Archive for amazon associates

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my amazon.com account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several amazon.fr accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from amazon.fr…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

Gideon the Ninth [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2020 by xi'an

After much hesitation and pondering, I eventually gave in and started reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and then rushed through it over the first of May extended weekend! Hesitation and pondering, because I am not particularly excited in zombie novels and animate skeletons literature and living dead books. However, since the book was getting a lot of praise from reading groups and ended up a Hugo Awards 2020 Nominee, I ordered the 2€ Kindle version and got to read it, being immediately caught by the irreverent tone of the main character and the punk style of the story, which mixes necromancy, death cults, living gods, space travel, chivalrous quest, sword mystique, AIs, deadly puzzles à la Hunger Games, and a whodunit à la Agatha Christie, Then There Were None on an island planet… (Although I have never been a fan of Christie’s novels either, reading some eons ago as an unsuccessful way to improve my appalling English skills in secondary school). The book gets addictive because of this highly unusual combination, plus the compelling story and relation of the two central teenage girls, turning away from murderous to loving, once all skeletons are out of the closet (literally). There are enough complex and un-charicatur-esque characters to make the structure and the whodunit puzzle very enjoyable, with unexpected twists and a massively enjoyable ending. To think that this is a first novel is staggering, with highly funny dialogues for Death believers. Definitely worth the read (and the vote for the Hugo Award!) And the second volume is coming out next August. (But the first Act is available for free on kindles.)

Japan’s Kumano Kodo pilgrimage [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2019 by xi'an

When preparing our hiking trip to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, I was extremely pleased to find a dedicated guidebook that covered precisely the region we wanted to explore and provided enough background material to make the walk sound feasible. However, once I found the Kumano Travel reservation website, run most efficiently by the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, the information contained in this site made the guidebook less relevant. And when we arrived in Tanabe at the start of the trail, I found that the Bureau was also distributing free leaflets in English for each of the three main routes, which described day-by-day the stages of the hikes, as well as recommendations and tips. Making in the end or a posteriori the guidebook superfluous. (As the detailed description of the routes was not necessary, given how clearly they are identified. The leaflet managed to stand the five days on the trail despite rain, humidity, frequent consultations and a general lack of care, as shown above!)  Hence, while there is nothing wrong with the guidebook which also includes an extra day-hike along the Eastern coast of the Kii peninsula and another one from Koyasan to the bottom of the cablecar [again covered by leaflets at the local tourism bureau], I would not strongly recommend it. Interestingly (?), when I stated these mere facts as a review on Amazon, I was rejected as contravening their review guidelines without further precision… (I can only post comments on the French portal of Amazon as my associate gains mean that I never “buy” anything on the US portal!)

 

haunting of tramcar 105 [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2019 by xi'an

A mix of steampunk and urban magic in a enlightened 1912 Cairo sounded like a good prolegomena and I bought P. Djèli Clark’s The haunting of tram car 015 on this basis. As it happens, this is actually a novella of 123 pages building on the same universe as a previous work of the author, A dead djinn in Cairo, which however is even shorter and only available as a Kindle book… I really enjoyed the short read and its description of an alternate Cairo that is competing with Paris and London, thanks to the advantage brought by the supernatural powers of djinns. (And apparently also gaining the independence Egypt could not secure under the British protectorate.) The English suffragettes have also their counterparts in Egypt and the country is about to decide about women right to vote. The story itself is nice if not stratospheric, with mostly well-drawn characters and good dialogues. (The core of the plot relies on smuggling sweets from Armenia, though, a rather weak link.) As in an earlier order, the book itself was not properly printed, with a vertical white band of erased characters on most odd pages, presumably another illustration of the shortcomings of the  print-on-demand principle. (Which means that I sent the book back to Amazon rather than leaving it in the common room.)

look, look, confidence! [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2018 by xi'an

As it happens, I recently bought [with Amazon Associate earnings] a (used) copy of Confidence, Likelihood, Probability (Statistical Inference with Confidence Distributions), by Tore Schweder and Nils Hjort, to try to understand this confusing notion of confidence distributions. (And hence did not get the book from CUP or anyone else towards purposely writing a review. Or a ½-review like the one below.)

