This edition of Netspeak features a few open source tools that facilitate the research process with special reference to the free statistical software ‘R’.

As mentioned in the past http://www.thehindu.com/2008/09/22/stories/2008092252931700. htm, the Net offers a wide range of tools for researchers.

A researcher needs to find relevant information, communicate/collaborate with fellow researchers, disseminate his findings and the like. We know that several on-line tools/services are in place for accomplishing these research tasks with ease.

Unlike in the past, the advantage of doing research now is the availability of free/open source tools. Open source packages like Abiword http://www.abisource. com and Open Office Writer http://www.openoffice.org enable a researcher to compose his/her research work. The browser Firefox has several extensions that can beef up the researcher. The extension Zotero http: //www.hindu. com/2006/11/27/ stories/2006112700351600. htm, an open source tool meant for building a bibliography with ease is an instance of such extensions.

In this regard, one may also check out Jabref http://jabref.sourceforge.net, yet another open source reference manager.

Compose notes inside Firefox

Note taking is an essential task while doing research using the Net. For this, one has several options: one can use a text editor like Notepad or enlist the service of an on-line editing service. Now, if you are a Firefox user, here is another option — use an extension that integrates a note editor with browser. For this, install the extension ‘QuickFox Notes’ https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/ firefox/addon/13572, which lets you create notes on multiple tabs.

A note created thus can easily be saved as a text file (using the ‘Transfer’ feature).

Well-nigh all aspects of our life are getting computerised. A consequence of this widespread computerisation is the generation of a variety of digital databases.

Any research process (business/scientific) nowadays involves data analysis and the application of statistics.

Even outfits such as Google and Facebook enlist the extensive service of statistical tools.

These on-line services generate huge databases and use statistical tools to extract patterns and trends from them. For instance, Facebook (as expressed by a Facebook data team member in this video: http://www.lecturemaker.com/2009/02/r-kickoff-video, uses statistical methods to analyse user behaviour — like finding the user characteristics that significantly predict if a user will continue to stay.

Statistical packages

To make statistical computing a less cumbersome affair several statistical packages (like SPSS, Stata and Systat) are in place.

Even a spreadsheet package like MS-Excel has several built-in functions meant for statistical computations.

Of course, lots of on-line resources that enable you to learn these packages are also available (like this link that hosts links to SPSS tutorial videos: http://calcnet. mth. cmich.edu /org /spss/toc. htm. Though commercial statistical packages are popular among researchers, their licensing costs drive people away from them. In this context, R http://www.r-project.org, the open source/free statistical package, which is fast becoming the darling of researchers/analysts, assumes significance. The great advantage of R is that it can be downloaded and installed on your machine without any licensing worries. Yet another advantage of R is that one can run it on multiple platforms such as Linux, Mac and Windows. Naturally, this adds to the autonomy of a researcher.

Unlike in the past, students of this generation prefer different operating systems to be run on their laptops.

In a classroom setting of this kind, teaching statistics with commercial packages becomes quite unwieldy — all cannot afford to purchase software for different platforms. In this regard, commercial packages pale in comparison with R, which has no such restrictions.

Besides being free, the advantage of this statistical software is its “extensibility” feature. R allows its users to enhance its functionality by creating new functions (this is similar to the extensions we find in Firefox).

One drawback of R is its steep learning curve. However, you can smoothen out the learning process by going through the plethora of R-related tutorial materials floating across the Net. For instance, a beginner might find this video series on R rather useful http://tinyurl.com/yeuneck. The R tutorial site http://www.r-tutor.com/ is yet another valuable R resource worth a visit.

Google’s new services

It seems, Google considers information retrieval as its territory and is reluctant to allow anyone else to play a significant role in this domain. Two new services recently introduced by Google — Google dictionary and Google real-time search feature http://googleblog.blog spot.com /2009/12/relevance- meets- real-time-web.html — attest to this observation. Google’s dictionary service http://www.google.com/dictionary that lets one find meaning of words in multiple languages could come in handy while reading/writing on-line.

jmurali@gmail.com

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