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R Users Group Seville, Spain Looks Forward to Interactive Hybrid Events in the Future

By Blog, Events

R Consortium recently talked to Francisco Rodriguez-Sanchez of Seville R User Group (also on Twitter) about the growth of the group over the years and the challenges of online events. Francisco discussed the diverse nature of the R community in Seville and the importance of physical events for the community. He also shared their struggle with finding speakers for their events and the tricks they have acquired from other groups to overcome this issue. 

Francisco is a Data Scientist, Computational Ecologist, and R programmer. He did his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Seville and is currently doing his research on forests and climate change. 

What is the R community like in Seville?

Seville is a medium-sized city with a population of about 1.5 million, including the outskirts. It is a pretty big city and there are many people using R. There is a delightful mix of people from universities, research institutes, and also people who use R for their work. Although there are not many big industries in Seville, there are many businesses doing analytics and machine learning stuff. Many of them use R. So we have a pleasant mix of academic and private businesspeople using R for many things. 

I guess there are probably over 10,000 people (maybe many more) using R in Seville. Of course, not all of them come to the user group. But in the group right now, there are over 600 people on Meetup, and we also have over 600 followers on Twitter. We created the group in 2014, but we were a tiny group. In 2017, we started using Meetup with 100 members and the group grew quickly. In meetings, we have normally between 20 to 40 people.

If we talk about Spain, Madrid and Barcelona are the biggest cities and have big and very active R communities. They also have R-Ladies groups and a lot of innovative stuff is happening over there. Most of the businesses are based in Barcelona or Madrid, although we have a few here in Seville as well. R is also being taught in universities, so people who attend universities get exposed to it. In the private sector, some people use R, but Python is also very strong.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We stopped having our regular meetings because of COVID. The last meeting we had was in February 2020. We only had some activity on Twitter and hosted a couple of online events. When the situation looked better, we tried to plan meetings, but things started getting worse again. It was a complicated situation, and you couldn’t really plan to get people in a room to meet. 

Last year, in November, we planned another physical meeting. The Omicron wave came in January, so we had to switch to online again. We had a meeting at the end of January.

During the pandemic, R groups worldwide organized really amazing online events. Recordings of many great talks from different R users’ groups and R conferences are available online. So we didn’t feel the need to fill that niche and preferred to stay quiet.

As a group, we really preferred getting together in the same place. We not only had the talks, but we also used to hang out in a quiet bar afterward. Meeting and discussing different projects was really important for us. If we don’t have that, then the meetings are not very attractive for many people. During the online meeting in January, very few people attended and there were no questions. We uploaded the talk to our YouTube channel and many people watched the talk afterward. But the meeting itself was much less interactive, and it felt a bit isolating. 

We are looking forward to the pandemic getting settled so that we can start with physical meetings again.

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, videoconferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive of people that cannot attend physical events in the future?  

Before the pandemic, for years we already recorded our talks and uploaded them to our YouTube channel. So people who couldn’t come to the meetings could watch the talk and make comments. We also shared the slides on our website and our GitHub

To keep us all connected, we also created a telegram channel for anyone to join and ask questions. We hope it will keep growing, but so far it’s just starting. And, of course, we have the meetup group where we share announcements and some activities that may interest people, but it’s not a really active communication channel. 

So in terms of inclusivity, at the beginning of the term, we always send surveys to our members to decide what’s the best time and day to meet. Normally, it’s on Tuesday or Thursday in the evening. And for those people who can’t come, they can watch it online. And that’s what we have planned. Hopefully, we will keep it a mix of physical and online meetings for people who cannot come. But we are really looking forward to getting together. 

I feel that the best thing we can do for the R community in Seville is get together to know each other and share knowledge. And that’s something that is hard to achieve in online-only events, so we are looking forward to hybrid events. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting? 

Last week was very interesting for me. It was about KoBotoolbox, which is an open-source software to design data collection forms. It allows you to design the form and send it to people, who can then fill it in from their phones or their computers. In the field or in humanitarian crises, it can make data collection very easy. And then it also allows you to access, visualize and share the data you have collected. I wasn’t familiar with this tool and it was an eye-opening talk for me. I feel it has immense potential and is very useful for people who need to collect data.

Before the pandemic also, we had really great talks. As an academic, I have learned a lot about big data and innovative machine learning stuff from people working in the private sector. 

