Reflections on posit conf(2023)


Jilly MacKay


September 21, 2023

I really can’t believe I spoke at posit::conf(2023)!.

Virtual attendance

posit::conf(2023) used discord and streamed talks to provide a virtual stream and I have to say I think it worked really well. On balance, I would have preferred one stream per session as opposed to a stream per talk so you could have got more of the question time, but it wasn’t a big problem. The discord worked really well and I participated in some great chat - honestly, probably as much as I did at Vet Ed in person!

If I was applying for posit::conf again, I would now try to find the money to attend in person, but when I was submitting I wasn’t ready to contemplate leaving my daughter in another country for a few days. I really appreciate being part of a community that facilitates that. Particularly as it turned out this would be a week my daughter was ill so I was balancing full-time conference attendance (time zone shifted, admittedly) with keeping her entertained.

The one thing I think was missing was I did feel the absence of Xitter, to be honest. There was a lot of chat on mastodon, but it was definitely a quieter crowd.

The cool things I saw

There was so much at posit::conf(2023) that I really enjoyed!

Keynote::Jeremy_Howard(“A hackers guide to open source LLMs”)

This was a great keynote, and one where there was a common theme in a lot of talks I saw: I followed up to a point.

I was worried about this at first, but the more I listened in to the range of talks, the more comforted I felt. Not all the talks pushed me to my limits, and some started beyond my scope, but nobody seemed to understand everything.

There were some fun things I took from Jeremy’s talk: claims about LLM’s inabilities often reveal that you aren’t using them well. Did you know you can provide Chat GPT for example with custom instructions? It now must refer to me as ‘Captain’.

Input: Tell me very briefly about ducks

Certainly, Captain!

Ducks are waterfowl birds known for their distinctive features, including webbed feet, quacking sounds, and adaptability to various habitats. They come in numerous species, are omnivorous, and often migrate. Ducks are important in ecosystems and have cultural significance.

Best Wishes, Computer

There was some interesting LLM hacking later on in the talk that I’d love to try out if I find the time.

The notebook is here

Keynote::JD_Long(“Its abstractions all the way down”)

Alongside my feeling of “Oh I’ve only followed this so far”, another common feeling I had during posit::conf() was “Oh, this is industry, they do things different here.”

JD presented two things that kind of blew my mind: JD said, and I paraphrase, that 13 years ago he wasn’t given the facility to do coding in his workplace, as he was an economist and ‘should’ use excel. This got me thinking a lot about how we do things in academia, where everyone is seemingly meant to be omni-talented. Secondly, he roughly categorises his workplace into 80-16-4: 80% are normal users, 16% are super users, and 4% are guru users. This really spoke to me with how our teams work in research, with everyone entering the 4% in different areas. I’m not quite sure where to apply this yet, but its planted in my head now.

I haven’t seen JD’s slides anywhere yet, but I’ll try to update this post when I see them.

Keynote::Kara_woo(“R not only in production”)

I’m going to be honest, I just felt a bit giddy to be watching Kara live. This gave me real “I can’t believe I’m talking in the same conference” vibes, and I really enjoyed the way Kara kept bringing things back to real life examples.

Docker and its package management seemed really useful, and this is an issue I’ve run into as I’ve tried applying Shiny more.

Kara’s slides are here

My daughter also found Kara’s talk very enjoyable and kept saying “yeah! yeah!” whenever she paused.

Talk::Carl_Vogel(“How data scientists broke A/B Testing”)

This was a really interesting talk for me. The topic itself was interesting, but what was really fascinating here (and this was a repeated theme I saw) just how differently data is used in business compared to academia. Obvious this was a data science conference, but I don’t think I saw a single p value anywhere. I loved it.

Carl’s slides can be found here

Talk::Meghan_Harris(“Case for generative art”)

I really swithered about this talk versus the one I actually attended, but Meghan’s slides speak for themselves. They are beautiful, easy to follow, and I really want to do something like this.

Talk::Angie_Reed(“Using data to protect traditional lifeways”)

This talk was SO good, and I think a perfect example of communities coming together. Angie was discussing her work with the Penobscot Nation protecting their relative, the Penobscot River.

Part of what Angie was doing was asking for support with Tribal Environment Data Management - and you can volunteer with this form.

We were asked to reflect at the start of the talk if we knew any songs that celebrated water and I’m sad to say the only thing that immediately sprang to my mind was:

“Wi’ tippenny, we fear nae evil; Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the deil!” - Tam O’Shanter by Rabbie Burns

Usquabae of course being the ‘water of life’. Scotland might need some help respecting its water . . .


I attended lots of talks about Quarto and saw lots of Quarto and oh man. I am really getting into it.

Quarto manuscripts are coming

Quarto shortcodes are useful

Quarto extensions will run shinylive

I can’t believe not six months after making this website in blogdown I’m seriously considering porting it all over to Quarto.

Talking at Posit

I have to hold my hands up and say I was wrong here. When my talk was accepted, I immediately felt like an imposter, and then felt a bit annoyed that I was signed up to a bunch of sessions with Articulate Inc. to work on my imposter talk.

The coaching was actually incredibly useful and really helped hone my talk into something that I personally think was quite good.

I also spent a lot of time playing with Quarto to get my theme working and I blogged about that too