Archive for Lenzerheide

Le Sassine

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2016 by xi'an

Villa Arvedi

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2016 by xi'an

next BayesComp conference planned for Jan 2018, any volunteer?

Posted in Kids, Mountains, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2016 by xi'an

MCMSki III poster, 2010 (C.) IMS[A call from the BayesComp section of ISBA for the next Bayesian computation meeting! As suggested in an earlier post, the label MCMski is discontinued to allow for any location amenable to organise a 200 plus meeting in good and hopefully reasonably priced conditions.]

The Bayesian Computation Section of ISBA is soliciting proposals to host its flagship meeting: BayesComp 2018

The expectation is that the meeting will be held in January 2018, but the committee will consider proposals for other times through January 2019. This meeting is a continuation of the popular MCMSki on recent advances in the theory and application of Bayesian computational methods such as MCMC. The tradition was to hold MCMski meetings in ski resorts, but, as the name change suggests, we encourage applications from any venue that could support BC2018.

A three-day meeting is planned, perhaps with an additional day or two of satellite meetings and/or short courses. One page proposals should address feasibility of hosting the meeting including

1. Proposed dates.
2. Transportation for international participants (both the proximity of international airports and transportation to/from the venue).
3. The conference facilities.
4. The availability and cost of hotels, including low cost options.
5. The proposed local organizing committee and their collective experience organizing international meetings.
6. Expected or promised contributions from the host organization, host country, or industrial partners towards the cost of running the meetings.

Proposals should be submitted to Nicolas Chopin (Program Chair) no later than May 31, 2016. The Board of Bayesian Computing Section will evaluate the proposals, choose a venue, and appoint the Program Committee for BayesComp 2018.

MCMskv #5 [future with a view]

Posted in Kids, Mountains, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2016 by xi'an

As I am flying back to Paris (with an afternoon committee meeting in München in-between), I am reminiscing on the superlative scientific quality of this MCMski meeting, on the novel directions in computational Bayesian statistics exhibited therein, and on the potential settings for the next meeting. If any.

First, as hopefully obvious from my previous entries, I found the scientific program very exciting, with almost uniformly terrific talks, and a coverage of the field of computational Bayesian statistics that is perfectly tuned to my own interest. In that sense, MCMski is my “top one” conference! Even without considering the idyllic location. While some of the talks were about papers I had already read (and commented here), others brought new vistas and ideas. If one theme is to emerge from this meeting it has to be the one of approximate and noisy algorithms, with a wide variety of solutions and approaches to overcome complexity issues. If anything, I wish the solutions would also incorporate the Boxian fact that the statistical models themselves are approximate. Overall, a fantastic program (says one member of the scientific committee).

Second, as with previous MCMski meetings, I again enjoyed the unique ambience of the meeting, which always feels more relaxed and friendly than other conferences of a similar size, maybe because of the après-ski atmosphere or of the special coziness provided by luxurious mountain hotels. This year hotel was particularly pleasant, with non-guests like myself able to partake of some of their facilities. A big thank you to Anto for arranging so meticulously all the details of such a large meeting!!! I am even more grateful when realising this is the third time Anto takes over the heavy load of organising MCMski. Grazie mille!

Since this is a [and even the!] BayesComp conference, the current section program chair and board must decide on the  structure and schedule of the next meeting. A few suggestions if I may: I would scrap entirely the name MCMski from the next conference as (a) it may sound like academic tourism for unaware bystanders (who only need to check the program of any of the MCMski conferences to stand reassured!) and (b) its topic go way beyond MCMC. Given the large attendance and equally large proportion of young researchers, I would also advise against hosting the conference in a ski resort for both cost and accessibility reasons [as we had already discussed after MCMskiv], in favour of a large enough town to offer a reasonable range of accommodations and of travel options. Like Chamonix, Innsbruck, Reykjavik, or any place with a major airport about one hour away… If nothing is available with skiing possibilities, so be it! While the outdoor inclinations of the early organisers induced us to pick locations where skiing over lunch break was a perk, any accessible location that allows for a concentration of researchers in a small area and for the ensuing day-long exchange is fine! Among the novelties in the program, the tutorials and the Breaking news! sessions were quite successful (says one member of the scientific committee). And should be continued in one format or another. Maybe a more programming thread could be added as well… And as we had mentioned earlier, to see a stronger involvement of the Young Bayesian section in the program would be great! (Even though the current meeting already had many young researcher  talks.)

