Archive for The New York Times

high spirits

Posted in Books, pictures, Wines with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by xi'an

no more car talk

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , on November 9, 2014 by xi'an

When I first came went to the US in 1987, I switched from listening to the French public radio to listening to NPR, the National Public Radio network. However, it was not until I met both George Casella and Bernhard Flury that I started listening to “Car Talk”, the Sunday morning talk-show by the Magliozzi brothers where listeners would call and expose their car problem and get jokes and sometime advice in reply. Both George and Bernhard were big fans of the show, much more for the unbelievable high spirits it provided than for any deep interest in mechanics. And indeed there was something of the spirit of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance in that show, namely that through mechanical issues, people would come to expose deeper worries that the Magliozzi brothers would help bring out, playing the role of garage-shack psychiatrists…Which made me listen to them, despite my complete lack of interest in car, mechanics and repair in general.

One of George’s moments of fame was when he wrote to the Magliozzi brothers about Monty Hall’s problem, because they had botched their explanation as to why one should always change door. And they read it on the air, with the line “Who is this Casella guy from Cornell University? A professor? A janitor?” since George had just signed George Casella, Cornell University. Besides, Bernhard was such a fan of the show that he taped every single morning show, that he would later replay on long car trips (I do not know how his familly enjoyed the exposure to the show, though!). And so happened to have this line about George on tape, that he sent him a few weeks later… I am reminiscing all this because I saw in the NYT today that the older brother, Tom Magliozzi, had just died. Some engines can alas not be fixed… But I am sure there will be a queue of former car addicts in some heavenly place eager to ask him their question about their favourite car. Thanks for the ride, Tom!

latest interviews on the philosophy of religion(s)

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2014 by xi'an

“But is the existence of God just a philosophical question, like, say, the definition of knowledge or the existence of Plato’s forms?” Gary Gutting, NYT

Although I stopped following The Stone‘s interviews of philosophers about their views on religion, six more took place and Gary Gutting has now closed the series he started a while ago with a self-interview. On this occasion, I went quickly through the last interviews, which had the same variability in depth and appeal as the earlier ones. A lot of them were somewhat misplaced in trying to understand or justify the reasons for believing in a god (a.k.a., God), which sounds more appropriate for a psychology or sociology perspective. I presume that what I was expecting from the series was more a “science vs. religion” debate, rather than entries into the metaphysics of various religions… Continue reading

Le Monde [short] guide to Vienna

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2014 by xi'an

An interesting (?) coincidence: Le Monde weekend edition has its tourist page dedicated to Vienna! As usual, it is a list of places recommended by a local, Le Vienne de Robert Stadler, which includes

Maybe a wee bit limited a scope (albeit the house designed by Wittgenstein sounds definitely worth the trip!). For a wider range of Vienna highlights for BAYSM 2014 participants, The New York Times offers 36 hours in Vienna. With apparently no intersection with the above list. (But the same imbalance towards restaurants and bars!)

the intelligent-life lottery

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by xi'an

monkey at Amber FortIn a theme connected with one argument in Dawkins’ The God Delusion, The New York Time just published a piece on the 20th anniversary of the debate between Carl Sagan and Ernst Mayr about the likelihood of the apparition of intelligent life. While 20 years ago, there was very little evidence if any of the existence of Earth-like planets, the current estimate is about 40 billions… The argument against the high likelihood of other inhabited planets is that the appearance of life on Earth is an accumulation of unlikely events. This is where the paper goes off-road and into the ditch, in my opinion, as it makes the comparison of the emergence of intelligent (at the level of human) life to be “as likely as if a Powerball winner kept buying tickets and — round after round — hit a bigger jackpot each time”. The later having a very clearly defined probability of occurring. Since “the chance of winning the grand prize is about one in 175 million”. The paper does not tell where the assessment of this probability can be found for the emergence of human life and I very much doubt it can be justified. Given the myriad of different species found throughout the history of evolution on Earth, some of which evolved and many more which vanished, I indeed find it hard to believe that evolution towards higher intelligence is the result of a basically zero probability event. As to conceive that similar levels of intelligence do exist on other planets, it also seems more likely than not that life took on average the same span to appear and to evolve and thus that other inhabited planets are equally missing means to communicate across galaxies. Or that the signals they managed to send earlier than us have yet to reach us. Or Earth a long time after the last form of intelligent life will have vanished…

Ebola virus [and Mr. Bayes]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on August 12, 2014 by xi'an

Just like after the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappearance, the current Ebola virus outbreak makes me feel we are sorely missing an emergency statistical force to react on urgent issues… It would indeed be quite valuable to have a team of statisticians at the ready to quantify risks and posterior probabilities and avoid media approximations. The situations calling for this reactive force abound. A few days ago I was reading about the unknown number of missing pro-West activists in Eastern Ukraine. Maybe statistical societies could join forces to set such an emergency team?! Whose goals are somewhat different from the great Statistics without Borders

As a side remark, the above philogeny is taken from Dudas and Rambaut’s recent paper in PLOS reassessing the family tree of the current Ebola virus(es) acting in Guinea. The tree is found using MrBayes, which delivers a posterior probability of 1 to this filiation! And concluding “that the rooting of this clade using the very divergent other ebolavirus species is very problematic.”

modern cosmology as a refutation of theism

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2014 by xi'an

Central Park, New York, Sep. 25, 2011

While I thought the series run by The Stone on the philosophy [or lack thereof] of religions was over, it seems there are more entries.  This week, I read with great pleasure the piece written by Tim Maudlin on the role played by recent results in (scientific) cosmology in refuting theist arguments.

“No one looking at the vast extent of the universe and the completely random location of homo sapiens within it (in both space and time) could seriously maintain that the whole thing was intentionally created for us.” T. Maudlin

What I particularly liked in his arguments is the role played by randomness, with an accumulation of evidence of the random nature and location of Earth and human beings, which and who appear more and more at the margins of the Universe rather than the main reason for its existence. And his clear rejection of the argument of fine-tuned cosmological constants as an argument in favour of the existence of a watchmaker. (Argument that was also deconstructed in Seber’s book.) And obviously his final paragraph that “Atheism is the default position in any scientific inquiry”. This may be the strongest entry in the whole series.

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