SIAM Data Mining 2012 Conference

Note: This would have been up a lot sooner but I have been dealing with a bug on and off for pretty much the past month!

From April 26-28 I had the pleasure to attend the SIAM Data Mining conference in Anaheim on the Disneyland Resort grounds. Aside from KDD2011, most of my recent conferences had been more “big data” and “data science” oriented, and I wanted to step away from the hype and just listen to talks that had more substance.

Attending a conference on Disneyland property was quite a bizarre experience. I wanted to get everything I could out of the conference, but the weather was so nice that I also wanted to get everything out of Disneyland as I could. Seeing adults wearing Mickey ears carrying Mickey shaped balloons, and seeing girls dressed up as their favorite Disney princesses screams “fun” rather than “business”, but I managed to make time for both.

The first two days started with a plenary talk from industry or research labs. After a coffee break, there were the usual breakout sessions followed by lunch. During my free 90 minutes, I ran over to Disneyland and California Adventure both days to eat lunch. I managed to […]

“Hold Only That Pair of 2s?” Studying a Video Poker Hand with R

Whenever I tell people in my family that I study Statistics, one of the first questions I get from laypeople is “do you count cards?” A blank look comes over their face when I say “no.”

Look, if I am at a casino, I am well aware that the odds are against me, so why even try to think that I can use statistics to make money in this way? Although I love numbers and math, the stuff flows through my brain all day long (and night long), every day. If the goal is to enjoy and have fun, I do not want to sit there crunching probability formulas in my head (yes that’s fun, but it is also work). So that leaves me at the video Poker machines enjoying the free drinks. Another positive about video Poker is that $20 can sometimes last a few hours. So it should be no surprise that I do not agree with using Poker to teach probability.  Poker is an extremely superficial way to introduce such a powerful tool and gives the impression that probability is a way to make a quick buck, rather than as an important tool in science and society. The only […]

LexisNexis Open-Sources its Hadoop Alternative

SIGKDD 2011 Conference -- Days 2/3/4 Summary

<< My review of Day 1.

I am summarizing all of the days together since each talk was short, and I was too exhausted to write a post after each day. Due to the broken-up schedule of the KDD sessions, I group everything together instead of switching back and forth among a dozen different topics. By far the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of the conference were the breakout sessions.


KDD 2011 featured several keynote speeches that were spread out among three days and throughout the day. This year’s conference had a few big names.

Steven Boyd, Convex Optimization: From Embedded Real-Time to Large-Scale Distributed. The first keynote, by Steven Boyd, discussed convex optimization. The goal of convex optimization is to minimize some objective function given linear constraints. The caveat is that the objective function and all of the constraints must be convex (“non-negative curvature” as Boyd said). The goal of convex optimization is to turn the problem into a linear programming problem. We should care about convex optimization because it comes from some beautiful and complete theory like duality and optimality conditions. I must say, that whenever I am chastising statisticians, I often say that all they care about is “beautiful theory” […]

SIGKDD 2011 Conference -- Day 1 (Graph Mining and David Blei/Topic Models)

I have been waiting for the KDD conference to come to California, and I was ecstatic to see it held in San Diego this year. AdMeld did an awesome job displaying KDD ads on the sites that I visit, sometimes multiple times per page. That’s good targeting!

Mining and Learning on Graphs Workshop 2011

I had originally planned to attend the 2-day workshop Mining and Learning with Graphs (MLG2011) but I forgot that it started on Saturday and I arrived on Sunday. I attended part of MLG2011 but it was difficult to pay attention considering it was my first time waking up at 7am in a long time. The first talk I arrived for was Networks Spill the Beans by Lada Adamic from the University of Michigan. Adamic’s presented work involved inferring properties of content (the “what”) using network structure alone (using only the “who”: who shares with whom). One example she presented involved questions and answers on a Java programming language forum. The research problem was to determine things such as who is most likely to answer a Java beginner’s question: a guru, or a slightly more experienced user? Another research question asked what dynamic interactions tell us about information flow. […]

Hadoop Fatigue -- Alternatives to Hadoop

It’s been a while since I have posted… in the midst of trying to plow through this dissertation while working on papers for submission to some conferences.

