Archive for the Mountains Category

the luminaries [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2015 by xi'an

I bought this book by Eleanor Catton on my trip to Pittsburgh and Toronto in 2013 (thanks to Amazon associates’ gains!), mostly by chance (and also because it was the most recent Man Booker Prize). After a few sleepless nights last week (when I should not have been suffering from New York jet lag!, given my sleeping pattern when abroad), I went through this rather intellectual and somewhat contrived mystery. To keep with tradition (!), the cover was puzzling me until I realised those were phases of the moon, in line with [spoiler!] the zodiacal underlying pattern of the novel, pattern I did not even try to follow for it sounded so artificial. And presumably restricted the flow of the story by imposing further constraints on the characters’ interactions.

The novel has redeeming features, even though I am rather bemused at it getting a Man Booker Prize. (When compared with, say, The Remains of the Day…) For one thing, while a gold rush story of the 1860’s, it takes place on the South Island of New Zealand instead of Klondike, around the Hokitika gold-field, on the West Coast, with mentions of places that brings memory of our summer (well, winter!) visit to Christchurch in 2006… The mix of cultures between English settlers, Maoris, and Chinese migrants, is well-documented and information, if rather heavy at times, bordering on the info-dump, and a central character like the Maori Te Rau Tauwhare sounds caricaturesque. The fact that the story takes place in Victorian times call Dickens to mind, but I find very little connection in either style or structure, nor with Victorian contemporaries like Wilkie Collins, and Victorian pastiches like Charles Palliser‘s Quincunx…. Nothing of the sanctimonious and moral elevation and subtle irony one could expect from a Victorian novel!

While a murder mystery, the plot is fairly upside down (or down under?!): the (spoiler!) assumed victim is missing for most of the novel, the (spoiler!) extracted gold is not apparently stolen but rather lacks owner(s), and the most moral character of the story ends up being the local prostitute. The central notion of the twelve men in a council each bringing a new light on the disappearance of Emery Staines is a neat if not that innovative literary trick but twelve is a large number which means following many threads, some being dead-ends, to gather an appearance of a view on the whole story. As in Rashomon, one finishes the story with a deep misgiving as to who did what, after so many incomplete and biased accountings. Unlike Rashomon, it alas takes forever to reach this point!

thumbleweed [no] news

Posted in Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by xi'an

Just realised today is the second year since my climbing accident and the loss of my right thumb. Even less to say than last anniversary: while it seems almost impossible not to think about it, the handicap is quite minimal. (Actually, the only time I truly forgot about it was when I was ice-climbing in Scotland this January, the difficulty of the [first] climb meaning I had to concentrate on more immediate issues!) Teaching on the blackboard is fine when I use a chalk holder, I just bought a new bike with the easiest change of gears, and except for lacing my running shoes every morning, most chores do not take longer and, as Andrew pointed out in his March+April madness tornament, I can now get away with some missing-body-part jokes!

MCMskv, Lenzerheide, Jan. 5-7, 2016

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2015 by xi'an

moonriseFollowing the highly successful [authorised opinion!, from objective sources] MCMski IV, in Chamonix last year, the BayesComp section of ISBA has decided in favour of a two-year period, which means the great item of news that next year we will meet again for MCMski V [or MCMskv for short], this time on the snowy slopes of the Swiss town of Lenzerheide, south of Zürich. The committees are headed by the indefatigable Antonietta Mira and Mark Girolami. The plenary speakers have already been contacted and Steve Scott (Google), Steve Fienberg (CMU), David Dunson (Duke), Krys Latuszynski (Warwick), and Tony Lelièvre (Mines, Paris), have agreed to talk. Similarly, the nine invited sessions have been selected and will include Hamiltonian Monte Carlo,  Algorithms for Intractable Problems (ABC included!), Theory of (Ultra)High-Dimensional Bayesian Computation, Bayesian NonParametrics, Bayesian Econometrics,  Quasi Monte Carlo, Statistics of Deep Learning, Uncertainty Quantification in Mathematical Models, and Biostatistics. There will be afternoon tutorials, including a practical session from the Stan team, tutorials for which call is open, poster sessions, a conference dinner at which we will be entertained by the unstoppable Imposteriors. The Richard Tweedie ski race is back as well, with a pair of Blossom skis for the winner!

As in Chamonix, there will be parallel sessions and hence the scientific committee has issued a call for proposals to organise contributed sessions, tutorials and the presentation of posters on particularly timely and exciting areas of research relevant and of current interest to Bayesian Computation. All proposals should be sent to Mark Girolami directly by May the 4th (be with him!).

Domaine de Mortiès [in the New York Times]

Posted in Mountains, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2015 by xi'an

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“I’m not sure how we found Domaine de Mortiès, an organic winery at the foothills of Pic St. Loup, but it was the kind of unplanned, delightful discovery our previous trips to Montpellier never allowed.”

Last year,  I had the opportunity to visit and sample (!) from Domaine de Mortiès, an organic Pic Saint-Loup vineyard and winemaker. I have not yet opened the bottle of Jamais Content I bought then. Today I spotted in The New York Times a travel article on A visit to the in-laws in Montpellier that takes the author to Domaine de Mortiès, Pic Saint-Loup, Saint-Guilhem-du-Désert and other nice places, away from the overcrowded centre of town and the rather bland beach-town of Carnon, where she usually stays when visiting. And where we almost finished our Bayesian Essentials with R! To quote from the article, “Montpellier, France’s eighth-largest city, is blessed with a Mediterranean sun and a beautiful, walkable historic centre, a tourist destination in its own right, but because it is my husband’s home city, a trip there never felt like a vacation to me.” And when the author mentions the owner of Domaine de Mortiès, she states that “Mme. Moustiés looked about as enthused as a teenager working the checkout at Rite Aid”, which is not how I remember her from last year. Anyway, it is fun to see that visitors from New York City can unexpectedly come upon this excellent vineyard!

ice-climbing Niagara Falls

Posted in Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , on March 1, 2015 by xi'an

I had missed these news that a frozen portion of the Niagara Falls had been ice-climbed. By Will Gadd on Jan. 27. This is obviously quite impressive given the weird and dangerous nature of the ice there, which is mostly frozen foam from the nearby waterfall. (I once climbed an easy route on such ice at the Chutes Montmorency, near Québec City, and it felt quite strange…) He even had a special ice hook designed for that climb as he did not trust the usual ice screws. Will Gadd has however climbed much more difficult routes like Helmcken Falls in British Columbia, which may be the hardest mixed route in the World!

steps

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , on February 20, 2015 by xi'an

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sunset on the Krkonošská magistrála [#2]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2015 by xi'an

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