Archive for the Wines Category
This afternoon, I was part of a jury of an astrostatistics thesis, where the astronomy part was about binary objects in the Solar System, and the statistics part about detecting patterns in those objects, unsurprisingly. The first part was highly classical using several non-parametric tests like Kolmogorov-Smirnov to test whether those binary objects were different from single objects. While the p-values were very tiny, I felt these values were over-interpreted in the thesis, because the sample size of N=30 leads to some scepticism about numerical quantities like 0.0008. While I do not want to sound pushing for Bayesian solutions in every setting, this case is a good illustration of the nefarious power of p-values, which are almost always taken at face value, i.e., where 0.008 is understood in terms of the null hypothesis and not in terms of the observed realisation of the p-value. Even within a frequentist framework, the distribution of this p-value should be evaluated or estimated one way or another, as there is no reason to believe it is anywhere near a Uniform(0,1) distribution.The second part of the thesis was about the estimation of some parameters of the laws of the orbits of those dual objects and the point of interest for me was the purely mechanical construction of a likelihood function that was an exponential transform of a sum of residuals, made of squared differences between the observations and their expectations. Or a power of such differences. This was called the “statistical model” in the thesis and I presume in part of the astrostats literature. This reminded me of the first meeting I had with my colleagues from Besançon, where they could not use such mechanical versions because of intractable expectations and used instead simulations from their physical model, literally reinventing ABC. This resolution had the same feeling, closer to indirect inference than regular inference, although it took me half the defence to realise it.
The defence actually took part in the beautiful historical Perrault’s building of Observatoire de Paris, in downtown Paris, where Cassini, Arago and Le Verrier once ruled! In the council room under paintings of major French astronomers, including Laplace himself, looking quite smug in his academician costume. The building is built around the Paris Zero Meridian (which got dethroned in 1911 by the Greenwich Zero Meridian, which I contemplated as a kid since my childhood church had the Greenwich drawn on the nave stones). The customary “pot” after the thesis and its validation by the jury was in the less historical cafeteria of the Observatoire, but it included a jazz big band, which made this thesis defence quite unique in many ways!
Today, I went to Milano for 13 hours to give a seminar at l’Università Bocconi. Where I thus gave a talk on Testing via mixtures (using the same slides as at ISBA last Spring). It was the first time I was in Milano (and thus at Bocconi) for more than a transfer to MCMski or to Pavia and it was great to walk through the city. And of course to meet and share with many friends there. While I glimpsed the end of the sunrise on the Italian Alps (near Monte Rosa?!), I was too late on my way back for the sunset.
And yet another Argentan half-marathon! Which started this blog, so to speak, 8 years ago… Although I could not repeat my feat at the San Francisco half-marathon, as I had lost my high altitude benefits, I managed well enough, with a good overall time of 1:23:28 and a second place in the V2 category, once again. I gained more than one minute from last year time, despite a strong face wind and thanks to sticking to a small group of younger runners. This is one of my best times since the start of the blog in 2008, so I am clearly very happy with the result. And plan to celebrate tonight with a top Montpellier wine!
Two weeks ago, we went to a local restaurant, connected to my running grounds, for dinner. While the setting in a 16th building that was part of the original Sceaux castle was quite nice, the fare was mediocre and the bill more suited for a one star Michelin than dishes I could have cooked myself. The height (or rather bottom) of the meal was a dish of sardines consisting in an half-open pilchard can… Just dumped on a plate with a slice of bread. It could have been a genius stroke from the chef had the sardines been cooked and presented in the can, alas it sounded more like the act of an evil genie! Or more plainly a swindle. As those tasty sardines came straight from the shop!
While in Melbourne, I heard a recommendation for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and the next day, while checking the Melbourne Writers Festival bookstore, found the book (rather than the Kristoff volume I was seeking), bought it, and read it within a few days.
‘Brakebills will remind readers of Hogwarts, though with more illicit fondling. Grossman has written what could crudely be labeled a Harry Potter for adults.” , NYT
So is this an Harry Potter for adults?! First, I think Harry Potter can be read by adults (if I qualify as adult!). This remark presumably means the book should not be read by young readers, maybe, due to recurrent sex and alcohol consumption, plus some drugs and an overall depressive tone.
Back to Harry Potter, there is the same magical boarding school feeling, even though it is located in upstate New York on the Hudson river. And not in Scotland. With an equivalent to Quidditch, an evil magician, exams, surly teens, one or two love triangles, &tc. If in a more modern and American way. The difference with Harry Potter is that it also doubles as Narnia! A Narnia eventually turned wrong and sour, but nonetheless a strong similarity of stories and ideas. Of course, this parallel could be seen as an attempt at deconstruction, exhibiting the inconsistencies in the original novels, but it is so subtle it does not feel like it. There are the same encounters with sentient animal creatures, who never reappear after, the same call for Kings and Queens, as in Narnia. This lack of depth at exploring the connections between Harry Potter, Narnia and even some aspects of the Wheel of Time is frustrating in that something great could have come of it. And then… then… comes the worst literary trick in my list, the call to a subterranean quest with endless monsters and accidents! (I obviously exclude Tolkien’ Moria episode from this list!!!) Concluding with the evil character dumping information in the last battle to explain missing bits and pieces in the story.
So, in conclusion, not such a magical book, even though I read it within a few days thanks to my 39 hour trip back to Paris. The Magicians remains too teeny for my taste, hearing self-deprecating depressive monologues occurs way too often to make the main character congenial, and the story has not enough depth or structure to be compelling. A reviewer rightly pointed out it feels like fandom fiction. Rather than a universe on its own. (As for instance Aaronovitch’ Rivers of London series.)