Archive for Oxford

Shades of magic [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2021 by xi'an

After seeing the books in a Denver bookstore (in the summer of 2019), I eventually came to try one, then the others. Even though the setting is somewhat simplistic, or may intended for young adults, with ideas also found in earlier novels, it makes for a pleasant read. The underlying concept is having several Londons set in different universes and connected by magic for the happy few able to travel between them. One of them is “our” Victorian London. Labelled as Grey London. Then there are White, Red, and Black Londons… With some pivotal pubs existing in all (?) of them. This reminded me very much of Neverwhere, one of the few Gaimans I deeply appreciated. Or of Pullman’s Oxfords. The first volume sets the scene, with two main characters, (Grey) Lila and (Red) Kell, whose paths will come to cross, some villains in the least privileged London, and some sudden existential threat on Red London. The latest being the least convincing part of the plot as lacking subtlety. The second volume mostly takes place in Red London and the first part sounds a wee bit like the female part of Red seas under red skys. That is, a smart thief at sea. And a smarter captain. With on top of it a magic competition where all main characters cross path. Again a poor part of the plot as the competition feels like Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire, while a new danger is building up to bring the fodder for the third volume. Not completely uninteresting (I read most of it over Xmas day, by a log fire), but somewhat two-dimensional (with a surprising lack of moral reticence to kill people, most surprising for a YA series). The third volume, A conjuring of light,  is a bit more predictable, including the deaths of some major characters (one or two more would have helped). And the ending could have been less all-inclusive and rosy!,  but this was an enjoyable conclusion nonetheless.

Haldane’s short autobiography

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2020 by xi'an

“I was born at Oxford, England, in 1892.  My father was Prof. J.S. Haldane, the physiologist.  I was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford.  I learned much of my science by apprenticeship, assisting my father from the age of eight onwards, and my university degree is in for classics, not science.  I was in a British infantry battalion from 1914 to 1919, and was twice wounded.  I began scientific research in 1910, and became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1919.  I was at Cambridge from 1922-1932 as Reader in Biochemistry, and have been a professor in London University since 1933.  I was visiting professor in the University of Berkeley, Cal., in 1932.  In the same year I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

My scientific work has been varied.  In the field of human physiology I am best known for my work on the effects of taking large amounts of ammonium chloride and other salts.  This has had some application in treating lead and radium poisoning.  In the field of genetics I was the first to discover linkage in mammals, to map a human chromosome, and (with Penrose) to measure the mutation rate of a human gene.  I have also made some minor discoveries in mathematics.

Whilst I may have been a credit to my universities, I have been a trial in other ways.  I was dismissed from Cambridge University in 1926 in connexion with a divorce case, but regained my post on appeal to a higher tribunal, which found that the university authorities had decided to dismiss me without hearing my case.  At present I have refused to evacuate University College, London, and, with two assistants am its sole academic occupant.  I am carrying on research there under difficulties.

Besides strictly scientific books I have written a number of popular works including a book of children’s stories.  I consider that a scientist, if he can do so, should help to render science intelligible to ordinary people, and have done my best to popularize it.

Till 1933 I tried to keep out of politics, but the support given by the British Government to Hitler and Mussolini forced me to enter the political field.  In 1936-1938 I spent three months in Republican Spain, first as an adviser on gas protection, and then as an observer of air raid precautions.  I was in the front line during fighting, and in several air raids behind the line.  Since then I have tried, with complete lack of success, to induce the British Government to adopt air raid protection measures which had proved their efficacy in Spain.

Mr. Chamberlain’s policy, and the recent developments in physics and biology, combined to convince me of the truth of the Marxist philosophy.  Though I am a member of no political party, I have of late years supported the communist party on a number of issues.  At present I am engaged on research in genetics, & research intended to save the lives of members of the British armed forces, and writing and public speaking designed to prevent the spreading of the present war, and if possible to bring about peace.  I am a fairly competent public speaker.

It will be seen that my life has been a full one.  I have been married for 14 years, measure 73 inches, weigh 245 pounds, and enjoy swimming and mountain walking.  I am bald and blue-eyed, a moderate drinker and a heavy smoker. I can read 11 languages and make public speeches in three, but am unmusical.”

