Summary: Poisson simulations

Here’s a lazy summary post where I list all the posts on various Poisson simulations. I’ve also linked to code, which is found on this online repository. The code is typically written in MATLAB and Python.

Posts

Poisson point processes

Some simulations of Poisson point processes are also covered in this post on the Julia programming language:

Checking simulations

Poisson line process

Poisson random variables

Frozen code

My simulation code has been frozen and buried in Norway. Well, some of my code that I keep on a GitHub repository has become part of a code preservation project. Consequently, beneath my profile it reads:

Arctic Code Vault Contributor

This is part of what is called the GitHub Archive Program. The people behind it aim to preserve large amounts of (open source) code for future generations in thousands and thousands of years time. But how do they do that?

Well, basically, the good people at GitHub chose and converted many, many, many lines of code into certain error-resistant formats, such as QR code. They then printed it all out and buried it deep in an abandoned mine shaft in frozen Norway. (The frozen and stable Norway is also home to a famous seed bank.)

My code in this project includes most of the code that has appeared in these posts. Of course my contribution is just a drop in the vast code ocean of this project. In fact, at least two or three of my colleagues have also had their code put into deep freeze.

Still, it’s a nice thought to know that stuff I wrote, including code for these very posts, will be potentially around for a very long time.

Simulating a Poisson point process on a n-dimensional sphere

In the previous post I outlined how to simulate or sample a homogeneous Poisson point process on the surface of a sphere. Now I will consider a homogeneous Poisson point process on the \((n-1)-\) sphere, which is the surface of the Euclidean ball in \(n\) dimensions.

This is a short post because it immediately builds off the previous post. For positioning the points uniformly, I will use Method 2 from that post, which uses normal random variables, as it immediately gives a fast method in \(n\) dimensions.

I wrote this post and the code more for curiosity than any immediate application. But simulating a Poisson point process in this setting requires placing points uniformly on a sphere. And there are applications in that, such as Monte Carlo integration methods, as mentioned in this post, which nicely details different sampling methods.

Steps

As is the case for other shapes, simulating a Poisson point process requires two steps.

Number of points

The number of points of a Poisson point process on the surface of a sphere of radius \(r>0\) is a Poisson random variable. The mean of this random variable is \(\lambda S_{n-1}\), where \(S_{n-1}\) is the surface area of the sphere.  For a ball embedded in \(n\) dimension, the area of the corresponding sphere is given by

$$S_{n-1} = \frac{2 \pi ^{n/2}  }{\Gamma(n/2)} r^{n-1},$$

where \(\Gamma\) is the gamma function, which is a natural generalization of the factorial. In MATLAB, we can simply use the function gamma.  In Python, we need to use the SciPy function scipy.special. gamma.

Locations of points

For each point on the sphere, we generate \(n\) standard normal or Gaussian random variables, say, \(W_1, \dots, W_n\), which are independent of each other. These random variables are the Cartesian components of the random point. We rescale the components by the Euclidean norm, then multiply by the radius \(r\).

For \(i=1,\dots, n\), we obtain

$$X_i=\frac{rW_i}{(W_1^2+\cdots+W_n^2)^{1/2}}.$$

These are the Cartesian coordinates of a point uniformly scattered on a  sphere with radius \(r\) and a centre at the origin.

How does it work?

In the post on the circle setting, I gave a more detailed outline of the proof, where I said the method is like the Box-Muller transform in reverse. The joint density of the normal random variables is from a multivariate normal distribution with zero correlation. This joint density a function of the Cartesian equation for a sphere. This means the density is constant on the sphere, implying that the angle of the point \((W_1,\dots, W_n)\) will be uniformly distributed.

The vector formed from the normal variables \((W_1,\dots,W_n)\) is a random variable with a chi distribution.  But the final vector, which stretches from the origin to the point \((X_1,\dots,X_n)\), has length one, because we rescaled it with the Euclidean norm.

Code

The code for all my posts is located online here. For this post, the code in MATLAB and Python is here.

Further reading

I recommend this blog post, which discusses different methods for randomly placing points on spheres and inside spheres (or, rather, balls) in a uniform manner.  (Embedded in two dimensions, a sphere is a circle and a ball is a disk.)

Our Method 2 for positioning points uniformly, which uses normal variables, comes from the paper:

  • 1959, Muller, A note on a method for generating points uniformly on n-dimensional spheres.

Two recent works on this approach are the papers:

  • 2010, Harman and Lacko, On decompositional algorithms for uniform sampling from -spheres and -balls;
  • 2017, Voelker, Gosman, Stewart, Efficiently sampling vectors and coordinates.

Simulating a Poisson point process on a sphere

In this post I’ll describe how to simulate or sample a homogeneous Poisson point process on the surface of a sphere. I have already simulated this point process on a rectangle, triangle disk, and circle.

Of course, by sphere, I mean the everyday object that is the surface of a three-dimensional ball, where this two-dimensional object is often denoted by \(S^2\).  Mathematically, this is a generalization from a Poisson point process on a circle, which is slightly simpler than randomly positioning points on a disk.  I recommend reading those two posts first, as a lot of the material presented here builds off them.

I have not needed such a simulation in my own work, but I imagine there are many reasons why you would want to simulate a Poisson point process on a sphere. As some motivation, we can imagine these points on a sphere representing, say, meteorites or lightning hitting the Earth.

The generating the number of points is not difficult. The trick is positioning the points on the sphere in a uniform way.  As is often the case, there are various ways to do this, and I recommend this post, which lists the main ones.  I will use two methods that I consider the most natural and intuitive ones, namely using spherical coordinates and normal random variables, which is what I did in the post on the circle.

Incidentally, a simple modification allows you to scatter the points uniformly inside the sphere, but you would typically say ball in mathematics, giving a Poisson point process inside a ball; see below for details.

Steps

As always, simulating a Poisson point process requires two steps.

Number of points

The number of points of a Poisson point process on the surface of a sphere of radius \(r>0\) is a Poisson random variable with mean \(\lambda S_2\), where \(S_2=4\pi r^2\) is the surface area of the sphere. (In this post I give some details for simulating or sampling Poisson random variables or, more accurately, variates.)

