Archive for Amazon

Den of thieves [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , on April 20, 2014 by xi'an

Last month, I ordered several books on amazon,  taking advantage of my amazon associate gains, and some of them were suggested by amazon algorithms based on my recent history. As I had recently read books involving thieves (like Giant Thief, or Broken Blade and the subsequent books), a lot of titles involved thieves or thievery related names… I picked Den of Thieves mainly for its cover as I did not know the author and the story sounded rather common. When I started reading the book, the story got more and more common, pertaining more to an extended Dungeons & Dragons scenario than to a genuine book! The theme of a bright young thief emerging from the gritty underworld of a close city has been over and over exploited in the fantasy literature, the best (?) example being The lies of Locke Lamora. (Whose third volume, The Republic of Thieves, is in my bag for Reykjavik!) This time, the thief does not appear particularly bright, except at times when he starts philosophy-sing with extremely dangerous enemies!, and the way he eventually overcomes insanely unbalanced odds is just too much. Most characters in the novel are not particularly engaging and way too much caricaturesque from the terribly evil sorcerer cavorting with she-demons to the rigid knight sticking to an idealistic vision of the world where ‘honour” and the code of chivalry is the solution to all problems. It is not even in the slightest sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek as the many novels by David Eddings and the main characters are mostly humourless. I wonder why the book did not get better edited as the weaknesses are very easy to spot! A good example where amazon software failed to make a worthy recommendation!

Clockers [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2014 by xi'an

Throughout my recent trip to Canada, I read bits and pieces of Clockers by Richard Price and I finished reading it last Sunday. It is an impressive piece of literature and I am surprised I was not aware of its existence until amazon.com suggested it to me (as I was checking for recent books by another Richard, Richard Morgan!). Guessing from the summary it could be of interest and from comments it was sort of a classic, I ordered it more or less on a whim (given a comfortable balance on my amazon.com account, thanks to ‘Og’s readers!) It took me a few pages to realise the plot was deeply set in the 1990′s, not only because this was the high of the crack epidemics, but also since the characters (drug dealers and policemen) therein are all using beepers, instead of cellphones, and street phone booths).

“It’s like a math problem. Juan got whacked at point X, he drove away losing blood at the rate of a pint every ninety seconds. He was driving forty-five miles an hour and he bought the farm two miles inside the tunnel (…) So for ten points, [who] in what New Jersey town did Juan?” Clockers (p.272)

The plot of Clockers is vaguely a detective story as an aging and depressed homicide officer, Rosso, hunts the murderer of a drug dealer, being convinced from the start that the self-declared murderer Victor did not do it. In parallel, and somewhat more closely, the book follows the miserable plight and thoughts and desires of Victor’s brother, Strike, who is head of a local crack dealing network, under the domination of the charismatic and berserk Rodney Little… But the resolution of the crime matters very little, much less than the exposure of the deadly economics of the drug traffic in inner cities (years before Freakonomics!), of the constant fight of single mothers to bring food and structure to their dysfunctional families, to the widespread recourse to moonlighting, and above all to the almost physical impossibility to escape one’s environment (even for smart and decent kids like Victor and, paradoxically enough, the drug-dealing Strike) by lack of prospect and exposure to anything or anywhere else, as well as social pressure, early pregnancies and gang-related micro-partitioning of cities.

When I mentioned Clockers to Andrew, he told me that he also liked it very much but that the characters were not quite “real”. I somewhat agree in that, while the economics, the sociology and the practice of drug-dealing sound very accurately reproduced (for all I know!), the characters are more caricaturesque or picturesque than natural. The stomach disease of Strike sounds too much like an allegory of both his schizophrenic split between running the drug trade and looking for a definitive quit, while the sacrifice of his brother makes little sense, except as a form either of suicide or of escape from an environment he can no longer stand. What is most surprising is that Richard Price (just like Michael Crichton) is  a practised screenwriter (who collaborated to Spike Lee’s 1995 Clockers). So he knows how to run an efficient story with convincing characters and plot(s). Hence my little theory of a picaresque novel… (Here is Jim Shepard’s enthusiastic review of Clockers. With the definitely accurate title of “Sympathy for the dealer”.)

amazonly associated thanks (& warnin’)

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by xi'an

Following a now well-established pattern, let me (re)warn (the few) unwary ‘Og readers that the links to Amazon.com and to Amazon.fr found on this blog are actually susceptible to earn me a monetary gain [from 4% to 8% on the sales] if a purchase is made by the reader in the 24 hours following the entry on Amazon through this link, thanks to the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com/fr. Unlike the pattern of last year, and of the year before last, the mostly purchased item through the links happens to be related to a blog post, since it is Andrew’s book, with 318 copies of its third edition sold through the ‘Og last month! Here are some of the most exotic purchases:

As usual the books I actually reviewed along the past months, positively or negatively, were among the top purchases… Like two dozen copies of The BUGS book. And a dozen of R for dummies. And even a few of The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics. (Despite a most critical review.) Thanks to all of you using those links (for feeding further my book addiction, books that now eventually end up in the math common room in Dauphine or Warwick, once I have read them)!

machine learning as buzzword

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on November 12, 2013 by xi'an

In one of his posts, my friend Larry mentioned that popular posts had to mention the Bayes/frequentist opposition in the title… I think mentioning machine learning is also a good buzzword to increase the traffic! I did spot this phenomenon last week when publishing my review of Kevin Murphy’s Machine Learning: the number of views and visitors jumped by at least a half, exceeding the (admittedly modest) 1000 bar on two consecutive days. Interestingly, the number of copies of Machine Learning (sold via my amazon associate link) did not follow this trend: so far, I only spotted a few copies sold, in similar amounts to the number of copies of Spatio-temporal Statistics I reviewed the week before. Or most books I review, positively or negatively! (However, I did spot a correlated increase in overall amazon associate orderings and brazenly attributed the command of a Lego robotic set to a “machine learner”! And as of yesterday Og‘s readers massively ordered 152 236 copies of the latest edition of Andrew’s Bayesian Data Analysis, Thanks!)

camera miracles: once, not thrice!

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by xi'an

As if a thumb was not enough, I lost the “new” Canon Ixus 115 H5 I bought in replacement of the (mediocre) Nikon Coolpix I lost on Ben Nevis (the title refer to the miracle mentioned in a post in February 2013, when I almost lost my (Nikon Coolpix L26) camera to the cloaca maxima, in Roma). This happened in the park on Sunday morning when I took it in my raincoat pocket to capture the serene heron standing card at the end of the grand canal… The camera somehow fell from my pocket without me realising it (of course), presumably falling on soft ground and I only discovered it had happened five or six minutes later, when I stood next to the heron. I retraced my steps back but, even at 7:30 a Sunday morning, there was enough traffic for a runner to find it before me. (Maybe he had no gift ready for mother day!) It was not such a great camera and on its trip to Chamonix last X’mas with my daughter it had decided to host a small fungus that lived right on the lens, making zooming close to impossible. (The same thing had happened with the Nikon Coolpix the year before after falling in the snow during my X’mas ski trip.) Just a wee (bit ?) annoying… (Latest picture from the Canon Ixus to come on Sunday!)

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