Monday, October 29, 2012

Breaking Through the Fog in Hamilton

Last week the Golden Horseshoe SAS User Group met in what can only be described as challenging weather conditions.  The fog rolled in thick and deep last Thursday morning which didn't bode well for having all of our attendees make it out to the meeting.  Fortunately, the agenda was well-rounded enough that many of the registrants screwed up their courage and made the trek to the ArcelorMittal offices as planned.

I was in a bit of a fog of my own having arrived late at night the previous evening from the tail-end of a 3 week long road swing. Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Montréal and Québec City were firmly in my rearview but the legacy of the successive trips certainly weighted upon me.  Fortunately, I had one of SAS Canada's best and brightest to keep me company - and help keep me awake - on the drive down the Queen Elizabeth Way highway and around the lake.  Tim Trussell would be delivering a talk on text analytics a little later in the morning but for the moment, he had the task of keeping me talking... and subsequently, keeping us both alive as I drove through the thick fog.  Above and beyond, Tim!

The topics were certainly compelling for those who attended.  Harry Droogendyk discussed using SAS to read Sharepoint list data.  The laughs which punctuated the presentation were representative of Harry's easy-going style rather than disregard for the topic.  I'll admit: I couldn't help but think of how my team leverages Sharepoint in our environment and I was putting our own data and documents in the context of Harry's talk.  I certainly learned a trick or two which I would like to consider implementing here at SAS Canada.

One of the most endearing features of the Hamilton user group meetings is the 'Proc du Jour' - every meeting, one particular procedure is explored and discussed in deep detail to get better understanding of its capabilities and strong points.  The pareto procedure was up this time as presented by Lesley Harschnitz.  I had no idea such a procedure even existed - I always think about the pareto principle in terms of the 80/20 rule... which still applied to this talk.  I really enjoyed Lesley's openess around her presentation as she managed to duplicate her graphing controls (well, almost) in both SAS code and Enterprise Guide.

I always like seeing new faces up in front of the audience offering their perspective and sharing their knowledge.  Amidu Raifu of Brock University shared a great talk from a health perspective around cervical cancer screening practices in the DR Congo.  I always learn a lot from health talks.  In my opinion, health SAS practitioners are some of the best out there.  Not only are their findings potentially life-changing, but the pressure and necessity for accuracy always impress me.  Amidu clearly knew his subject well as demonstrated by his ability to follow-up on the multitude of questions which followed.  I hope we'll see another presentation from him soon.

Finally, Tim Trussell took the stage. Tim is no stranger to the GHSUG group having presented many times and famously challenged ex-GHSUG executive committtee member to a programming vs. Enterprise Guide speed challenge (I'm not saying who won, so don't ask!)  A lot has changed since those days.  Tim has only grown in knowledge and experience and is now the Analytics Lead for all of SAS Canada.  One of his area's of expertise (and there are many) is text analytics.  He offered us a compelling talk around some of the reasons to leverage text analytics and the insights some organizations have derived.  It's nice to know that despite his brilliance,  Tim is still human.  For a brief moment I found some common ground as we both managed to spill coffee on ourselves.  Sigh.

All in all, it was a really good meeting.  I echo the words of GHSUG President Ron Kaine who said that he learned something from each talk which he could use, and that's always the goal at day's end.  I hope that the attendees feel the same way. Congratulations to the whole team for putting together a great meeting and a special nod to new executive committee members Kirby Sinclair who presented on the upcoming NESUG conference and Sueheir Saddik who MC'd the whole meeting. Fantastic job by all!

I have a bit of a respite here and then I'm off to Ottawa in mid-November... you'll certainly be hearing more from me soon.

Until then...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

La Belle Province: Québec User Groups Provide Laughs and Learning

I’m trying to pull my thoughts together after a lightning quick tour through the province of Québec.  It truly was an epic voyage… but I’m fortunate I had a fantastic travelling companion with me for the duration: a man who needs no introduction (except occasionally to himself), Mr. Andrew T. Kuligowski of Florida.

