Archive for Warwick

grey sister [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2018 by xi'an

Unsurprisingly, as soon I got my hands on the second [hardcover] volume after Red Sister, Grey Sister, I could not resist reading it. Nursing a serious cold, gotten while visiting Warwick wearing only summer gear (!), helped and I thus spent my Sunday reading feverishly through Mark Lawrence’s latest book. As I enjoyed very much the first volume, immersing into the same “boarding school” atmosphere was easy, reuniting with most characters, including some I though had been dead and missing others I had not realised they had been killed (no spoiler, just my imperfect memory!).

“The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of its own message”
With this bias inherited from the earlier volume, read four weeks ago, I cannot say I did not enjoy the book. Actually, the first half of Grey Sister is more enjoyable than the first volume because the training of the young novices in the Sweet Mercy monastery gets more focused, with more complex challenges, and less boarding school bickering nonsense. Except for one main thread that weights too much on the plot in my opinion (no spoiler, again, as it is almost obvious from the start that the rivalry between Nona, the main character, and a high born novice is there for a purpose). There is an Ender’s Game moment that I particularly enjoyed, with an Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot, which comes to signal the end of the almost peaceful part. I liked very much less the second half, taking place on the run away from the Sweet Mercy monastery, where there are too many coincidences and too many intersections of paths that one wishes the author had gone for this Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot himself! I think the plot almost peters out at this stage and only survives by sheer inertia, too many boulders loose at once to all stop at the same time!
“The sky above was a deep maroon, shading towards black, strewn with dark ribbons of cloud that looked like lacerations where jagged peaks tore the heavens.”
The style is sometimes repetitive and sometimes on the heavy side, as the quote above I wish someone has re-read. Despite  the grand (and somewhat nefarious) schemes of Abbess Glass, the story is too homely, which may be why the part “at home” feels more convincing that the part outside. The main villain’s plans for taking power over the whole country and the artificial moon are incredible, unconvincing and definitely sketchy, even when explained in the middle of a royal brawl. However, the continued description of the ice-encased universe, saved from complete freeze by an artificial moon and four nuclear reactors, plus an increasing role of magic, make the background compelling and leave me eager for the final (?) volume in the series.

a summer of British conferences!

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2018 by xi'an

Rivers of London [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2014 by xi'an

London by Delta, Dec. 14, 2011Yet another book I grabbed on impulse while in Birmingham last month. And which had been waiting for me on a shelf of my office in Warwick. Another buy I do not regret! Rivers of London is delightful, as much for taking place in all corners of London as for the story itself. Not mentioning the highly enjoyable writing style!

“I though you were a sceptic, said Lesley. I though you were scientific”

The first volume in this detective+magic series, Rivers of London, sets the universe of this mix of traditional Metropolitan Police work and of urban magic, the title being about the deities of the rivers of London, including a Mother and a Father Thames… I usually dislike any story mixing modern life and fantasy but this is a definitive exception! What I enjoy in this book setting is primarily the language used in the book that is so uniquely English (to the point of having the U.S. edition edited!, if the author’s blog is to be believed). And the fact that it is so much about London, its history and inhabitants. But mostly about London, as an entity on its own. Even though my experience of London is limited to a few boroughs, there are many passages where I can relate to the location and this obviously makes the story much more appealing. The style is witty, ironic and full of understatements, a true pleasure.

“The tube is a good place for this sort of conceptual breakthrough because, unless you’ve got something to read, there’s bugger all else to do.”

The story itself is rather fun, with at least three levels of plots and two types of magic. It centres around two freshly hired London constables, one of them discovering magical abilities and been drafted to the supernatural section of the Metropolitan Police. And making all the monologues in the book. The supernatural section is made of a single Inspector, plus a few side characters, but with enough fancy details to give it life. In particular, Isaac Newton is credited with having started the section, called The Folly. Which is also the name of Ben Aaronovitch’s webpage.

“There was a poster (…) that said: `Keep Calm and Carry On’, which I thought was good advice.”

This quote is unvoluntarily funny in that it takes place in a cellar holding material from World War II. Except that the now invasive red and white poster was never distributed during the war… On the opposite it was pulped to save paper and the fact that a few copies survived is a sort of (minor) miracle. Hence a double anachronism in that it did not belong to a WWII room and that Peter Grant should have seen its modern avatars all over London.

“Have you ever been to London? Don’t worry, it’s basically  just like the country. Only with more people.”

