WUSS: I see smart people

You know how some days everyone just seems put on this earth for the express purpose of getting on your last nerve?

Well, today was the opposite of those days.

Even before I got to the WUSS (Western Users of SAS Software) in San Jose, I was surrounded by smart people. My wonderful colleagues at USC. Justin and Andrew, helped me in a knock-down drag out fight with VMware and the Vista operating system (a.k.a. further proof that Microsoft is secretly run by evil trolls who hate the human race). After turning off hibernate, running disk clean-up, selecting “more options” and deleting every file that wasn’t hanging on to the operating system by its virtual fingernails, I was able to install SAS.

Fortunately, fortunately, fortunately we had just received the new, non-evil, electronic SAS download, which I copied on to three DVDs, installed on my laptop and it was running by the time the plane took off for San Jose.

I made  it to the first statistics session this morning where Robert Rodriguez talked about cool stuff like PROC MCMC and methods of doing Bayesian statistics with older procedures like GENMOD. He also discussed PROC TCALIS which he said will eventually be rolled back into PROC CALIS.

The next session on segmented regression, by a speaker from Kaiser Permanente Colorado. The paper was short, sweet and to the point, demonstrating how you can do a regression before an intervention, after an intervention and have an intervention variable as well, coded 0=not after intervention, 1=after intervention. In brief, she showed that putting an electronic “stop” in the computer for frequent drug interaction problems caused pharmacists to take action to prevent these, whereas just having “alerts” or warnings, was not enough.

Then there was the amazing Tom, from SAS. (I am sure there is only one guy named Tom who works at SAS, right?). I was doing a Hands-On Workshop on SAS Enterprise Guide. I got in at midnight and could not get in the room until 20 minutes before my presentation only to find out that EG 4.2 was not working. My fallback plan at that moment was to give the presentation using SAS EG 4.0, with no slides and making it up on the spot because it would have been really difficult for novice users to follow a presentation where the PowerPoint slides showed one thing and the computer screen in front of them showed another.

A smarter person than me would have brought a presentation that used the SAS EG 4 screens and a second presentation for SAS EG 4.2.   Unfortunately, a smarter person than me was not giving the workshop, I was.

(In self-defense, I have to say that I did email several times in advance and was assured that SAS EG 4.2 would be on the computers. Hence, I prepared accordingly. Note to self: In the future, never believe anything.)

So, TWELVE MINUTES BEFORE THE WORKSHOP, Tom, from SAS, shows up. (There’s only one guy named Tom among the 11,000 SAS employees, right?)  He trouble-shoots the problem and comes up with a solution that is something like this:

Go to the Start Menu

Select run

type CMD.

Type the following:

cd \program files\sas92\sasfoundation\9.2

sas /regserver )

That was obvious, wasn’t it? He makes up a PowerPoint slide, guides all 20 or so people in the workshop through this, then my presentation starts which was on SAS Enterprise Guide: SAS without programming.

Of course, after that, I could have made them write a database program and it would have seemed intuitive.

I did ask one of the conference organizers, Sally Carson (notice she has a last name) who at SAS I could thank for this and she introduced me to Andy (second note to self: find out why so many people at SAS apparently do not have last names). I told Andy how above and beyond Tom was and she said,

“That’s what we expect at SAS.”


I work in Information Technology Services and if I came up to myself and said,

“I have this major problem I don’t know what is but I need you to fix it on all of the computers in this room in the next TWELVE MINUTES….”

I would have slapped myself in the face just for suggesting it. That isn’t within shouting distance of a reasonable request. Hell, that expectation is so far from reasonable that you can’t even see reasonable from there.

Other expectations I have learned from having attended numerous conferences of various types is that the food is nasty and the lunchtime speakers are boring. Actually, the Fairmont Hotel is very nice, the food was good and the keynote speaker, who I think was named John Sall (he was definitely from SAS and had a last name although I cannot swear this is either his correct first or last name) was pretty cool.

His presentation was pretty much an early history of SAS, complete with pictures (or Polaroids, as they were known back then – look it up) . I don’t know how interesting it would be to a young person but for all the people my age it was a trip down memory lane. I heard all of the older (defined as anyone my age or older) people at the table exclaiming “Oh, my God, I remember that!” every time he mentioned having to invert matrices by hand (well,  we didn’t actually use our hands, paper and pencils HAD been invented back then) or showed a deck of punched cards or an IBM 360 or mentioned how you drew a line on your card deck with a marker in case you dropped them and they got out of order, or typewriters, or dumb terminals or paying (big bucks) for computer time.

The young person next to me asked, wide-eyed,

“Did you really use punched cards?”

in the same awestruck tone that one would use to say,

“And how was it flying a pterodactyl to conferences instead of Southwest Airlines?”

(I don’t fly Southwest and I have never personally flown on a pterodactyl, but from what I have seen at Terminal 1 at LAX my recommendation would be to go for the flying dinosaur.)

Tomorrow morning, I am heading to a session on macro programming. There are two at once so it will be hard to choose. In the afternoon, I am taking a class from Greg Fernandez on mixed models. He is the same person who did the really good discriminant function analysis presentation today.  So, it looks like tomorrow will be just as good as today. I am looking forward to it.

If you didn’t go to WUSS this year, you missed out. It is fabulous. Try not to screw up next year (it will be in San Diego, November 3-5, 2010). Then, you, too, can be one of the smart people.

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  1. AnnMaria, glad you got to meet John Sall. I couldn’t tell if you realized it or not, but John is a co-founder/co-owner of SAS and head of the JMP product.

    I’ve been trying to guess at who the Tom@SAS person is; several good candidates come to mind. We do have a lot of smart people here.


  2. As a SAS employee, I guess I’m predjudiced. But we find our event tech crew to be cheerfully above and beyond, too. And don’t get me started on our internal help desk — I keep pinups of them on my wall.

    Just so you know, the top-notch tech guy was Tom Rothschild from our IT group and Andy was Andy Littleton, the SAS marketing liaison with WUSS. And she should know what we expect.

    By the way, now that you know you were in such stellar company at WUSS, you might enjoy John Sall’s blog http://blogs.sas.com/blognormal/. He’s right up your alley. And my colleague Chris (see previous comment) is also an author (SAS for Dummies) and blogger http://blogs.sas.com/sasdummy, though he’s too humble to tout it. I completely love your blog and have been sharing it around the company. We should all be able to do numbers AND words so well. Thanks for your kind words!

  3. Hi AnnMaria –

    What can we say at WUSS? “It takes one (smart WUSSie) to know one (smart WUSSie)” 😉

    Yes, thanks to Tom Rothschild for fixing that minor snafu. With him in charge, I wasn’t worried! By that time I got to Gold room, Tyler Smith told me things were under control. Cool.

    Tom and Andy Littleton made sure little kinks here and there were fixed to make the show run smoothly. I’m hoping both will be on hand for WUSS 2010 in San Diego!

    Best regards,
    Raoul Bernal
    WUSS 2009 Academic Chair

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