Andy has been a stalwart supporter of the Canadian SAS user groups for many years.  In fact, we realized that there are only a few groups which Andy has not attended! Ottawa, you folks are next… and the last on Andy’s list.  From Vancouver to Halifax, from Edmonton to Hamilton and everywhere in between, last year’s SAS Global Forum Chair has brought his easy, comedy-filled, jaw-droppingly knowledgeable presentations to user groups across the country.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be his faithful travelling companion – and straight man, at times.  I have many fond memories of sharing beers and groans over live hockey (when there was such a thing), discussing the intricacies of SAS Global Forum and mapping out the best aquariums to visit at our various stops.  In short, it’s always a blast to travel with him… and I know our Canadian SAS users appreciate it as well.

First up for both of us: a stop in Montréal, the first time Andy had returned since SAS Global Forum was held there in 2004 and my first stop-in this fall.  I absolutely LOVE Montréal.  One of my closest friends at SAS Canada lives there and it’s always a hoot when I’m able to get together with Sylvain Tremblay – another user group road warrior like Andy and myself.  The Executive Committee is best defined as small but mighty. In fact, they don’t really get smaller!  Mathieu Gaouette and Eric Lacombe have held down co-leadership positions for many years now and have more than competently facilitated a steady stream of gifted local speakers and special guests from many a distant town.  In fact, Andy’s presence in Québec was entirely due to Eric’s dogged pursuit of lining him up for the agenda! In pursuit of this goal we changed dates, we moved venues, we did everything we could to get Andy in front of the Montréal audience.  Mission accomplished, Eric.

In Montréal, Andy truly was ‘the show’.  This was remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, Andy is a pure Anglophone… and the good folks in Montréal and Québec tend to prefer French speakers for obvious reasons. Andy’s content was deemed more than solid enough for the audience: in this case, Andy’s technical prowess more than made up for any perceived linguistic shortcomings.  Plus, as he would later demonstrate in Québec, Andy was MORE than willing to attempt a few French phrases to good effect!  Secondly, Eric and Mathieu were prepared to devote a significant amount of time on the agenda to Andy for the purpose of describing his involvement in SAS user groups, SAS Global Forum and the importance and benefit of volunteering.  This was new territory for any group to cover! 

I think it’s fair to say that Andy more than handily acquitted himself in both respects.  His humour, grace and willingness to engage the audience around their experiences – SAS and otherwise – instantly endeared himself to all.  His presentation schedule was ambitious to say the least. Andy attacked a few of his ‘greatest hits’:  Set, Merge & Update as well as Looking Beneath the Surface of the SASLOG.  We had hoped to fit in his Beneath the Surface of Sorting talk as well but we simply lacked the time.  Have no fear, MONSUG attendees: all of these presentations will be posted shortly in the MONSUG group in the SAS Canada Community as well as the MONSUG SAS Canadawebsite.  We left Montréal having received a very warm reception from the SAS community, which is ultimately the goal of the user groups regardless of language, culture, or any other point of difference. In fact, the user groups thrive the most in areas where differences in community can united through the binding thread of SAS usage.  In this respect, MONSUG was an overwhelming success.

After the extremely warm reception in Montréal – which I think may have calmed Andy’s nerves just a bit – we were off to historic Québec City.  I don’t know if I could have sold the virtues of this amazing city any more to Andy… as regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve previously sung the praises of Québec loudly and consistently. 

Of course no trip to la belle province is complete without food. In Montréal we introduced Andy to the MONSUG-burger.  I could tell you what it is, but I’d prefer you just found out for yourself. Give a brief SAS talk in Montréal and I’ll show you! ;) In Québec City I took Andy to one of my favourite restaurants, ‘Le Café du Monde’. Here we had a great time discussing all things SAS and dining on some of Québec’s finest potages, saumon, macarons et surtout du vin.  These are some of my favourite moments on the road with guest speakers; finding some quiet time to really sit, talk and pick each other’s brains.

