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...

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