Locations of points

For any homogeneous Poisson point process, we need to position the points uniformly on the underlying space, which is in this case is the sphere. I will outline two different methods for positioning the points randomly and uniformly on a sphere.

Method 1: Spherical coordinates

The first method is based on spherical coordinates \((\rho, \theta,\phi)\), where the radial coordinate \(\rho\geq 0\), and the angular coordinates \(0 \leq \theta\leq 2\pi\) and \(0\leq \phi \leq \pi\). The change of coordinates gives \(x=\rho\sin(\theta)\cos(\phi)\), \(y=\rho\sin(\theta)\sin(\phi)\), and \(z=\rho\cos(\phi)\).

Now we use Proposition 1.1 in this paper. For each point, we generate two uniform variables \(V\) and \(\Theta\) on the respective intervals \((-1,1)\) and \((0,2\pi)\). Then we place the point with the Cartesian coordinates

$$X =  r  \sqrt{1-V^2} \cos\Theta, $$

$$Y =  r  \sqrt{1-V^2}\sin\Theta, $$

$$ Z=r V. $$

This method places a uniform point on a sphere with a radius \(r\).

How does it work?

I’ll skip the precise details, but give some interpretation of this method. The random variable \(\Phi := \arccos V\) is the \(\phi\)-coordinate of the uniform point, which implies \(\sin \Phi=\sqrt{1-V^2}\), due to basic trigonometric identities.  The area element in polar coordinates is \(dA = \rho^2 \sin\phi d\phi d\theta \), which is constant with respect to \(\theta\). After integrating with respect to \(\phi\),  we see that the random variable \(V=\cos\Phi\) needs to be uniform (instead of \(\Phi\)) to ensure the point is uniformly located on the surface.

Method 2: Normal random variables

For each point, we generate three standard normal or Gaussian random variables, say, \(W_x\), \(W_y\), and \(W_z\), which are independent of each other. (The term standard here means the normal random variables have mean \(\mu =0\) and standard deviation \(\sigma=1\).)  The three random variables are the Cartesian components of the random point. We rescale the components by the Euclidean norm, then multiply by the radius \(r\), giving

$$X=\frac{rW_x}{(W_x^2+W_y^2+W_z^2)^{1/2}},$$

$$Y=\frac{rW_y}{(W_x^2+W_y^2+W_z^2)^{1/2}},$$

$$Z=\frac{rW_z}{(W_x^2+W_y^2+W_z^2)^{1/2}}.$$

These are the Cartesian coordinates of a point uniformly scattered on a  sphere with radius \(r\) and a centre at the origin.

How does it work?

The procedure is somewhat like the Box-Muller transform in reverse. In the post on the circle setting,  I gave an outline of the proof, which I recommend reading. The joint density of the normal random variables is from a multivariate normal distribution with zero correlation. This joint density is constant on the sphere, implying that the angle of the point \((W_x, W_y, W_z)\) will be uniformly distributed.

The vector formed from the normal variables \((W_x, W_y,W_z)\) is a random variable with a chi distribution.  We can see that the vector from the origin to the point \((X,Y,Z)\) has length one, because we rescaled it with the Euclidean norm.

Plotting

Depending on your plotting software, the points may more resemble points on an ellipsoid than a sphere due to the different scaling of the x, y and z axes. To fix this in MATLAB, run the command: axis square. In Python, it’s not straightforward to do this, as it seems to lack an automatic function, so I have skipped it.

Results

I have presented some results produced by code written in MATLAB and Python. The blue points are the Poisson points on the sphere. I have used a surface plot (with clear faces) to illustrate the underling sphere in black.

MATLAB

Python

Note: The aspect ratio in 3-D Python plots tends to squash the sphere slightly, but it is a sphere.

Code

The code for all my posts is located online here. For this post, the code in MATLAB and Python is here.  In Python I used the library mpl_toolkits for doing 3-D plots.

Poisson point process inside the sphere

Perhaps you want to simulate a Poisson point process inside the ball.  There are different ways we can do this, but I will describe just one way, which builds off Method 1 for positioning the points uniformly. (In a later post, I will modify Method 2, giving a way to uniformly position points inside the ball.)

For this simulation method, you need to make two simple modifications to the simulation procedure.

Number of points

The number of points of a Poisson point process inside a sphere of radius \(r>0\) is a Poisson random variable with mean \(\lambda V_3\), where \(V_3=4\pi r^3\) is the volume of the sphere.

Locations of points

We will modify Method 1 as outlined above. To sample the points uniformly in the sphere, you need to generate uniform variables on the unit interval \((0,1)\), take their cubic roots, and then, multiply them by the radius \(r\). (This is akin to the step of taking the square root in the disk setting.) The random variables for the angular coordinates are generated as before.

Further reading

I recommend this blog post, which discusses different methods for randomly placing points on spheres and inside spheres (or, rather, balls) in a uniform manner.  (Embedded in two dimensions, a sphere is a circle and a ball is a disk.)

Our Method 2 for positioning points uniformly, which uses normal variables, comes from the paper:

  • 1959, Muller, A note on a method for generating points uniformly on n-dimensional spheres.

This sampling method relies upon old observations that normal variables are connected to spheres and circles. I also found this post on a similar topic.

Here is some sample Python code for creating a 3-D scatter plot.

Simulating a Poisson point process on a circle

In this post, I’ll take a break from the more theoretical posts. Instead I’ll describe how to simulate or sample a homogeneous Poisson point process on a circle.  I have already simulated this point process on a rectangle, triangle and disk. In some sense, I should have done this simulation method before the disk one, as it’s easier to simulate. I recommend reading that post first, as the material presented here builds off it.

Sampling a homogeneous Poisson point process on a circle is rather straightforward.  It just requires using a fixed radius and uniformly choose angles from interval \((0, 2\pi)\). But the circle setting gives an opportunity to employ a different method for positioning points uniformly on circles and, more generally, spheres. This approach uses Gaussian random variables, and it becomes much more efficient when the points are placed on high dimensional spheres.

