Archive for Brussels

Insane craving for food

Posted in pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2020 by xi'an

Within a couple of weeks, I read two related US stories about ordering food from an insanely far destination, like hand-made frozen pizza from Napoli, Italia, or like one startup called Goldbelly ships frozen food made by some restaurants nationwide. (With a motto of Whatever [food] they dream of, wherever they are.) While I am not consistent in consuming non-local food and drinks, like my mass orderings of Italian wines and Darjeeling teas, and while I’d love to get a new taste of Toukoul’s Ethiopian dishes, a creamy sepia risotto from Da Franz, an okonomiyaki from any street stall in Osaka, and many many other dishes from all over the World, it sounds to me rather debatable to have a special single meal prepared on the other side of the World and delivered immediately to one’s table… Furthermore, one of the perks of dining at fine restaurants is exactly to dine at fine restaurants, not in one’s own room, and having starred chefs’ dishes ending up in reheated frozen plastic containers is certainly killing a major share of the experience.

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.

the future is Europe

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

ERC panel [step #2]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by xi'an

Another post that was written ages ago, about the second round of the European Research Council (ERC) panel on starting grants for mathematics in which I took part as an expert and not as an applicant. While anonymity possibly fell apart for the several dozens of applicants who were shortlisted for interview, in particular more like those few from my own field, the official list of the panel only came out much later. The interviews were quite interesting, obviously, with a strict attention to time and questions to make all interviews as “equal” as possible. And sometimes painful to attend as the candidates were visibly stressed and more over-prepared than not. Which did not necessarily help as the preparation, presumably with the help of local consultants out of maths, had removed some of the enthusiasm behind the project and too much of the maths. I think we all stopped breathing when one applicant broke mid-sentence, as in a theatre play when one actor forgets one’s lines… The rehearsal does not work so well for later questions, even though preparing for these is also essential,  and some upgrading or downgrading may then occur because of a single answer. An unavoidable limitation of the exercise.

Overall I remain impressed by the quality of the collective work of the panel [despite a gruelling schedule on interview days] and of the overall selection of eleven projects, even though it sounds like more theoretical and abstract topics seem privileged, in a bias that seems difficult to counteract. And [not because no statistics proposal was selected this time] making me (and others) wonder whether or not a separate statistics section of the ERC would not be more appropriate, since statistics proposals are not uniquely and solely centred on the maths aspects.

ERC panel [step #1]

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

Although this post was written ages ago, regulations of the European Research Council (ERC) prevented me from posting it until now, for confidentiality reasons. I was indeed nominated as an expert member of the ERC panel on starting grants for mathematics [a denomination including statistics, obviously, but also quantum physics or some aspects of it], which means evaluating a hundred-ish applications of young researchers (five years from PhD) to select about ten of them to be richly funded for the coming five years. The reason for secrecy is that the panel members have to be protected from pursuits from the candidates (or, more likely, from their senior mentors). While this is a pretty heavy commitment, above 20 days total, the evaluation process gets quite interesting and the most annoying part is to have to reject proposals that should be funded, were more funds available. (For obvious reasons, I cannot get into the details of individual proposals, but let me just bemoan that there were too few proposals connected to statistics!) I may however get into my appreciation of the collective work of the panel during the first step selection process. I actually knew no other member prior to my joining the panel and was impressed at how smoothly we managed to work together and incorporate different opinions in a joint perspective. When I re-read these sentences, it feels like langue de bois (double talk), really!, but they truly represent my feelings at the end of the meeting. Making me (almost) looking forward the second step of interviewing the selected candidates in another week-long meeting, again in Brussels, for the interviews and final selection and ranking. (Which is when anonymity falls apart.)