notes in a shoebox

Quantum Forest

Category: programming Page 2 of 4

Functions with multiple results in tidyverse

I have continued playing with the tidyverse for different parts of a couple of projects.

Often I need to apply a function by groups of observations; sometimes, that function returns more than a single number. It could be something like for each group fit a distribution and return the distribution parameters. Or, simpler for the purposes of this exploration, calculate and return a bunch of numbers.

Door in Valparaíso.

Turtles all the way down

One of the main uses for R is for exploration and learning. Let’s say that I wanted to learn simple linear regression (the bread and butter of statistics) and see how the formulas work. I could simulate a simple example and fit the regression with R:

Trees in a carpark

Old dog and the tidyverse

I started using R ages ago and have happily lived in mostly-base-R for data manipulation. Once in a while I move to something that makes a big difference, like ggplot2 in 2010 or Rmarkdown in 2015, but the set of packages I use for data + plotting hasn’t seen many changes. I have to confess that, meanwhile, I have tested quite a few approaches on the analytics side of things (last year was the turn of Bayesian for me).

Last week, I decided to learn more about the tidyverse, thinking of using it more with forestry postgrad students. Now, there is no lack of tutorials, reviews, documentation, etc. for the tidyverse, but most writing shows a final version of the code, without exposing the thinking and dead ends that go behind it. In this post I show how my code was changing, both after reading a few pieces of documentation and, mostly, from feedback I got from Hadley Wickham and Michael MacAskill via this Kiwi Twitter thread. This post shows minor differences in variable names from that thread, as I changed a few things while reading the files.


When I write code I’m often amazed by the direction of the statements. I mean, we read and write left-to-right except when we assign statements to a variable. So here we are, doing our business, slowly working in a sentence and, puff!, we get this insight from the future and we assign it to our past, on the left. I commented this on Twitter and @fadesingh pointed me to this artistic creation of right-to-left programming language, except that the assign was left-to-right.

Sometimes I feel (some) need for speed

I’m the first to acknowledge that most of my code could run faster. The truth of the matter is that, in essence, I write ‘quickies’: code that will run once or twice, so there is no incentive to spend days or hours in shaving seconds of a computation. Most analyses of research data fall in to this approach: read data-clean data-fit model-check model-be happy-write article-(perhaps) make data and code available-move on with life.

One of the reasons why my code doesn’t run faster or uses less memory is the trade-off between the cost of my time (very high) compared to the cost of more memory or faster processors (very cheap) and the gains of shaving a few seconds or minutes of computer time, which tend to be fairly little.

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