Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Which I Reach out to the Internet in Hopes of Simplifying the Process of Acquiring Knowledge

This is not the time of year to go wander to a bookstore and spend a long time browsing until I find what I want.

I also suspect that the book(s) that I seek are not the sort of things that one would find in the Border's in my city.

We are starting to be able to extract information from our registration system, and I want to be able to figure out what the data say. A sort of academic reading of tea leaves.

The problem being that I know diddly-squat about statistics. I took one statistics course as an undergrad. It counted towards the social science distribution requirement. (My other social science courses were in economics; I would have branched out more if there were other quantitative intro courses in the social sciences.) It was a summer course, taught in a lecture hall filled with number-phobic geography majors and a bunch of us trouble-makers trying to fulfill a distribution requirement without much effort, including Dana Pascovici (when you read it in your head, it's pronounced more like "Donna" and less like "Dane-a").

So, I need to learn something about statistics. But most introductory statistics texts assume that one doesn't know anything about number and quantity, that one can not calculate the area under the normal distribution, that one is unfamiliar with the standard measures of central tendancy. Once back a long, long, long time ago (during troubled times, so I didn't learn as much as I should have -- and I have forgotten most of it), I knew how to calculate all sorts of crap related to a continuous probability distribution. I need a book that's meant for mathematically literate people who happen to know next to nothing about statistics.

I also need some information about learning R (or S-PLUS). The internet scoffs at people who use Excel for their statistical computing. The true intellectual snobs seem to also look down on SPSS, SAS, and their ilk. Not to mention that there is no money for this, so I am unwilling to spend money on Mac-hostile software that I don't know how to use when I could get an over-powered programming language for free.