PharmaSUG 2019: Books, Trains, Boats and Planes

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PharmaSUG US 2019 was held at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown from 15-19 June 2019.

My wife and I flew from London to Boston, where we spent 2 nights visiting the historical sites in and around the city, as well as tasting some excellent local beers.

We then flew to Buffalo and crossed the border into Canada to visit Niagara Falls for 2 nights, walking behind the Horseshoe Falls and braving the mist. This spot had been high on my wife’s “bucket list” for many years. Admittedly the Hornblower catamarans used from the Canadian side do have transparent screens, so we didn’t get as wet as some of the other passengers! In contrast, the Maid of the Mists boats from the American side have no protection at all, but, as single-hull boats, can’t approach as close to the falls either.

We then flew from Buffalo to Philadelphia for the start of PharmaSUG, where I was a First Timer. I proudly wore my First Timer ribbon legitimately, as I’d never been to PharmaSUG before, along with my Presenter and Code Doctor ribbons. However, it was also a bit misleading, as I’ve presented previously at more than 30 international conferences in Europe and the USA, so several conference friends told me off for cheating.

My presentation wasn’t about ODS Graphics this time, but about SAS programming techniques to reduce data surprises. The room was about half full early on Tuesday morning, and, judging by the number of questions afterwards, well received (and I didn’t see anyone leave in the middle!). My room was run with friendship and precision by Frank Canale and Maggie Ying, who both made me very welcome, so I must give them a big thank you.

I had sat on the Code Doctors table in the “Code Clinic” at SAS Global Forum, but my 2 official sessions in Philadelphia, and several unofficial sessions too, were actually more enjoyable. Each session started very quietly, so I got to chat with my fellow Doctors, many of whom I’d met many times before. The last half hour of each session was filled with varied questions about concatenating strings in R, working around annoying “features” in old Microsoft applets, and answering questions about CDISC SDTM and ADaM specifications. Note the lack of “real” SAS questions, but still very entertaining, and I hope the answers proved useful!

PharmaSUG US 2019 had a record attendance of 910 this year, but I’d previously attended SAS Global Forum with 6,500 attendees, so it felt much smaller and more personable. Being relatively small also made it easier to meet up with people there. The conference lunches were excellent too, so a big thank you to MaryAnne DePesquo, although I was initially worried she might be cross with me for missing SAS Global Forum 2019 in Dallas, where she was Conference Chair, but she did forgive me!

I knew I would meet several conference friends I’d met before at SAS Global Forum and PhUSE, but I never expected so many friends would be there. In fact there were, apparently, rumours beforehand that I was coming to PharmaSUG, and some there didn’t believe them! Anyway, everyone was very welcoming, and I made lots of new conference friends at PharmaSUG too.

I have run free prize draws for copies of my latest book at most of the conferences I had attended since it was published in 2015, using the free copies Apress, the publisher, had sent me. My penultimate book prize draw at PharmaSUG was won by Qinxiao (Catherine) Shi, a Statistics student from the University of Connecticut (see photo). I wish I’d been able to take a photo of her reaction when she found out she had won. Let’s just say she was very pleased to win!

After 9 days in North America we had to travel home to the UK again, but not without one last adventure by rail, as I had booked a train from Philadelphia to Penn Station in New York. From there we had to catch 2 more trains, buying tickets before each leg, to get to JFK, our departure airport. While the potential issues were many, including an unexpected power outage at the station in Philadelphia that morning, I can report nothing untoward happened en route to JFK, and we even arrived there earlier than expected.

Now we have been back in the UK a few days, I’ve had time to reflect on our PharmaSUG journey, and all I can think of are 3 words: Welcoming, Enlightening and Worthwhile! Thank you everyone we’ve met in the USA and Canada. We’ll be back!

PS. For those interested in my beer tastings, I tasted 20 new beers during this journey: 4 in Boston, 4 in Niagara, 11 in Philadelphia and finally 1 in New York.

