By Chris Campbell – Senior Consultant, UK.
What struck me first was how few sandals I could see, none of which were paired with socks. The energy in the room was electric as introductions were made and business cards were exchanged. The inaugural Effective Applications of the R Language (EARL) had started strongly with two sold-out workshops.
As Matt Aldridge opened the conference, the excitement was clear. While academics have been comfortable talking about their work in R for many years, the business community has only begun to really shout about the work that is being done with the open-source tool over the last few years. With major players in the data and analytics businesses realizing that R has a key role to play in crowd-sourcing analytic solutions, the EARL conference could not have come too soon. The high profile of the sponsors of the event only serves to highlight the need for how we in the business community can symbiotically grow our businesses while sharing our own advances with the open source community which have contributed so much.
Coding rockstar Hadley Wickham started the presentations with a fascinating presentation on his latest projects motivated by the transparency of the pipe operator “%>%” from package:magrittr by Stefan Milton. The concept allows analysis workflows to be coded with the same grammar as the operations are performed. His latest packages, such as ggvis therefore make use of this operator to facilitate maintenance, collaboration and ease of use.
Next up medical stats communication and transparency advocate Ben Goldacre entertained and horrified in equal measure with true stories of logical fallacies made in clinical trial design and erroneous medical statistics published by charlatans and experts alike.
The conference hall was then split into two streams for the remainder of the conference with dozens of great talks with one driving theme – how an open source analytics platform can be used to enhance decisions, provide insight and improve profitability of real world ventures, from finance to football, sales to swimming and from engineering to equity. The sessions generated good interest and discussion, and the atmosphere in the breaks was great.
Dinner on Tuesday night was held on board the venue and museum HMS Belfast, a few minutes’ walk along the Thames from the venue. The weather was perfect for an evening out on deck. Exploring the vessel itself was optional entertainment also. Did you know that the ship was launched on St Patrick’s day in 1938? The food was very good, which is always a relief when on conference. And the calm of being away from the bustling central London shore was very pleasant. The Tower of London was an impressive sight, wreathed in mists and poppies, as was the view along the river.
I have to congratulate the team that handled the arrangements and managed the logistics of running the conference, as everything went incredibly smoothly. All of the presentations were recorded and are available, so it’s possible to catch the presentations from both streams. I especially enjoyed how open, friendly and practical every attendee I met was. I had a fantastic time at the EARL conference and I’m already looking forward to next year.