The last part of the book is darker and feels less well-written, maybe simply because of the darker side and of the accumulation of events, while the central character gets rather too central and too much of an unexpected hero that saves the day. There is in particular a part where he seems to forget about his friend Lesley who is in deep trouble at the time and this does not seem to make much sense. But, except for this lapse (maybe due to my quick reading of the book over the week in Warwick), the flow and pace are great, with this constant undertone of satire and wit from the central character. I am definitely looking forward reading tomes 2 and 3 in the series (having already read tome 4 in Austria!, which was a mistake as there were spoilers about earlier volumes).

sudoku break

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics with tags , , , , on December 13, 2013 by xi'an

sudo291113While in Warwick last week, one evening after having exhausted my laptop battery, I tried the following Sudoku (from Libération):

>   printSudoku(readSudoku("libe.dk"))
  +-------+-------+-------+
  | 4   6 |   2   | 3   9 |
  |   3   |       |   2   |
  | 7   2 |       | 5   6 |
  +-------+-------+-------+
  |       | 9 4 5 |       |
  | 5     | 7 6 2 |     1 |
  |       | 3 1 8 |       |
  +-------+-------+-------+
  | 6   9 |       | 1   3 |
  |   7   |       |   9   |
  | 3   1 |   9   | 4   7 |
  +-------+-------+-------+

and could not even start. As it happened, this was a setting with no deterministic move, i.e. all free/empty entries had multiple possible values. So after trying for a while and following trees to no obvious contradiction (!) I decided to give up and on the next day (with power) to call my “old” sudoku solver (built while at SAMSI), using simulated annealing and got the result after a few thousand iterations. The detail of the exploration is represented above, the two colours being code for two different moves on the Sudoku table. Leading to the solution

  +-------+-------+-------+
  | 4 8 6 | 5 2 1 | 3 7 9 |
  | 1 3 5 | 6 7 9 | 8 2 4 |
  | 7 9 2 | 8 3 4 | 5 1 6 |
  +-------+-------+-------+
  | 2 1 3 | 9 4 5 | 7 6 8 |
  | 5 4 8 | 7 6 2 | 9 3 1 |
  | 9 6 7 | 3 1 8 | 2 4 5 |
  +-------+-------+-------+
  | 6 2 9 | 4 8 7 | 1 5 3 |
  | 8 7 4 | 1 5 3 | 6 9 2 |
  | 3 5 1 | 2 9 6 | 4 8 7 |
  +-------+-------+-------+

I then tried a variant with more proposals (hence more colours) at each iteration, which ended up being stuck at a penalty of 4 (instead of 0) in the final thousand iterations. Although this is a one occurrence experiment, I find it interesting that having move proposals may get the algorithm stuck faster in a local minimum. Nothing very deep there, of course..!

sudo301113

EQUIP launch

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2013 by xi'an

Today, as I was around (!), I attended the launch of the new Warwick research project EQUIP (which stands for Enabling quantification of uncertainty for inverse problems). This is an EPSRC funded project merging mathematics, numerical analysis, statistics and geophysics, with a primary target application [alas!] in the oil industry. It will start hiring four (4!) postdocs pretty soon. The talks were all interesting, but I particularly liked the idea that they were addressed primarily to students who were potentially interested in the positions. In addition, Mark Girolami gaves a most appreciated insight on the modelling of uncertainty in PDE models, connecting with earlier notions set by Tony O’Hagan, modelling that I hope we can discuss further when both in Warwick!

my first week at work

Posted in Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , on September 9, 2013 by xi'an

front of Coventry station, Jan. 26, 2012After attending the first day of the RSS annual conference in Newcastle, I took the train to Coventry to join the Department of Statistics at the University of Warwick (this may sound confusing, but the University of Warwick is located in Coventry, not in Warwick, 8 miles south, and not to be confused with Coventry University, which is a former polytechnic; it is located in Warwickshire, though, which is why it took this name) where I now have a part-time professor position.  I will thus be at the department a week at a time, every other five weeks or so, during the teaching terms, and I obviously look forward the huge opportunities to interact with faculty and students therein. The “first week at work” was quite smooth, not entirely surprising given my numerous previous visits to Warwick, with hardly any bureaucratic step in the instalment. This gave me the opportunity to start the revision of the Jeffreys-Lindley’s paradox paper for Philosophy of Science and to reconnoitre longer running routes…

Warwickshire snapshot

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , on May 17, 2013 by xi'an

Westwood church