# PhD acknowledgement

Acknowledgement from an anonymous doctoral dissertation in the University Microforms International database:

If I had a dime for every time my wife threatened to divorce me during the past three years, I would be wealthy and not have to take a postdoctoral position which will only make me a little less poor and will keep me away from home and in the lab even more than graduate school and all because my committee read this manuscript and said that the only alternative to signing the approval to this dissertation was to give me a job mowing the grass on campus but the Physical Plant would not hire me on account of they said I was over-educated and needed to improve my dexterity skills like picking my nose while driving a tractor-mower over poor defenseless squirrels that were eating the nuts they stole from the medical students’ lunches on Tuesday afternoon following the Biochemistry quiz which they all did not pass and blamed on me because they said a tutor was supposed to come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and I am supposed to thank someone for all this?!!

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995)

Source: Futility Closet via Arthur Charpentier.

# Unicode in LaTeX

The way I type LaTeX has changed significantly in the past couple of months. I now type most of my math formulae in unicode, which makes the source code much more readable.

A few months ago, I might have written

$\lambda/\mu=\kappa/\nu \Rightarrow \exists \Theta,\forall i, \sum_{j\in\mathbb{N}} E[D_{i,j}]=\Theta$

to display

$\lambda/\mu=\kappa/\nu \Rightarrow \exists \Theta,\forall i, \sum_{j\in\mathbb{N}} E[D_{i,j}]=\Theta$.

Now, to type the same equation, my LaTeX source code looks like this:

$λ/μ=κ/ν ⇒ ∃Θ,∀i, ∑_{j∈ℕ} E[D_{i,j}]=Θ$

which produces exactly the same output. The source code is much easier to read; it is also slightly easier to type. Here is how the magic works:

• In the preamble, add
\usepackage[utf8x]{inputenc}
\usepackage{amssymb}
• A number of special characters (including all Greek letters) were already easily available to me because I use a bépo keyboard (if you are a French speaker, you should try it out); otherwise, all characters are available using any keyboard to users of a Unix-like OS thanks to this great .XCompose file. For example, to get ℕ, use the keys Compose+|+N (pretty intuitive, and faster than typing \mathbb{N}). To get ∃, use Compose+E+E; to get ∈, use Compose+i+n, and so on.
• There are two issues with this solution: first, the unicode symbol α maps to \textalpha instead of \alpha; second, the blackboard letters map to \mathbbm instead of \mathbb. This can lead to errors, but I wrote this file which solves the issue by including in the preamble:
\input{greektex.tex}

This is useful for LaTeX, but also for all other places where you might want to type math: thanks to this .XCompose file, typing math in a blog post, tweet or e-mail becomes easy (for example, this is the last blog post where I will use WordPress’ \$latex syntax). And if there ever is a LaTeX formula that you cannot access from your keyboard, you can use a website such as unicodeit.net which converts LaTeX source code to unicode.

I originally heard about this on Christopher Olah‘s blog.

# Late homework

My Bayesian Case Studies students had to hand in their final report last week; as I expected, some handed it in after the deadline.

I know several colleagues whose official position is that if the report is handed in late, the student fails the course. This is fine if the report is very late, but it seems a bit drastic for a small delay (e.g. a few minutes!). The problem of course is to define very and small in the previous sentence. And even if you decide that the course is failed for students who are more than (say) 24 hours late, it seems a bit unfair to have such a big difference between being 23 hours 59 minutes late and 24 hours 1 minute…

This time, I am using a continuous decreasing function as penalty: I told the students that

“Your report should be sent by e-mail by 2 April 2013 at noon. In case of a late submission, your grade will be multiplied by exp(-0.001 ⋅ t³ /86400³ ) where t is the number of seconds between the deadline and your submission.”

This basically means that they can be 2 days late for free. If a student has a legitimate reason for being late, they will usually manage to fit in that window, so they do not need to explain their lateness. Being 4 days late knocks off 6% of the grade; being a week late knocks off 30%. A student more than 8.8 days late loses 50% of their grade, meaning the course is necessarily failed, even if the report is perfect.

In this case, the last student to hand in his work was about 3.5 days late, meaning the mark will be multiplied by 0.953.

I quite like this system, although I think it was a bit too generous with this exact implementation. I cannot claim to have invented it; I read about it somewhere else, with a different penalty function, but cannot find where.

Edit: Thanks to Mahendra for the original post: here, on the Messy Matters blog.

# MCMSki 4 session accepted

I juste received news from the organizers of MCMSki 4 that my proposed session on “Advances in Monte Carlo motivated by applications” has been accepted; it will be the first session I chair at a conference.

Three young and talented speakers have accepted to take part in this session, and I am looking forward to hearing what they have to say:

Alexis Muir-Watt will talk about PMCMC advances for the doubly-intractable problem of estimating a partial order, with application to the social order between 12th century bishops.

Lawrence Murray will also discuss PMCMC, for applications in the environmental sciences including marine biogeochemistry, soil carbon modelling and hurricane tracking.

Simon Barthelmé will discuss using quasi-Kronecker matrices to speed up MCMC for functional ANOVA problems, with an application in neurosciences.

All these speakers have been dealing with challenging data sets and models. These applications have led to methodological advances, and the session will at the same time showcase the variety of applications and the way they help BayesComp methodology progress.

MCMSki 4 will be held in Chamonix, January 6-8 2014.