Monday, September 17, 2012

Stars in My Eyes at TASS

... and that's not just because the famous Toronto International Film Festival was wrapping up this past weekend. No, before the stars all left town we were to be graced by one more very special visitor - at least, special to those of us in the SAS world. Chris Hemedinger was to be the keynote speaker at the September edition of the Toronto Area SAS Society. What a way to start off the Fall/Winter season of Canadian user groups!

I'll admit to having a little bit of a fanboy moment or two with Chris, one of the originators of Enterprise Guide.  As a self-proclaimed lousy SAS programmer, I learned my SAS during my post-graduate work primarily through EG. I've also delivered several talks on using EG over the years at user groups from Whitehorse to Halifax. Whether reporting on Titanic passenger data, peeking into the Communities at SAS discussion forums to find EG tips, and even using it to analyze and quasi-optimize my darts game, it's been a powerful tool in my workbench for quite some time and one I've been proud to show off. I've had the privilege of meeting Chris several times over the years - mostly at SAS Global Forum - but to have almost 24 hours to talk with one of the people responsible for the creation and subsequent development of my beloved EG was an opportunity I'd been looking forward to for quite some time.

Naturally, we ended up speaking very little about Enterprise Guide over the course of his visit! Whether sharing stories with Canadian user group executives over dinner or trying to navigate the oh-too-small parking garage at the SAS Canada offices, Chris was obliging, gracious and fun. The depth and breadth of his knowledge is truly unbelievable as well; it was amazing to watch him solve users' questions by simply turning them over briefly in his mind.

OK, enough of the hero worship: on to the meeting itself!  Chris was truly 'the show'. He delivered two talks in the morning around moving from 32-bit SAS to 64-bit SAS on Windows and another on PowerShell and SAS. Both were extremely interesting and as I remarked at the meeting, the migration talk in particular would serve me well as the question of what migration meant is one I'm asked quite often.  In addition to the breakout sessions, Michael Lerner delivered a very deep dive into the importance of understanding what it meant to give a variable weight.  His talk explained how different SAS procedures treated this concept differently and offered some suggestions around best practice. 

The afternoon session featured more Chris Hemedinger with talks around moving from EG 4.1 to EG 4.3 and a fantastic talk around some of the custom tasks he created within the Enterprise Guide framework. This talk in particular blew me away... not only because Chris made it look so easy, but because the code used to add the tasks to EG was made publicly available on Chris' blog The SAS Dummy. Anyone can search for the tasks he's collected here and apply them to their own EG environment!  Of course, as Chris explained, a SAS administrator will still have ultimate control over the EG environment but hey: it's a nice option to have. 

We also tried out a new feature for TASS: the Solution to the Posed Problem, a staple of the Victoria SAS User Group.  A fairly simple problem was postulated online with a sample dataset, and we solicited methods of solving the problem.  We received almost ten responses back, which was great! Whether using Enterprise Guide, PROC SQL or even Microsoft Excel, the variety of solutions highlighted the strength of SAS and its flexibility as well. I'm quite sure we'll refine this particular element of the meeting and bring in back once again.  A special thanks to Art Tabachneck for animating this part of the meeting as only he can!

It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention rookie TASS presenter Eric Cai of Predictum. I first met Eric about a year ago as a student finishing his work at the University of Toronto and attending his first SAS user group... the Health User Group, as I recall.  At any rate here we are a year later and Eric is putting his statistical background to great use as a valued member of Wayne Levin's team, the flagship of JMP training and sales in Canada. As I mentioned at the meeting, Eric is the first presenter to ever have 'out-energied' me. He was a real dynamo: passionate, expressive and full of life. I was exhausted by the end of his talk just watching him.  Given the throng of SAS users around him at the end of the meeting, many found his talk on multicollinearity resonated with their own passion.

It was a real thrill to have a luminary like Chris at our meeting and I know that the SAS users in Toronto felt the same way. He'll always be welcome in Toronto! The meeting ended with satisified SAS supporters working their way into a drizzly end-of-summer afternoon.  If you'd like to read another take on the meeting, please feel free to visit Chris Battiston's blog in two parts on the TASS meeting. Part one is posted here and part two will be go live on September 24th.

Next up for me: I'll be travelling to Halifax for their user group meeting next week... I expect the drizzle I felt on Friday will have nothing on the fresh sea spray from the Atlantic. There's another Toronto connection going out with me as well as Art Tabachneck, the TASS President, will be the keynote speaker.  Of course I'll be back to report on my thoughts from Halifax - and I ALWAYS have a great time there.

Until then...