Archive for India

Nature tidbits

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2019 by xi'an

Before returning a few older issues of Nature to the coffee room of the maths department, a quick look brought out the few following items of interests, besides the great cover above:

  • France showing the biggest decline in overal output among the top 10 countries in the Nature Index Annual Tables.
  • A tribune again the EU’s Plan S, towards funding (private) publishers directly from public (research) money. Why continuing to support commercial journals one way or another?!
  • A short debate on geo-engineering towards climate control, with the dire warning that “little is known about the consequences” [which could be further damaging the chances of human survival on this planet].
  • Another call for the accountability of companies designing AI towards fairness and unbiasedness [provided all agree on the meaning of these terms]
  • A study that argues that the obesity epidemics is more prevalent in rural than urban areas due to a higher recourse to junk food in the former.
  • A data mining venture in India to mine [not read] 73 million computerised journal articles, which is not yet clearly legal as the publishers object to it. Although the EU (and the UK) have laws authorising mining for non-commercial goals. (And India has looser regulations wrt copyright.)

FALL [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2019 by xi'an

The “last” book I took with me to Japan is Neal Stephenson’s FALL. With subtitle “Dodge in Hell”. It shares some characters with REAMDE but nothing prevents reading it independently as a single volume. Or not reading it at all! I am rather disappointed by the book and hence  sorry I had to carry it throughout Japan and back. And slightly X’ed at Nature writing such a positive review. And at The Guardian. (There is a theme there, as I took REAMDE for a trip to India with a similar feeling at the end. Maybe the sheer weight of the book is pulling my morale down…) The most important common feature to both books is the game industry, since the main (?) character is a game company manager, who is wealthy enough to ensure the rest of the story holds some financial likelihood. And whose training as a game designer impacts the construction of the afterlife that takes a good (or rather terrible) half of the heavy volume. The long minutes leading to his untimely death are also excruciatingly rendered (with none of the experimental nature of Leopold Bloom’s morning). With the side information that Dodge suffers from ocular migraine, a nuisance that visits me pretty regularly since my teenage years! The scientific aspects of the story are not particularly exciting either, since the core concept is that by registering the entire neuronal network of the brain of individuals after their death, a computer could revive them by simulating this network. With dead people keeping their personality if very little of their memories. And even more fanciful, interacting between them and producing a signal that can be understood by (living) humans. Despite having no sensory organs. The reconstruction of a world by the simulated NNs is unbearably slow and frankly uninteresting as it reproduces both living behaviours and borrows very heavily from the great myths, mostly Greek, with no discernible depth. The living side of the story is not much better, although with a little touch of the post-apocalyptic flavour I appreciated in Stephenson. But not enough to recover from the fall.

Among other things that set me off with the book, the complete lack of connection with the massive challenges currently facing humanity. Energy crisis? climate change? Nope. Keep taking an hydroplane to get from Seattle to islands on Puget Sound? Sure. Spending abyssal amounts of energy to animate this electronic Hades? By all means. More and more brittle democracies? Who cares, the Afterworld is a pantheon where gods clash and rule lower beings. Worse, the plot never reaches beyond America, from the heavily focused philosophical or religious background to the character life trajectories. Characters are surprisingly unidimensional, with no default until they become evil. Or die. Academics are not even unidimensional. For instance Sophie’s thesis defence is at best a chat in a café… And talks at a specialist workshop switch from impressive mathematical terms to a 3D representation of the activity of the simulated neuronal networks. Whille these few individuals keep impacting the whole World for their whole life. And beyond… By comparison, the Riverworld series of Phillip José Farmer (that I read forty years ago) is much more enjoyable as a tale of the Afterworld, even if one can object at “famous” people been central to the action. At least there are more of them and, judging from their (first) life, they may have interesting and innovative to say.

Nature snapshots

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2019 by xi'an

In this 6 June issue of Nature, which I read on my way to O’Bayes, an editorial on the scary move by the WHO to incorporate traditional Chinese medicine remedies in its classification as this includes drugs made from protected and endangered species and as such remedies have not been evidence tested. A news brief on India abandoning the requirement for PhD students to get a paper published prior to been awarded the degree, presumably much to the sorrow of predatory publishers. A delay to Plan S (a European project to make all funded research freely available) reported to 21 January 2021. A review of the latest and yet unpublished book by Neal Stephenson, Fall. Which I obviously ordered immediately! A paper in the British Journal of Anasthesia published along with an independent assessment of the same study (methods and results). Some letters protesting the “public’s phobia” induced by the series Chernobyl. Which recoups an email from one of my colleagues on the same complaining theme, since “only 20 deaths” can be attributed to the disaster with certainty! A revisit of the “cold fusion” with no evidence of the claimed phenomenon that led to a scientific outcry in 1989.

