[Rd] Request: Suggestions for "good teaching" packages, esp. with C code

Jeffrey Ryan jeffrey.ryan at lemnica.com
Tue Feb 15 20:19:45 CET 2011

I think for teaching, you need to use R itself.

Everything else is going to be a derivative from that, and if you are
looking for 'correctness' or 'consistency' with the spirit of R, you
can only be disappointed - as everyone will take liberties or bring
personal style into the equation.

In addition, your points are debatable in terms of priority/value.
e.g. what is wrong with 'return'?  Certainly provides clarity and
consistency if you have if-else constructs.

We've all learned from reading R sources, and it seems to have worked
out well for many of us.


On Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM, Paul Johnson <pauljohn32 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello,
> I am looking for CRAN packages that don't teach bad habits.  Can I
> have suggestions?
> I don't mean the recommended packages that come with R, I mean the
> contributed ones.  I've been sampling a lot of examples and am
> surprised that many ignore seemingly agreed-upon principles of R
> coding. In r-devel, almost everyone seems to support the "functional
> programming" theme in Chambers's book on Software For Data Analysis,
> but when I go look at randomly selected packages, programmers don't
> follow that advice.
> In particular:
> 1. Functions must avoid "mystery variables from nowhere."
> Consider a function's code, it should not be necessary to say "what's
> variable X?" and go hunting in the commands that lead up to the
> function call.  If X is used in the function, it should be in a named
> argument, or extracted from one of the named arguments.  People who
> rely on variables floating around in the user's environment are
> creating hard-to-find bugs.
> 2. We don't want functions with indirect effects (no <<- ), almost always.
> 3. Code should be vectorized where possible, C style for loops over
> vector members should be avoided.
> 4. We don't want gratuitous use of "return" at the end of functions.
> Why do people still do that?
> 5. Neatness counts.  Code should look nice!  Check out how beautiful
> the functions in MASS look! I want code with spaces and " <- " rather
> than  everything jammed together with "=".
> I don't mean to criticize any particular person's code in raising this
> point.  For teaching exemples, where to focus?
> Here's one candidate I've found:
> MNP.  as far as I can tell, it meets the first 4 requirements.  And it
> has some very clear C code with it as well. I'm only hesitant there
> because I'm not entirely sure that a package's C code should introduce
> its own functions for handling vectors and matrices, when some general
> purpose library might be more desirable.  But that's a small point,
> and clarity and completeness counts a great deal in my opinion.
> --
> Paul E. Johnson
> Professor, Political Science
> 1541 Lilac Lane, Room 504
> University of Kansas
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Jeffrey Ryan
jeffrey.ryan at lemnica.com


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