Archive for COVID-19

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2023 by xi'an

Read Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows, a rather traditional tale of an orphan boy learning assassin’s skills from a master, within a crime guild organisation tolerated by a feudal structure itself ruled by a below-par king, with the usual dilemma between dedication to the (gory and amoral) job and love+friendship+loyalty constraints. Both collide when the love+friends+kingdom come under actual threat from a neighbouring total-evil kingdom. Some aspects of the dilemma are interesting, other are not and weaknesses in the scenario abound. The final climax of this first volume is quite disappointing, but cannot be discussed as a sequence of major spoilers. I wonder whether the following volumes will see some improvement. And Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman, a somewhat enjoyable detective novel but… lacking a proper level of surprise, with whiffs of Marlowe emanating from the central character, Nils Shapiro, an annoying tendency to brand name dropping, detailed descriptions of itineraries that should bore even the locals, and the of-so-convenient! recourse to Somali terrorism in the middle of Minneapolis, to solve the day. Plus a painful insistence on how foul Winter is in Minnesota…

Had a week of Venetian fare at Da’a Marisa, the de facto cantine of Ca’Foscari! And a sampling of neighbouring cannoli, not always successful and not competing with the cannoleria I visited in Milano, which made me cook a batch myself for Easter weekend. With the result that the tubes were reasonable but the ricotta filling too liquid.

Watched the last season of the BBC series His Dark Materials, while wondering whether or not the third volume of the Book of Dust would ever appear. And Kill Boksoon (길복순) which is a manga style movie playing on the hardship of being a single mother when working full time as a contracted killer! Very light (and gory) if rather funny.

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year [far North]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2023 by xi'an

Read Le sabre des Takeda (Furin kazan, 風林火山) by Inoue Yasushi, a very interesting book set between Japanese history and feudal novel, with surgical descriptions of battles and psychological tensions. This book reminded me in some aspects of a novel of Yoshimura Akira on the earthquake of Kantô by its insistence on minutiae. Even though the style may be destabilizing, the central character, Yamamoto Kansuke, is fascinating. This is the first book by the author that I read, but I am now considering reading his Hunting Gun (as well as watching the 1969 movie with Mifune that was inspired from that book, if I can locate a copy). I also came across A Winter’s Promise, by Christelle Dabos. This is the first volume in The Mirror Visitor, which I bought in the airport in Milano. In English, despite the original being in French, which may help in distancing from the YA tone that sometimes permeates the style. An interesting creation nonetheless, hopefully keeping up till the fourth volume! As an aside, I found my Kindle inexplicably covered by condensation one evening, although this did not prevent it from working. Possibly correlated with my falling asleep while reading from it the night before.

Had great reindeer dishes in Lapland, as well as poorly cooked Arctic crab, despite magnificent specimen displayed in the aquarium of the restaurant. And made a trip back to the Ethiopian restaurant we visited for my 60th B party, this time without the excitement of having our laptops stolen and then retrieved. (Just as well since Tony Lelièvre was not part of the dinner party this time!)

Watched World War Z on a lazy Sunday night upon my return from Lapland, which I found appalling at many levels and unbearably US-centric (or just plainly racist). The scene where the zombies assail the West Bank separation wall is particularly shocking! I also watched Steel Rain, a South Korean manga turned into a movie about a fantasy coup in North Korea. Very fantasist and detached from reality, but still manageable.

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year [no end on sight]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2023 by xi'an

Read the second volume of The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone,  with great difficulties as I found the story (again) poorly constructed, despite some characters being mostly well-designed (no connection with volume 1, except for taking place in the same universe, if at another time period). Mixing steampunk and hard fantasy involving gods does not work well in general and particularly there…. Following a New York Tĩmes review of the sequel, I also went very quickly through the Unwanted Dead, a first volume by Chris Lloyd, HWA Gold Crown for Best Historical Fiction winner for 2021, following a (s)hell-shocked PTSD-ed Paris police detective during World War II, when German troops arrive in the city. Not very realistic imho, as the nosy inspector happens to cross paths with Hitler during his very brief and unique visit to Paris as well as in Compiègne, and with a disappointing resolution of the wagon murders, but well-documented and with no obvious anachronism (except the unlikely presence of bathrooms in all apartments!, and the detective drinking whisky). (A wee nitpicking: Neuilly-sur-Seine (west of Paris) seemed to be confused with Neuilly-Plaisance (east of Paris), but the author acknowledged to me a general tendency to confuse east and west, just like I usually confuse right and left…) Overall, I found the Berlin Noir (Philip Kerr’s) novels more impressive and engaging!

