27 June 2010

Weekend Roundup, 26-27 June 2010

This Weekend: Quantmod for R (in honor of my Dad); Rosenbaum on Barton Fink; Wilkins on God and (or vs?) Evolution; the victims of Vesuvius didn't suffocate, they cooked instantly in the pyroclastic flow; famous people with face blindness; fMRIs and distorted body image; the history of psychiatric attitudes to homosexuality; Oscar the bionic cat; cat weightlifting (by non-bionic cats); the evolution of Mitch.

Another one for my Dad, following his birthday on 17 June and Father's Day last Sunday:  Quantmod (a "Quantitative Financial Modelling & Trading Framework for R"), a great stock-charting package for my favorite free statistical package and programming language, R (which, for those of you who don't know, is based on S, which ain't free). I found out about Quantmod from this post at R bloggers.

Very easy to download, install, and use, even for dummies (like me) who know next to nothing about technical stock charting. I produced the following within 3 minutes (I used IBM as an example just to show that I wasn't simply copying the APPL chart in the blog post):

 (You can click on the images to view them at a larger size.)

Dig those Bollinger Bands.

And here is the sum total of the session that was required to produce this and a similar chart for APPL:

Just for starters, Quantmod can also chart the following: Welles Wilder's Directional Movement Indicator, Double Exponential Moving Average, Exponential Moving Average, Simple Moving Average, Parabolic Stop and Reverse, Exponential Volume Weighted Moving Average, Moving Average Convergence Divergence, Triple Smoothed Exponential Oscillator, Weighted Moving Average, and ZLEMA.

And that's just the trend indicators.  There are also a variety of indicators for volatility (such as the Bollinger Bands), momentum, and volume.

So Dad, just send me ticker symbols for some of the stocks you want charted....

Jonathan Rosenbaum has just posted his 1991 review of the Coen brothers' Barton Fink, originally written for the Chicago Reader. Rosenbaum, at least at that time, was not a great fan of the Coens, and he explains why he walked out of Blood Simple (which I haven't yet seen), and wasn't that keen on Raising Arizona or Miller's Crossing (which I liked rather more than he does). But I find Rosenbaum always worth reading, even when he challenges what I think I like.  I don't know Barton Fink well (which comes from having seen various fractions of it on TV; I've yet to watch it straight through on DVD). But in retrospect it seems odd for Rosenbaum to describe as "provocative" Todd McCarthy's suggestion in Variety at the time the movie came out that Charlie (the John Goodman character) exists only in Barton's mind.  That was the way I read the film the first time (and the second) I saw it, without any prompts from critics.

As the Coens have continued to show, they are at least attempting to make movies that are in some kind of dialogue with the traditions of film as art. Not something one can say about most of the product-placement-and-related-merchandising-oriented pablum that is coming out of Hollywood these days.  (I mean, seriously, which film are you likely to want to revisit: Barton Fink or Avatar?)

At any rate, I'm looking forward to A Serious Man, which I have not yet seen.


Normally I studiously avoid paying any attention to arguments over the relationship between science and religion, which seem to me to consist almost entirely of apologists talking only to each other, and anti-accommodationists complaining about it. Both groups seem tediously agenda-driven. Not interesting.

However, John Wilkins—from whose blog Evolving Thoughts I learned that there is such a thing as the philosophy of biology (a field I think I could well have gone into in another life....but I'm doing the best I can in this one)—has a typically thoughtful and intellectually rigorous post on "God and evolution," examining the necessary underpinnings for any reconciliation of the two. This post is the beginning of a series, and I intend to follow it closely.

As those of you who read this blog closely know, I don't think the notion of "God" can be saved (see, for example, my comments here on the incoherence of the concept of God). But if anyone could change my mind on this, it would likely be Wilkins (who is a professed agnostic).  And even if I don't change my mind on the incoherence of the concept (and I don't expect that I will), his take on the question will be worth reading.

I confess I don't really understand Alice Bell's point in her post at guardian.co.uk, "Citizen science still needs specialism." Perhaps someone can explain it to me?  Does she think that not all scientific data should be publicly available because some non-specialists might misinterpret it?  And I'm not really persuaded that she reads a lot of science blogs.... Quite a few of these people do know what they're talking about.  In fact, quite a few of them are even (gasp) scientists.

