Planning the Spontaneous

It's more than just a blueprint.

To London And Back

Posted by Robert Chow on 09/12/2009

To those who read my last post, no, I did not drive to London and back. Although it would’ve been quite an experience to tell having only had so few driving lessons.  No, this is a different experience to tell.

Instead, I’ve been to London over the past two days to visit a conference, PSI Graphics (PSI – Statisticians in Pharmaceutical Industry).  The conference is about displaying data, and also highlights how to do this using multiple ways and techniques between differing software packages.

The first talk was about how (not) to display data.  Most of it was common sense, but in particular, i was probably the one I found most useful because it highlighted, on paper, what a user should and shouldn’t do when creating a graph.  One of my personal favourites of how not to display data was rule #5: Make sure the numbers don’t add up.

And along came, yet another, Fox news fail.

Fox News GOP Candidates. This image has been taken from

Second up was about a program a developer had created to help statisticians understand the effects a drug/placebo may or may not have on several patients.  The program, developed within AstraZeneca, was especially useful and introduced many methods that helped statisticians to do their jobs more effectively.  The entire talk was essentially focused on how program interactivity meant allowing less time interpreting the data, thus creating more time for productivity.  I guess I should try to focusing on the Grapher component to do similar.

Last of the morning talks introduced why there should always be a control data set, and how to display this effectively so an interpreter can easily see the difference between the control and the sample sets.  It also included calculating regression to the mean, and to be completely honest, a fair bit of this talk went over, not just my head, but many others too.  But I think I got the gist of it.

The afternoon presented many approaches to the “Graphics Challenge” proposed by PSI – the challenges were to display and evaluate many data cases using a software package.  Of the software packages on show, MATLAB was the only one I’d heard of, having used it in my AI course last year.  Unfortunately, the MATLAB speaker was unable to turn up.  So I had to sit through a good few hours of talks about SAS, STATA, R/S+ and GenStat approaches.  All of this was new to me, and because of why I was at the conference and knowing why (to investigate how to display data, to find other methods of display data efficiently, how do others display their data, any other graphs that need to be considered, how can we better other packages, etc), I think I was probably one of the least bored of the many that attended.

Before going to this conference, I was a bit skeptical at first.  I knew the conference was going to be useful,  but didn’t quite know how much.  I guess, a lot of the things said, I’d considered, but that’s as far is went. It was very useful for it allowed me to put pen to paper, and actually have things written down instead of thinking about them, or at least thought I’d been thinking about them, when in fact I hadn’t.  I was a little skeptical of the people too – I didn’t know what to expect.  But I met a fair few characters, from an electrical engineer turned SAS programmer, to many statisticians, one who is a placement student like myself.  And lastly, because it was London.

Funnily enough though, I didn’t find myself outside of my comfort zone at all – which surprised me the most.  As tiring as it is to go to London and back from Bideford, it’s definitely an experience I’ll want to do again, and I urge many others to go to conferences too, skeptical or not.

On one last note, I have to say, over the past couple of days, I should have just shut my mouth when I’m in a car.  On Monday I was given that lecture about not being so hard on myself when driving.  Yesterday, I was in the taxi with a born and bred country man.  I simply remarked at how in Manchester I’d rarely have to get a taxi because of public transport, and then he goes and gives me a full-blown account of how being in the country isn’t so “slow-paced”, and how you have to just plan ahead.

Shutting up.


One Response to “To London And Back”

  1. Did you get to read the Metro?! (or thelondonpaper or London Lite or City AM or….)

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