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

I am not really an expert, but I think all the visualization stuff is very attractive to many people. And there is continuous progress in visualization in R, so I think that’s going to be a powerful characteristic of R. I also think that the rmarkdown ecosystem is powerful, and it fascinates many people. 

And then maybe a bit more niche. The spatial stuff in R is something I use a lot, and I feel there is a lot of interest in that. The capabilities to do geospatial stuff with R have kept growing over the last ten years and that’s amazing.

Another thing I have noticed in our group is that when people do advanced machine learning, they move to Python. I really hope that we can change the perception that it is not possible to do advanced machine learning in R. I think that R Studio and others have done some really great work in this direction and R can do advanced machine learning. I wish people doing deep learning and machine learning keep using R and keep teaching it to us in our meetings. That’s a thing I would like to see in the next year or a few years. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

We don’t know any data journalists in our group, but we have marvelous examples of data journalism here in Spain. It’s really recent, there are many journalists doing impressive data work now and there is a lot of interest. Many universities are offering Masters in Data Journalism.

With COVID, there has been amazing work by many newspapers and journalists. I have seen amazing reports regarding COVID, visualizing it, and explaining it to the public. A project that I like is DataDista. They have developed a few projects investigating topics like the problem of water management in Spain, which is a huge issue in the South of Spain. They are investigating the problem of illegal extraction of underground water and have published an impressive report on the work. And as far as I know, they use R for their research and visualization. There is a lot of data collected on COVID. They collect all the data from official reports and publish it in a public GitHub repo every day. They have also worked on the problem of macro-farms. These vast farms with thousands of animals pose serious environmental problems. So they are an amazing example of data journalism. There are many examples in Spain, and it’s a thriving community.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

R Consortium has funded a few projects related to spatial capabilities in R, like SF or STARS, and also the R interface to Google Earth Engine. So I believe that support from the R-Consortium has been critical to making R a powerful ecosystem for spatial analysis. There has been enormous progress and it has attracted many people to the R ecosystem. 

And then one project that I really like is the R Ladies. I think it is amazing, and it is something very characteristic of the R community. It has been amazing and there has been a lot of activity with R Ladies’ groups around the globe. So I guess the R Consortium’s support has also been important there to grow this momentum. 

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

From what I have seen from the outside, I have enjoyed R/Medicine activities and also R in Pharma. Both have organized really interesting meetings, with lots of exciting talks and workshops. Even though I haven’t attended their events, I keep an eye on them and I am amazed by what they have done. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We are planning a physical meeting around May. If we still cannot meet in a room, then we will probably have something online. 

We do struggle to find speakers for our events. We know that there are thousands of people using R every day, but it’s very difficult to get them to come to our meetings and speak. Many of them feel they don’t know enough. We try to encourage people to speak, regardless of the level. We don’t need to have only advanced topics, we can also have really basic topics. 

Running this group is a pleasure and the only struggle has been finding volunteers to give talks. I would love to know tricks to fix this. From other R groups, we have learned that you need to approach speakers individually, instead of a general call for speakers. You need to know your community, the people, and what they are doing. Then you need to approach them individually and invite them personally to come. 

Luckily we have a couple of people that agreed to give a talk in the future. So we will probably have something this spring about crime investigation and mapping with R. We have an expert on that here in Seville and he agreed to talk. We would like to have one talk every two months if possible or at least once per quarter. We used to have one per month but we struggle to have speakers so we space them a bit more.

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Murcia R Users Group (UMUR) in Spain Didn’t Let the Pandemic Break its Momentum

By Blog

R Consortium recently talked with Aurora González Vidal of UMUR Asociación de Usuarios de R Murcia (Also on Twitter). She covered the historic involvement of Murcia in the evolution of R in Spain and the progressive nature of the R community in Spain. Although the original community spirit of the group has suffered during the pandemic, shifting events online has also significantly increased the reach of the group. With two future events already planned, the group has held on to its pace and is also hopeful to host hybrid events in the future.

Aurora has been the president of the R Murcia Users Organization since it was established in 2017. She is also a postdoctoral researcher in the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Computer Science, University of Murcia. In her free time, she enjoys playing sports, including climbing and krav magá (self-defense). She is also an avid reader and loves playing the saxophone.

What is the R community like in Spain?

I consider that the R community in Spain is very active, and it consists of multidisciplinary researchers and people in business. Some of my colleagues also work for banks and engineering companies and they are introducing R in their work environment. Adoption of R in industry is still in its early stages and mostly as a personal effort from the employees.

