[R] Neat way of using R for pivoting?

Gabor Grothendieck ggrothendieck at gmail.com
Tue Sep 20 22:05:56 CEST 2005

On 9/20/05, Greg Snow <greg.snow at ihc.com> wrote:
> >>> Gabor Grothendieck <ggrothendieck at gmail.com> 09/20/05 11:31AM >>>
> >> Just one comment here lest we be arguing against a strawman.
> >> While I agree that reproducibility can be a problem with pivot
> tables
> >> if created interactively and this applies to just about anything you
> do
> >> in Excel if done interactively, it should also be realized that
> Excel is
> >> completely programmable, like R, using VBA or any language
> (including R!)
> >> via its COM object interface.
> >>
> >> The fact that Excel has both an interactive interface and a
> script-based
> >> interface whereas R has only a script-based interface puts it ahead,
> not
> >> behind, R in at least some respects.
> Just one comment here lest we be arguing against a strawman.
> R has both interactive and script-based interfaces available and has
> for a long time (I remember working with an early port of S in the
> 1980's on VMS machines which if you used the old Tek10 graphics driver
> (anyone else remember the days of printer()...show() and
> tektronics(sp?) dumb terminals?) allowed you to click on a point in
> your graph and have it labelled).

This hardly qualifies to be in any way comparable to Excel's pervasive
all encompassing interactive GUI interface.

> One of the big differences I see between R and Excel is that while
> they both have script and gui based interfaces, the gui interfaces
> for R (take Rcmdr for example) provide an aid to learning, while
> still encouraging the use of command lines, scripts, and functions,
> while Excel hides the script interface from all but experts and
> encourages non-reproducable clicking.

Rcmdr is an excellent package but it is restricted to prewritten
sets of functionality.  On the other hand, Excel is completely
general and will allow you to automatically write scripts that
can be massaged based on virtually any interactive operation
using its macro recording facility. 

> Just because a software package has a capability does not mean much if
> the overall design promotes the use of a less desirable feature.  I

Maybe you are not really familiar with Excel.  The scripting capability
is very powerful and easier to learn than R.  

> remember one job where before I came along they were using a
> spreedsheet to compute a column of numbers, highlighting and printing
> out those numbers, then hand entering these same numbers into a
> different spreadsheet.  

Excel can produce output in many ways and one can copy and paste
from it too.  This is not a valid criticism of Excel.  Excel is excellent
at interacting with other applications and the operating system.  

> Dr. Burns has already posted the url that
> contains another of my experiances with intelligent people getting
> caught in one of Excel's traps (and yes Excel has a feature that would
> have prevented the trap, but Excel convieniently hid the need to use
> it).

One can get caught in many traps with R too and, in fact, just
about any piece of complex software will have some items that
require experience before you figure out the workarounds.

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