Archive for NYT

a journal of the plague year [latter August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2020 by xi'an

Read during the first week of our Alpine vacations a Japanese gore novel by Natsuo Kirino, Out, which I found in the book exchange zone at Dauphine earlier in July. The book is more impressive for a social criticism of the condition of working class women the Japanese society than for its psychological thriller nature, even though the later is well-enough conducted to induce a page-turning commitment… The four women at the centre of the story are drawn in fine and convincing details and the practical cynicism of most of them makes the novel avoid the easy and rosy idealisation of a crime sisterhood. The slow unraveling of the past of these women exhibits how they ended up in a food-packaging night-shift job by virtue (!) of a gender inequality inherent to the social structure. The book is not 100% perfect, especially in the final moments, even though the surprising readiness of Masako to turn herself (almost) into a victim is much more subtle than it sounds (spoiler!). Still a major novel, if one can manage to stand the gory details..!

Had another chance great meal in a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Briançon, Au Plaisir Ambré, with a surprising sea-food theme including Granville whelks tartare, lobster samosas and grayling en croûte (except the crust was not salt but brioche!), the later with the distinctive taste of river fish. The more pleasant as an earlier experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was not so exciting, with a risotto smothered by Gruyère!, a culinary lèse-majesty! Also tasted wonderful tartes aux noix made by the housekeeper of one of our vacation rentals. Rich enough for a whole day of hiking.

Read the Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, of which I expected much and which I alas found quite poor (compared with the fabulous Ancillary series). Maybe because I found too many connections with the stunning Ka, which takes the raven’s perspective on human history. Maybe because the Raven is the bad guy/god in this story. Even taking the story as a theatre play (as it builds on Hamlet) did not really work for me. The few characters are not sufficiently deep, the interaction between gods and humans is rather simplistic (although the world-building shows promises) and the conclusion is botched in my opinion. The style is original and the book well-written, however. Plus the book is short and single-volumed! (But I do not get the rave reviews!)

a journal of the plague year [lazier August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2020 by xi'an

Read a wonderful collection of short stories set in the same universe and spirit as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. With the same pleasure as I read the original novel, since the style is similarly subtle and refined, with a skilled work(wo)manship in relating the stories and a bittersweet pleasure in contemplating this alternative England where some magic lingered, although in a vanishing way. The first short story is incredibly powerful, especially for being a “first story” Susanna Clarke wrote for a writing course. To quote Neil Gaiman on his reception of the story, “It was terrifying from my point of view to read this first short story that had so much assurance. It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata.” Plus the book itself is beautifully made, from its old-fashioned binding to its pastiche of 19th century Romantic drawings. (I cannot make sense of the “Grace Adieu” village name, which would mean farewell to Grace or graceful farewell in French. Or yet thank Dog if misspelled as grâce à dieu…)

Followed a should-watch suggestion from a highly positive review on the New York Times and watched The Half of it, not to be confused with The Other Half which I did not watch… Nor the other The Other Half. The story is one of a love triangle (that the NYT relates to Cyrano, rather grandiloquently!, even though the notion of writing love letter for someone else and as a result the writer falling in love… is there indeed). Taking place in a sleepy little town on the Pacific North-West, near Wenatchee. The story is far from realistic, as far as I can tell, with almost invisible adults and with senior high teenagers behaving like adults, at least for the two main female characters, most of the teens working after class while also writing essays on Sartre and Plato, and discussing Remains of the Day for its philosophical implications. A wee bit unrealistic, with some allegoric scenes such as floating head to head in a hot spring, outing their love declaration like tragic Greek comedians in a full church. But the actresses are brilliant and escape the paper-thin constriction of their character into something deeper, by conveying uncertainty and then more uncertainty while building their own life into something grander. Not the unbearable lightness of being but certainly with enough substance to reach beyond the “charming queer love comedy” summarised in The Guardian.

Ate tomatoes from the garden for almost every lunch in August as there were so many, surprising free from bugs and birds. And had a toasted squash lunch, skin included. Peppers are still at the growing stage… And my young olive tree may have irremediably suffered from the heatwave, despite regular watering.

Also per chance noticed that the one-hundred year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared hilarious book had been turned into a film. And had an enjoyable time watching the understated play of this hundred-year old and his hundred year story. And listening to the multilingual if mostly Swedish original sound-track. (Incidentally, yet another intrusion of the 1930s eugenism with a racialist (!) doctor sterilising the central character to stop his fascination and experimentation with explosives.)

