Student’s T and Space Leaks


The other speaker at the Machine Learning Meetup at which I gave my talk on automatic differentiation gave a very interesting talk on A/B testing. Apparently this is big business these days as attested by the fact I got 3 ads above the wikipedia entry when I googled for it.

It seems that people tend to test with small sample sizes and to do so very often, resulting in spurious results. Of course readers of XKCD will be well aware of some of the pitfalls.

I thought a Bayesian approach might circumvent some of the problems and set out to write a blog article only to discover that there was no Haskell library for sampling from Student’s t. Actually there was one but is currently an unreleased part of random-fu. So I set about fixing this shortfall.

I thought I had better run a few tests so I calculated the sampled mean, variance, skewness and kurtosis.

I wasn’t really giving this my full attention and as a result ran into a few problems with space. I thought these were worth sharing and that is what this blog post is about. Hopefully, I will have time soon to actually blog about the Bayesian equivalent of A/B testing.


> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -Wall                      #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fno-warn-name-shadowing   #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fno-warn-type-defaults    #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fno-warn-unused-do-bind   #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fno-warn-missing-methods  #-}
> {-# OPTIONS_GHC -fno-warn-orphans          #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE NoMonomorphismRestriction     #-}
> module StudentTest (
>     main
>   ) where
> import qualified Data.Vector.Unboxed as V
> import Data.Random.Source.PureMT
> import Data.Random
> import Data.Random.Distribution.T
> import Control.Monad.State
> import Data.Histogram.Fill
> import Data.Histogram.Generic ( Histogram )
> import Data.List

Space Analysis

Let’s create a reasonable number of samples as the higher moments converge quite slowly.

> nSamples :: Int
> nSamples = 1000000

An arbitrary seed for creating the samples.

> arbSeed :: Int
> arbSeed = 8

Student’s t only has one parameter, the number of degrees of freedom.

> nu :: Integer
> nu = 6

Now we can do our tests by calculating the sampled values.

> ts :: [Double]
> ts =
>   evalState (replicateM nSamples (sample (T nu)))
>             (pureMT $ fromIntegral arbSeed)
> mean, variance, skewness, kurtosis :: Double
> mean = (sum ts) / fromIntegral nSamples
> variance = (sum (map (**2) ts)) / fromIntegral nSamples
> skewness = (sum (map (**3) ts) / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance**1.5
> kurtosis = (sum (map (**4) ts) / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance**2

This works fine for small sample sizes but not for the number we have chosen.

./StudentTest +RTS -hc
Stack space overflow: current size 8388608 bytes.
Use `+RTS -Ksize -RTS' to increase it.

It seems a shame that the function in the Prelude has this behaviour but never mind let us ensure that we consume values strictly (they are being produced lazily).

> mean' = (foldl' (+) 0 ts) / fromIntegral nSamples
> variance' = (foldl' (+) 0 (map (**2) ts)) / fromIntegral nSamples
> skewness' = (foldl' (+) 0 (map (**3) ts) / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance'**1.5
> kurtosis' = (foldl' (+) 0 (map (**4) ts) / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance'**2

We now have a space leak on the heap as using the ghc profiler below shows. What went wrong?

If we only calculate the mean using foldl then all is well. Instead of 35M we only use 45K.

Well that gives us a clue. The garbage collector cannot reclaim the samples as they are needed for other calculations. What we need to do is calculate the moments strictly altogether.

Let’s create a strict record to do this.

> data Moments = Moments { m1 :: !Double
>                        , m2 :: !Double
>                        , m3 :: !Double
>                        , m4 :: !Double
>                        }
>   deriving Show

And calculate the results strictly.

> m  = foldl' (\m x -> Moments { m1 = m1 m + x
>                              , m2 = m2 m + x**2
>                              , m3 = m3 m + x**3
>                              , m4 = m4 m + x**4
>                              }) (Moments 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0) ts
> mean''       = m1 m / fromIntegral nSamples
> variance''   = m2 m / fromIntegral nSamples
> skewness''   = (m3 m / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance''**1.5
> kurtosis'' = (m4 m / fromIntegral nSamples) / variance''**2

Now we have what we want; the program runs in small constant space.

> main :: IO ()
> main = do
>   putStrLn $ show mean''
>   putStrLn $ show variance''
>   putStrLn $ show skewness''
>   putStrLn $ show kurtosis''

Oh and the moments give the expected answers.

ghci> mean''

ghci> variance''

ghci> skewness''

ghci> kurtosis''

Running the Code

To run this you will need my version of random-fu. The code for this article is here. You will need to compile everything with profiling, something like

ghc -O2 -main-is StudentTest StudentTest.lhs -prof

Since you need all the packages to be built with profiling, you will probably want to build using a sandbox as above. The only slightly tricky aspect is building random-fu so it is in your sandbox.

runghc Setup.lhs configure --enable-library-profiling
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5 Responses to Student’s T and Space Leaks

  1. Tom says:

    You’ll probably like this as a way to neaten that accumulation function:

  2. Hi Dom,

    You should rarely need to invoke Setup.[l]hs directly these days. cabal will do just fine. And you don’t have to specify –package-db explicitly either — see my post

  3. Pingback: Gibbs Sampling in R, Haskell, Jags and Stan | Idontgetoutmuch’s Weblog

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