in me: back to Montréal for the Business Analytics Forum with Rick Miller of CIBC on December 8th. With one final Toronto Area SAS Society meeting in mid-December, I'll be poised to wish everyone tiding's of the season and enjoy a well-earned break myself... but in between now and then, I'll have lots to say in this space, so do stay tuned!

I'll hopefully be able to get my thoughts on paper tomorrow following the meeting to tell you all about it; if not tomorrow than certainly very soon. For now though, my mind and my stomach are one and the same; I can't wait to go out with Rup for some delicious food and drink and talk SAS for a while...

Until then!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

There and Back Again

I must offer apologies to J.R.R. Tolkein for appropriating the title of the book authored by his character Bilbo Baggins as my own. However, I think it's appropriate for a few reasons. This has indeed been a whirlwind trip to Québec City for the last time in 2010 for the Club d'Utilisateurs SAS de Québec: it truly has been a 'there and back again' experience... a little surreal and a little disappointing from my perspective. A 7:00am flight out, a lunch/meeting/dinner and an 8:20pm flight home again: whew! This is made even more painful because I absolutely LOVE Québec City. As I told several of the attendees, I first fell in love with la belle ville de Québec at the tender age of 12. Yes, it was actually a girl moreso than the city itself, I must admit: ah, young love... for those who have been to QC, you know exactly what I'm talking about! It truly is the Paris of North America and it's hard to not give in to one's romantic inclinations especially in my advancing years (I'm not telling) when appreciating the architecture, the culture and the people in this amazing city.

The title 'There and Back Again' could also refer to the amazing consistency of this group. Once again, Louis-René Rheault and the executive team have led the way to a phenomenal meeting. 108 people attended today's gathering at the Université de Laval, a meeting which is an example of collaboration in its purest form. Each member of the committee has an agreed-upon role which is executed to perfection given the strengths of the individual in question. Our invitation was sent out to SAS users known to myself, to the Québec City executive committee, and through the SAS offices in Montréal and QC. The agenda itself was pulled together by local support and featured first-time presenter Ishmael Coulibaly who presented on data mining fundamentals in an Enterprise Miner context. Great job, Ishmael: the audience sure didn't comment upon your relative 'newness'. I hope we'll see many more presentations coming forward from you! There are many moving parts here, and all work flawlessly with each other. This is in many ways a model for others to be sure.

Speaking personally, 'There and Back Again' refers to my determination to improve my French language skills. La langue du Molière est tellement belle et je suis determiner à retrouver mon grammaire et mon vocabulaire. I studied intensive French for 11 years in school including half-days spent in immersion... and every time I return to QC, it pains me that I'm not communicating as effectively with everyone as I could. Everyone is so incredibly patient with me as I fumble through conjugations, verb tenses and meanings in my head... and I have yet to hear someone cast aspersions on my efforts. Thank you, QC, for your patience!!! I make you this promise. Within 2 years, I will give a 45 minute technical presentation on Enterprise Guide, completement en francais.

Québec in general is a special place: a community unto itself in many ways. Fiercely - and rightly! - protective of the beautiful culture and language which continues to be celebrated here, there is still an openness and willingness to entertain a poor guy from English Canada which I find heartening. In some ways, this acknowledgement of our differences actually results in a celebration of our similarities. We are all SAS users or supporters, and despite the occasional communication barrier with words, we can always make our SAS-based thoughts and questions ring with clarity through a simple code node or process flow. In many ways, the executive committee and their willingness to collaborate and enter into dialogue is a model for what I hope to continue to grow between SAS users across the country. I hope QC can be an example of the great results which can be achieved when superficial differences are put aside and we all revel in speaking the common language of SAS.

I'd also like to single out M. Jean Hardy and M. Sylvain Tremblay for their outstanding contributions to this meeting. Sylvain is a close friend and SAS Education stalwart. He's a road warrior like myself and one of my first choices for travelling companions - and not just by me, I should add! Sylvain's students are constantly asking after him and he never leaves a meeting without making new, great connections and helping out a SAS user with an issue they might be having, no matter how small. Jean Hardy is a legend in Québec City: teaching SAS and supporting the user community since before SAS existed as an entity in the province, Jean will also be presenting on the topic of moving results into and out of Excel at next week's MONSUG meeting in Montréal on November 8th. Jean also presented in the midst of some difficult circumstances for himself personally and I want to take a moment to both thank him and offer him the support of not only myself but the SAS user community in general.

All in all, I'm flying home to Toronto sad to be leaving QC and my friends on the executive committee so rapidly, but thrilled with the growth and strength of the community I leave behind. With dates already planned for 2011, I already have the next meeting of the Club d'utilisateurs SAS de Québec circled on my calendar. Beyond that, I've already made plans to travel here in the summer with my girlfriend to spend some time off-work with some of the executive members.... and what more can a Community Manager ask for than to be welcomed so fully into this wonderful culture and group?

Looking forward to continuing my adventures in this beautiful province next week and as they say here in Québec City: à la prochaine!