After retiring at the Auberge Saint-Antoine – truly one of God’s gifts for travelers such as ourselves – we met up the following day for lunch with the Executive Committee and the user group meeting itself. Here, again, the SASuser community is blessed with a strong, vibrant and dedicated executive committee.  Louis-René Rheault and his team consistently pull together an outstanding agenda which represents both local SAS experts and guest speakers such as Andy.  The meeting itself was a very good one as well. Over 70 people attended to hear Patrice Bourdages give the most unique ‘SAS Global Forum Wrap-Up’ talk I’ve ever seen and our own Sylvain Tremblay delivering a talk around SAS programming techniques.  Of course, Andy was there to reprise his Set, Merge, Update talk once again.

Too soon, I found it was time to leave la ville de Québec.  A quick dinner at possibly the best steakhouse I’ve ever had the pleasure of patronizing and one very full, satisfied and happy Matt was en route to the airport.  Given the smiles, laughter and positive feedback on the evaluation forms, I can confidently say that I believe the SAS community in Québec City felt the same way.

I’m not being facetious when I say that this particular road trip brought together some of my favourite elements of the user group program.  I had the opportunity to work, converse, laugh and relax with two amazing executive committees.  I was also able to observe just how strong the SAS communities are in both of these cities and to take some notes for how to strengthen other groups across the country. Finally, it’s always a pleasure to see Sylvain Tremblay and of course Andy Kuligowski.  As ‘travel buddies’, you tend to become quite close with your fellow SAS presenters… to have 2 of them in one spot at once was truly a great experience. I was in guest speaker overload!

At the end of the day, Montréal and Québec are blessed to have such strong, committed and attentive executive committees working on their behalf and their efforts are truly appreciated.  Not just by me, of course: but by the community at large. There aren’t enough words in either English or French to thank them for their hard work!  I look forward to seeing them all again soon.

À la prochaine, Québec… et merci.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Winnipeg: of Pregnancies, Graphs & SAS Camaraderie

Last Friday I arrived late at night in a rainy, blustery Winnipeg twilight... a little delayed, but happy to be on the ground.  In no small part this was because I was eagerly anticipating seeing friends and colleagues in the friendly confines of the University of Manitoba for the Winnipeg SAS User Group meeting.  And much like the windy weather I arrived in, my short time in Winnipeg was to be as quick, sudden and tumultuous... if only because I was actually on the ground for a mere 18 hours!

I have to take a moment to remark upon something which I don't believe I've ever encountered before at a SAS user group meeting.  Arriving fairly early in order to set-up and say some hellos, I found my eyes wandering around the room.  It was hard to miss that there were 3 or 4 very visibly pregnant women in attendance including one of our guest speakers!  I wondered aloud in my opening address what they were putting in the water in Winnipeg.... it was really fantastic to see so much positive energy in the room, it's hard not to smile when you see so many glowing faces.

Our agenda was a great one once again.  Josée Ranger-Lacroix once again planted a flag in the ground as a rallying point around SAS macros.  Having seen her talk in Saskatoon the day before, I was ready for the audience to be 'wowed'...and I think they were.  The feedback on the evaluations was certainly very positive and I'll be sharing the overall results shortly in the Winnipeg SAS Users LinkedIn Group. 

Rachel McPherson from Manitoba Health followed up with a talk around Dynamic Data Exchange.  I always find these talks fascinating... it's an effective system for moving and restructuring data between Windows applications. Despite the power and flexibility of SAS, we all still live in a Microsoft-wrapped world, there's no denying that!  Rachel demonstrated how she used DDE to create and modify dynamic charts and graphs on the fly in both Excel and Word, and I think the audience appreciated it. As Rachel said, the objective was to learn how to work smarter, not harder... and I think she certainly succeeded in that respect.

Finally, Winnipeg user group President Craig Kasper delivered a fantastic talk around customizing graphs - in this case, pie charts - to adhere to internal specifications. Through a complex mix of code and macros, Craig was able to successfully automate updates on a consistent basis.  Great stuff, Craig!

All of these talks will be posted shortly on the Winnipeg SAS User Group website so that you can have a better idea of the great ideas shared between SAS users.  It's well worth your time!

A special thanks once again to the Executive Committee in Winnipeg: Kevin, Stella, Humaira and of course Craig have done a fantastic job of keeping the strong spirit of collaboration and community alive and well in Winnipeg. I'm already looking forward to my next trip back.

