Robert Gentleman, left, and Ross Ihaka, the creators of R. Picture courtesy of the New York Times
For those of us who use R on a regular basis it was pretty neat to see a mainstream media piece on the R language. Ashlee Vance of the New York Times did a good job on the piece. It is hard to explain to your average kitchen table reader of the Grey Lady why a computer programing language is important. Vance also has a blog post about the R article. I found the comments on the blog post interesting. I have to agree with the sentiment that around almost any technical topic there becomes cults, mavens, and power users in different camps. Whether you are talking with rednecks about pickup trucks or talking to school kids about video gaming consoles there is a human tendency to become zealously encamped in one group. I don’t really understand this. Maybe Malcom Gladwell will write a book where he explains it to me using anecdotes and edge scenarios. But for the time being I find all the blind fanaticism… well… stupid and juvenile. It all seems a bit like arguing whether a hammer is a better tool than a wrench (that’s a spanner if you’re a limey).
More… including a graphic of Calvin peeing on the letter R after the break!
Do I use R? Oh hell yeah I do. I sit around and masticate on how I can manipulate my data into vectors so R will work faster. I print out PDFs from CRAN and read them while sitting around in the evenings drinking a glass of Two Buck Chuck. I have a pretty sizable investment in my modest knowledge of R data structures and syntax. That makes the language sticky because I really don’t want to learn syntax, structure, and conventions of another language. Would I abandon R for another language if I saw an advantage of the other language? You bet I would! Probably what I would do, however, is to use the other language for what it’s good at, and use R for what R is good for. Just like adding a new wrench next to my hammer. And exactly how I currently use both SQL (actually T-SQL on SQL Server) while at the same time using R. Sometimes you need a wrench. Sometimes the hammer. The truly important decision for a practitioner is knowing when to use one tool versus another. I wish the zealot cultists would talk more about when to use one tool rather than another and would spend less time picking out window stickers of a Calvin knock off pissing on their arch rival.
That’s a blog post for later… when to use R, when to use something else, and when to just take a nap until the urge to do anything has passed. It’s a tough decision tree, but I’m up for it… right after my nap.