Wednesday, May 6, 2015

From Sales Cycles to Shopping Carts - Analytics on Display at the Toronto Data Mining Forum

I'd been looking forward to today's meeting of the Toronto Data Mining Forum for some time. This group consistently offers extremely technical papers - it's really a statistician's dream, to be honest. Not being a 'man of numbers' myself, I often find myself struggling to keep up with the complex algorithms, formulae and terminology which our speakers throw around with some casual abandon. This meeting, however, promised something a bit different - a focus on sales and retail analytics.

The meeting began with Pramod Dogra and Iqbal Habib of Shoppers Drug Mart discussing the recommender system implemented in a retail environment to help better serve up relevant, timely offerings to their customers. Shoppers has a huge customer ecosystem-  nearly 1 in 3 Canadians is a member of their loyalty program called 'Optimum' - so there is a rich pool of data to draw upon. Interestingly, they are now beginning to develop more robust online offerings and a richer web experience to help mine customer data from real-time clicks, purchase intent, traffic patterns and more. Having spent quite a bit of time lately in presentations around re-marketing and programmatized advertising, I couldn't help but see opportunity for Shoppers to leverage the social web in a much more powerful way. Having said that, Pramod was happy to walk through their methodology for developing scoring/propensity models from a high level. With thousands of products and millions of customers, figuring out who is most likely to respond to offers given similar buying profiles of other individuals was quite the challenge. It was illuminating to see the Shoppers approach.

Our next speaker kept up the sales/retail theme by looking at the data side of the equation - how Enterprise Miner nodes could be used to score, test, validate and adjust models which predicted buying behavior or offered sales forecasts. I must single out our speaker Pat Valente from SAS Canada for some well-earned praise. Pat stepped in to deliver this talk with less than 48 hours notice as our original speaker became quite ill and quarantined under Doctor's orders. Pat familiarized himself with someone else's slide deck and was able to step up and not only speak to the topic at hand, but to demo it through the Enterprise Miner software itself. As if this wasn't enough, he fielded questions expertly and assuredly. Our Solution Specialist team here at SAS Canada is truly the best! Fantastic work, Pat. Contextually, the subject material was right in line with the previous talk - it gave a technical wrapper to the business situations previously outlined. I love synchronicity at a meeting.

Our final speaker was none other than SAS Global Forum Chair Elect (2017) John Amrhein of MacDougall Scientific. John is a statistician of no small skill - I'm envious of his ability to not only think through and address complex business issues, but to be able to easily explain it to a non-statistician like myself. His talk was fascinating. The topic was 'B2B Sales Analytics' and it really exposed how a typical sales cycle could be informed by Bayesian statistical analysis. Inputs included whether or not competitive intelligence was used, the experience level of the sales rep, the maturity of the product/service being sold... plus a whole host of others. By building Bayesian models John was able to fine-tune the expected outcome - especially as new data was introduced over time - to really have strong predictors of the sales process. Beyond this, by tweaking certain variables within the model the relative weight and impact upon success in any given situation could easily be explored. I was absolutely riveted. John also suggested (rightly so) that this methodology could be used for virtually any process wherein the outcome was in question. I left his talk knowing much more than I did previously about the sheer power of Bayes statistics.

I can honestly say that this entire meeting was a real eye-opener. As a marketer, I could easily relate to the challenges of properly identifying and offering value to customers - a task being tackled by the Shoppers team with some skill. As a SAS user, Pat Valente's Enterprise Miner talk brought a technical framework to the same challenge. Finally, John's talk layered in a statistical approach which was truly 'next wave'. His method seemed to me to be a sound, viable approach to mitigating risk and accentuating the possibility of success. My thanks to all speakers for their great work and effort! If you weren't able to attend, have no fear - the talks will be posted shortly here.

Next up for me: I'm off to Quebec. I'll be voyaging with the Section Chief for Statistics Canada in charge of SAS, a true figurehead of SAS expertise and a great individual as well. I'll have more on that trip next week.

Until then...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

SAS Newbie Warren Woermke Guest Posts: Taking the Pulse of the SAS Health User Group

My name is Warren Woermke, and I’m a coop student working in customer loyalty at SAS Canada. I’m on my second work term, and have been here for about 8 months now. Last week I ‘ran’ the Health User Group (my first ever) here at the SAS Toronto office, and gave my first presentation. To say I was nervous would be an understatement…though with almost 40 customers, and my manager in attendance, I would argue with good reason!

