Archive for Australia

postdoc position at Monash, Melbourne

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on June 21, 2016 by xi'an

tram in front of Flinders St. Station, Melbourne, July 28, 2012[David Dowe sent me the following ad for a position of research fellow in statistics, machine learning, and Astrophysics at Monash University, Melbourne.]

RESEARCH FELLOW: in Statistics and Machine Learning for Astrophysics, Monash University, Australia, deadline 31 July.

We seek to fill a 2.5 year post-doctoral fellowship dedicated to extensions and applications of the Bayesian Minimum Message Length (MML) technique to the analysis of spectroscopic data from recent large astronomical surveys, such as GALAH (GALactic Archaeology with HERMES).  The position is based jointly within the Monash Centre for Astrophysics (MoCA, in the School of Physics and Astronomy) and the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT).

The successful applicant will develop and extend the MML method as needed, applying it to spectroscopic data from the GALAH project, with an aim to understanding nucleosynthesis in stars as well as the formation and evolution of our Galaxy (“galactic archaeology”). The position is based at the Clayton campus (in suburban Melbourne, Australia) of Monash University, which hosts approximately 56,000 equivalent full-time students spread across its Australian and off-shore campuses, and approximately 3500 academic staff.

 The successful applicant will work with world experts in both the Bayesian information-theoretic MML method as well as nuclear astrophysics.  The immediate supervisors will be Professor John Lattanzio (MoCA), Associate Professor David Dowe (FIT) and Dr Aldeida Aleti (FIT).

a bone of contention

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2016 by xi'an

“In an age in which ancient genomes can reveal startling links between historical populations, we should ask not just whether remains should be reburied, but who decides and on what grounds.”

An article in Nature described the story of fairly old remains (of the Kennewick Man) in North America that were claimed for reburial by several Native American groups and that were found to be closer [in a genetic sense] to groups that were geographically farther (from South America and even Australian aboriginal Australians). What I find difficult to understand (while it stands at the centre of the legal dispute) is how any group of individuals can advance a claim on bones that are 8,000 year old. With such a time gap (and assuming the DNA analysis is trustworthy) the number of individuals who share the owner of the bones as one ancestor is presumably very large and it is hard to imagine all those descendants coming to an agreement about the management of the said bones. Or even that any descendant has any right on the said bones after so many generations which may have seen major changes in the way deceased members of the community are treated. I am thus surprised that a judiciary court or the US government could even consider such requests.

Peter Hall (1951-2016)

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by xi'an

I just heard that Peter Hall passed away yesterday in Melbourne. Very sad news from down under. Besides being a giant in the fields of statistics and probability, with an astounding publication record, Peter was also a wonderful man and so very much involved in running local, national and international societies. His contributions to the field and the profession are innumerable and his loss impacts the entire community. Peter was a regular visitor at Glasgow University in the 1990s and I crossed paths with  him a few times, appreciating his kindness as well as his highest dedication to research. In addition, he was a gifted photographer and I recall that the [now closed] wonderful guest-house where we used to stay at the top of Hillhead had a few pictures of his taken in the Highlands and framed on its walls. (If I remember well, there were also beautiful pictures of the Belgian countryside by him at CORE, in Louvain-la-Neuve.) I think the last time we met was in Melbourne, three years ago… Farewell, Peter, you certainly left an indelible print on a lot of us.

[Song Chen from Beijing University has created a memorial webpage for Peter Hall to express condolences and share memories.]

locally weighted MCMC

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2015 by xi'an

Street light near the St Kilda Road bridge, Melbourne, July 21, 2012Last week, on arXiv, Espen Bernton, Shihao Yang, Yang Chen, Neil Shephard, and Jun Liu (all from Harvard) proposed a weighting scheme to associated MCMC simulations, in connection with the parallel MCMC of Ben Calderhead discussed earlier on the ‘Og. The weight attached to each proposal is either the acceptance probability itself (with the rejection probability being attached to the current value of the MCMC chain) or a renormalised version of the joint target x proposal, either forward or backward. Both solutions are unbiased in that they have the same expectation as the original MCMC average, being some sort of conditional expectation. The proof of domination in the paper builds upon Calderhead’s formalism.

