Monthly Archives: May 2016

Bayesian statistics for undergrads

On June 13 at Olin College, Sanjoy Mahajan and I are offering a workshop for college instructors interested in teaching Bayesian statistics to undergrads.  More information about this and the other workshops is here.  Here’s the description:

Bayesian Statistics for Undergraduates

Bayesian statistics is a powerful approach to problems involving probability, to making and judging statistical arguments, and to making decisions under uncertainty. But Bayesian methods are rarely taught to undergraduates, in part because they are thought to require too much background in math and statistics.

However, as we will show in this workshop, Bayesian statistics is accessible to undergraduates with diverse preparation. It allows students to study interesting and relevant topics, such as medical testing, courtroom arguments, and polling; it develops quantitative reasoning; and it develops thinking skills with broad application.

In this workshop, we present topics and methods that we teach in two courses at Olin College: “Computational Bayesian Statistics” and “Bayesian Inference and Reasoning.” We include (1) problems appropriate for students with no calculus and no programming background, (2) topics that require, motivate, and reinforce, knowledge of calculus; and (3) methods that require and develop programming skills.

Workshop participants will be able to use these modules and supporting materials to develop courses for a range of audiences and learning goals. Participants should be familiar with basic probability and statistics but need no knowledge of Bayesian statistics. Our computational modules use the Python programming language, but they can be adapted to any language and are accessible to anyone with basic programming skills.

Presenter Bios

Allen Downey is a Professor of Computer Science at Olin College and the author of Think Bayes, Think Stats, and several other books published by O’Reilly Media. He has previously taught at Wellesley College and Colby College. Prof. Downey has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from MIT.

Sanjoy Mahajan is Associate Professor of Applied Science and Engineering at Olin College. He received his PhD in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology, and was a member of the physics faculty at the University of Cambridge. While at Cambridge, he helped found the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town, was its first curriculum director, and taught the first courses in physics and computer science. He is the author of  Street-Fighting Mathematics and The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering.


The workshop is at Olin College in Needham, MA.  The morning session runs from 9am-12pm; the afternoon session from 1-4pm.  Lunch and coffee breaks are provided.  Free parking is available.

The fee for the workshop is $500, but the fee is waived for faculty at Babson, Olin, and Wellesley, as well as our Davis partner schools: Bard College At Simons Rock, Central Connecticut State University, Mass Bay Community College, New England Institute of Technology, Norwich University, Regis College, University of Mass/Boston, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Wesleyan University.

Additional information and the application form are here.

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Epic Munchkin Win!

So, there I was, on Level 8, equipped with my Boots of Butt-Kicking, Gentleman’s Club, Really Impressive Title, fetching Leather Armor, and a Rat on a Stick.  Add it up, I’m fighting at Level 18.


I kick in the door, and what do my wondering eyes behold?  An Undead Horse!


No problem, I say. I am winning, 18 to 4, unless someone wants to mess with me.

And that’s when my older daughter, let’s call here Goneril, plays King Tut, bringing 16 levels of monster to the party.


Fortunately, I have a handy Magic Missile, bringing me to Level 23 and back to winning.


Unless someone wants to mess with me.

And that’s when Goneril pipes up again (how sharper than a serpent’s tooth!) with a a wandering Plutonium Dragon.

Now I’m fighting three monsters with a total or 40 levels, singlehanded.


Or am I?  Because all of a sudden, there are two of me!


Now we’re at Level 41 and winning by a nose.

Unless someone wants to mess with me?

And that’s when my younger daughter, let’s call her Regan, plays the Potion of Idiotic Bravery on the Plutonium Dragon, tipping the balance to 42-41, and I’m losing.


But I have one more card in my hand, a Help Me Out Here, which allows me to steal the Bad-Ass Bandana from Regan’s head, bringing the score to 44-42, and an epic win for the forces of good!


In the aftermath, I gain 5 levels, topping out at Level 13, and collect 11 treasures and the game.

Hey Steve Jackson: best Munchkin win ever?

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