Archive for the Travel Category

probabilistic numerics

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2015 by xi'an

sunwar2I attended an highly unusual workshop while in Warwick last week. Unusual for me, obviously. It was about probabilistic numerics, i.e., the use of probabilistic or stochastic arguments in the numerical resolution of (possibly) deterministic problems. The notion in this approach is fairly Bayesian in that it makes use to prior information or belief about the quantity of interest, e.g., a function, to construct an usually Gaussian process prior and derive both an estimator that is identical to a numerical method (e.g., Runge-Kutta or trapezoidal integration) and uncertainty or variability around this estimator. While I did not grasp much more than the classy introduction talk by Philipp Hennig, this concept sounds fairly interesting, if only because of the Bayesian connection, and I wonder if we will soon see a probability numerics section at ISBA! More seriously, placing priors on functions or functionals is a highly formal perspective (as in Bayesian non-parametrics) and it makes me wonder how much of the data (evaluation of a function at a given set of points) and how much of the prior is reflected in the output [variability]. (Obviously, one could also ask a similar question for statistical analyses!)  For instance, issues of singularity arise among those stochastic process priors.

Another question that stemmed from this talk is whether or not more efficient numerical methods can derived that way, in addition to recovering the most classical ones. Somewhat, somehow, given the idealised nature of the prior, it feels like priors could be more easily compared or ranked than in classical statistical problems. Since the aim is to figure out the value of an integral or the solution to an ODE. (Or maybe not, since again almost the same could be said about estimating a normal mean.)

bruggen in Amsterdam

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , on April 25, 2015 by xi'an

Amster2Amster1

[non] Markov chains

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by xi'an

Amster3Amster11

scale acceleration

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by xi'an

thalysKate Lee pointed me to a rather surprising inefficiency in matlab, exploited in Sylvia Früwirth-Schnatter’s bayesf package: running a gamma simulation by rgamma(n,a,b) takes longer and sometimes much longer than rgamma(n,a,1)/b, the latter taking advantage of the scale nature of b. I wanted to check on my own whether or not R faced the same difficulty, so I ran an experiment [while stuck in a Thalys train at Brussels, between Amsterdam and Paris…] Using different values for a [click on the graph] and a range of values of b. To no visible difference between both implementations, at least when using system.time for checking.

a=seq(.1,4,le=25)
for (t in 1:25) a[t]=system.time(
     rgamma(10^7,.3,a[t]))[3]
a=a/system.time(rgamma(10^7,.3,1))[3]

Once arrived home, I wondered about the relevance of the above comparison, since rgamma(10^7,.3,1) forces R to use 1 as a scale, which may differ from using rgamma(10^7,.3), where 1 is known to be the scale [does this sentence make sense?!]. So I rerun an even bigger experiment as

a=seq(.1,4,le=25)
for (t in 1:25) a[t]=system.time(
     rgamma(10^8,.3,a[t]))[3]
a=a/system.time(rgamma(10^8,.3))[3]

and got the graph below. Which is much more interesting because it shows that some values of a are leading to a loss of efficiency of 50%. Indeed. (The most extreme cases correspond to a=0.3, 1.1., 5.8. No clear pattern emerging.)thalys2Update

As pointed out by Martyn Plummer in his comment, the C function behind the R rgamma function and Gamma generator does take into account the scale nature of the second parameter, so the above time differences are not due to this function but rather to whatever my computer was running at the same time…! Apologies to anyone I scared with this void warning!

I give an X

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , on April 23, 2015 by xi'an

ISBA 2016 [logo]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by xi'an

Things are starting to get in place for the next ISBA 2016 World meeting, in Forte Village Resort Convention Center, Sardinia, Italy. June 13-17, 2016. And not only the logo inspired from the nuraghe below. I am sure the program will be terrific and make this new occurrence of a “Valencia meeting” worth attending. Just like the previous occurrences, e.g. Cancún last summer and Kyoto in 2012.

However, and not for the first time, I wonder at the sustainability of such meetings when faced with always increasing—or more accurately sky-rocketing!—registration fees… We have now reached €500 per participant for the sole (early reg.) fees, excluding lodging, food or transportation. If we bet on 500 participants, this means simply renting the convention centre would cost €250,000 for the four or five days of the meeting. This sounds enormous, even accounting for the processing costs of the congress organiser. (By comparison, renting the convention centre MCMSki in Chamonix for three days was less than €20,000.) Given the likely high costs of staying at the resort, it is very unlikely I will be able to support my PhD students  As I know very well of the difficulty to find dedicated volunteers willing to offer a large fraction of their time towards the success of behemoth meetings, this comment is by no means aimed at my friends from Cagliari who kindly accepted to organise this meeting. But rather at the general state of academic meetings which costs makes them out of reach for a large part of the scientific community.

Thus, this makes me wonder anew whether we should move to a novel conference model given that the fantastic growth of the Bayesian community makes the ideal of gathering together in a single beach hotel for a week of discussions, talks, posters, and more discussions unattainable. If truly physical meetings are to perdure—and this notion is as debatable as the one about the survival of paper versions of the journals—, a new approach would be to find a few universities or sponsors able to provide one or several amphitheatres around the World and to connect all those places by teleconference. Reducing the audience size at each location would greatly the pressure to find a few huge and pricey convention centres, while dispersing the units all around would diminish travel costs as well. There could be more parallel sessions and ways could be found to share virtual poster sessions, e.g. by having avatars presenting some else’s poster. Time could be reserved for local discussions of presented papers, to be summarised later to the other locations. And so on… Obviously, something would be lost of the old camaraderie, sharing research questions and side stories, as well as gossips and wine, with friends from all over the World. And discovering new parts of the World. But the cost of meetings is already preventing some of those friends to show up. I thus think it is time we reinvent the Valencia meetings into the next generation. And move to the Valenci-e-meetings.

sakura [#2]

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , on April 21, 2015 by xi'an

Sakura3

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