From Greg Laden's blog (via io9), a summary of a new study of how people died in the Plinean eruption of Vesuvius (the one that covered Pompeii and Herculaneum. Bottom line: they didn't suffocate. They were instantly cooked by the pyroclastic flow.

The article is Open Access at PLoS One. It is Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, et al. (2010), "Lethal Thermal Impact at Periphery of Pyroclastic Surges: Evidences at Pompeii."

Haven't read it yet, but judging by the quotations from it in Laden's summary, PLoS One could use an extra editor to help them turn papers by non-native English speakers into English. Hey guys, I'm available.

CognitiveNeuroPsycho Stuff

Vaughan at Mind Hacks points to a stupendously fascinating podcast (which can also be listened to online) at RadioLab of an interview at the recent World Science Festival with two prominent sufferers from "face blindness" (prosopagnosia): neurologist Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close. I hadn't known that either suffered from this condition; Chuck Close is, of course, the artist most widely known for his hyper-photographically detailed portraits of people's faces. As he explains, his method of portraiture developed as a way of "fixing" faces (keeping them from being mobile) so that he could memorize their details.

Vaughan's post is also excellent, providing some helpful background on prosopagnosia. He mentions the "Thatcher effect," an illusion in which all normal humans (and rhesus monkeys, for that matter) cannot recognize changes to the eyes and mouth of the image of a face that is upside down, even thought the changes make the face look bizarre when the image is looked at in normal orientation. (The illustrations of this effect in the Wikipedia article are particularly vivid; I'll let you go look at the article, rather than spoiling it for you by reproducing them here.)

The "Thatcher effect" became so called because it was first noted in a 1980 article in Perception (freely available here) by P. Thompson, "Margaret Thatcher: A new illusion."  It's a pity that the name stuck, because I'm sure we can think of a lot of other good uses for the term "Thatcher effect."

There is an online version of a face recognition test similar to the one given to the audience at the World Science Festival here. Surprising how disorienting it can be looking at familiar faces when their hairdos are removed.

This looks like an interesting new article in Nature Neuroscience, with possible relevance to music cognition and performance:
Mehrdad Jazayeri and Michael N. Shadlen (2010), "Temporal context calibrates interval timing."
The abstract is here. Astonishingly, the article seems (for now) to be free for download. Since I was expecting it wouldn't be, I haven't read it yet.

I pass on without detailed critique what seems to me a rather weak post by Jennifer Gibson at Brain Blogger on fMRI evidence of distorted body image in women. Gibson is referring, in part, to a new study, T. Owens et al. (2010), "An fMRI study of self-reflection about body image: Sex differences," in Personality and Individual Differences. The abstract is here; the article (which is 6 pages) is behind a paywall at ScienceDirect, and costs $31.50.

Neurotopia has a slightly whacked but perhaps informative post on "What does that MRI signal MEAN, anyway?"

Let me know.  My eyes tended to glaze over at the first sign of whackiness.  Is the prospect of mind control really all that amusing?

Romeo Vitelli at Providentia has posted the first in a series on the history of psychiatric attitudes toward homosexuality (not a pretty history). The first section seems a bit thin and Eurocentric in its historical take on cultural attitudes toward homosexuality (there is now a good literature on this history, which I'm guessing Vitelli hasn't read).  But the survey of medical and psychiatric attitudes in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries is useful.

Kitty Korner

Apparently my descent into kitty kuteness during my week with Zeus the Magnificent and Miss Lucy led some of my readers to expect that cattiness (well, that sort of cattiness, anyway) was going to be a regular feature of this blog. And it's true that at the Theodore Parker Church yard sale yesterday, I was very tempted to buy (and secretly regret that I didn't) a plate with a kute kitten painting that was so kitschy that if Jeff Koons had painted it, it would have been worth at least $100,000. Truly, it was a masterpiece of kitsch. (And I could have had it for 75 cents....)

But I was going to hold fast against the temptations of kitty kuteness on the blog....until.....

Oscar, the 3-year-old cat with bionic back legs (via BoingBoing via via via):

And now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, we can turn our attention to the much more subtle and interesting sport of Cat Weightlifting (via io9):


Eons Of Darwinian Evolution Somehow Produce Mitch. 

Scientists are baffled (but Creationists are also distancing themselves).  

The Onion reports.
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