30.10.2016 ― Summary of eRum 2016

The after party


What could be the quest of eRum conference?
Besides eating lots of free poppy-seed croissants and looking it from the community point of view:
to contribute.

When we have interest in R, we have an open source spirit. As things tend not to develop themselves, there needs to be the power that drives R forward. It is the community. Not everyone needs to create packages, develop the code or organize events – just to mention, which are also important. Contribution here could be also participating in joint events that supports the idea exchange and networking, promoting information and being a volunteer. Or asking Those Questions during presentations that everyone else is wondering but too embarrassed to ask...

I thought R was to me the nice piece of art for years, always happy to have it and work with it, but did I ever do anything about it? Dunno, as saying 'thanks' for its existence? Nope, I did not. Neither did I send flowers to the core team or tattooed the R logo on my forehead. Besides telling about the wonderful life of R to random people (until they got bored), the contribution was lacking something. Therefore, after realizing this and seeing an ad of eRum exactly on the right moment – the application was sent.

About eRum

R users seems to be very organized in Poland. It might be very difficult to get such active user community build up in Finland at the moment. With long and admiring breaths I looked the moments in Poznań and interviewed few to reveal the Polish recipe for this kind of activity. All in all the organizers had made good effort and set up an event totally worth visiting.

The conference was divided by themes into multiple sessions: everything from academic stuff (technical executions, statistical theory) to business approaches and from applied executions to published packages. Each session contained multiple 15 min presentations. It was a pleasure to notice the diversity of the themes and contents of presentations, as same reflects to R users themselves. R has been taken into use in many fields, and it is clearly not just one note solution. While sessions highlighted the variation in R users and their interests, the invited talks gathered all participants to enjoy the joint program and strangers outside their sessions. Invited talks were given longer broadcast time, which made them easier to listen as presenters weren't in ultimate hurry.

Exceptional occurrences

As any event is nice by existing already, what I value the most is things to be learned. Here are some exceptional things I remember from the trip.

Watching very well executed talk by Rasmus Bååth [1] made prolly every audience member feel restful as slides were so fluent and easy-to-follow. The whole presentation made Bayesian principles look more 'human-friendly'. Also as speech being engrossing by content and execution, that the whole situation started to feel like watching a good document.

Business sessions in general were another scenes worth watching. Understanding how German version of little and middle sized companies could use R by Oliver Bracht [2], showed some hope for getting R become more popular also in Finland. Related to this, during Jakuczun Wit's speech on topic 'Bringing R to Enterprise' [3], presenter mentioned that what we need for turning things into R is "evolution, not revolution" highlighting that dramatic changes are not needed while turning systems from old executions into R version for the first time. Instead bigger changes can be achieved by little steps with technology and, more important, with the people working originally with another kind system. It is good to remind that things are never just about bureaucracy and technical components, but there is always a human factor involved. Another thing he brought up is an important reason for R popularity: the endless flexibility possibilities. R can be twisted into many solutions – and in many ways, which makes is quite luring option for new businesses. You don't always need to adjust into traditional systems (one-size-fits-all), but to create one that fits you. For example, in R there are state-of-art algorithms available and not just those written decades ago...

An opposite approaching to R, from serious business to entertaining and educational creations would be things like BetaBit [3]. During Przemysław Biecek's invited talk did he not just talked about Pisa results [4], but turned also the topic to future R generations. How could one encourage the youth and kids to get interested into statistic – and even better – or get interested into R? Learning tutorial for youngsters via R itself introduces the life of Beta and Bit in entertaining way. After solving few hacking problems it seemed really fun :) This is one those alternative uses of R, that the community should (at least mentally) support. The bigger the variation is with R usage, the more possibilities it opens. R is not just calculator, machine or result monitor, but it can be also be turned to sound creator, animation studio or sketch book for art. And important to mention here: big hand for the graphics in the paper published version of BetaBit, which also reminds a lot of eRum graphics by design and styling.

Also equality point of view was discussed, Heather Turner's talk [5]. Encouraging women to use more R, would be seen as possible target for the future generations. There is no easy solution how to do it, as the comments from audience reminded. Turner's speech also contained interesting observations from the useR! 2016 surveys about R users in general. Such as using R for other purposes than work life. Do you use R for fun at all? (definition for fun here: actions not paid by employer, no straight gain for studies or work; just playing around with R)

One crucial notation at eRum to me was the 'civil disobedience' by the authors – in a good way! During R and c++ from Romain François [6] I believe I understood that times he needs to 'break stuff to make new ones'. This is key concept for me (being interested to alternative point of views), as if things are kept in old habits due historical or comfort zone reason, there is no development. Things need to be tried and applied. New inventions are created by seeing things from another angle. Such as leaving out axis that are not informative anymore, which creates new possibilities for altering: there are no limitations on a blank canvas. And to mention, you just can't go wrong with cat code approach. Witnessing bashful and academic giggling of the audience was worth waking up early. In general, when shown examples are unique (and not that iris again!) they are easier to remember later...

An interesting question of contributing was raised during the Sponsor Presentations from the audience. As the companies tend to do their work to clients, they have confidentiality issues when it comes to releasing any results or other beneficial R executions they have developed to public audience. Using free tools to make business is nice advantage, so is keeping R commonly used in areas where money is moving, one would assume that it does also pay back to the source. Having interest to support R events is quite nice at least. Looking at the length of eRum sponsor list it seems there was a lot of interest to sponsor the croissant manufacture.

The conference ended with last sessions, and even the application I sent during spring turned into something concrete in the end: more or less epic presentation of graphical usage of R from the alternative point of view [7]. Being happy-go-lucky person I had prolly been content to see only couple of sleepy people in the audience as the conference was about to end soon anyway. Luckily more people showed up, presentation was taken with smiles and lots of questions were asked afterwards. Yet there is always something that went ok and something else to improve next time. As for me, my quest here was to contribute. If one can make other people to think, get inspired or question the old standards, the execution can be considered to be very successful. When I heard someone already started to reproduce one of my examples during return flight, my target had already been reached! In general, being the author is totally irrelevant matter here; what really matters is the ideas that people adopt and what they do with them afterwards...and this is the spirit of contributing.

If something extra I would have wanted more from eRum, it would be only take-away croissant box. And chance to get that cool eRum t-shirt the volunteers were wearing!

End result

What I learned from eRum, besides already mentioned things above?
The Polish word widok, which was encountered while searching 'Full-Screen mode' from Polish version of Acrobat Reader.

It is a beneficial word, if you want to share your ideas or mental state to others.
It is also even more useful, if you are interested to learn and receive information from others – with the largest resolution available.

Dziękuję Poznań!

- eRum official site [www]
- eRum 2016 presentations [GitHub]
- tweets with #erum2016 [twitter]

Lucky no #13