Alex Fenton wrote:
> I use Ruby quite a lot at work for data cleaning, transformation and
> also for generating SPSS syntax. For example, I used it to create a long
> set of commands for linking together waves of the longitudinal British
> Household Panel Study.

Interesting ... how does Ruby compare with other languages for this
purpose? We might be getting SPSS and if it's as bizarre as I remember,
I'm going to need some way of preserving my sanity while using it.

>> Possibly R Commander, which is a Tk interface onto R:
> http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/jfox/Misc/Rcmdr/
> 
> I haven't ever used it myself, though; it seems to have a good feature
> set but missing some things I use in SPSS eg Probit models.

Yes, R Commander is pretty good for a beginner, but it's a crutch IMHO.
R and its ancestor S were deliberately designed to be programming
languages and interactive environments.

> Not that I know of. I agree re R - on numerous attempts I've never
> managed to get anywhere with it (I have 8 years programming experience
> and a postgrad in Research Methods).  It also seems much more geared to
> the needs of natural rather than social science.

Outside of "pure statistics", the two most highly-developed application
areas for R are biology (http://www.bioconductor.org) and quantitative
finance aka "program trading". Quantitative finance, however, tends to
jump on bandwagons and jump off onto the "next big thing" quickly as well.

It used to be you'd walk into a quant shop and they'd all be coding in
APL. Then you'd walk into the place a year later and they'd have
something else. So the "golden days" of R among quants may have passed.
I think they're into OCaml these days. Or is it Haskell? :)

> There are things I don't like about SPSS too, apart from price - some
> interface aspects, and its syntax.

I was talking to a colleague about this just yesterday. I left Minitab
for R for two reasons:

1. It didn't have a real programming language, and
2. The system as distributed couldn't do a non-linear regression out of
the box.

SPSS has been around a *long* time. As far as I can remember, the only
thing older was the UCLA Bio-Med package from the early 1960s! Does it
still read like a hodge-podge of FORTRAN, macro assembler, JCL and such?

> I've written GUI software in Ruby for
> qualitative data analysis, but my inclination to create a competitor to
> SPSS on the quant side (eg a GUI round ruby's R bindings) is limited.
> It's partly a frank appreciation of the difficulty of the task, and
> partly down to the fact that SPSS is provided "free" to UK academics by
> nationwide licensing agreements with universities.

There are a couple of other GUI projects for R. There is an "R-gui"
mailing list where they all hang out. But it's hard to argue with the
basic philosophy. R is *supposed* to be a programming language, not a
statistics package. For that matter, Ruby is *supposed* to be a
programming language, too. :)

I've been a programmer for a long time and it didn't take me long to
learn R. In a sense, S and R are dialects of Lisp, so if you're used to
procedural languages as opposed to functional languages, you'll have a
steeper learning curve. And if you're used to object-oriented
programming as done in Smalltalk, Java or Ruby, you'll find R's
"objects" and "classes" totally different. They're a bit like Common
Lisp's CLOS in some senses, but not enough that you'd be able to
transfer any preconceived notions. I don't tend to use them -- I'm
perfectly happy with a "define-functions-from-the-bottom-up" programming
style I learned from Lisp 1.5.