However, the good people of the Health User Group soon showed me there was no reason to be. I could not have asked for a friendlier, more receptive and welcoming group of people with which to conduct my first user group. Despite my lack of experience and, if I’m honest, technical knowledge, I did not feel at all unwelcome or alienated from the group. Some people were even kind enough to laugh at my not-so-funny jokes! (I promise to have some better lines prepared for next time). I need to say a special thanks to the HUG President, Christopher Battiston. The meeting ran extremely smoothly – in large part thanks to Chris. Not only did he make me feel welcome, he made my life easy by handling registration, introducing me to presenters, and answering one or two questions that were a little beyond me J.

The quality of the people at this meeting was only rivaled by the quality of the content. We were treated by three excellent guest presenters – Petros Pechlivanoglou from Toronto Health Economics & Technology Assessment (THETA) Collaborative, Ruth Croxford from Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), and SAS’ own Lorne Rothman. Petros provided us with an insightful look into the world of health economics – a
presentation which I felt had an excellent balance of technical insight, and less technical aspects for folks like me. Though it may have been old news to some, I was introduced to the concept of units of QALY (Quality-Adjusted Life Year), which measure a treatment not only on its ability to prolong life, but also on the quality of that life. Very cool. Ruth gave an interesting talk on inverse probability of treatment weighting using propensity scoring. Lorne gave us a look at predictive modeling in healthcare and put forth a challenging question to the group, ‘Why does healthcare rarely use it?’ During amateur hour this kid named Warren also did a quick update from SAS – but it was pretty poorly done, so there’s no need to go further into that.

All in all, this was an excellent experience – and one I’d love to repeat.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Whirlwind in Winnipeg

I never feel that I have enough time in this city. Typically I'm flying in fairly late at night from Saskatchewan and snatching a late dinner before bed... then a fast morning meeting, an efficient lunch and a sprint to the airport. One of these days I want to be able to take a breath and see the sights. My childhood memories of camping with my family from Toronto to Winnipeg are fading over time... I really need to make some new ones.

Fortunately, my adult memories are of the wonderful SAS community members I get to see each and every time I come into town. Craig Kasper and Kevin Morgan who co-chair the user group never fail to make me smile - whether sharing deep SAS knowledge with a technical newbie or commiserating over the woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs (hey, misery loves company), I always feel welcome and at home. The other Executive Committee members are fantastic as well. I love the energy of Xue Yao and the friendly smiles of Stella Leung and Humaira Khair. I'm especially grateful that the entire team quickly and without debate rolls up their sleeves to help out. Whether that's delivering a presentation in a pinch, assisting at the registration desk, MCing the meeting or speaking with attendees one on one, they truly make my life easy.

Of course, there are other locals who offer just as much support. Charles Burchill is a frequent speaker (and delivered a great talk on SAS Dates at this meeting) and his enthusiasm and energy is really remarkable. His passion is infectious, to be honest - I always find I leave my conversations with him more charged up than ever around SAS and SAS usage... and I work for the company! There are many individuals who ask interesting, challenging questions at the meeting itself which is a very welcome feature of our get-togethers. Questions and answers fly around the room and we all learn something new. This, after all, is the overarching goal of the user group program.

I referenced a whirlwind in my title. While I meant to apply that to my quick stop in the city, it could just as easily be applied to the presentation stylings of Nate Derby. Once again Nate proved he could captivate a room and hold their interest. He delivered a talk on graphing which was fascinating - how to effectively communicate information visually and some options for the most effective ways of surfacing this information. As we slip deeper and deeper into the era of visual data discovery, these outputs are becoming more and more prevalent. I felt privileged to see some options first hand and I certainly learned a lot. You can find all of the talks posted on the Winnipeg SAS User Group website - do take a look, they are certainly worth your while.

The post-meeting lunch with the Executive Committee was as entertaining as always. It's always amazing to me to see how time inexorably marches onwards. Since I was last in Winnipeg a huge building had been constructed with a great restaurant in the base - but I never saw any construction at all! It wasn't there, and there it was. There's a very deep philosophical manifesto buried in there somewhere, but I'm not going to try and surface it now on the cusp of a long weekend. 

Speaking of which I hope everyone enjoys a relaxing and enjoyable 72 hour break. If you celebrate Easter, then I hope it's a good one. If not, well, enjoy your downtime. I'll be back following the Health User Group meeting next week with a guest blogger, SAS rookie Warren Woermke.

Until then...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Opening the 2015 Season in Saskatchewan

Where does the time go... well, that's a bit of a silly question I suppose. It marches on and on and on. But I must admit to being more than a little shocked when I realized I had not offered a new post here in almost a calendar year's time. I suppose it's appropriate that I'm doing so on April Fool's Day... but the only fool around here is me. Believe me, it's not that there wasn't anything going on in 2014 - the exact opposite to tell you the truth!

