Archive for The New York Times

the Grisha trilogy [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2016 by xi'an

And yet another series [suggested by Amazon] I chose at random after reading the summary… The Grisha trilogy was written by Leigh Bardugo and is told by Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan from the fantasy land of Ravka [sounds like Russia, doesn’t it?!] who suddenly discovers powers she did not suspect when fighting supernatural forces. And embarks on a bleak adventure with her childhood friend to safe their country from dark forces. A rather standard trope for the fantasy literature.. The books read well, in a light sense (or mind candy variety, to borrow from the Three-Toed Sloth blog) if addictive. I went over the first one, Shadow and Bone, within a travel day to München and back. Certainly not a major trilogy. And still, those books attracted massive and enthusiastic reviews (one for each book, from different young readers) in The Guardian! And another one in the NYT, nothing less… The explanation is that what I did not get before starting the trilogy [but started suspecting well into the first volume] this is a young adult (or teenager) series. Or even a children’s book, according to The Guardian! So do not expect any level of subtlety or elaborate plots or clever connections with our own world history. Even the Russian environment is caricaturesque with an annoying flow of kvas and tea and caftans. One character is closely related to Rasputin, the ruling family reminds me of the Romanovs, old and grumpy babushkas pop in now and then, the heroes hunt a firebird, &tc.  And still the addiction operates to some level. [Try at your own risk and give the books to younger readers if it does not work!]

a fixation on food [U.S. airports survival guide]

Posted in Kids, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2016 by xi'an

In connection with the big snow storm of last weekend in the U.S. North-East, The New York Time published an airport survival guide that includes a comprehensive Best Dining section on each major airport. Sections that I find somewhat hilarious in turning what is just the thing to avoid (why would you need food before sitting in a plane for several hours?!) into a hype! Here are some particularly crunchy and savoury quotes (and a mention of the brewery that makes the famous Fat Tire!):

“Less healthy but perhaps more popular, Garrett Popcorn Shops, also in 2 and 3, specialize in the Garrett Mix, a blend of cheese and caramel popcorn.”

“At B Gates, Elway’s steakhouse is popular for its burger as well as Colorado-raised steaks, and New Belgium Hub serves microbrews from the Fort Collins brewer.”

“There is a strong Cuban accent in Miami’s airport restaurants, beginning with four Café Versailles, branches of the Little Havana landmark.”

“At its culinary rival, Terminal D, Bisoux will box your croque monsieurs and other bistro fare to go.”

(with the last one managing to stuff two French grammar mistakes in one line).

Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…

graphics for the New York City marathon

Posted in Running with tags , , on November 1, 2015 by xi'an

Central Park, New York, Sep. 25, 2011As the first runners are starting the race in Staten Island, here are six graphics published in the NYT about the NYC marathon, pointed out to me by my friend Darren. The first one is a great moving histogram that I cannot reproduce here, following the four batches of runners. And the unbearably slow last runner! The second graph is an almost linear increase in the number of women running the race (which, by extrapolation, means that the NYC marathon will be an all-female race by 2068!). The third graph is a square version of a pie chart, which shows that the second largest contingent after the US runners is made of French runners (7%), way above Canadian runners (2.7%). The fifth graph shows spikes in the age repartition of the runners, at 30, 40, 50, and 60: since it is unlikely to be a reporting bias, unless id’s are not controlled when registering, which would be strange given the awards are distributed by five year block age groups, this may be due to people making a big case of changing decade by running the marathon or by runners who take advantage a new age group to aim for the podium. The latest explanation is very unlikely as it would only apply to elite runners and as it should also induce a spike at 35, 45, etc. (Incidentally, I checked the winner’s time in my category, 55-60, and last year a Frenchman won in 2:48:19, which means I would have to run at about the speed of my latest half-marathon to achieve this speed…) The last graph is also quite interesting as it follows the winning times for male and female runners against the current world record across years, showing that the route is not the most appropriate to break the record, in contrast with Berlin where several records got broken.

moral [dis]order

Posted in Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by xi'an

“For example, a religiously affiliated college that receives federal grants could fire a professor simply for being gay and still receive those grants. Or federal workers could refuse to process the tax returns of same-sex couples simply because of bigotry against their marriages. It doesn’t stop there. As critics of the bill quickly pointed out, the measure’s broad language — which also protects those who believe that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” heterosexual marriages alone — would permit discrimination against anyone who has sexual relations outside such a marriage. That would appear to include women who have children outside of marriage, a class generally protected by federal law.” The New York Time

An excerpt from this week New York Time Sunday Review editorial about what it qualifies as “a nasty bit of business congressional Republicans call the First Amendment Defense Act.” A bill which first line states to be intended to “prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage” and which in essence would allow for discriminatory treatment of homosexual and unmarried couples not to be prosecuted. A fine example of Newspeak if any! (Maybe they could also borrow Orwell‘s notion of a Ministry of Love.) Another excerpt of the bill that similarly competes for Newspeak of the Year:

(5) Laws that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse, and peaceful society.

This reminded me of a story I was recently told me about a friend of a friend who is currently employed by a Catholic school in Australia and is afraid of being fired if found being pregnant outside of marriage. Which kind of “freedom” is to be defended in such “tolerant” behaviours?!

Why Runners Get Slower With Age

Posted in Kids, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , on September 16, 2015 by xi'an

Argentan, Apr. 17, 2011“The differences were striking. With each passing decade, the runners’ stride length and preferred speed dropped by about 20 percent.”

This morning at breakfast I read this New York Times article on the impact of age on running abilities. The perfect article to get me in the right post-birthday mood! The results of a physiological study reported in this article are not crystal-clear, but they primarily show that “older runners used their ankle muscles less but not other muscles more.”  A point on which I have no opinion, although I think I now run more from the front of my feet than I used to run, if the imposition on my running shoes is informative: the sole under the big toe is the first part to wear out! Then, at lunch, I went to train with my friends of the Insee Paris Club on 1km splits, with a good soul playing the pacemaker on the last lap. And helping me to achieve an average 3:31 average I was not expecting! Too bad I only have one serious training left before the traditional Argentan half-marathon, early October…

another viral math puzzle

Posted in Books, Kids, R, University life with tags , , , , , , , on May 25, 2015 by xi'an

After the Singapore Maths Olympiad birthday problem that went viral, here is a Vietnamese primary school puzzle that made the frontline in The Guardian. The question is: Fill the empty slots with all integers from 1 to 9 for the equality to hold. In other words, find a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i such that


With presumably the operation ordering corresponding to


although this is not specified in the question. Which amounts to


and implies that c divides b and i divides gxh. Rather than pursing this analytical quest further, I resorted to R coding, checking by brute force whether or not a given sequence was working.

if (ord[1]+(13*ord[2]/ord[3])+ord[4]+
ord[9])-10==66) return(ord)}

I then applied this function to all permutations of {1,…,9} [with the help of the perm(combinat) R function] and found the 128 distinct solutions. Including some for which b:c is not an integer. (Not of this obviously gives a hint as to how a 8-year old could solve the puzzle.)

As pointed out in a comment below, using the test == on scalars is a bad idea—once realising some fractions may be other than integers—and I should thus replace the equality with an alternative that bypasses divisions,


leading to the overall R code

for (t in 1:factorial(9)){
  if (a[1]>0) sol=rbind(sol,a)}

and returning the 136 different solutions…


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