Archive for Birmingham

blood hunt [book review]

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by xi'an

I realised just lately that I had not read the early non-Rebus novels of Ian Rankin (written as Jack Harvey) and thus ordered cheap used copies of three of these, which waited for me on my (new) desk when I returned to Warwick. The first one I tried is Blood Hunt, a 1995 conspiracy novel that is so full of clichés that it feels like several volumes long..! I almost left it in the common room before heading back to Paris! To wit, a second-rate journalist is after a big international chemical corporation that is poisoning the entire planet. As he gets too close to exposing the truth, he is assassinated in the US. Fortunately, his brother is a super-hero, an ex SAS soldier, living on one of the Outer Hebrides in massive isolation and getting a living [while remaining very fit] by training “weekend soldiers”. If this sounds like too much of a coincidence, the story gets downhill from there and the suspension of belief gets so heavy that one could walk on it all the way from Uist to Skye! With the main character achieving on his own more than a dozen Jason Bourne, despite a horde of killers set after him. The only thing of interest in the book is how old it sounds, being set before 1995, with hardly any cell phone available and money running out of call cards. The action taking place in France is rather well documented, including a visit to Orly airport, except for the unfortunate mention that entries are found both left and right on the Périphérique! It is fortunate that Rankin chose to adopt a highly different perspective on a similar character when writing Knots & Crosses and creating Rebus, as I would not have possibly continued reading this type of books! And be waiting for getting my hands on the novel House of Lies, which I saw in the airport when leaving.

preprints promote confusion and distorsion, and don’t blame journalists!

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2018 by xi'an

“…anyone considering publicizing a preprint have a responsibility.”

On my way to the airport, flying to B’ham, I read an older issue of Nature that contained this incredible editorial entry from Tom Sheldon Tim Horton, calling for regulation of preprints or worse, for the reason that journalists could misunderstand their contents and over-hype a minor or worse wrong claim. Taking as mistaken illustration the case of the Séralini et al. paper, about the Monsanto maize, which happened to be published under “embargo” conditions and reproduced in most media before a scientific storm erupted on the lack of significance of the samples. This call is unbelievably cheeky and downright absurd as it shifts the responsibility away from the journalists to the scientific community, throwing the “check your sources” principle of investigative journalism down the drain. As if the only reason for immediately publishing front-page discoveries is not to beat the competition and attract more readers…

The irony of seeing this piece in Nature is that a few pages later, there is a news entry on German and Swedish institutions breaking negotiations with Elsevier, as the publisher refuses to join a global package of open source publications. Nothing seems amiss about this nice aspect of scientific publishing with the author of this editorial, nor with the further reports of retraction of published paper in the same issue. Presumably because journalists have already moved to the next hot discovery by the time the retractions at last appear…! And to answer the final question of “Should all preprints be emblazoned with a warning aimed at journalists that work has not been peer reviewed?”, no, no, and no: preprints are not written for journalists or the general public. Unsurprisingly, the tribune induced outraged reactions from Nature readers.

chance meeting

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2018 by xi'an

As I was travelling to Coventry yesterday, I spotted this fellow passenger on the train from Birmingham with a Valencia 9 bag, and a chat with him. It was a pure chance encounter as he was not attending our summer school, but continued down the line. (These bags are quite sturdy and I kept mine until a zipper broke.)

running by Kenilworth Castle [jatp]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2018 by xi'an

Last week, while in Warwick, I had a nice warm afternoon run around Kenilworth in the fields with Nick Tawn, who brought us to this view of the castle from the West, by a former shallow lake called The Mere [lexicographically connected with La Mare rather than with La Mer!]. It also exposed the fact that my first and only visit to the castle was in the summer of 1977, with my pen friend from Birmingham. This was also the summer when Star Wars was released in Britain, including Birmingham where we first saw it…

back to Wales [54th Gregynog Statistical Conference]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2018 by xi'an

Today, provided the Air France strike let me fly to Birmingham airport!, I am back at Gregynog Hall, Wales, for the weekend conference organised there every year by some Welsh and English statistics departments, including Warwick. Looking forward to the relaxed gathering in the glorious Welsh countryside (and hoping that my knee will have sufficiently recovered for some trail running around Gregynog Hall…!) Here are the slides of the talk I will present tomorrow:

air static

Posted in Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2017 by xi'an

[On an Air France flight for Birmingham, two young French students apparently studying in Warwick kept blathering the entire time, with an utter lack of concern for their surroundings. Note: Les Marseillais is a particularly idiotic reality show on French TV.]

  •  …j’ai arrêté de regarder les Marseillais, c’est même pas conscient, tu vois…
  • …grave, c’est sûr, moi aussi j’ai arrêté, j’avais trop d’épisodes à rattraper…

the Force awakens… some memories

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by xi'an

In what may become a family tradition, I managed to accompany my daughter to the movies on the day off she takes just before her medical school finals. After last year catastrophic conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy, we went to watch the new Star Wars on the day it appeared in Paris. (Which involved me going directly to the movie theatre from the airport, on my way back from Warwick.) I am afraid I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a lot, despite my initial misgivings and the blatant shortcomings of this new instalment.

Indeed, it somewhat brought back [to me] the magic of watching the very first Star Wars, in the summer of 1977 and in a theatre located in down-town Birmingham, to make the connection complete! A new generation of (admittedly implausible) heroes takes over with very little help from the (equally implausible) old guys (so far). It is just brilliant to watch the scenario unfold towards the development of those characters and tant pis! if the battle scenes and the fighters and the whole Star Wars universe has not changed that much. While the new director has recovered the pace of the original film, he also builds the relations between most characters towards more depth and ambiguity. Once again, I like very much the way the original characters are treated, with just the right distance and irony, a position that would not have been possible with new actors. And again tant pis! if the new heroes share too much with the central characters of Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. This choice definitely appealed to my daughter, who did not complain in the least about the weaknesses in the scenario and about the very stretched ending. To the point of watching the movie a second time during the X’mas vacations.