Don Henderson is a guest speaker for an extra SUGUKI meeting in London on February 19

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Don Henderson is a guest speaker for extra SUGUKI meeting in London on February 19.

For more details go to the SUGUKI Meetup page.

Don, a past president of the SAS Global Forum and frequent presenter there, will be talking about his new book about the SAS Hash Object, which he wrote with Paul Dorfman, who invented the Hash Object. Having read this book I was surprised how useful Hash Objects could be. Even the background to why they had to generate the “baseball” data for the book is fascinating.

Stop Press: 2 signed copies of this book will be given away at the meeting!

I’ll look forward to seeing you at the Shard in London………..Phil

Have you registered for SAS Forum UK 2018 yet? I’m presenting there!

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Have you registered for SAS Forum UK 2018 in Birmingham yet? It is being held at The Vox Conference Centre, Resorts World, Birmingham B40 1PU (next to the NEC) from June 18-19, and I’m presenting “The Art of Defensive Programming: Coping with Unseen Data” on Monday afternoon.

My highlights of the conference will be:

  • Paul Kent’s keynote on Monday morning, “Using SAS in the best possible way, driving intelligence, putting it in to practice and gaining competitive advantage”.
  • My presentation, of course! πŸ˜‰
  • I’m hoping to be able to run a free prize draw for a copy of my latest SAS book, as I did last year!
  • The drinks reception followed by the Customer Awards on Monday evening.
  • Live screening of England’s World Cup match against Tunisia on Monday evening, including an England and Tunisian themed dinner and drinks. Note that, if you are not an England football fan, there will still be food and drinks!
  • Charles Senabulya talking on Tuesday morning, “SAS Update: Getting you In The Know on SAS developments”.

You may disagree with my highlights, so feel free to investigate the conference yourself. Full details about the venue, agenda and registration can be found atΒ https://www.sas.com/en_gb/events/2018/sas-uk-forum.html.

SAS, Book, Rocks and the Passing of Time in Colorado

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SAS Global Forum 2018 was held in the Colorado Convention Center from April 8 to 11 (Sunday to Wednesday) in Downtown Denver.

Attending a large SAS conference like SAS Global Forum, with its 5,500 attendees, you have to be prepared to “think on your feet”, because nothing ever happens quite the way you expect it to, and finding a specific attendees requires luck and/or persistence. That said I found 60+ friends and contacts during the conference, from as far afield as Australia and the UK, and even met a friend in Denver airport on my way home!

It might be of interest to you that, even though many of the sessions were looking at the newest SAS products and features, including SAS/Viya, attendances generally appeared to be higher in the sessions involving SAS programming. In each session head counts were recorded, so the conference organisers will hopefully be able to see this for themselves. I presented “The Art of Defensive Programming” on the Tuesday afternoon to a full room of 148 seats, and with a queue of hopeful attendees outside. I was told afterwards that the room limit was 144, but 4 seats had been added before I started to present!

However, I would like to apologise to anyone who attended my paper and was disappointed that my 50-minute paper only lasted 20 minutes. I was making use of the new count-down timer on the desk, which told me how long I had to go, and then had amber and red lights to tell me when I had 5 minutes left and when I had to stop. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that the starting time had been set to 20 minutes, instead of 50 minutes, and nor did the room chair. If there are time left cards, or count-down timers, then I do tend to rely on them, rather than using my own watch, or the room clock (which I couldn’t see in that room anyway). Whenever I present I have specific slides which I use to check how fast, or slow, I’m going, and at the first of these slides I saw I only had 10 minutes left, so I upped my pace. However, I can assure everyone that I didn’t remove any of the content, even though I finished on 20 minutes to the second! I just cut back on the explanation I would have added to each slide, which could have extended my presentation to 50 minutes. Had the room chair or I known that there had been a queue outside, then I could have re-run my presentation in the 30 minutes I had left, so that no-one who wanted to attend would have missed out. But hindsight is a wonderful thing!