It was such a busy year that I found it a real challenge to carve out a few hours to sit back and reflect on the wonderful experiences I had at SAS user groups across the country. I do have many strong memories from last year... I suppose I'll have to let those trickle out bit by bit over time. At any rate, no sense looking backwards - I'd rather look ahead to a great 2015 SAS user group season, beginning in Saskatchewan.

Canada is such a wonderfully diverse country, one I'm fortunate to cross from coast to coast several times a year. It should then come as no surprise that SAS users in our country are just as diverse as the land itself. From programmers to Visual Analytics whizzes, from Enterprise Guide users to data mining practitioners... the spectrum of SAS usage is as broad as Canada is wide. Saskatchewan has distinguished itself (at least, in my eyes) as the province which is developing their SAS skills most quickly. They have a hunger for knowledge that borders on ravenous... and they are willing to share their skills and support each other more so than almost anywhere else. It's great to see!

Our first stop was in the beautiful city of Regina, where I was able to catch up with an old friend and a true SAS legend. Nate Derby of Stakana Analytics was to be our keynote speaker here in Saskatchewan and in Winnipeg as well. In addition to being a prolific presenter (check out his publication list here) he is a staunch supporter of the Vancouver SAS User Group and an honourary Canadian. His business interests in Seattle and an uncooperative holiday schedule had confounded us from catching up for almost a year and a half... and it was great to have some time to bring each other up to speed on our lives in the SAS world.

The user group meeting itself was really 'The Nate Derby Show'. Due to some unavoidable work conflicts we lost one of our local speakers for the morning. Fortunately, our other speaker - Rajib Sahaji of SGI Canada - was more than up to the task of representing his city. His talk on Analyses of Casualty Collisions During Statutory Holidays in Saskatchewan was a very interesting look at how insurance companies set rates and conduct due diligence to do so. For all of us who may wonder how and why our monthly payments are set as they are, it was an eye opener. I feel like a very small piece of the puzzle was revealed! As a new car owner, this talk was especially relevant (although I'm not doing much driving in Saskatchewan ever, let alone on holidays).

Nate then became the star of the show - delivering not one, not two, but THREE presentations! I'm amazed he still had a voice at the end of the morning. His talks are all posted on the Regina SAS User Group website as well as Rajibs, of course. Nate's talks pretty much ran the gamut - whether discussing optimizing statistical models, maintaining SAS formats in Excel, or getting the most out of PROC REG, he was able to bring an approachable perspective to some fairly complex topics. I think everyone in the room gained something from his knowledge.

Several hours later, Nate and I joined my colleague Matt Joyce (or, Matt West to my Matt East) for the drive up to Saskatoon. There was a recent thread on Reddit featured on CBC which was a tongue-in-cheek dissection of this exact trip. Personally, I LOVE the drive. Coming from the east I don't get that 'big sky' feeling that I do in the Prairies. Taking it all in while flying through the flat landscape like a bat out of hell is certainly a great way to spend an early spring afternoon... and great conversation along the way to boot.

Saskatoon is my spiritual home, I've decided. Certainly in terms of my work with the user groups - the first ever group I visited and ran some 7+ years ago now and many of the same, wonderful faces who still grace the meetings. I'm always made to feel so comfortable and welcome. I have my favourite hotels, my preferred restaurants, I get a smile and a nod from folks in places I frequent often. It's always nice to come 'home'.

The meeting in Saskatoon was well-attended and featured the second installment of the Nate Derby show, reprising many of the talks he delivered so well in Regina. You'll find a full list of all the presentations here. We were also very fortunate to have the very talented Meric Osman of the Health Quality Council of Saskatchewan offering a preview of his SAS Global Forum 2015 talk on SAS Solutions to Create Episodes of Hospitalization for Health Research. He's a great speaker with an engaging topic - I'm going to enjoy seeing in again in Dallas in a few weeks' time! The Saskatoon group also came together to form a brand-new Executive Committee. Special thanks to former President Mark Horseman for his leadership and congratulations to Meric for assuming the Presidency of the group! Nianping Hu also joins our team as Vice-President and Kavitha Ramachandran as the Program Chair. It's great to see the local SAS users step up to support their community.

I flew off to Winnipeg ready to close out a long week of travel happy to have spent so much time in Saskatchewan. I consider myself quite fortunate that this is part of my job - if travelling the country, connecting with colleagues and enjoying great conversation can be considered work!  Thanks as always for the hospitality, Saskatchewan... and I do look forward to the next time.

Coming up next: some stories about my trip to Manitoba.

