As I sit here in the Regina airport, I'm looking out the window with longing like a puppy at the pet store. The weather here is just beautiful: + temperatures and clear skies and the sound of the running water resulting from the melt-off of the snow is filling the air. I know that this is a bit of an early blessing here in Regina. In fact, I was assured that just last week, temperatures were reaching -64 degrees Celcius with the windchill... so I guess I just got lucky. To be honest, though, my desire to stay around for a few more days in Regina has little to do with the lovely weather here or the nasty weather awaiting me in Toronto. It has everything to do with the wonderful people and phenomenal hospitality which I consistently experience here in Regina. The goodwill began immediately upon our arrival last night.
Charu Shankar and I were both ravenous after a long - but pleasant - drive from Saskatoon. We checked in, got a few minutes of decompression and then agreed to meet for dinner at a nearby restaurant, Taste of Tuscany. This would prove to be one of the greatest SAS road trip dining experiences I've had in my 7+ years of travel. First, a word about the ownership. What happens when a traditional Italian woman meets and falls in love with a Punjabi Sikh? Well, 24 years later - after living in Italy until that time - they move with their children to Regina and open up what can only be described as the most authentic Indian/Italian restaurant ever. Charu and I spent an hour and a half in what felt like our own private dining room. We chatted with the owners as they made our food: it's a pretty amazing feeling to smell fresh, delicious cooking in a restaurant and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that it was YOUR food which smelled so great! Stuffed beyond belief, we were sent wobbling out into the cooling Regina air with a loaf of fresh homemade bread to struggle getting down over the course of the evening. If anyone reading this lives or visits Regina, I can't recommend this restaurant enough. 24 hours later, I STILL feel full.
Of course, while the food was amazing, Charu and I were there with a job to do. The Regina SAS User Group awaited! In terms of sense of community this group has rapidly jumped near the top of my list. Everyone seems to know each other very well and is more than willing to reach out to help each other. SGI, Farm Credit Canada, and other organizations chatted, laughed and generally hobnobbed with each other and with us as if we had seen each other just the day before.
The sheer volume of SAS knowledge on display in Regina is impressive as well (to say the least). I learned that Shaun Kauffman of Farm Credit Canada had achieved some level of internet fame by having the second highest ranked content on Google on the topic of DS2 (a talk I extoll all over the country, consistently). In fact, the only presentation searched for more than his? The actual documentation through SAS help! That's quite the achievement, Shaun, you should be very proud.
We had 2 fantastic local presentations which truly resonated well with the audience... and terrified me. Why? Well, the 2 talks were distinctly statistical in nature and my talk was antithesis of this: trying to look at statistical practice in Enterprise Guide, from a non-statisticians view. Taryn McKee of SGI gave a fascinating talk around the motorcycle graduated licensing program and whether or not it was effective in reducing accidents. As a motorcycle rider herself I'm sure the topic was certainly near and dear to her heart. Taryn has a natural gift to present fairly complex concepts - in this case, the GENMOD procedure - with ease and grace. Even I understood what she was talking about and that's really saying something ;) Fantastic job, Taryn.
Not to be outdone, Joan Kwan of FCC offered a talk around correlation and multicollinearity. Again, we were treated to a presentation of some fairly complex statistical processes in an affable, easy-to-grasp manner. Joan offered to give this talk with a small bit of prodding (read: begging) from me and I'm so glad she did. I'm quite sure that every person in the room walked away with better understanding of these statistical concepts.
Of course, my colleague Charu Shankar was able to leverage her fantastic speaking skills and depth of knowledge to offer two great talks which she had given several times already over the past few days. Her talk on what was new and noteworthy in SAS 9.4 was great as it featured DS2 and allowed for some dialogue with Shaun Kauffman and her secondary talk on her top 10 coding efficiencies is ALWAYS received warmly. Hard to argue with a talk which helps your programming become easier, faster and more productive. Great job as always, Charu! It was an absolute pleasure to travel with you and share some great stories, laughs and meals. You're welcome on the road with me anytime :)
One of my greatest thrills was seeing my colleague Tara Holland show up out of the blue and surprise me at the meeting. A native daughter of Saskatchewan, it always feels a little... off when I'm not here with her. Her presence at the meeting made all right with the world again.
So here I sit at the Regina airport rueing that I have to leave. I really do love this city: the people, the food, the 'feeling'. I can't wait to come back once again in the Fall, it really feels like too long before I get back here. In the interim though, I have about 25 other user groups and of course SAS Global Forum coming up rapidly. I'll have more on my adventures in the coming weeks.