Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Announced earlier today, IBM is to buy SPSS, the statistical and predictive modeling software and competitor with SAS. (More news articles.)

I used SPSS at my last job, and I liked it quite a bit. There were certain tasks that were much easier using the windowing interface, and SAS's code-only method just doesn't quite match that. For example, transposing a dataset in SAS is not very intuitive. In SPSS, however, the wizard explains which variables to choose for identification of variables, constants, and variables to transpose.

Then on the other hand, SAS is quite powerful and is capable of a lot more than SPSS. Perhaps SPSS's code module can be used in a similar way, but when I used it, it was rather annoying. If you need to use a dataset, it required it to be open. In SAS, you don't ever have to open a dataset, unless you need to figure out what the variables are like. Then again, you can just look at the column information in the context menu. SAS flows from one dataset to another, and there's no need for the dataset to pop-up when using it.

SPSS was much better at handling variables (columns). Variables could be easily changed from one type to another, and "labels" for particular variables could be applied. For example, 1 = Low, 2 = Medium, and 3 = High. This can be accomplished in SAS with formats, but it's not quite the same, as it requires the user to apply the format. SPSS was also quite useful for turning a variable into a category or a variable with ranges; for example, converting salaries into salary ranges. A window wizard helped with that too.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see what happens in this market now that IBM is going to own SPSS. I always thought SPSS and SAS joined together would be a really great product, and perhaps IBM will bring to SPSS more SAS-like capabilities. Who knows?

More comparisons of SPSS and SAS:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bank Advice to Couples

Recently, my bank, the UW Credit Union, published an article on the website about "Five Common Money Mistakes Made by Couples." Here is the list in short form:
  1. Know where your money goes and have a budget.
  2. Share financial responsibility.
  3. Don't keep money secrets from each other.
  4. Don't marry your debt.
  5. Plan ahead.
The bank recommends using a budget worksheet, but I would argue in favor of budgeting software, or better yet, an online service like Mint.com. Mint is a great way to track expeditures, and any software package would pick out items you wouldn't think of putting on a budget. For example, you may have no idea how many times you actually stop for coffee on the way to work and how quickly that adds up. It's quite a bit, week after week!

The other points were great, if not somewhat obvious. Of course it's best to make decisions together and not retain secrets, unless of course, some money is set aside for a gift. Keeping major financial secrets is a quick way to lead to arguments or a lot of stress for a spouse should something happen to the other.

The fourth item about not "marrying your debt" pointed out that it's not best to merge debt. As many people have students loans, it may be tempting to put all the debt together. However, this can harm one or the other spouse's credit. Consolidation may save money on monthly payments, but it could make it harder to get a loan. It also reminds me of that commercial with the guy singing about his new wife who had a bad credit score and they couldn't get a home loan because of it. At the end, he sings something like, "I’d be a happy bachelor with a dog and a yard." That's no way to start a marriage!

The last point about planning ahead also noted that it's good to have about six months in savings ready for any disaster. While that sounds great, I don't think anyone in middle America is doing that. It's been said that we spend $1.01 for ever $1.00 we earn, so it's going to be difficult to change the culture to turn that around. Of course, it's best to try!