Archive for New Zealand

Elsevier in the frontline

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2017 by xi'an

“Viewed this way, the logo represents, in classical symbolism, the symbiotic relationship between publisher and scholar. The addition of the Non Solus inscription reinforces the message that publishers, like the elm tree, are needed to provide sturdy support for scholars, just as surely as scholars, the vine, are needed to produce fruit. Publishers and scholars cannot do it alone. They need each other. This remains as apt a representation of the relationship between Elsevier and its authors today – neither dependent, nor independent, but interdependent.”

There were two items of news related with the publishark Elsevier in the latest issue of Nature I read. One was that Germany, Peru, and Taiwan had no longer access to Elsevier journals, after negotiations or funding stopped. Meaning the scientists there have to find alternative ways to procure the papers, from the authors’ webpage [I do not get why authors fail to provide their papers through their publication webpage!] to peer-to-peer platforms like Sci-Hub. Beyond this short term solution, I hope this pushes for the development of arXiv-based journals, like Gower’s Discrete Analysis. Actually, we [statisticians] should start planing a Statistics version of it!

The second item is about  Elsevier developing its own impact factor index, CiteScore. While I do not deem the competition any more relevant for assessing research “worth”, seeing a publishark developing its own metrics sounds about as appropriate as Breithart News starting an ethical index for fake news. I checked the assessment of Series B on that platform, which returns the journal as ranking third, with the surprising inclusion of the Annual Review of Statistics and its Application [sic], a review journal that only started two years ago, of Annals of Mathematics, which does not seem to pertain to the category of Statistics, Probability, and Uncertainty, and of Statistics Surveys, an IMS review journal that started in 2009 (of which I was blissfully unaware). And the article in Nature points out that, “scientists at the Eigenfactor project, a research group at the University of Washington, published a preliminary calculation finding that Elsevier’s portfolio of journals gains a 25% boost relative to others if CiteScore is used instead of the JIF“. Not particularly surprising, eh?!

When looking for an illustration of this post, I came upon the hilarious quote given at the top: I particularly enjoy the newspeak reversal between the tree and the vine,  the parasite publishark becoming the support and the academics the (invasive) vine… Just brilliant! (As a last note, the same issue of Nature mentions New Zealand aiming at getting rid of all invasive predators: I wonder if publishing predators are also included!)

new New-Zealand $5 banknote

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , on May 1, 2016 by xi'an

where on [Middle] Earth can a book be banned for moral arguments?

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , on September 27, 2015 by xi'an

Well, the clue in the title should be obvious enough: A censorship board in New Zealand, the Film and Literature Board of Review, has just banned Ted Dawes’ “Into the River” from being sold or distributed or even exhibited. Following complaints orchestrated by Family First, a conservative organisation… The ban is actually temporary, until a committee reaches a decision about the classification of the book. The most surprising aspect of this story—besides the existence of a censoring institution in a democratic country in 2015!— is that the ban applies to everyone, including adult readers, and that all libraries had to take the book out of their shelves. Which is also fairly ridiculous in the era of e-books…

the luminaries [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2015 by xi'an

I bought this book by Eleanor Catton on my trip to Pittsburgh and Toronto in 2013 (thanks to Amazon associates’ gains!), mostly by chance (and also because it was the most recent Man Booker Prize). After a few sleepless nights last week (when I should not have been suffering from New York jet lag!, given my sleeping pattern when abroad), I went through this rather intellectual and somewhat contrived mystery. To keep with tradition (!), the cover was puzzling me until I realised those were phases of the moon, in line with [spoiler!] the zodiacal underlying pattern of the novel, pattern I did not even try to follow for it sounded so artificial. And presumably restricted the flow of the story by imposing further constraints on the characters’ interactions.

The novel has redeeming features, even though I am rather bemused at it getting a Man Booker Prize. (When compared with, say, The Remains of the Day…) For one thing, while a gold rush story of the 1860’s, it takes place on the South Island of New Zealand instead of Klondike, around the Hokitika gold-field, on the West Coast, with mentions of places that brings memory of our summer (well, winter!) visit to Christchurch in 2006… The mix of cultures between English settlers, Maoris, and Chinese migrants, is well-documented and information, if rather heavy at times, bordering on the info-dump, and a central character like the Maori Te Rau Tauwhare sounds caricaturesque. The fact that the story takes place in Victorian times call Dickens to mind, but I find very little connection in either style or structure, nor with Victorian contemporaries like Wilkie Collins, and Victorian pastiches like Charles Palliser‘s Quincunx…. Nothing of the sanctimonious and moral elevation and subtle irony one could expect from a Victorian novel!

