Archive for Venezia

Casanova’s Lottery [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2023 by xi'an

This “history of a revolutionary game of chance” is the latest book by Stephen Stigler and is indeed of an historical nature, following the French Lottery from its inception as Loterie royale in 1758 to the Loterie Nationale in 1836 (with the intermediate names of Loterie de France, Loterie Nationale, Loterie impériale, Loterie royale reflecting the agitated history of the turn of that Century!).

The incentive for following this State lottery is that it is exceptional by its mathematical foundations. Contrary to other lotteries of the time, it was indeed grounded on the averaging of losses and gains on the long run (for the State). The French (Royal) State thus accepted the possibility of huge losses at some draws since they would be compensated by even larger gains. The reasoning proved most correct since the Loterie went providing as far as 4% of the overall State budget, despite the running costs of maintaining a network of betting places and employees, who had to be mathematically savy in order to compute the exact gains of the winners.This is rather amazing as the understanding of the Law of Large Numbers was quite fresh (on an historical scale) thanks to the considerable advances made by Pascal, Fermat, (Jakob) Bernoulli and a few others. (The book mentions the Encyclopedist and mathematician Jean d’Alembert as being present at the meeting that decided of the creation of the Loterie in 1757.)

One may wonder why Casanova gets the credit for this lottery. In true agreement with Stigler’s Law, it is directly connected with the Genoan lottery and subsequent avatars in some Italian cities, including Casanova’s Venezia. But jack-of-all-trades Casanova was instrumental in selling the notion to the French State, having landed in Paris after a daring flight from the Serenissima’s jails. After succeeding in convincing the King’s officers to launch the scheme crafted by a certain Ranieri (de’) Calzabig—not to be confused with the much maligned Salieri!—who would later collaborate with Gluck on Orfeo ed Eurydice and Alceste, Casanova received a salary from the Loterie administration and further run several betting offices. Until he left Paris for further adventures! Including an attempt to reproduce the lottery in Berlin, where Frederick II proved less receptive than Louis XIV. (Possibly due to Euler’s cautionary advice.) The final sentence of the book stands by its title: “It was indeed Casanova’s lottery” (p.210).

Unsurprisingly, given Stephen’s fascination for Pierre-Simon Laplace, the great man plays a role in the history, first by writing in 1774 one of his earliest papers on a lottery problem, namely the distribution of the number of draws needed for all 90 numbers to appear. His (correct) solution is an alternating sum whose derivation proved a numerical challenge. Thirty years later, Laplace came up with a good and manageable approximation (see Appendix Two). Laplace also contributed to the end of the Loterie by arguing on moral grounds against this “voluntary” tax, along Talleyrand, a fellow in perpetually adapting to the changing political regimes. It is a bit of a surprise to read that this rather profitable venture ended up in 1836, more under bankers’ than moralists´ pressure. (A new national lottery—based on printed tickets rather than bets on results—was created a century later, in 1933 and survived the second World War, with the French Loto appearing in 1974 as a direct successor to Casanova’s lottery.)

The book covers many fascinating aspects, from the daily run of the Loterie, to the various measures (successfully) taken against fraud, to the survival during the Révolution and its extension through (the Napoleonic) Empire, to tests for fairness thanks to numerous data from almanacs, to the behaviour of bettors and the sale of “helping” books. to (Daniel) Bernoulli, Buffon, Condorcet, and Laplace modelling rewards and supporting decreasing marginal utility. Note that there are hardly any mathematical formula, except for an appendix on the probabilities of wins and the returns, as well as Laplace’s (and Legendre’s) derivations. Which makes the book eminently suited for a large audience, the more thanks to Stephen Stigler’s perfect style.

This (paperback) book is also very pleasantly designed by the University of Chicago Press, with a plesant font (Adobe Calson Pro) and a very nice cover involving Laplace undercover, taken from a painting owned by the author. The many reproductions of epoch documents are well-done and easily readable. And, needless to say given the scholarship of Stephen, the reference list is impressive.

The book is testament to the remarkable skills of Stephen who searched for material over thirty years, from Parisian specialised booksellers to French, English, and American archives. He manages to bring into the story a wealth of connections and characters, as for instance Voltaire’s scheme to take advantage of an earlier French State lottery aimed at reimbursing State debtors. (Voltaire actually made a fortune of several millions francs out of this poorly designed lottery.) For my personal instructions, the book also put life to several Métro stations like Pereire and Duverney. But the book‘s contents will prove fascinating way beyond Parisian locals and francophiles. Enjoy!

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE. As appropriate for a book about capitalising on chance beliefs!]

day five at ISBA 22

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2022 by xi'an

Woke up even earlier today! Which left me time to work on switching to Leonard Cohen’s song titles for my slide frametitles this afternoon (last talk of the whole conference!), run once again to Mon(t) Royal as all pools are closed (Happy Canada Day!, except to “freedom convoy” antivaxxxers.) Which led to me meeting a raccoon by the side of the path (and moroons feeding wildlife).

