Archive for Box-Muller algorithm

ziggurat algorithm

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2018 by xi'an

A ziggurat (Akkadian: ziqqurat, D-stem of zaqāru “to build on a raised area”) is a type of massive stone structure built in ancient Mesopotamia. It has the form of a terraced compound of successively receding stories or levels. Wikipedia

In a recent arXival, Jalalvand and Charsooghi revisit the ziggurat algorithm that simulates from a univariate distribution by finding horizontal strips that pile up on top of the target as in a ziggurat or a pyramid, hence the name. Which George Marsaglia introduced in 1963. When finely tuned the method is quite efficient. Maybe because it designs an accept-reject move for each strip of the ziggurat rather than globally. For instance, versions constructed for a Normal target are more efficient [3½ times faster] than the Box-Muller algorithm. The generalisation found in the paper divides the target into strips of equal area, rather than dominating rectangular strips of equal area, which requires some work when the target density is non-standard. For targets with unbounded support or unbounded values, a function g transforming the tail into (0,1) has to be selected. A further constraint is that the inverse cdf of the transformed g(X) has to be known. And a large part of the paper examines several scenarii towards simulating from the tail region. For unbounded densities, a similarly minute analysis is undertaken, again with requests about the target like its algebraic order.

“…the result of division of a random integer by its range is a fixed-point number which unlike a floating-point number does not enjoy increased precision near 0. When such random numbers are used in the tail algorithm they cause premature termination of the tail and large gaps between produced random numbers near the termination point.”

The paper further discusses the correction of an error common to earlier ziggurat algorithms, due to the  conversion from fixed-point to floating-point numbers, as indicated in the above quote. Although this had already been addressed by George Marsaglia in the early 1990’s.

“Ziggurat algorithm has a high setup time, so it’s not suitable for applications that require variates with frequently changing shape parameters.”

When testing the algorithm against different methods (in STL and Boost), and different distributions, the gains are between two and seven times faster, except for the Exponential target where the original ziggurat algorithm performs better. Interestingly, the gains (and the computing time) increase with the degrees of freedom for the Gamma target, in relation with Devroye’s (1986) remark on the absence of uniformly bounded execution times for this distribution. Same thing for the Weibull variates, obviously. Reflecting upon the usually costly computation of cdfs and inverse cdfs on machines and software, the inverse cdf method is systematically left behind! In conclusion, a good Sunday morning read if not of direct consequences for MCMC implementation, as warned by the authors.


simulation by hand

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by xi'an

A rather weird question on X validated this week was about devising a manual way to simulate (a few) normal variates. By manual I presume the author of the question means without resorting to a computer or any other business machine. Now, I do not know of any real phenomenon that is exactly and provably Normal. As analysed in a great philosophy of science paper by Aidan Lyon, the standard explanations for a real phenomenon to be Normal are almost invariably false, even those invoking the Central Limit Theorem. Hence I cannot think of a mechanical device that would directly return Normal generations from a Normal distribution with known parameters. However, since it is possible to simulate by hand Uniform U(0,1) variates [up to a given precision] using a chronometre or a wheel, calls to versions of the Box-Müller algorithm that do not rely on logarithmic or trigonometric functions are feasible, for instance by generating two Exponential variates, x and y, until 2y>(1-x)², x being the output. And generating Exponential variates is easy provided a radioactive material with known half-life is available, along with a Geiger counter. Or, if not, by calling von Neumann’s exponential generator. As detailed in Devroye’s simulation book.

After proposing this solution, I received a comment from the author of the question towards a simpler solution based, e.g., on the Central Limit Theorem. Presumably for simple iid random variables such as coin tosses or dice experiments. While I used the CLT for simulating Normal variables in my very early days [just after programming on punched cards!], I do not think this is a very good or efficient method, as the tails grow very slowly to normality. By comparison, using the same amount of coin tosses to create a sufficient number of binary digits of a Uniform variate produces a computer-precision exact Uniform variate, which can be exploited in Box-Müller-like algorithms to return exact Normal variates… Even by hand if necessary. [For some reason, this question attracted a lot of traffic and an encyclopaedic answer on X validated, despite being borderline to the point of being proposed for closure.]

uniform correlation mixtures

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2015 by xi'an

Philadelphia, Nov. 01, 2010Kai Zhang and my friends from Wharton, Larry Brown, Ed George and Linda Zhao arXived last week a neat mathematical foray into the properties of a marginal bivariate Gaussian density once the correlation ρ is integrated out. While the univariate marginals remain Gaussian (unsurprising, since these marginals do not depend on ρ in the first place), the joint density has the surprising property of being


which turns an infinitely regular density into a density that is not even differentiable everywhere. And which is constant on squares rather than circles or ellipses. This is somewhat paradoxical in that the intuition (at least my intuition!) is that integration increases regularity… I also like the characterisation of the distributions factorising through the infinite norm as scale mixtures of the infinite norm equivalent of normal distributions. The paper proposes several threads for some extensions of this most surprising result. Other come to mind:

