Archive for Banff

Hélène Massam (1949-2020)

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2020 by xi'an

I was much saddened to hear yesterday that our friend and fellow Bayesian Hélène Massam passed away on August 22, 2020, following a cerebrovascular accident. She was professor of Statistics at York University, in Toronto, and, as her field of excellence covered [the geometry of] exponential families, Wishart distributions and graphical models, we met many times at both Bayesian and non-Bayesian conferences  (the first time may have been an IMS in Banff, years before BIRS was created). And always had enjoyable conversations on these occasions (in French since she was born in Marseille and only moved to Canada for her graduate studies in optimisation). Beyond her fundamental contributions to exponential families, especially Wishart distributions under different constraints [including the still opened 2007 Letac-Massam conjecture], and graphical models, where she produced conjugate priors for DAGs of all sorts, she served the community in many respects, including in the initial editorial board of Bayesian Analysis. I can also personally testify of her dedication as a referee as she helped with many papers along the years. She was also a wonderful person, with a great sense of humor and a love for hiking and mountains. Her demise is a true loss for the entire community and I can only wish her to keep hiking on new planes and cones in a different dimension. [Last month, Christian Genest (McGill University) and Xin Gao (York University) wrote a moving obituary including a complete biography of Hélène for the Statistical Society of Canada.]

the year(s) with no conferences

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2020 by xi'an

This week, Nature has an article on “A year without conferences? How the coronavirus pandemic could change research”, where the journalist predicts a potential halt to scientific conferences. Taking as example the cancelled American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting, to quote

“many of them rapidly set up platforms to hold virtual sessions for the meeting, inviting their speakers to present by webcam or to upload their presentations to online repositories. Researchers who hadn’t been in a position to fly to Denver found themselves able to participate from afar in what became the Virtual APS March Meeting.”

On this same day I should have been traveling from Brussels to Grenoble for the ABC meeting there. Instead, I had a four day virtual panel meeting from home and there is no virtual version of the ABC in Gre[e]noble workshop. As no one seemed particularly eager to animate a few local talks with no guarantee of spectators. As things deteriorated to home confinement,  it was actually better not to spend more efforts on the project. Since this confinement is bound to last much longer, it would however become more obvious that the community and the academic societies need plan virtual conference and invent different channels to gather members and disseminate innovation.

an oldie but a goldie [jatp]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by xi'an

tea tasting at Van Cha

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2019 by xi'an

This recent trip to Vancouver gave me the opportunity of enjoying a Chinese tea tasting experience. On my last visit to the city, I had noticed a small tea shop very near the convention centre but could not find the time to stop there. This round I took advantage of the AABI lunch break to get back to the shop, which was open (on a Sunday), and sat for a ripe Pu-Ehr tasting. A fatal if minor mistake in ordering, namely that this was Pu-Ehr withing a dried yuzu shell, which gave the tea a mixed taste of fruit and tea, as least for the first brews. And remaining very far from the very earthy tastes I was expecting. (But it reminded me of a tangerine based Pu-Ehr Yulia gave me last time we went to Banff. And I missed an ice climbing opportunity!)
This was nonetheless a very pleasant tasting experience, with the tea hostess brewing one tiny tea pot after another, including a first one to wet and clean the tea, with very short infusion times, and tea rounds keeping their strong flavour even after several passes. In a very quiet atmosphere altogether, with a well-used piece of wood (as shown on top) in lieu of a sink to get rid of the water used to warm and clean pots and mugs (and a clay frog which role remained mysterious throughout!).
At some point in the degustation, another customer came in, obviously from a quite different league as he was carrying his own tea pancake, from which the hostess extracted a few grams and processed most carefully. This must have been an exceptional tea as she was rewarded by a small cup of the first brew, which she seemed to appreciate a lot (albeit in Chinese so I could not say).
As I was about to leave, having spent more time than expected and drank five brews of my tea, plus extra cups of a delicate Oolong, hence missing a talk by Matt Hoffman to which I was looking forward!, I discussed for a little while with this connoisseur, who told me of the importance of using porous clay pots and not mix them for different teas. Incidentally he was also quite dismissive of Japanese teas, (iron) teapots, and tea ceremony, which I found in petto a rather amusing attitude (if expected from some aficionados).

midnight run

Posted in Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by xi'an