My first Bioconductor conference (2013)

[This article was first published on Yihui Xie, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

The BioC 2013 conference was held from July 17 to 19. I attended this conference for my first time, mainly because I’m working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center this summer, and the conference venue was just downstairs! No flights, no hotels, no transportation, yeah.

Last time I wrote about my first ENAR experience, and let me tell you why the BioC conference organizers are smart in my eyes.

A badge that never flips

I do not need to explain this simple design — it just will not flip to the damn blank side:

The conference program book

The program book was only four pages of the schedule (titles and speakers). The abstracts are online. Trees saved.

Lightning talks

There were plenty of lightning talks. You can talk whatever you want.

Live coding

On the developer’s day, Martin Morgan presented some buggy R code to the audience (provided by Laurent Gatto), and asked us to debug it right there. Wow!

Everything is free after registration

The registration includes almost everything: lunch, beer, wine, coffee, fruits, snacks, and most importantly, Amazon Machine Instances (AMI)!


This is a really shiny point of BioC! If you have ever tried to do a software tutorial, you probably know the pain of setting up the environment for your audience, because they use different operating systems, different versions of packages, and who knows what is going to happen after you are on your third slide. At a workshop last year, I had the experience of spending five minutes figuring out why a keyboard shortcut did not work for one Canadian lady in the audience, and it turned out she was using the French keyboard layout.

The BioC organizers solved this problem beautifully by installing the RStudio server on AMI. Every participant was sent a link to the Amazon virtual machine, and all they need is a web browser and wireless connection in the room. All people run R in exactly the same environment.

Isn’t that smart?


I do not really know much about biology, although a few biological terms have been added to my volcabulary this summer. When a talk becomes biologically oriented, I will have to give up.

Simon Urbanek talked about big data in R this year, which is unusual, as mentioned by himself. Normally he shows fancy graphics (e.g. iplots). I did not realize the significance of this R 3.0.0 news item until his talk:

It is now possible to write custom connection implementations outside core R using R_ext/Connections.h. Please note that the implementation of connections is still considered internal and may change in the future (see the above file for details).

Given this new feature, he implemented the HDFS connections and 0MQ-based connections in R single-handedly (well, that is always his style).

You probably have noticed the previous links are Github repositories. Yes! Some R core members really appreciate the value of social coding now! I’m sure Simon does. I’m aware of other R core members using Github quietly (DB, SF, MM, PM, DS, DTL, DM), but I do not really know their attitude toward it.

Joe Cheng’s Shiny talk is shiny as usual. Each time I attend his talk, he will show a brand new amazing demo. Joe is the only R programmer that makes me feel “the sky is the limit (of R)”. The audience were shocked when they saw a heatmap that they were so familiar with suddently became interactive in a Shiny app! BTW, Joe has a special sense of humor when he talks about an area in which he is not an expert (statistics or biology).

RStudio 0.98 is going to be awesome. I’m not going to provide the links here, since it is not released yet. I’m sure you will find the preview version if you really want it.

Bragging rights

  • I met Robert Gentleman for the first time!
  • I dare fall asleep during Martin Morgan’s tutorial! (sorry, Martin)
  • some Bioconductor web pages were built with knitr/R Markdown!

Next steps

Given Biocondutor’s open-mindedness to new technologies (GIT, Github, AMI, Shiny, …), let’s see if it is going to take over the world. Just kidding. But not completely kidding. I will keep the conversation going before I leave Seattle around mid-August, and get something done hopefully.

If you have any feature requests or suggestions to Bioconductor, I will be happy to serve as the “conductor” temporarily. I guess they should set up a blog at some point.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Yihui Xie. offers daily e-mail updates about R news and tutorials about learning R and many other topics. Click here if you're looking to post or find an R/data-science job.
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

Never miss an update!
Subscribe to R-bloggers to receive
e-mails with the latest R posts.
(You will not see this message again.)

Click here to close (This popup will not appear again)