Archive for Ithaca

not for the faint-hearted!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2016 by xi'an

While flying over to Boston yesterday, I had a look at The Martian on my seat screen but this proved too much of a hardship: after watching the early self-surgery scene, which is definitely realistic and somewhat gory, I just fainted. Really and truly fainted, which means I came back to my senses being dragged on the plane floor by two Air France flight attendants!, hearing and seeing them but being unable to react for a dozen seconds. There was a doctor in the plane who checked upon me while I was coming back to my senses and his final advice was to stop watching this “kind of movies”, as if I knew I was going to faint from watching a  PG-13 movie… (It actually happened to me once earlier, in that I came close to fainting from watching The Last Temptation of Christ in Ithaca in the 80’s, while protesters were demonstrating outside the cinema.) Quite an embarrassment, frankly! And I did not even watch the rest of the movie…

Cayuga 1989

Posted in Kids, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2015 by xi'an


George’s dream

Posted in Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2015 by xi'an

doublewashWhile I have shared this idea with many of my friends [in both senses that I mentioned it and that they shared the same feeling that it would be a great improvement], the first time I heard of the notion was in George Casella‘s kitchen in Ithaca, New York, in the early 1990’s… We were emptying the dishwasher together and George was reflecting that it would be so convenient to have a double dishwasher and remove the need to empty it altogether! Although, at the moral level, I think that we should do without dishwashers, I found this was a terrific idea and must have told the joke to most of my friends. I was nonetheless quite surprised and very pleased to receive the news from Nicole today that Fisher & Paykel (from Auckland, New Zealand) had gone all the way to produce a double dishwasher, or more exactly a double dishdrawer, perfectly suited to George’s wishes! (Pleased that she remembered the notion after all those years, not pleased with the prospect of buying a double dish washer for more than double the cost of [and a smaller volume than] a regular dishwasher!)

ski with deviation

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by xi'an

redduckI just learned that a micro-brew brand of homemade skis has connections with statistics and, who knows, could become a sponsor to the next MCMSki…  Indeed, the brand is called deviation (as in standard deviation), located in Gresham, Oregon, and sell locally made skis and snowboards with names like The Moment Generator or The Mode! The logo  clearly indicates a statistical connection:

As it happens, two of the founding partners of deviation, Tim and Peter Wells, are the sons of my long-time friend Marty Wells from Cornell University. When I first met them, they were great kids, young enough to give no inkling they would end up producing beautiful hardwood core skis in a suburb of Portland, Oregon!!! Best wishes to them and to deviation, the most statistical of all ski brands! (Here is a report in The Oregonian that tells the story of how deviation was created.)


from statistical evidence to evidence of causality

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2013 by xi'an

I took the opportunity of having to wait at a local administration a long while today (!) to read an arXived paper by Dawid, Musio and Fienberg on the−both philosophical and practical−difficulty to establish the probabilities of the causes of effects. The first interesting thing about the paper is that it relates to the Médiator drug scandal that took place in France in the past year and still is under trial: thanks to the investigations of a local doctor, Irène Frachon, the drug was exposed as an aggravating factor for heart disease. Or maybe the cause. The case-control study of Frachon summarises into a 2×2 table with a corrected odds ratio of 17.1. From there, the authors expose the difficulties of drawing inference about causes of effects, i.e. causality, an aspect of inference that has always puzzled me. (And the paper led me to search for the distinction between odds ratio and risk ratio.)

“And the conceptual and implementational difficulties that we discuss below, that beset even the simplest case of inference about causes of effects, will be hugely magnified when we wish to take additional account of such policy considerations.”

A third interesting notion in the paper is the inclusion of counterfactuals. My introduction to counterfactuals dates back to a run in the back-country roads around Ithaca, New York, when George told me about a discussion paper from Phil he was editing for JASA on that notion with his philosopher neighbour Steven Schwartz as a discussant. (It was a great run, presumably in the late Spring. And the best introduction I could dream of!) Now, the paper starts from the counterfactual perspective to conclude that inference is close to impossible in this setting. Within my limited understanding, I would see that as a drawback of using counterfactuals, rather than of drawing inference about causes. If the corresponding statistical model is nonindentifiable, because one of the two responses is always missing, the model seems inappropriate. I am also surprised at the notion of “sufficiency” used in the paper, since it sounds like the background information cancels the need to account for the treatment (e.g., aspirin) decision.  The fourth point is the derivation of bounds on the probabilities of causation, despite everything! Quite an interesting read thus!

author rank

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2012 by xi'an

Got the following email from Amazon:

Today we have added a new feature, Amazon Author Rank, the definitive list of best-selling authors on This list makes it easy for readers to discover the best-selling authors on overall and within a selection of major genres. Your Amazon Author Rank is 44,881 in Print Books.

It is a new feature so, with a very limited past horizon, this rank seems to be moving wildly! (For instance, it is now 36,776, just a few hours later.) But so are the individual book sales. Hence a clear lack of smoothing in the indicator.

Another interesting feature of this Author Central facility is the display of US sales by district, Not only because it shows that New York and San Francisco are the cities where I sell the most books (great!) but also because it uses the notion of “combined areas”, aggregating “the copies sold in these sparsely populated areas in order to obscure any single retailer’s sales”. A good display of data protection (even though the level of aggregation sounds too high to me, resulting in “combined areas” being the 3rd highest sale area. And including Gainesville, Florida and Ithaca, New York, the two latest locations of George Casella, in this combination!

Festschrift for William E. Strawderman

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , on March 19, 2012 by xi'an

Éric Marchand just sent me the news that the Festschrift volume he edited jointly with Dominique Fourdrinier and Andrew Rukhin in honour of our dear friend Bill Strawderman has now appeared on ProjectEuclid. It is freely accessible, thanks to this great IMS policy of making everything available on-line. As my research focus drifted away from shrinkage estimation and decision theory, I am sorry I could not contribute to the volume… (I “met” Bill through my readings during my PhD thesis and “in the flesh” when visiting Cornell two years later. He has produced some of the most elegant results in the area of Stein estimation, incl. the one that no proper Bayes estimator can be minimax in dimension four or less, and if a particular shrinkage estimator was to be “Hall-of-Fame-d”, it would be his! Bill visited us in Rouen (Dominique and I) many times and even learned French in order to teach there. I also happened to have the most hilarious moment of my life [so far!] with him and George Casella on an Ithaca country road, late on a summer night, but I cannot alas disclose the details!!!)