Archive for England

Amy in Randomland [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2022 by xi'an

Amy’s Luck is a short book by David Hand that I recently received for review in CHANCE. David, whom I have known for quite a while now, is professor at Imperial College London. This is not his first book, by far! But this may be the most unusual one, if not the shortest. Written as a pastiche of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it tells of the adventures of a young girl named Amy in the pursuit of luck or at least of its meaning. It has about the same number of chapters as Carroll’s book and could easily be read on a leisurely boat trip from Oxford to Godstow. While non-sensical and playing on the imprecision of the English language, its probabilist is both correct and rational. References to the original Alice abound and I presumably missed a fair portion of them, having read Alice (in French) decades ago. The book also contains illustrations from the author, gathered into a charm bracelet printed on the cover and a most helpful appendix where David points out the real world stories behind those of Amy, which is also full of gems, like Kolmogorov being a train conductor in his youth. (Missing an addition about Galton’s quincunx, esp. when his cousin Darwin is more than mentioned.) Or Asimov creating the milihelen to measure how much beauty was required to launch a ship. Overall, it is quite charming and definitely enjoyable, if presumably not accessible by the same audience as Alice‘s. And unlikely to take over Alice‘s! But from “She could understand the idea that coins had heads”, to a Nightingale rose renamed after Miss Starling, to the permutation of Brown, Stein, and Bachelier into Braun, Stone, and a bachelor, David must have had fun writing it. As others will while reading it and trying to separate probabilistic sense from non-sense.

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

Klara and the Sun [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2022 by xi'an

Klara and the Sun is the latest book of Kazuo Ishiguro. I am a big admirer of Ishiguro’s books and always moved by their bittersweet exploration of humanity (or humanness?!). The remains of the day is one of my favourite books, competing with Graham Greene’s The end of the affair,  and I deeply enjoyed When we were orphans, Never let me go, and The buried giant. While this latest book exhibits the same craftsmanship in depicting human feelings and incomplete (in the sense of unsatisfactory) relations, I feel like I missed some component of the book, too many hints, the overall message… Not that I rushed through it, contrary to my habit, reading a few chapters at a time during lunch breaks. But I cannot set the separation between the subjective perception of Klara [the robotic friend], which is very clearly limited, both by her robotic sensors [lacking a sense of smell for instance] and her learning algorithm, furthermore aggravated by her wasting (?) some material to sabotage a machine, and the real world [within the novel, a vague two-tiered USA]. Because the perspective is always Klara’s. This confusion may be completely intentional and is in that sense brilliant. But I remained perplexed by the Sun central episode in the novel, which I fear reveals a side of the story I did not get. Like Джозі в якийсь момент перетворилася на робота? [Using Ukrainian to avoid spoilers for most readers!]  (In a way, Klara and the Sun is a variation on Never let me go, both dealing with a future where copies of humans could be available, for those who could afford it.)

David Cox (1924-2022)

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2022 by xi'an

It is with much sadness that I heard from Oxford yesterday night that David Cox had passed away. Hither goes a giant of the field, whose contributions to theoretical and methodological statistics are enormous and whose impact on society is truly exceptional. He was the first recipient of the International Prize in Statistics in 2016 (aka the “Nobel of Statistics”) among many awards and a Fellow of the Royal Society among many other recognitions. He was also the editor of Biometrika for 25 years (!) and was still submitting papers to the journal a few month ago. Statistical Science published a conversation between Nancy Reid and him that tells a lot about the man and his amazing modesty. While I had met him in 1989, when he was visiting Cornell University as a distinguished visitor (and when I drove him to the house of Anne and George Casella for dinner once), then again in the 1990s when he came on a two-day visit to CREST,  we only really had a significant conversation in 2011 (!), when David and I attended the colloquium in honour of Mike Titterington in Glasgow and he proved to be most interested in the ABC algorithm. He published a connected paper in Biometrika the year after, with Christiana Katsonaki. We met a few more times later, always in Oxford, to again discuss ABC. In each occasion, he was incredibly kind and considerate.

Misera Carta Privationis

Posted in Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2021 by xi'an

Read in The Guardian of 18 November that the UK Government was pushing for a new bill on nationality and borders that would

  • open the possibility for said Government of stripping British citizens of their nationality without noticing them (and hence depriving them from appealing the decision)
  • barring anyone arriving in the UK by an illegal route from claiming refugee status
  • criminalising anyone trying save an illegal immigrant life
  • giving UK Border Force staff immunity from prosecution if their operations result in death

which are failing basic human right principles in the country that established the Magna Carta as a basis for a lawful government… (From a cynic perspective, the 1253 charter was only giving right to a very small fraction of the English population, while serfdom lasted until 1574.) And another illustration of how Brexit is more easily used to cut rights than to establish new ones.

back to W

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2021 by xi'an

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