This is the first in a series of Q&As with the JMP development team as we approach the release of JMP 9 on Oct. 12.
Unless you go to events such as the Discovery Summit where attendees get to meet JMP developers in person, you probably know little about the people who create the software. In this series, you’ll get to read about some of them. And if you have questions for them that I didn’t ask, please post them as comments.
We begin the series with Xan Gregg, a Development Manager who focuses on data visualization and user interface. He has been with JMP for nine years, starting with JMP 4. You may have read his many engaging blog posts here in the JMP Blog.
And if you love the drag-and-drop platform we call Graph Builder, which debuted in JMP 8, you have Xan to thank for that – I like to call him the father of Graph Builder. The visualization below was created in Graph Builder.
Arati: What do you like about JMP?
Xan: Everything, of course! When I’m using JMP, I really value the transparency. My data is always right in front of me and not hidden by some abstraction.
Arati: Do you use JMP in your job or for personal projects? If so, how?
Xan: For development, I use JSL to automate various testing tasks, and I use JMP whenever I have data to look at, whether it’s defect counts or performance data.
Off hours, I’ve used JMP to analyze local election results, and I use it regularly in developing problems for Project Euler, which is a website of math and programming problems. The diagram for Problem 247 was created in JMP.
Arati: What are your favorite JMP features that you wish more people knew about and used?
Xan: Data mining experts will say 90 percent of the job is cleaning the data, and JMP is pretty good at that with features like recode, formula columns, regular expression searching and even scripting.
Another overlooked feature is graph customization, which is always improving. JMP’s specialty is making visualizations for discovery, but once you’ve settled on one you like, it’s good to take the time to customize it for the story you’re trying to tell. That is, use an appropriate color theme, title, line thickness, etc.
Arati: What’s new in JMP 9 in your area of focus?
Xan: I’ve worked on lots of new Graph Builder features, but my most prominent JMP 9 addition is the mapping support.
Arati: What was the reason for adding that to JMP? How will that be helpful to customers?
Xan: We’re seeing more and more data that is spatially oriented, and maps represent a natural way to visualize that data. Though not common in traditional analytics, mapping is something everyone can relate to and is popular enough that people expect to be able to make nice maps in their favorite visualization product, JMP. Besides the basic features like political boundaries and satellite imagery, we’ve tried to tackle some of the common shortcomings in most applications of mapping by including support for geodesic projections, richer color gradients and, of course, interactivity.
Arati: What’s most exciting to you as a developer?
Xan: Software development is very technical and often abstracted from the real world, so it’s especially rewarding to contribute to a product like JMP that gets used directly by real people to get real work done.
Arati: What book(s) are you reading right now?
Xan: I just finished Dan Ariely’s two books on irrationality, and now I’m in the middle of Howard Wainer’s Picturing the Uncertain World.
Arati: What do you like to do in your free time?
Xan: I’ve been playing Ultimate Frisbee since 1982. Back then, I was told I played like a dog – I was great at running, OK at catching and terrible at throwing. Now I can throw well, but my running has suffered. Luckily, there’s a lunch Ultimate game at SAS almost every day.
I also like to tie-dye clothing. It’s a good creative outlet and still has technical components with figuring out folding patterns and dye preparation.
Arati: Pick two (or more if you like) of the following to identify: your favorite programming language, favorite algorithm, favorite formula, favorite theorem or favorite software tool.
Xan: My favorite programming language is Forth, though I haven’t used it for real work in years. It’s a simple language but completely extensible, making it a great meta-programming language.
My favorite software tool is a Java IDE called Intellij IDEA. It was one of the first to support code refactoring and always seemed to magically know just what I wanted, which is an attribute that has inspired my work with JMP, especially the script editor and Graph Builder.