Turn R users insane with evil

3 min read

evil R useless

For me it all started when I saw a mention of the evil.sh repo on github this morning. The repo contains a bash file that is described as “A collection of various subtle and not-so-subtle shell tweaks that will slowly drive people insane”. The script totally delivers on the promise and contains some truly evil tricks, some subtle, some not so subtle.

It then became obvious that R needs something like this, so I started to put together some tricks to mess up with R sessions. There’s probably more to come and please feel free to contribute to the evil.R repo.

So far I have these tricks:

Prevent loading of packages

Because who needs to use any of the +10K packages from CRAN ?

assign( "library", function(...) invisible(NULL), as.environment("evil_shims"))
assign( "require", function(...) invisible(TRUE), as.environment("evil_shims"))

Natural selection for the global environment

local(addTaskCallback( function(expr, value, ok, visible){ 
  objects <- ls( globalenv(), all.names = TRUE )
  if( length(objects) ){
    rm( list = sample(objects,1) , envir = globalenv() )   

With the addTaskCallback function, you can register things to happen each time a top level task is completed, i.e. every time the console gives your the prompt back. evil.R *ab*uses this randomly delete one object from the global environment. I initially deleted all the objects, but I then followed Hadley’s advice and only randomly delete one object, which is even more evil.

The task callback also resets the seed to 666 so that you always get the same random numbers.

random T and F

# random T and F
makeActiveBinding( "T", function() rbinom(1,1,.5) < .5, as.environment("evil_shims") )
makeActiveBinding( "F", function() rbinom(1,1,.5) < .5, as.environment("evil_shims") )

T and F don’t really need a lot of work to be evil. Their use is discouraged by everybody as they are not reserved words as TRUE and FALSE. I made them randomly TRUE or FALSE using an active binding.

random help

assign( "?", function(e1, e2){
  help( sample(ls("package:base"), 1) )
}, as.environment("evil_shims"))

Typing ?fun is a very convenient way to have access to the documentation of the fun function, evil.R takes this from you and instead shows you the documentation of a function in base chosen at random.

printing functions

And if going to the help page of a random function is not confusing enough, evil.R also tricks function printing, so that when you type the name of a function in the console, you get the code of some other function.

assign( "print.function", 
  function(x, ...){ 
    f <- get( sample( ls("package:base"), 1 ), "package:base" )

Slow + and -

+ and - are two fast, so evil.R makes them sleep for 5 seconds, this way you have time to appreciate them.

# slow + and -
assign( "+", function(e1, e2){ Sys.sleep(5) ; .Primitive("+")(e1,e2) }, as.environment("evil_shims") )
assign( "-", function(e1, e2){ Sys.sleep(5) ; .Primitive("-")(e1,e2) }, as.environment("evil_shims") )

Random if

You can mess with pretty much anything in R, including the if keyword, that hides a regular function behind a fancy syntax. evil.R discards the condition and chooses the branch to execute based on randomness.

assign( "if",
  function(condition, true, false = NULL){
    .Primitive("if")( rbinom(1, 1, .5) < 0.5, true, false)

A mean mean

The last trick was contributed by @HughParsonage as a pull request on the repo, it adds some noise to whatever you try to mean. Finally a mean that is mean.

unlockBinding("mean.default", baseenv() )
    mean_default <- base::mean.default
    function(x, trim = 0, na.rm = FALSE, ...) {
      mean_default( x + .Machine$double.eps ^ 0.5, trim = trim, na.rm = na.rm, ... )
  pos = baseenv()

What’s next

I’m sure there’s plenty more evil to be added to evil.R.