Preview: satRday Columbus

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Online conferences are getting to be a tough sell: the supply has exceeded the demand. It’s just so hard to make (and keep) the time for a conference when you’re sitting at home, and hard to know what’s quality. At the same time, the communities I belong to are some of the best things going for what I do. So, whither the gatherings?

satRday Columbus, at least for me — and I hope you too.

If you’re not familiar, satRdays are locally-organized events for the R programming community — similar to my beloved WordCamps for the WordPress community. Nobody’s working an angle here… this is a truly free and open-to-all conference, organized by volunteers and presented by volunteers, just like the R community at large. And like that product we all rally around, it will be better quality than what you might pay for.

Like every other conference — SatRdays have had to go online this year. But that didn’t stop organizers from taking on an inaugural SatRday Columbus, Ohio, Saturday November 14, 2020. This will be a free conference and I’ll be giving a 20-minute presentation at 2:50pm Eastern.

Register now for satRday Columbus

With this conference, there’s only one track and each session is 20-minutes. I like this idea of a shared experience for all members, and 20 minutes is a good length for everyone to get an “appetizer” for different topics, regardless of their exact interest or ability level.

I wanted to get the word out about the event in this post and also provide a sneak preview of my presentation.

R-Powered Excel

The sessions toward the end of the day are on the theme of “Communication,” and that’s where my “R-Powered Excel” presentation comes in. In this talk I’ll share some tips for automating the production of Excel workbooks in R. This approach pairs R’s knack for reproducible statistical analysis with the end-user interaction and accessibity that makes Excel so prevalent.

Attendees will learn the basic workflow of the openxlsx package, and they may also pick up some R riffs on building visualizations, iteration and more. I was particularly interested in showing how to map the “mental model” of Excel’s hierarchy (workbooks, worksheets, cells) into building and manipulating corresponding R objects. I also lean highly on the tidyverse to visualize and clean up regression outputs — then shoot over the results to Excel, graph and all.

Check out my preliminary repo here.

R + Juypter + Binder … just because

And now, let’s geek out on presentation media — Just to be different and see if I can, I decided to build the presentation in a Jupyter Notebook. You can view the presentation at the repo.

If you’ve not run R in Jupyter… it’s OK. It’s probably best-suited for data visualizations… lots of screen real estate. Working in RStudio for R is hard to beat, but this is a solid alternative. You can set this up by downloading the IRkernel package from CRAN and following these install steps. Jupyter comes installed with the Anaconda distribution of Python.

Another thing I did just to see if I could was connect the repo to Binder. This lets anyone run the repo interactively in Jupyter right from the web — i.e., no downloads required. I’d used Binder with Python but never with R. Turns out you can do it by leveraging Microsoft’s R Application Network (MRAN): just include a runtime.txt file with the MRAN snapshot you want, include any packages to install with an install.R file, and you’re off. Full instructions are here.

Running R on a Jupyter notebook with no installation thanks to Binder? Yeah, you can do that.

One thing I wanted to try which couldn’t quite pull off was presenting this notebook as a RISE presentation. With RISE, it’s required to change a setting in the package configurations to enable scrolling on longer slides, and I wasn’t sure how to do that while leveraging Binder’s image. It was possible, however, to use Python in the R notebook with the help of the reticulate package. If anybody’s been able to run RISE with R on Binder, you know where to find me! (That’d be the comments… or here.)

See you SatRday

I’m sure there will be just as many surprises and delights in each of the other 20-minute presentations  – and they’re on everything from data journalism to supercomputing. Even if it’s not speaking your language… hey, it’s 20 minutes! Take a coffee break in your kitchen and come back to your office — the joy (and temptation) of online conferences.

So register now, bookmark the repo, and I’ll see you digitally on the 14th.

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