Archive for November, 2009

Food stamps in the US

Posted in Statistics with tags , , on November 30, 2009 by xi'an

There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps” The New York Times

An impressive map and report in The New York Times yesterday about the food stamp usage across counties. About one child out of four gets some support through food stamps in the Us. Note that the highest figures about changes (300%) cover counties with low percentages of food stamp support.

Ps-Andrew Gelman also pointed out (this afternoon) to a further entry on these disturbing statistics.

The latest “Blake et Mortimer”

Posted in Books with tags , , on November 29, 2009 by xi'an

For those who have never read “The Yellow M” or “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid” by Edgar P. Jacobs, the following item of news is not particularly relevant: a new volume of the Blake and Mortimer series has appeared, called “La Malédiction des Trente Deniers”.

The series  of Blake and Mortimer was started in 1947 by Edgar P. Jacobs, an earlier collaborator of Hergé. He wrote and drew the eight original volumes of the series. Both the drawing style and the plots of some of these graphical novels are superb, including the above and “The Secret of the Espadon” (“The Yellow M” being in my opinion Jacobs’ ultimate realisation). Written and set in the 50’s, these novels are much more political that Hergé’s Tintin series, reflecting on the cold war atmosphere of the time and on the threat to (European) civilisation of mad scientists in a post-nuclear world. The fond depiction of an “Olde England” that is almost caricatural at times is also an enjoyable part of the novels. The longing for a British Empire that was quickly disappearing while the novels were written is obviously accompanied by an ethno-centrism that verges on racism and xenophobia at times. The World cannot be saved but by cultivated anglo-saxon men! (Characteristically, there is no female central character in the series… One [lame] explanation is that, the series being published in a kid magazine, Le Journal de Tintin, the editors were afraid of Belgian censorship if they included attractive  intelligent women!!) His attempts at science-fiction were less convincing, even though the drawings of “Time Trap” are also superb (in particular, the surroundings of La Roche-Guyon). Continue reading

La Recherche on current mathematics

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , on November 28, 2009 by xi'an

“Perrette asked why statistics did not have a category, and Mr Ruche said  he had decided that, as statistics dealt with specifics, it was too empirical to be a section of maths.” Denis Guedj, The Parrot’s Theorem

In November, La Recherche (also) published a special issue on the power of mathematics. While this issue contains a load of interesting papers on the various facets of current mathematics, some of which being edited reprints of earlier papers, and includes a good interview of Wendelin Werner, I find it quite significant that none of those papers ever mentions statistics! It sounds as if statistics was not part of mathematics for the editors of this issue, especially when considering the section on the applications of mathematics that includes character recognition and computer intensive methods. I understand that Gödel’s theorem and the theory of proofs may be more appealing to the layman than machine learning or bootstrap, but I still resent this exclusion from the mathematical “pantheon”! (Ironically, or not!, one of the few statistics books included in the bibliography is Py’s “Statistiques sans formules mathematiques“!) This reminds me of the exclusion of statistics from the field of mathematics by the writer/journalist Denis Guedj in his otherwise captivating The Parrot’s Theorem!

A Madrid hotel for statisticians only

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , on November 27, 2009 by xi'an

Actually, this is a building close to the Plaza des los Cortes. not an hotel…

Tomaz Humar

Posted in Mountains with tags , on November 26, 2009 by xi'an

After several borderline solo ascents of incredibly difficult routes in the Himalayas, Tomas Humar died last week during another solo attempt, on the  Langtang Lirung, from the consequences of a fall and a delayed rescue operation. In 2005, he was somehow miraculously rescued from the slopes of the Rupal flank of Nanga Parbat by a Pakistanian army helicopter flying at the boundaries of its possibilities.

Following Messner‘s lead, Humar favoured a light-and-fast climbing style which allowed for faster climbs but left him open to difficulties in the case of bad weather. Here is a picture of the contents of his backpack from the 2005 Nanga Parbat expedition that shows how light he climbed!


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