[R] two questions for R beginners

Tony B tony.breyal at googlemail.com
Mon Mar 1 23:10:33 CET 2010

Background: During my uni days, I was taught to use MAPLE, MATLAB,
SPSS, SAS, C++ and Java. Then after uni, several years went by without
me ever using any of them again and was told to just use Excel. Then I
started my PhD and was told I should start using R instead (something
I'd never even heard of before).

I would class myself as being just above a beginner, but not by very
much. Probably within walking distance.

> * What were your biggest misconceptions or
> stumbling blocks to getting up and running
> with R?

(1) I read a lot about R having awesome graphics capabilities, but
when i looked at the the graphs on the R home page I was a little
underwhelmed. I thought Excel graphs looked better (though, to be
fair, since that first time, i have seen some pretty awesome graphics
produced with R, and even a cool animation someone posted on youtube
synchronised to music).

(2) The whole *apply family of functions just confused me and looking
at the examples didn't really help me to be honest. I understood the
idea of vectorisation but I couldn't work out how to get what I wanted
as the end result. The plyr package has solved that issue for me
though and I now appreciate how cool these functions are.

(3) There are a lot of cool sounding packages on CRAN. Sometimes I can
read the ref manual and still have no idea how they work. A short
tutorial on how the author sees the package being used would be

(4) Also, trivial examples are great for conveying the basics of how a
function works. Complicated examples give me a headache.

(5) I use to have issues trying to find R related material on the web
(then i discovered rseek etc).

(6) "cannot allocate vector of size..." -- i think this has to be the
most asked question ever on r-help. Not so much of a stumbling block
for me anymore, but i always got annoyed whenever i saw it.

> * What documents helped you the most in this
> initial phase?

(1) R cheat sheets are fantastic because I can never remember most of
them off the top of my head.

(2) Rwiki has save me many precious hours by have easy to follow

(3) r-help is great for trying to find answers to questions for the
most part. I've learned loads just reading responses people have
kindly contributed. Some threads can get long and it would be nice if
the origin author would summarise at the end once a suitable solution
is found (some other lists do this).

(4) Random little blog posts that describe how to do a fun* task in R.
These short posts are usually the best way for me to learn, because
they don't require too much effort, are sort of easy to understand and
follow through from beginning to end, and give you a cool** end

(5) I prefer 'cookbooks' that show you how to do fun stuff (and hence
learn from) as opposed to looking at the official R guides (confession
time: I haven't looked at the intro to R guide since my 1st month of
using R... which was a couple years ago now).

> * where did you look for help expecting answers, but did not find them?

Often times, the ?[function name] help pages just didn't make sense to
me, even after trying to understand the examples.

Sometimes it'd be nice to have something like they do on thottbot for
World of Warcraft where each quest has a thread for people to discuss
how it works and little tricks. So the R equivalent I guess would be
to have a link at the bottom of each help page which links to a thread
dedicated to a specific function and where users talk discuss it and
offer their own examples and points of view about it. Of course that
is probably overkill. I just wanted to see if i could mention WoW in
my post.

> I especially want to hear from people who are
> lazy

I did a degree in Maths.

> and impatient.

I sometimes produce graphics in Excel.


* = fun is a relative term. I still get a buzz out of seeing ascii
** = cool is also relative term. I still think Babylon 5 was cooler
than Star Trek DS9. Though nowhere near as cool as Doctor Who.

On 25 Feb, 17:31, Patrick Burns <pbu... at pburns.seanet.com> wrote:
> * What were your biggest misconceptions or
> stumbling blocks to getting up and running
> with R?
> * What documents helped you the most in this
> initial phase?
> I especially want to hear from people who are
> lazy and impatient.
> Feel free to write to me off-list.  Definitely
> write off-list if you are just confirming what
> has been said on-list.
> --
> Patrick Burns
> pbu... at pburns.seanet.comhttp://www.burns-stat.com
> (home of 'The R Inferno' and 'A Guide for the Unwilling S User')
> ______________________________________________
> R-h... at r-project.org mailing listhttps://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
> PLEASE do read the posting guidehttp://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.

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