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Jim Porzak tells of his real-life use of R for marketing analysis.







Reason #2887 why the music business hates its customers... · 11/27/2006 12:26 PM, Trivial

I stopped in an FYE the other day, which is a chain store mostly in malls selling a variety of media. In almost every place I looked in the store, I could get new DVD movies for $5-7… but every CD was $18 and up. Even the sale prices for music was never less then $9.99, while DVDs on sale could be from $12 or down.

I am sure there are many reasons that people can say around why this makes sense, from the different ways music and movies are viewed to licensed to produced to sold… but at the end of the day, when a movie goes from new at $20 to $12 within a year (30% decline), I expect music to follow a similar route. After all, the music CD didn’t cost $20 million to create, did it?


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SPSS and Python · 11/21/2006 04:46 PM, Analysis

Much more recent UPDATE (6/19/2008): I’ve finally gotten some Python written. Much more useful info about my experiences (and how to avoid some pain) is at SPSS and Python, Take 2 and SPSS and Python: Passing Parameters to Scripts.

=Back to the original post=======

UPDATED 11/21/2006: After Jon Peck pointed out that everything had moved under DevCentral, I understood why I had so much trouble finding the below stuff. I ignored DevCentral as I am not a developer, I analyze data.

Instead, SPSS has now decided that if you are going to write complex syntax, you are a developer, preferably an expert programmer. Why did they do this? Because, they don’t really want more people using SPSS directly; there’s some money there… but lots more if you get an enterprise developer to “embed” or build a system around SPSS; these license fees could multiply their revenue by 2 or 3 times, since they can charge for everyone using the system instead of just those running SPSS on the desktop. So, DevCentral assumes you know a lot about programming vs. knowing a lot about data and stats.

Are the “missing” things there? Yes, a Download Center has a poorly laid out list of things to download, non-column sortable (how do you see the newest uploads if you can’t sort by date? They saw that too and added a “new items” to the filter, which doesn’t really solve the problem, but is a fair hack). The listings are complex mixtures of python and syntax, so that’s interesting to read. But where are syntax samples, SaxBasic samples, etc.? Not there…

Are the forums there? Sure, but now they are called the DevCentral Forums and yes, they focus mostly on developers. There is one interesting forum focusing on how hard it is to make quality graphs, something I’ve pointed out as a huge flaw in SPSS to date. Nothing there around helping SPSS Users…

So, I spoke too soon when I said they killed off things, though its not hard to put redirects on old links to point them to the right place, so that was just sloppy on SPSS’s part, and mine.

But the bigger question: Is this really going in the right direction? Personally, I think its going too far to woo developers, and not far enough to empower the SPSS user. This is nicely expressed in the bottom of this thread in the new forums. A developer struggles with the requirements to solve a problem with as little python as necessary, since non-python folks (ie, users) will also have to use the code.

So corrections inline, and Gold Star to Jon Peck for pointing me towards the new homes…

UPDATE: 10/16/2006. I went back to look at at some of the links below, and I was shocked to see that they’ve killed off moved all the forums with no forwarding address. Why, why does SPSS want to keep any community from growing up around them? Why do they continue to think that if they just pretend to be the “cheaper SAS”, they will get a SAS-like community around them?

Its disappointing. Every time I think they are going in the right direction, about a year later the find a way to get it wrong. Not only did they kill off retcon the start they made below, they’ve done NOTHING to address any of the other concerns I raise below.

Jeez, they make it hard to like them sometimes.

Anyway, they still have some info at which is where all this stuff wound up.

Original Post, circa 10/10/2005.

SPSS’s programming language (aka SPSS Syntax) has always stunk. Besides the lack of any IDE or debugging features, it has no data structures, no multi-dimensionality, poor looping and branching… its kind of a joke (and don’t get me started on that Notepad Lite syntax window). Its like they decided that SPSS is so powerful, it doesn’t need a real language… for 13 versions / 30 years.

The macro language isn’t much better, and feels like a hack (as does SAS’s, to be fair; both feel like summer intern projects). SaxBasic always feels like an add-on (which it is), but at least it has an IDE and debugger, data structures, and easy access to the outside world via com objects.

But things are starting to change. v14 is out (actually, for many people, they are now on v15… time flies…) and part of its features include access (finally) to an outside programming language… and they chose Python.

For those who don’t know, Python is an interesting mix of object oriented scripting with many “perlish” features. It uses indents to define loops (which takes some getting used to) and has lots of features, though not as many as perl and its CPAN library. Python fans would give up their first born for the language, so its clear that it has something good. As part of my learning, I purchased Beginning Python by Magnus Lie Hetland, and its been really helpful. In addition, a project called Jython is attempting to dupe the language (well, a slightly out of date version) in java to run on a JVM (aka, run anywhere).

