Think Different! What I am still gaining from WUSS

I went to the Western Users of SAS Software (WUSS) conference a couple of weeks ago. One of the great benefits of this conference, more than most others, is the extent to which you see new people discussing new ideas.

What WUSS is not

For both statistical software and academics, I have found a diminishing marginal returns of the “big name” conferences. There are conferences I attended 20 years ago that still have many of the same people presenting on essentially the same topics. I have been told haughtily that is because they have a “program of research” and they are the “recognized experts”.  It’s nice to be a recognized expert, compared to say, being Paris Hilton or the Octomom or the Unibomber. I certainly understand if you have done a really good presentation or a really good piece of research the value of presenting it more than once for an audience of 50 people or publishing more than one twelve-page journal article. But seriously, enough already!

Regional conferences often have young people presenting for the first time, and they may not all have the polished skills of their more experienced colleagues, but they often have new perspectives.

For example, Dmitry Rozhetskin gave a paper on different ways to manage lists in SAS, a topic I had never given a second’s thought. Today I was working on a problem where I need to use a macro to run some code for each url contained in a SAS dataset. One possibility that occurred to me, since I had attended this 10 minute talk, was I could append all of the records to one another for a single long list and then scan it. I don’t think that’s the most efficient way, it was just the first solution that popped into my mind when I looked at the problem. My point  is that I never would have even thought of that a month ago.

Rick Wicklin talked about PROC IML, which is something I have looked at and played with a very little bit but never gave much thought. I had briefly considered it as a possible means of teaching about regression, since you could easily transpose, invert and multiply matrices. However, I’m not teaching statistics right now I haven’t taught in a program that got to that level of detail in the mathematics of regression for years. So, here is what I learned

  • PROC IML has over 300 functions (called modules)
  • Creating a new function is a lot like creating a SAS macro
  • It’s easy to call SAS from within PROC IML, just type SUBMIT — your SAS code — ENDSUBMIT

He also gave a really good explanation of bootstrap permutation which I did not write down so I am going to go back and read his paper.

Last week, on the tram ride back from Disneyland to the parking lot, my husband was talking about  a problem he was working on. He hadn’t been making progress using the first method and his next effort was to use a polynomial equation. This, however, meant that instead of dealing with 10,000 variables, he was now dealing with 10,000 squared, or 100,000,000 variables. The number of clauses required to solve the problem would be in the millions. I suggested that if he could perhaps recast this as a matrix problem he could code it and debug it more simply, although, of course, the number of operations will be the same. Also, if the code could be written using macros then it could be doable.

My oldest daughter, who had been sitting behind us, leaned over and said,

“This must be the most boring conversation I have ever eavesdropped on.”

My first point is that is why I did not marry her. Well, it wasn’t the only reason, temporal incompatibilities, sexual orientation and other factors came into play.

My second is that I would not have thought of the matrix algebra solution if I hadn’t still been pondering what I could do with PROC IML.

WUSS – the gift that keeps on giving.

Even better, the WUSS proceedings are now available online. The papers can all be found at . I intend to spend this weekend reading several I was not able to attend, and one, on SGPANEL, that I was able to attend but want to learn more about. For those of you who don’t know – you only get twenty minutes to present contributed papers, ten minutes for coders corner, so often the published paper has more information that was given during the talk at the conference.

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