28 July 2011
Reviewed by Felix Grant
FlexPro has always been a data analysis product with notable differences from the market norm, deriving from a specific philosophy following purpose rather than fashion. This doesn’t change in release 9, which I have been evaluating in three live studies over the past couple of months. The most obvious difference remains, I am glad to say, as it has always been; the strongly database-oriented interface with clear data structuring and typing in defiance of the spreadsheet’s looser habits.
Other differences are less visible and may only come to light when you have need of them. For example, one of the changes in this version is an option to output complex numbers in either the existing (a;b) format or the new explicit (a+bi) alternative. This is a useful improvement in itself, but also a reminder that many data analysis packages do not natively handle complex quantities at all. Developments continue to be made within, and of, this environment. Search possibilities within the project database and its metadata have been further expanded, simplified and enriched, while linked object purpose can be ‘brushed’ with the mouse cursor for display in the hierarchy tree panel. This links to a host of transparency developments elsewhere, from expanded parameter access fields through point marker driven cursor animation to controllability of zoom synchronisations and template design.
In the actual statistical reach there is naturally the good spread of additions and enhancements to be expected in a full digit upgrade, supported by programming extensions and import/export options. Flexpro has always focused on analysis of process – its terminology reflecting that philosophy – and this version is no different: signal correction, digital filtration and event isolation, for instance, are amongst the enhanced features.
Capture of data is becoming possible from an ever-widening variety of sources, of which video is a particularly rich vein. FlexPro now absorbs any object format for which a Windows Media Player codec has been installed on the host system, and allows the locking together of reference systems (start time, frame rate) with other time series data. So, for example, video of the same event from two viewpoints (or different events over the same period of time) can be related to a set of measurements – in my test case, crowd flow along two different alternative routes against attrition on medical support facilities and amplitude of a simultaneous sound file. Frame by frame inspection (resolution being decided by frame rate) can be made of linkages between the time series data and developments across the video footage, or vice versa.
Intensive computations can gain considerable benefit from the new ability to distribute the object updating for parallel computation across either cores or processors. The value of this becomes clear where numerous analyses are being frequently updated, especially when several aspects of linked processes are being analysed in real-time with descriptors recalculated as each new piece of data comes in.
A big feature is the Unit Manager, which facilitates easy and reliable analysis of quantities, rather than just numerical values. Flexpro is measurement system aware, allowing cross usage of data from different sources. The basis is ISO8000 compliant through SI and ISQ definitions, but Flexpro will take in and handle the Gaussian and US units which are still widely used in so many contexts. In a world where expensive collaborative studies still occasionally founder on confusion between data in inches and millimetres, this is a very useful facility.