“Fisher squared the circle and obtained a posterior without a prior.” (p.419)

Now that I have gone through a few chapters, I am no less confused about the point of this notion. Which seems to rely on the availability of confidence intervals. Exact or asymptotic ones. The authors plainly recognise (p.61) that a confidence distribution is neither a posterior distribution nor a fiducial distribution, hence cutting off any possible Bayesian usage of the approach. Which seems right in that there is no coherence behind the construct, meaning for instance there is no joint distribution corresponding to the resulting marginals. Or even a specific dominating measure in the parameter space. (Always go looking for the dominating measure!) As usual with frequentist procedures, there is always a feeling of arbitrariness in the resolution, as for instance in the Neyman-Scott problem (p.112) where the profile likelihood and the deviance do not work, but considering directly the distribution of the (inconsistent) MLE of the variance “saves the day”, which sounds a bit like starting from the solution. Another statistical freak, the Fieller-Creasy problem (p.116) remains a freak in this context as it does not seem to allow for a confidence distribution. I also notice an ambivalence in the discourse of the authors of this book, namely that while they claim confidence distributions are both outside a probabilisation of the parameter and inside, “producing distributions for parameters of interest given the data (…) with fewer philosophical and interpretational obstacles” (p.428).

“Bias is particularly difficult to discuss for Bayesian methods, and seems not to be a worry for most Bayesian statisticians.” (p.10)

The discussions as to whether or not confidence distributions form a synthesis of Bayesianism and frequentism always fall short from being convincing, the choice of (or the dependence on) a prior distribution appearing to the authors as a failure of the former approach. Or unnecessarily complicated when there are nuisance parameters. Apparently missing on the (high) degree of subjectivity involved in creating the confidence procedures. Chapter 1 contains a section on “Why not go Bayesian?” that starts from Chris Sims‘ Nobel Lecture on the appeal of Bayesian methods and goes [softly] rampaging through each item. One point (3) is recurrent in many criticisms of B and I always wonder whether or not it is tongue-in-cheek-y… Namely the fact that parameters of a model are rarely if ever stochastic. This is a misrepresentation of the use of prior and posterior distributions [which are in fact] as summaries of information cum uncertainty. About a true fixed parameter. Refusing as does the book to endow posteriors with an epistemic meaning (except for “Bayesian of the Lindley breed” (p.419) is thus most curious. (The debate is repeating in the final(e) chapter as “why the world need not be Bayesian after all”.)

“To obtain frequentist unbiasedness, the Bayesian will have to choose her prior with unbiasedness in mind. Is she then a Bayesian?” (p.430)

A general puzzling feature of the book is that notions are not always immediately defined, but rather discussed and illustrated first. As for instance for the central notion of fiducial probability (Section 1.7, then Chapter 6), maybe because Fisher himself did not have a general principle to advance. The construction of a confidence distribution most often keeps a measure of mystery (and arbitrariness), outside the rather stylised setting of exponential families and sufficient (conditionally so) statistics. (Incidentally, our 2012 ABC survey is [kindly] quoted in relation with approximate sufficiency (p.180), while it does not sound particularly related to this part of the book. Now, is there an ABC version of confidence distributions? Or an ABC derivation?) This is not to imply that the book is uninteresting!, as I found reading it quite entertaining, with many humorous and tongue-in-cheek remarks, like “From Fraser (1961a) and until Fraser (2011), and hopefully even further” (p.92), and great datasets. (Including one entitled Pornoscope, which is about drosophilia mating.) And also datasets with lesser greatness, like the 3000 mink whales that were killed for Example 8.5, where the authors if not the whales “are saved by a large and informative dataset”… (Whaling is a recurrent [national?] theme throughout the book, along with sport statistics usually involving Norway!)

Miscellanea: The interest of the authors in the topic is credited to bowhead whales, more precisely to Adrian Raftery’s geometric merging (or melding) of two priors and to the resulting Borel paradox (xiii). Proposal that I remember Adrian presenting in Luminy, presumably in 1994. Or maybe in Aussois the year after. The book also repeats Don Fraser’s notion that the likelihood is a sufficient statistic, a point that still bothers me. (On the side, I realised while reading Confidence, &tc., that ABC cannot comply with the likelihood principle.) To end up on a French nitpicking note (!), Quenouille is typ(o)ed Quenoille in the main text, the references and the index. (Blame the .bib file!)

kingdoms of dust [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2017 by xi'an

Kingdoms of Dust is the third (and last?) book in the Isyllt Iskaldur (Necromancer) series, written by Amanda Downum. I had enjoyed very much the previous two volumes and was not aware of the existence of a third one, existence I only realised a few weeks ago when I prepared a bulk amazon associate ordering for my trip to Harvard. While being reunited with several characters from the previous books made reading Kingdoms of Dust definitely enjoyable, I found the plot too dry [no pun intended!] and the civilisation exposed through the story fairly caricaturesque, an almost Disneyesque Arabian universe whose economics remain unspecified. Which seems to happen a lot these days with the theme of warrior desert tribes with proto-Muslim religion(s) taking a share of the fantasy literature (as in the Demon Cycle and the Godspeaker trilogy). What I appreciated more was the psychological evolution of the main character Iskaldur from depression to an almost Christ-esque role, liberating most of the other major characters in the story. And the feature that somewhow there was no superlatively evil enemy to defeat, but a conjunction of ill-timed events to unravel.