SOFA Shows Support For Linux

April 10th, 2014

SOFA works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. But Linux is especially important for the project because SOFA is developed on Ubuntu. So it made sense to support the Linux ecosystem by signing up with the Open Invention Network. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary to have anything to do with software patents. For various reasons, they’re a bad idea and function more to inhibit innovation than encourage investment in software research and development. But the Open Invention Network plays a protective function in a world where people who create and actually make things can be preyed upon by parasites who have been granted monopolies on ideas – the so-called patent trolls.

The group was created to defend Linux from patent trolls and other attacks from patent holders. It tries to do this with its own patents which are then available royalty-free to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux. While it hasn’t been done, these patents could also, in theory, be used by the OIN, or an OIN member, against a hostile company in a patent war.

Google joins Open Invention Network patent commons as a full member

Anyway, a range of companies and projects large and small (over 800 at present and growing) have signed up for the initiative including Google, Dropbox, IBM, Canonical, Mozilla, Twitter, Puppet Labs, Valve Software, Alfresco, NEC, Blender, OpenShot, Novell, Inkscape, Philips, Red Hat, CentOS, GNOME, Wikimedia, MariaDB Foundation, Rackspace, Moodle, Openstack, Slackware, Tor, and Sony. You get the idea.

PortableApps version of SOFA (alpha only)

April 2nd, 2014

J. David Eisenberg has kindly made a PortableApps version of SOFA for Windows. It is an alpha release only but it works and feedback/assistance is welcome. Here is his announcement as posted on the Google Group:

I have used the PortableApps guidelines (correctly, I hope!) to create a version of SOFA Statistics that can be installed on a USB drive and will retain your data and settings.

You can download the installer at ; this is Windows only.

Known problem: If you add the results of a statistical test to a report, any graphs for that statistical test will show up as a “missing image” icon. The image will be in the report; it just won’t show up on screen.

I have not tried scripting to see if that works properly.

Any comments are welcome at the SOFA statistics Google Group

Importing tab-separated files and more

March 15th, 2014

SOFA 1.4.3 now lets you import directly from tab-separated/tab-delimited files.

Importing tab-delimited text
Another change is less momentous but should really please people doing lots of row stats reports. As SOFA gained more measures it became increasingly more effort to select individual measures one-by-one, checkbox by checkbox. Now there is a toggle button for Select All/Deselect All. Much better :-).

Select or Deselect All

And the bonus themes are now part of the standard release making it easier than ever to make your charts and tables look good – I hope you like them.

New Themes

One change that most users will never notice is better support for running SOFA via scripts. An exciting automation project is currently under development using this functionality and I hope to have some news to share soon.

Here’s the full list of changes:

  • Can import tab-delimited data.
  • More options for attractive charts and reports. Three new themes available – sky, prestige (screen), and prestige (print).
  • Better support for automation (i.e. headless, running without GUI) esp in international context.
  • Exporting to spreadsheet now relies on more robust code library (xlwt)
  • Easy to select or deselect lots of row stats measures at once.
  • Faster opening in many cases.

And the bug fixes:

  • Minor tweak to PostgreSQL plug-in to handle timestamps without timezone.
  • Resolved bug when SQLite numbers are stored in a non-numeric field and processed for Chi Square test.
  • Importing csvs now copes better when only missing vals in sample of a field. Gives user the choice.
  • Fixed bug when doing a Row Stats table with a rows variable e.g. by Gender and some of the fields can’t be calculated for some of the row categories.
  • Headless importing now works in the event of inconsistent data types in fields.
  • Headless importing now reads entire dataset rather than a sample to avoid need for (human) decisions.
  • Scripts no longer rely on translated arguments. Much safer to use on other machines with different locales.
  • Fixed circular import bugs which only became visible when other bugs occurred.

Using SOFA alongside other statistics packages

February 15th, 2014

All statistics packages have their strengths and weaknesses so it is not uncommon for people to want to use more than one – even on the same project. SOFA is focused on making it easy to use some core statistical tests and producing attractive, high definition tabular and charting output. SOFA also makes it easy to link to, or import from, a wide range of formats: xls, xlsx, csv, google docs spreadsheets, MS Access, NySQL, MS SQL Server, PostgreSQL, SQLite, and, more recently, CUBRID.