Hadoop has become the de facto standard in the research and industry uses of small and large-scale MapReduce. Since its inception, an entire ecosystem has been built around it including conferences (Hadoop World, Hadoop Summit), books, training, and commercial distributions (Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR) with support. Several projects that integrate with Hadoop have been released from the Apache incubator and are designed for certain use cases:

Pig, developed at Yahoo, is a high-level scripting language for working with big data and Hive is a SQL-like query language for big data in a warehouse configuration.
HBase, developed at Facebook, is a column-oriented database often used as a datastore on which MapReduce jobs can be executed.
ZooKeeper and Chukwa
Mahout is a library for scalable machine learning, part of which can use Hadoop.
Cascading (Chris Wensel), Oozie (Yahoo) and Azkaban (LinkedIn) provide MapReduce job workflows and scheduling.

Hadoop is meant to be modeled after Google MapReduce. To store and process huge amounts of data, we typically need several machines in some cluster configuration. A distributed filesystem (HDFS for Hadoop) uses space across […]

Google -- Is Search-by-Multimedia on the Way?

Recently, I have been thinking about alternate ways of specifying search queries other than with text. A couple of weeks ago I came across a piece of music that I could not identify. I thought it would be a huge win for a search engine to allow me to upload this piece, and it would present me with matches, or near matches to other pieces that sound similar, or have similar characteristics. Some services already exist. Shazam allows a user to place a microphone near playing music and it will identify the artist and song. Some uses of search-by-sound:

Music identification (“solved” – Shazam)
Music personalizaton and recommendation (“solved” – Pandora)
Identification of the source of a sound (i.e. a species of bird, a musical instrument, an inanimate object)
MP3 and media file search
Finding material that violates copyright

As our motivating example, consider we find some really cool graphic on the web and we want to know where it likely originated (i.e. art, a meme). In such a search engine, we could upload the graphic and get results containing the exact image, or images that are very similar such as variations of the image (crop, resize, borders, different effects), modifications of the image (consider Obama-izing […]

My Day at ACM Data Mining Camp III

My first time at ACM Data Mining Camp was so awesome, that I was thrilled the make the trip up to San Jose for the November 2010 version. In July, I gave a talk at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium conference with a faculty member in the Department of Statistics, at the Fairmont. The place was amazing, and I told myself I would save up to stay there. This trip gave me an opportunity to check it out, and pretend that I am posh for a weekend ;). The night I arrived I had the best dinner and drinks at this place called Gordon Biersch. I had the best garlic fries and BBQ burger I have ever had. I ate it with a Dragonfruit Strawberry Mojito, the Barbados Rum Runner, and finished off with a Long Island Iced Tea, so the drinks were awesome as well. Anyway, to the point of this post…

The next morning I made the short trek to the PayPal headquarters for a very long 9am-8pm day. Since I came up here for the camp, I wanted to make the most of it and paid the $30 for the morning session, even though I had […]

Exciting Tools for Big Data: S4, Sawzall and mrjob!

This week, a few different big data processing tools were released to the open-source community. I know, I know, this is probably the 1000th blog post about this, and perhaps the train has left the station without me, but here I am.

Yahoo’s S4: Distributed Stream Computing Platform

First off, it must be said. S4 is NOT real-time map-reduce! This is the meme that has been floating around the Internets lately.

S4 is a distributed, scalable, partially fault-tolerant, pluggable platform that allows users to create applications that process unbounded streaming data. It is not a Hadoop project. A matter of fact, it is not even a form of map-reduce. S4 was developed at Yahoo for personalization of search advertising products. Map-reduce, so far, is not a great platform for dealing with streaming/non-stored data.

Pieces of data, apparently called events, are sent and consumed by a Processing Element (yes, PE, but not the kind that requires you to sweat). The PEs can do one of two things:

emit another event that will be consumed by another PE, or
publish some result

Streaming data is different from non-streaming data in that the user does not know how much data will be transmitted, and at what rate. Analysis on […]

Accessing R from Python using RPy2

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to present a short talk (a bit long) related to text mining at the Los Angeles R Users’ Group. Since I do most of my text mining in Python, I took this opportunity to discuss RPy2, an interface to R from Python. My slides are below:

Accessing R from Python using RPy2
View more presentations from Ryan Rosario.

Download/view slides here. Topics include

Using Python with R with an example using web mining.
Web mining using pure R rather than Python.

Code for demonstration is here: is a pure Python script that extracts data from a web forum and dumps it to disk. To actually use it, you will need to register for an account. reads the data from the forum from disk and calls R from Python to perform some basic analysis.
curljson_demo.R grabs some JSON data from the Twitter Search API using RCurl and converts it to R lists using rjson.


Running the code requires some packages that you need to install.

twill package for web browsing, that installs a Python package for you. Requires the mechanize package […]