Steps

Simulating a Poisson point process requires two steps: simulating the random number of points and then randomly positioning each point.

Number of points

The number of points of a Poisson point process on circle of radius \(r>0\) is a Poisson random variable with mean \(\lambda C\), where \(C=2\pi r\) is the circumference of the circle.  You just need to be able to need to produce (pseudo-)random numbers according to a Poisson distribution.

To generate Poisson variables in MATLAB,  use the poissrnd function with the argument \(\lambda C\).  In Python, use either the scipy.stats.poisson or numpy.random.poisson function from the SciPy or NumPy libraries. (If you’re curious how Poisson simulation works, I suggest seeing this post for details on sampling Poisson random variables or, more accurately, variates.)

Locations of points

For a homogeneous Poisson point process, we need to uniformly position points on the underlying space, which is this case is a circle. We will look at two different ways to position points uniformly on a circle. The first is arguably the most natural approach.

Method 1: Polar coordinates

We use polar coordinates due to the nature of the problem. To position all the points uniformly on a circle, we simple generate uniform numbers on the unit interval \((0,1)\). We then multiply these random numbers by \(2\pi\).

We have generated polar coordinates for points uniformly located on the circle. To plot the points, we have to convert the coordinates back to Cartesian form by using the change of coordinates:  \(x=\rho\cos(\theta)\) and \(y=\rho\sin(\theta)\).

Method 2: Normal random variables

For each point, we generate two standard normal or Gaussian random variables, say, \(W_x\) and \(W_y\), which are independent of each other. (The term standard here means the normal random variables have mean \(\mu =0\) and standard deviation \(\sigma=1\).) These two random variables are the Cartesian components of a random point.  We then rescale the two values by the Euclidean norm, giving

$$X=\frac{W_x}{(W_x^2+W_y^2)^{1/2}},$$

$$Y=\frac{W_y}{(W_x^2+W_y^2)^{1/2}}.$$

These are the Cartesian coordinates of points uniformly scattered around a unit circle with centre at the origin. We multiply the two random values \(X\) and \(Y\) by the \(r>0\)  for a circle with radius \(r\).

How does it work?

The procedure is somewhat like the Box-Muller transform in reverse. I’ll give an outline of the proof. The joint density of the random variables \(W_x\) and \(W_y\) is that of the bivariate normal distribution with zero correlation, meaning it has the joint density

$$ f(x,y)=\frac{1}{2\pi}e^{[-(x^2+y^2)/2]}.$$

We see that the function \(f\) is a constant when we trace around any line for which \((x^2+y^2)\) is a constant, which is simply the Cartesian equation for a circle (where the radius is the square root of the aforementioned constant). This means that the angle of the point \((W_x, W_y)\) will be uniformly distributed.

Now we just need to look at the distance of the random point. The vector formed from the pair of normal variables \((W_x, W_y)\) is a Rayleigh random variable.  We can see that the vector from the origin to the point \((X,Y)\) has length one, because we rescaled it with the Euclidean norm.

Results

I have presented some results produced by code written in MATLAB and Python. The blue points are the Poisson points on the sphere. I have used a surface plot (with clear faces) in black to illustrate the underling sphere.

MATLAB

Python

Code

The code for all my posts is located online here. For this post, the code in MATLAB and Python is here.

Further reading

I recommend this blog post, which discusses different methods for randomly placing points on spheres and inside spheres (or, rather, balls) in a uniform manner.  (Embedded in two dimensions, a sphere is a circle and a ball is a disk.) A key paper on using normal variables is the following:

  • 1959, Muller, A note on a method for generating points uniformly on n-dimensional spheres.

As I mentioned in the post on the disk, the third edition of the classic book Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke details on page 54 how to uniformly place points on a disk.  It just requires a small modification for the circle.

Simulating Matérn hard-core point processes

If you wanted to create a point process with repulsion, a reasonable first attempt would be to build off a Poisson point process by removing points according to some rule to ensure that no two points were within a certain distance of each other. Using this natural idea, Bertril Matérn proposed a family of repulsive point processes called Matérn hard-core point processes.

More specifically, Matérn proposed several points processes, including two types of hard-core point processes now called Type I and Type II. (Matérn proposed a third type, called Type III, but it’s considerably harder to simulate on a computer, as detailed in this article.) These types of hard-core point processes are completely different to the Matérn cluster point process.

As I discussed in a previous post, the Poisson point process may not be adequate for representing point phenomena whose points exhibit large degrees of repulsion or clustering. I already covered the Matérn and Thomas cluster point processes, which show distinct clustering in their configurations. In this post, I’ll cover Matérn hard-core point processes. The Type I point processes is the easier of the two, so I’ll start with that one.

Overview

Simulating Matérn hard-core point processes requires first simulating a homogeneous Poisson point process with an intensity \(\lambda>0\) on some simulation window, such as a rectangle, which is the simulation window I will use here. I have already written about simulating the homogeneous Poisson point processes on a rectangle and a disk, so those posts are good starting points.

Given the Poisson point process, the points then need to be thinned in such a manner to ensure that for each point, there is no other point within some fixed \(r>0\) of the point. This distance \(r>0\) is the radius of the hard core of each point.

I have already covered the point process operation of thinning. But it’s important to note here that in this construction a dependent thinning is being applied. (If I just applied an independent thinning, then the resulting point process will be another Poisson point process with no repulsion between points.)

Edge effects

The main trick behind sampling this point process is that it’s possible for points inside the simulation window to be thinned due to their closeness to points that are located outside the simulation window. In other words, points outside the simulation window can cause points inside the window to be thinned. (I discussed a very similar issue in the posts on the Matérn and Thomas cluster point processes.)

To remove these edge effects, the underlying Poisson point process must be simulated on an extended version of the simulation window. The points are then thinned according to a dependent thinning, which is covered in the next section. Then only the retained points inside the simulation window are kept and the remaining points are ignored. Consequently, the underling Poisson points are simulated on an extended window, but we only see the final points inside the simulation window.