Next up for me: I'm headed to Montréal for the MONSUG user group meeting and Québec for the club d'utilisateurs SAS.  I'm travelling with last year's SAS Global Forum Chair Andy Kuligowski so you can be sure there will be tales to tell!

Until then...

Prairie Winds, Plotting Petrol Points & SAS

I had the good fortune of travelling to Saskatoon last week for the SUCCESS user group meeting.  I absolutely LOVE this community.  To a man and woman they are friendly and welcoming, and exceptionally eager to share their SAS knowledge with each other as well.  In many ways, they perfectly emulate the larger goals of online initiatives such as the SAS Canada Community: to connect SAS users beyond user group meetings for support, camaraderie and collaboration.

I should also point out that Saskatoon is a sentimental place for me when it comes to SAS as it was the first group I visited on the road as a fresh-faced youngster almost 6 years ago now.  6 years: wow. It's hard to wrap my head around just how fortunate I've been to enjoy my work for this time... and though it may sound trite, it really does feel like just yesterday that I was supporting my predecessor Christie Hobley by helping out at registration desks and processing evaluation forms. Between the two of us (albeit with a couple of other amazing maternity leave 'fill ins') we've been involved for the whole program... it's a little stunning, to tell you the truth!  Time certainly does fly when you're having fun.

As I was saying, Saskatoon was the first group I supported and I mentioned this during my 'What's New at SAS' talk during the meeting. We're collecting a variety of stories through our '10 Years of SAS Supported User Groups' initiative in the SAS Canada Community with an eye to sharing these with the greater SAS community through our insights newsletter in 2013.  I reminisced about my first trip to Saskatoon: massive luggage checked in, $400 in cash for customer entertainment... naiveté
personified. Now, I'm a carry-on, credit card warrior! What hasn't changed: many of the faces I see at the meetings.

Some of those individuals were presenting as they have over the last 6 years... and as always, these talks can be found on the SUCCESS website. Brad Zimmer - past-President of SUCCESS and longtime attendee - reprised a talk he gave a few years ago around using SAS as part of a logistics problem, optimally moving gasoline from point to point in western Canada. Given the number of variables being considered in the problem - distances, local costs, reciprocal agreements and more - it was quite the challenge! Brad is a great presenter and easily explained the considerations to a rapt audience.

Another returning presenter was Sabuj Sarker of Saskatchewan Cancer Agency who gave a talk on relative survival and macros. I, for one, am ALWAYS fascinated by survival-themed presentations. The application of this type of work to virtually any line of business - particularly those involving customer churn such as telecommunications and credit card - never ceases to amaze me. I'm fond of saying that SAS users from a health background are some of the most sought after in any industry and Sabuj certainly helped bolster my case with his talk.

Longtime attendee and ardent SAS supporter Dr. Jaswant Singh of the University of Saskatchewan also delivered a great intro-level talk on analyzing complex binary data using SAS. I really enjoyed Dr. Singh's style of presenting. Freely admitting that he was not a statistician nor an expert - but suggesting that he would love to learn from some of those in the room - his talk was a step by step approach to some pretty complex statistical procedures such as logistic regression and just plain old regression. The tidbit which made me smile the most was that Dr. Singh let out that he had tried his talk on his students' beforehand. I hope they were as receptive as our audience!

We also had the 'star' of the show, Ms. Ranger-Lacroix who admirably stepped into the shoes of Laki Kourakis to present on the topic of SAS macros as well as how to ensure system efficiencies. I promised everyone in the room that they would get something out of the talk, and I believe they all did! Josée had many admirers and question-seekers approach her during the break. It was very nice for me to get to know her a little better over the course of our few days together as well; I would certainly welcome the opportunity to travel with her again!

We also had a new presenter from the Health Quality Council. Ying Jiang delivered a talk around statistical process control graphs which I found to be incredibly interesting... I had never given much thought to this particular type of graphing but I immediately saw its utility especially when trying to ensure quality control across a variety of sources. Great job, Ying! As if the talk wasn't enough, she also volunteered to take over as the Program Chair for the SUCCESS Executive Committee.

