## empire of grass [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2019 by xi'an

It took me quite a while but I eventually went over reading this second volume in the Last King of Osten Ard trilogy. One reason for taking so long is the obvious reason that the book is looong (600+ pages) and heavy and hence not easy to carry during trips. Another reason is that the pace is somewhat slow, most of the book, and complex, with at least nine central characters followed and analysed in their own story. With sometimes a lack of appeal for the level of description adopted by Tad Williams… In particular, some characters are quite irritating in their constant and immature whining, most of all the old king Simon and his grandson Morgan. This was already the case in the first volume, so it feels heavier now, although the grandson seems to improve through his catastrophic journey. In several ways, I actually preferred this second volume since the story starts to bring out a clearer framework. (Even though the lazy choice of absolute evil for the Norn elves does  clash with the description of individuals within this group makes them much more human and balanced.) Albeit rare, there were some humorous lines that struck me, like the two trees fighting for a dog (apparently not an original line from the author). The multiple threads in this book do not help with the junction with the next volume, as the ensuing rich tapestry will become quite dusty by the time it appears. Which is not discussed at this stage. Hopefully it will not join the George Martin’s and Patrick Rothfuss‘ unended series club! And not split again as in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

## end of the game

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by xi'an

[Uninteresting coincidence: in this NYT pre-finale analysis, I read the very same sentence “Power resides where people believe it resides” pronounced by Mikhail Gorbachov in the daunting Chernobyl series which I watched a few hours earlier.]

## ODOF, not Hodor [statlearn 2017]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2017 by xi'an

## Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…

## the Falcon Throne [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , on October 10, 2015 by xi'an

While the latest Karen Miller’s A Blight of Mages was mostly a chore to read, this novel The Falcon Throne starts a new series in a completely different universe. In a rather pleasant manner, albeit somewhat predictable and slow-paced. The story takes place in a medieval world split into many small duchies, fighting one another without a central powerful figure, with additional struggles for power within each duchy. On the main island, hosting two such duchies (plus Marches in the middle!), Roric, one duke reluctantly comes to power by overthrowing his cousin, while the other duke is afraid of his violent oldest son Balfre and tries to promote the younger one instead. The whole book follows those characters to the inevitable war between both duchies. While the plot follows the evolution or lack thereof of the characters of Roric and Balfre over 15 years, it also pays some attentions to the economics of this world and the role of the merchants, who are hindered from dealing with alien duchies for political reasons and who hold the true power in most places through the huge loans the states took from them. Roric’s duchy is further weakened by bad weather, plagues and pirates’ raids, which makes one wonders how it can resist that long to being annexed by one neighbouring state… Contrary to Karen Miller’s previous books, magic plays a minor (if important) part in the story, which is for the best as it is not a very subtle part! It clearly helps in making some otherwise implausible transitions in the power structure of the novel… Characters may be slightly caricaturesque, especially in their dialogues, but they are sketched well-enough for their sudden death to come as a surprise! Indeed (minor spoiler!), most characters vanish before the end of the book, and very rarely of old age. If this reminds you of another throne, you are not alone! Most criticisms of The Falcon Throne see too much imitation of George Martin‘s Song of Ice and Fire series. And of his habit to turn central characters into corpses. While this is indeed the case, with a further similarity in insisting on politics and the relevance of supply lines, I did not feel a strong connection when reading the book. Pleasant enough to look for the next instalment!

## The winds of Winter [Bayesian prediction]

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by xi'an

A surprising entry on arXiv this morning: Richard Vale (from Christchurch, NZ) has posted a paper about the characters appearing in the yet hypothetical next volume of George R.R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire series, The winds of Winter [not even put for pre-sale on amazon!]. Using the previous five books in the series and the frequency of occurrence of characters’ point of view [each chapter being told as from the point of view of one single character], Vale proceeds to model the number of occurrences in a given book by a truncated Poisson model,

$x_{it} \sim \mathcal{P}(\lambda_i)\text{ if }|t-\beta_i|<\tau_i$

in order to account for [most] characters dying at some point in the series. All parameters are endowed with prior distributions, including the terrible “large” hyperpriors familiar to BUGS users… Despite the code being written in R by the author. The modelling does not use anything but the frequencies of the previous books, so knowledge that characters like Eddard Stark had died is not exploited. (Nonetheless, the prediction gives zero chapter to this character in the coming volumes.) Interestingly, a character who seemingly died at the end of the last book is still given a 60% probability of having at least one chapter in  The winds of Winter [no spoiler here, but many in the paper itself!]. As pointed out by the author, the model as such does not allow for prediction of new-character chapters, which remains likely given Martin’s storytelling style! Vale still predicts 11 new-character chapters, which seems high if considering the series should be over in two more books [and an unpredictable number of years!].

As an aside, this paper makes use of the truncnorm R package, which I did not know and which is based on John Geweke’s accept-reject algorithm for truncated normals that I (independently) proposed a few years later.

## hospital series

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2013 by xi'an

While I usually never find enough time to watch series (or even less telly!), I took advantage of those three weeks at the hospital to catch up with Game of Thrones and discovered Sherlock, thanks to Judith. As I have been reading George Martin’s epics, A Song of Ice and Fire, from the very beginning in 1991, I was of course interested to see how those massive books with their intricate politics and complex family trees could be made into 50 minutes episodes. Glimpses caught from my son’s computer had had me looking forward to it. After watching the entire second season and the earlier episodes of the third season, I am quite impressed by both the rendering of the essentials of the book and the quality of the movies. It is indeed amazing that HBO invested so much into the series, with large scale battles and medieval cities and thousands of characters. The filming locations were also well-chosen: while I thought most of the northern scenes had been shot in Scotland, it actually appears that they mostly came from Ireland and Iceland (with incredible scenery like the one above beyond the Wall!).  The cast is not completely perfect, obviously, with both Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Rob Stark (Richard Madden) being too shallow in my opinion and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) lacking charisma, but most characters are well-rendered and the Lannisters are terrific, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) being the top actor in my opinion (and Arya (Maisie Williams) coming second). I was also surprised by the popularity of the series at the hospital, as several nurses and doctors started discussing it with me…

Sherlock Holmes is a British series, set in contemporary London, and transposing some of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures in contemporary Britain. While I had not heard about this series previously, I was quite taken by it. It is quite innovative both in its scenario and its filming, it does not try to stick to the books, the dialogues are witty and the variety of accents quite pleasant (if hard to catch at times), and… Watson has a blog! It is also a pleasure to catch glimpses of London (Baker Street is actually Gower Street, near UCL) and the Hound of Baskerville takes place on Dartmoor.  I do not think I will continue watching those series once out of the hospital, but they were a pleasing distraction taking me far, far away from my hospital room for a few hours!