To create the extended simulation window, we add a strip of width \(r\) all around the simulation window. Why? Well, the distance \(r\) is the maximum distance from the simulation window that another point (outside the simulation window) can exist, while still causing points inside the simulation window to be thinned. This means it is impossible for a hypothetical point beyond this distance (outside the extended window) to cause a point inside the simulation window to be thinned.

Dependent thinning rules

Type I

For each point inside the simulation window, check if there are any other points (including those in the extended window) within distance \(r\) of the point. If no, then keep the point. If yes, then remove the point and the points that are within distance \(r\) of the point. The remaining points inside the simulation window form a Matérn Type I point process.

This is a relatively simple thinning rule, which only requires calculating all the inter-point distances. But it is also a very strong thinning rule, meaning that it removes many points. Depending on the Poisson point process intensity \(\lambda\) and core radius \(r\), it is quite possible that all the points are removed, resulting in an empty configuration.

Now we examine the case when the thinning rule is not as strong.

Type II

To create Matérn Type II point process, we assign an independent uniform random variable to each point of the underlying Poisson point process defined on the extended window. In point process terminology, these random variables are called marks, resulting in a marked point process. In the the context of the Matérn Type II point process, these random random marks are usually called ages.

Then for each point in the simulation window, we consider all the points within distance \(r\) of the point. If this point is the youngest (or, equivalently, the oldest) point, then the point is kept. In other words, the point is only kept if its random mark is smaller (or larger) than the random marks of all the other points within distance \(r\) of the point. The remaining points inside the simulation window form a Matérn Type II point process.

Intensity expressions

Using point process and probability theory, one can derive mathematical expressions for the intensities (that is, the average density of points per unit area). These closed-form expressions can then be used to check that the correct number of points are being generated on average over many simulations.

Type I

The intensity of the Type I point process is given by

\[\mu_1=\lambda e^{-\lambda \pi r^2},\]

where \(\lambda \pi r^2\) is simply the area of the core.

Type II

The intensity of the Type II point process is given by

\[\mu_2=\frac{1}{\pi r^2}(1-e^{-\lambda \pi r^2}),\]

which can be written with the intensity of the the Type I point process as

\[\mu_2=\frac{1}{\pi r^2}(1-\frac{\mu_1}{\lambda}).\]

Code

I wrote the sampling code in MATLAB and Python, which are, as usual, very similar to each other. The code, which is is located here, simulates both Type I and II Matérn points processes. It also compares the empirical intensity to the the values given by the mathematical expressions in the previous section.

MATLAB

The MATLAB code is here.

Python

The Python code is here.

Results

I have plotted single realizations of the Matern Type I and II point processes, as well as the underlying Poisson point process in the same window.

MATLAB

Python

Further reading

Matérn hard-core point processes are covered in standard books on the related fields of spatial statistics, point processes and stochastic geometry, such as the following: Spatial Point Patterns: Methodology and Applications with R by Baddeley, Rubak and Turner, on page 140; Statistical Analysis and Modelling of Spatial Point Patterns Statistics by Illian, Penttinen, Stoyan, amd Stoyan, Section 6.5.2, starting on page 388; and; Stochastic Geometry and its Applications by Chiu, Stoyan, Kendall and Mecke, Section 5.4, starting on page 176. The first two books are particularly good for beginners.

The aforementioned book Spatial Point Patterns: Methodology and Applications with R is written by spatial statistics experts Baddeley, Rubak and Turner. It covers the spatial statistics (and point process simulation) R-package spatstat., which has the functions rMaternI and rMaternII for simulating the two point processes respectively.

Simulating Poisson random variables – Survey of methods

In the previous post, I discussed how to sample or generate Poisson random variables or, more correctly, variates. I detailed a direct method that uses the fact that a Poisson stochastic process, which is directly related to a Poisson point process, has inter-arrival times that form independent and identically distributed exponential variables.

This direct method in turn can be easily reformulated so it only uses (standard) uniform variables to generate Poisson random variables. It is an easy and intuitive sampling method, explaining why it is often used. Using it, I wrote Poisson simulation code in MATLAB, Python, C and C#, which can be found here.

As elegant and exact as this simulation method is, it unfortunately decreases in speed as the Poisson parameter \(\lambda\) increases. In a tutorial published in 1983, Brian D. Ripely, a major figure in spatial statistics, says this about the direct method:

This is simple, but has expected time proportional to \(\lambda\). Some of its competitors use rejection methods with the envelope distribution that of the integer part of a continuous random variable, such as logistic, Laplace and normal mixed with exponential distributions.

We recall that acceptance-rejection or rejections methods involve simulating a random object, such as a random variable, by first simulating another random object of the same type that is easier to simulate.  The simulation method then accepts or rejects these random objects based on a certain ratio. The distribution of the random object that is first simulated is called the envelope distribution. Such rejection methods are one way to simulate Poisson variables.

Consequently, the code of most computer functions for generating Poisson variables will have an if-statement, using the direct method for small parameter values and another method for large parameter values. We now consider the other methods.

Different methods

Over the years there have been different methods proposed for producing Poisson random variates. In the book Non-uniform random variate generation, Luc Devroye groups the different methods into five categories coupled with his views. I’ll briefly describe these methods:

  1. Direct methods based on the homogeneous Poisson stochastic process having exponential inter-arrival times. These methods are simple, but the expected time is proportional to the Poisson parameter \(\lambda\).
  2. Inversion methods that search through a table of cumulative Poisson probabilities. Examples include the papers by Fishman (1976) and Atkinson (1979)*.
  3. Methods that use the recursive properties of the Poisson distribution. The paper by Ahrens and Dieter (1974) uses this approach, and its expected time of completion is proportional to \(\log\lambda\).
  4. Acceptance-rejection (or rejection) methods that give relatively fast but simple algorithms. Such methods are proposed in the papers by Atkinson (1979)*, Ahrens and Dieter (1980) and Devroye (1981) or the technical report by Schmeiser and Kachitvichyanukul (1981).
  5. Acceptance-complement methods that uses a normal distribution as the starting distribution, such as the paper by Ahrens and Dieter (1982). This method is fast, but the code is rather long.