A word about the Executive Committee if I may. Saskatoon has always been the most organized, orderly and committed group in terms of local leadership.  They have the formula down pat.  With yearly rotation of positions and consistent support from a whole host of individuals, the group is never without guidance and direction from on-the-ground resources in Saskatoon.  I'm exceptionally grateful to all of the individuals who have supported the community.

I'd like to single out Gopinath Narasimhan, the now past-President of the group. Gopi's energy and passion has been infectious in Saskatoon. He has worked furiously hard behind the scenes to ensure that local SAS users were well-represented on the agendas through both delivering topics they wanted to see and getting them up on the stage themselves.  He has been a strong advocate for participation in the group and has become a good friend as well as a colleague. Here's to your leadership Gopi: I can think of few individuals who merit a paid trip down to SAS Global Forum in 2013 more than you!

A special congratulations to the other new members of the Executive Committee. Joining Ying Jiang are Wenbin Li who becomes the Vice President and Eric Wang who steps into the President role. Along with continuing members Alomgir Hossain who retains his Local Arrangements Chair position and incumbent Brent Burlingham who continues as Technical Director, a very strong team has been assembled. I'm looking forward to working with all of them moving forward.

After Saskatoon, I winged my way to Winnipeg for their meeting last Friday.  My thoughts on that and more will be coming up shortly.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interacting on the Catwalk – Modeling Takes Centre Stage at the Toronto Data Mining Forum

This morning the Toronto Data Mining Forum convened at the SAS Canada offices for our semi-annual meeting.  I’ve come to really look forward to these get-togethers for a few reasons.  First, the agendas have become more and more compelling over the past few years and this has been reflected by steady growth in attendees.  In fact, one of today’s presenters had delivered a talk about 5 years ago in the early days of the group to a room of about 20 people…  a far cry from the roughly 130 individuals who packed the room today!  I’m also very happy that the Forum allows me an opportunity to get together with a very strong, very dedicated and very forward-looking Executive Committee.  Without taking anything away from other user groups, the Data Mining Forum consistently addresses the pressing issues in industry today. Today’s meeting featured a strong focus on modeling in several forms.

The topic of modeling can be either extremely complex.  There are many considerations when considering how variables interact: what is important, what isn’t, what has a marked effect on something else, what is skewing results… and these are just some of the more obvious challenges!  Given the broad scope of this topic I was glad to see that today’s meeting really covered most of the bases.

Our first presenter was Ryan Zhao. Ryan is a really interesting person.  He described to me how he had been originally inspired and connected through the auspices of both the Data Mining Forum and the SORA seminar series in the early days of his career. This in no small way factored in his decision to give something back to the data mining community… not only through
his presentation on realizing ROI through uplift in marketing campaigns which he delivered today, but by providing training for new analysts through his business. As Ryan explained the ‘analytical gap’ he was hoping to fill, I couldn’t help but admire his vision and passion for data mining and analytics in general. This passion was certainly reflected in his talk which was very well-received by all.  As a marketer myself, it was very gratifying to see a talk which lend some credibility to the complexity of the task before us on a daily basis… so thanks for making me feel better about myself, Ryan!  I suppose I should pay you for the unintentional therapy session.

Following Ryan, Tim Gravelle of PriceMetrix took the stage. Tim is no stranger to the user group stage having presented previously at the Toronto Area SAS Society and preparing for talks at both the North East SAS User Group (NESUG), a larger regional conference based in the United States… and potentially at the upcoming SAS Global Forum in San Francisco.  His comfort certainly came through in his talk!  Tim discussed the
importance of interactions and how they can help explain behavior in a significant way… but only if they’re given the proper weight and if they’re treated with the respect they deserve.  Using a a traditional SAS programming method, Tim illustrated how deep this subject can get; his knowledge and wealth of experience – especially when he brought to bear his former experiences at Gallup – were well-expressed.  Over lunch, we pressed Tim a bit on his view on the upcoming election south of the border… I won’t reveal his opinions or perspective – that would be cheating – but I can honestly say I have a better view of the upcoming decision for our cousins to the south. 