Until then...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring Thaw in Alberta

Last week I had the great pleasure of flying to Alberta for the Edmonton and Calgary user group meetings. Well, let me say that it mostly a great pleasure... my system was still in a bit of temperature shock having been sunning myself on a St. Lucian beach 24 hours before. For a little bit, my brain was back on that beach, I'm not afraid to say... but I quickly snapped back to reality and got down to brass tacks.

First up, the Edmonton user group. This group has continued to impress as the years have gone by. They leaped feet first into a full-day meeting format and the executive committee has worked dilligently to ensure the success of the afternoon session. For this particular meeting, we were focusing on Enteprise Guide and attempting a 'Coder's Corner' interactive session. This particular element is one which we were shamelessly borrowing/stealing from the Toronto Area SAS Society as well as SAS Global Forum. The concept was that individuals would bring their SAS problems for open discussion and collaborative problem solving. I'm not sure how it went, to be honest, as I was heads-down supporting SAS instructor Judy Orr Lawrence as she conducted the Enterprise Guide breakout. These sessions are only as strong as their participants make them - and if the Coder's Corner was anything like the EG breakout, it must have been great! Judy and I had great questions from the audience and amazing dialogue. Whether it was users asking questions or offering answers, the chatter was constant and pointed. I learned a lot!

Of course, there were other presentations of a more traditional nature throughout the day in Edmonton. I offered up a talk on 'Programming Gains in EG' for the group. I must admit, this was not my finest performance. Perhaps it was that vacation brain I alluded to earlier... or perhaps it was the rust of over a year I hadn't shaken off yet. Either way, I wasn't particularly happy with the delivery of the talk. Thankfully, Judy Orr Lawrence's EG talk on Conditional Processing more than made up for it. Judy is a naturally gifted speaker and instructor - having been in her classes many, many times, I can attest that she has an infinite amount of patience! Judy also delivered a great talk on the topic of SAS 9.4 - a talk which featured some of the more interesting new functionality of the latest version from a programmers perspective. She discussed the DS2 language, new features of EG 6.1, and some of the new reporting features. I will certainly be borrowing much of her talk for future discussions of my own.

No SAS user group meeting is complete without outstanding talks from the local SAS community. In fact, this is truly what MAKES the user group meetings a success. Long after we from SAS Canada have returned to our cities of origin, the connections, knowledge and network of local SAS experts remains. Presentations at user group meetings are a fantastic way of sustaining these important ties.

In Edmonton, the talks were anchored by Fareeza Khurshed of Alberta Health. I've known Fareeza for quite some time and she is truly a powerhouse SAS user. In fact, her name popped up more than once as one of the 'up and comers' in the SAS-L community... and that is nothing to sneeze at to be sure. Fareeza delivered a talk on Using SAS to Coordinate Complex Reports and certainly captured the interest - and admiration - of the attendees. Her ability to weave together a compelling narrative of both SAS and Excel was certainly appreciated by all. We also had a talk by Fareeza's colleague Nirosha Gunasekera who reprised a NESUG talk entitled Surviving Survival Analysis. I'm a big fan of leveraging the work of others and augmenting it for new purposes... while giving credit, of course! In fact, I did this with my own EG talk which I referenced earlier. I recommend this for any aspiring presenter who has a story to tell but perhaps lacks the whole tale. It's an easy way to fill in the blanks. Finally, Becky Leung of the University of Alberta gave a great intro talk to Proc Format. I always learn a lot with deep dives into a particular procedure, and this was not different.

Having had a great experience in Edmonton Judy and I flew to Calgary to reprise our talks (mine was MUCH better the second time around!) and to meet the great community and executive committee. I was very pleased to welcome Peter Hruby of LoyaltyOne to the team. Like Fareeza in Edmonton, I first got to know Peter as a member of the VanSUG executive committee in Vancouver. It has been a while since we caught up with each other and we certainly made up for lost time! It was great to see such a friendly, familiar face... and I know he'll be contributing great things to the group.

The two great local presentations we had were from one of our SAS Canada employees - Eugene Yankovsky on the topic of Bayesian MCMC Methods in the Oil Industry - and a tremendous talk from rookie presenter Jenny Chen from LoyaltyOne. It was hard to believe that Jenny was a first-time presenter - she was calm, collected and even asked for MORE time! Many seasoned speakers sweep through their talks with more speed than necessary. Great work, Jenny.

I left Alberta with a smile firmly etched on my face. I had a fantastic time with Judy and it was great to connect with SAS users and friends, new and old. Coupled with some Spring weather, life was grand!

