Daily Archives: November 27, 2014

JASP might finally be the SPSS replacement we’ve been waiting for

i-don-t-always-make-shity-tables-and-figures-from-my-data-but-whI use SPSS for statistical analysis, but I don’t like it. Every time I do, I feel like the victim in some kind of emotionally abusive relationship. The interface is deeply horrid, the outputs are butt-ugly, and it runs like a three-legged overweight sloth with a heavy suitcase. It’s an absolute bloated dog of an application, and IBM clearly don’t give a crap about it, other than making some cosmetic updates every now and again. Plus the licensing system is bat-shit insane, and very expensive.

So, why do I keep using it? Because a) It’s what I learned as an undergraduate/PhD student and I know it backwards, and b) there are few viable alternatives. Yes, I know I should learn R, but I actually don’t use ‘normal’ stats that often (I spend most of my analysis time in brain-imaging packages these days) and every time I learn how to do something in R, I try doing it again a month later, have forgotten it, and have to learn it all over again. At some point I hope to become an R master, but for occasional use, I find the learning curve to be too steep. I would also hesitate to try and use R to teach students; I find it generally pretty user-hostile.

So, for ages now, I’ve been looking for a good, user-friendly, open-source alternative to SPSS. One that isn’t a bloated monster, but has enough features to enable basic analyses. I was quite hopeful about PSPP for a while (free software that tries to replicate SPSS as closely as possible). However it lacks some relatively basic ANOVA features, and since one of the things I dislike about SPSS is the interface, trying to replicate it seems like a bit of a mistake. SOFA statistics was a contender too, and it does have a beautiful interface and produce very nice-looking results, but it only does one-way ANOVAS, so… fail.

So, I gave up and crawled miserably back to SPSS. However, fresh hope now burns within my chest, as the other day I came across JASP (which the developers insist, definitely does not stand for ‘Just Another Statistics Program’). The aim of JASP is to be ‘a low fat alternative to SPSS, a delicious alternative to R.’ Nice. It seems to cover all the analysis essentials (t-test, ANOVA, regression, correlation) plus also has some fancier Bayesian alternatives and a basic Structural Equation Modelling option. The interface is great, and the results tables update in real-time as you change the options in your analysis! Very nice. This demo video gives a good overview of the features and workflow:

It’s clearly very much a work-in-progress. One issue is that it doesn’t have any in-built tools for data manipulation. It will read .csv text files, but they basically have to be in a totally ready-to-analyse format, which means general data-cleaning/munging procedures have to be done in Excel/Matlab/R/whatever. Another major downside is that there appears to be no facility for saving or scripting analysis pipelines. Hopefully though, development will continue and other features will gradually appear… I’ll be keeping a close eye on it!

For the love of God – learn to touch-type

HlRelT0I was in a moderately-well-known-Professor-who-shall-remain-nameless’s office the other day, watching him bang out an email. Except he wasn’t banging it out, he was using his two index fingers to hunt-and-peck at the keyboard while continually lifting his head to look at the screen, and then putting it back down to peer at the keyboard. It was painful to watch. I nearly gnawed right through a knuckle.

I was fortunate. When I was 13 years old, my Mum sat me down at her electric typewriter (yes, really, I am that old), gave me a Mavis Beacon book, and told me I wasn’t allowed any dinner until I could do at least 60 words per minute with no mistakes. A week later, when I was so faint with hunger and the pain from my finger-blisters that I could barely see the page anymore, I managed it.

Of course that’s not true, but my Mum is a fantastic typist, and did teach me when I was about 13, and honestly in terms of investment/payoff ratio it’s probably the best few hours I’ve ever spent in my life. Learning to touch-type is not hard and doesn’t really take that long; like most things it’s just a matter of discipline and practice. Actually, once you start doing it properly it’s hard to imagine how you ever managed without it. If you’re reading this, then you probably spend at least a substantial part of your day sitting at a keyboard, why not spend a few hours making the entire rest of your working life easier and more efficient? And if you’re reading this thinking “Yeah, but I’ve developed my own version of semi-touch-typing which is pretty fast and efficient, actually” then you’re wrong. It’s likely nowhere near as fast and efficient as it could be.

There are lots of good online touch-typing courses available. Most of them give you feedback on speed and the number of mistakes you make while typing. TypingClub looks like a good option. The BBC has a good course aimed more at kids. This site has a free course and a number of games to improve and sharpen up your skillz.

Seriously, this is one of the best things you can possibly learn. Yes, it’s a drag, but it will literally make the rest of your life easier. DO IT.