Finally, SAS Canada’s own Lorne Rothman took the stage to discuss
survival analysis using Enterprise Miner.  He admirably surged ahead in his talk though time was his enemy.  A lengthy break and many questions had cut into his time.  Lorne had no issue ensuring that the large audience received full value for staying the whole length of the meeting.  His talk was comprehensive and direct, referencing the previous presentations as well as showcasing his own expertise with data mining principles and Enterprise Miner.  It’s always a pleasure to have Lorne present – especially in front of a larger group – as there are invariably many of his former students’ in the room. I’m glad he was able to talk at length about a subject area he knows well and for which he feels great passion. Thanks for yet another great talk, Lorne!

I mentioned earlier that the data mining group is very forward-looking.  I should also mention that they are a discriminating, open audience who are always wiling to voice their praise – or damnation – for any given agenda.  This meeting was no different.  A few takeaways for me: definitely work with our IT department to investigate sound dropping towards the back of our large meeting space. It’s no fun for people sitting in the comfy chairs at the back to strain and stress to hear the presentations!  On a similar note, I’m going to investigate sourcing out a hand-held microphone for questions.  Rather than having the presenter repeat the question, this would make things exceedingly clear for all.  I’m very pleased that the overall reviews of the meeting were very favourable.  This can be a bit of an intimidating community; the level of expertise and the massive amount of knowledge in the room can be daunting to say the least. Having said that, there are few more tightly-knit SAS communities to be found anywhere across the country. It’s a privilege to contribute to their professional growth in any way!  If you’d like to see the talks which were given today, feel free to have a look at the
Presentation Archive on the Toronto Data Mining page; you’ll find the latest talks posted at the bottom.

Next for me: I’m off to Saskatoon and Winnipeg for their user group meetings. It’s a whirlwind of a week to be sure… especially with transitioning 3 different time zones in a matter of 2 days. As long as I remember what city I’m in – no guarantees – I’ll be back soon to fill you in on my experiences.

Until then…

Friday, October 12, 2012

Programming, Social Media & JMP: Calgary User Group Covers the Bases

As I sit at the airport in Calgary, I find it very easy to write about the wonderful experience I had at today's user group meeting.  What a great community to visit: a more engaged, inquisitive and knowledgeable SAS group would be hard to find... and I see a lot of them! The Calgary SAS User Group (CSUG) is certainly one in a million.

A special thanks has to go out to our great presenters. Wayne Levin of Predictum once again offered a tremendous talk on JMP software. From demo'ing the capabilities to making fun of me, he had the audience intrigued and in stitches the whole time.  There was clearly a great interest in the power of JMP. Lots of questions around the functionality and the capabilities of the software, and Wayne didn't disappoint.  He delivered on every question quickly and easily, moving between demo and discussion with grace and ease. He was more than a worthy recipient of the SAS lava lamp and static ball I gave him as a 'thank you' gift.  Even more impressive: he was running back and forth between conference calls the entire time. Given his excitement level, I gather those calls went well... fingers crossed, Wayne!

Chuck Mohamed is a name familiar to many 'in the know' SAS users in western Canada. He has done great work for us previously by offering talks in Vancouver along a business analytics theme... and as a former SA employee and long-time SAS consultant, his knowledge certainly runs very deep.  He gave a great talk around some of his most helpful SAS tips and tricks.  With an audience greatly mixed between Enterprise Guide users and traditional SAS programmers, Chuck managed to offer something for everyone: not easy to do at all!  I heard at least three people praising the talk and thanking him for the great work.

I myself delivered a talk around my favourite topic: social media. Yes, I was once again delivering some tips, tricks and insight into how to get the most out of this nebulous space as a SAS user.  I'm always very long winded and would never presume to judge my own talk... but I didn't see anyone throw up or fall asleep, so I guess there's that.

The Executive Team led by Malcolm Macrae has done a tremendous job here. We consistently see new faces out at the meeting and I know that they're all working tirelessly behind the scenes to help ensure that SAS users receive the benefit of attending. I'm thrilled that a few people have stepped up to assist them in continuing to speak on behalf of the SAS community in Calgary.