*Atkinson had (at least) two papers on generating Poisson variates published in 1979, but I believe Devroye is referring to the first paper, because in the second paper Atkinson compares methods proposed by others.

For the paper titles, see the Further reading section below.

Methods implemented

In this section, I’ll state which proposed methods are used in various programming languages and numerical methods. I won’t go into the details how the methods work, as I’ll just cite the papers instead.

MATLAB

For small \(\lambda\) values, the MATLAB function poissrnd uses the  direct method (based on inter-arrival times) with a while-loop.

For \(\lambda\) values greater than fifteen, I believe that the MATLAB function poissrnd uses Algorithm PG from the 1974 paper by Ahrens and Dieter. But to come to this conclusion, I had to do some investigating. You can skip to the next section if you’re not interested, but now I’ll explain my reasoning.

The MATLAB documentation says it uses a method proposed by Ahrens and Dieter, but these two researchers developed a number of methods for generating Poisson variables. The MATLAB code cites Volume 2 of the classic series by Knuth, who says the method is due to Ahrens and Dieter, but he doesn’t give an exact citation in that section of the book. Confusingly, Knuth cites in his book a couple papers by Ahrens and Dieter for generating different random variates. (Knuth later cites a seemingly relevant 1980 paper by Ahrens and Dieter, but that details another method.)

Both the MATLAB code and Knuth cite the book by Devroye. In his book (Exercise 3.5.2), Devroye discusses one method, among others, from a 1974 paper by Ahrens and Dieter. Another hint is given by examining the code of the MATLAB function poissrnd, which reveals that it uses the function randg to generate gamma variables. In the Ahrens and Dieter 1974 paper, their Algorithm PG (for producing Poisson variates) uses gamma random variables, and it’s suggested to use a parameter value of \(7/8\). This is the same used by MATLAB and mentioned by Knuth, confirming that this is the right paper by Ahrens and Dieter.

In summary, for large \(\lambda\) the function MATLAB uses Algorithm PG from the 1974 paper by Ahrens and Dieter, whereas for small values it uses the direct method, which they refer to as the multiplication method.

R

In R, the function rpois use an algorithm outlined in the 1982 paper by Ahrens and Dieter. You can view the R source code here. The two cases for \(\lambda\) (or \(\mu\) in the paper) depend on whether \(\lambda\) is greater than ten or not. For small \(\lambda\), the R function rpois does not use the method based on inter-arrival times, but rather an inversion method based on a table of (cumulative) probabilities given by the Poisson probability distribution.

Python (NumPy)

In NumPy, the function numpy.random.poisson generates Poisson variates. The source code for the NumPy library is here, but for the Poisson function the underlying code is actually written in C; see the distributions.c file located here. For small Poisson parameter \(\lambda\), the code uses the direct method; see the function random_poisson_mult in the code.

For Poisson parameter \(\lambda \geq 10\), the comments in the code reveal that it uses a method from a 1993 paper by Hörmann; see Algorithm PTRS on page 43 of the paper. This is a transformation method, which for NumPy is implemented in the C code as the function random_poisson_ptrs. The method, which Hörmann calls the transformed rejection with squeeze, combines inversion and rejection methods.

Octave

Octave is intended to be a GNU clone of MATLAB, so you would suspect it uses the same methods as MATLAB for generating Poisson random variates. But the Octave function poissrnd uses different methods. The code reveals it generates the Poisson variates with a function called prand. It considers different cases depending on the value of the Poisson parameter \(\lambda\) as well as whether a single variable (that is, a scalar) or vector or matrix of Poisson variates are being generated.

In total, the Octave function prand uses five different methods. For two of the methods, the documentation cites methods from the classic book Numerical Recipes in C (the 1992 edition); see next section. To generate a single Poisson variate with Poisson parameter \(\lambda \leq 12\), the Octave function prand uses the direct method based on inter-arrival times.

Numerical Recipes (Fortran, C and C++)

The book Numerical Recipes is a classic by Press, Teukolsky, Vetterling and Flannery on numerical methods. The books comes in different editions reflecting different publication years and computer languages. (In the first two editions of the book, the authors implemented the algorithms respectively in Fortran and C.)

For generating Poisson variates, the book contents seems to have not changed over the editions that I looked at, which covered the programming languages Fortran (77 and 90), C, and C++. The authors cover Poisson generation in Section 7.3 in the Fortran and C editions. In the third edition of Numerical Recipes, they implement their methods in C++ in Section 7.3.12.

For small values of Poisson parameter \(\lambda\), Numerical Recipes uses the direct method. For \(\lambda >12\) values, an acceptance-rejection method is used, which relies upon finding a continuous version of the discrete Poisson probability distribution.

GSL Library (C)

In the GSL library, one can use the function gsl_ran_poisson, which uses the the direct method of exponential times. The code, which can be viewed here, cites simply Knuth (presumably the second volume).

NAG Library (C)

Although I didn’t see the code, it appears that the function nag_rand_poisson (g05tjc ) in the NAG library also uses the direct method, based on the material in the second volume of series by Knuth. But in a 1979 paper Atkinson says that the NAG library uses a method from the 1974 paper by Ahrens and Dieter.

MKL library (C)

In the MKL C library written by Intel, there seems to be three methods in use for generating Poisson variates.

The first function is called VSL_RNG_METHOD_POISSON_PTPE, which does the following for a Poisson distribution with parameter \(\Lambda\):

If Λ ≥ 27, random numbers are generated by PTPE method. Otherwise, a combination of inverse transformation and table lookup methods is used. The PTPE method is a variation of the acceptance/rejection method that uses linear (on the fraction close to the distribution mode) and exponential (at the distribution tails) functions as majorizing functions. To avoid time-consuming acceptance/rejection checks, areas with zero probability of rejection are introduced and a squeezing technique is applied.