Next up on my travel tour: the province of Quebec and the city of Halifax. I'll have more on my adventures there shortly.

Until then....

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spring has Sprung in Saskatchewan

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.

Until then...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blue Skies and Long Drives in Saskatoon

As a native Torontonian, I'm used to getting some friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) ribbing when I travel around the country. The 'Centre of the Universe' is often referred to in less-than-glowing terms by others. Over the years, I've tried to puzzle through why this might be: I think we're alright people in general (albeit with some very obvious shortcomings). As I sit here in Regina, I think I may have received my answer courtesy of the Toronto transplant newscasters on Global Regina. I happened to tune in to their broadcast as the news anchor turned the floor over to the weather. The anchor led in with a comment around the 15 centimetres of snow the city referred to today and the weather anchor responded with an amusing aside, relating that one of her friends in Toronto had told her today that she 'stayed home from work because of the weather'. The joke was that no one in Saskatchewan would EVER stay home because of the weather! Oh, Toronto. At least the military wasn't called in this time... Let me tell you, if more prairie winter/early spring days looked and felt like today, I would wholeheartedly agree with the newscasters sentiment.

The temperature was well above freezing and the endless prairie sky stretched blue and big from east to west as Charu Shankar and I headed out to the Saskatoon SAS user group meeting. We had enjoyed a lovely dinner the evening before with executive committee members and guest speakers who confirmed my long-held feeling that the good people of Saskatoon are the nicest, friendliest and warmest in the entire country. Meeting at our traditional location of the University of Saskatchewan, I anticipated a smaller meeting than normal. High temperatures and an early user group were both descending on Saskatoon much earlier than usual. With school still in full swing, we were certainly going to see declining attendance from our strong supporters from the University... and many other organizations we normally see attend had already written to indicate that the timing just didn't work. That's a shame, as the talks today were particularly inspiring.

However, a real highlight of the meeting was that we had three great volunteers step forward to assist with the Executive Committee - a real key to achieving great things with any user group. Mark Horseman, Rob Merritt, Lily Wu: welcome, we're very glad to have you!

Former SUCCESS President Gopinath Narasimhan led off the meeting with his introductory talk to arrays and do loops. Charu and I were both exceptionally impressed with his poise and grasp of the subject material. He was able to handle questions easily and skillfully and had found fantastic examples to share with the group. His talk set a fantastic tone for the rest of the meeting.

Charu reprised her two talks from Winnipeg the day before - new features of SAS 9.4 and her top 10 coding efficiencies. Once again, her talks were outstanding. Every time I hear them I pick up something new... which is a testament to the strength of her content and her ability to present it.

I myself had two talks to offer: statistics in Enterprise Guide and a talk which is rapidly becoming my favourite to build and deliver, the '10 for 10'. This talk dives back into the history of a particular group and looks at the top presenters, topics, meetings, presentations and more over the years. It really helps me reflect back on how the group has grown and gives me a bit of a blueprint to try and replicate past successes (no pun intended for the SUCCESS meeting). I reminded the group that it was seven years ago from this particular meeting that I first travelled out on the road for a user group meeting... I remember being given a tour of campus - including seeing former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's tomb - and how nervous I was to present to such strong SAS professionals. Little did I know then how warm, welcoming and accomodating this group would prove to be! I'm grateful for each and every trip I have out here to Saskatoon, even if I am just a poor sap from Toronto ;)

Speaking of which, as the meeting concluded and Charu and I jumped in the car for a two and a half hour drive south to Regina, I told her the story of my ultimate 'Toronto-ness'. Having previously undertaken this drive with SAS Canada's Tara Holland, I had noticed what appeared to be dark soil sporadically interspersed with the grass around us. When I asked Tara - a Saskatchewan native - about this unusual soil condition, she laughed, looked at me a little sadly and said 'oh, you are from Toronto. Matt, those are the shadows of clouds'. Hoo-boy. I guess what they say about Toronto might be right after all... ;) In my defense, the vast forests of Ontario and concrete jungle of Toronto don't exactly lend themselves to appreciating cloud shadows on a grand scale!

The drive down was very pleasant and made moreso by the beautiful weather and the pleasant conversation with Charu. I suppose that to me, Saskatchewan's SAS user community is very much in line with the gorgeous day we just experienced. Wide open, transparent, bright and uncompromising. I fall in love with it a little more every time I'm here (although I think I could do without the -54 Celcius weather).

We've both settled into our respective rooms here in Regina quite nicely and we're resting up for the user group taking place tomorrow. We'll have a few hours to tour around the city and then the long, late flight home to bitter, bitter, snowy Toronto. Can't I just stay here a little longer? If only I could...