On Friday, I taught a session of a basic statistics workshop that a colleague and I designed for undergraduates. The idea is that we give a brief overview introduction, then the students work through our worksheet using R commander to get a feel for how to run basic tests, construct graphs, and interpret results. I originally built the worksheet (and the accompanying handbook, which contains more detail) in RStudio using RMarkdown formatting. This allows you to embed actual R commands in the document, and then show the output (including graphs) directly in the document: no copying and pasting of output required, and if you edit the commands, the output will update automatically when you compile the document. I was pretty pleased with the result, and — with a bit of tweaking of a Pandoc template — it produced a very nice looking PDF, complete with a hyperlinked table of contents for convenience.
Towards the end of the session, the students started to leave as they finished the work. One student came up to me and complemented me on the clarity of the instructions in the worksheet. Obviously I was very pleased about this. “Thanks”, I said brightly, “the document is actually built with R, and contains embedded code which produces the examples and graphs you see in it”. At this point, I could see her eyes go glassy as she maintained a fixed smile and glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder to check the nearest exit. When it looked as if I might go into more detail about this crazy document, she started to back away slowly, all the while maintaining eye contact, the way you might do with an unpredictable wild animal. Poor thing, she only wanted to learn statistics, and then she gets subjected to all this senseless geekery by her lecturer.
That — in a nutshell — is why this blog is a lifeline for me. Many of you are fellow geeks and share my enthusiasm for ridiculously geeky things like building documents with embedded statistical output. You are my kind of people. Plus, on the internet, I can’t see the eyes of those of you who are not interested in geeky things glazing over with boredom and despair as you read this.