[R] two questions for R beginner

Paul Hiemstra p.hiemstra at geo.uu.nl
Tue Mar 2 13:16:44 CET 2010

Brandon Zicha wrote:
>>>> What were your biggest misconceptions or
>>>> stumbling blocks to getting up and running
>>>> with R?
> Easy.  I terms of materials I have been unable to find good books that 
> introduce users to R from the perspective of someone familiar only 
> with packages like SPSS or STATA, or not familiar with statistics 
> packages at all.  Even introduction texts use jargon without 
> introducing it.
> I think that R-help files should be more thorough than they are, and 
> contain more examples.  I thought that STATA help files were sparse!  
> The notion that 'R is a user community and thus they do this in their 
> spare time' is no excuse for those creating new tools for R not 
> developing complete help files.  It doesn't take that much time 
> relative to actually creating the new function.
Hi Brandon,

I would disagree with your point that documentation doesn't take much 
time. Writing documentation that is suitable for both the advanced user 
(being a reference, and thus preferably short) and the beginning user 
(being sort of a tutorial, and thus prefererably longer) is quite a 
challenge, comparable to writing a good paper. Apart from the fact that 
it takes quite a while, it is also not much fun. Often people develop 
packages for their own research and put the software online so others 
can benefit, they don;t need the documentation themselves and don't get 
paid to write the documentation.

So saying 'it's no excuse' really goes too far in my view. R is free, 
you did not pay several thousands of euros giving you the right for good 
support. Even the support is free through the mailing list. You can get 
a paid version of R at Revelution Computing. Then you can call them if 
there are problems. I'm not meaning to offend anybody, but I didn't 
agree with "is no excuse for those creating new tools for R not 
developing complete help files".  Partly the strength of R is in the 
open source, but sometimes, as with documentation, this can bite you. 
But I think the R docs aren't that bad, I've seen proprietary software 
that a worse job than R.

my 2euro on the subject :),

> In terms of actual R use - creating, using, and manipulating data are 
> the biggest frustration for those of the 'spreadsheet generation'.  I 
> get the impression that one needs to not merely understand, but be 
> fully fluent in the jargon of matrix mathematics to even know what is 
> going on half the time.  I find myself - even now - using 'rules of 
> thumb' that 'seemed to work' rather than fully understanding what I am 
> doing.  It is particularly discouraging when many of those 'intro 
> books' suggest using something besides R for data manipulation - how 
> clumsy is that!?
> I find the actual programming syntax itself is the easiest part to 
> master.  It is certainly more flexible - but without a particularly 
> sufficient increase in complexity - than trying to write script in 
> Brandon Zicha
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Drs. Paul Hiemstra
Department of Physical Geography
Faculty of Geosciences
University of Utrecht
Heidelberglaan 2
P.O. Box 80.115
3508 TC Utrecht
Phone:  +3130 274 3113 Mon-Tue
Phone:  +3130 253 5773 Wed-Fri

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