Remote data analysis

My six-year old laptop is incredibly slow, particularly when analysing data. Unfortunately, analysing data is my job, so this represents a problem. We have a new and fast desktop at home, but I can’t monopolise its use and it would negate the benefits of mobility.

Fortunately, with the help of Emacs and ESS there is a solution. I write my R code on the laptop and evaluate the code on the desktop, which sends the responses and plots back to the laptop. I can do this anywhere I have network access for the laptop and the results are quite quick.

There are a few tricks to the setup, especially if you want the plots sent back to the laptop’s screen, so I’ll document the necessary steps here.

First, you need to enable X11 forwarding on both the desktop and laptop computers (see the Apple Technote). Then start up X11 on the laptop.

Now, on the laptop, start up Emacs, open a file with R code and ssh to the desktop:

opt-x ssh -Y desktopip

Now, run R in the ssh buffer and link it to the R-code buffer

R opt-x ess-remote

That should do it. Now I have the speed of the desktop and the benefits of a laptop.