Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bent Coins for a Twisted Mind

Ben Motz voluntarily sat through an entire semester of my Bayesian stats course. In karmic retribution, after the conclusion of the course he surprised me with a set of biased coins that he designed and created with the amazing craftsmanship of Jesse Goode. Obverse and reverse:


Heads: In Bayes Rule We Trust!


Tails: Wagging at a (posterior) beta distribution
parameterized by mode and concentration.
(And notice the half-folded ears.)

Ben was intrigued by claims [see footnote 2, p. 73, of DBDA2E] that normal coins when flipped cannot be biased (unlike normal coins when spun), but bent coins when flipped can be biased. Ever the empiricist, he decided to conduct an experiment using progressively bent coins (while manifestly expressing his teacher evaluation at the same time).

A set of progressively bent coins!

Each coin was flipped 100 times, letting it land on a soft mat. The results are shown below:
Data from flipping each coin 100 times. Prior was beta(1,1).

Clearly the most acutely bent coins do not come up heads half the time. One paradoxical thing I like about a bent coin is that the less you can see of its face, the more its face comes up!

To preserve the apparatus of this classic experiment for posterity, and especially to give me something for show-and-tell at the old Bayesians' home, Jesse built a beautiful display box:

Protected by plexiglass from the thronging crowds of onlookers.

How did they manufacture these coins? It was quite a process. Starting with discs of metal, Jesse powder coated and baked them to get a smooth and secure coating. Then he used a computerized laser to burn off areas of the coating to reveal the shiny metal as background to the design. Finally, they used psychic telekenesis to bend the coins. (Ben assured me, however, that he withheld psychokenesis when flipping the coins.)

I've gotta admit this made my day, and it makes me smile and laugh even as I type this. I hope it gives you a smile too! Huge thanks to Ben Motz and Jesse Goode.