Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Making more sense with numbers, part 4

Now that you've got an easy way to capture numbers out of emails and documents, how do you get numbers back into emails?

Graphs are great, but perhaps you don't want to use attachments? Check out Gnuplot's dumb terminal mode as a way to create plain text graphics. If you keep it simple, you can convey decent graphical information with plain text (as long as your recipients use a non-proportional font in their email client for plain text emails—a very good idea, anyway). I tested this approach in a public discussion and found some liked it and some didn't.

Perhaps you really do want to include a table of numbers or numbers and words. If you're working in J, it's pretty straightforward to create the table you want and then use J's clipfmt and wdclipwrite verbs to create something you can simply paste into your email or other document.

If you're using J, you can create your (text or other) graphics in Gnuplot, if you prefer, or you can create them in J directly.

Incidentally, this note and its predecessor have addressed specific cases of the more general problem of getting data into and out of J, a problem I think lots of newcomers to J discover early on. It's easy to do powerful calculations in J, but manually transcribing the data from another window into J or from J into another document loses all the benefits. The J Wiki has a page called Interfaces that might help. I've found the Text Files page quite helpful in getting data out of plain text files. Any statisticians reading this might find the interface to R useful.

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