November 1, 2016

List of R conferences and useR groups

Filed under: Conferences, R — Tags: , — csgillespie @ 9:05 pm

Recently Steph Locke asked on twitter if there was a list of R conferences. After some googling, all that I came up was a list of useR groups maintained by Microsoft. While the list was lengthy, it was missing a few groups (and twitter handles). So the other night I created a github repository listing conferences/groups.

If you spot any missing groups or conferences, feel free to make a pull request at the GitHub Repository.

August 30, 2016

R Courses at London, Leeds and Newcastle

Filed under: R, Teaching — csgillespie @ 8:21 pm

Over the next few months we’re running a number of R courses at London, Leeds and Newcastle.

  • September 2016 (Newcastle)
    • Sept 12th: Introduction to R
    • Sept 13th: Statistical modelling
    • Sept 14th: Programming with R
    • Sept 15th: Efficient R: speeding up your code
    • Sept 16th: Advanced graphics
  • October 2016 (London)
    • Oct 3rd: Introduction to R
    • Oct 4th: Programming with R
    • Oct 5, 6th: Predictive analytics
    • Oct 7th: Building an R package
  • November 2016 (Leeds)
    • Nov 21st, 22nd: Predictive analytics
    • Nov 23rd: Building an R package
  • December 2016 (London)
    • December 5th, 6th: Advanced programming. Held at the Royal Statistical Society (booking form).
  • January 2017 (Newcastle)
    • Jan 16th: Introduction to R
    • Jan 17th: Statistical modelling
    • Jan 18th: Programming with R
    • Jan 19th: Efficient R: speeding up your code
    • Jan 20th: Advanced graphics

See the website for course description. Any questions, feel free to contact me: csgillespie@gmail.com

On site courses available on request.

April 22, 2016

R Courses at Newcastle

Filed under: Computing, R, Teaching — Tags: , — csgillespie @ 7:09 pm

Over the next two months I’m running a number of R courses at Newcastle University.

  • May 2016
    • May 10th, 11th: Predictive Analytics
    • May 16th – 20th: Bioconductor
    • May 23rd, 24th: Advanced programming
  • June 2016
    • June 8th: R for Big Data
    • June 9th: Interactive graphics with Shiny

Since these courses are on  advanced topics, numbers are limited (there’s only a couple of places left on Predictive Analytics). If you are interested in attending, sign up as soon as possible.

Getting to Newcastle is easy. The airport is 10 minutes from the city centre and has direct flights to the main airport hubs: Schiphol, Heathrow, and Paris.  The courses at Newcastle attract participants from around the world; at the April course, we had representatives from North America, Sweden, Germany,  Romania and Geneva.

Cost: The courses cost around £130 per day (more than half the price of certain London courses!)


Onsite courses available on request.

April 1, 2016

RStudio addins manager

Filed under: Computing, R — Tags: — csgillespie @ 12:36 am

RStudio addins let you execute a bit of R code or a Shiny app through the RStudio IDE, either via the Addins dropdown menu or with a keyboard shortcut. This package is an RStudio addin for managing other addins. To run these addins, you need the latest version of RStudio.


The package can be installed via devtools

## Need the latest version of DT as well

Running addins

After installing the package, the Addins menu toolbar will be populated with a new addin called Addin Manager. When you launch this addin, a DT table will be launched:


In the screenshot above, the highlighted addins, shinyjs and ggThemeAssit, indicate that this addins have already installed.

When you click Done

  • Highlighted addins will be installed.
  • Un-highlighted addins will be removed.


Including your addin

Just fork and alter the addin file which is located in the inst/extdata directory of the package. This file is a csv file with three columns:

  • addin Name/title
  • Brief Description
  • Package. If the package is only on github, use name/repo.

The initial list of addins was obtain from daattali’s repo.

