I'd Rather Be Graphing

The Happy Hacker is perplexed by something that he sees on campus--students spending me time on sports teams, student groups and in student-produced shows than on then school work. Why spend $16,000 a year to major in protesting racists or whacking a puck (and members of the opposite team) around the ice?

After a preliminary investigation, the Happy Hacker has determined that students are not interested enough in academics because they don't use their computers effectively. For most potential hackers, the P.C.'s on their cluttered desks serve more as $2000 electronic typewriters than as useful academic tools.

The Happy Hacker does not want to discourage students from participating in extracurricular activities, he merely wants to suggest that there are other things to do--such as sitting in front of a terminal on a nice spring day, watching the sun shine and realizing that the weather could be improved with just a few advances in the present hardware and software technology.

Chart Your Course

Many a paper could be spruced up with a few simple graphs, plots and charts. Rather than merely write about the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, Plot it on a scatter plot. While a chart isn't worth a thousand words, graphs can certainly complement a term paper. One of the Happy Hacker's friends swears that grades on her social science papers are increased a couple of notches because of her Mac graphs.


There are several ways to produce charts and graphs on personal computers and most require additional software beyond the basic word-processing package. Often, graphing programs are more than simple line-drawers and circle dividers--they allow the user to manipulate that data before the graphs are even produced.

Lotus 1-2-3 for IBM compatibles and Microsoft's Excel for the cuter personal computer's around campus are spreadsheet programs that allow users to crunch and compare numerous columns and rows of numbers are suitably mangled, they can be turned into snazzy graphs. IBM--compatible users will need a printer that can produce graphics, Mac users will find that the Imagewriter suffices.

The Happy Hacker, of Course, sometimes finds a need for more complex or for prettier graphs than Excel and 1-2-3 produce. For the Macintosh, Microsoft's Chart produces excellent charts, plots and graphs. It is much simpler than Excel to use, but its data manipulation capabilities are extremely limited. Excel and Chart are compatible with each other, however, and graphs produced with Chart can be sent to Excel for analysis just as Excel plots can be spruced up in Chart.

Macintosh afficionados might also want to try Cricket Software's Cricket Graph. Similar to Chart in Concept, Cricket Graph also lets you sort and perform many mathematical manipulations. Especially useful is Cricket Graph's ability to fit regression lines to scatter-plot data. Of course, the cute name is also a plus.

Users of IBM compatibles who are dissatisfied with 1-2-3's graph programs might want to try Lotus' Freelance Plus. From 3-D plots to fancy bar graphs, Freelance Plus enables budding Hackers to spend hours producing publication-quality graphics. It is certainly a welcome alternative to the hours that could instead be spent with protractors, Pencils and markers.

Of course, playing around with fancy graphing software isn't necessarily a cure for over-indulging in extracurricular activities, but the next time you're offered the chance to sit at home with your computer or protest a representative of the South African government, which would you choose?

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