[R] two questions for R beginners

Thomas Adams Thomas.Adams at noaa.gov
Fri Feb 26 16:55:52 CET 2010


I think your point "you need [to] spend at least a few hours a week on 
it" is key. Since I am not doing statistics daily, more in fits & starts 
as my latest project -may- require, my approach has been more task 
oriented. A less-than-ideal approach. So, I think your suggestion is 


Paul Hiemstra wrote:
> Ivan Calandra wrote:
>> You are definitely right...
>> What to do with bad beginner's questions is not a simple issue.
>> If a "beginner's mailing list" is created, who will answer to such 
>> questions? And moreover, the beginners won't take advantage of the 
>> other questions (I've personally learned a lot trying to understand 
>> the questions and answers to other's problems). And also, as you 
>> said, the problems might persist.
>> The beginner's mailing list might be good in one aspect though: the 
>> "experts" who subscribe to it would be willing to help the beginners 
>> to get started with R, knowing that the questions might not be 
>> clearly stated.
>> As you pointed out, the mailing list is not the best for basic stuff 
>> (the question is of course "what is basic?"). Not everybody knows 
>> some colleagues who work with R (I'm personally the 1st one to use R 
>> in my lab).
>> I think, somehow and I have no idea how, documentation and guidance 
>> to search for help should be more accessible as soon as you start 
>> with R. Maybe a _*clear*_ section on the R homepage or in the 
>> "introduction to R" manual like "where to find help", including all 
>> of the most common and useful resources available (from "?" and 
>> RSiteSearch() to R Wiki and Crantastic).
> Hi Ivan (and list),
> I think the main problem is not as much that there isn't structure in 
> the way R provides documentation / tutorials, but that people have a 
> hard time finding the structure. There are task views for certain 
> specific fields, but I think a lot of beginners do not know that they 
> exist. There are separate mailing lists for specific fields, but I 
> often see geographical (my field of expertise) oriented questions on 
> R-help that would fit much better on R-sig-geo.
> So I think a "O my God, I've downloaded R and what now" tutorial might 
> be a good idea to put very close to the download button of R on CRAN. 
> This tutorial would focus not on how to do things in R, but would 
> provide guidance to the most obvious sources of information such as 
> Task views, specific mailing lists, ways to search list archives, 
> information for beginners how to write a good e-mail etc. I think for 
> a lot of beginners it is not as much the answer to a specific question 
> that they need, but more guidance how to look for answers themselves.
> But at the end of the day, R is still not very easy to learn when 
> coming from GUI oriented stats programs. In addition, to become 
> reasonably fluent in R, you need spend at least a few hours a week on 
> it. SO I think we can ease the pain for beginners, but not take away 
> that it takes quite some time to become fluent in R.
> cheers,
> Paul
>> I hope that this whole discussion might help to make the R world better.
>> Thank you Patrick for initiating it!
>> Regards,
>> Ivan
>> Le 2/26/2010 15:09, Paul Hiemstra a écrit :
>>> Ivan Calandra wrote:
>>>> Since you want input from beginners, here are some thoughts
>>>> I had and still have two big problems with R:
>>>> - this vectorization thing. I've read many manuals (including R 
>>>> inferno), but I'm still not completely clear about it. In simple 
>>>> examples, it's fine. But when it gets a bit more complex, then...
>>>> Related to it, the *apply functions are still a bit difficult to 
>>>> understand. When I have to use them, I just try one and see what 
>>>> happens. I don't understand them well enough to know which one I need.
>>>> - the second problem is where to find the functions/packages I 
>>>> need. There are many options, and that's actually the problem. R 
>>>> Wiki, Rseek, RSiteSearch, Crantastic, etc... When you start with R, 
>>>> you discover that the capabilities of R are almost unlimited and 
>>>> you don't really know where to start, where to find what you need.
>>>> As noted in earlier posts, the mailing list is really great, but 
>>>> some people are really hard with beginners. It was noted in a 
>>>> discussion a few days ago, but it looks like some don't realize how 
>>>> difficult it is at the beginning to formulate a good question, 
>>>> clear, with self-contained example and so on. Moreover, not 
>>>> everybody speaks English natively. I don't mean that you must help, 
>>>> even when the question is really vague and not clear and whatever. 
>>>> I'm just saying that if you don't want to help (whatever the 
>>>> reason), you don't have to say it badly. But in any cases, the 
>>>> mailing list is still really helpful. As someone noted (sorry I 
>>>> erased the email so I don't remember who), it might be a good idea 
>>>> to split it.
>>> Hi everyone,
>>> My 2ct about the mailing list :). I understand that beginners have a 
>>> hard time formulating a good question. But the problem is that we 
>>> can't answer the question when it is unclear. So either I:
>>> - Don't bother answering
>>> - Try do discuss with the author of the question, taking lots of 
>>> time to find out what exactly is the question.
>>> - Send a "read the posting guide" answer
>>> I mostly do the first, as I have to get things done during my PhD 
>>> :). So this leaves us with kind of a problem, the person mailing the 
>>> list doesn't have the knowledge to ask the right question, the list 
>>> can't answer properly and consequently, the person mailing the list 
>>> still doesn't get the information he/she needs. We could start an 
>>> R-beginner mailing list, but this would also suffer from this 
>>> problem. What do you guys think?
>>> Maybe the mailing list is not the right medium for really basic 
>>> stuff. For that I would recommend a good R-book or (better) a course 
>>> in R or (even better) some colleagues who work with R that you can 
>>> ask questions to.
>>> cheers,
>>> Paul
>>>> Hope that's what you wanted
>>>> Ivan
>>>> Le 2/26/2010 08:39, Dieter Menne a écrit :
>>>>> Patrick Burns wrote:
>>>>>> * What were your biggest misconceptions or
>>>>>> stumbling blocks to getting up and running
>>>>>> with R?
>>>>> (This derives partly from teaching)
>>>>> The fact that this xapply-stuff was not idempotent (worse: not 
>>>>> always) and
>>>>> that you need a monster like do.call() to straighten this out. 
>>>>> Nowadays,
>>>>> plyr comes close.
>>>>> The concept of environment. With S it was worse, though.
>>>>> That you cannot change values "passed by reference". I noted that 
>>>>> the latter
>>>>> is no problem for students who have not worked with c(++/#) 
>>>>> before. That
>>>>> there is only one return-result in functions.
>>>>> "[" and the likes as an operator.
>>>>> 10 years ago, when I started, the message was: S4 is the future, 
>>>>> S3 is
>>>>> legacy. So I learned S4. Only to never use is in self-written code 
>>>>> later.
>>>>> Might be different for BioConductor people.
>>>>> That sometimes you can use vectors not in data= (lattice), and 
>>>>> sometimes not
>>>>> (ggplot2). Still a VERY confusing inconsistency.
>>>>> The "why-does-this-not-print" FAQ.
>>>>> Why does par(oma..) not work with lattice?
>>>>> Dieter
>>>> ______________________________________________
>>>> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
>>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
>>>> PLEASE do read the posting guide 
>>>> http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
>>>> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.
>>     [[alternative HTML version deleted]]
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ______________________________________________
>> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
>> PLEASE do read the posting guide 
>> http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
>> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.

Thomas E Adams
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