I was told that in 2009, before I started at the university, there were some individual R users spread through Spain that belonged to Linux mailing lists and statistical forums. They gathered here in Murcia for the first time to share knowledge and experience at a national R conference. It was special because here in Spain, bigger events happen in Madrid and Barcelona. Since then, there is an annual conference that grows more every year. 10 years later, in 2019, we celebrated the Xth conference again in Murcia and there were 144 attendees, 32 talks, workshops, posters, a prize, and 2 invited speakers that are prominent references in the R-world: François Husson, who was there in person, and Julia Silge, who gave her talk remotely from Utah. I think in Spain we are very passionate about R and the ecosystem around it because it relates to progress and sharing. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Our original community has suffered a lot because the main activities that we performed, the bi-monthly workshops, had a powerful component of being present. Seeing each other’s faces and getting to know the people, getting to share ideas by having a coffee together after the workshop, was an important part of our spirit. So the original idea of the workshop has suffered. 

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, videoconferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive of people that cannot attend physical events in the future?  

We are using Zoom, and some of our speakers have decided to publish their code on GitHub. It’s something we promote, but not something we ask for. Normally, how it works is that we work a lot through mailing lists. So when someone wants to become a member, they fill out a questionnaire, and we communicate through email. If there is any discussion, it goes through email. We normally provide a doodle to select days for workshops so that every member can vote. In other words, apart from video conferencing, there is nothing new in particular that has happened during the pandemic.

Since we started offering the workshops online because of the pandemic, we have enlarged our community. We engage people not only from our region but also people from other local groups in Spain, and even in Latin America. We also started a YouTube channel that gives our content a projection. It’s great because we get to analyze the interests of the audience from the views on your YouTube channel. For those things I am happy, and the idea is to continue with a hybrid setup in the future, once it is safe to gather again. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting? 

Our most recent workshop was very interesting. Jose Vicente Yago, a colleague of mine, who is a data analyst in the Computer Sciences Faculty of the University of Murcia, gave it. It was about creating R packages and deploying them as APIs for machine learning applications. I think this is especially interesting because once we create a function, a set of functions, or even a package, there is the possibility of exposing them to any platform or to any client that does not want to be aware of how R works. It was great, and it is currently available on our channel and also the code is on GitHub. This is not something we ask for because every talk is different, but we encourage the speakers to publish their content, and we support them.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

I see that people at the organization are very interested in R for education, R for ecology, and artificial intelligence. A more transversal interest is always developing Shiny apps. Our vice-president already gave a workshop about flexdashboards, and we are thinking of offering a talk about shiny extension packages for theming, UI components, visualizations, etc.

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

There is a local R organization, named R-Quixote, from Toledo with which we collaborate frequently. Through them, the editor of the digital journal “The Data Science Magazine” contacted us to help in a section that is an R course. Some members of UMUR, the organization, especially the ones on the directive board, have collaborated previously, providing R courses to Ph.D. students, professors at the university, and other professionals. I will try to get many members involved in this project. 

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Personally, from my research and academic view, I would say that the Google Earth Engine with R is amazing. In smart agriculture, satellite images are really useful for detecting problems with crops. 

And then also from a social point of view, the R Girls Schools network sounds amazing too. I think this is something we can also do as a local group. We could try to go to schools, teach what is coding and empower girls from school to choose Data Analysis and Computer Science as careers. So these two things would be my favorites from the funded projects. 

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

I think R Certification is very useful because at this point we use online courses, we try on our own but there is a lack of institutions or certification that can provide proof of proficiency in R. So that would be useful.

And also the Distributive Computing working group. Because many times there is this belief that we can only work sequentially in R. Of course parallel computing is possible but people aren’t aware, so these efforts are interesting and useful. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We have already planned the following two talks. The first one will be about CARET from a predictive point of view and with a focus on biotechnology. There is a lot of expectation with that one. The second one will be a presentation of a package named mapSpain() that is in CRAN. The author himself will show how the package can create maps of the different administrative levels of Spain with R. 

Uniting Local R Users in Spain – Users Murcia R (UMUR)

By Blog

By Aurora González-Vidal (president) and Antonio Maurandi (vice-president), Users Murcia R (UMUR)

UMUR (Users Murcia R) is an association whose first official act was the organization of the X National Spanish meeting of R users in Murcia (2018) which established an inflection point in this annual meeting. We brought two amazing speakers: François Husson, who accompanied us, and Julia Silge, who participated by video call. Since then, we have been doing meetings every other month (workshops, talks…) with attendance of 35-45 people. We are trying not only to unite local people but also to provide them the chance to meet their references in the R community and make them participants in the R spirit. Recently we also had the opportunity to meet Max Kuhn, at the XI National meeting of R users celebrated in Madrid (2019)

Our secret as a young organization achieving great numbers of participation is that we are formed at least by 2 small groups and individuals that were independently “spreading the word of R,” each of them in their own environments.

