Some New Year Resolutions for (this) Data Scientist in 2017

I’ve never been very big on New Year’s resolutions. I’ve tried them in the past, and while they are nice to think about, they are always overly vague, difficult to accomplish in a year, trite, or just don’t get done (or attempted). This year I decided to try something different instead of just not making resolutions at all. I set out some professional goals for myself as a Data Scientist. So without further ado…

1. Don’t Complain about It, Fix It: Contribute to Open Source Software (More)

Open source software is only as good as its community and/or developer(s). Developers are human and typically cannot manage all bugs and feature requests themselves. My goal is to routinely contribute back to the community either with new features, or by fixing bugs that I discover. This not only helps the community at large, but also helps me as a software engineer. There is no better way to become an even better engineer than by wading through someone else’s code. While this is something I did all day every day at my $DAYJOB, I do it less while on my sabbatical.

Some of the projects I use the most and that I hope to contribute to are scikit-learn and […]

Summary of My First Trip to Strata #strataconf

In this post I am goIing to summarize some of the things that I learned at Strata Santa Clara 2013. For now, I will only discuss the conference sessions as I have a much longer post about the tutorial sessions that I am still working on and will post at a later date. I will add to this post as the conference winds down.

The slides for most talks will be available here but not all speakers will share their slides.

This is/was my first trip to Strata so I was eagerly awaiting participating as an attendant. In the past, I had been put off by the cost and was also concerned that the conference would be an endless advertisement for the conference sponsors and Big Data platforms. I am happy to say that for the most part I was proven wrong. For easier reading, I am summarizing talks by topic rather than giving a laundry list schedule for a long day and also skip sessions that I did not find all that illuminating. I also do not claim 100% accuracy of this text as the days are very long and my ears and mind can only process so much data when I am context […]

Adventures at My First JSM (Joint Statistical Meetings) #JSM2012

During the past few decades that I have been in graduate school (no, not literally) I have boycotted JSM on the notion that “I am not a statistician.” Ok, I am a renegade statistician, a statistician by training. JSM 2012 was held in San Diego, CA, one of the best places to spend a week during the summer. This time, I had no excuse not to go, and I figured that in order to get my Ph.D. in Statistics, I have to have been to at least one JSM. […]

OpenPaths and a Progressive Approach to Privacy

OpenPaths is a service that allows users with mobile phones to transmit and store their location. It is an initiative by the New York Times that allows users to use their own data, or to contribute their location data for research projects and perhaps startups that wish to get into the geospatial space. OpenPaths brands itself as “a secure data locker for personal location information.” There is one aspect where OpenPaths is very different from other services like Google Latitude: Only the user has access to his/her own data and it is never shared with anybody else unless the user chooses to do so. Additionally, initiatives that wish to use a user’s location data must be asked personally via email (pictured below), and the user has the ability to deny the request.The data shared with each initiative provides only location, and not other data that may be personally identifiable such as name, email, browser, mobile type etc. In this sense, OpenPaths has provided a barebones platform for the collection and storage of location information. Google Latitude is similar, but the data stored on Google’s servers is obviously used by other Google services without explicit user permission.

The service is also opt-in, that […]

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 […]

Parsing Wikipedia Articles: Wikipedia Extractor and Cloud9

Lately I have doing a lot of work with the Wikipedia XML dump as a corpus. Wikipedia provides a wealth information to researchers in easy to access formats including XML, SQL and HTML dumps for all language properties. Some of the data freely available from the Wikimedia Foundation include

article content and template pages
article content with revision history (huge files)
article content including user pages and talk pages
redirect graph
page-to-page link lists: redirects, categories, image links, page links, interwiki etc.
image metadata
site statistics

The above resources are available not only for Wikipedia, but for other Wikimedia Foundation projects such as Wiktionary, Wikibooks and Wikiquotes.

As Wikipedia readers will notice, the articles are very well formatted and this formatting is generated by a somewhat unusual markup format defined by the MediaWiki project. As Dirk Riehl stated:

There was no grammar, no defined processing rules, and no defined output like a DOM tree based on a well defined document object model. This is to say, the content of Wikipedia is stored in a format that is not an open standard. The format is defined by 5000 lines of php code (the parse function of MediaWiki). That code may be open source, but it is incomprehensible to most. That’s why […]

LexisNexis Open-Sources its Hadoop Alternative

A month ago, I wrote about alternatives to the Hadoop MapReduce platform and HPCC was included in that article. For more information, see here.

LexisNexis has open-sourced its alternative to Hadoop, called High Performance Computing Cluster. The code is available on GitHub. For years the code was restricted to LexisNexis Risk Solutions. The system contains two major components:

Thor (Thor Data Refinery Cluster) is the data processing framework. It “crunches, analyzes and indexes huge amounts of data a la Hadoop.”
Roxie (Roxy Radid Data Delivery Cluster) is more like a data warehouse and is designed with quick querying in mind for frontends.

The protocol that drives the whole process is the Enterprise Control Language which is said to be faster and more efficient than Hadoop’s version of MapReduce. A picture is a much better way to show how the system works. Below is a diagram from the Gigaom article from which most of this information originates.

To me, Roxie seems much more exciting because it seems to complement (or replace) several technologies currently in the space. I do not know all the details, but it seems to potentially encapsulate technologies such as HBase, Hive, RabbitMQ and MemcacheDB, technologies that are common used to query and […]

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 […]