Rewatched Manhattan Murders Mystery, which I had not seen since it came out in the early 1990s. Once I got into the spirit that this was filmed theater, rather than fixating on the (ir)realism of the plot, it became hilarious (starting with the urge to invade Poland when listening to Wagner for too long) and I could focus on references to older movies, although I must has missed the bulk of these references. For instance, the pas de deux of Allen and Keaton at the melting factory has a strong whiff of Astaire and Rogers step-dancing. The shooting scene in the movie theater is explicitly linked with Orson Wells, seen behind the screen in The Lady from Shanghai.

the biggest bluff [not a book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2020 by xi'an

It came as a surprise to me that the book reviewed in the book review section of Nature of 25 June was a personal account of a professional poker player, The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova.  (Surprise enough to write a blog entry!) As I see very little scientific impetus in studying the psychology of poker players and the associated decision making. Obviously, this is not a book review, but a review of the book review. (Although the NYT published a rather extensive extract of the book, from which I cannot detect anything deep from a game-theory viewpoint. Apart from the maybe-not-so-deep message that psychology matters a lot in poker…) Which does not bring much incentive for those uninterested (or worse) in money games like poker. Even when “a heap of Bayesian model-building [is] thrown in”, as the review mixes randomness and luck, while seeing the book as teaching the reader “how to play the game of life”, a type of self-improvement vending line one hardly expects to read in a scientific journal. (But again I have never understood the point in playing poker…)

Bayes @ NYT

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2020 by xi'an

A tribune in the NYT of yesterday on the importance of being Bayesian. When an epidemiologist. Tribune that was forwarded to me by a few friends (and which I missed on my addictive monitoring of the journal!). It is written by , a Canadian journalist writing about mathematics (and obviously statistics). And it brings to the general public the main motivation for adopting a Bayesian approach, namely its coherent handling of uncertainty and its ability to update in the face of new information. (Although it might be noted that other flavours of statistical analysis are also able to update their conclusions when given more data.) The COVID situation is a perfect case study in Bayesianism, in that there are so many levels of uncertainty and imprecision, from the models themselves, to the data, to the outcome of the tests, &tc. The article is journalisty, of course, but it quotes from a range of statisticians and epidemiologists, including Susan Holmes, whom I learned was quarantined 105 days in rural Portugal!, developing a hierarchical Bayes modelling of the prevalent  SEIR model, and David Spiegelhalter, discussing Cromwell’s Law (or better, humility law, for avoiding the reference to a fanatic and tyrannic Puritan who put Ireland to fire and the sword!, and had in fact very little humility for himself). Reading the comments is both hilarious (it does not take long to reach the point when Trump is mentioned, and Taleb’s stance on models and tails makes an appearance) and revealing, as many readers do not understand the meaning of Bayes’ inversion between causes and effects, or even the meaning of Jeffreys’ bar, |, as conditioning.

on anonymisation

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2019 by xi'an

An article in the New York Times covering a recent publication in Nature Communications on the ability to identify 99.98% of Americans from almost any dataset with fifteen covariates. And mentioning the French approach of INSEE, more precisely CASD (a branch of GENES, as ENSAE and CREST to which I am affiliated), where my friend Antoine worked for a few years, and whose approach is to vet researchers who want access to non-anonymised data, by creating local working environments on the CASD machines  so that data does not leave the site. The approach is to provide the researcher with a dedicated interface, which “enables access remotely to a secure infrastructure where confidential data is safe from harm”. It further delivers reproducibility certificates for publications, a point apparently missed by the New York Times which advances the lack of reproducibility as a drawback of the method. It also mentions the possibility of doing cryptographic data analysis, again missing the finer details with a lame objection.

“Our paper shows how the likelihood of a specific individual to have been correctly re-identified can be estimated with high accuracy even when the anonymized dataset is heavily incomplete.”

The Nature paper is actually about the probability for an individual to be uniquely identified from the given dataset, which somewhat different from the NYT headlines. Using a copula for the distribution of the covariates. And assessing the model with a mean square error evaluation when what matters are false positives and false negatives. Note that the model need be trained for each new dataset, which reduces the appeal of the claim, especially when considering that individuals tagged as uniquely identified about 6% are not. The statistic of 99.98% posted in the NYT is actually a count on a specific dataset,  the 5% Public Use Microdata Sample files, and Massachusetts residents, and not a general statistic [which would not make much sense!, as I can easily imagine 15 useless covariates] or prediction from the authors’ model. And a wee bit anticlimactic.