Today I attended the funeral of Peter Hall, one of the finest mathematical statisticians ever to walk the earth and easily the best from Australia. One of the most remarkable things about Peter was his astonishing productivity, with over 600 papers. As I sat in the audience I realised that many of the people there were probably coauthors of papers with Peter, and I wondered how many statisticians in the world would have been his coauthors or second-degree co-authors.

In mathematics, people calculate Erdős numbers — the “collaborative distance” between Paul Erdős and another person, as measured by authorship of mathematical papers. An Erdős number of 1 means you wrote a paper with Erdős; an Erdős number of 2 means you wrote a paper with someone who has an Erdős number of 1; and so on. My Erdős number is 3, measured in two different ways:

• via Peter Brockwell / Kai-Lai Chung / Paul Erdös
• via J. Keith Ord / Peter C Fishburn / Paul Erdös

It seems appropriate that we should compute Hall numbers in statistics. Mine is 1, as I was lucky enough to have coauthored two papers with Peter Hall. You can compute your own Hall number here. Just put your own surname in the second author field.

RStudio just keeps getting better

RStudio has been a life-changer for the way I work, and for how I teach data analysis. I still have a couple of minor frustrations with it, but they are slowly disappearing as RStudio adds features.

I use dual monitors and I like to code on one monitor and have the console and plots on the other monitor. Otherwise I see too little context, and long lines get wrapped making the code harder to read. So I was very excited to see that RStudio has provided a great Christmas present this year, with source code panes able to be split off into separate windows.

You need the preview version as the feature hasn’t yet found its way into the release version. The features are explained in this help file, in which I also discovered the amazing shortcut Ctrl + . to jump to a function definition. I’ve no idea how long that has been in RStudio, but I’ll be using it a lot.

Now if they would only introduce the ability to select columns for cut/copy/paste …

Keeping up to date with my research papers

Many people ask me to let them know when I write a new research paper. I can’t do that as there are too many people involved, and it is not scalable.

The solution is simple. Take your pick from the following options. Each is automatic and will let you know whenever I produce a new paper.

2. Subscribe to new papers via email from feedburner.
3. Go to my Google scholar page and click “Follow” at the top of the page.

The latter method will work for anyone with a Google scholar page. The Google scholar option only includes research papers. The first two methods also include any new seminars I give or new software packages I write.

Paperpile makes me more productive

One of the first things I tell my new research students is to use a reference management system to help them keep track of the papers they read, and to assist in creating bib files for their bibliography. Most of them use Mendeley, one or two use Zotero. Both do a good job and both are free.

I use neither. I did use Mendeley for several years (and blogged about it a few years ago), but it became slower and slower to sync as my reference collection grew. Eventually it simply couldn’t handle the load. I have over 11,000 papers in my collection of papers, and I was spending several minutes every day waiting for Mendeley just to update the database.

Then I came across Paperpile, which is not so well known as some of its competitors, but it is truly awesome. I’ve now been using it for over a year, and I have grown to depend on it every day to keep track of all the papers I read, and to create my bib files. Continue reading →

Generating tables in LaTeX

Typing tables in LaTeX can get messy, but there are some good tools to simplify the process. One I discovered this week is tablesgenerator.com, a web-based tool for generating LaTeX tables. It also allows the table to saved in other formats including HTML and Markdown. The interface is simple, but it does most things. For complicated tables, some additional formatting may be necessary. Continue reading →

Online collaborative writing

Everyone who has written a paper with another author will know it can be tricky making sure you don’t end up with two versions that need to be merged. The good news is that the days of sending updated drafts by email backwards and forwards is finally over (having lasted all of 25 years — I can barely imagine writing papers before email). Continue reading →

Managing research ideas

Make is a marvellous tool used by programmers to build software, but it can be used for much more than that. I use make whenever I have a large project involving R files and LaTeX files, which means I use it for almost all of the papers I write, and almost of the consulting reports I produce. Continue reading →