Four short links: 11 March 2014

Four short links: 11 March 2014

Game Analysis, Brave New (Disney)World, Internet of Deadly Things, and Engagement vs Sharing

  1. In-Game Graph Analysis (The Economist) — one MLB team has bought a Cray Ulrika graph-processing appliance for in-game analysis of data. Please hold, boggling. (via Courtney Nash)
  2. Disney Bets $1B on Technology (BusinessWeek) — MyMagic+ promises far more radical change. It’s a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips—which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things. (via Jim Stogdill)
  3. Stupid Smart Stuff (Don Norman) — In the airplane, the pilots are not attending, but when trouble does arise, the extremely well-trained pilots have several minutes to respond. In the automobile, when trouble arises, the ill-trained drivers will have one or two seconds to respond. Automobile designers – and law makers – have ignored this information.
  4. What You Think You Know About the Web Is WrongChartbeat looked at deep user behavior across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on. The entire article makes some powerful points about the difference between what’s engaged with and what’s shared. Articles that were clicked on and engaged with tended to be actual news. In August, the best performers were Obamacare, Edward Snowden, Syria and George Zimmerman, while in January the debates around Woody Allen and Richard Sherman dominated. The most clicked on but least deeply engaged-with articles had topics that were more generic. In August, the worst performers included Top, Best, Biggest, Fictional etc while in January the worst performers included Hairstyles, Positions, Nude and, for some reason, Virginia. That’s data for you.
Four short links: 27 January 2014

Four short links: 27 January 2014

Real Time Exploratory Analytics, Algorithmic Agendas, Disassembly Engine, and Future of Employment

  1. Druid — open source clustered data store (not key-value store) for real-time exploratory analytics on large datasets.
  2. It’s Time to Engineer Some Filter Failure (Jon Udell) — Our filters have become so successful that we fail to notice: We don’t control them, They have agendas, and They distort our connections to people and ideas. That idea that algorithms have agendas is worth emphasising. Reality doesn’t have an agenda, but the deployer of a similarity metric has decided what features to look for, what metric they’re optimising, and what to do with the similarity data. These are all choices with an agenda.
  3. Capstone — open source multi-architecture disassembly engine.
  4. The Future of Employment (PDF) — We note that this prediction implies a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarization, with growing employment in high and low-wage occupations, accompanied by a hollowing-out of middle-income jobs. Rather than reducing the demand for middle-income occupations, which has been the pattern over the past decades, our model predicts that computerisation will mainly substitute for low-skill and low-wage jobs in the near future. By contrast, high-skill and high-wage occupations are the least susceptible to computer capital. (via The Atlantic)

How companies are using Spark

The inaugural Spark Summit will feature a wide variety of real-world applications

When an interesting piece of big data technology gets introduced, early1 adopters tend to focus on technical features and capabilities. Applications get built as companies develop confidence that it’s reliable and that it really scales to large data volumes. That seems to be where Spark is today. With over 90 contributors from 25 companies, it has one of the largest developer communities among big data projects (second only to Hadoop MapReduce).

Spark Growth by Numbers

I recently became an advisor to Databricks (a startup commercializing Spark) and a member of the program committee for the inaugural Spark Summit. As I pored over submissions to Spark’s first community gathering, I learned how companies have come to rely on Spark, Shark, and other components of the Berkeley Data Analytics Stack (BDAS). Spark is at that stage where companies are deploying it, and the upcoming Spark Summit in San Francisco will showcase many real-world applications. These applications cut across many domains including advertising, marketing, finance, and academic/scientific research, but can generally be grouped into the following categories:

Data processing workflows: ETL and Data Wrangling
Many companies rely on a wide variety of data sources for their analytic products. That means cleaning, transforming, and fusing (unstructured) external data with internal data sources. Many companies – particularly startups – use Spark for these types of data processing workflows. There are even companies that have created simple user interfaces that open up batch data processing tasks to non-programmers.

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Simplifying interactive, realtime, and advanced analytics

Tools for unlocking big data continue to get simpler

Here are a few observations based on conversations I had during the just concluded Strata NYC conference.

Interactive query analysis on Hadoop remains a hot area
A recent O’Reilly survey confirmed SQL is an important skill for data scientists. A year after the launch of Impala, quite a few attendees I spoke with remained interested in the progress of SQL-on-Hadoop solutions. A trio from Hortonworks gave an update on recent improvements and changes to Hive1. A sign that Impala is gaining traction, Greg Rahn’s talk on Practical Performance Tuning for Impala was one of the best attended sessions in the conference. Ditto for a sponsored session on Kognitio’s latest features.

