[Rd] [R] Semantics of sequences in R

Dimitris Rizopoulos d.rizopoulos at erasmusmc.nl
Tue Feb 24 11:19:15 CET 2009

Berwin A Turlach wrote:
> On Tue, 24 Feb 2009 09:39:51 +0100
> Wacek Kusnierczyk <Waclaw.Marcin.Kusnierczyk at idi.ntnu.no> wrote:
>> Berwin A Turlach wrote:
> [...]
>> why not read some fortunes?
> I am well aware of those fortunes and maybe you missed the one:
>> fortune("Watson")
> Getting flamed for asking dumb questions on a public mailing list is
> all part of growing up and being a man/woman.
>    -- Michael Watson (in a discussion on whether answers on R-help
>       should be more polite)
>       R-help (December 2004)
> I am actually wondering where the corresponding fortunes from December
> 2005, December 2006, December 2007 and December 2009 are since they
> started of be produced on an annual basis.
> [...]
>>>> on the other hand, i have seen quite a few responses that were
>>>> bashing a user for reporting a non-existent bug or submitting an
>>>> annoying patch.
>>> In didactic terms those are "negative motivations/reinforcements";
>>> opinion differ on how effective they are to reach certain learning
>>> outcomes.   
>> ah, so what's the difference between the way i pinpoint design flaws
>> and the way r gurus respond to people, so that i am running with a
>> chip on my shoulder, and they are being 'negatively
>> motivating/reinforcing' in didactic terms?  [...]
> Your goal is, presumably, that you want to have the design flaws
> fixed/discussed/&c.  The goal of the R gurus is to avoid having to
> waste their time on unproductive issues because people do not read
> documentation/behave contrary to how they are asked to behave/&c.
> To reach your goal, the controversial approach is counter productive.
> To reach their goal, the controversial approach can be quite effective.

in my opinion the point of the whole discussion could be summarized by 
the question, what is a design flaw? This is totally subjective, and it 
happens almost everywhere in life. Take human languages as an example 
and in particular, English. I do not know the history of the English 
language but I can guess at some point some people decided that the past 
tense for "give" should be "gave" and not "gived" according to the 
standard rule, possibly because they thought it has better acoustic.

Is this a design flaw of English? Some might argue yes, maybe they would 
think "gived" does not have a that bad acoustic or they could have come 
up with another possibility than "gave". Does this confuse new users of 
English? Of course it does -- I had to spent many hours learning the 
past tense and past particle of the irregular verbs. Should it be 
changed? Then almost all existing code (i.e., English texts) should be 
rewritten, which I think demonstrates why some people are a bit 
reluctant in design changes.

To close I'd like to share with you a Greek saying (maybe also a saying 
in other parts of the world) that goes, for every rule there is an 
exception. The important thing, in my opinion, is that these exceptions 
are documented.


> [...]
>>>> it has been fixed immediately by martin. 
>>> Yes, and, again, you could not help yourself telling the developers
>>> what you think they should do, could you?  
>> was this really running with a chip:
> Look up what "running with a chip on your shoulder means" and reflect
> on the occasions in which I suggested to you that you give the
> impression of doing so.   On this occasion nobody said that you were
> running around with a chip on your shoulder.
>> "shouldn't the tests have captured it? i think you should have a check
>> for every feature following from the docs."
>> to which marting responded "yes, we should"
> But he also made it clear that it would be unlikely that he or any
> other R-core member would write those tests and that this would
> probably be left to you; with any contribution being welcome.  Consider
> yourself lucky that this exchange was with Martin, other members of R
> core might have communicated a similar message in quite another way.
> That exchange is very much confirming my understanding of the culture
> of the R community.
>>> As I try to tell you, that
>>> is not the way it works.  R comes already with extensive tests that
>>> are run with "make check".  If you think some are missing, you
>>> could send a script and propose that they are included.  But
>>> telling others that they should write such tests is unlikely to
>>> make it happen. 
>> haven't done the thing.
> Come on, read your own quote above:  "Shouldn't the tests have captured
> this?  I think you should have a check for every feature following from
> the docs",  If this is not "telling others that they should write such
> test", then what is?  
> Cheers,
> 	Berwin
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Dimitris Rizopoulos
Assistant Professor
Department of Biostatistics
Erasmus University Medical Center

Address: PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Tel: +31/(0)10/7043478
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