Shamindra’s September 2019 Roundup

A quick roundup of any interesting September 2019 activities


Shamindra Shrotriya


September 30, 2019


Welcome to the September 2019 roundup! Similar to last time I’m going to experiment with, namely documenting anything interesting I come across (articles, lectures, books, papers etc.) and any activities I get up to. This is more for my personal benefit but may also help others.

Interesting Articles

  • Came across this amazing guide to reading an R help file. Experienced R users can use this fantastic pedagogical tool by Kieran Healy to teach new R users on how to read internal R help documentation.

  • Came across this fascinating article on how calorie burning being a chess grandmaster is by Aishwarya Kumar

    Key Takeaways

    • Article notes that chess grandmasters can burn as much as 6000 calories individually during an intense day of sedentary chess playing!

    • Initial focus is on Fabiano Caruana, an American grandmaster in chess, and current world No. 2. Caruana has to maintain a very strict diet and exercise routine, particularly during tournaments

    • Primary reasons for the calorie loss are heavy mental stress of the tournament, constantly thinking of chess, thus leaving limited time to think about and consume food

    • Interesting quote:

    …India’s first grandmaster, Viswanathan Anand, does two hours of cardio each night to tire himself out so he doesn’t dream about chess

    • Magnus Carlsen, reigning No. 1, for example consulted a professional nutritionist who recommended that he stop drinking orange juice (to avoid sugar spikes) and replace it with a less sugary regular/chocolate milk blend

    • Carlsen has also optimized sitting. This is quite amazing and something to think about personally as someone who spends many hours daily in front of a screen

    • Carlsen has also undertaken load management (minimizing competitions participated) to increase the amount of recuperation time between tournaments

    • In short, there are a lot of parallels to the research life which I undertake, and a lot of useful tips to optimize energy and time spent doing what I enjoy for longer

  • This is a really insightful interview with Hadley Wickham, a recent COPSS award winner, on the future of the R programming language:

    Key Takeaways

    • Wickham notes that R vs Python language wars are not constructive in moving data science and other fields forward.

    • I agree wholeheartedly on this and firmly believe in using the best tools for the statistical job at hand. What should matter are more critical aspects like code readability, usability, and reproducibility in light of the given task

    • Interestingly Wickham notes:

    A pattern that I see is that the data science team in a company uses R and the data engineering team uses Python

    • Wickham also has focused on bridging divides within the R community itself, namely in developing the dtplyr package to convert dplyr code to the alternative data.table package syntax. This is a promising direction ahead where tidyverse and data.table users can collaborate much more easily
    • There is also a focus on encouraging diversity in R usage and actively developing communities. He asks:

    Can we take the R-Ladies model and help other groups that are currently underserved?

    • Overall it is good that Wickham was recognized recently with the famous COPSS medal in statistics and that the community is embracing software development and design as a key aspect of our profession. It seems that the future is bright for statistics!
  • This is a nice blogpost on making modular Rmarkdown files. In fact this modular Rmd approach is now used in my blog for common footer files. Did not realize how nicely the here package works with references in Rmd chunks.

Interesting Presentations

  • This thoughtful presentation on Design at Quora by Rebecca Cox (VP of design at Quora). I’ve summarized what I feel are the key points from this important presentation below.

    Key Takeaways

    • Cox notes that it is a “great time to be a designer” because design has proven again and again to be a clear competitive advantage in tech
    • She notes her awareness of Quora’s apparent minimalist design interface i.e. dark, red, and text heavy
    • Cox asks - what is Design? Some say it is the visual style, for some the user interaction, and for others “it begins and ends with the logo”
    • For Cox, her definition is abstract, and summarized as:

    The set of decisions about a product

    • Not just an interface, logo etc. Designing is about making product decisions
    • Benefits of this broad decision-driven definition for Quora are:
      • A clear relationship between the product and the interface i.e. why should a dropdown even exist?
      • Concentrates attention on where it matters most i.e. company goals
      • Enables a role within Quora that balances authority and responsibility i.e. Designers should do more than “apply a coat of paint to a feature at the end”
    • To Cox:

    Great design is all the work you don’t ask people who use your products to do

    • There are a lot of deep direct applications to my statistics research i.e. ensure all theoretical and empirical tools are seamlessly able to be conveyed to end users in science, industry, or academia.

    • I will be coming back to this over time periodically and reflect if I have undertaken this definition of design and applied it in my work and daily life

  • This is a really inspiring presentation on how data science is used at the ACLU specifically in the recent border immigration policies by Brooke Watson Madubuonwu.

    Key Takeaways

    • Utilizing tidyverse to sort through messy data linkage issues in a consistent framework is well thought out by the team with useful packaged functions created for use by the wider ACLU team
    • Here both statistics and law are used to tackle a major humanitarian issue i.e. child border separation. This is deeply inspiring and the kind of applied work that I would like to contribute to meaningfully in the future
    • I particularly appreciated the general data source skepticism showed by the ACLU team. As a statistician it is important to not only explore data but be very skeptical of the source quality i.e. competing legal bodies may not provide the ACLU unbiased data!




BibTeX citation:
  author = {Shamindra Shrotriya},
  title = {Shamindra’s {September} 2019 {Roundup}},
  date = {2019-09-30},
  url = {},
  langid = {en}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
Shamindra Shrotriya. 2019. “Shamindra’s September 2019 Roundup.” September 30, 2019.