Archive for Scotland

ABC in Edinburgh

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2018 by xi'an

As mentioned earlier on the ‘Og, there will be a satellite workshop ABC in Edinburgh, prior to the main ISBA meeting, taking place on Sunday, 24 June, 2018. The workshop is the last item of a series of “ABC in…” workshops on approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) and likelihood-free inference, which started with ABC in Paris in 2009! In this iteration, contributed talks and contributed posters can be submitted prior to May 1. (And there is a [extra] registration fee of 50 euros. And the deadline for early registration at ISBA 2018 is March 31, at the rather sharp rate of £380 for ISBA members.)The workshop is aimed at specialists and novices interested in statistical inference with complex models where exact computation of the likelihood function is not possible. The meeting will bring together researchers and practitioners in approximate Bayesian computation, likelihood-free inference, and related methods to discuss recent work on theoretical underpinnings, computational advances, and applications.

The invited speakers are

I am looking forward the workshop, having already booked my accommodation in the good City of Edinburgh.

(Disclaimer: I am not part of the scientific committee this round.)

 

the dark side of the “work hard party harder” spirit[s]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on December 20, 2017 by xi'an

Now, following the blogs of the past days about harassment at ISBA meetings, reposting Pierre’s blog about the strong unbalance between men and women attending these meetings, and then the ISBA first action towards making ISBA meetings safe(r), or more inclusive, here are some completely personal reflections on why I think the culture of “work hard party harder” that permeates these meetings needs to change. Towards “more Bayes, less booze”, to repeat from an email I received in the past few days… (As in every entry on this blog, except maybe those few pointing out factual mathematical errors, but this need be stressed, this is indeed a personal view on the topic, reacting to the news, for which I claim absolutely no expertise or superiority of any kind above other viewpoints. And certainly no representativity. Especially not of the safeISBA Task Force opinions. Comments more than welcome, more than usual!)

So… I have been attending five of the Valencià (pre-ISBA) meetings, from the early 1990’s till 2010, all located in Spanish coastal resorts, from Peñíscola to Benidorm. As is obvious to anyone having attended one of those meetings [and not being submitted to harassment or unwanted pursuits on their first and last experience there], there was a tremendous feeling of belonging to a community. An exciting, strong, exhilarating community unlike any other statistical meeting. Here were people working exactly in my field, ready to share ideas, discuss posters for hours, and possibly shred one another to pieces when diverging on a point of theory, while remaining good friends. Plus being party animals able to drink and dance the whole night, till the wee hours when I was myself getting out of bed for my morning run… Definitely impressive. (Actually, it is at one of these meetings that I first heard the motto “work hard party harder”.) All very exciting, with a size small enough that one could feel connected to all participants by more than science. With a blurry boundary between academia and social network, between work and party. Without truly realising on my part that the resulting freedom of discussions and actions in this environment was not absolute and definitely not the same for everyone. Even though the overwhelming majority of participants were and are fine individuals, and that many friendships and collaborations started there.

Academia offers this paradox of a sensation of great freedom (to teach, research, publish, discuss anything you wish) controlled by many others (like editors, publishers, grant committees, conference organisers) that you cannot afford to antagonise too much. And hence that the feeling of a single-happy-family-of-forever-friends bumps into this constraint of reality, especially when the positions of two participants differ by much in seniority or culture. Or, primarily, gender. Because as Pierre was saying, as a man, I was never the victim of any misconduct or abuse of power. And hence could continue enjoying long poster sessions and fierce discussions without any worry of staying too long other than impacting my running the next day… While some friends of mine rather remember unwanted attentions at their very first meeting, with harassment from some organisers as well…
There were many aggravating factors to this potential for harassment, from the deleterious atmosphere of beach towns like Benidorm, to having all participants located in the same (monstrous) hotel, to holding poster sessions late at night, with excessive drinking a strong possibility, even though, as a friend was emailing me last morning, “it is too easy to blame alcohol consumption” as the sole culprit, and the availability of nightclubs and bars for after-poster-sessions… To continue quoting from this friend, she rightly suggested “swinging the pendulum back to more work hard” and less institutionalised partying. While keeping ISBA meetings definitely fun and terribly exciting. And plain safe. I am thus looking forward to the policies being developed to ensure ISBA 2018 in Edinburgh [clearly not a beach town!] is meeting all terms, and regains its attractivity for all members. All of them.

wet summer reads [book reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by xi'an

“‘Oh ye of little faith.’ Rebus picked up his lamb chop and bit into it.” Ian Rankin, Rather be the Devil

Rebus’ latest case, a stray cat, a tree that should not be there, psychological worries in Uppsala, maths formulas, these are the themes of some of my vacation books. I read more than usual because of the heavy rains we faced in Northern Italy (rather than Scotland!). Ian Rankin’s latest novel Rather be the Devil reunites most of the characters of past novels, from John Rebus to Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, Big Ger’ Cafferty, and others. The book is just as fun to read as the previous ones (but only if one has read those I presume!), not particularly innovative in its plot, which recalls some earlier ones, and a wee bit disappointing in the way Big Ger’ seems to get the upper hand against Rebus and the (actual) police. Nonetheless pleasant for the characters themselves, including the City of Edinburgh itself!, and the dialogues. Rebus is not dead yet (spoiler?!) so there should be more volumes to come as Rankin does not seem to manage without his trademark detective. (And the above quote comes in connection with the muttonesque puzzle I mention in my post about Skye.)

