Fun with R

I have been playing around with R the last few days.  This is an open source mathematics software that comes with Linux systems.  It is a bit esoteric; it is a command prompt program (meaning that there is no graphical user interface) and the syntax is a bit odd, so it is nowhere near intuitive to use.  However, I find the process of figuring out such systems quite satisfying.  I have similar feelings toward psychological research; there is certainly a feeling of empowerment that develops from discovering real patterns in experimental data.  Philosophy is far less concrete; you can run in circles all day without discovering anything.  However, when you find effects from empirical studies, there is no doubt (as long as there were proper controls) that the results reflect some sort of real difference between the conditions.  Though, of course, the proper interpretation of that data can be far less clear.  And it is also quite nice to figure out how to use technology to model empirical data.  Too bad I’m not all that talented at it…

A couple days of geek

I’m trying it again. A couple years ago I experienced that slight naiveté of the intermediate windows user; I thought I could throw aside the windows that seem so confining. I tried to give them up entirely and instead use Linux. Ubuntu seemed to be an opportunity for just such a freedom; it beckoned as only open source can to someone who hates commercialism.

However, it was not meant to be.

I tried to dual boot it with XP on my main desktop, which had the side effect of making boot times longer. There were problems; I tried out the 64bit version of Ubuntu (may as well use those extra bits!) but flash didn’t work in 64bit Firefox (and it still doesn’t!) so I had to get help from a computer savvy friend in order to get flash videos to work. I don’t want to list all the problems, but they were there, and to top it off, OpenOffice 2 wasn’t quite as good as my copy of Office XP. Sometimes freedom is quite frightening, after all. Mistakes were made, and I eventually found myself not logging into Ubuntu as often as I had planned. Finally, when I got a new desktop I only installed XP.

But perhaps things will now be different.

I’ve formatted my laptop’s hard drive (a Dell Inspiron 600m from 2004 that is still going strong) and Ubuntu 8.10 is now its only operating system. So far, I am quite impressed. Installation was a snap, the open source drivers seem to work quite well, and OpenOffice 3 has improved enough so that I don’t even miss that copy of Office XP that now only exists on a CD. Though, I don’t think Ubuntu has changed all that much; mostly I think I’m making a more realistic choice of how I’m going to use it. My laptop is primarily for ‘work’ (words and data) and isn’t my primary computer. I’ll still be able to use all those unsupported (and sort-of supported) devices on my XP desktop; and, of course, the desktop will be able to play video games. I’m also a bit excited about learning more about R, the free statistical software, as SPSS is such a farce.

I’m sure glad all those programmers spent time making me free software!

I hope to post some potentially interesting things here….

This is my new blog and, although I don’t expect many to read it, I hope some find it interesting.  First it might be helpful to give you some information about myself…

Googling my name won’t help much.  Your more likely to come up with a rather prominent German pain researcher.  I have done some research in visual perception at UW-Madison but I’m pretty much at the beginning of my life/career therefore the web has little to say about my existence.  For the time being I’m an employee of the psychology department here in Madison, working in the visual perception laboratory of Prof. Rick Cai.  This means that I’m quite interested in the entire puzzle of perception.  However, the more work I’ve done in psychology, the more I’ve realized that I’ll probably end up doing PhD work in philosophy instead; it takes a certain attitude to do intensive studies in an empirical science…because getting data really is quite a pain.  So although I greatly appreciate those who do enjoy doing the empirical thing, I’m not sure it is something I would like to do for the rest of my life.

I will likely comment soon enough on some of my philosophical views, though they are mostly skeptical in nature.  I recognize that it is a bit cheap to mostly be a critic but it all sort of goes along with a general principal that I’ve favored lately; the world is a really strange and confusing place so if you think you have a theory about it, you are likely wrong.  This goes along with another general thought which I favor; don’t be a jerk about your views because you’re probably wrong.  I am by no means saying that we can know nothing, or that science is a waste of time; I simply think we should be humble with our views, lest we turn into….. well…. jerks.