Archive for simulation

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.]

Monty Python generator

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on November 23, 2016 by xi'an

By some piece of luck I came across a paper by the late George Marsaglia, genial contributor to the field of simulation, and Wai Wan Tang, entitled The Monty Python method for generating random variables. As shown by the below illustration, the concept is to flip the piece H outside the rectangle back inside the rectangle, exploiting the remaining area above the density. The fantastic part is actually that “since areas of the rectangle add to 1, the slim in-between area is exactly the tail area”! So the tiny bit between G and the flipped H is the remaining tail.montepythonIn the case of a Gamma Ga(a,1) variate, the authors express this variate as the transform of another variate with a nearly symmetry density, on which the Monty Python method applies. The transform is

q(x)=(a-1/3)(1 + x/\sqrt{16a})^3

with -√16a<x. The second nice trick is that the density of x is provided for free by the Gamma Ga(a,1) density and the transform, thanks to the change of variable formula. One lingering question is obviously how to handle the tail part. This is handled separately in the paper, with a rather involved algorithm, but since the area of the tail is tiny, a mere 1.2% in the case of the Gaussian density, this instance occurs rarely. Very clever if highly specialised! (The case of a<1 has to be processed by the indirect of multiplying a Ga(a+1,1) by a uniform variate to the power 1/a.)

I also found out that there exists a Monte Python software, which is an unrelated Monte Carlo code in python [hence the name] for cosmological inference. Including nested sampling, unsurprisingly.

simulation under zero measure constraints

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2016 by xi'an

A theme that comes up fairly regularly on X validated is the production of a sample with given moments, either for calibration motives or from a misunderstanding of the difference between a distribution mean and a sample average. Here are some entries on that topic:

In most of those questions, the constraint in on the sum or mean of the sample, which allows for an easy resolution by a change of variables. It however gets somewhat harder when the constraint involves more moments or, worse, an implicit solution to an equation. A good example of the later is the quest for a sample with a given maximum likelihood estimate in the case this MLE cannot be derived analytically. As for instance with a location-scale t sample…

Actually, even when the constraint is solely on the sum, a relevant question is the production of an efficient simulation mechanism. Using a Gibbs sampler that changes one component of the sample at each iteration does not qualify, even though it eventually produces the proper sample. Except for small samples. As in this example

s0=.5 #fixed average
for (t in 2:T){
 for (i in 1:(n-1)){

For very large samples, I figure that proposing from the unconstrained density can achieve a sufficient efficiency, but the in-between setting remains an interesting problem.

conditional sampling

Posted in R, Statistics with tags , , , , on September 5, 2016 by xi'an

An interesting question about stratified sampling came up on X validated last week, namely how to optimise a Monte Carlo estimate based on two subsequent simulations, one, X, from a marginal and one or several Y from the corresponding conditional given X, when the costs of producing those two simulations significantly differ. When looking at the variance of the Monte Carlo estimate, this variance can be minimised in the number of simulations from the marginal under a computing budget. However, when the costs of producing x, y given or (x,y) are about the same, it does not pay to replicate simulations from y given x or x given y, because this increases the randomness of the estimator and induces positive correlation between some terms in the sum. Assuming that the conditional variances are always computable, we could envision an extension to the question where for each new value of a simulated x (or y), a variable number of conditionally simulated y (or x) could be produced. Or even when those conditional variances are unknown but can be replaced with empirical versions.

The illustration comes from a bivariate normal model with correlation, for a rather arbitrary function , but the pattern remains the same, namely that iid simulations of the pair (X,Y invariably leads to a smaller variance of the estimator compared with simulation with a 1:10 (10 Y’s for one X) or 10:1 ratio between x’s and y’s. Depending on the function and the relative variances, the 1:10 or 10:1 schemes may have a similar variability.


targ=function(x,y){ log(x^2*y^4)+x^2*cos(x^2)/y*sin(y^2)}

for (i in 1:N){

MCqMC 2016 [#4]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2016 by xi'an

In his plenary talk this morning, Arnaud Doucet discussed the application of pseudo-marginal techniques to the latent variable models he has been investigating for many years. And its limiting behaviour towards efficiency, with the idea of introducing correlation in the estimation of the likelihood ratio. Reducing complexity from O(T²) to O(T√T). With the very surprising conclusion that the correlation must go to 1 at a precise rate to get this reduction, since perfect correlation would induce a bias. A massive piece of work, indeed!