Existing SQL-on-Hadoop solutions require that users define a schema – an additional step given that a lot of data is increasingly in key-value or JSON format. In his talk Hadapt co-founder Daniel Abadi highlighted a solution2 that lets users query complex data types (Hadapt reserializes complex data types to speed up joins). I expect other SQL-on-Hadoop solutions to also offer query support for complex data types in the near future.

Empowering business users
With its launch at the conference, ClearStory joins Platfora and Datameer in the business analytics space. Each company builds tools that lets business users wade through large amounts of data, while emphasizing different areas. Platfora is for interactive visual analysis of massive data sets, while Datameer connects to many data sources (not just Hadoop), has started offering analytics, and can run on a laptop or cluster. Built primarily on the Berkeley stack (BDAS), ClearStory’s interesting platform encourages collaboration and simplifies data harmonization (fusing disparate data sources is a common bottleneck for business users). For organizations willing to tag and describe their data sets, Microsoft unveiled a tool that lets users query data using natural language (UK startup NeutrinoBI uses a similar “search interface”).

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Comments: 3

Big Data and Advertising: In the trenches

Volume, variety, velocity, and a rare peek inside sponsored search advertising at Google

The $35B merger of Omnicom and Publicis put the convergence of Big Data and Advertising1 in the front pages of business publications. Adtech2 companies have long been at the forefront of many data technologies, strategies, and techniques. By now it’s well-known that many impressive large scale, realtime analytics systems in production, support3 advertising. A lot of effort has gone towards accurately predicting and measuring click-through rates, so at least for online advertising, data scientists and data engineers have gone a long way towards addressing4 the famous “but we don’t know which half” line.

The industry has its share of problems: privacy & creepiness come to mind, and like other technology sectors adtech has its share of “interesting” patent filings (see for example here, here, here). With so many companies dependent on online advertising, some have lamented the industry’s hold5 on data scientists. But online advertising does offer data scientists and data engineers lots of interesting technical problems to work on, many of which involve the deployment (and creation) of open source tools for massive amounts of data.

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Near realtime, streaming, and perpetual analytics

Hadoop moves from batch to near realtime: next up, placing streaming data in context

Simple example of a near realtime app built with Hadoop and HBase
Over the past year Hadoop emerged from its batch processing roots and began to take on interactive and near realtime applications. There are numerous examples that fall under these categories, but one that caught my eye recently is a system jointly developed by China Mobile Guangdong (CMG) and Intel1. It’s an online system that lets CMG’s over 100 million subscribers2 access and pay their bills, and examine their CDR’s (call detail records) in near realtime.

A service for providing detailed billing information is an important customer touch point. Repeated/extended downtimes and data errors could seriously tarnish CMG’s image. CMG needed a system that could scale to their current (and future) data volumes, while providing the low-latency responses consumers have come to expect from online services. Scalability, price and open source3 were important criteria in persuading the company to choose a Hadoop-based solution over4 MPP data warehouses.

In the system it co-developed with Intel, CMG stores detailed subscriber billing records in HBase. This amounts to roughly 30 TB/month, but since the service lets users browse up to six months of billing data it provides near realtime query results on much larger amounts of data. There are other near realtime applications built from Hadoop components (notably the continuous compute system at Yahoo!), that handle much larger data sets. But what I like about the CMG example is that it’s an application that most people understand right away (a detailed billing lookup system), and it illustrates that the Hadoop ecosystem has grown beyond batch processing.

Besides powering their online billing lookup service, CMG uses its Hadoop platform for analytics. Data from multiple sources (including phone device preferences, usage patterns, and cell tower performance) are used to compute customer segments and targeted promotions. Over time, Hadoop’s ability to handle large amounts of unstructured data opens up other data sources that can potentially improve CMG’s current analytic models.

Contextualize: Streaming and Perpetual Analytics
This leads me to something “realtime” systems are beginning to do: placing streaming data in context. Streaming analytics operates over fixed time windows and is used to identify “top k” trending items, heavy-hitters, and distinct items. Perpetual analytics takes what you’re observing now and places it in the context of what you already know. As much as companies appreciate metrics produced by streaming engines, they also want to understand how “realtime observations” affect their existing knowledge base.