Siem Reap conference

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2019 by xi'an

As I returned from the conference in Siem Reap. on a flight avoiding India and Pakistan and their [brittle and bristling!] boundary on the way back, instead flying far far north, near Arkhangelsk (but with nothing to show for it, as the flight back was fully in the dark), I reflected how enjoyable this conference had been, within a highly friendly atmosphere, meeting again with many old friends (some met prior to the creation of CREST) and new ones, a pleasure not hindered by the fabulous location near Angkor of course. (The above picture is the “last hour” group picture, missing a major part of the participants, already gone!)

Among the many talks, Stéphane Shao gave a great presentation on a paper [to appear in JASA] jointly written with Pierre Jacob, Jie Ding, and Vahid Tarokh on the Hyvärinen score and its use for Bayesian model choice, with a highly intuitive representation of this divergence function (which I first met in Padua when Phil Dawid gave a talk on this approach to Bayesian model comparison). Which is based on the use of a divergence function based on the squared error difference between the gradients of the true log-score and of the model log-score functions. Providing an alternative to the Bayes factor that can be shown to be consistent, even for some non-iid data, with some gains in the experiments represented by the above graph.

Arnak Dalalyan (CREST) presented a paper written with Lionel Riou-Durand on the convergence of non-Metropolised Langevin Monte Carlo methods, with a new discretization which leads to a substantial improvement of the upper bound on the sampling error rate measured in Wasserstein distance. Moving from p/ε to √p/√ε in the requested number of steps when p is the dimension and ε the target precision, for smooth and strongly log-concave targets.

This post gives me the opportunity to advertise for the NGO Sala Baï hostelry school, which the whole conference visited for lunch and which trains youths from underprivileged backgrounds towards jobs in hostelery, supported by donations, companies (like Krama Krama), or visiting the Sala Baï  restaurant and/or hotel while in Siem Reap.

 

Nature tea[dbits]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2019 by xi'an

A very special issue of Nature (7 February 2019, vol. 556, no. 7742). With an outlook section on tea, plus a few research papers (and ads) on my principal beverage. News about the REF, Elsevier’s and Huawei’s woes with the University of California, the dangerous weakening of Title IX by the Trump administration, and a long report on the statistical analysis of Hurricane Maria deaths, involving mostly epidemiologists, but also Patrick Ball who took part in our Bayes for Good workshop at CIRM. Plus China’s food crisis and ways to reduce cropland losses and food waste. Concerning the tea part(y), a philogenetic study of different samples led to the theory that tea was domesticated thrice, twice in Yunnan (China) and once in Assam (India), with a divergence estimated at more than twenty thousand years ago. Another article on Pu-Ehr, with the potential impacts of climate change on this very unique tea. With a further remark that higher altitudes increase the anti-oxydant level of tea… And a fascinating description of agro-forestry where tea and vegetables are grown in a forest that regulates sun exposure, moisture evaporation, and soil nutrients.

Darjeeling shortage

Posted in Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2018 by xi'an

When looking for Darjeeling tea in the recent days, I found out that the summer (or second flush) harvest has been very limited due to a 104 day strike in the region linked with the call for the creation of a Gorkhaland state and the separation from West Bengal. I remember discussing the issue last year in Darjeeling, with guides and taxi drivers, who were calling for the recognition of their cultural specificities, including the use of Nepali in local schools rather than Bengali. What amazes me a lot in this strike is the engagement of the tea garden workers, who have certainly few alternatives if any in terms of income sources. Unless I misread the situation and they were barred from attending the gardens… (Of lesser concern is the rise of the tea prices by a factor of ten for the highest quality leaves.) Hopefully, the tea gardens will recover from being left to grow wild for such a long while. And from workers leaving the region to find work elsewhere.

 

only in India… [jatp]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2018 by xi'an

Last time I visited India, I highlighted an advertisement for a machine-learning match-making system. This time, while eating a last aloo paratha for breakfast in Kolkata, I noticed ads for Hindu temples on the back of my Air India boarding passes which are actually run by the State of Gujarat rather than the temples themselves. (Gujarat is India’s westernmost state.)