The second book is a short story by Takashi Hiraide called The Guest Cat (in French, The cat who came from Heaven, both differing from the Japanese Neko ko kyaku) and which reads more like a prose poem than like a novel. It is about a (Japanese) middle-aged childless couple living in a small rented house that is next to a beautiful and decaying Japanese garden. And starting a relation with the neighbours’ beautiful and mysterious cat. Until the cat dies, somewhat inexplicably, and the couple has to go over its sorrow, compounded by the need to leave the special place where they live. This does not sound much of a story but I appreciated the beautiful way it is written (and translated), as well as related to it because of the stray cat that also visits us on a regular basis! (I do not know how well the book has been translated from Japanese into English.)

The third book is called Debout les Morts (translated as The Three Evangelists) and is one of the first detective stories of Fred Vargas, written in 1995. It is funny with well-conceived characters (although they sometimes verge so much on the caricature as to make the novel neo-picaresque) and a fairly original scenario that has a Russian doll or onion structure, involving many (many) layers. I was definitely expecting anything but the shocking ending! The three main characters (hence the English translation title) in the novel are 35-ish jobless historians whose interests range from hunter-gatherers [shouldn’t then he be a pre-historian?!] to the Great [WWI] War, with a medieval expert in the middle. (The author herself is a medieval historian.) As written above, it is excessive in everything, from the characters to the plot, to the number of murders, but or maybe hence it is quite fun to read.

The fourth book is Kjell Eriksson‘s Jorden ma rämna that I would translate from the French version as The earth may well split (as it is not translated in English at this stage), the second volume of the Ann Lindell series, which takes place in Uppsala, and in the nearby Swede countryside. I quite enjoyed this book as the detective part was is almost irrelevant. To the point of having the killer known from the start. As in many Scandinavian noir novels, especially Swedish ones, the social and psychological aspects are predominant, from the multiple events leading a drug addict to commit a series of crimes, to the endless introspection of both the main character and her solitude-seeking boyfriend, from the failures of the social services to deal with the addict to a global yearning for the old and vanished countryside community spirit, to the replacement of genuine workers’ Unions by bureaucratic structures. Not the most comforting read for a dark and stormy night, but definitely a good and well-written book.

And the last book is yet again a Japanese novel by Yôko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and The Professor, which title in French is closer to the Japanese title, The professor’s favourite equation (博士の愛した数式), is about a invalid maths professor who has an 80 minutes memory span, following a car accident. His PhD thesis was about the Artin conjecture. And about his carer (rather than housekeeper) who looks after him and manages to communicate despite the 80 mn barrier. And about the carer’s son who is nicknamed Root for having a head like a square root symbol (!). The book is enjoyable enough to read, with a few basic explanations of number theory, but the whole construct is very contrived as why would the professor manage to solve mathematical puzzles and keep some memory of older baseball games despite the 80mn window. (I also found the naivety of the carer as represented throughout the book a wee bit on the heavy side.)

Not a bad summer for books, in the end!!!

In Dunvegan Castle gardens [jatp]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by xi'an

paradise island

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

As should be obvious from the pictures posted here in the past days, I have been away on vacations on the Scottish island of Skye, part of the Inner Hebrides. This is a place that had stood very high in my dream vacation places, mostly because of the mountain range that stands at the bottom of the island, called the Cuillins. There are 13 Munroes (tops above 3,000 feet) in that range and its entire traverse takes a very long day, including several belays. As I was there for a family vacation, we [alas!] only went up the easiest group, made of Sgùrr nan Gillean, Am Basteir, and Bruach na Frìthe, and did not climb Sgùrr nan Gillean. This was a fairly easy hike with a 900m differential, the only difficulty being in route finding. Which was made harder than needed by me first confusing a group of three hills with these Cuillins for the first third of the hike! And relating to instructions in our guidebook that covered the opposite side of the mountains. It was however a most pleasant walk, quite dry by Scottish standards (where it is often hard to separate water and soil) and with sun part of the way (it actually did not start to rain until the final half-hour). And not too many people on the path.
The other days saw easier walks at lower elevations, from a grassy and pleasant route to the top of MacLeod’s North Table [with terrific views of Western Skye and the Outer Hebrides], to a tour of the Gresornish peninsula under a pouring rain but with an amazing light (and an exciting crossing of a definitely web bog where even sheep did not do]. Overall, this was a great week in a secluded location, keeping mostly away from the few tourist traps [except for a trip to the Isle of Skye Brewery and to the compulsory Neist Point lighthouse] and I hope I can get back there one day. Although other Northern paradise islands like Mull, Harris, and the Faeroe are also beguiling..!
An unsolved puzzle about this visit to Skye is that, while there are sheep all over the island, which makes spotting any form of wildlife but midges impossible!, lamb meat is curiously absent from restaurant menus [except from the offal parts used in haggis]. The few persons we asked seemed perplexed by our question and had no convincing explanation to this absence!

Eilean Donan Castle [jatp]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by xi'an

Skye window [jatp]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on August 12, 2017 by xi'an