So, new things to look at:

This implies a couple of things:

So, SPSS now has a chance to change lots of things. Leveraging an open-source language can be a good step towards opening up lots of other aspects of how SPSS processes data. Opening up the system to allow a real scripting language at all is a big first step. But there is always room for improvement:

So, I’m finally learning Python (don’t worry, Judoscript fans, I’ll still fall back to my old favorite) and I’ll blog more about v14 when I get a copy (focusing on things like multiple datasets open at once, etc.) .

Comments? [6]

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Vilno... Not for me. · 11/19/2006 10:36 PM, Analysis

So this guy says that he has the “new data crunching language”, and he says to read about it at his blog where you can download the language. He’s posted in a couple of places, so I went to take a look: is now blank. Looks like there is a tarball at

There’s still some sparse docs at his other blogs: and

The Xanga site shows some sample code, and the Blogspot one is more random than this blog is. Note to other folks: stick to one blog; its just easier for your poor readers.

So, is it any good? Well, here’s a code sample from the Xanga site:

inlist labdata ;
addgridvars float: change ;
gridfunc baseval=avg(value) by labtest patid
where (visit==-1 and value is not null) and highest date ;
change = value - baseval ;
sendoff(labdata2) labtest patid visit date value change baseval ;

Unfortunately, its even more obtuse than R, and that’s a sad thing to have to say.

The Opera link gives a download for Linux if you want to try it, but if this is the state of the art for “data crunching” languages, then we are still in a bad way.

Back to SPSS, I guess. Or, if you want to know more about R after seeing my ever-so-snide comment, look at my section on R.

Comments? [5]

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Power Corrupts... · 11/15/2006 06:02 PM, Trivial

You know, I am sad to admit that I always thought Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”...

But it turns out to be Lord Acton (1834-1902). More info about Lord Acton. Nope, he’s not a comic book hero, though its a good comic name.

Uncle Ben’s pithy line is “With great power comes great responsibility”. Whether Stan Lee made it up or took it from others is debated here.

Ok, back to whatever you were doing before this useless info distracted you.


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103 in the shade... · 11/06/2006 12:14 PM, Personal

I’ve been having a terrible week. I’ve had a 103 plus fever every day, and chills and sweats at night; a sore throat so severe I cannot swallow, mucked up taste glands so everything tastes bad, and just an overall bad view on life. This is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had the exact same symptoms over the past year, and the docs (2 in Mass, 1 here in NJ) have no idea what it is. Oh, they’ve ruled out strep, this, that, the other, but beyond “take this antibiotic and hope it works”, I have lost much of my faith in the power of medicine.

But the dreams! No wonder they get their own name (“fever dreams”). I forget most of it each morning, but some great pieces I recall:

So, I hope I get better… and I hope, for at least one night, I have less vivid dreams. I think they are more exhausting than the sickness!

(Update: I had another doozy, but this one seems like it has more of a business to it: I was at a bar (except, of course, it wasn’t, more like a Chuck E Cheese’s with lots of beer (Yuengling Rocks!)) and in one of the rooms was a bunch of happy female tweener soccer players, all singing Karaoke… except that it was a collection of songs with words edited to be soccer oriented. “Toe the Line” (from “Hold the Line”, Toto, 1978) was playing when I first caught sight of the girls, and later on, I heard the lead-in to “Brand New Lover”, Dead or Alive, 1996 (Kick it right now, etc.), and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, Pat Benatar, 1980. Look, I don’t write ‘em, I just dream ‘em up. And if you do produce this and it takes off as the perfect holiday present, please contact me about royalties.)

Comments? [1]

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The New(est) Doctor Who · 10/28/2006 05:00 PM, Trivial

(For those who are saying “Dr. Who who?”, instead of pointing you to a “Who’s on First” writeup like I wanted to, instead I’ll point you to the Wikipedia entry on Doctor Who.)

If you’ve known me for a while, you know I have a soft spot for the UK, esp. their TV and music. Yes, they make lots of garbage, but then they turn around and make magic. And both of those apply to the new Dr. Who.

(This is actually the 3rd go round; we won’t talk about that depressing joke in the 90s.)

I actually disliked (ok, hated) the first season guy, the “Ninth Doctor”, played by Christopher Eccleston. He really managed to muck it up pretty badly, and the few times I saw him, I realized that it could be a great show… if he weren’t on it.

Eccleston was really annoying. Its ok for the Doctor to be quirky, and to be rude as part of that quirk is acceptable… but to be just a complete jerk is really not what the character is about.

