Visually Enforced

a blog by Gaston Sanchez

A year in Oniris-Nantes

Posted on February 26, 2014

It has been almost one year since I’ve been in the Unit of Sensometrics and Chemometrics, at Oniris-Nantes. So I feel it’s time to look back in retrospect and do a quick review of activities.

What’s this photo? Glad you asked. It’s the famous great elephant from Les Machines de l’ile de Nantes. A colosal machine of 12 meters high and 8 meters wide, made from 45 tons of wood and steel.

A very personal post

In the fall of 2012 I received an invitation from Mohamed Hanafi to come to Oniris and collaborate with him doing research on multiblock data analysis methods. I gladly accepted his invitation and I moved to Nantes (France) in the spring of 2013.

To be honest, not everything has been fun, awesome, wonderful and cool as I expected. But overall, I cannot complain. As my wife says, it’s important to have a positive mind and look at things from the bright side. So yes, this post it’s definitely more for me than for my readers, friends, and colleagues. And its main purpose is to help me keep track of some of the stuff I’ve done in the last 12 months.


I won’t blame you if you know nothing about Oniris. Before coming here, I didn’t know anything about it either. Briefly, Oniris is just the weird non-sense yet official name of the École National Vétérinaire, Agroalimentaire et de l’Alimentation (formerly known as ENITIAA). In simple terms, Oniris is the veterinary and food science school of Nantes.

On the food science side, there’s the Unit of Sensometrics and Chemometrics (USC) in charge of Mostafa Qannari. This is where I’ve been working as a research engineer, trying to develop a computational ecosystem in R for multiblock statistical methods. Also, I’ve been mentoring the graduate students in the stats program, giving seminars for the master students, and sharing tips with other professors. Last but not least, I’ve also had the chance to partner again with my italian friends in Paris.

My 2nd book

Outside of my job duties, I was able to finish Handling and Processing Strings in R, my second ebook so far. I don’t know how many people have read it (or downloaded it). However, I appreciate a lot the few emails I have received from a handful of readers. Thanks to all of them for their critics, for helping me catching a couple of bugs, and for helping me spreading the news about the ebook.

R packages

As part of my day-to-day activities, I have been doing a lot programming and R packaging. Among the several packages that I’ve been working on, there are three of them that are fully operational (although not all of them in CRAN). In case of doubt, you can always install the latest versions from my github repositories:

  • tester
  • turner
  • matrixkit

Likewise, I’ve been able to constantly visit Giorgio Russolillo and pick up again the non-metric PLS features and added them to the package plspm.

I’m also proud of having contributed to the completion of two R packages developed by my colleagues at USC: multigroup and ClustVarLV. The package multigroup (by Aida Eslami et al) provides methods for multigroup data analysis, and it is one of the derived outputs from Aida Eslami’s phd project. In turn, the package ClustVarLV (by Evelyn Vigneau and Mingkun Chen) provides methods for clustering of variables around latent variables.

Pending stuff

There are several things in my to-do list. I’ve tried but failed to convince my colleagues to use the R package knitr for creating documents from within R. I just hope it doesn’t take them too long to see the advantages and convenience of avoiding copy-pasting while preparing their documents and beamer slides.

Also unfinished is my attempt to change their style for making presentations and slides. I know I’m swimming upstream on this issue, but I don’t want to lose my hope yet. The truth is that it is easier to influence the new generations than the old ones.

Last remarks

At a more personal level, I was able to migrate my website to github pages and jekyll! And of course, I’ve improved my French (although it is still very far from being perfect). Last but not least, I’ve diminished my intolerance to red wine, reduced my aversion to cloudy-rainy weather, increased my preference for ciders and galettes, and discovered the wonders of Breton salted-butter.

I wish I could stay more time in France but I must go back to California. This year in Nantes has been a very enriching experience and I feel very lucky of having being invited to Oniris. What’s next? I have no idea, but I’m looking forward for my next journey. As the Nantes’ motto says: Favet Neptunus Eunti (Neptune favours the traveller).

Published in categories opinion  Tagged with analysis  research