Archive for conspiracy

a journal of the plague year [deconfined reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2020 by xi'an

Watched two Korean films, Train to Busan and then Psychokinesis, both by Yeon Sang-Ho. The first one is a mostly traditional zombie action movie, loosing one character after another to the disease with a few funny moments. The second one is also involving supernatural features, rather poorly done, but it offers some political satire on a corrupted real estate project that make it somewhat tolerable. If barely.

Read (an old, cellar-relegated, somewhat mouldy) Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked (book #5 in the Kurt Wallander series), which was good enough to be enjoyable, albeit with a serial killer plot (always a lazy plot idea!), but it definitely made me regret the Martin Beck books of Sjowall and Wahloo which had a stronger social and political perspective (to the point of this book sounding like a pale replica). The more because Maj Sjowall passed away in early May. (Having survived Wahloo by 45 years and never revisiting the series.)

Baked more breads, including rye bread, and experimented with new dishes, like a jollof rice attempt with wild garlic, which tasted a wee too mild and took more time at the cleaning stage of the cocotte (French oven) than the cooking one. As it is one of these rice dishes like tahdig that call for a slightly burned bottom! Cooked several clafoutis with garden cherries and strawberries. Started making weekly rhubarb compote since available at the farmers’ market.

And now growing tomatoes and beans and peppers and onions and potatoes and butternut… We also found a woodcock most unusually and inexplicably stranded in the garden, feeling the worse for a cat attack as shown by a few feathers in the grass, but it was impossible to catch and hence protect from all the stray cats in the neighbourhood. After a day or two, we did not find any remain of the bird, so it presumably escaped.

Also watched A Sun (陽光普照), a psychological Taiwanese film about an “ordinary” family unraveling when the youngest son goes to jail. With an astounding Muter Courage as the central character. And a surprising sequence of characterial twists in the story that makes the movie less bleak that the first 30mn could induce, revealing layers in most characters that were carefully left hidden in the beginning of the film. (Except for the unfortunate girlfriend of A-Ho, who hardly utters a word and never seems to join the family.) With a beautiful final shot relating to the early years of A-Ho. (As one character is named A-Ho and another one A-Hao, it took me a while to spot the difference and stop thinking there were two parallel time-lines in the story!) A really strong film!

Succumbed (!) to ordering and reading the True Bastards, by Johnathan [pardon my] French. Which is the second volume in the Lot Lands trilogy and about as fun as the first volume, although the role of cursed magics is somehow over-done. But the change in this book from a male to a female viewpoint is definitely a worthwhile rarity in fantasy novels, showing how much harder the main character, Fetch, has to work to lead her troop of ½ orcs. And a constant threat of being belittled as such by other characters. (Any resemblance to real life problems being obviously coincidental!) Don’t expect real depth though, from the plot which keeps running in hogs’ circles to the point where everyone seems to be the hidden relative of everyone else (still alive!) to the underlying message, if any!

Got tricked by a Guardian article into watching The Vast of Nights. Frankly, I do not understand the praise heaped upon this academic-oh–so-academic exercise in film making! Yes, it does sound like the Twilight Zone, as the story is the usual trope on aliens being here with only the military being aware of it, trying to bank on their advanced technology, &tc. The hapless characters confuse agitation and action, while speaking, speaking, speaking all the time… It should have been a radio show. In the 1950’s. Not in the current times, already awash in conspiracy theories (although, far from it!, the film is clearly seen as an exercice de style recreating the mood of a 1960’s rural town in the South of the USA, with an endless sequence in a vintage car park).

AIQ [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2019 by xi'an

AIQ was my Christmas day read, which I mostly read while the rest of the household was still sleeping. The book, written by two Bayesians, Nick Polson and James Scott, was published before the ISBA meeting last year, but I only bought it on my last trip to Warwick [as a Xmas present]. This is a pleasant book to read, especially while drinking tea by the fire!, well-written and full of facts and anecdotes I did not know or had forgotten (more below). Intended for a general audience, it is also quite light, from a technical side, rather obviously, but also from a philosophical side. While strongly positivist about the potential of AIs for the general good, it cannot be seen as an antidote to the doomlike Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom or the more factual Weapons of Maths Destruction by Cathy O’Neal. (Both commented on the ‘Og.)

Indeed, I find the book quite benevolent and maybe a wee bit too rosy in its assessment of AIs and the discussion on how Facebook and Russian intervention may have significantly to turn the White House Orange is missing [imho] the viral nature of the game, when endless loops of highly targeted posts can cut people from the most basic common sense. While the authors are “optimistic that, given the chance, people can be smart enough”, I do reflect on the sheer fact that the hoax that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring was ever considered seriously by people. To the point of someone shooting at the pizza restaurant. And I hence am much less optimistic at the ability for a large enough portion of the population, not even the majority, to keep a critical distance from the message carried by AI driven media. Similarly, while Nick and James point out (rather late in the book) that big data (meaning large data) is not necessarily good data for being unrepresentative at the population at large, they do not propose (in the book) highly convincing solutions to battle bias in existing and incoming AIs. Leading to a global worry that AIs may do well for a majority of the population and discriminate against a minority by the same reasoning. As described in Cathy O’Neal‘s book, and elsewhere, proprietary software does not even have to explain why it discriminates. More globally, the business school environment of the authors may have prevented them from stating a worry on the massive power grab by the AI-based companies, which genetically grow with little interest in democracy and states, as shown (again) by the recent election or their systematic fiscal optimisation. Or by the massive recourse to machine learning by Chinese authorities towards a social credit system grade for all citizens.

“La rage de vouloir conclure est une des manies les plus funestes et les plus stériles qui appartiennent à l’humanité. Chaque religion et chaque philosophie a prétendu avoir Dieu à elle, toiser l’infini et connaître la recette du bonheur.” Gustave Flaubert

I did not know about Henrietta Leavitt’s prediction rule for pulsating stars, behind Hubble’s discovery, which sounds like an astronomy dual to Rosalind Franklin’s DNA contribution. The use of Bayes’ rule for locating lost vessels is also found in The Theorem that would not die. Although I would have also mentioned its failure in locating Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. I had also never heard the great expression of “model rust. Nor the above quote from Flaubert. It seems I have recently spotted the story on how a 180⁰ switch in perspective on language understanding by machines brought the massive improvement that we witness today. But I cannot remember where. And I have also read about Newton missing the boat on the precision of the coinage accuracy (was it in Bryson’s book on the Royal Society?!), but with less neutral views on the role of Newton in the matter, as the Laplace of England would have benefited from keeping the lax measures of assessment.

Great to see friendly figures like Luke Bornn and Katherine Heller appearing in the pages. Luke for his work on the statistical analysis of basketball games, Katherine  for her work on predictive analytics in medicine. Reflecting on the missed opportunities represented by the accumulation of data on any patient throughout their life that is as grossly ignored nowadays as it was at Nightingale‘s time. The message of the chapter [on “The Lady with the Lamp”] may again be somewhat over-optimistic: while AI and health companies see clear incentives in developing more encompassing prediction and diagnostic techniques, this will only benefit patients who can afford the ensuing care. Which, given the state of health care systems in the most developed countries, is an decreasing proportion. Not to mention the less developed countries.

Overall, a nice read for the general public, de-dramatising the rise of the machines!, and mixing statistics and machine learning to explain the (human) intelligence behind the AIs. Nothing on the technical side, to be sure, but this was not the intention of the authors.

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.