But when he left and David Tennant joined up, I gave it another chance…

And it charmed me. For the first time in a while, I didn’t wish I had Tivoed it so I could jump to the end and save some time. I really wanted to experience it as it played. Billie Piper as Rose is a great companion, Tennant has whimsy and grit, and the show makes lots of knowing nods to its past, including bringing back original characters and enemies from the early days. The plots unfold quite nicely, effects are far (really far) more clever than the original series and actually better than lots of the big-budget shows, and (dare I say it), you actually believe that there may be Time Lords and other such groups running around out there.

I recently saw The Girl in the Fireplace and though the ending was a stretch, it had lots of great parts with a fantastic performance by Sophia Myles. I was just flipping channels, and I couldn’t get past this show. The Cybermen episode was also just as good.

The BBC is the “official” home, and as it runs on the SciFi network here in the states, also has some info.

I don’t have much time to see TV these days, so other than Lost, I don’t watch much. And yes, Battlestar Galactica is impressive… but its also depressing. If I’m willing to take one of my few spare hours and watch a show, you know its gotta be good.

This is worth the time.


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Welcome to your new home... signed, a Dentist · 10/28/2006 04:29 PM, Personal

When you move, your name and new address gets offered for list rental to anyone who wants it, via list companies like this. Local and national businesses rent the names to offer their services. Home Depot and Lowe’s, for example, know that new movers often need to fix up their house, so that makes sense for them to offer coupons and mailers.

Where we moved in Westfield, NJ, I expected those, and also the ones from the garden and fertilizer world. The gutter-cover guys were also expected. I was a bit surprised at the number of “tree doctors” who mailed us, but hey, maybe its a real problem here.

Kudos to Scape-Abilities as the best of the garden groups, for they sent us a box with a small trowel, gloves, and other gardening equipment.

But more than any other, we’ve gotten mail from 7 different dental groups. One or two I get, but 7? Some are focusing on whitening, some on “modern technology”, and some on kid friendly… but is the dental field so bad that they have to “ambulance chase” new users? No other doctors sent me notes. One pediatric group did, but there are tons who didn’t. No lawyers or other “professionals” sent me notes to get my business… so why so many dentists?

And perhaps the dental field might expand its give-aways. Each dentist included either a tooth-shaped magnet or a floss-card (or both).

I guess it works for them or they wouldn’t keep doing it, but its sad. I mean, this puts them at the level of chiropractors in my eyes… and even they weren’t so desperate as to hit me as a new mover.

So, glad to feel welcome here in Westfield… by the local dental community, and some gardners. BTW, anyone need a few tooth-shaped magnets?


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Upgraded to Textpattern 4.0.4 · 10/27/2006 12:51 PM, MetaBlog

Got slammed with some comment spam and after I cleaned it all out, I decided to upgrade to TP 4.0.4 which has some additional protections against comment spam.

If you see any problems (beyond the usual, that is), feel free to ping me.

Comments? [3]

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Best New Program: Taskbar Shuffle · 10/19/2006 11:13 AM, Tech

Windows has made good and bad UI changes over time, but I get used to them. What’s strange is the basic stuff they miss, version after version.

Case in point: The running programs taskbar.

First off, I turned off “grouping” of docs within programs like Office. It hides how many apps or docs you actually have running, which becomes problematic on a laptop. Yes, it does conserve screenspace, but I found that it just slowed me down when looking for just that one open doc.

As a result, I have lots of little things at one time on the Windows taskbar. But programs load in different orders; I open and close things at various times… and it sure would be nice to be able to put apps I am using together next to each other to make switching between them easier when mousing. (Yes, Alt-Tab is a good friend, but with lots of apps, the pointer can, at times, be faster, esp. with a rockin’ Kensington Expert Mouse Trackball, the best trackball made).

But you actually can’t control the display order of apps once loaded. Windows lists the programs in load order. You actually have to kill programs and re-open them to get them in the order you want on the taskbar.

Til now.

Finally comes a program which lets you drag and drop the taskbar running programs in any order you want. Magic and happiness abounds.

Taskbar Shuffle

It’s now on all of my machines, next to PureText and the A43 file manager.

(via those clever elves at Lifehacker: Download of the Day: Taskbar Shuffle)


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xkcd: leave here, read that... · 10/12/2006 04:00 PM, Trivial

If you aren’t reading the comics (4-panel, not pulp) at xkcd, you are missing out. Dilbert is still good for a chuckle, but this guy really gets where techies’ heads are at.

If nothing else, anyone with the some experience with *nix should read

But they are all very clever. Highly recommended. Go now and read.

Comments? [1]

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