Plotters that do what you want

October 6, 2010

I have finally written up my thoughts on plotting packages, but its a bit long .. so I am going to do it in installments …

Just over a year ago I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) about looking for calculators that hit a sweet spot between laborious button-pushing GUI and full blown programming – something where you just type calculations, bring them back and edit them, save a few named variables and constants, maybe a few basic user-defined functions.  I ended up sticking with Python, but also found Gnuplot to be excellent for this purpose. I also really liked two Mac apps – PEMDAS and Speedcrunch –  that cleverly combine GUI and plain command line window interfaces. (Speedcrunch is available for Windows and Linux too.) These were both really nice but had significant gaps, being at an early stage of development. I had hoped by now that they would have progressed significantly, but in fact over a year later they still seem to be at the same version numbers – 0.2.4 and 0.10.1 respectively. (Speedcrunch has a version 0.11 alpha, but still no function definition…) I hope they get a kick start soon.


So what about scientific plotters ? There is a similar choice. You can cook your own, by using libraries of routines inside your own C programs etc, or you can go for a button driven GUI. But the former is often overkill, and the latter tends to be awfully laborious. What you really want most of the time is just a window where you can type “plot sin(x)/x” or whatever, or “read datafile” and “plot col2 vs col6″ etc. Then you can tart up the plot as much as you like with commands that set xmin and xmax, number of ticks etc. And finally of course you save all these commands in a script you can run and edit. So now all the oldies are saying “thats MONGO, man” and the kids are saying “thats Gnuplot, dude”. But after searching the interweb for a while I found some other really interesting possibilities. I am pleased to tell you that my two favourites are both written by Cambridge astronomers – Veusz and Pyxplot. Must be something they put in the East Anglian water. But lets work up towards these. Its going to be helpful to break this into sections :

  1. Mathematical Environments
  2. Plot Libraries
  3. Equation Graphers
  4. GUI plotters
  5. Script plotters

Tomorrow I will have a brief look at parts 1-3, and then a slightly more extensive look at parts 4 and 5 on following days (note vagueness regarding interval..)