Had a matcha flan in Paris, following a tip from Le Monde!, but was somewhat disappointed by its mild flavour, if comforted by the hojicha kokicha (made solely of tea stems) they served. And an excellent Filipino dinner in Kenilworth. And a yummy lamb Turkish Gözleme next to the ATI in London. While snacking the rest of week on Mysore dosas made on the street next to the Statistics Department at Warwick.

Watched (via a neighbour screen, on the flight to Martinique!) La Nuit du 12, a French thriller that got elected as Film of the Year (2022) by the Le Masque & La Plume (France Inter) audience, following a police investigation in the Maurienne valley after a particularly grisly murder of a young girl, one of the most fascinating aspects being that the crime remains unsolved despite the police efforts. In an impromptu home-made (!) Michelle Yeoh cycle, rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon after reading a particularly positive article in The Guardian. While the fighting scenes are definitely worth watching, esp. the trio fight on ice, the story remains rather lame. And Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I had also partly watched in the plane, but found highly unsatisfactory overall as lacking purpose, despite some great scenes between Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis ! Concurring with the strongly critical analyses in The New Yorker and the Guardian at the failure of the Daniels to find a purpose and a pace. (To quote from the latter, “these often impressively nutso formal backflips land in a position of pedestrian sentimentality, and then upbraid anyone resisting the viscous flood of sap for their cynicism.”) The scenes around the Everything Bagel are interminable…

The Effect [book review]

Posted in Books, R, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2023 by xi'an

While it sounds like the title of a science-fiction catastrophe novel or of a (of course) convoluted nouveau roman, this book by Nick Huntington-Klein is a massive initiation to econometrics and causality. As explained by the subtitle, An Introduction to Research Design and Causality.

This is a hüûüge book, actually made of two parts that could have been books (volumes?). And covering three langages, R, Stata, and Python, which should have led to three independent books. (Seriously, why print three versions when you need at best one?!)  I carried it with me during my vacations in Central Québec, but managed to loose my notes on the first part, which means missing the opportunity for biased quotes! It was mostly written during the COVID lockdown(s), which may explain for a certain amount of verbosity and rambling around.

“My mom loved the first part of the book and she is allergic to statistics.”

The first half (which is in fact a third!) is conceptual (and chatty) and almost formula free, based on the postulate that “it’s a pretty slim portion of students who understand a method because of an equation” (p.xxii). For this reader (or rather reviewer) and on explanations through example, it makes the reading much harder as spotting the main point gets harder (and requires reading most sentences!). And a very slow start since notations and mathematical notions have to be introduced with an excess of caution (as in the distinction between Latin and Greek symbols, p.36). Moving through single variable models, conditional distributions, with a lengthy explanation of how OLS are derived, data generating process and identification (of causes), causal diagrams, back and front doors (a recurrent notion within the book),  treatment effects and a conclusion chapter.

“Unlike statistical research, which is completely made of things that are at least slightly false, statistics itself is almost entirely true.” (p.327)

The second part, called the Toolbox, is closer to a classical introduction to econometrics, albeit with a shortage of mathematics (and no proof whatsoever), although [warning!] logarithms, polynomials, partial derivatives and matrices are used. Along with a consequent (3x) chunk allocated to printed codes, the density of the footnotes significantly increases in this section. It covers an extensive chapter on regression (including testing practice, non-linear and generalised linear models, as well as basic bootstrap without much warning about its use in… regression settings, and LASSO),  one on matching (with propensity scores, kernel weighting, Mahalanobis weighting, one on  simulation, yes simulation! in the sense of producing pseudo-data from known generating processes to check methods, as well as bootstrap (with resampling residuals making at last an appearance!), fixed and random effects (where the author “feels the presence of Andrew Gelman reaching through time and space to disagree”, p.405). The chapter on event studies is about time dependent data with a bit of ARIMA prediction (but nothing on non-stationary series and unit root issues). The more exotic chapters cover (18) difference-in-differences models (control vs treated groups, with John Snow pumping his way in), (19) instrumental variables (aka the minor bane of my 1980’s econometrics courses), with double least squares and generalised methods of moments (if not the simulated version), (20) discontinuity (i.e., changepoints), with the limitation of having a single variate explaining the change, rather than an unknown combination of them, and a rather pedestrian approach to the issue, (iv) other methods (including the first mention of machine learning regression/prediction and some causal forests), concluding with an “Under the rug” portmanteau.

