[R] Does anyone.... worth a warning?!? No warning at all

François Pinard pinard at iro.umontreal.ca
Tue Aug 21 04:13:54 CEST 2007

[Ted Harding]

> [...] a very important point.  [...] There are a lot of idiosyncracies 
> in R, which in time we get used to; but learning about them is 
> something of a "sociological" exercise, just as one learns that when 
> one's friend A says "X Y Z" is may not mean the same as when one's 
> friend B says it.  [...] Another example is in the use of %*% for 
> matrix multiplication when one or both of the factors is a vector.  
> [...] Just a few thoughts.  As I say we all get used to this stuff in
> the end, but it can be bewildering (and a trap) for beginners.

Using R is a bit akin to smoking.  Beginnings are difficult, one may get 
headaches, and even gag on the first experiences.  But in the long run, 
it becomes pleasurable, and even addictive.  Yet, deep down, for those 
willing to be honest, there is something not fully healthy in it.

While I appreciate many of the virtues of R, as a language, it has a few 
flaws.  Besides, as a library, and despite many commendable symmetries 
and beauties, it sometimes suffers from irregularities in its various 
specifications and offerings -- likely for historical reasons -- maybe 
lack of coordination while aging, or maybe needs of S compatibility.

These irregularities are sometimes documented clearly, yet in many 
cases, exegesis is required.  Moreover, around documentation, there is 
a question of attitude.  While some R maintainers are refreshingly 
open-minded, others are strongly reluctant to reconsider anything which 
has been written, as if the mere fact of documenting a detail was fixing 
it in the universe and eternity; they would then argue to death against 
slightest changes.  In a word, because almost impossible to repair in 
practice, R idiosyncrasies are likely to stay.

Accepting them (idiosyncrasies, irregularities) is part of the game.  
Correcting them a tiny bit at a time (like, for example, the "mean" 
behaviour at the origin of this thread) might overall take forever and 
shake myriads of electrons within tons of discussions.  I'm not sure it
is a worth undertaking.  For one, I prefer learning to be productive 
with R as it stands, even knowing it could have been a bit better.

François Pinard   http://pinard.progiciels-bpi.ca

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