This function uses the so-called PTPE method, which is outlined in a 1981 technical report by Schmeiser and Kachitvichyanukul.

The second function is called VSL_RNG_METHOD_POISSON_POISNORM, which does the following :

If Λ < 1, the random numbers are generated by combination of inverse transformation and table lookup methods. Otherwise, they are produced through transformation of the normally distributed random numbers.

The third function is called VSL_RNG_METHOD_POISSONV_POISNORM, which does the following:

If Λ < 0.0625, the random numbers are generated by inverse transformation method. Otherwise, they are produced through transformation of normally distributed random numbers.

cuRAND (C)

Finally, Nvidia’s CUDA Random Number Generation library (cuRAND) has a function for generating Poisson variates. To see the C code, copies of it can be found in various GitHub repositories, such as this one. The cuRAND function curand_poisson uses the direct function for Poisson parameter values  less than 64. For parameters values greater than 4000, it uses a normal approximation (rounded to the nearest integer).

For other values, the function curand_poisson uses a rejection method based on an approximation of the incomplete gamma function; see the function curand_poisson_gammainc. The book by Fishman is cited; see Section 8.16.

Further reading

For various Poisson simulation methods, see the stochastic simulation books:

The book by Gentle (Section 5.2.8) also briefly covers Poisson variables.

Of course, it’s a good idea to look at the citations that the different functions use.

Finally, here is a list of the papers I mentioned in this post:

  • 1974, Ahrens and Dieter, Computer methods for sampling from gamma, beta, poisson and bionomial distributions;
  • 1976, Fishman, Sampling from the Poisson distribution on a computer;
  • 1979, Atkinson, The computer generation of Poisson random variables;
  • 1979, Atkinson, Recent developments in the computer generation of Poisson random variables;
  • 1980, Ahrens and Dieter, Sampling from binomial and Poisson distributions: a method with bounded computation times;
  • 1980, Devroye, The Computer Generation of Poisson Random Variables;
  • 1981, Schmeiser and Kachitvichyanukul, Poisson Random Variate Generation;
  • 1982, Ahrens and Dieter, Computer generation of Poisson deviates from modified normal distributions;
  • 1983, Ripley, Computer Generation of Random Variables: A Tutorial;
  • 1993, Hörmann, The transformed rejection method for generating Poisson random variable.

Simulating Poisson point processes faster

As an experiment, I tried to write code for simulating many realizations of a homogeneous Poisson point process in a very fast fashion. My idea was to simulate all the realizations in two short steps.

In reality, the findings of this experiment and the contents of this post have little practical value, as computers are so fast at generating Poisson point processes. Still, it was an interesting task, which taught me a couple of things. And I did produce faster code.

MATLAB

I first tried this experiment in MATLAB.

Vectorization

In languages like MATLAB, the trick for speed is to use vectorization, which means applying a single operation to an entire vector or matrix (or array) without using an explicit for-loop. Over the years, the people behind MATLAB has advised to use vectorization instead of for-loops, as for-loops considerably slowed down MATLAB code. (But, as as time goes by, it seems using for-loops in MATLAB doesn’t slow the code down as much as it used to.)

Simulating Poisson point processes is particularly amenable to vectorization, due to the independent nature of the point process. One can simulate the number of points in each realization for all realizations in one step. Then all the points across all realizations can also be positioned in one step. In the two-dimensional case, this results in two one-dimensional arrays (or vectors, in MATLAB parlance) for the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates.  (Of course, in my code, I could have used just one two-dimensional array/vector  for the coordinates of the points, but I didn’t.)

After generating the points, the coordinates of the points need to be grouped into the different realizations and stored in appropriate data structures.

Data structures

The problem with storing point processes is that usually each realization has a different number of points, so more sophisticated data structures than regular arrays are needed. For MATLAB, each point process realization can be stored in a data object called a cell array.  For a structure array, it’s possible for each element (that is, structure) to be a different size, making them ideal for storing objects like point processes with randomly varying sizes.

In the case of two-dimensional point processes, two cell arrays  can be used to store the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates of all the point process realizations. After randomly positioning all the points, they can be grouped into a cell array, where each cell array element represents a realization of the Poisson point process, by using the inbuilt function MATLAB mat2cell, which converts a matrix (or array) into a cell array.

Alternatively, we could use another MATLAB data object called a structure array. In MATLAB structures have fields, which can be, for example for a point process can be the locations of the points. Given cell arrays of equal size, we can convert them into a single structure array by using the inbuilt MATLAB function struct.

Python

After successfully simulating Poisson point processes in MATLAB, I tried it in Python with the NumPy library.

Vectorization

I basically replicated what I did in MATLB using Python by positioning all the points in a single step. This gives two one-dimensional NumPy arrays for the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates of all the point process realizations. (Again, I could have instead stored the coordinates as a single two-dimensional array, but I didn’t.)

Perhaps surprisingly, the vectorization step doesn’t speed things up much in Python with the NumPy library. This may be due to the fact that the underlying code is actually written in the C language.  That motivated me to see what methods have been implemented for simulating Poisson variables, which is the topic of the next couple posts.

Data structures

In Python, the data structure  known as a list is the natural choice. Similarly to cell arrays in MATLAB, two lists can be used for the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates of all the points. Instead of MATLAB’s function mat2cell, I used the NumPy function numpy.split to create two lists from the two NumPy arrays containing the point coordinates.

Python does not seem to have an immediate equivalent to structure arrays in MATLAB. But in Python one can define a new data structure or class with fields, like a structure. Then one can create a list of those data structures with fields, which are called attribute references in Python.

Code

The code in MATLAB and Python can be found here. For a comparison, I also generated the same number of point process realizations (without using vectorization) by using a trusty for-loop. The code compares the times of taken for implemented the two different approaches, labelled internally as Method A and Method B. There is a some time difference in the MATLAB code, but not much of a difference in the Python case.

I have commented out the sections that create data structures (with fields or attribute references) for storing all the point process realizations, but those sections should also work when uncommented.