This work reminded me of several reweighting proposals we made over the years, from the global Rao-Blackwellisation strategy with George Casella, to the vanilla Rao-Blackwellisation solution we wrote with Randal Douc a few years ago, both of whom also are demonstrably improving upon the standard MCMC average. By similarly recycling proposed but rejected values. Or by diminishing the variability due to the uniform draw. The slightly parallel nature of the approach also connects with our parallel MCM version with Pierre Jacob (now Harvard as well!) and Murray Smith (who now leaves in Melbourne, hence the otherwise unrelated picture).

capture mark recapture with no mark and no recapture [aka 23andmyfish]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2015 by xi'an

moonA very exciting talk today at NBBC15 here in Reykjavik was delivered by Mark Bravington yesterday on Close-kin mark recapture by modern magic (!). Although Mark is from Australia, being a Hobart resident does qualify him for the Nordic branch of the conference! The exciting idea is to use genetic markers to link catches in a (fish) population as being related as parent-offspring or as siblings. This sounds like science-fantasy when you first hear of it!, but it is actually working better than standard capture-mark-recapture methods for populations of a certain size (so that the chances to find related animals are not the absolute zero!, as, e.g., krill populations). The talk was focussed on bluefin tuna, whose survival is unlikely under the current fishing pressure… Among the advantages, a much more limited impact of the capture on the animal, since only a small amount of genetic material is needed, no tag loss, tag destruction by hunters, or tag impact of the animal survival, no recapture, a unique identification of each animal, and the potential for a detailed amount of information through the genetic record. Ideally, the entire sample could lead to a reconstruction of its genealogy all the way to the common ancestor, a wee bit like what 23andme proposes for humans, but this remains at the science-fantasy level given what is currently know about the fish species genomes.

scalable Bayesian inference for the inverse temperature of a hidden Potts model

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by xi'an

Brisbane, summer 2008Matt Moores, Tony Pettitt, and Kerrie Mengersen arXived a paper yesterday comparing different computational approaches to the processing of hidden Potts models and of the intractable normalising constant in the Potts model. This is a very interesting paper, first because it provides a comprehensive survey of the main methods used in handling this annoying normalising constant Z(β), namely pseudo-likelihood, the exchange algorithm, path sampling (a.k.a., thermal integration), and ABC. A massive simulation experiment with individual simulation times up to 400 hours leads to select path sampling (what else?!) as the (XL) method of choice. Thanks to a pre-computation of the expectation of the sufficient statistic E[S(Z)|β].  I just wonder why the same was not done for ABC, as in the recent Statistics and Computing paper we wrote with Matt and Kerrie. As it happens, I was actually discussing yesterday in Columbia of potential if huge improvements in processing Ising and Potts models by approximating first the distribution of S(X) for some or all β before launching ABC or the exchange algorithm. (In fact, this is a more generic desiderata for all ABC methods that simulating directly if approximately the summary statistics would being huge gains in computing time, thus possible in final precision.) Simulating the distribution of the summary and sufficient Potts statistic S(X) reduces to simulating this distribution with a null correlation, as exploited in Cucala and Marin (2013, JCGS, Special ICMS issue). However, there does not seem to be an efficient way to do so, i.e. without reverting to simulating the entire grid X…

Dom Juan’s opening

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2015 by xi'an

The opening lines of the Dom Juan plan by Molière, a play with highly subversive undertones about free will and religion. And this ode to tobacco that may get it banned in Australia, if the recent deprogramming of Bizet’s Carmen is setting a trend! [Personal note to Andrew: neither Molière’s not my research are or were supported by a tobacco company! Although I am not 100% sure about Molière…]

“Quoi que puisse dire Aristote et toute la philosophie, il n’est rien d’égal au tabac: c’est la passion des honnêtes gens, et qui vit sans tabac n’est pas digne de vivre. Non seulement il réjouit et purge les cerveaux humains, mais encore il instruit les âmes à la vertu, et l’on apprend avec lui à devenir honnête homme.”

Dom Juan, Molière, 1665

[Whatever may be argued by Aristotle and the entire philosophy, there is nothing equal to tobacco; it is the passion of upright people, and whoever lives without tobacco does not deserve living. Not only it rejoices and purges human brains, but it also brings souls towards virtue, and teaches about becoming a gentleman.]

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