During the conference I ran a free prize draw at the ODS Graphics booth to win a copy of my latest book “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques“. I set up the draw on the Sunday afternoon with a printout of the book’s cover and contents, a pile of cards for the entrant’s name and email address, and a box to put the completed cards. Unfortunately the cleaning team in the Quad were super-efficient, and on Monday morning the box with the completed cards from Sunday had gone! I had to borrow a plastic bowl from SAS Publishing for the completed cards, and hope that the cleaning team would ignore it. Anyway by 4pm on Tuesday the bowl was still there with 22 entry cards (although I’d had to replace the printout of the book’s cover and contents on Tuesday morning!), and Christine Grice’s card was drawn by Sanjay Matange. I arranged for an announcement to be made over the public address system, and I contacted Christine using email and the SASGF app, but was unable to find her during the conference. Happily though, since the conference, we’ve been in touch, and she now has copies of the 2 self-published ebooks that were included in my latest book.

After the conference my wife Angela and I went on a day tour into the nearby Rockies, visiting the Red Rocks Amphitheater, where the Beatles, John Denver and Widespread Panic had performed. We also visited several mining towns. Thursday was a very warm day in Denver with temperatures reaching 27C (81F), and Angela and I walked to the Denver Botanic Gardens in the afternoon. Friday, however, was not at all warm, with Denver reaching 6C (43F), but Central City in the Rockies reaching -3C (27F)! Idaho Springs was warmer at 0C (32F), but there was still a frozen waterfall there.

Did I enjoy the SAS Global Forum? Yes!

Did I enjoy exploring Denver and the Rockies? Yes, and I tasted 25 local beers while I was there too!

Would I come back? If I had the opportunity to present in Denver again, then Yes!

I’m not planning to attend the SAS Global Forum 2019 in Dallas, unless I’m invited to run a SAS training course alongside the conference, but I will be at PharmaSUG 2019 in Philadelphia, which will be my first time at PharmaSUG! I’m hoping to run a training course before or after the conference, and present at the conference too. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet you there (and I’ll be bringing my own clock!).

Maybe my last report from a PhUSE event: Beerse Single Day Event 2017

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Last month I talked about the presentation “The Art of Defensive Programming – Coping with Unseen Data” I was doing at the PhUSE Single Day Event (SDE) in Beerse, Belgium. The event was held yesterday on 28 November 2017 at the Janssen EMEA site, where I’d started my SAS contracting activities 25 years earlier. This was the 6th SDE I’d presented at in Belgium, and the 3rd on this site, so I was fairly familiar with the venue and knew many of the attendees too.

As at recent conference events I included a free draw for a copy of my latest book “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques“. The attendance at the SDE was around 80 and not just coming from Belgium, with 21 of those entered the draw, and the winner was Lieke Gijsbers from OCS Consulting in the Netherlands (see me presenting her with my book in the photo).

You are probably now asking why this will be my last report from a PhUSE event? Over the last year or so I have reviewed the benefits I get from presenting at conferences and how much it costs me to attend them. Consultants spend a lot of time doing Cost-Benefit analyses and PhUSE events seemed to be moving lower down the list. The larger companies can easily afford to send multiple delegates, but a small percentage of their staff, to PhUSE events because of economies of scale. Unfortunately, Holland Numerics is not a large company, so we have to send 100% of our staff (me!). By presenting we get a 33% reduction on the full conference fee, but we lose 100% of our income during the conference and SDE days, and the same is true for every other independent consultant attending PhUSE. Next year I was hoping to combine some of my training courses with PhUSE SDE and PhUSE Connect (the new name for the annual conference!) events, but none had come to fruition.

