Archive for May, 2009

Little bonsai [day 12]

Posted in Kids with tags on May 31, 2009 by xi'an

BonsaiMy daughter is growing a bonsai from scratch and at least one of the seeds is taking on off. (The other seeds were set upside down by my son who pretended they were backward! But one seems to be recovering.) It is interesting to see the plant pushing the seed upwards until it falls. To be continued…

5k versus 50yrs

Posted in Running with tags , , on May 30, 2009 by xi'an

Darn, the tendons I mentioned in the previous post were just on hold and they made this clear after the third k. So I limped to the arrival line, loosing more than a few places to end up in 16:49, i.e. more than 30 seconds above the time of last year. As my friend Dominique Calassou told me a few minutes later, the incoming 50’s should make me more cautious about setting high goals as this kind of trouble is bound to happen more and more! The race was actually easier than in the past years because the uphill slope was hardly noticeable. The kilometers were however indicated in a fairly unpredictable way: I ran the first k in 3:54 and the second in 3:02, which is clearly impossible. The third k was done in 3:42, which seems plausible, and I ended the fourth k in 4:10, which is also possible given the limp… The most surprising thing is that I ended up 12th (out of 128), compared with 19th last year (out of 156). Anyway, I will have to take a long break now if I want to run the 5k in D.C. this August and the two half-marathons in the Fall…


Posted in Uncategorized on May 30, 2009 by xi'an


A passiflore (or passion vine) is growing in my garden and producing the weirdest flowers. It is just too bad those flowers are very short-lived but, given their intricate beauty, why complain?! (Reading the Wikipedia entry about those, I found that the name stems from Spanish missionaries in South America who found its unusual shape full of connections with Jesus’ last days…)

Real challenges

Posted in Statistics with tags , on May 29, 2009 by xi'an

There is an interesting article in New Scientist for those in search of real challenges! The paper lists eight groups of scripts that cannot be read (or more precisely understood). The depth of the paper is however quite limited, with a mention that the pre-Roman Etruscans were “a prehistoric civilisation”, which contradicts the very meaning of pre-historic since they had an alphabet…and the first sentence of the paper namely that writing “made history possible”. This issue of unreadable languages is an interesting problem mostly when the alphabet is known, because then you can start to think of building associations with other languages of the same era and area, provided enough material is available, as is the case for Etruscan, Linear A, and Meroitic (again described by the paper in a contradictory way as hieroglyphic, while being an alphabet). When the coding structure (script) itself is unknown, this seems to set an impossible challenge, especially in the case of isolated cultures like Easter Island rongo-rongo, where native knowledge has disappeared and all existing material (26 texts) is already recorded.

5k in sight

Posted in Running with tags , , on May 28, 2009 by xi'an

While I was doing my last serious training for the incoming local 5K race, I hurt myself last Monday. During the last 300m of the series, the tendons behind my right knee started to scream that enough was enough… (Those tendons have been sore since the Argentan half-marathon and the very reason why I did not do better in Boulogne.) I still ended up the 300m in 55:13 and the series with an average 56:66 but it hurt so much that I took a break for two days. This morning I had a test run of 45mn in the local park (where I saw four raucous green parakeets as well as two dog owners in a shouting contest, much to the shame of their placid dogs!) and it feels ok enough to contemplate running on Saturday night in around 16mn, like last year. This race has nothing special but is not easy either because of a long climb uphill on the second half of the track.

Ps—I have been training on a running track once or twice a week since early April with friends from the Insee Paris Club, running series from 300m (x15) to 1000m (x6), with an extra day of 2000m/16000m/1200m/800m/400m at a lower pace.

Comments on Theory of Probability revisited

Posted in Statistics on May 26, 2009 by xi'an

“…it would require that a procedure is dismissed because, when combined with information which it doesn’t require and which may not exist, it disagrees with a procedure that disagrees with itself.”

Stephen Senn just sent us his comments on the Statistical Science paper about Jeffreys’ Theory of Probability. Besides being awfully nice, these comments mostly focus on Laplace’s succession law which, as posted earlier, is an endless source for debate! Stephen notes the trick of keeping weights at the extremes, also exploited by Berger, Bernardo, and Sun. (For a change, black crows are substituted to black swans.)

Add-on to my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , on May 25, 2009 by xi'an

Although this is likely to be boring to most by now, here are a few more books I could not find on my bookcases but would have liked to add to my list of favourites,

  • Scott’s Ender’s game, a fascinating study on war as a videogame and incidentally about childhood;
  • Golding’s Lord of the Flies, another incredible delve into the core of human behaviour outside society, much more than about childhood. I do think William Golding used boys as allegories of humans because the quick reversal from civilization to animalism is more credible at that age;
  • Stevenson’s Kidnapped, another of my favourite books as a teenager;
  • Pears’ An Instance at the Fingerpost, a not so well-known tale of “everything”, including love, blood (transplant), politics, cyphers, Oxford, Cromwell, witches, and of course God! The core of the plot is reminding me of Borges’ Three versions of Judas…much more than Eco’s The Name of the Rose;
  • Paasilina’s Forest of the Hanging Foxes (which surprisingly does not seem to be translated into English), with a completely hilarious trio of unlikely characters in the Finn woods. The writer equivalent of Kaurismäki’s delirium!
  • Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz, a post-apocalyptic novel about mixing science with religion, and somehow exposing religion as a civilising cement in dark ages. As Scott’s Ender’s game, it goes beyond the [science-fiction] genre;
  • Rawicz’s The Long Walk, an incredible riveting tale of escape from Soviet goulag in Siberia all the way south to India, across the Gobi desert and the Himalayas. So incredible that it seems Rawicz did not told his story but someone else’s, as I just discovered. Of course, besides this possibility of being an hoax, the book has a rather poor style. But that someone (Rawicz? Glinski?) could cover 6000 kilometers under the most horrendous conditions with hardly any food and no equipement makes for an exceptional read!
  • Conrad’s The Secret Agent, for its psychological study of radical characters and above this its fundamental pessimistic views of the human nature. In a sense, it is connected to this other great novel, Dostoievski’s The Possessed, but the mundane details of Conrad’s book make me rank it higher ..
  • Dinesen’s Winter Tales, again maybe considered as a minor part of the World literature, but so hauntingly different from anything else;
  • Kipling’s Kim, certainly his best novel and a great depiction of Victorian India.