Nothing (afaict) on multivariate regressed variates and simultaneous equations. Hardly an occurrence of Bayesian modelling (p.581), vague enough to remind me of my first course of statistics and the one-line annihilation of the notion.

Duh cover, but nice edition, except for the huge margins that could have been cut to reduce the 622 pages by a third (and harnessed the tendency of the author towards excessive footnotes!). And an unintentional white line on p.238! Cute and vaguely connected little drawings at the head of every chapter (like the head above). A rather terse matter index (except for the entry “The first reader to spot this wins ten bucks“!), which should have been completed with an acronym index.

“Calculus-heads will recognize all of this as taking integrals of the density curve. Did you know there’s calculus hidden inside statistics? The things your professor won’t tell you until it’s too late to drop the class.

Obviously I am biased in that I cannot negatively comment on an author running 5:37 a mile as, by now, I could just compete far from the 5:15 of yester decades! I am just a wee bit suspicious at the reported time, however, given that it happens exactly on page 537… (And I could have clearly taken issue with his 2014 paper, Is Robert anti-teacher? Or with the populist catering to anti-math attitudes as the above found in a footnote!) But I enjoyed reading the conceptual chapter on causality as well as the (more) technical chapter on instrumental variables (a notion I have consistently found confusing all the [long] way from graduate school). And while repeated references are made to Scott Cunningham’s Causal Inference: The Mixtape I think I will stop there with 500⁺ page introductory econometrics books!

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will potentially appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE.]

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year [with avocados]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2023 by xi'an

Read two books by Alix E. Harrow, A Spindle Splintered and A Mirror Mended, which are modern takes on Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Rather hilarious for their tone and dry humour, if rather YAs… And Undercover, a novella by Tasmyn Muir. Rather well-build steampunk around a moving city and… zombies. Plus a new volume of Blake and Mortimer, a gift from my son, which is a come-back to more standard scenarios in the series, set in the 1950’s between Berlin and the USSR. Hence much enjoyable. Not at all like These Violent Delights, by Chloe Gong, which I could not complete reading. I bought this book last Fall in Brussels‘ English bookstore, in the horror section shelf!, attracted by the prospect of a gang war in 1926 Shanghai. But the story is terrible, the style appalling, and the characters laughable, the proclaimed connection with Romeo and Juliet making little sense…

Made heaps of guacamole from the 2kg of local avocados we brought back from Martinique. Still unclear about cooking with the accompanying fresh tamarind box. Ice cream, as the flavour on sale at the Fort-de-France airport?! If not tamarind, we had a great (or slow) time eating our way through Martinique, incl. the highly original Habitation Céron at the Northern tip of the island and its most unusual mix of flavours.

Watched The Pale Blue Eye, by Scott Cooper, which stemmed from the appealing concept of involving the then-West-Point-Cadet Edgar Allan Poe in a crime inquiry, but flopped rather miserably with unbearably slow dialogues, a ludicrous incursion of dark magic, and a terrible ending. And both Knives Out, Glass Onion (#2) being much better in my opinion. Craig’s acting is superb (with his Southern accent), the scenario twists most enjoyable, if far from realistic, and the satire of tech billionaires a balm. The earlier Knives Out is too cluedo-y, with the final twist revealed way too early, and too much sympathy for one character. (But having Jamie Lee Curtis acting as a redeeming feature!) I also finished All quiet on the Western Front, which somehow disappointed me, maybe because E.M. Remarque’s book is one of my favourites. And I could not entirely recover the friendship bond between the troopers that was central to the story, presumably due to lengthy gory scenes or the accumulation of woes in the final hours before Armistice. The last third of the film stalls, somehow bogged into the prospect of the coming disaster as the troopers are in the hellish landscape of the front lines. The heavily stressed opposition between the muck of the trenches and the refinery of the Compiègne wagons (despite the stale croissants!) was quite unecessary, as Remarque’s point was to stay away from the higher spheres (as opposed to his later books, like Drei Kameraden). [The Guardian of 13 Feb features a highly interesting interview of Lesley Paterson,  the Scott screenwriter of the film who not only spent 16 years making All Quiet &tc., but also financed it through triathlon winnings!]

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