I am extremely happy with the records I have created as a mere SAS programmer (and not a Statistical Programmer!) during my membership of PhUSE:

  1. I have attended 13 consecutive PhUSE annual conferences since the first was held in Heidelberg in 2005.
  2. I have presented at least 1 paper in every PhUSE annual conference I have attended, including several papers I had brought with me “just in case” to fill in for short-notice withdrawals.
  3. I have presented in 18 SDEs since they started in 2008, including 6 in Belgium, 4 in the UK, 3 in Germany, 2 in Switzerland and Denmark, and 1 in the Netherlands.
  4. Since the PhUSE annual conference was held in Basel in 2009, I have held a beer-tasting evening near to the conference. That is a total of 9 beer-tasting evenings! It started because I wanted to taste the local beers, I preferred to drink beer with friends, and it seemed to work out just fine, because I had no complaints, and I added many new beers to my beer-tasting database. In fact I had to stop Yvonne Moores, the 2011 Brighton conference chair, from putting a note in the daily conference news, and it was still over-subscribed using just word-of-mouth! The largest evening attendance was actually 24 in Budapest, when, unable to find a Hungarian beer establishment, I opted instead for the “Belgian Abbey Restaurant”!
  5. Last, but not least, no-one has enjoyed PhUSE events more than me!

I would like to thank PhUSE for allowing me to present my SAS-related papers at their conferences and SDEs, but I will not be renewing my membership of the PhUSE Society as usual in January.

Are you going to the PhUSE Belgium SDE (Single Day Event) in Beerse? I’m presenting there!

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The PhUSE Belgium SDE is being held at Janssen Pharmaceutica near Beerse again on Tuesday 28th November 2017, where I’ll be presenting “The Art of Defensive Programming – Coping with Unseen Data” at 1600hr.

I hoping to be able to run a free prize draw there for you to win a copy of my recent book “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques: A Power User’s Guide“. Just drop in a business card or fill out a blank card at the event to get a chance to win a copy.

I’m looking forward to revisiting the site where I worked on my very first SAS contract in 1992, and maybe tasting some interesting Belgian beers too!

Hope to see you there.

Are you going to SAS Global Forum in Denver? I’m presenting there!

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SAS Global Forum is being held in Denver in 2018 from Sunday 8th to Wednesday 11th April, and I’ve been invited to present “The Art of Defensive Programming: Coping with Unseen Data” there.

I’m also hoping to run another prize draw again for you to win a copy of my latest book “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques: A Power User’s Guide“. Just drop in a business card or fill out a blank card at the ODS Graphics stand to get a chance to win a copy.

Note, however, that at SASGF18 you will only be able to read a copy of the book contents at the stand, as during SASGF17 someone took away my well-used sample copy. So, if you still want to browse the sample, then you’ll have to find me among the expected 5,000+ attendees! πŸ™

Hope to see you there.

What happened in Edinburgh?

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This year the PhUSE Conference was held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, and in Scotland for the first time. This was my 13th PhUSE Conference, and I’d presented papers at all 13, which was more than anyone else! There were 695 attendees and 40 exhibitors at this PhUSE conference, more than at any previous PhUSE conference too!

I presented “Making Graphs Easier to Validate – The Benefits of ODS Graphics” in the Data Visualisation stream on the 1st afternoon, and the room was nearly full, which I found to be true for most of the other papers I attended during the rest of the conference too. It is always good to present to a full room, because you are more likely to get an audience response to what you are trying to explain.

CK Clinical had one of the exhibitors stands and ran a Connect4 knock-out competition over the 3 days, with the champion Kriss Harris winning Afternoon Tea for two at the Ritz (or equivalent), and runner-up Gareth Parry (see photo on right) winning a copy of my latest book “SAS Programming and Data Visualisation Techniques“.

In 2018 the European PhUSE Conference will be held in Frankfurt, the 3rd time in Germany, but in November, rather than the traditional October, because a new US PhUSE Conference will be taking place in Raleigh NC in June.

Are you going to PhUSE in Edinburgh? I’m presenting there!