mixtures are slices of an orange

Posted in Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2016 by xi'an

licenceDataTempering_mu_pAfter presenting this work in both London and Lenzerheide, Kaniav Kamary, Kate Lee and I arXived and submitted our paper on a new parametrisation of location-scale mixtures. Although it took a long while to finalise the paper, given that we came with the original and central idea about a year ago, I remain quite excited by this new representation of mixtures, because the use of a global location-scale (hyper-)parameter doubling as the mean-standard deviation for the mixture itself implies that all the other parameters of this mixture model [beside the weights] belong to the intersection of a unit hypersphere with an hyperplane. [Hence the title above I regretted not using for the poster at MCMskv!]fitted_density_galaxy_data_500iters2This realisation that using a (meaningful) hyperparameter (μ,σ) leads to a compact parameter space for the component parameters is important for inference in such mixture models in that the hyperparameter (μ,σ) is easily estimated from the entire sample, while the other parameters can be studied using a non-informative prior like the Uniform prior on the ensuing compact space. This non-informative prior for mixtures is something I have been seeking for many years, hence my on-going excitement! In the mid-1990‘s, we looked at a Russian doll type parametrisation with Kerrie Mengersen that used the “first” component as defining the location-scale reference for the entire mixture. And expressing each new component as a local perturbation of the previous one. While this is a similar idea than the current one, it falls short of leading to a natural non-informative prior, forcing us to devise a proper prior on the variance that was a mixture of a Uniform U(0,1) and of an inverse Uniform 1/U(0,1). Because of the lack of compactness of the parameter space. Here, fixing both mean and variance (or even just the variance) binds the mixture parameter to an ellipse conditional on the weights. A space that can be turned into the unit sphere via a natural reparameterisation. Furthermore, the intersection with the hyperplane leads to a closed form spherical reparameterisation. Yay!

While I do not wish to get into the debate about the [non-]existence of “non-informative” priors at this stage, I think being able to using the invariant reference prior π(μ,σ)=1/σ is quite neat here because the inference on the mixture parameters should be location and scale equivariant. The choice of the prior on the remaining parameters is of lesser importance, the Uniform over the compact being one example, although we did not study in depth this impact, being satisfied with the outputs produced from the default (Uniform) choice.

From a computational perspective, the new parametrisation can be easily turned into the old parametrisation, hence leads to a closed-form likelihood. This implies a Metropolis-within-Gibbs strategy can be easily implemented, as we did in the derived Ultimixt R package. (Which programming I was not involved in, solely suggesting the name Ultimixt from ultimate mixture parametrisation, a former title that we eventually dropped off for the paper.)

Discussing the paper at MCMskv was very helpful in that I got very positive feedback about the approach and superior arguments to justify the approach and its appeal. And to think about several extensions outside location scale families, if not in higher dimensions which remain a practical challenge (in the sense of designing a parametrisation of the covariance matrices in terms of the global covariance matrix).

MCMskv #4 [house with a vision]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2016 by xi'an

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast day at MCMskv! Not yet exhausted by this exciting conference, but this was the toughest day with one more session and a tutorial by Art Own on quasi Monte-Carlo. (Not even mentioning the night activities that I skipped. Or the ski break that I did not even consider.) Krys Latunszynski started with a plenary on exact methods for discretised diffusions, with a foray in Bernoulli factory problems. Then a neat session on adaptive MCMC methods that contained a talk by Chris Sherlock on delayed acceptance, where the approximation to the target was built by knn trees. (The adaptation was through the construction of the tree by including additional evaluations of the target density. Another paper sitting in my to-read list for too a long while: the exploitation of the observed values of π towards improving an MCMC sampler has always be “obvious” to me even though I could not see any practical way of doing so. )