Placing a random point uniformly in a Voronoi cell

In the previous post, I discussed how Voronoi or Dirichlet tesselations are useful and how they can be calculated or estimated with many scientific programming languages by using standard libraries usually based on Qhull. The cells of such a tessellation divide the underlying space. Now I want to randomly place a single point in a uniform manner in each bounded Voronoi cell.

But why?

Well, this task arises occasionally, particularly when developing mathematical models of wireless networks, such as mobile or cellular phone networks. A former colleague of mine had to do this, which inspired me to write some MATLAB code a couple of years ago. And I’ve seen the question posed a couple of times on the web . So I thought: I can do that.

Overview

For this problem, I see two obvious methods.

Simple but crude

The simplest method is to cover each Voronoi cell with a rectangle or disk. Then randomly place a point uniformly on the rectangle or disk. If it doesn’t randomly land inside the rectangle or disk, then do it again until it does. Crude, slightly inefficient, but simple.

Elegant but slightly tricky

A more elegant way, which I will implement, is to partition (or divide) each Voronoi cell into triangles. Then randomly choose a triangle based on its area and, finally, uniformly position a point on that triangle.

Method

Partition cells into triangles

It is straightforward to divide a Voronoi cell into triangles. Each side of the cell corresponds to one side of a triangle (that is, two points). The third point of the triangle is the original point corresponding to the Voronoi cell.

Choose a triangle

Randomly choosing a triangle is also easy. For a given cell, number the triangles. Which random triangle is chosen is simply a discrete random variable whose probability mass function is formed from triangle areas normalized (or divided) by the total area of the Voronoi cell. In other words, the probability of randomly choosing triangle \(i\) with area \(A_i\) from \(m\) triangles is simply

\(P_i=\frac{A_i}{\sum_{j=1}^m A_j}.\)

To calculate the area of the triangles, I use the shoelace formula , which for a triangle with corners labelled \(\textbf{A}\), \(\textbf{B}\) and \(\textbf{C}\) gives

\(A= \frac{1}{2} |(x_{\textbf{B}}-x_{\textbf{A}})(y_{\textbf{C}}-y_{\textbf{A}})-(x_{\textbf{C}}-x_{\textbf{A}})(y_{\textbf{B}}-y_{\textbf{A}})|.\)

But you can also use Herron’s formula.

Then the random variable is sampled using the probabilities based on the triangle areas.

Place point on chosen triangle

Given a triangle, the final step is also easy, if you know how, which is often the case in mathematics. I have already covered this step in a previous post, but I’ll give some details here.

To position a single point uniformly in the triangle, generate two random uniform variables on the unit interval \((0,1)\), say \(U\) and \(V\). The random \(X\) and \(Y\) coordinates of the single point are given by the expressions:

\(X=\sqrt{U} x_{\textbf{A}}+\sqrt{U}(1-V x_{\textbf{B}})+\sqrt{U}V x_{\textbf{C}}\)

\(Y=\sqrt{U} y_{\textbf{A}}+\sqrt{U}(1-V y_{\textbf{B}})+\sqrt{U}V y_{\textbf{C}}\)

Results

The blue points are the points of the underlying point pattern that was used to generate the Voronoi tesselation. (These points have also been arbitrarily numbered.) The red points are the random points that have been uniformly placed in all the bounded Voronoi cells.

MATLAB

Python

Empirical validation

We can empirically validate that the points are being placed uniformly on the bounded Voronoi cells. For a given (that is, non-random) Voronoi cell, we can repeatedly place (or sample) a random point uniformly in the cell. Increasing the number of randomly placed points, the respective averages of the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates of the points will converge to the centroids (or geometric centres) of the Voronoi cell, which can be calculated with simple formulas.

Code

The code for all my posts is located online here. For this post, the code in MATLAB and Python is here.

I have also written in MATLAB and Python the code as functions (in files funVoronoiUniform.m and funVoronoiUniform.py, respectively), so people can use it more easily. The function files are located here, where I have also included an implementation of the aforementioned empirical test involving centroids. You should be able to use those functions and for any two-dimensional point patterns.

Further reading

Much has been written on Voronoi or Dirichlet tessellations, particularly when the seeds of the cells form a Poisson point process. For references, I recommend my previous post, where I say that the references in the articles on Wikipedia and MathWorld are good starting points.

In this StackExchange post, people discuss how to place a single point uniformly on a general triangle. For the formulas, the thread cites the paper Shape distributions by Osada, Funkhouser, Chazelle and Dobkin, where no proof is given.

Voronoi tessellations

Cholera outbreaks due to public water pumps. Suburbs serviced by hospitals. Formation of crystals. Coverage regions of phone towers. We can model or approximate all these phenomena and many, many more with a geometric structure called, among other names, a Voronoi tessellation.

The main other name for this object is the Dirichlet tessellation. Historically, Dirichlet beats Voronoi, but it seems wherever I look, the name Voronoi usually wins out, suggesting an example of Stigler’s law of eponymy. A notable exception is the R library spatstat that does actually call it a Dirichlet tessellation. Wikipedia calls it a Voronoi diagram. I’ve read that Descartes studied the object even earlier than Dirichlet, but Voronoi studied it in much more depth. I will call it a Voronoi tessellation.

To form a Voronoi tessellation, consider a collection of points positioned or scattered on some space, like the plane, where it’s easier to picture things, especially when using a Euclidean metric. Now for each point in the collection, consider the surrounding region that is closer to that point than any other point in the collection. Each region forms a cell corresponding to the point. The union of all the sets covers the underlying space. That union of sets is the Voronoi tessellation.

The evolution of Voronoi cells, which start off as disks until they collide with each other. Source: Wikipedia.

 

Everyday Voronoi tesselations

Voronoi tesselations are just not interesting mathematical objects, as they arise in everyday situations. This piece from Scientific American website explains:

Everyone uses Voronoi tessellations, even without realizing it. Individuals seeking the nearest café, urban planners determining service area for hospitals, and regional planners outlining school districts all consider Voronoi tessellations. Each café, school, or hospital is a site from which a Voronoi tessellation is generated. The cells represent ideal service areas for individual businesses, schools, or hospitals to minimize clientele transit time. Coffee drinkers, patients, or students inside a service area (that is, a cell) should live closer to their own café, hospital, or school (that is, their own cell’s site) than any other. Voronoi tessellations are ubiquitous, yet often invisible.

