MCqMC 2014 [closup]

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by xi'an

Leuven6As mentioned earlier, this was my very first MCqMC conference and I really enjoyed it, even though (or because) there were many topics that did not fall within my areas of interest. (By comparison, WSC is a serie of conferences too remote from those areas for my taste, as I realised in Berlin where we hardly attended any talk and hardly anyone attended my session!) Here I appreciated the exposure to different mathematical visions on Monte Carlo, without being swamped by applications as at WSC… Obviously, our own Bayesian computational community was much less represented than at, say, MCMSki! Nonetheless, I learned a lot during this conference for instance from Peter Glynn‘s fantastic talk, and I came back home with new problems and useful references [as well as a two-hour delay in the train ride from Brussels]. I also obviously enjoyed the college-town atmosphere of Leuven, the many historical landmarks  and the easily-found running routes out of the town. I am thus quite eager to attend the next MCqMC 2016 meeting (in Stanford, an added bonus!) and even vaguely toying with the idea of organising MCqMC 2018 in Monaco (depending on the return for ISBA 2016 and ISBA 2018). In any case, thanks to the scientific committee for the invitation to give a plenary lecture in Leuven and to the local committee for a perfect organisation of the meeting.

adaptive subsampling for MCMC

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2014 by xi'an

Oxford to Coventry, Feb. 25, 2012

“At equilibrium, we thus should not expect gains of several orders of magnitude.”

As was signaled to me several times during the MCqMC conference in Leuven, Rémi Bardenet, Arnaud Doucet and Chris Holmes (all from Oxford) just wrote a short paper for the proceedings of ICML on a way to speed up Metropolis-Hastings by reducing the number of terms one computes in the likelihood ratio involved in the acceptance probability, i.e.

\prod_{i=1}^n\frac{L(\theta^\prime|x_i)}{L(\theta|x_i)}.

The observations appearing in this likelihood ratio are a random subsample from the original sample. Even though this leads to an unbiased estimator of the true log-likelihood sum, this approach is not justified on a pseudo-marginal basis à la Andrieu-Roberts (2009). (Writing this in the train back to Paris, I am not convinced this approach is in fact applicable to this proposal as the likelihood itself is not estimated in an unbiased manner…)

In the paper, the quality of the approximation is evaluated by Hoeffding’s like inequalities, which serves as the basis for a stopping rule on the number of terms eventually evaluated in the random subsample. In fine, the method uses a sequential procedure to determine if enough terms are used to take the decision and the probability to take the same decision as with the whole sample is bounded from below. The sequential nature of the algorithm requires to either recompute the vector of likelihood terms for the previous value of the parameter or to store all of them for deriving the partial ratios. While the authors adress the issue of self-evaluating whether or not this complication is worth the effort, I wonder (from my train seat) why they focus so much on recovering the same decision as with the complete likelihood ratio and the same uniform. It would suffice to get the same distribution for the decision (an alternative that is easier to propose than to create of course). I also (idly) wonder if a Gibbs version would be manageable, i.e. by changing only some terms in the likelihood ratio at each iteration, in which case the method could be exact… (I found the above quote quite relevant as, in an alternative technique we are constructing with Marco Banterle, the speedup is particularly visible in the warmup stage.) Hence another direction in this recent flow of papers attempting to speed up MCMC methods against the incoming tsunami of “Big Data” problems.

Leuven snapshot [#7]

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on April 15, 2014 by xi'an

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Valparaiso under fire

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , on April 14, 2014 by xi'an

thumbleweed [local] news

Posted in Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by xi'an

It has been exactly a year since my climbing accident and the loss of my right thumb. Time for a quick recap (for anyone still interested!): Looking back over that thumbless year, I cannot see a significant impact over my daily life: I can essentially operate the same way as before, from climbing to cooking, from writing to biking, from driving to skiing, and the few inconveniences I experience are quite minor. Not large enough to rely on the prosthesis I received a few months ago. I do not particularly suffer from the right hand in cold (or hot) weather and my ice-climbing trip in Banff last month showed I could stand temperatures of -30⁰C with no difference from the past. I never experience “phantom thumb” sensations and rarely notice people taking stock of my missing thumb. Hence, while it has been an annoying accident that has disrupted our lives for a few weeks, the long term consequences are clearly minimal.

Crossed Blades [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2014 by xi'an

After Broken Blade and its sequel Bared Blade, Kelly McCullough wrote Crossed Blades that I had ordered along with Bared Blade. And once again I read this volume within a few evenings. It is still very enjoyable, maybe the more given that there is a continuity in the characters and the plots. However, I did prefer Bared Blade to Crossed Blades as the former was creative in terms of plot and environment. Here, in Crossed Blades, the main character Aral is facing his past, from the destruction of his religious order and of his goddess to the possible treachery of former friends and mentors, to his attempt to drown this past in top quality whisky… While dealing with an adopted teenage daughter in the midst of a typical teenage crisis. This new instalment is thus full of introspection and reminiscence of past loves, and frankly a bit dull at times, even though there is a (spoiler warning!!) massive battle against the culprits for the destruction of the order. The very end is a bit disappointing, but it also hopefully closes a chapter in the hero’s life, which means that the next volume, Blade Reforged, may run into new territories and more into simili-detective stories.  (Two more books in this Blade series are in the making!)

Leuven snapshot [#6]

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , on April 12, 2014 by xi'an

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