Had an exciting time at the morning session, where Giacomo Zanella (formerly Warwick) talked on a mixture approach to leave-one-out predictives, with pseudo-harmonic mean representation, averaging inverse density across all observations. Better than harmonic? Some assumptions allow for finite variance, although I am missing the deep argument (in part due to Giacomo’s machine-gun delivery pace!) Then Alicia Corbella (Warwick) presented a promising entry into PDMP by proposing an automated zig-zag sampler. Pointing out on the side to Joris Bierkens’ webpage on the state-of-the-art PDMP methodology. In this approach, joint with with my other Warwick colleagues Simon Spencer and Gareth Roberts, the zig-zag sampler relies on automatic differentiation and sub-sampling and bound derivation, with “no further information on the target needed”. And finaly Chris Carmona presented a joint work with Geoff Nicholls that is merging merging cut posteriors and variational inference to create a meta posterior. Work and talk were motivated by a nice medieval linguistic problem where the latent variables impact the (convergence of the) MCMC algorithm [as in our k-nearest neighbour experience]. Interestingly using normalising [neural spline] flows. The pseudo-posterior seems to depend very much on their modularization rate η, which penalises how much one module influences the next one.

In the aft, I attended sort of by chance [due to a missing speaker in the copula session] to the end of a session on migration modelling, with a talk by Jason Hilton and Martin Hinsch focussing on the 2015’s mass exodus of Syrians through the Mediterranean,  away from the joint evils of al-Hassad and ISIS. As this was a tragedy whose modelling I had vainly tried to contribute to, I was obviously captivated and frustrated (leaning of the IOM missing migrant project!) Fitting the agent-based model was actually using ABC, and most particularly our ABC-PMC!!!

My own and final session had Gareth (Warwick) presenting his recent work with Jun Yang and Kryzs Łatuszyński (Warwick) on the stereoscopic projection improvement over regular MCMC, which involves turning the target into a distribution supported by an hypersphere and hence considering a distribution with compact support and higher efficiency. Kryzs had explained the principle while driving back from Gregynog two months ago. The idea is somewhat similar to our origaMCMC, which I presented at MCqMC 2016 in Stanford (and never completed), except our projection was inside a ball. Looking forward the adaptive version, in the making!

And to conclude this subjective journal from the ISBA conference, borrowing this title by (Westmount born) Leonard Cohen, “Hey, that’s not a way to say goodbye”… To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, I have not interacted with at least half the participants half as much as I would have liked. But this was still a reunion, albeit in the new Normal. Hopefully, the conference will not have induced a massive COVID cluster on top of numerous scientific and social exchanges! The following days will tell. Congrats to the ISBA 2022 organisers for achieving a most successful event in these times of uncertainty. And looking forward the 2024 next edition in Ca’Foscari, Venezia!!!


extinction minus one

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2022 by xi'an

The riddle from The Riddler of 19 Feb. is about the Bernoulli Galton-Watson process, where each individual in the population has one or zero descendant with equal probabilities: Starting with a large population os size N, what is the probability that the size of the population on the brink of extinction is equal to one? While it is easy to show that the probability the n-th generation is extinct is

\mathbb{P}(S_n=0) = 1 - \frac{1}{2^{nN}}

I could not find a way to express the probability to hit one and resorted to brute force simulation, easily coded

for(t in 1:(T<-1e8)){N=Z=1e4 

which produces an approximate probability of 0.7213 or 0.714. The impact of N is quickly vanishing, as expected when the probability to reach 1 in one generation is negligible…

However, when returning to Dauphine after a two-week absence, I presented the problem with my probabilist neighbour François Simenhaus, who immediately pointed out that this probability was more simply seen as the probability that the maximum of N independent geometric rv’s was achieved by a single one among the N. Searching later a reference for that probability, I came across the 1990 paper of Bruss and O’Cinneide, which shows that the probability of uniqueness of the maximum does not converge as N goes to infinity, but rather fluctuates around 0.72135 with logarithmic periodicity. It is only when N=2^n that the sequence converges to 0.721521… This probability actually writes down in closed form as

N\sum_{i=1}^\infty 2^{-i-1}(1-2^{-i})^{N-1}

(which is obvious in retrospect!, albeit containing a typo in the original paper which is missing a ½ factor in equation (17)) and its asymptotic behaviour is not obvious either, as noted by the authors.

On the historical side, and in accordance with Stiegler’s law, the Galton-Watson process should have been called the Bienaymé process! (Bienaymé was a student of Laplace, who successively lost positions for his political idea, before eventually joining Académie des Sciences, and later founding the Société Mathématique de France.)

dusk from Zattere [jatp]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2022 by xi'an

riflessioni veneziane [jatp]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2022 by xi'an

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