[R] Getting codebook data into R

peter dalgaard pdalgd at gmail.com
Thu Feb 9 23:17:39 CET 2012

On Feb 9, 2012, at 22:47 , Douglas Bates wrote:
> It's amazing how these old habits of storing data like this persist.
> The reason for fixed-format records was that you couldn't read free
> format in a Fortran program in a standard way before Fortran-77.  And
> 35 years afterwards we are still jumping through hoops to read
> fixed-format records.  Sigh.

Actually, I think it was more because data entry was widely done using 80-column punch cards until at least the mid-80s. So you had questionnaires filled out by hand, and keypunch operators typing them in. The latter were paid by keypress, and there was a general push to cram as much information onto the cards as possible.

Fortran had some role in it, but as far as I remember, even in the days of Hollerith constants there was nothing in the Fortran formats that prevented you from having spaces between your data columns. So the fixed-width field convention may originally have had more to do with people being expected to write their data in aligned columns (which, for proofreading, is actually not too bad an idea). 

Peter Dalgaard, Professor,
Center for Statistics, Copenhagen Business School
Solbjerg Plads 3, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark
Phone: (+45)38153501
Email: pd.mes at cbs.dk  Priv: PDalgd at gmail.com

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