Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Minitab, Matlab or Excel?

After discovering the beauties of MATLAB during sophomore year of college, I never once looked back at Excel. Managing data was so much simpler, graphing was effortless, I simply couldn't see a reason to use Excel again (with the exception of one sad night involving three engineers and several forlorn attempts to graph a flat line in Matlab). The ability to write scripts allowed you to get exactly the information you needed saved you time by only calculating the values needed (whereas Excel recalculates the entire sheet every time you update a value). During grad school, a friend described Matlab as "Excel for people who know how to do math" and I scoffingly agreed and from then on described it as "Excel for Engineers".

My feelings toward Excel began to change after taking a statistics class, during which the lack of Statistica or Matlab on my new computer made me resort to Excel for data crunching. During that semester, I discovered that Excel had countless built-in functions and shortcuts I never knew of, thus making it a very capable data analysis software as well. A roommate told me that Microsoft engineers are constantly hounded by requests for features that have been in Excel for years, so I guess Excel's main shortcoming is that none of those features are intuitive or easy to access. My respect for Excel further increased after starting work in July, when I discovered the beauty and power of Excel Macros (and their tie-in with Visual Basic, the first "programming" language I learned in middle school), which allow the automation of repetitive tasks similar to Matlab's scripts. Alright, I thought, I misjudged you Excel, clearly you have power. But the amount of CPU and processing time it took to get through large amounts of data still peeved me.

And then I met Minitab. If Matlab was Excel for Engineers, then Minitab is Excel for Statisticians. True to its tagline of "Software for Six Sigma and Quality Improvement", the program is a lean, mean graphing machine. With hardly a blimp on your CPU, Minitab can spit out multiple, detailed and informative graphs in a matter of seconds, ranging from simple time-series plotting to two-sample t-tests, control charts, box-whisker plots to at least 50 other chart types I have yet to discover how to use. Graphs are easy to modify/label without the endless clicking and adjusting of Excel, entire projects can be saved together, and again, the software somehow manages all this without eating up your RAM. To be fair, I will admit that while it is a graphing beast, Minitab falls leagues behind Excel in sorting data (Excel's "Auto Filter" feature is by far the most useful, time-saving feature I have discovered).

So, while I used to say Minitab > Matlab > Excel, I now think each has its niche. If you're looking to graph simple one-line charts, I'd use Excel. If you plan on creating data with complex equations (i.e. third or fourth degree polynomials or solving differential equations), or vice versa, I suggest Matlab. Finally, if you plan on getting any statistical data aside from the mean and standard deviation, I think it is well worth your while to spend an hour learning Minitab.


Monday, October 4, 2010

My Biking Brethren

A friend whom I recently inducted into biking said "bikers are very unfriendly, they always look so angry", and I couldn't believe that perception existed. From my experience, and this has kept up richly while biking on the trails around Philly, bikers are incredibly friendly!

On almost every ride that I have been on by myself, I have had a positive encounter with a fellow biker. From my first ride to Manayunk, a not-so-amateur biker volunteered to lead me to the trail despite his having to slow down for me for a good 20 minutes. On my first solo bike ride to Valley Forge National Park, when I got to the park and rested, I ended up chatting with another biker, the silver fox Phil, for a good 15 minutes, and leaving with great tips on avoiding gnats in your eyes with safety glasses from work. Thank you Phil, I think of you every time I'm on that gnatty trail!

And most recently, I was riding up the Schuylkill River Trail (my lifeblood for outdoor exercise, be it running or riding) when I saw a stalled biker on the side of the trail. As is my routine, I slowed down to ask him if he was okay or needed help, and upon hearing that he was resting, I continued. He later caught up with me, thanked me for spreading the good will, and he accompanied me on my ride for a good 30 minutes until I met up with my friend. Finally, on that same day, when I was waiting for my friend on the side of the trail, a fellow biker also asked me if I was okay before proceeding.

After all these positive experiences, I can't help but think what my friend considered "anger" from these bikers must simply be intense focus and pain from pushing yourself to the limits. I really do love the biking community, and after reading this article, Heels on Wheels, I have a feeling the community is recruiting.

Peace, love and cycling!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Philly Living: One Year in Retrospect

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary with Philadelphia. Mind-fucking-boggling.

September 1st, 2009, I flew into PHL with two stuffed suitcases, a box holding TDH (my bike), and the shiny new face of a soon-to-be graduate student. I came in with the mindset that I'd be "out in 10 months," and used that as fuel to get me over the hurdles of my new life. Even though I eventually began enjoying the vivacity of the city, I still had a light at the end of the tunnel, and constantly imagined myself moving back home. I made friends, we had epic (yes, I mean carving in concrete sidewalks with our keys epic) nights, I felt at ease, but even so there was a temporary quality to it all. My entire life at Penn felt like an extended summer fling or honeymoon. I was enamored by my first east coast fall, awestruck by my first (and second and third) Nor'easter, and my jaw dropped and spirits soared at the first cherry blossoms of spring. I had made it, I'd gotten through. Through all this, all the fun I was having, the novelty of my situation was what really made it exciting. I loved telling people "this is my first time ____" and "I've never heard of ___", it made me feel naive and innocent in the most positive way. I learned so much about Philadelphia's rich history, about the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch of Lancaster Country, UPenn and it's place in the Ivy League and the city. Really, such an enriching experience.

All this being said, if someone had told me a year ago that I would soon be settling into Philly indefinitely, I would have laughed in their faces. Further, if they had told me that I would LOVE living here, I would have assumed they were doing hardcore drugs. But here I am, one year later, and I couldn't love my life more. I'm not much for anniversaries, but I honestly woke up with a huge smile on my face when I realized the date. I do love Philly, and I can feel it loving me back.

Peace, Love and Philly!