The first informal group is called 00Rteam. We are based in academia and teach a large number of R courses aimed at specific audiences at the university level: PhD students (writing scientific papers with Rmarkdown, introduction to R and Rstudio, data tabulation in R, hypothesis contrast in R, multivariate analysis in R), teachers (automatic learning with R) and administrative staff (R4U). 

Another informal group is made up a group of mathematicians and economists from the Faculty of Economics and Business, who are working on integrating R in their daily teaching. They use R and RStudio to create interactive pedagogic materials by exploring packages like rmarkdown, shiny, swirl and exams for teaching Statistics on the courses offered by the faculty.

Apart from that, our board of directors includes professionals who are actively spreading R in engineering businesses and banks and who have personal blogs and have authored manuals about R. This mix of interdisciplinary and enthusiastic people being in charge of an association has been able to attract a pool of interested people that is bringing us a lot of joy and knowledge interchange in Murcia. 

An important characteristic of UMUR is that the number of women on the board is higher than the number of men. We are sensitive to gender equality, and we want to be an example of parity in the technology space showing that we are diverse in many ways. We think this fact is the key to success. 

Signed: Aurora González-Vidal (president) and Antonio Maurandi (vice-president)

XI Conference of R Users (Madrid, Spain, Nov 14-16) Welcomes Over 200 Attendees

By Blog, Events

Thank you to Carlos Ortega, Principal Data Scientist, Teradata, for providing this summary and pictures from the conference

The XI Conference of R Users (XI Jornadas de Usuarios de R), held November 14 – 16, Madrid, Spain, was organized by the Asociación Comunidad R Hispano. The ambitious program and the invited international speakers made the participation massive, exceeding 200 attendees. The Conference was divided into two locations, Repsol (Spanish Gas and Oil company) and UNED (Spanish Distance Learning University), highlighting the university-business combination that has been one of the key factors in the success of the conference.

On Thursday, November 14, the opening ceremony was held at the Repsol Campus auditorium and attended by Emilio López Cano (president of the Asociación Hispano R Community), Julio Gonzalo (deputy vice chancellor for research at UNED), Enrique Dameno (Director of Digitalization and Integrated Customer Management of Repsol), and Teresa García (Repsol).

Max Kuhn (R Studio) gave a lecture on “Modeling in the Tidyverse,” and after that, in the round table “R in business,” the crucial role of data scientists in solving problems in diverse areas was covered. Raúl Vaquerizo (Pont Group), Noelia Ruiz (Mutua Madrileña), Jorge Ayuso (Telefónica España), Enrique Lasso (Repsol) and Carlos Ortega (Teradata) participated in the round table.

On the 15th and 16th, at the School of Education of the UNED, an extensive and vibrant program was developed with workshops, communications sessions, “lightning sessions,” poster sessions, round tables and invited conferences. Bernd Bischl (University of Munich) gave a lecture on MLR3, Jo-Fai Chow ( presented “Automatic and explainable machine learning in R,” and Max Kuhn gave a workshop on “Designing R modeling packages.”

Following the multidisciplinary philosophy of using R to handle any kind of data, communications sessions dealt with applications in genetics, data analysis, model and project management, society and culture, surveys and education, medicine and veterinary and economics and company. In addition to these monographic sessions, the “lightning sessions” dealt with many different topics.

A round table on Data Journalism was held to close the conference, moderated by Leonardo Hansa (R-Hispano) in which Virginia Peón (Indigitall), Alba Martín (Newtral), Antonio Delgado (Datadista) and Carmen Aguilar (Sky News) participated. The importance of knowing how to treat the data in an appropriate and honest way was highlighted, so that information that reaches the public is truthful.

In the closing ceremony, the prize for the Best Young Work of the Conference was announced, which went to Rocío Aznar Gimeno (Technological Institute of Aragon) for the work “Multilevel mixed models: An application of the lme4 library to estimate the fetal weight percentile in twin pregnancies.”

Sessions Available

Many of the sessions were streamed and recorded. They are accessible through the UNED Channel (Canal UNED):