February 16, 2016

RANDU: The case of the bad RNG

Filed under: Computing, R — Tags: , , — csgillespie @ 12:15 pm

The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has established
criteria for quality random number generator (rng):

  • A sequence of random numbers has a high probability of containing no identical consecutive elements.
  • A sequence of numbers which is indistinguishable from true random’ numbers (tested using statistical tests.
  • It should be impossible to calculate, or guess, from any given sub-sequence, any previous or future values in the sequence.
  • It should be impossible, for all practical purposes, for an attacker to calculate, or guess the values used in the random number algorithm.

Points 3 and 4 are crucial for many applications. Everytime you make a
phone call, contact to a wireless point, pay using your credit card random
numbers are used.

Designing a good random number generator is hard and as a general rule you should never try to. R comes with many good quality random generators. The default generator is the Mersenne-Twister. This rng has a huge period of 2^{19937}-1 (how many random numbers are generated before we have a repeat).

Linear congruential generators

A linear congruential generator (lcg) is a relatively simple rng (popular in the 60’s and 70’s). It has a simple form of

r_{i}=(ar_{i-1}+b) \textrm{ mod }m, \quad i=1, 2, \ldots, m

where $latexr_0$ is the initial number, known as the seed, and \(a,b,m\) are the multiplier, additive constant and modulo respectively. The parameters are all integers.

The modulo operation means that at most m different numbers can be generated
before the sequence must repeat – namely the integers 0,1,2, \ldots, m-1. The
actual number of generated numbers is h \leq m, called the period of
the generator.

The key to random number generators is in setting the parameters.


RANDU was a lcg with parameters m=2^{31}, a=65539 and b=0. Unfortunately this is a spectacularly bad choice of
parameters. On noting that a=65,539=2^{16}+3, then

r_{i+1} = a r_i = 65539 \times r_i = (2^{16}+3)r_i \;.


r_{i+2} = a\;r_{i+1} = (2^{16}+3) \times r_{i+1} = (2^{16}+3)^2 r_i \;.

On expanding the square, we get

r_{i+2} = (2^{32}+6\times 2^{16} + 9)r_i = [6 (2^{16}+3)-9]r_i = 6 r_{i+1} - 9 r_i \;.

Note: all these calculations should be to the mod 2^{31}. So there is a large
correlation between the three points!

If compare randu to a standard rng (code in a gist)


It’s obvious that randu doesn’t produce good random numbers. Plotting  x_i, x_{i-1} and x_{i-2} in 3d


Generating the graphics

The code is all in a gist and can be run via


You can then get the 3d plot via

scatterplot3d::scatterplot3d(randu[,1], randu[,2], randu[,3],
## Interactive version
threejs::scatterplot3js(randu[,1], randu[,2], randu[,3])

February 15, 2016

Shiny benchmarks

Filed under: Computing, R — Tags: , — csgillespie @ 5:49 pm

A couple of months ago, the first version of benchmarkme was released. Around 140 machines have now been benchmarked.

From the fastest (an Apple i7) which ran the tests in around 10 seconds, to the slowest (an Atom(TM) CPU N450 @ 1.66GHz) which took 420 seconds! Other interesting statistics:

  • Around 6% of people ran BLAS optimised versions of R;
  • No-one (except for machines that I used) ran a byte compiled version of the package.

I intend to write to a blog post or two on BLAS and byte compiling, but for the meantime you can investigate the results via the new shiny interface. The package is still only available on github and can be installed via:

## Update the package
install.packages(c("drat", "httr", "Matrix", "shiny"))
install.packages("benchmarkme", type="source")

You then load the package in the usual way

## View past results
## shine() # Needs shiny
## get_datatable_past() # Needs DT

To benchmark your system, use

## This will take somewhere between 0.5 and 5 minutes
## Increase runs if you have a higher spec machine
res = benchmark_std(runs=3)

You can then compare your results other users

## shine(res)
## get_datatable(res)

and upload your results

## You can control exactly what is uploaded. See details below.

This function returns a unique identifier that will allow you to identify your results from the public data sets.

