Archive for USA

Klara and the Sun [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2022 by xi'an

Klara and the Sun is the latest book of Kazuo Ishiguro. I am a big admirer of Ishiguro’s books and always moved by their bittersweet exploration of humanity (or humanness?!). The remains of the day is one of my favourite books, competing with Graham Greene’s The end of the affair,  and I deeply enjoyed When we were orphans, Never let me go, and The buried giant. While this latest book exhibits the same craftsmanship in depicting human feelings and incomplete (in the sense of unsatisfactory) relations, I feel like I missed some component of the book, too many hints, the overall message… Not that I rushed through it, contrary to my habit, reading a few chapters at a time during lunch breaks. But I cannot set the separation between the subjective perception of Klara [the robotic friend], which is very clearly limited, both by her robotic sensors [lacking a sense of smell for instance] and her learning algorithm, furthermore aggravated by her wasting (?) some material to sabotage a machine, and the real world [within the novel, a vague two-tiered USA]. Because the perspective is always Klara’s. This confusion may be completely intentional and is in that sense brilliant. But I remained perplexed by the Sun central episode in the novel, which I fear reveals a side of the story I did not get. Like Джозі в якийсь момент перетворилася на робота? [Using Ukrainian to avoid spoilers for most readers!]  (In a way, Klara and the Sun is a variation on Never let me go, both dealing with a future where copies of humans could be available, for those who could afford it.)

another poor infographics [from Nature, with a warning]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2021 by xi'an


Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2021 by xi'an

I went to the cinema last week, for the first time since 1917!, and with my daughter (in a sort of ritual of going to see a film the day before a major exam, and this was the majorest of all major exams!). And she selected Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. I had little a priori on the contents of the film, apart from the main theme, and it had not yet been discussed on my favourite France Inter weekly critical show. And I got very impressed by a unique film, staying away from cheap miserabilism, crude ideology or voyeurism. Maybe due to our sitting quite close to the screen, I was stuck by the way the characters were shot at their closest and how this would bring them to a higher level of reality, again without any form of caricature or judgemental detachment. The humanity of the film is purely staggering, with portraits of people with a complex and rich life. And Frances McDormand is fabulous, as she merges with the non-professional actors so seamlessly she shares their ethereal, transient attitude. There is no idealisation of the van life either, from the hardship of living with no toilet to the need to grab a tough living from temporary jobs all across the Western US. (The closest to a conflictual situation is when the main character, Fern, has to listen to much wealthier relatives droning about the ideal life of these nomads!) This being a movie about a van, there are also numerous (too many?) great shots of the Western USA, between Nevada, the Badlands [with a very brief historical reminder that this was the land of Lakota people, via the forefront of a 1906 saloon], some redwoods, and the (northern?) California coast. Which reveals a strong contrast with the places where Fern needs to work and live, like the Amazon warehouses, the beet processing plant, the soulless and exchangeable gas stations and laundromats along the road, the dirty camping toilets she cleans as a National Park worker… But again without delivering a message or adhering to an agenda. After watching the film, while biking home, I was reflecting that this was both a form of post-Trumpian film, since demonstrating the complexity and fundamental goodness of the people captured by the camera, away from binary statements and vociferation,  and a post-Bernie film as well as these people are not actively engaged against a harsh social system that does not provide basic help during their retirement years and let them with no further horizon than the next payslip. It is more complicated…

Georgia on my mind

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2021 by xi'an

The riddle of this week was inspired by the latest presidential elections when one State after another flipped the winner from Trump to Biden. Incl. Georgia.

On election night, the results of the 80 percent who voted on Election Day are reported out. Over the next several days, the remaining 20 percent of the votes are then tallied. What is the probability that the candidate who had fewer votes tallied on election night ultimately wins the race?

Assuming many votes, perfect balance between both candidates (p=½), and homogeneity between early and late ballots, the question boils down to the probability of a sum of two normals, X+Y, ending up being of the opposite sign from X, when the variances of X and Y are α and 1-α. Which writes as the expectation

2 \mathbb{E}_\alpha[\Phi(-X/\sqrt{1-\alpha})]

equal to

\frac{2}{2\pi}\left(\frac{\pi}{2} + \arctan\{\sqrt{\alpha/(1-\alpha)|}\}\right)

which returns a probability of about 0.14 when α=0.8. When looking at the actual data for Georgia, out of 5 million voters, at some point 235,000 ballots remained to be counted with Trump on the lead. This means an α about 0.05 and implies a probability of 7% (not accounting for the fact that the remaining mail-in-ballots were more favourable to Biden.)

Xs Xplain’d

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2021 by xi'an

tempDavid Spiegelhalter is starting a column in The Guardian about COVID-19, the first installment being about excess death statistics. Arguing rightly that it is “fairer to look at what has happened to the total number of deaths”, since this is an objective quantity (in countries with trustworthy death statistics). The discussion on how many of the excess deaths can be attributed to the pandemic is somewhat confusing, though, as little can be said with enough confidence, between the positive impact (flu deaths have plummeted, 30% less traffic deaths in France, &tc.) and the negative impact (stress, harsher economic or social conditions, &tc.) A worthy warning: the deficit in “other” deaths during the second wave is partly due to the extra deaths during the first wave, esp. for fragile and elderly persons.

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