Archive for NASA

BoJo’s return to no-future

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2022 by xi'an

The [harebrained] proposal of Boris Johnson to return to so-called imperial measurements or units illustrates [beyond his usual flair for spinning out of yet-another-scandal] an all-too-common innumeracy of politicians (and possibly a lingering anti-French sentiment as metric units were introduced by the French Revolution), preferring to cater to their Brexit voters rather than realising the drawbacks and costs of a parallel system of measurements, as illustrated by the 1999 Orbiter crash. Does he plan to exit the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures as well?! Or does he expect an improvement in numeracy with the public using different bases (other than 10) at ounce once?!

the calculating stars [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2021 by xi'an

This fist sounded like an interesting attempt at alternate history, when a massive meteor strike obliterating the Washington DC region in 1952 forced the World to change shift towards space exploration and the eventual evacuation of Earth. The story is told from a computer (or computress) viewpoint, who is a wunderkid, a mathematician, a physicist, a war (WASP) pilot, and more, with a strong will and an independent mind, hoping to become a female astronaut. If the setting reminds you of Hidden figures, a (great) movie about the true story of NASA black female mathematicians, it is no surprise and I wonder how much inspiration the author got from these historical facts, if not from the 2016 book itself. Despite receiving many awards, like the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards!, The Calculating Stars is somewhat of a disappointment to me, because of the highly single-minded perspective,  where everything (related to solving the forecast extinction) seems to happen with a small group of people, because of the confusion between a mathematician and someone who can do complex arithmetics by head, to the near-perfection of the central character, who can also hotwire a car, because of the anachronisms, incl. the prescience that the asteroid crash was going to cause a deadly rise of temperatures when the dinosaur extinction was not yet linked with a similar event, because of a rosy depiction of the World uniting towards racing against the Great Extinction, and, cherry on the pie, because French sentences found throughout the book mostly make no sense as literal translations of English sentences!

“Elle va le faire mais Dieu sait ce qu’elle va parler.” [She’s going to do it but God knows what she’s going to say.]

“Il est l’ordre naturel je pense (…) Il n’y a rien de naturel.” [It’s the natural order of things I think (…) Nothing is natural.]

“Ce ne fut pas une explosion ou nous aurions senti.” [It wasn’t a blast or else we would have felt.]

Mars attack [live]

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2021 by xi'an


Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on August 12, 2020 by xi'an

Nature tidbits

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2018 by xi'an

In the Nature issue of July 19 that I read in the plane to Singapore, there was a whole lot of interesting entries, from various calls expressing deep concern about the anti-scientific stance of the Trump administration, like cutting funds for environmental regulation and restricting freedom of communication (ETA) or naming a non-scientist at the head of NASA and other agencies, or again restricting the protection of species, to a testimony of an Argentinian biologist in front of a congressional committee about the legalisation of abortion (which failed at the level of the Agentinian senate later this month), to a DNA-like version of neural network, to Louis Chen from NUS being mentioned in a career article about the importance of planning well in advance one’s retirement to preserve academia links and manage a new position or even career. Which is what happened to Louis as he stayed head of NUS after the mandatory retirement age and is now emeritus and still engaged into research. (The article made me wonder however how the cases therein had be selected.) It is actually most revealing to see how different countries approach the question of retirements of academics: in France, for instance, one is essentially forced to retire and, while there exist emeritus positions, it is extremely difficult to find funding.

“Louis Chen was technically meant to retire in 2005. The mathematician at the National University of Singapore was turning 65, the university’s official retirement age. But he was only five years into his tenure as director of the university’s new Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and the university wanted him to stay on. So he remained for seven more years, stepping down in 2012. Over the next 18 months, he travelled and had knee surgery, before returning in summer 2014 to teach graduate courses for a year.”

And [yet] another piece on the biases of AIs. Reproducing earlier papers discussed here, with one obvious reason being that the learning corpus is not representative of the whole population, maybe survey sampling should become compulsory in machine learning training degrees. And yet another piece on why protectionism is (also) bad for the environment.

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