December 1, 2015

Crowd sourced benchmarks

Filed under: Computing, R — Tags: , — csgillespie @ 10:25 am

When discussing how to speed up slow R code, my first question is what is your computer spec? It always surprises me when complex biological experiments, costing a significant amount of money, are analysed using a six year old laptop. A new desktop machine costs around £1000 and that money would be saved within a month in user time. Typically the more the RAM you have, the larger the dataset you can handle. However it’s not so obvious of the benefit of upgrading the processor.

To quantify the impact of the CPU on an analysis, I’ve create a simple benchmarking package. The aim of this package is to provide a set of benchmarks routines and data from past runs. You can then compare your machine, with other CPUs. The package currently isn’t on CRAN, but you can install it via my drat repository

install.packages(c("drat", "httr", "Matrix"))
install.packages("benchmarkme", type="source")

You can load the package in the usual way, and view past results via


to get


Currently around forty machines have been benchmarked. To benchmark and compare your own system just run

## On slower machines, reduce runs.
res = benchmark_std(runs=3)



The final step is to upload your benchmarks

## You can control exactly what is uploaded. See the help page

The current record is held by a Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4712MQ CPU.

July 1, 2015

useR 2015: Computational

Filed under: R, useR 2015 — csgillespie @ 12:19 pm

These are my initial notes from useR 2015. I will/may revise when I have time.

Computational Performance; Chair: Dirk Eddelbuettel

Running R+Hadoop using Docker Containers (E. James Harner)


  • Big data architectures:
    • HDFS/Hadoop: software framework for distributed storage and distributed processing
    • Tachyon/Spark: uses in-memory

Rc2 server (R cloud computing)

  • Has an editor & output panel. Interactive collaboration (Demo)
  • highly scalable
  • 4-tier architecture: client, app server, compute cloud (JSON over BSD sockets for R),
    databases (pgSQL & couchdb)

RC2 Client

  • Sharable project and workspaces
  • Graphs are written to files and moved to the database as blobs
  • Security: A 3 value token is used for auto-logins


Rc2 is an accessible IDE for students and data scientist to allow real time collaboration. It also acts as a front end to Hadoop and Spark clusters.

Algorithmic Differentiation for Extremum Estimation: An Introduction Using RcppEigen (Matt P. Dziubinski)


  • Parametric model: We want to estimate a parameter by maximizing an objective function
  • No closed formed expressions, so we need to numerically optimize


  • Derivative free: does not rely on knowledge of the objective function
  • Gradient-based: needs the gradient of the objective function
    • Steepest ascent, newton
    • Often exhibit superior convergence rates
    • But getting the gradient can be tricky, e.g. finite difference methods

Algorithmic diffentiation

  • Essentially use the chain rule
  • Need to recode the objective function in Cpp using Rcpp

Improving computational performance with algorithm engineering (Kirill Müller)

Application: activity based microsimulation models

Weighted sampling without replacement

  • Random sample: sample.int
  • Common framework: Subdivide an interval according to probabilities
    • If sampling without replacement, remove sub-interval
  • R uses trivial algorithm with update in O(n)
    • Heap-like data structure
  • Alternative approaches:
    • Rejection sampling
    • One-pass sampling (Efraimidis and Spirakis, 2006)

Statistical matching (data fusion)

  • Use Gower's distance to compare distribution
    • works with interval, ordinal and nominal variables

Please note that the notes/talks section of this post is merely my notes on the
presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be
correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the
opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the
speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

useR 2015: Networks

Filed under: R, useR 2015 — csgillespie @ 9:39 am

These are my initial notes from useR 2015. Will revise when I have time.

fbRads: Analyzing and managing Facebook ads from R (Gergely Daroczi)

Modern advertising

Google/Amazon/Facebook use our information

Ad platforms: Google: RAdwords, facebook likes: fbRads. You can use the facebook API to get information from facebook. Get hashes of email address, not the actual address. In the last few years, the API has changed.


  1. Grab useR's email addresses from CRAN and R-help mailing list.
  2. Create a facebook app with API to get a token.
  3. Create a custom audience.
  4. Create lookalike audiences: get facebook users who are similar to my target list.
  5. Define audience, ad and budget.
  6. Upload an image and description.
  7. Run A/B testing.

The performance metrics API is still being developed.

