Technology of interest to economists at Temple
This page started as a place to hold my annual presentation on technology available to our graduate students, given at orientation. The hardware section is brief and refers to Temple University facilities that Temple economics faculty and graduate students can use. The software section is more extensive and focused mostly on high-quality open-source software for scientific uses that economists find very useful.
This page is long and will keep getting longer as I add information to keep it current. Please scroll all the way down so you do not overlook all the goodies on this page.
- College of Liberal Arts (CLA) has a computer lab in Ritter Annex 844 that our department can use.
- The CLA Information Technology page is here.
- General Temple University Information Technology page is here.
- Windows: Desktops and laptops. Costs money.
- Mac OS X: Desktops and laptops. Costs money, as you can only get it by buying a Mac, but getting an upgrade to the latest version is free if you already have a Mac.
- Linux: Desktops, laptops, mobile devices (see below). Linux is a free, open-source, operating system. It can run a computer by itself or run inside Windows or Mac OS X via the free VirtualBox emulation program. Linux comes in many versions, called distributions. A very popular, easy to install and manage Linux distribution is Ubuntu.
- Chrome running on a Chromebook from Google; a browser and browser-based applications on a thin Linux layer, limited to web applications at this time. However, it is possible to install Linux on a cheap Chromebook to turn it into a general-purpose computer. Search online for instructions. Here is one relevant link I found.
- Android and iOS for smartphones and tablets. You can run Canvas on these operating systems to receive notifications from your classes on Temple’s “Learning Management System”, Canvas. Also, you can run https://www.overleaf.com/ (used to be called WriteLaTeX) on the browser an Android or iOS tablet (or even phone) to use LaTeX (about which see below).
My software background
- Ancient stuff: I used TeX on VMS and UNIX in the 1980s. I used Windows for a few frustrating years after that, feeling peer pressure (I used Mac before those years, and I have been using Linux and Mac after).
- Discovered Linux in late 2004 and have had a great time with it since then.
- Settled on the Mac OS X system for most work; Apple’s slogan it just works is not a lie, but it costs extra dollars compared to Linux (arguably, not compared to Windows).
- Discovered that for every purpose there is at least one good free, open-source program, no matter which operating system you run.
- Discovered that in many (most?) cases the open-source alternative is better than the commercial one.
Uses for software for economists (including graduate students)
- Write papers and presentations (important: must handle math well!).
- Do computations and symbolic math, such as taking the derivative of a function, create high quality graphs.
- Do econometrics.
- Collaborate (no cheating on assignments that are supposed to be individual work!).
- Word processors (such as Word, Mellel, Pages) are likely familiar, but they are awkward for handling math and for making your work presentable. (However, Word has recently become better at handling math than its old abysmally unstable and ugly self ever was.)
- Should you wish to insist in using a word processor, choose the free, open-source LibreOffice, found at http://www.libreoffice.org/ (works on Linux, Mac, and Windows, includes a full office suite and an equation editor).
- For serious writing and the best final results, especially in math, learn LaTeX. My long explanation and strong endorsement of LaTeX is at http://dimitriosdiamantaras.me/latex-info/ Remember also, it is free.
- A really nice, close to WISIWYG front-end to LaTeX editing is LyX (http://www.lyx.org).
- NEW (2015-06-18): an engineer on why he uses LaTeX; a collection of instructional videos on LaTeX (among other technical topics).
- NEW (2016-07-19): Write papers like a modern scientist
- Powerpoint comes to mind.
- Chase it away! Use LaTeX instead, with the beamer package (free).
- All serious job candidates from the top-ranked economics departments use beamer.
Graphics in presentations and papers
- LibreOffice Impress (Powerpoint analogue): for graphs like a supply-demand diagram where exact positioning is not important (free).
- For graphs where functions must be depicted accurately and exact coordinates matter, you have alternatives (they run on all major computer operating systems):
- Gnuplot: http://www.gnuplot.info/ (free)
- Matplotlib: http://matplotlib.org/ (needs Python to be already installed) (free)
- See the “Data Visualization” section of https://maxkasy.github.io/home/computationlinks/ for more on graphing.
- Spreadsheets (LibreOffice has one, free), Mathematica or Maple. See also SAGE, a very comprehensive math program (free) and Enthought’s Canopy package for Python, which includes Matplotlib and many other useful packages for scientific computation (there is a free version; look for Canopy Express in the Canopy web site).
- I am not the right person to tell you much about this, but the open-source application R (free of charge) is your friend here. Check out the “Programming” section of https://maxkasy.github.io/home/computationlinks/.
Proprietary versus open-source software
- You have free access to some proprietary software now via Temple, but you may have to pay for it once you graduate (so beware becoming locked into it by habit and accumulated code you will have created).
- Proprietary software is easier to learn than open source software, mostly. Recent Temple economics Ph.D. Scott Deacle’s advice: “I recommend using open source such as R and Python/Pylab from the start if your goal is to learn the latest econometric techniques and you think you might apply them in your career. If not, save yourself a lot of time and headaches and use pay-for software.”
- Open-source is powerful and shares in the open ethos of science.
- A search on Google is extremely likely to answer any question one may have on any open-source software program in the first link returned.
- Email (of course); use your Temple account.
- Google Docs (recently renamed Google Drive; web, free, can handle LaTeX files if you keep them as plain text). Your Temple email account also offers access to Google Docs. Some ability to handle equations.
- Zoho.com (alternative to Google Docs, web, free).
- As mentioned earlier, www.overleaf.com.