Monday, February 26, 2007

Systat 12 released

A new version of Systat is out. You can read the details here.

My stats knowledge isn't good enough to comment on the major features: extended mixed model analysis, robust regression. But they seem decent enough to be worth existing users upgrading to. Though, since it has been three years since the last upgrade, I am not sure they were worth the wait!

Some of the lesser features seem unimpressive. The improved plotting interface and cluster analysis sound rather like the claims from the Version 11 press release, and interface improvements sound more more like window dressing than real innovation.

What I was most drawn to were the removal of some limitations, only to be replaced with new limitations. Variable names can be longer to be more descriptive... but still only 256 characters. I know that 256 should be enough, and I can't think of a realistic reason why it shouldn't be. But history is full of such mistakes ("640k RAM is enough for anyone", "you only need 2 digits to store a date" etc). If you are going to fix that problem, why not fix it completely (or at least absurdly far above current expectations).

Likewise, a new multi-step undo... but only up to 32 steps. I am sure that I have undone more than 32 steps in a document before!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Link: Vista Spin Unspun

I didn't yet have much to say about Vista when it came out, so since there is no interesting news today, here is a fun piece from The INQ, which is not so much about Vista, as a good summary of IT journalism and IT PRs.

Or, if you are in a hurry, today's Dilbert says pretty much the same in three pictures!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TI-NSpire advertising isn't the solution

As directed by an irate reader of a previous TI-NSpire article, I was doing a little Googling to see if there was any news on its shipping status, when I found a fun thread on an HP site. It was pointing out that the calculation in an example screenshot of the nSpire, on TIs site, is wrong.

Perhaps more surprising is that one of the writers claims to have mailed TI to point out their mistake a month ago and it is still there. Perhaps the TI web people don't think correct answers are important.

Assuming, that they do fix it soon, here it is recorded for posterity. (Correct answer is 1/2 and -9/2).

[[Update 26 Feb: Within a few days of appearing on this site, the page has now been fixed. Here is the new, fixed, version of the image]].

Sunday, February 18, 2007

MathCAD 14 released

Its appealing to try and find a simple narrative to summarize new software - either it is total junk or some excellent advance. But the contents of the first release of MathCAD since PTC purchased the company is not so easily categorized.

There is unsubstantiated and weak claims, and there is real development.

Lets start with the lame...there are several items where one's natural response should be "what? didn't it do that before?" like the ability to enter more than one step of a calculation at a time in a single piece of input and support for UNICODE (so that the majority of the world can type their own non-ASCII based words into it) and they think that "Polar plot can now accept negative radii" is a significant advance! And perhaps the best "IMPROVED Worksheet Search – Search results are more complete, including collapsed and hidden regions of worksheets." - so, before, if you couldn't see the text, neither could the search feature!

There are some features with limited evidence "improved symbolic engine robustness" (I have a theory, which I will report if it turns out to be true [update]). And disingenuous features e.g. one of the "Highlights of the enhancements in Mathcad 14.0" was "Increased technical support" - they should license that code!

Then there is the solid... PTC exerting its more significant development resources, by providing translation into 9 languages (fitting in with the Pro-Engineer existing market) , integration of document difference highlighting (fitting in with the existing Arbortext document workflow products).

Really what I think this release shows is that PTC knows what PTC knows. The most significant features are the more prosaic ones that are about integrating with their existing business, and the more technically interesting, are no more solid that when MathSoft was a small company standing alone.

There is nothing wrong in that per-se, but you can also see where corporate culture can be negative. In the cheer leading over the improved symbolics, you find the phrase "Power users, research and design engineers, and other Ph.D. level users requiring symbolics will benefit from these improvements." Hold on. I was doing symbolic math when I was 13 or 14 (OK, it was only simple equations, and I didn't do integrals until 16, but it was useful and I didn't have a Ph.D!).

But PTC has always built numeric-only software and you can almost sense their confusion that there are people who need more..."Oh, it must be some Ph.D level thing"

Monday, February 05, 2007

New O-Matrix 6.1 Performance claims

Matlab clone O-Matrix has released a new version, 6.1, with the summary: "This release has made many ease-of-use enhancements, added numerous application-oriented examples and made significant performance enhancements for newer multi-core machines such as the Intel HT and Intel Duo Core CPU."

I can't find a single reference to what these" ease-of-use enhancements" might be on their site or elsewhere.

As for the performance enhancements, there is plenty numbers to demonstrate 6.1 going much faster than other things, but as ever with such things, a little scrutiny reduces their credibility.

They have tables of O-Matrix 6.1 vs O-Matrix 5.62 --- but NOT against O-Matrix 6.0, so we can only assume that most of the improvements were in 6.0 not in this 'performance enhancing' release. They have also updated their comparison against Matlab (which I commented on here) to use 0-Matrix 6.1 but have still not upgraded the Matlab side of the comparison to anything newer than 7.01 which was released back in 2004.

Dodgy scientific methodology in marketing comparisons probably don't reflect poorly on you when you are selling shampoo or cat food but it surely does in technical software.

Having said that, I can't actually find any claims that Matlab has got any faster in the last three years, but still- show us the current comparison, if you want us to take it seriously.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Did MapleSoft censor their own blogger?

Strange occurrences at the MapleSoft sponsored user forum, that are likely of little interest to anyone except me...

The site manager added a blog entry to the front page of the MaplePrimes site about an item that I wrote about calculators. It's always nice when people link to your site, so I went back a few days later to see if I could contribute anything useful to the discussion. However, in that time the links to had been removed and replaced with plain text.

Now I can't think of any logical reason why one would write a piece talking about a web page one read, and then decide to later remove the links to where it was, having initially made the effort to put it in.

The only hypothesis that I can come up with is that his superiors didn't agree him linking to a site that has been critical of them at times.

I thought I was exactly on-topic for MaplePrimes, which says that one of the purposes of it is "To offer a contrast and complement to the corporate Web content".

Kind of amusing. Perhaps in a few days I will get annoyed and edit out the links in this item!

[[Update 26 Feb: I decided to do the opposite, here is a link to his personal blog where the original version of the article still lives]]

Minitab 15 released

Minitab have announced a new version of their flagship statistics package. Headline new features are listed as...

  • Ability to assign formulas to columns in the worksheet
  • Expanded Gage R&R capabilities
  • Power (OC) curves for power and sample size
  • Probability Distribution Plot
  • New Reliability methods for forecasting future warranty claims
  • More than 40 new calculator functions
When you read that the top new feature is "Ability to assign formulas to columns in the worksheet", you prepare yourself for a completely underwhelming upgrade.

But when you dig into the full list there is quite a lot more new stuff than the press release suggests, with modest improvements in many, many areas.

Where the release disappoints is by a lack of any clear direction to R&D, perhaps that is why it was hard to write a press release that made it sound interesting. There is no attempt to extend the reach of Minitab. They are happy with what they do, and just want to do the same a bit better.

The result is an upgrade that should please Minitab users, but is unlikely to attract anyone who had previously dismissed it.