The next session of the morning was another instance of conflicting talks and I hoped from one room to the next to listen to Hani Doss’s empirical Bayes estimation with intractable constants (where maybe SAME could be of interest), Youssef Marzouk’s transport maps for MCMC, which sounds like an attractive idea provided the construction of the map remains manageable, and Paul Russel’s adaptive importance sampling that somehow sounded connected with our population Monte Carlo approach. (With the additional step of considering transform maps.)

An interesting item of information I got from the final announcements at MCqMC 2016 just before heading to Monash, Melbourne, is that MCqMC 2018 will take place in the city of Rennes, Brittany, on July 2-6. Not only it is a nice location on its own, but it is most conveniently located in space and time to attend ISBA 2018 in Edinburgh the week after! Just moving from one Celtic city to another Celtic city. Along with other planned satellite workshops, this occurrence should make ISBA 2018 more attractive [if need be!] for participants from oversea.

MCqMC 2016 [#2]

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2016 by xi'an

In her plenary talk this morning, Christine Lemieux discussed connections between quasi-Monte Carlo and copulas, covering a question I have been considering for a while. Namely, when provided with a (multivariate) joint cdf F, is there a generic way to invert a vector of uniforms [or quasi-uniforms] into a simulation from F? For Archimedian copulas (as we always can get back to copulas), there is a resolution by the Marshall-Olkin representation,  but this puts a restriction on the distributions F that can be considered. The session on synthetic likelihoods [as introduced by Simon Wood in 2010] put together by Scott Sisson was completely focussed on using normal approximations for the distribution of the vector of summary statistics, rather than the standard ABC non-parametric approximation. While there is a clear (?) advantage in using a normal pseudo-likelihood, since it stabilises with much less simulations than a non-parametric version, I find it difficult to compare both approaches, as they lead to different posterior distributions. In particular, I wonder at the impact of the dimension of the summary statistics on the approximation, in the sense that it is less and less likely that the joint is normal as this dimension increases. Whether this is damaging for the resulting inference is another issue, possibly handled by a supplementary ABC step that would take the first-step estimate as summary statistic. (As a side remark, I am intrigued at everyone being so concerned with unbiasedness of methods that are approximations with no assessment of the amount of approximation!) The last session of the day was about multimodality and MCMC solutions, with talks by Hyungsuk Tak, Pierre Jacob and Babak Shababa, plus mine. Hunsuk presented the RAM algorithm I discussed earlier under the title of “love-hate” algorithm, which was a kind reference to my post! (I remain puzzled by the ability of the algorithm to jump to another mode, given that the intermediary step aims at a low or even zero probability region with an infinite mass target.) And Pierre talked about using SMC for Wang-Landau algorithms, with a twist to the classical stochastic optimisation schedule that preserves convergence. And a terrific illustration on a distribution inspired from the Golden Gate Bridge that reminded me of my recent crossing! The discussion around my folded Markov chain talk focussed on the extension of the partition to more than two sets, the difficulty being in generating automated projections, with comments about connections with computer graphic tools. (Too bad that the parallel session saw talks by Mark Huber and Rémi Bardenet that I missed! Enjoying a terrific Burmese dinner with Rémi, Pierre and other friends also meant I could not post this entry on time for the customary 00:16. Not that it matters in the least…)

MCqMC 2016 [#1]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2016 by xi'an

mcqmc1This week, I attend the MCqMC 2016 conference in Stanford, which is quite an exciting gathering of researchers involved in various aspects of Monte Carlo methods. As Art Owen put it in his welcoming talk, the whole Carlo family is there! (Not to mention how pleasant the Stanford Campus currently is, after the scorching heat we met the past week in Northern California inlands.) My talk is on folded Markov chains, which is a proposal Randal and I have been working on for quite a while, with Gareth joining us more recently. The basic idea was inspired from a discussion I had about a blog post, so long ago that I cannot even trace it! Namely, when defining an inside set A and an outside set, such that the outside set can be projected onto the inside set, one can fold both the target and the proposal, essentially looking at a collection of values for each step of the Markov chain. In other words, the problem can be reduced to A at essentially no cost and with the benefits of a compact support A and of a possibly uniformly ergodic Markov chain. We are still working on the paper, but the idea is both cool and straightforward, so we decided to talk about it at Nordstat 2016 and now MCqMC 2016.