J.B.S. Haldane, circa 1940

MCqMC 2020 live and free and online

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2020 by xi'an

The MCqMC 20202 conference that was supposed to take place in Oxford next 9-14 August has been turned into an on-line free conference since travelling remains a challenge for most of us. Tutorials and plenaries will be live with questions  on Zoom, with live-streaming and recorded copies on YouTube. They will probably be during 14:00-17:00 UK time (GMT+1),  15:00-18:00 CET (GMT+2), and 9:00-12:00 ET. (Which will prove a wee bit of a challenge for West Coast and most of Asia and Australasia researchers, which is why our One World IMS-Bernoulli conference we asked plenary speakers to duplicate their talks.) All other talks will be pre-recorded by contributors and uploaded to a website, with an online Q&A discussion section for each. As a reminder here are the tutorials and plenaries:

Invited plenary speakers:

Aguêmon Yves Atchadé (Boston University)
Jing Dong (Columbia University)
Pierre L’Écuyer (Université de Montréal)
Mark Jerrum (Queen Mary University London)
Peter Kritzer (RICAM Linz)
Thomas Muller (NVIDIA)
David Pfau (Google DeepMind)
Claudia Schillings (University of Mannheim)
Mario Ullrich (JKU Linz)

Tutorials:

Fred Hickernell (IIT) — Software for Quasi-Monte Carlo Methods
Aretha Teckentrup (Edinburgh) — Markov chain Monte Carlo methods

MCqMC2020 key dates

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2020 by xi'an

A reminder of the key dates for the incoming MCqMC2020 conference this summer in Oxford:

Feb 28, Special sessions/minisymposia submission
Mar 13, Contributed abstracts submission
Mar 27, Acceptance notification
Mar 27, Registration starts
May 8, End of early bird registration
June 12, Speaker registration deadline
Aug 9-14 Conference

and of the list of plenary speakers

Yves Atchadé (Boston University)
Jing Dong (Columbia University)
Pierre L’Ecuyer (Université de Montreal)
Mark Jerrum (Queen Mary University London)
Gerhard Larcher (JKU Linz)
Thomas Muller (NVIDIA)
David Pfau (Google DeepMind)
Claudia Schillings (University of Mannheim)
Mario Ullrich (JKU Linz)

the secret Commonwealth [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by xi'an

Now that I have read The secret Commonwealth over the X break, I cannot but wait eagerly for the third volume! The book is indeed quite good, much in the spirit of the first ones in His dark materials than of the previous La belle sauvage. When La belle sauvage was at its core an oniric and symbolic tale floating on the Thames, with some events on the side, The secret Commonwealth on the opposite is much more centred on adventures and quests and a real story (or rather make it three!) and a growing threat, with side philosophical musings. Quite the opposite of the first book, in short. Even the time localisation is reverted. While La belle sauvage was taking place ten years before His dark materials, making Lyra a very young baby, this book takes place ten years later with Lyra a young adult, growing very quickly in maturity through the pages of the book. The two are so incredibly different that they could have almost be written by different authors… The secret Commonwealth is also much more cosmopolitan than its older sibling as both Lyra and Pan leave Oxford, then England to travel through Europe and Middle East towards a most dangerous destination. The central theme of the book is whether or not Reason or Rationalism should guide one’s life. Given the magical realism of the novel, where the soul of each character is expressed as a companion expressed as a particular animal, a marten called Pan (short for Pantalaimon) for Lyra, it is somewhat an easy (easier than in our own World!) plot line to dismiss rationalist thinkers pretending they do no exist. And to paint the philosophers following this route as either shallow and more interested in rethorics (than philosophy) or fake and deluded. Since Lyra reading these authors is the reason for a widening split between her and Pan, I did not find this part the best in the plot, even though it seemed inevitable. But the resulting quest and the “chance” meetings of both central characters are gripping and well-written, as well as deeply poignant. All characters build some depth, esp. compared with La belle sauvage where they were mostly caricatures. As it is very rare that the second volume in a series brings so much pleasure and improvements, I strongly recommend it (even as a start, skipping La belle sauvage !)

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