Web scraping with R – A fast track overview. (Peter Meißner)

There are a number of R packages for web-scraping.

Two problems:

  • Download: protocols/procedures, i.e. HTTP, cookies, POST, GET
  • extraction: parsing/extraction/cleansing, i.e. XML, JSON, html into R

Reading text from the Web

The simplest solution is to use readLines, then use some regular expressions (either with base R or stringr or …).

Reading HTML/XML

Use rvest and use xml_structure to view the structure of the XML scheme. To extract text, we need to use XPath (still using rvest). Within rvest there are a number of convenience functions, e.g. html_table to get a list of tables.


Use jsonlite to translate JSON to a data frame.

HTML forms/HTTP methods

Use httr and rvest packages.

Overcoming the Javascript Barrier

Use RSelenium for browser automation


  • Don't use Windows for web scraping. Use Linux (or if you must, a Mac)
  • Start with stringr, rvest, jsonlite
  • Need to learn regular expression, file manipulation
  • Before scraping, look for the download button

multiplex: Analysis of Multiple Social Networks with Algebra (Antonio Rivero Ostoic)


  • multiplex is a package designed to perform algebraic analyses of multiple networks (but isn't limited to algebra)
  • The function zbind creates multivariate network data from arrays
  • perm manipulates network data

Two-mode networks are represented in a Galois framework. This makes analysis easier(?)

What's new in igraph and networks (Gabor Csardi)


igraph is the premier R package for the analysis of network data and it went through major restructuring recently and has changed a lot since last time it was featured at useR! in 2008. This talk introduces the new/updated features of igraph: – Simplified ways of graph manipulation. – New methods community detection. – New layouts for graph visualization. – New statistical methods: graphlets, embeddings, graph matching, cohesive blocks, etc. – How to use igraph graphs with new visualization tools: DiagrammeR, D3, etc.

The igraph package deals mainly with infrastructure. It's actually a C library, with an R and python interface.

What's new: [ and [[

The [ operator makes the graph behave like an adjacency matrix. For example, to check if an edge exists, use air["BOS", "SFO"]. Can also use it to manipulate the network, e.g. to add or remove edges.

The [[ can be used to get all adjacent vertices

What's new: consistent function names and manipulators

  • make_*, sample_*, cluster_, layout_*, graph_from_*
  • manipulators: make_ and sample_
  • Pipe friendly syntax
  • Easier connection to other packages, e.g. networkD3

Current work

  • Better connection to other packages
  • Inference
  • Infrastructure cleanup

Please note that the notes/talks section of this post is merely my notes on the
presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be
correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the
opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the
speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

useR 2015: Romain Francois: My R adventures

Filed under: R, useR 2015 — Tags: , — csgillespie @ 8:05 am

Using R since 2002 and has been working on Rcpp, Rcpp11, Rcpp14 and dplyr
internals. Worked on a number of big projects.

  • 2005 he set up the R Graph Gallery
  • 2009 worked on rJava
  • 2010 Rcpp
  • 2013 dplyr

Key themes are Performance and usabililty

rJava 0.7-*

Creating objects was messy

d <-jnew("java/lang/Double", 42
.jcal(d, "D", "doubleValue)

rJava 0.8-*

d <- new(J("java/lang/Double"), 42)

Also much easier to import java packages.


Suppose you have

double add(double a, double b){ return a+b;}

and you want to use it in R. This used to be a lot of work. Before Rcpp, you
used the R/C Api, i.e. use SEXP. A lot of work and boilerplate. With Rcpp the
number of characters needed to translate the simple function above went from 250
to 50. Around 66% of CRAN packages depend (on some way) on Rcpp.

RcppParallel (tbb: thread building blocks)

The package makes it much easier to run things in parallel. Amazingly, a simple
parallel version of sqrt is faster than sqrt

dplyr (everyone knows what it does)

Uses hybrid evaluation. Looking to bring RcppParallel in the (near?) future.

Please note that the notes/talks section of this post is merely my notes on the
presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be
correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the
opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the
speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

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