Archive for Hamburg

morning run

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , on February 21, 2013 by xi'an

Elben, Hamburg, Feb. 21, 2013

Monte Carlo workshop (Tage 1 & 2)

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by xi'an

IMG_4803Gathering with simulators from other fields (mostly [quantum] physicists) offers both the appeal of seeing different perspectives on simulation and the diffiulty of having to filter alien vocabulary and presentation styles (generally assuming too much background from the audience). For instance; while the first talk on Tuesday by Gergely Barnaföldi about using GPUs for simulation was quite accessible, showing poor performances of the (CPU based) Mersenne twister., when using Dieharder as the evaluator. (This was in comparison with GPU-based solutions.) This provided an interesting contrapoint to the (later) seminar by Frederik James on random generators. (Of course, I did have some preliminary background on the topic.)

On the opposite, the second talk by Stefan Schäfer involved hybrid Monte Carlo methods but it took a lot of efforts (for me) to translate back to my understanding of the notion, gathered from this earlier Read Paper of Girolami and Calderhead, with the heat-bath and leapfrog algorithms. One extreme talk in this regard was William Lester’s talk on Wednesday morning on quantum Monte Carlo and its applications in computational chemistry where I could not get past the formulas! Too bad because it sounded quite innovative with notions like variational Monte Carlo and diffusion Monte Carlo… Nice movies, though. On the other hand, the final talk of the morning by Gabor Molnar-Saska on option pricing was highly pedagogical, defining everything and using simple examples as illustrations. (It certainly did not cure my misgivings about modelling the evolution of stock prices via pre-defined diffusions like Black-and-Scholes’, but the introduction was welcome, given the heterogeneity of the audience.) Both talks on transportation problems were also more accessible (maybe because they involved no pysics!)

The speakers in the afternoon sessions of Wednesday also made a huge effort to bring the whole audience up-to-date about their topic, like protein folding and high-energy particle physics (although everyone knows about the Higgs boson nowadays!). And ensemble Kalman filters (x2). In particular, Andrew Stuart did a great job with his simulation movies. Even the final talk about path-sampling for quantum simulation was mostly understandable, at least the problematic of it.  Sadly, at this stage, I still cannot put a meaning on “quantum Monte Carlo”… (Incidentally, I do not think my own talk reached much of the audience, missing convincing examples I did not have time to present:)

about randomness (im Hamburg)

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2013 by xi'an

exhibit in DESY campus, Hamburg, Germany, Feb. 19, 2013True randomness was the topic of the `Random numbers; fifty years later’ talk in DESY by Frederick James from CERN. I had discussed a while ago a puzzling book related to this topic. This talk went along a rather different route, focussing on random generators. James put this claim that there are computer based physical generators that are truly random. (He had this assertion that statisticians do not understand randomness because they do not know quantum mechanics.) He distinguished those from pseudo-random generators: “nobody understood why they were (almost) random”, “IBM did not know how to generate random numbers”… But then spent the whole talk discussing those pseudo-random generators. Among other pieces of trivia, James mentioned that George Marsaglia was the one exhibiting the hyperplane features of congruential generators. That Knuth achieved no successful definition of what randomness is in his otherwise wonderful books! James thus introduced Kolmogorov’s mixing (not Kolmogorov’s complexity, mind you!) as advocated by Soviet physicists to underlie randomness. Not producing anything useful for RNGs in the 60’s. He then moved to the famous paper by Ferrenberg, Landau and Wong (1992) that I remember reading more or less at the time. In connection with the phase transition critical slowing down phenomena in Ising model simulations. And connecting with the Wang-Landau algorithm of flipping many sites at once (which exhibited long-term dependences in the generators). Most interestingly, a central character in this story is Martin Lüscher, based in DESY, who expressed the standard generator of the time RCARRY into one studied by those Soviet mathematicians,


showing that it enjoyed Kolmogorov mixing, but with a very poor Lyapunov coefficient. I partly lost track there as RCARRY was not perfect. And on how this Kolmogorov mixing would relate to long-term dependencies. One explanation by James was that this property is only asymptotic. (I would even say statistical!) Also interestingly, the 1994 paper by Lüscher produces the number of steps necessary to attain complete mixing, namely 15 steps, which thus works as a cutoff point. (I wonder why a 15-step RCARRY is slower, since A15 can be computed at once… It may be due to the fact that A is sparse while A15 is not.) James mentioned that Marsaglia’s Die Hard battery of tests is now obsolete and superseded by Pierre Lecuyer’s TestU01.

In conclusion, I did very much like this presentation from an insider, but still do not feel it makes a contribution to the debate on randomness, as it stayed put on pseudorandom generators. To keep the connection with von Neumann, they all produce wrong answers from a randomness point of view, if not from a statistical one. (A final quote from the talk: “Among statisticians and number theorists who are supposed to be specialists, they do not know about Kolmogorov mixing.”) [Discussing with Fred James at the reception after the talk was obviously extremely pleasant, as he happened to know a lot of my Bayesian acquaintances!]

nach Hamburg

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by xi'an

Today, I will visit Germany again, hopefully with less snow in the airport, in the City of Hamburg, as I am attending an intriguing workshop at the interface between statistics, physics and other sciences (the full title is “Monte Carlo Methods in Natural Sciences, in Engineering and in Economics”) at  DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron). The program of the workshop is a bit tight, but definitely interesting, with mostly speakers unknown to me. (Due to an even tighter schedule, I will miss the guided tour of the structure, unfortunately!)

Monte Carlo workshop im Hamburg

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on August 17, 2012 by xi'an

I have just received an invitation to take part in this workshop in Hamburg, next year. I will most certainly go, esp. when considering it takes place on the site of the German synchrotron!