It was wonderful that Art Owen accepted to deliver a tutorial at MCMskv on quasi-random Monte Carlo. Great tutorial, with a neat coverage of the issues most related to Monte Carlo integration. Since quasi-random sequences have trouble with accept/reject methods, a not-even-half-baked idea that came to me during Art’s tutorial was that the increased computing power granted by qMC could lead to a generic integration of the Metropolis-Hastings step in a Rao-Blackwellised manner. Art mentioned he was hoping that in a near future one could switch between pseudo- and quasi-random in an almost automated manner when running standard platforms like R. This would indeed be great, especially since quasi-random sequences seem to be available at the same cost as their pseudo-random counterpart. During the following qMC session, Art discussed the construction of optimal sequences on sets other than hypercubes (with the surprising feature that projecting optimal sequences from the hypercube does not work). Mathieu Gerber presented the quasi-random simulated annealing algorithm he developed with Luke Bornn that I briefly discussed a while ago. Or thought I did as I cannot trace a post on that paper! While the fact that annealing also works with quasi-random sequences is not astounding, the gain over random sequences shown on two examples is clear. The session also had a talk by Lester Mckey who relies Stein’s discrepancy to measure the value of an approximation to the true target. This was quite novel, with a surprising connection to Chris Oates’ talk and the use of score-based control variates, if used in a dual approach.

Another great session was the noisy MCMC one organised by Paul Jenkins (Warwick), with again a coherent presentation of views on the quality or lack thereof of noisy (or inexact) versions, with an update from Richard Everitt on inexact MCMC, Felipe Medina Aguayo (Warwick) on sufficient conditions for noisy versions to converge (and counterexamples), Jere Koskela (Warwick) on a pseudo-likelihood approach to the highly complex Kingman’s coalescent model in population genetics (of ABC fame!), and Rémi Bardenet on the tall data approximations techniques discussed in a recent post. Having seen or read most of those results previously did not diminish the appeal of the session.

MCMskv #3 [town with a view]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2016 by xi'an

Third day at MCMskv, where I took advantage of the gap left by the elimination of the Tweedie Race [second time in a row!] to complete and submit our mixture paper. Despite the nice weather. The rest of the day was quite busy with David Dunson giving a plenary talk on various approaches to approximate MCMC solutions, with a broad overview of the potential methods and of the need for better solutions. (On a personal basis, great line from David: “five minutes or four minutes?”. It almost beat David’s question on the previous day, about the weight of a finch that sounded suspiciously close to the question about the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow. I was quite surprised the speaker did not reply with the Arthurian “An African or an European finch?”) In particular, I appreciated the notion that some problems were calling for a reduction in the number of parameters, rather than the number of observations. At which point I wrote down “multiscale approximations required” in my black pad,  a requirement David made a few minutes later. (The talk conditions were also much better than during Michael’s talk, in that the man standing between the screen and myself was David rather than the cameraman! Joke apart, it did not really prevent me from reading them, except for most of the jokes in small prints!)

The first session of the morning involved a talk by Marc Suchard, who used continued fractions to find a closed form likelihood for the SIR epidemiology model (I love continued fractions!), and a talk by Donatello Telesca who studied non-local priors to build a regression tree. While I am somewhat skeptical about non-local testing priors, I found this approach to the construction of a tree quite interesting! In the afternoon, I obviously went to the intractable likelihood session, with talks by Chris Oates on a control variate method for doubly intractable models, Brenda Vo on mixing sequential ABC with Bayesian bootstrap, and Gael Martin on our consistency paper. I was not aware of the Bayesian bootstrap proposal and need to read through the paper, as I fail to see the appeal of the bootstrap part! I later attended a session on exact Monte Carlo methods that was pleasantly homogeneous. With talks by Paul Jenkins (Warwick) on the exact simulation of the Wright-Fisher diffusion, Anthony Lee (Warwick) on designing perfect samplers for chains with atoms, Chang-han Rhee and Sebastian Vollmer on extensions of the Glynn-Rhee debiasing technique I previously discussed on the blog. (Once again, I regretted having to make a choice between the parallel sessions!)

The poster session (after a quick home-made pasta dish with an exceptional Valpolicella!) was almost universally great and with just the right number of posters to go around all of them in the allotted time. With in particular the Breaking News! posters of Giacomo Zanella (Warwick), Beka Steorts and Alexander Terenin. A high quality session that made me regret not touring the previous one due to my own poster presentation.