While a murder mystery, the plot is fairly upside down (or down under?!): the (spoiler!) assumed victim is missing for most of the novel, the (spoiler!) extracted gold is not apparently stolen but rather lacks owner(s), and the most moral character of the story ends up being the local prostitute. The central notion of the twelve men in a council each bringing a new light on the disappearance of Emery Staines is a neat if not that innovative literary trick but twelve is a large number which means following many threads, some being dead-ends, to gather an appearance of a view on the whole story. As in Rashomon, one finishes the story with a deep misgiving as to who did what, after so many incomplete and biased accountings. Unlike Rashomon, it alas takes forever to reach this point!

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!)

The Hobbit (once upon a very long time…)

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2014 by xi'an

“Will you follow me, one last time?”

With my daughter, we completed our Xmas Tolkien cycle by going together to see The battle of the five armies. As several have noted before me, the best thing I can say about this Hobbit series is that it is now… over! Just like the previous two instalments, watching Peter Jackson’s grand finale was mostly enjoyable, but mainly for the same reasons one enjoys visiting a venerable great-aunt once a year around Christmas, namely for bringing back memories of good times and shared laughs. Indeed, Jackson managed to link both sagas through his central character of Gandalf who, while overly fond of raised eyebrows and mischievous eyes, is certainly the most compelling character all over.  While the plot stretched too thinly to keep me enthralled, as I could not remember why the orcs and goblins were converging to Erebor at the same time as the elves and dwarves and men of Dale (unless it was to justify the future name of the battle?!), I soon got battle-weary of the repeated clashes between the various armies which sounded like straight copies from on-line war games and even more of the half-dozen duels, while the rescue of Gandalf from Dol Gurdur is unbearably clumsy, with an apocryphal appearance of the Nazguls. As too often in the story, the giant eagles were so instrumental to victory that one could only wonder why they had not been around from the start.

The comical parts are much sparser here than in the previous movies: hardly any screen time for Radagast’s rabbits, thank Sauron!, or for the jovial Dain with his great Scottish brogue and his war[t]hog opening, or yet for Thranduil’s moose to show its major advantage in battle, a few steps before being shot down, or for the war mountain goats who appeared then vanished at the moment of direst need, or for Bard to find a pre-historical skateboard. I also noted that the [dumb] orgs managed to invent a precursor of Chappe’s telegraph that alas could only transmit one symbol [since it was always taking the same shape!], that Legolas recreated the Matrix by walking on a disintegrating bridge, and that Thorin turned on gravity for a few crucial seconds in a movie where most characters seem to have no issue with falling, jumping or fighting without the slightest consideration for mechanics, with a strong tendency for characters to head-butt into walls…

“What this adaptation of “The Hobbit” can’t avoid by its final instalment is its predictability and hollow foundations.” NYT, Dec. 16, 2014

Other features I did not enjoy much: Thorin sulked way too long, Alferid outlasted its stay on screen by about 144 minutes, only to vanish unexpectedly, Bilbo seemed lost at the margins most of the movie, while the love story between Kili and Tauriel was really one addition too many to Tolkien’s book. The search for variety in the steeds of the various armies made me almost wish for more races on the battle-field as we could then have seen fighters on giant moles or on battle-hens… And everyone could have done without the “Dune moment”, with giant earth-worms breaking tunnels only to return to oblivion. Anyway, we have now been “There and Back Again” and can now settle in our own hobbit-hole to re-read the books and enjoy a certain nostalgia about the days where we could imagine on our own how Bilbo, Gandalf or Thorin would look like, while humming “Song of the Misty Mountains”…

Bayesian multimodel inference by RJMCMC: A Gibbs sampling approach

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2013 by xi'an

img_5288Barker (from the lovely city of Dunedin) and Link published a paper in the American Statistician last September that I missed, as I missed their earlier email about the paper since it arrived The Day After… The paper is about a new specification of RJMCMC, almost twenty years after Peter Green’s (1995) introduction of the method. The authors use the notion of a palette, “from which all model specific parameters can be calculated” (in a deterministic way). One can see the palette ψ as an intermediary step in the move between two models. This reduces the number of bijections, if not the construction of the dreaded Jacobians!, but forces the construction of pseudo-priors on the unessential parts of ψ for every model. Because the dimension of ψ is fixed, a Gibbs sampling interleaving model index and palette value is then implementable. The conditional of the model index given the palette is available provided there are not too many models under competitions, with the probabilities recyclable towards a Rao-Blackwell approximation of the model probability. I wonder at whether or not another Rao-Blackwellisation is possible, namely to draw from all the simulated palettes a sample for the parameter of an arbitrarily chosen model.