Archive for Paris

Das Kapital [not a book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2017 by xi'an

A rather bland article by Gareth Stedman Jones in Nature reminded me that the first volume of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital is 150 years old this year. Which makes it appear quite close in historical terms [just before the Franco-German war of 1870] and rather remote in scientific terms. I remember going painstakingly through the books in 1982 and 1983, mostly during weekly train trips between Paris and Caen, and not getting much out of it! Even with the help of a cartoon introduction I had received as a 1982 Xmas gift! I had no difficulty in reading the text per se, as opposed to my attempt of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason the previous summer [along with the other attempt to windsurf!], as the discourse was definitely grounded in economics and not in philosophy. But the heavy prose did not deliver a convincing theory of the evolution of capitalism [and of its ineluctable demise]. While the fundamental argument of workers’ labour being an essential balance to investors’ capital for profitable production was clearly if extensively stated, the extrapolations on diminishing profits associated with decreasing labour input [and the resulting collapse] were murkier and sounded more ideological than scientific. Not that I claim any competence in the matter: my attempts at getting the concepts behind Marxist economics stopped at this point and I have not been seriously thinking about it since! But it still seems to me that the theory did age very well, missing the increasing power of financial agents in running companies. And of course [unsurprisingly] the numerical revolution and its impact on the (des)organisation of work and the disintegration of proletariat as Marx envisioned it. For instance turning former workers into forced and poor entrepreneurs (Uber, anyone?!). Not that the working conditions are particularly rosy for many, from a scarsity of low-skill jobs, to a nurtured competition between workers for existing jobs (leading to extremes like the scandalous zero hour contracts!), to minimum wages turned useless by the fragmentation of the working space and the explosion of housing costs in major cities, to the hopelessness of social democracies to get back some leverage on international companies…

Daft Punk for Bastille Day [warning: some images may be distrumping!]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by xi'an

BimPressioNs [BNP11]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2017 by xi'an

While my participation to BNP 11 has so far been more at the janitor level [although not gaining George Casella’s reputation on NPR!] than at the scientific one, since we had decided in favour of the least expensive and unstaffed option for coffee breaks, to keep the registration fees at a minimum [although I would have gladly gone all the way to removing all coffee breaks!, if only because such breaks produce much garbage], I had fairly good chats at the second poster session, in particular around empirical likelihoods and HMC for discrete parameters, the first one based on the general Cressie-Read formulation and the second around the recently arXived paper of Nishimura et al., which I wanted to read. Plus many other good chats full stop, around terrific cheese platters!

Best conference spread ever

A post shared by Shane Jensen (@tastierkakes) on

This morning, the coffee breaks were much more under control and I managed to enjoy [and chair] the entire session on empirical likelihood, with absolutely fantastic talks from Nils Hjort and Art Owen (the third speaker having gone AWOL, possibly a direct consequence of Trump’s travel ban).

Zinfandel de l’Arjolle

Posted in Wines with tags , , on June 20, 2017 by xi'an


Infomocracy [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by xi'an

Infomocracy is a novel by Malka Older set in a near future where most of the Earth is operating under a common elective system where each geographical unit of 100,000 people elect a local representative that runs this unit according to the party’s program and contributes to elect a Worldwide government, except for some non-democratic islets like Saudi Arabia. The whole novel revolves around the incoming election, with different parties trying to influence the outcome in their favour, some to the point of instating a dictature. Which does not sound that different from present times!, with the sligth difference that the whole process is controlled by Information, a sort of World Wide Web that seems to operate neutrally above states and parties, although the book does not elaborate on how this could be possible. The story is told through four main (and somewhat charicaturesque) characters, working for or against the elections and crossing paths along the novel. Certainly worth reading if not outstanding. (And definitely not “one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history”!)

The book is more interesting as a dystopia on electoral systems and the way the information revolution can produce a step back in democracy, with the systematisation of fake news and voters’ manipulation, where the marketing research group YouGov has become a party, than as a science-fiction (or politics-fiction) book. Indeed, it tries too hard to replicate The cyberpunk reference, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, with the same construct of interlacing threads, the same fascination for Japan, airports, luxury hotels, if not for brands, and a similar ninja-geek pair of characters. And with very little invention about the technology of the 21st Century.  (And a missed opportunity to exploit artificial intelligence themes and the prediction of outcomes when Information builds a fake vote database but does not seem to mind about Benford’s Law.) The acknowledgement section somewhat explains this imbalance, in that the author worked many years in humanitarian organisations and is currently completing a thesis at Science Po’ (Paris).

lesson, test, and results

Posted in Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2017 by xi'an

Two weeks ago, I got stopped by the traffic police in Paris for crossing a red light with my bike. Or more exactly two red lights in a row (the third one having turned green seconds before I went through). The surprise is that it only happened then, given my almost daily ride to Dauphine and my illegal if cautious management of the numerous red lights on my usual route. The policeman was quite polite, given the obvious break of the law, and asked me if he should fine me for the two red lights, at €135 each! Question to which I replied that he was The Law and I could not argue the facts. In the end, he gave me a lecture on the (real) dangers of crossing red lights—which in my opinion and experience are lesser than those of parked cars and scooters pulling out or opening doors without checking first—and warned me that I would get a fine if our paths crossed again at a red light. Which is just fair (even though I should have gotten the fines, in all fairness).

On the way back that evening I decided to count the exact number of lights and the extra-time it would take me when stopping at all red lights. Surprisingly, it only added six minutes to the 30mn± trip (not accounting for the variability on other days, my best time ever being 26:59 two weeks ago, on ±13km), despite the 60-ish lights on my way home. The experiment did not convince me to keep stopping at all red lights, since I find restarting from static always a major pain, but I now pay more attention to my surroundings when doing so. Until I find the technique to run by foot through the lights (which is legit!)…

end of a long era [1982-2017]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2017 by xi'an

This afternoon I went to CREST to empty my office there from books and a few papers (like the original manuscript version of Monte Carlo Statistical Methods). This is because the research centre, along with the ENSAE graduate school (my Alma mater), is moving to a new building on the Saclay plateau, next to École Polytechnique. As part of this ambitious migration of engineering schools from downtown Paris to a brand new campus there. Without getting sentimental about this move, it means leaving the INSEE building in Malakoff, on the outskirts of downtown Paris, which has been an enjoyable part of my student and then academic life from 1982 till now. And also leaving the INSEE Paris Club runners! (I am quite uncertain about being as active at the new location, if only because going there by bike is a bit more of a challenge. To be addressed anyway!) And I left behind my accumulation of conference badges (although I should try to recycle them for the incoming BNP 11 in Paris!).