Archive for Sherlock Holmes

comments on Watson and Holmes

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2016 by xi'an


“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” The Hound of the Baskervilles

In connection with the incoming publication of James Watson’s and Chris Holmes’ Approximating models and robust decisions in Statistical Science, Judith Rousseau and I wrote a discussion on the paper that has been arXived yesterday.

“Overall, we consider that the calibration of the Kullback-Leibler divergence remains an open problem.” (p.18)

While the paper connects with earlier ones by Chris and coauthors, and possibly despite the overall critical tone of the comments!, I really appreciate the renewed interest in robustness advocated in this paper. I was going to write Bayesian robustness but to differ from the perspective adopted in the 90’s where robustness was mostly about the prior, I would say this is rather a Bayesian approach to model robustness from a decisional perspective. With definitive innovations like considering the impact of posterior uncertainty over the decision space, uncertainty being defined e.g. in terms of Kullback-Leibler neighbourhoods. Or with a Dirichlet process distribution on the posterior. This may step out of the standard Bayesian approach but it remains of definite interest! (And note that this discussion of ours [reluctantly!] refrained from capitalising on the names of the authors to build easy puns linked with the most Bayesian of all detectives!)

Sherlock [#3]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2015 by xi'an

After watching the first two seasons of the BBC TV Series Sherlock while at the hospital, I found myself looking forward further adventures of Holmes and Watson and eventually “bought” the third season. And watched it over the past weekends. I liked it very much as this new season distanced itself from the sheer depiction of Sherlock’s amazing powers to a quite ironic and self-parodic story, well in tune with a third season where the audience is now utterly familiar with the main characters. They all put on weight (mostly figuratively!), from Sherlock’s acknowledgement of his psychological shortcomings, to Mrs. Hudson’s revealing her drug trafficking past and expressing her dislike of Mycroft, to  John Watson’s engagement and acceptance of Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies, making him the central character of the series in a sort of fatherly figure. Some new characters are also terrific, including Mary Morstan and the new archvillain, C.A. Magnussen. Paradoxically, this makes the detective part of the stories secondary, which is all for the best as, in my opinion, the plots are rather weak and the resolutions hardly relying on high intellectual powers, albeit always surprising. More sleuthing in the new season would be most welcome! As an aside, the wedding place sounded somewhat familiar to me, until I realised it was Goldney Hall, where the recent workshops I attended in Bristol took place.

hospital series

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2013 by xi'an

Vatnajøkull blir brukt for scener som foregår nord for The Wall.

While I usually never find enough time to watch series (or even less telly!), I took advantage of those three weeks at the hospital to catch up with Game of Thrones and discovered Sherlock, thanks to Judith. As I have been reading George Martin’s epics, A Song of Ice and Fire, from the very beginning in 1991, I was of course interested to see how those massive books with their intricate politics and complex family trees could be made into 50 minutes episodes. Glimpses caught from my son’s computer had had me looking forward to it. After watching the entire second season and the earlier episodes of the third season, I am quite impressed by both the rendering of the essentials of the book and the quality of the movies. It is indeed amazing that HBO invested so much into the series, with large scale battles and medieval cities and thousands of characters. The filming locations were also well-chosen: while I thought most of the northern scenes had been shot in Scotland, it actually appears that they mostly came from Ireland and Iceland (with incredible scenery like the one above beyond the Wall!).  The cast is not completely perfect, obviously, with both Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Rob Stark (Richard Madden) being too shallow in my opinion and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) lacking charisma, but most characters are well-rendered and the Lannisters are terrific, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) being the top actor in my opinion (and Arya (Maisie Williams) coming second). I was also surprised by the popularity of the series at the hospital, as several nurses and doctors started discussing it with me…

Sherlock Holmes is a British series, set in contemporary London, and transposing some of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures in contemporary Britain. While I had not heard about this series previously, I was quite taken by it. It is quite innovative both in its scenario and its filming, it does not try to stick to the books, the dialogues are witty and the variety of accents quite pleasant (if hard to catch at times), and… Watson has a blog! It is also a pleasure to catch glimpses of London (Baker Street is actually Gower Street, near UCL) and the Hound of Baskerville takes place on Dartmoor.  I do not think I will continue watching those series once out of the hospital, but they were a pleasing distraction taking me far, far away from my hospital room for a few hours!

The House of Silk

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on April 6, 2013 by xi'an

As surprising as it may sound, The House of Silk is a new Sherlock Holmes novel. Obviously, it is not a long forgotten piece of Arthur Conan Doyle, but a pastiche commandeered by the Conan Doyle Estate and written by Anthony Horowitz.I was not at all aware of this book when I came upon it in an Oxford bookstore and bought it on a whim, having always loved Sherlock Holmes’ stories (although George Casella was a much more knowledgeable fan than I).

“I am a mathematician, Dr. Watson. I do not flatter myself when I say that my work on the Binomial Theorem is studied in most of the universities of Europe.” The House of Silk, p.259.

Even though it would be difficult to confuse the style with Conan Doyle’s, and while the story is more involved and contemporary than the original ones, the book is well-written, reasonably coherent within the early 20th Century, and gripping enough to keep me up late over a few evenings. The House of Silk obviously has the advantage to come after the whole sequence of Conan Doyle’s stories and it hence borrows the settings and the characters from this universe: the Baker Street irregulars, Lestrade, Mycroft, and even Moriarty. The story is as usual told by (an old) Watson, recollecting upon events that “were simply too shocking, too monstrous to appear in print” and which could “tear apart the fabric of society”. A clever touch is that Watson describes this story as a mix of two adventures, The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk,  which become linked due to an unfortunate coincidence. As mentioned above, the setting of The House of Silk—if not of The Man in the Flat Cap—is much darker than in an original Holmes novel and uncovers crimes that could not have been mentioned or even alluded to in a Victorian novel. Even the ill-fatted visit of Holmes to an opium den or his dramatic arrest would have sounded too shocking for his time. However, this contributes to the appeal of the novel. (So does the side entry into Watson’s life after his wedding, esp. the lines when he is ask to swear upon what’s most sacred to him and when Holmes’ friendship wins over his marriage…) It actually becomes difficult to criticise aspects of the book like lack of depth in most characters, short scenes, caricatural mistakes in reasoning by Watson, impossibilities, &tc. without realising they could also be addressed to Conan Doyle himself! Hence, if reading that “the game’s afoot” still conjures for you an addictive flavour of mystery, clever sleuthing, and pipe tobacco, I think you will enjoy The House of Silk! As for the Binomial Theorem, I am afraid nothing more is said about it within this book. (In another pastiche, Moriarty actually denies any link with this antique theorem.)