Although Alberta has been in the news for some unfortunate reasons lately - see the XL meat packing scandal - I'm very pleased to report that my trip to this great province was a rousing success. I made new friends, had many great conversations... and have a couple of projects to work on when I get home. The life of a Community Manager is never boring!

Next up: a busy week with the Toronto Data Mining Forum, Saskatoon and Winnipeg user groups. I'll be feverishly writing to update you all on the highlights of each so do stay tuned for lots more next week.

Until then...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Boldly Moving Forward in Edmonton

Yesterday marked the start of a brave new adventure for the Edmonton SAS User Group. Yes, eSUG was boldly going where (few) men had gone before... they were expanding their meeting to a full day session in the tradition of the Ottawa and Toronto user groups. The inspiration for this came from the inimitable Doug Dover, long-serving President of the eSUG Executive Committee and sprung out of our President's Meeting at SAS Global Forum in Orlando.  Doug was very keen to address a perceived gap in the support offered to the Edmonton SAS community.  While group attendance has been steadily climbing over the years, it was very difficult to offer presentations tailored to Enterprise Guide, Text Analytics, JMP and DataFlux users given the relatively short amount of time in a half-day meeting. Of course SAS programmers require a steady diet of code-based talks... but trying to satisfy all the needs of the SAS community in Edmonton was proving to be problematic. Hence, the idea of a full-day meeting was born.

The Toronto Area SAS Society focuses on programming topics in the morning and inteface-style SAS applications in the afternoon, a model used by the Edmonton group for guidance... with a fresh twist. The initial concept was to have small groups clustered around laptops for 'hands-on' sessions with EG and more. This idea morphed into concurrent interactive sessions led by Jared Prins and Wayne Levin who were giving interactive demos of Text Analytics and JMP respectively.  Given that we actually gained attendees in the afternoon session, I think this was for the best! It would have proved to be a real challenge to provide the experience we hoped for with such a large group.  Jared and Wayne each presented, demo'd and answered questions for over an hour each... truly some yeoman's work and much appreciated by all. I myself gave a talk as a lead-in to the afternoon session; as I explained to the attendees with a wry smile, I'm actually a SAS user myself (OK, Enterprise Guide and Enterprise Miner: most pure SAS programmers would say I'm a quasi-SAS user, a debate for a much longer blog post). Although I wasn't able to present the talk I wanted to give on analyzing Titanic passenger records, I think my talk around helping to set a strong line-up for my darts team in our uphill battle to retain our championship last year resonated with the group... at least, I hope it did!  It was certainly fun to deliver at any rate.

Of course, we can't discuss eSUG without a significant nod to the morning session. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new afternoon format, but the 'meat and potatoes' of the meeting remains SAS programming and more. I can't say enough about my travelling companion and feature speaker on this Alberta trip. Wayne Levin of Predictum Inc. is truly a joy to watch present. As arguably the leading authority on JMP in Canada, Wayne is unbelievably knowledgeable about the product and has a gracious, humerous way of presenting which instantly puts audiences at ease... and enthralls them, too!  In fact, I was forced to grab the metaphorical hook to drag him away for dinner at meeting's end due to the large group of attendees asking questions and seeking insights... and he had a response for all of them. Great job, Wayne!

We also had the pleasure of two local speakers in the morning; one a seasoned eSUG veteran and the other a fresh-faced presentation newcomer. It's fair to say that had the average attendee known this, they wouldn't have been able to tell who was presenting for the first time. Both speakers were absolutely phenomenal.  John Fleming of Alberta Health Services delivered a great talk around identifying unique endoscopy procedures using SAS.  I always appreciate presentations from a medical perspective; perhaps it's because there is little margin for error, or perhaps it's because I'm aware of the massive volume of data and level of expertise needed to make sense of it all. John's talk was eye-opening and interesting... even if I did stumble over pronunciation of the word 'endoscopy' in my introduction. I'm going to blame that on not enough coffee, that's all I have to fall back upon.

First-time presenter Iryna Nekhayevska of ATB Financial delivered her talk on reshaping data like a pro. Over lunch, I learned that Doug Dover had asked her three times to present and she finally relented on this, his third request. I'm sure the entire group is glad his persistence paid off! Iryna's talk was accessible and interesting, in no way reflective of her own concerns about the material. I joked with her that she had now been added to the infamous 'list' which means we'll certainly be asking her for a presentation again in the near future. I'm sure she'll do as well then as she did yesterday.

