Archive for the Travel Category

art brut [no!]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2019 by xi'an

ENSEA & CISEA 2019

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2019 by xi'an

I found my (short) trip to Abdijan for the CISEA 2019 conference quite fantastic as it allowed me to meet with old friends, from the earliest days at CREST and even before, and to meet new ones. Including local students of ENSEA who had taken a Bayesian course out of my Bayesian Choice book. And who had questions about the nature of priors and the difficulty they had in accepting that several replies were possible with the same data! I wish I had had more time to discuss the relativity of Bayesian statements with them but this was a great and rare opportunity to find avid readers of my books! I also had a long chat with another student worried about the use or mis-use of reversible jump algorithms to draw inference  on time-series models in Bayesian Essentials, chat that actually demonstrated his perfect understanding of the matter. And it was fabulous to meet so many statisticians and econometricians from West Africa, most of them French-speaking. My only regret is not having any free time to visit Abidjan or the neighbourhood as the schedule of the conference did not allow for it [or even for a timely posting of a post!], especially as it regularly ran overtime. (But it did provide for a wide range of new local dishes that I definitely enjoyed tasting!) We are now discussing further opportunities to visit there, e.g. by teaching a short course at the Master or PhD levels.

A la Bienale di Venezia

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2019 by xi'an

Taking advantage of staying in Venezia over the weekend, we went to the huge international contemporary art exhibit located all over the city but mostly in the Arsenale and in the gardens. This was quite impressive in terms of diversity and style, of course, although the general feeling was rather bleak, centering on pollution and apocalyptic themes. The particularly ugly French exhibit was for instance a highly polluted sea surface, made of glass and only accessible by going around piles of gravel in the basement of the pavilion. Most exhibits also involved videos, often not making much sense, and comparatively few paintings or photographs. Within this depressing catalogue, a few beautiful highlights from my own perspective. One was a construct of several thousands shell-like objects, sculpted from sheep leather by Zahrah Al Ghamdi, a female Saudi Arabia artist Another one, representing Ghana, by the artists El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama, recycled aluminum stickers into huge maps, reminding me of the recycled maps in Munbai airport.Yet another one, difficult to catch, was a huge construct from the Philippines by Mark Justiniani, made of glass that gave an impression of infinite depth and again recycled different objects into wells, reminding me of the automated art pieces appearing in Gibson’s Count Zero. Called “Island Weather” to reflect upon the elusive nature of truth and the notion that everyone is an island, with bottomless layers of accumulated memories.

A series [called Angst] of remarkable night photographs by Soham Gupta of some inhabitants of the slums in Kolkata where the persons chose to act in relation with the hardship or trauma that led them to survive in the street. And still exhibiting joy and engaging into farciful behaviours. A video was however striking [from my perspective], describing the fight of a Nunavuk father to prevent his children being sent far away for schooling by the Canadian government, as it reminded me of a so different time when, as a child then, a catholic missionary from the Far North had come to our primary school and told us fascinating stories of the cruelly beautiful (or beautifully cruel?) like in the Arctic, in what did not appear yet as a strongly biased manner… The title of the Bienale this year was May you live in interesting times, which prompted many attendees to scrawl Theresa May you leave in interesting times over the exhibit panels! Interesting if bleak times indeed.

off to Abidjan, with a few Annals [62kg of ’em]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2019 by xi'an

space opera by John Scalzi [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2019 by xi'an

John Scalzi, author of the memorable Old Man’s War, has started a trilogy of which I only became aware recently (or more precisely became re-aware!), which has the perk of making two of the three books already published and hence available without a one or two year break. And having the book win the 2018 Locus Award in the meanwhile. This new series is yet again a space opera with space travel made possible by a fairly unclear Flow that even the mathematicians in the story have trouble understanding. And The Flow is used by guilds to carry goods and people to planets that are too hostile an environment for the “local” inhabitants to survive on their own. The whole setup is both homely and old-fashioned: the different guilds are associated with families, despite being centuries old, and the empire of 48 planets is still governed by the same dominant family, who also controls a fairly bland religion. Although the later managed to become the de facto religion.

“I’m a Flow physicist.  It’s high-order math. You don’t have to go out into the field for that.”

This does not sound much exciting, even for space operas, but things are starting to deteriorate when the novels start. Or more exactly, as hinted by the title, the Empire is about to collapse! (No spoiler, since this is the title!!!) However, the story-telling gets a wee bit lazy from that (early) point. In that it fixates on a very few characters [among millions of billions of inhabitants of this universe] who set the cogs spinning one way then the other then the earlier way… Dialogues are witty and often funny, those few characters are mostly well-drawn, albeit too one-dimensional, and cataclysmic events seem to be held at bay by the cleverness of one single person, double-crossing the bad guys. Mostly. While the second volume (unusually) sounds better and sees more action, more surprises, and an improvement in the plot itself, and while this makes for a pleasant travel read (I forgot The Collapsing Empire in a plane from B’ham!), I am surprised at the book winning the 2018 Locus Award indeed. It definitely lacks the scope and ambiguity of the two Ancillary novels. The convoluted philosophical construct and math background of Anathem. The historical background of Cryptonomicon and of the Baroque Cycle. Or the singularity of the Hyperion universe. (But I was also unimpressed by the Three-Body Problem! And by Scalzi’s Hugo Award Redshirts!) The third volume is not yet out.

As a French aside, a former king turned AI is called Tomas Chenevert, on a space-ship called Auvergne, with an attempt at coming from a French speaking planet, Ponthieu, except that is should have been spelled Thomas Chênevert (green oak!). Incidentally, Ponthieu is a county in the Norman marches, north of Rouen, that is now part of Picardy, although I do not think this has anything to do with the current novel!

smoked tea

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2019 by xi'an

The shop of the tea dealer Nathmulls in Darjeeling burned down last week. In possibly suspicious circumstances… While they lost at least 2,000 kg of their tea stock, and most sadly someone died in the fire, Nathmulls can still deliver orders, including great 2019 first flush Darjeeling teas.

the Kouign-Amann experiment

Posted in Kids, Travel, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2019 by xi'an

Having found a recipe for Kouign-Amanns, these excessive cookies from Britanny that are essentially cooked salted butter!, I had a first try that ended up in disaster (including a deep cut on the remaining thumb) and a second try that went better as both food and body parts are concerned. (The name means cake of butter in Breton.)The underlying dough is pretty standard up to the moment it starts being profusedly buttered and layered, again and again, until it becomes sufficiently feuilleté to put in the oven. The buttery nature of the product, clearly visibly on the first picture, implies the cookies must be kept in containers like these muffin pans to preserve its shape and keep the boiling butter from  inundating the oven, two aspects I had not forecasted on the first attempt.The other if minor drawback of these cookies is that they do not keep well as they contain so much butter. Bringing enough calories input for an hearty breakfast (and reminding me of those I ate in Cambridge while last visiting Pierre).