Archive for Scotland

Laidlaw [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by xi'an

I read William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw [in planes last week] after I saw it recommended as a pre-Rankin novel. Which inspired the whole tartan noir literature. Including Rankin’s books, most obviously. The book is set in 1970’s Glasgow, which sounds rougher and grittier than when I was visiting the West End two decades later. The city is described as dominated by thugs, at least in the popular areas, with ultra-violent men running the criminal world, while still maintaining some Calvinist principles. Especially about the place of women and their abhorrence of homosexuality. Besides the very dark atmosphere of the novel, Laidlaw is one of the least conventional crime novels I have read, with more inner dialogues than conversations (an issue with some Rebus novels!) and a strong dose of metaphysics on the nature of crime and justice, guilt and punishment. The style is also much more elaborated, to the point I often had to re-read sentences (some of which eventually escaped my understanding) and not only for the phonetic rendering of the Glaswegian accents (which is much more readable than Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting). The intellectual detective, Laidlaw, is sometimes drawn in heavy traits (like, why should he keep books by Kierkegaard or Camus and Unamuno in his drawer of his desk), prone to bouts of depression and migraine, and, like Rebus, facing a disintegrating marriage and an addiction to alcohol. Not to mention smoking as most characters are chain-smoking. (This aspect as well as the need to resort to phone booths sets the novel back in time.) His relations with the force are even worse than Rebus’, as his provocations of more traditional colleagues leave him mostly isolated and poorly appreciated by his superiors.

The central character may actually be Glasgow itself, so much do the characters move around it and add permanent descriptions of the feeling of the place(s). Far from pretty, it oozes fear and poverty, desperation and bigotry, but also some form of social link, strongly separated between sexes. The appalling status of women (at least of the women appearing in the novel) is subtly denounced by the novel, even though in an ambiguous way. All in all, an impressive book (and not “just” a crime novel).

limited shelf validity

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2019 by xi'an

A great article from Steve Stigler in the new, multi-scaled, and so exciting Harvard Data Science Review magisterially operated by Xiao-Li Meng, on the limitations of old datasets. Illustrated by three famous datasets used by three equally famous statisticians, Quetelet, Bortkiewicz, and Gosset. None of whom were fundamentally interested in the data for their own sake. First, Quetelet’s data was (wrongly) reconstructed and missed the opportunity to beat Galton at discovering correlation. Second, Bortkiewicz went looking (or even cherry-picking!) for these rare events in yearly tables of mortality minutely divided between causes such as military horse kicks. The third dataset is not Guinness‘, but a test between two sleeping pills, operated rather crudely over inmates from a psychiatric institution in Kalamazoo, with further mishandling by Gosset himself. Manipulations that turn the data into dead data, as Steve put it. (And illustrates with the above skull collection picture. As well as warning against attempts at resuscitating dead data into what could be called “zombie data”.)

“Successful resurrection is only slightly more common than in Christian theology.”

His global perspective on dead data is that they should stop being used before extending their (shelf) life, rather than turning into benchmarks recycled over and over as a proof of concept. If only (my two cents) because it leads to calibrate (and choose) methods doing well over these benchmarks. Another example that could have been added to the skulls above is the Galaxy Velocity Dataset that makes frequent appearances in works estimating Gaussian mixtures. Which Radford Neal signaled at the 2001 ICMS workshop on mixture estimation as an inappropriate use of the dataset since astrophysical arguments weighted against a mixture modelling.

“…the role of context in shaping data selection and form—context in temporal, political, and social as well as scientific terms—has been shown to be a powerful and interesting phenomenon.”

The potential for “dead-er” data (my neologism!) increases with the epoch in that the careful sleuth work Steve (and others) conducted about these historical datasets is absolutely impossible with the current massive data sets. Massive and proprietary. And presumably discarded once the associated neural net is designed and sold. Letting the burden of unmasking the potential (or highly probable?) biases to others. Most interestingly, this recoups a “comment” in Nature of 17 October by Sabina Leonelli on the transformation of data from a national treasure to a commodity which “ownership can confer and signal power”. But her call for openness and governance of research data seems as illusory as other attempts to sever the GAFAs from their extra-territorial privileges…

Bayes plaque

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2019 by xi'an

total bullXit

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2019 by xi'an

“Of course there will be an attempt to try to obfuscate the effect of this Act, but it does – the capitulation act, or the surrender act or whatever you want to call it – it does, I’m sorry, but it greatly enfeebles, it greatly enfeebles this government’s ability to negotiate.”

“But what I will say is that the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and indeed the best way to bring this country together would be, I think, to get Brexit done.”

“There’s a terrible kind of collaboration as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends.”

“What will synthetic biology stand for – restoring our livers and our eyes with miracle regeneration of the tissues, like some fantastic hangover cure? Or will it bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables?”

“I can hardly condemn Ukip as a bunch of boss-eyed, foam-flecked euro hysterics, when I have been sometimes not far short of boss-eyed, foam-flecked hysteria myself.”

“We will leave the EU on 31 October, deal or no deal. The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal.”

 

at the centre of Bayes

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2019 by xi'an

HW AMS & EPSRC MAG-MIGS CDT seminar

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2019 by xi'an

Some explanation for all these acronyms! I am giving a Actuarial Mathematics & Statistics (AMS) seminar at Heriot-Watt (HW) University, in Edinburgh, tomorow. But in the (new) Bayes Centre, at the University of Edinburgh, rather than on the campus of Heriot-Watt, as this is also the launching day of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) on Mathematical Modelling, Analysis, & Computation (MAG) shared between Heriot-Watt, and the University of Edinburgh, funded by the EPSRC and located in the Maxwell Institute Graduate School (MIGS) in its Bayes Centre. My talk will be on ABC convergence and misspecification.

in a house of lies [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2019 by xi'an

While I found the latest Rankin’s Rebus novels a wee bit disappointing, this latest installment in the stories of the Edinburghian ex-detective is a true pleasure! Maybe because it takes the pretext of a “cold case” suddenly resurfacing to bring back to life characters met in earlier novels of the series. And the borderline practice of DI Rebus himself. Which should matter less at a stage when Rebus has been retired for 10 years (I could not believe it had been that long!, but I feel like I followed Rebus for most of his carreer…) The plot is quite strong with none of the last minute revelations found in some earlier volumes, with a secondary plot that is much more modern and poignant. I also suspect some of the new characters will reappear in the next books, as well as the consequences of a looming Brexit [pushed by a loony PM] on the Scottish underworld… (No,. I do not mean TorysTories!)