R vs Spreadsheets

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One of the myriad of reasons we created the Data Driven Security blog was to provide pointers to data analysis and visualization resources for security domain experts who may have not been exposed to these types of tools.

I’d venture a posit that most folks jump into some type of spreadsheet software whenever they get their hands on a manageable data set and then start crunching from there. Spreadsheets are extremely convenient but they are definitely not the tool Jay or I look to when working with data sets (small or large).

Burns Statistics has a great set of posts on the use of R versus the use of spreadsheets, complete with examples of performing similar operations in both tools.

You should start with “A First Step Towards R From Spreadsheets” and make your way to “From Spreadsheet Thinking to R Thinking“. Then, make sure you bookmark/RSS the site and watch for future posts.

Another great resource if you’re looking to use spreadsheets better and aspire to move seamlessly from spreadsheets to/from R is the recent book Data Smart: Using Data Science to Transform Information into Insight by John Foreman. It, too, has many practical examples and will be a handy reference even if you choose to remain firmly affixed in Excel-land.

Be very careful if you do most of your processing in Excel (or other spreadsheet software) as there are well-documented cases (as noted in an October Revolution Analytics blog post) of spreadsheet errors that led to monumental financial losses, mistaken government policies, and even the wrong drugs being given to cancer patients. You really wouldn’t want to repeat those mistakes and have an errant cell formula crying malware outbreak!

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