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!

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