Archive for the Netherlands

the mysterious disappearance of the Leiden statistics group

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on July 14, 2021 by xi'an

I was forwarded an article from Mare, the journal of the University of Leiden (Universiteit Leiden), a weekly newspaper written by an independent team of professional journalists. Entitled “Fraude, verdwenen evaluaties en een verziekt klimaat: hoe de beste statistiekgroep van Nederland uiteenviel” (Fraud, lost evaluations and a sickening climate: how the best statistics group in the Netherlands fell apart), it tells (through Google translate) the appalling story of how an investigation on mishandled student course evaluations led to the disintegration of the World-renowned Leiden statistics group,  with the departure of a large fraction of its members, including its head, Aad van der Vaart, a giant in mathematical statistics, author of deep, reference, books like Asymptotic Statistics and  Fundamentals of Nonparametric Bayesian Inference, an ERC advanced grant recipient, and now professor at TU Delft… While I am not at all acquainted with the specifics, reading the article makes the chain of events sound like chaos propagation, when the suspicious disappearance of student evaluation forms about a statistics course leads to a re-evaluation round, itself put under scrutiny by the University, then to a recruitment freeze of prospective statistician appointments by the (pure math) successor of Aad, as well as increasing harassment of the statisticians in the  Mathematisch Instituut, and eventually to the exile of most of them. Wat een verspilling!

the mechanical [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2021 by xi'an

Read this 2015 book by Ian Tregillis with growing excitement as I was first unsure why I had ordered it. It is a mix of the Baroque Cycle and of the Difference engine, with Huygens playing the central role (rather than Newton). The postulate of the story is that he found [in the 1600’s] a way to create robots (or mechanicals, or yet Clakkers) with autonomy, prodigious strength, and unlimited “life” time. Endowing the Netherlands with such an advantage as to become the unique European power. Except for a small population of French people, living in exile in Montréal, renamed as Marseille-in-the-West, where the descendants of Louis XIV were desperately fighting the Dutch robots with their barely sufficient chemical skills… In addition to this appealing alternate history, where the French are arguing about the free will of the machines, and building underground railways to convey rogue mechanicals outside the Dutch empire, partly for being Catholics and hence following the Pope’s doctrine [and partly to try to produce their own robots], where the Pope is also a refugee in Québec, and where New Amsterdam has not turned into New York, but is a thriving colonial city in America, linked to the mother country by mechanical boats and Zeppelin-like airships, the machines are constrained to obey the humans, with the Queen’s wishes at the top of a hierarchy of constraints. And no Asimov’s law to prevent them from being used as weapons, to the French’s sorrow! But their degree of autonomous thought is such that a mere loosening of a component may remove the compulsion and turn them into rogues, i.e, free willed robots. On the converse side, a nefarious guild in charge of a Calvinist faith and of the maintenance of the robots is attempting to extend this control of the Dutch State over some humans. Which makes for a great setting discussing the blurry border between humans and AIs, with both humans and Clakkers bringing their arguments to the game… I am now eagely waiting for the second and third volumes in the series of The Alchemy Wars to arrive in the mail to continue the story!

Lorenz-eScience competition

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2021 by xi'an

monomial representations on Netflix

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2021 by xi'an

When watching the first episode of Queen’s Gambit, following the recommendations of my son, I glimpsed the cover of a math thesis defended at Cornell by the mother of the main character..! Prior to 1957, year of her death. Searching a wee bit further, I found that there exists an actual thesis with this very title, albeit defended by Stephen Stanley in 1998 at the University of Birmingham. that is, Birmingham, UK [near Coventry]. Apart from this amusing trivia piece, I also enjoyed watching the first episodes of the series, the main actor being really outstanding in her acting, and the plot unfolding rather nicely, except for the chess games that are unrealistically hurried, presumably because watching people thinking is anathema on TV! The representation of misogyny at the time is however most realistic (I presume|!) and definitely shocking. (The first competition game when Beth Hamon loses is somewhat disappointing as failing to predict a Queen exchange is implausible at this level…) However, the growing self-destructive behaviour of Beth made me cringe to the point of stopping the series. The early episodes also reminded me of the days when my son had started playing chess with me, winning on a regular basis, had then joined a Saturday chess nearby, was moved to the adult section within a few weeks, and … stopped altogether a few weeks later as he (mistakenly) thought the older players were making fun of him!!! He never got to any competitive level but still plays on a regular basis and trashes me just as regularly. Coincidence or not, the Guardian has a “scandalous” chess story to relate last week,  when the Dutch champion defeated the world top two players, with one game won by him having prepared the Najdorf Sicilian opening up to the 17th round! (The chess problem below is from the same article but relates to Antonio Medina v Svetozar Gligoric, Palma 1968.)

CHANCE on modern slavery

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , on December 23, 2017 by xi'an

Just to mention the latest issue of CHANCE dedicated to the statistical issues related with slavery, edited in collaboration with the Walk Free Foundation. (I remember discussing the possibility of such an issue at the CHANCE editors meeting at JSM, Boston. I also remember Bernard Silverman discussing the case as Senior Scientist to the UK Government.) Difficulties range from defining slavery, to estimating the number of slaves, for instance by capture-mark-recapture methods. to designing ways to protect against slavery. (A stunning figure is the estimated 180,000 slaves in Poland and 20,000 in The Netherlands…)