Delaunay triangulation

A closely related object to the Voronoi tessellation is the Delaunay triangulation. For a given collection of points on some underlying mathematical space, a Delaunay triangulation is formed by connecting the points and creating triangles with the condition that for each point, no other point exists in the circumcircle of the corresponding triangle. (A circumcircle is a circle that passes through all three vertices of a triangle.)

An example of Delaunay triangulation with the original points in black and centrers (in red) of the corresponding circumcircles (in grey) of the Delaunay triangles. Source: Wikipedia.

The vertices of the the Delaunay triangular and Voronoi tessellation both form graphs, which turn out to be the dual graphs of each other.

A Delaunay triangulation (in black) and the corresponding Voronoi tessellation (in red) whose vertices are the centres of the circumcircles of the Delaunay triangles. Source: Wikipedia.

Software: Qhull

Due to its applications, it’s not surprising that there exist algorithms that quickly create or estimate Voronoi tessellations. I don’t want to implement one of these algorithms from scratch, as they have already been implemented in various scientific programming languages. Many of the languages, such as MATLAB, R, and Python (SciPy) use the code from Qhull. (Note the Qhull website calls the tessellation a Voronoi diagram.)

(The Julia programming language, which I examined in in a previous post, has a Voronoi package that does not use Qhull.)

Qhull finds the Voronoi tessellation by first finding the Delaunay triangulation. If the underlying space is bounded, then all the Voronoi cells around bounded. But on unbounded space, it is possible to have unbounded cells, meaning their area (or volume) is infinite. In such cases, the algorithms sometimes place virtual points at infinity, but I don’t want to focus on such details. I will assume Qhull does a good job.

Code

As always, the code from all my posts is online. For this post, the MATLAB and Python code is here and here, respectively, which generates Voronoi tesselations.

MATLAB

It is fairly straightforward to create Voronoi tessellations in MATLAB. You can just use the function voronoi, which is only for two-dimensional tessellations. (Note: the MATLAB website says the behaviour of the function voronoi has changed, so that may cause problems when using different versions of MATLAB.) The function requires two inputs as vectors, say, x and y, corresponding to the Cartesian (or \(x\) and \(y\)) coordinates of the points. If you just run the voronoi command, it will create and plot a Voronoi tessellation (or Voronoi diagram, as MATLAB calls it). But the MATLAB website also describes how to plot the tessellation manually.

For \(d\) -dimensional tessellations, there is the function voronoin, which requires a single input. The single output consists of combining \(d\) column vectors for the Cartesian coordinates. For example, given the column vectors x, y and z, then the input is [x, y, z].

If you give the functions voronoi or voronoin output arguments, then the tessellation is not plotted and instead two data structures, say, v and c are created for describing the vertices of the tessellation. I generally use voronoi for plotting, but I use voronoin (and not voronoi) for generating vertex data, so I will focus on the outputs of voronoin.

For voronoin, the first (output) data structure v is simply an two-dimensional array array that contain the Cartesian coordinates of every vertex in the Voronoi tessellation. The second (output) data structure c is a cell array describing the vertices of each Voronoi cell (it has to be a cell array, as opposed to a regular array, as the cells have varying number of vertices). Each entry of the cell array contains a one-dimensional array with array indices corresponding to the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates.

The code checks which Voronoi cells are unbounded by seeing if they have vertices at infinity, which corresponds to a \(1\) in the index arrays (stored in the structure array c).

Python

To create the Voronoi tessellation, use the SciPy (Spatial) function Voronoi. This function does \(d\)-dimensional tessellations. For the two-dimensional setting, you need to input the \(x\) and \(y\) coordinates as a single array of dimensions \(2 \times n\), where \(n\) is the number of points in the collection. In my code, I start off with two one-dimensional arrays for the Cartesian coordinates, but then I combined them into a single array by using the function numpy.stack with the function argument axis =1.

I would argue that the Voronoi function in SciPy is not as intuitive to use as the MATLAB version. For example, one thing I found a bit tricky, at first, is that the cells and the points have a different sets of numbering (that is, they are indexed differently). (And I am not the only one that was caught by this.) You must use the attribute called point_region to access a cell number (or index) from a point number (or index). In my code attribute is accessed and then called it indexP2C, which is an integer array with cell indices. Apart from that, the function Voronoi worked well.

To plot the Voronoi tessellation, use the SciPy function voronoi_plot_2d, which allows for various plotting options, but it does require Matplotlib. The input is the data object created by the function Voronoi.

Results

I’ve plotted the results for a single realization of a Poisson point process. I’ve also plotted the indices of the points. Recall that the indexing in Python and MATLAB start respectively at zero and one.

MATLAB

Python

Voronoi animations

I took the animation of evolving Voronoi cells, which appears in the introduction, from Wikipedia. The creator generated it in MATLAB and also posted the code online. The code is long, and I wouldn’t even dare to try to reproduce it, but I am glad someone else wrote it.

Such animations exist also for other metrics. For example, the Manhattan metric (or taxi cab or city block metric) gives the animation below, where the growing disks have been replaced with squares.

A Voronoi tessellation under the Manhattan metric. The evolving cells start off as squares until they collide with each other. Source: Wikipedia.

This Wikipedia user page has animations under other metrics on Euclidean space.

This post also features animations of Voronoi tessellations when the points move.

Further reading

There is a lot of literature on Voronoi or Dirichlet tessellations, particularly when the seeds of the cells form a Poisson point process. The references in the articles on Wikipedia and MathWorld are good starting points.

Here is a good post on Voronoi tesselations. Here is a non-mathematical article published in the Irish Times.

For the more mathematically inclined, there is also the monograph Lectures on random Voronoi tessellations by Møller.