As always, it was a pleasure to break bread and share some laughs and good conversation with the presenters and the Executive Committee over lunch after the meeting. Whether discussing US politics, the challenges of big data or simply the intricacies of maintaining cordial relationships with Edmonton's law enforcement community (don't ask), we all had a ball.  I can't wait to be back again in the spring.  My thanks once again to Edmonton for such a great meeting and for being such gracious hosts.

Next up for me: the Calgary SAS user group meeting.  There's already snow on the ground in Calgary and a chill in the air, so my first task upon landing is going to be to go out a buy a new scarf and hat. I'll be sure to update you all on the meeting once it's concluded. 

Until then...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Halifax SAS User Group Wrap-Up

Well, it's taken me a week to sit down and recap the great SAS User Group meeting we had last Friday in Halifax... blame it on the travel, a crazy work week, or blame it on the boogie.  I prefer the boogie, myself, but that's just me.

I was fortunate enough to be joined on my journey by Toronto Area SAS Society President Art Tabachneck.  How and why, you might ask?  Or, you might not... but I think some of you were pondering those great questions, feeling the weight of the world upon you due to not knowing the answer.  Well, allow me to share.  Art won a contest in the SAS Canada Community we at SAS Canada sponsored about a year ago. Simply put, we wanted to hear interesting stories and uses of SAS... something a bit off the beaten path, if you will.  The lucky winner would travel with me to any user group of their choice across the country. Well, I suppose 'lucky' is being a bit subjective... but I'd like to think I'm a pretty good travel buddy (we'll have to ask Art for his thoughts).  Art was the clear winner of this contest and his choice was to head to Halifax.  Being a gentleman and a scholar, he even graciously offered to reprise his SAS Global Forum talk 'Copy and Paste Almost Anything'  for the group.  It was also the first time Art and I were able to travel together. We've worked closely together for many years and shared a few fleeting drinks at large conferences, but that was it.  I wasn't to be disappointed.

Halifax is a great place to eat, socialize and converse.  We met up with the other guest speakers and user group executives for dinner and had an absolutely fantastic time. Over out-of-this-world seafood, a few bottles of wine and some great east coast hospitality, I had a great conversation about SAS' use in academia, the presentations which were to come the following day, and more.  I had just enough time to introduce Art to the wonderful experience that is The Old Triangle before we tip-toed off to bed to rest up for the meeting.

The morning saw about 25 SAS users gathered for a nice breakfast and a chance to socialize before we got down to the business of the day.  I have to say, the camaraderie and cheerfulness are a few of my favourite things about Halifax. Familiar faces made a point of saying hello and inquiring about my health and my life (both fine, thank you).  I always feel like I'm at home in Halifax.

The meeting itself was punctuated by a great range of talks, all of which can be found posted on the SHRUG website.  In addition to Art's talk, we heard from the wonderful Martha Cox who shared some tips around making journal-ready graphs using SAS. I had no idea the parameters were so specific, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised!  We also experienced a team talk which was very near and dear to my heart as it focused around a marketing problem. Patrick Vandermeulen and his co-authors walked us through a business challenge of Lawton's Drugs and explained how they were using data mining and regression modeling to extrapolate a solution which could be applied to their entire chain.  It certainly sparked some interesting discussion!  I myself was very impressed with Faye Xu, a recent student of Dalhousie who was really driving a lot of the model creation through Enterprise Miner. The future of data mining looks to be in good hands, at least in Halifax!

Following the meeting it was time for Art and I to relax over lunch while overlooking the Halifax Harbour on a picture-perfect day.  Those moments will stay with me as we head into a typical Canadian winter... the blue skies, warm winds and sunny dispositions of the Haligonians we spent time with will certainly give me cause to smile in the cold months to come.

Next up for me: I'm headed to Alberta for the Calgary and Edmonton user group meetings. There are always interesting stories which come out of the Canadian prairies and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you.

Until then...