Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Quarterly TASS Meeting Hits All the Right Notes

Last Friday saw the return of TASS... and my premonition that it would be a well-attended, well-received meeting proved to be accurate. Almost 250 people attended the full-day session and it was great to see so many familiar faces after a few months absence. I even had the opportunity to wish many a long-overdue happy New Year!

The reason the meeting was so well-attended isn't a mystery, of course: it has everything to do with the strength of the agendas of both Classic TASS and TASS Interfaces. The groups are very fortunate as there is a very strong contingent of willing and able presenters that enjoy presenting at TASS who are globally recognized for their SAS knowledge. In fact, many of the talks we enjoyed in the morning session were 'dry-runs' for the upcoming SAS Global Forum taking place April 22-25 in Orlando, Florida.

Leading off was Barry Hong, Past-President of TASS' sister group, the Golden Horseshoe SAS User Group (GHSUG). The talk centered around the ODS Graphics Designer, and it really did peel back the layers of mystery which seem to often surround graphs and graphing procedures. As Barry explained, 'it's pretty intuitive once you open up the code'. Perhaps not to this humble author and admittedly amateur-ish SAS programmer, but the majority of the audience certainly appreciated the step-by-step approach towards creating and sharing graph templates. It was quite compelling stuff: Barry took a significant amount of quite complex code and broke it down in layman's terms bit by bit. Such was the interest that one of the open breakout session spots was co-opted by Barry and a hardy group of graphing enthusiasts a little later in the morning. This talk definitely had SAS Global Forum all over it... perhaps you'll update and submit it next year, Barry?

Not to be outdone, the always entertaining Peter Eberhardt delivered a talk which he'll be giving in Orlando in about seven weeks' time. Known for his humour, his energy and his deep knowledge of all things SAS, Peter's presentation certainly didn't disappoint in any respect. His 'One Guy On Hash' talk was a scaled-down version of his SAS Global Forum talk which he'll be delivering with a collaborator. Although I did learn more about hash objects and why they're so useful than I thought I ever could in 45 minutes, I can't help but to be reminded of the image of Peter which led off the slide deck. Featuring Peter in the 1970s on a Disneyland visit, it even more shockingly featured Peter with shoulder-length hair. I was stunned... and impressed! Those of you going down to Orlando would be well-served by attending the extended version of this talk... or catching Peter at some point as he expertly chairs the Enterprise Guide section of SAS Global Forum. In fact, if you're interested in volunteering your time to help him out, send him an email and tell him I sent you; he'll be very grateful for your interest!

As I alluded to earlier, the break-out sessions at this past TASS meeting were something special. Michael Lerner has traditionally offered compelling, consistently interesting discussion in the 'Statistics' group. This meeting was the first time during my tenure at SAS that he wasn't leading this session. We were privileged to have Bob Saarimaki of DatamaApp who walked through some 'whens & how's' of statistical processes for the purposes of modeling. His room was literally bursting at the seams: standing room only was definitely the order of the session... I'm sure new friendships were forged due to forced proximity more than any other reason! Of course, TASS President Art Tabachneck wasn't about to surrender his title of 'most attended breakout session' without a fight. Explaining that he had recently had a third presentation accepted for SAS Global Forum as a 'back-up', he was more than happy to try it out on a willing audience in his Coder's Corner break-out session. His presentation around unusual date formats and how to handle them was incredibly full as well. I'm very pleased that there were only a few individuals who weren't in one of these two talks: clearly, they were just what the Doctor ordered (and the Health User Group isn't taking place until April 13th).

The afternoon session was extremely well attended and featured at least one nervous presenter. Yes, it's true: for the second TASS meeting in a row, I delivered a technical talk... with the added pressure of a live demo this time. Given the amazing level of expertise of the SAS users in the room, I wasn't sure if my talk on how I used Enterprise Guide to help set my darts team's line-up to best advantage was going to go over well. At the very least, I hope the attendees were amused as I walked the room through the high and lows of how I strategized for a darts match on a semi-professional level. It was a lot of fun to deliver, and to be honest, I hope I encouraged others to consider giving a talk as well. It's amazing to see how one can extrapolate and correlate examples which may seem simple to more complex, real-world business issues... in this case, using darts to illustrate an operational research problem.

New TASS Interfaces President Laurent Josso also delivered a great talk around SAS Graph NV. There's something about the ability to visualize and manipulate relationships which the vast majority find fascinating... including myself. Laurent demonstrated how this type of manipulation of data can be both informative and intuitive from a micro and macro perspective. The meeting's presentations concluded on a high-note: SAS Canada Training Specialist Barb Crowther walked us through a DataFlux presentation and demonstration which really showcased the importance and power of data cleanliness.

The last item of note for the afternoon session was the SAS User Exchange. Led by Jim Burkhardt, this new element is actually an old feature from the TASS meetings of yore. Users are free to bring their general SAS issues, questions and comments and direct them to the group. The executive committee and fellow attendees then try and help walk through these problems in a collaborative fashion. Nothing says community more than group collaboration!

As we say goodbye to TASS until the early days of June, it would be remiss of me if I didn't thank and acknowledge the work of Past President of TASS Interfaces, Craig McCulloch. His efforts helped grow this group through the first two years of its existence from a concept to a vibrant community of Enterprise Guide, Enterprise Miner, JMP and DataFlux users. Craig will be taking a well-deserved break from the leadership function, but it's important to note that his contribution to the group's forward momentum will be a lasting one. Many thanks, Craig.

As always, there seems to be another meeting just around the corner... and in fact, one managed to slip by me (due to a bout of illness) that I haven't yet blogged about; the Halifax SAS User Group took place just a few weeks ago! I'm going to try and catch you up on the wonderful dialogue and presentations which took place then and look ahead to the Health User Group taking place in about a month's time. Stay tuned!

Until then...