Useless but fun R packages

June 20, 2016
By

(This article was first published on Ista Zahn (Posts about R), and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

R is useful for many things. But, it is not only useful! There is plenty of fun to be had as well. In celebration of Summer I’m going to take a look at some useless (but fun!) R packages.

Fortune teller

fortunes is probably the best-known “just for fun” R package. It is maintained by Achim Zeileis and features contributions from such R luminaries as Peter Dalgaard, Uwe Ligges, Kevin Wright, and many others. The fortunes package been amusing bored statisticians and programmers since 2004. Since that time the fortunes package developers have been selecting amusing quotes from the R-help mailing list and other sources and compiling them for your enjoyment. Let’s take a look.

## install.packages("fortunes") # if you don't already have it
library(fortunes)
fortune()
When in doubt, keep adding slashes until it works.
   -- Joran Elias (on how to escape a backslash in R)
      Stackoverflow (March 2015)

When called without arguments, the fortune function will select a random fortune. Calling fortune again will select another random quote:

fortune()
RAM is cheap and thinking hurts.
   -- Uwe Ligges (about memory requirements in R)
      R-help (June 2007)

If you want to specify a particular quote you can do so by number or by character search:

fortune(204)
fortune("memory")
memory problems (not me. my pc!)
   -- Sara Mouro (subject line for an R-help request)
      R-help (January 2008)

RAM is cheap and thinking hurts.
   -- Uwe Ligges (about memory requirements in R)
      R-help (June 2007)

That’s about it. Well, there are some other options, see ?fortune for the details.

Cow says what?

If you are a Unix user of a certain age you have no doubt heard of the famous cowsay program. Now R users can join the fun with the cowsay R package by Scott Chamberlain. Like the fortunes package, cowsay exports just one function; say. Let’s take a look:

## install.packages("cowsay")
library(cowsay)
say("Hello world!")
 -------------- 
Hello world! 
 --------------
    \
      \
        \
            |\___/|
          ==) ^Y^ (==
            \  ^  /
             )=*=(
            /     \
            |     |
           /| | | |\
           \| | |_|/\
      jgs  //_// ___/
               \_)

Cute, but I was led to believe there would be a cow involved!

say("Moo may represent an idea, but only the cow knows.\n --Mason Cooley",
    by = "cow")
 ----- 
Moo may represent an idea, but only the cow knows.
 --Mason Cooley 
 ------ 
    \   ^__^ 
     \  (oo)\ ________ 
        (__)\         )\ /\ 
             ||------w|
             ||      ||

There is no option to randomly select an animal, but we can achieve that ourselves easily enough.

someone_say_hello <- function() {
  animal <- sample(names(animals), 1)
  say(paste("Hello, I'm a ", animal, ".", collapse = ""), by = animal)
  }
someone_say_hello()
 ----- 
Hello, I'm a  bigcat . 
 ------ 
    \   
     \
                \`*-.
                 )  _`-.
                .  : `. .
                : _   '  \
                ; *` _.   `*-._
                `-.-'          `-.
                  ;       `       `.
                  :.       .       \
                  .\  .   :   .-'   .
                  '  `+.;  ;  '      :
                  :  '  |    ;       ;-.
                  ; '   : :`-:     _.`* ;
               .*' /  .*' ; .*`- +'  `*'
     [bug]     `*-*   `*-*  `*-*'

Putting it all together

When I teach R I emphasize composability. That is, unlike some other statistics packages, R enables you to take the output from one function and pass in on to another. We can take advantage of the excellent composability R provides to do useful things like extract coefficients from a list of model fits and put them into a LaTeX table. Or we can use it to do useless things like making a cow tell us our fortune.

someone_say_my_fortune <- function(x) {
  animal <- animal <- sample(names(animals), 1)
  say(paste(fortune(), collapse = "\n"), by = animal)
}
someone_say_my_fortune()
 ------------- 
Only with a very high signal to noise ratio (e.g., high true R^2) can 
torturing data lead to a confession to something other than what the 
analyst wants to hear.
Frank Harrell
NA
R-help
April 2010 
 -------------- 
              \   
               \  
                \
_____________________                              _____________________
`-._                 \           |\__/|           /                 _.-'
    \                 \          |    |          /                 /
     \                 `-_______/      \_______-'                 /
      |                                                          |
      |                                                          |
      |                                                          |
      /                                                          \
     /_____________                                  _____________\
                   `----._                    _.----'
                          `--.            .--'
                              `-.      .-'
                                 \    / :F_P:
                                  \  /
                                   \/

Because fortune gives a random quote each time, and we randomly select animals each time, we will get a surprising new delight every time we call the someone_say_my_fortune function.

someone_say_my_fortune()
 ----- 
There's an informal tradition that those announcements [about R releases]
contain at least one mistake, but apparently I forgot this time, so users 
have to make up their own....
Peter Dalgaard
about an apparent non-bug report in his former R-announce message
R-help
December 2009 
 ------ 
    \   
     \
         _
       _/ }
      `>' \
      `|   \
       |   /'-.     .-.
        \'     ';`--' .'
         \'.    `'-./
          '.`-..-;`
            `;-..'
            _| _|
            /` /` [nosig]

If you want to get really silly about it, you could call that function in your .Rprofile. Or, if you are package author you could add some spice to your warning and error messages by having an ASCII art animal say them. Go forth and have fun!

If you know of other useless (but fun!) R packages let me know in the comments.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Ista Zahn (Posts about R).

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