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Comment: 1

Scalable streaming analytics using a single-server

The simplest and quickest way to mine your data is to deploy efficient algorithms designed to answer key questions at scale.

For many organizations real-time1 analytics entails complex event processing systems (CEP) or newer distributed stream processing frameworks like Storm, S4, or Spark Streaming. The latter have become more popular because they are able to process massive amounts of data, and fit nicely with Hadoop and other cluster computing tools. For these distributed frameworks peak volume is function of network topology/bandwidth and the throughput of the individual nodes.

Scaling up machine-learning: Find efficient algorithms
Faced with having to crunch through a massive data set, the first thing a machine-learning expert will try to do is devise a more efficient algorithm. Some popular approaches involve sampling, online learning, and caching. Parallelizing an algorithm tends to be lower on the list of things to try. The key reason is that while there are algorithms that are embarrassingly parallel (e.g., naive bayes), many others are harder to decouple. But as I highlighted in a recent post, efficient tools that run on single servers can tackle large data sets. In the machine-learning context recent examples2 of efficient algorithms that scale to large data sets, can be found in the products of startup SkyTree.

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Comments: 2

On reading Mike Barlow’s “Real-Time Big Data Analytics: Emerging Architecture”

Barlow's distilled insights regarding the ever evolving definition of real time big data analytics

Reading Barlow on a Sunday Afternoon

Reading Barlow on a Sunday afternoon

During a break in between offsite meetings that Edd and I were attending the other day, he asked me, “did you read the Barlow piece?”

“Umm, no.” I replied sheepishly. Insert a sidelong glance from Edd that said much without saying anything aloud. He’s really good at that.

In my utterly meager defense, Mike Loukides is the editor on Mike Barlow’s Real-Time Big Data Analytics: Emerging Architecture. As Loukides is one of the core drivers behind O’Reilly’s book publishing program and someone who I perceive to be an unofficial boss of my own choosing, I am not really inclined to worry about things that I really don’t need to worry about. Then I started getting not-so-subtle inquiries from additional people asking if I would consider reviewing the manuscript for the Strata community site. This resulted in me emailing Loukides for a copy and sitting in a local cafe on a Sunday afternoon to read through the manuscript.

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Four short links: 14 February 2013

Four short links: 14 February 2013

Malware Industrial Complex, Indies Needed, TV Analytics, and HTTP Benchmarking

  1. Welcome to the Malware-Industrial Complex (MIT) — brilliant phrase, sound analysis.
  2. Stupid Stupid xBoxThe hardcore/soft-tv transition and any lead they feel they have is simply not defensible by licensing other industries’ generic video or music content because those industries will gladly sell and license the same content to all other players. A single custom studio of 150 employees also can not generate enough content to defensibly satisfy 76M+ customers. Only with quality primary software content from thousands of independent developers can you defend the brand and the product. Only by making the user experience simple, quick, and seamless can you defend the brand and the product. Never seen a better put statement of why an ecosystem of indies is essential.
  3. Data Feedback Loops for TV (Salon) — Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.
  4. wrka modern HTTP benchmarking tool capable of generating significant load when run on a single multi-core CPU. It combines a multithreaded design with scalable event notification systems such as epoll and kqueue.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 21 January 2013

Four short links: 21 January 2013

School District Saves With Open Source, Apple ][ Presentation Tool, Tech Talks, and Realtime Dashboard

  1. School District Builds Own SoftwareBy taking a not-for-profit approach and using freely available open-source tools, Saanich officials expect to develop openStudent for under $5 million, with yearly maintenance pegged at less than $1 million. In contrast, the B.C. government says it spent $97 million over the past 10 years on the B.C. enterprise Student Information System — also known as BCeSIS — a provincewide system already slated for replacement.
  2. Giving a Presentation From an Apple ][A co-worker used an iPad to give a presentation. I thought: why take a machine as powerful as an early Cray to do something as low-overhead as display slides? Why not use something with much less computing power? From this asoft_presenter was born. The code is a series of C programs that read text files and generate a large Applesoft BASIC program that actually presents the slides. (via Jim Stogdill)
  3. AirBnB TechTalks — impressive collection of interesting talks, part of the AirBnB techtalks series.
  4. Gawker’s Realtime Dashboard — this is not just technically and visually cool, but also food for thought about what they’re choosing to measure and report on in real time (new vs returning split, social engagement, etc.). Does that mean they hope to be able to influence those variables in real time? (via Alex Howard)