But there is no point overcomplicating SOFA so it can do every statistical test that might be needed for a particular project. SOFA users have been routinely surveyed on what features they would like added and it has not consolidated into a clear list of priorities. People need lots of different things depending on their specific projects.

So a sensible goal for SOFA is to make it easy to import and export data, including metadata such as variable and value labels. This strategy has already resulted in the addition to SOFA (version 1.4.2) of built-in export-to-spreadsheet functionality. And it has already been improved for version 1.4.3 (not released yet at the time of this writing).

The question is, what packages should SOFA target as priorities for interoperability? Feel free to fire me off an email at

SOFA exports high-resolution results and more

February 9th, 2014

SOFA users can now export their output results as high-resolution images, PDFs, and spreadsheets ** without requiring additional plug-ins.

Easy high-quality exporting

It has never been easier to produce high-quality output ready to include in presentations, papers for publication etc.

High resolution output

It will also be possible to export table data. If there is a specialised analysis you can’t do in SOFA it will be much easier to export the data and import it into another stats package for that part of the process.

Export to spreadsheet from data

And the ability to backup your SOFA data and settings is built in.

Backup data and settings

So 1.4.2 is quite a major step forwards for the majority of users. I really hope you like it and spread the word.

** Doesn’t work for Macs currently – very sorry :-(. Any Mac users with Python experience are encouraged to contact the project – there are several ways you might be able to help SOFA resolve this problem. And get a little famous ;-).

1.4.1 Adds regression line for scatterplots

January 31st, 2014

Scatterplots can now be produced with a regression line and slope and intercept details:

Scatterplot regression lines

Additionally, the Export output plug-in (proprietary add-on) now gives option of exporting tabular data to spreadsheet. And there are some other minor improvements:

  • Better positioning of legend in scatterplots made by matplotlib.
  • Tweaked algorithm for getting optimal min and max axis values so more sensible when no variation.

The latest release also fixes a number of edge-case bugs:

  • Fixed bug in charting when users use variable names SOFA used in underlying SQL queries.
  • Fixed bug when refreshing database table dropdowns when no databases visible – was assuming the databases were included in the number of items in the sizer.
  • Fixed bug when print content redirected to output file in Windows and Mac – now coverted to utf-8 byte strings directly by overriding sys.stdout and sys.stderr with codecs.getwriter etc. Immediate impact is fix for bug when recoding a table and field names include non-ascii characters.
  • Fixed up fonts used so always look good on all systems.
  • Fixed bug which can occur when designing a new table. If we recode it before clicking the Update button, SOFA thinks we are trying to override another table of the same name. This is because SOFA started out thinking our table had no name and was never updated to tell it otherwise.
  • Minor changes to enable translation.
  • Fixed bug when importing empty pairs of double or single quotes. These were already being de-escaped (as a side-effect of the approach necessary to handle internal quote escaping in the csv module) and turned to solo quotes – and thus evading the check for blank raw vals which would have been turned to NULL.
  • Fixed bug giving error message for too many rows instead of too many columns when too many columns e.g. in Chi Square test.
  • SOFA now checks very early to see if you’ve installed SOFA under a local user folder instead of a program folder.
  • Fixed bug in PostgreSQL plug-in when working with a numeric field lacking a defined decimal points or numeric precision setting.
  • Show scatterplot minor axis ticks more readily so better when fewer distinct x values.
  • Scatterplots cope with absence of variability in an axis by forcing a different min and max for that axis.

SOFA releases 1.4.0 for Christmas :-)

December 15th, 2013

Ease of use is one of SOFA’s main goals (along with “learn as you go”, and “beautiful output”). Unfortunately, as new options were added to SOFA for exporting data, the simplicity of the output section of the user interface suffered slightly. New buttons were squeezed in one by one and the interface was getting more and more crowded. Something was going to have to change. And in version 1.4.0 it finally has! – I hope you like the change. It not only removes two interface items but it also adds room for more export options in the future. And there is more horizontal space in the drop-down control to describe each option more clearly and distinctly.

Here is the old design:

Old output layout

Lots of buttons

Not too bad, but lots of buttons, and more needed in the future. Here is the new design:

New output layout

It drops two items. There is also scope for adding more export options. Here are the current options available as displayed in the drop-down control:

Room for more

Obviously, it wouldn’t be hard to add a few more given it is a list. The Show Results button is larger, and its relationship with the report is more obvious by adding “Also” to “Also add to report”.

