Archive for University College Dublin

poems that solve puzzles [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2021 by xi'an

Upon request, I received this book from Oxford University Press for review. Poems that Solve Puzzles is a nice title and its cover is quite to my linking (for once!). The author is Chris Bleakley, Head of the School of Computer Science at UCD.

“This book is for people that know algorithms are important, but have no idea what they are.”

These is the first sentence of the book and hence I am clearly falling outside the intended audience. When I asked OUP for a review copy, I was more thinking in terms of Robert Sedgewick’s Algorithms, whose first edition still sits on my shelves and which I read from first to last page when it appeared [and was part of my wife’s booklist]. This was (and is) indeed a fantastic book to learn how to build and optimise algorithms and I gain a lot from it (despite remaining a poor programmer!).

Back to poems, this one reads much more like an history of computer science for newbies than a deep entry into the “science of algorithms”, with imho too little on the algorithms themselves and their connections with computer languages and too much emphasis on the pomp and circumstances of computer science (like so-and-so got the ACM A.M. Turing Award in 19… and  retired in 19…). Beside the antique algorithms for finding primes, approximating π, and computing the (fast) Fourier transform (incl. John Tukey), the story moves quickly to the difference engine of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, then to Turing’s machine, and artificial intelligence with the first checkers codes, which already included some learning aspects. Some sections on the ENIAC, John von Neumann and Stan Ulam, with the invention of Monte Carlo methods (but no word on MCMC). A bit of complexity theory (P versus NP) and then Internet, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix… Finishing with neural networks (then and now), the unavoidable AlphaGo, and the incoming cryptocurrencies and quantum computers. All this makes for pleasant (if unsurprising) reading and could possibly captivate a young reader for whom computers are more than a gaming console or a more senior reader who so far stayed wary and away of computers. But I would have enjoyed much more a low-tech discussion on the construction, validation and optimisation of algorithms, namely a much soft(ware) version, as it would have made it much more distinct from the existing offer on the history of computer science.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version of it will eventually appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE.]

the HMC algorithm meets the exchange algorithm

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by xi'an

Julien Stoehr (now in Dublin, soon to join us as a new faculty in Paris-Dauphine!), Alan Benson and Nial Friel (both at UCD) arXived last week a paper entitled Noisy HMC for doubly-intractable distributions. Which considers solutions for adapting Hamiltonian Monte Carlo to target densities that involve a missing constant. In the sense of our workshop last year in Warwick. And in the theme pursued by Nial in the past years. The notion is thus to tackle a density π(θ)∞exp(V(X|θ)/Z(θ) when Z(θ) is intractable. In that case the gradient of log Z(θ) can be estimated as the expectation of the gradient of V(X|θ) [as a standard exponential family identity]. And the ratio of the Z(θ)’s appearing in the Metropolis ratio can be derived by Iain Murray’s exchange algorithm, based on simulations from the sampling distribution attached to the parameter in the denominator.

The resulting algorithm proposed by the authors thus uses N simulations of auxiliary variables at each step þ of the leapfrog part, towards an approximation of the gradient term, plus another N simulations for approximating the ratio of the normalising constants Z(θ)/Z(θ’). While justified from an importance sampling perspective, this approximation is quite poor when θ and θ’ differ. A better solution [as shown in the paper] is to take advantage of all leapfrog steps and of associated auxiliary simulations to build a telescopic product of ratios where the parameter values θ and θ’ are much closer. The main difficulty is in drawing a comparison with the exchange algorithm, since the noisy HMC version is computationally more demanding. (A secondary difficulty is in having an approximate algorithm that no longer leaves the target density stationary.)

Sudokus with minimum number of clues

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , on January 9, 2012 by xi'an

Yesterday, I spotted on Mathblogging.org a Spanish post on the minimal number of clues to solve a Sudoku in a unique way. The original paper was posted on arXiv on January 1, in the Data structure and algorithms category. The authors, Gary McGuire, Bastian Tugemann, and Gilles Civario from University College Dublin, have shown by an exhaustive search that no Sudoku with 16 clues exist (in the sense of having a unique solution). The actual computation actually tooks 7.1 million core hours on the Stokes machine, which is a cluster with 320 nodes, which represents about a year in real time! The Sudoku solver the authors used was Brian Turner’s open source solver. (Here is a review of solvers.) Very impressive…