Friday, June 23, 2006

This Week At SAS Institute

I don't usually appreciate blogs that tell about happenings in strangers lives. Its not their life experience that Im intersted in usually. Since Im not interested in reading about others trivial experiences Im sure theyre not interested in mine so I don't like to make a habbit of blogging about things like this. However, I had a fairly interesting trip so I'm gonna blog about it anyway. If you're not interested... well then as the English say, 'bugger off' (and I did meet a couple Britains this week).

My trip was made (by car) from Charlotte to Cary (outside of Raleigh, NC) to the annual JMP Users Conference at the SAS Institute. SAS is (arguably) the worlds leading developer of statistical software. JMP is one of their more user friendly products.

On Monday I was planning to attend the Scripting Workshop but because I forgot my luggage at home and lost almost an hour of travel time, I was running late and could not make it in time for the event. Instead I stopped in at the Durham Rescue Mission for a tour (I had already arranged this anyway I just knew that I had more time now since I couldn't make the workshop anyway).

The tour was interesting and I met a lady who (after hearing that I played the fiddle) called her husband who played bluegrass guitar and invited him up. It was her birthday and she insisted that we play "Ashokan Farewell" for her. We played for about 2 hours and then I headed on my way but I thought it was very neat to have such a random, unexpected jam session.

I checked in the hotel (not the prefered hotel of the conference) and was sitting in the lobby when I noticed a middle aged man who had all the tell-tale signs of a stastistician by appearance. I asked him if he was with the JMP conference and he was. Hans was originally from Holland but now lived in South Africa. Another guy, Peter who was from Australia (now living in NY) joined us and gave us a ride to the Embassy Suites where we were to catch a shuttle to the dinner that evening at John Sall's house (president of JMP and co-founder of SAS Institute. If you don't know anything about SAS, check out the link above. They're a very intersting company.)

This was the evening of the final game in the Stanley Cup and there were a lot of Edmonton Oiler fans in the hotels. In fact, the Edmonton Oilers themselves were at the Embassy Suites while we were waiting for the shuttle and some of the people were apparently getting their pictures taken with members of the team.

On the way to Mr. Sall's house I was suprised that the neighborhood seemed to be quite middle class as we were driving through to his house but out of nowhere, we came across the gate to his estate. I have to say I was impressed, especially at the decorations inside (we only walked through briefly). I met a few people while 'mingling' in the crowd (which is not something I'm particularly good at) but one of those was Mrs. Sall who informed me of a JMP non-profit user group being put together. I think that was valuable information and I'll try to get involved with that. Of course, the food was excellent. I sat with Dr. Tom? Little (who is an independent consultant who apparently has a good deal of interaction with Microsoft) and his son (a web page designer who also happened to be studying Japanese like me) and another in the party but with a separate company, ??can't remember his name but have his card somewhere?? (who was also one of the vendors with booths at the conference). The entertainment that evening was Dulcimer Dan.

The first day of the conference (Tuesday) wasn't that great in my opinion and in fact, the afternoon was pretty much useless to me because it was all bio-tech industry and design of experiments so they just weren't applicable to my industry. (Most people who do what I do apparently use SAS Enterprise Miner which is considerably more expensive than JMP. ) Dinner that evening was at the Prestonwood Country Club.

I sat with a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and it was a relief to rest my brain cells for a little bit and talk about football! But on my other side sat a biologist and it wasn't long before I was wrapped up in a conversation with him. We talked about substance abuse (as if it were really my expertise though I do work at a rehabilitation center) and then he started talking about the cancer research he was involved with and how they were using JMP in it. I cant reproduce what he said but it was interesting to hear him talk about genetic mutation and how that comes about. I couldnt help but be reminded of the fact that observed mutations are almost always harmful as the proponents of intelligent design often point out.

The second day of the conference (Wednesday) was much better. After a traditional southern breakfast, the first speaker was from Microsoft Xbox. He didn't get very technical but was interesting. The next was a PH.D. student (mid to late 20s probably) from Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory. He was by far the best speaker of the conference. He spoke mostly of how they used JMP in designing / testing / & researching for military technology.

That evening, Hans and I spoke for about 2 hours on politics (and of course I tapped into his statistical expertise a little as well. Ater all, with a name like Hans you have to be good at statistics).

I spent the final day in a class entitled "Analysis of Attribute Data" which basically went over logistic regression and recursive partitioning (both of which I use quite frequently at work). The teacher was great, although I thought the course itself could be improved on. I did pick up a few helpful things though. (Part of the problem was that I didnt have the level of statistical background that most of these people had). At lunch, I talked with a guy from Amazon.com and he was pretty interesting.

Thursday evening, I came straight back to Charlotte and without going home, headed over to my friend's house for a book study (We're studying the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians). The study was excellent and a lot of fun. I will be posting a summary of each of our discussions on the topic (this was the first of 10 or so (I'd estimate) for this book).

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