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PhUSE is being held in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) in Edinburgh this year from Sunday 8th to Wednesday 11th October 2017, and I’ll be presenting “Making Graphs Easier to Validate – The Benefits of ODS Graphics” in the Data Visualization stream on the Monday afternoon at 1500hr.

PhUSE is now a global conference for the pharmaceutical software community, and there will be 600+ attendees in the following streams:
– Analytics & Statistics
– Application Development
– Coding Tips & Tricks
– Data Standards & Governance
– Data Handling
– Data Visualisation
– Industry Starters
– Management
– Professional Development & Training
– Posters
– Regulatory
– Real-world Evidence
– Software Demonstrations
– Standards Implementation
– Trends & Technology
– Hands-on Workshops
– University Day

CK Clinical will be running a competition (I think it will be Connect4), and one of the prizes will be a copy of my recent book “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques: A Power User’s Guide”. Visit Stand 37 in the Exhibitors Area to get a chance to win a copy.

I’m also planning my annual beer-tasting evening on the Tuesday during the conference at a local venue. Unfortunately attendance will be limited to the first 20 attendees to confirm interest with me at the conference itself, so talk to me early if you’d like to attend!

Hope to see you there.

The SAS Forum UK 2017 Book Draw Winner was … Peter Lowes

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Peter Lowes receiving his book prize at SAS Forum UK 2017
Peter Lowes receiving his book prize at SAS Forum UK 2017

Congratulations to Peter Lowes from BusinessData Partners, who won a copy of my latest book, “SAS Programming and Data Visualization Techniques”. Thank you also to all the SAS Forum UK 2017 attendees who entered the book prize draw, but didn’t win this time. I hope you will try again at another conference where I’ll be holding a book prize draw in the future.

What happened in Orlando?

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As usual I ran a prize draw this year at SAS Global Forum in Orlando for a copy of my latest book, which was won by Matthew Hoolsema from Carnegie Mellon University from 49 draw entries.

Matthew Hoolsema won a copy of my book in Orlando

The sad part was that my well-thumbed sample copy, which allowed everyone to see what was in the book, was taken during the conference, so I will have to replace it with another brand new copy before my next free draw, instead of using that new copy as a prize. I must admit that I find it extremely annoying when a company can pay $100s to $1,000s for the conference registration, travel and accommodation, but nothing for a $40 book!

The conference’s Kick-Back party was held at Disney Hollywood Studios at the end of the 2nd full day of the conference after the public had left. I’d last visited this park in 1999, when it was called MGM Studios. Some of the “exciting” rides, which I have never enjoyed, were open, and my favourite show from 1999, “Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular”, was still there, but disappointingly closed for the evening! Fortunately, unlike previous Kick-Back parties, the noise levels were low enough to permit normal conversations, so my voice was still OK the following morning for my presentation. You may remember that in March I said that I was presenting “Making Validation of Graphs Easier: The Benefits of ODS Graphics” at the conference on 5 April 2017. The video recording of my presentation can now be viewed on the SAS web site, along with several of the other presentations, and my paper, slides and sample code can be downloaded from this blog site.

Next year SAS Global Forum will be in Denver, Colorado. I’ve never been there before, so I’m looking for some suitable topics for new presentations. Any suggestions?

2 new prize draw winners of my most recent SAS book!

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There were 2 new prize draw winners of my most recent SAS book in the last few weeks, with the 2 prize draws held at the SAS Forum UK in Birmingham at the end of September 2016, and at the PhUSE Conference in Barcelona this month.

Congratulations to Charlotte King who won my new book in the Prize Draw at the SAS Forum UK in Birmingham
September 2016: Congratulations to Charlotte King who won my new book in the Prize Draw at the SAS Forum UK in Birmingham

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October 2016: Congratulations to Cathal Gallagher who won my new book in the Prize Draw at the PhUSE Conference in Barcelona