Large Show Results button

Only modest changes in many ways but hopefully another step in improving the user experience. Merry Christmas 🙂

Never expected to see 150,000 downloads

November 19th, 2013

Creating and sharing a software project is a leap into the unknown. Will anyone use it? Will anyone like it? And although download numbers are a very imperfect measure, they can provide encouragement when engaged in the numerous tasks associated with a project. So it is with great pleasure that I can announce SOFA Statistics has passed the 150,000 milestone on Sourceforge.

150,000 dowloads milestone

Thanks to all the people who have helped make this possible. I’m still thinking about what to do with SOFA next but it seems to have found a niche as a general purpose, open source statistics application. And I’m still trying to stay true to the mantra “ease of use, learn as you go, and beautiful output”.

If you’ve liked using SOFA, please consider sending me a brief message at I’m keen to hear where in the world people are from, what sorts of things SOFA has been used for, and anything else interesting. Please include at least your first name – I’d like to display some of these messages to promote SOFA. Thanks in advance. [Note – my purpose is to collect some feedback to share, not to gather email addresses. But I expect I will personally reply to a few emails if I have time.]

Version 1.3.5 adds some simplicity

October 14th, 2013

Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, had the following philosophy for automotive design: “Simplify, then add lightness”. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to say “Less is More”. In a similar vein, the latest version of SOFA adds some simplicity for all those users who only use the default database (see Database?! But I just want to analyse my data!). Here is the list of feature changes introduced with version 1.3.5 of SOFA:

  • Simplified access to data for most users. SOFA now only displays a list of data tables (instead of showing both a list of databases and tables) unless there are multiple databases to choose from. For most users, the only database will be the default database SOFA uses to store imported or hand-entered data.
  • Slovenian support added (thanks to Nino Rode :-)).

And the following bugs have been fixed:

  • Fixed bug in histogram output when limited data spread. Error caused by miscalculation of significant decimal points required for display.
  • Fixed bug stopping late-added title details appearing when exporting output. The demo output is refreshed first so the source file is forced to be up-to-date. Probably needs a proper tidy-up some day but this works well in the mean time.
  • Fixed bug in exporting to desktop folder in fix_pdf – need to strip end off folder name when no AM/PM under localisation used.
  • Fixed various bugs associated with exporting output. When copying output, message about keeping form open now names form it means (to reduce confusion).
  • Fixed bug when using a project after it has just been deleted (by pressing cancel in select projects dialog after having deleted the currently active project).
  • Fixed bug which meant “Show Results” and “Add to report” options were displayed when setting up a project.
  • Fixed bug when cancelling a variable details selection in a project.

I hope you like the latest version.

Database?! But I just want to analyse my data!

August 22nd, 2013

SOFA aims for ease of use as part of its “ease of use, learn as your go, beautiful output” mantra. But it confronts users with having to think about databases, even if just working with simple spreadsheets of data or some data entered by hand.

This was the usability problem brought to my attention by a member of the community, Jan Dittrich. Jan (, is completing a Masters in Media Arts and Design at the Bauhaus University in Weimar/Germany. He mainly does user research and usability, but has an interest in statistics as well. When using SOFA he noticed that a “database” needs to be selected for most of the activities but that it might be a rather technical concept for some of those who use SOFA. He wrote me an email addressing the problem and we subsequently exchanged ideas.

So how to address this without removing one important ability of SOFA – namely the ability to connect directly to people’s data when it is in a database (e.g. MySQL).

We explored a few options …

Initial GUI ideas from Jan

… but ended up following the principle of “the least we could do” as recommended in the fantastic usability book “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy

As Krug notes, tweaking is usually better than redesigning because 1) it actually gets done; 2) larger changes are inevitably going to break some things (think months of squashing all the bugs out again); and 3) redesigns annoy a lot of existing users who have gotten used to the status quo (actually Krug has 9 reasons but these are my favourites).

Anyway, I had no enthusiasm for a major GUI overhaul but it did not make sense to leave a known usability problem in place. What Jan and I came up with was rather simple and elegant. SOFA only shows the Database label and drop-down if the user has configured SOFA to connect to any databases. Expect to see this change in the next version (1.3.5).

Database details only displayed when needed

Users who have database connections will notice no difference. But for everyone else the interface will be simpler and easier to use. Sometimes, less is more.