Archive for England

in Bristol for the day

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2020 by xi'an

I am in Bristol for the day, giving a seminar at the Department of Statistics where I had not been for quite a while (and not since the Department has moved to a beautifully renovated building). The talk is on ABC-Gibbs, whose revision is on the verge of being resubmitted. (I also hope Greta will let me board my plane tonight…)

a little hatred [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2020 by xi'an

While the last books of Joe Abercrombie [I read] were not as exhilarating as the earliest ones, this first volume of a new trilogy brings back memories of the excitement of reading a radically new form of fantasy. Of realistic fantasy if both terms can be twinned together!

“Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things?”

A little hatred (an obvious understatement!) takes place one to two generations later than the First Law trilogy. Meaning that the anti-heroes from the previous books have by now either died (a fairly common occurrence in Abercrombie’s universe) or aged a lot (more uncommon, except for magii—whose role is rather unclear in this story) and lost in influence for most of them. The new central characters are thus children or grand-children of these ancient characters as the clannish and feudal power structures of this universe do not allow for much social upheaval, except when workers unite and turn Luddites! The society has indeed evolved towards a sort of industrial revolution with landowners expelling farmers and turning them (as well as former soldiers) into cheap labour for emerging factories, just as in the historical England of the 19th Century… The rebellion of the workers in one of the factory towns is the main event of A little hatred and Abercrombie’s description of the event is fantastic (and ghastly). Much more than the millionth battle between the North and the Union, which ends up in a macho duel. And shows the clear superiority of female characters in that story.  I thus hope the sequel will keep up with this renewed creativity of the author!

the secret Commonwealth [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by xi'an

Now that I have read The secret Commonwealth over the X break, I cannot but wait eagerly for the third volume! The book is indeed quite good, much in the spirit of the first ones in His dark materials than of the previous La belle sauvage. When La belle sauvage was at its core an oniric and symbolic tale floating on the Thames, with some events on the side, The secret Commonwealth on the opposite is much more centred on adventures and quests and a real story (or rather make it three!) and a growing threat, with side philosophical musings. Quite the opposite of the first book, in short. Even the time localisation is reverted. While La belle sauvage was taking place ten years before His dark materials, making Lyra a very young baby, this book takes place ten years later with Lyra a young adult, growing very quickly in maturity through the pages of the book. The two are so incredibly different that they could have almost be written by different authors… The secret Commonwealth is also much more cosmopolitan than its older sibling as both Lyra and Pan leave Oxford, then England to travel through Europe and Middle East towards a most dangerous destination. The central theme of the book is whether or not Reason or Rationalism should guide one’s life. Given the magical realism of the novel, where the soul of each character is expressed as a companion expressed as a particular animal, a marten called Pan (short for Pantalaimon) for Lyra, it is somewhat an easy (easier than in our own World!) plot line to dismiss rationalist thinkers pretending they do no exist. And to paint the philosophers following this route as either shallow and more interested in rethorics (than philosophy) or fake and deluded. Since Lyra reading these authors is the reason for a widening split between her and Pan, I did not find this part the best in the plot, even though it seemed inevitable. But the resulting quest and the “chance” meetings of both central characters are gripping and well-written, as well as deeply poignant. All characters build some depth, esp. compared with La belle sauvage where they were mostly caricatures. As it is very rare that the second volume in a series brings so much pleasure and improvements, I strongly recommend it (even as a start, skipping La belle sauvage !)

and it only gets worse [verbatim]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2019 by xi'an

“Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy” M. Menezes, US Secretary of Energy

“NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part)” DT,, 7 June

“I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.) [sic], the Prince of Whales [re-sic]” DT, 13 June

“[Sarah Sanders] is going to be leaving the service of her country and she’s going to be going  (…) She’s a very special person, a very, very fine woman, she has been so great, she has such heart, she’s strong but with great, great heart, and I want to thank you for an outstanding job.” DT, 13 June

“…when I asked, ‘How many will die?’ ‘150 people, sir’, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not … proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” DT, 21 June

“The reason we have tragedies like that on the border is because that father didn’t wait to go through the asylum process in the legal fashion and decided to cross the river and not only died but his daughter died tragically as well,” K. Cuccinelli, head of US Immigration and Citizenship Services, 28 June

“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. But if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television.” DT, 24 June

last call for O’Bayes in Warwick

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2019 by xi'an

This is a last call for late participants or would-be participants to the O’Bayes conference at the end of the month, in Warwick on 28 June – 02 July, and right after the BNP 12 conference. Posters can still be submitted to me and registration is still open for another two weeks.

O’Bayes 2019 conference program

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2019 by xi'an

The full and definitive program of the O’Bayes 2019 conference in Warwick is now on line. Including discussants for all papers. And the three [and free] tutorials on Friday afternoon, 28 June, on model selection (M. Barbieri), MCMC recent advances (G.O. Roberts) and BART (E.I. George). Registration remains open at the reduced rate and submissions of posters can still be sent to me for all conference participants.

sorcerer to the Crown [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2019 by xi'an

Sorcerer to the Crown is an historical fantasy book by Zen Cho I got into buying by reading a review linking most positively the novel to the monumental Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Obviously I should have known better, given that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was several years in the making, with both a very convincing reconstitution of a 19th Century style and a fairly deep plot with fantastic historical connections that took me several reads (and the help of the BBC rendering) to completely understand. Nothing of the sort with this first book in the series, except for the acknowledged influence of Susanna Clarke’s novel. I started reading Sorcerer to the Crown wondering whether this was the young adult version of the other book, the parallel being almost obvious, from the decline of English magic to the Fairy Land accessible from a shrinking number of places, to the inhumanity (or rather a-humanity) of the King of the Fairies, to the old men ruling the magician society by being adverse to any sort of innovation. The attempts at differentiating the story from this illustrious predecessor are somewhat heavy-handed as the author tackles all at once race (the two main characters are African and Indian, respectively, and face discrimination, albeit far from the extent they would have been subjected to in the actual late 1700’s England), gender (magic is repressed in girls from the upper classes), class (see previous!), politics (the British Crown would like very much the help of magicians in fighting Napoléon), imperialism (as British links with India and Malaysia are shown to support local rulers towards gaining hold in these countries).  Once more, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell addresses these issues more subtly from Stephen Black‘s significant role in the story, to the equally major impact of Arabella Strange in the unraveling of her husband greatness, to the contributions of Jonathan Strange to the Napoleonic wars… This however made for a light travel read that I completed within a few days. Enjoying the dialogues more than the [rather uni-dimensional] characters and the low-intensity action scenes.