  1. What happens when the Jeffreys prior is used in place of the uniform? Or Haldane‘s prior?
  2. Given the mixture representation of t distributions, is there an equivalent for t distributions?
  3. Is there any connection with the equally surprising resolution of the Drton conjecture by Natesh Pillai and Xiao-Li Meng?
  4. In the Khintchine representation, correlated normal variates are created by multiplying a single χ²(3) variate by a vector of uniforms on (-1,1). What are the resulting variates for other degrees of freedomk in the χ²(k) variate?
  5. I also wonder at a connection between this Khintchine representation and the Box-Müller algorithm, as in this earlier X validated question that I turned into an exam problem.

Gauss to Laplace transmutation interpreted

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on November 9, 2015 by xi'an

Following my earlier post [induced by browsing X validated], on the strange property that the product of a Normal variate by an Exponential variate is a Laplace variate, I got contacted by Peng Ding from UC Berkeley, who showed me how to derive the result by a mere algebraic transform, related with the decomposition

(X+Y)(X-Y)=X²-Y² ~ 2XY

when X,Y are iid Normal N(0,1). Peng Ding and Joseph Blitzstein have now arXived a note detailing this derivation, along with another derivation using the moment generating function. As a coincidence, I also came across another interesting representation on X validated, namely that, when X and Y are Normal N(0,1) variates with correlation ρ,

XY ~ R(cos(πU)+ρ)

with R Exponential and U Uniform (0,1). As shown by the OP of that question, it is a direct consequence of the decomposition of (X+Y)(X-Y) and of the polar or Box-Muller representation. This does not lead to a standard distribution of course, but remains a nice representation of the product of two Normals.

Cauchy Distribution: Evil or Angel?

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2015 by xi'an

Mystic2Natesh Pillai and Xiao-Li Meng just arXived a short paper that solves the Cauchy conjecture of Drton and Xiao [I mentioned last year at JSM], namely that, when considering two normal vectors with generic variance matrix S, a weighted average of the ratios X/Y remains Cauchy(0,1), just as in the iid S=I case. Even when the weights are random. The fascinating side of this now resolved (!) conjecture is that the correlation between the terms does not seem to matter. Pushing the correlation to one [assuming it is meaningful, which is a suspension of belief!, since there is no standard correlation for Cauchy variates] leads to a paradox: all terms are equal and yet… it works: we recover a single term, which again is Cauchy(0,1). All that remains thus to prove is that it stays Cauchy(0,1) between those two extremes, a weird kind of intermediary values theorem!

Actually, Natesh and XL further prove an inverse χ² theorem: the inverse of the normal vector, renormalised into a quadratic form is an inverse χ² no matter what its covariance matrix. The proof of this amazing theorem relies on a spherical representation of the bivariate Gaussian (also underlying the Box-Müller algorithm). The angles are then jointly distributed as


and from there follows the argument that conditional on the differences between the θ’s, all ratios are Cauchy distributed. Hence the conclusion!

A question that stems from reading this version of the paper is whether this property extends to other formats of non-independent Cauchy variates. Somewhat connected to my recent post about generating correlated variates from arbitrary distributions: using the inverse cdf transform of a Gaussian copula shows this is possibly the case: the following code is meaningless in that the empirical correlation has no connection with a “true” correlation, but nonetheless the experiment seems of interest…

> ro=.999999;x=matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2);y=ro*x+sqrt(1-ro^2)*matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2)
> cor(x[,1]/x[,2],y[,1]/y[,2])
[1] -0.1351967
> ro=.99999999;x=matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2);y=ro*x+sqrt(1-ro^2)*matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2)
> cor(x[,1]/x[,2],y[,1]/y[,2])
[1] 0.8622714
> ro=1-1e-5;x=matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2);y=ro*x+sqrt(1-ro^2)*matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2)
> z=qcauchy(pnorm(as.vector(x)));w=qcauchy(pnorm(as.vector(y)))
> cor(x=z,y=w)
[1] 0.9999732
> ks.test((z+w)/2,"pcauchy")

        One-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test

data:  (z + w)/2
D = 0.0068, p-value = 0.3203
alternative hypothesis: two-sided
> ro=1-1e-3;x=matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2);y=ro*x+sqrt(1-ro^2)*matrix(rnorm(2e4),ncol=2)
> z=qcauchy(pnorm(as.vector(x)));w=qcauchy(pnorm(as.vector(y)))
> cor(x=z,y=w)
[1] 0.9920858
> ks.test((z+w)/2,"pcauchy")

        One-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test

data:  (z + w)/2
D = 0.0036, p-value = 0.9574
alternative hypothesis: two-sided