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Dashboard Design: Google Activity

I quite like Google’s monthly email on account activity. It is the Google way to offer free services, as well as treat users as special, that continues to command loyalty despite occasional exasperation with corporate thingies.

See this dashboard-

1Notice the use of Bigger Font for overall number of emails as well as smaller bar plots- I would say they are almost spark lines or spark bar plots if you excuse my Tufte.

The medium range font shows persons sent/from statistics, and the color shades are done to empahsize or de-emphasize the metric

Colors used are black/grey, green and blue coincident with the Corporate Logo.

However some of the JS for visualizations need to be tweaked. Clearly the hover script ( an  integral part of Dashboard design ) needs better elucidiation or formatting)

2

I would also venture my neck and suggest that rather than just monthly snapshots, atleast some way of comparing snapshots across periods or even the total time period be enabled- rather than be in seperate views.  This may give the user a bit more analytical value.

Overall, a nice and simple dashboard which may be of some use to the business user who makes or views a lot of reports on online properties. Minimal and effective- and in keeping with Open Data- Data Liberation Principles. I guess Google is secure in the knowledge that users do not view time spent on Google services as a total waste , unlike some of the other more social ;) websites they spend time on.

Google Analytics using #Rstats – Updated

Due to changes in Google APIs my earlier post on using Google Analytics in R is deprecated.  Unfortunately it is still on top 10 results for Google results for Using Google Analytics with R.

That post is here http://decisionstats.com/2012/03/20/using-google-analytics-with-r/

A more updated R package on Google Analytics and R is here . https://github.com/skardhamar/rga

A better updated post on an easy to use tutorial on using Google Analytics with R using OAuth 2 playground is here.

http://www.tatvic.com/blog/ga-data-extraction-in-r/

  1. Set the Google analytics query parameters for preparing the request URI
  2. Get the access token from Oauth 2.0 Playground
  3. Retrieve and select the Profile
  4. Retrieving GA data

Note it is excellent for learning to use RJSON method as well. You can see the details on the Tatvic blog above.

Hat tip- Vignesh Prajapati

 

 

Using Rapid Miner and R for Sports Analytics #rstats

Rapid Miner has been one of the oldest open source analytics software, long long before open source or even analytics was considered a fashion buzzword. The Rapid Miner software has been a pioneer in many areas (like establishing a marketplace for Rapid Miner Extensions) and the Rapid Miner -R extension was one of the most promising enablers of using R in an enterprise setting.
The following interview was taken with a manager of analytics for a sports organization. The sports organization considers analytics as a strategic differentiator , hence the name is confidential. No part of the interview has been edited or manipulated.

Ajay- Why did you choose Rapid Miner and R? What were the other software alternatives you considered and discarded?

Analyst- We considered most of the other major players in statistics/data mining or enterprise BI.  However, we found that the value proposition for an open source solution was too compelling to justify the premium pricing that the commercial solutions would have required.  The widespread adoption of R and the variety of packages and algorithms available for it, made it an easy choice.  We liked RapidMiner as a way to design structured, repeatable processes, and the ability to optimize learner parameters in a systematic way.  It also handled large data sets better than R on 32-bit Windows did.  The GUI, particularly when 5.0 was released, made it more usable than R for analysts who weren’t experienced programmers.

Ajay- What analytics do you do think Rapid Miner and R are best suited for?

 Analyst- We use RM+R mainly for sports analysis so far, rather than for more traditional business applications.  It has been quite suitable for that, and I can easily see how it would be used for other types of applications.

 Ajay- Any experiences as an enterprise customer? How was the installation process? How good is the enterprise level support?

Analyst- Rapid-I has been one of the most responsive tech companies I’ve dealt with, either in my current role or with previous employers.  They are small enough to be able to respond quickly to requests, and in more than one case, have fixed a problem, or added a small feature we needed within a matter of days.  In other cases, we have contracted with them to add larger pieces of specific functionality we needed at reasonable consulting rates.  Those features are added to the mainline product, and become fully supported through regular channels.  The longer consulting projects have typically had a turnaround of just a few weeks.

 Ajay- What challenges if any did you face in executing a pure open source analytics bundle ?

Analyst- As Rapid-I is a smaller company based in Europe, the availability of training and consulting in the USA isn’t as extensive as for the major enterprise software players, and the time zone differences sometimes slow down the communications cycle.  There were times where we were the first customer to attempt a specific integration point in our technical environment, and with no prior experiences to fall back on, we had to work with Rapid-I to figure out how to do it.  Compared to the what traditional software vendors provide, both R and RM tend to have sparse, terse, occasionally incomplete documentation.  The situation is getting better, but still lags behind what the traditional enterprise software vendors provide.

 Ajay- What are the things you can do in R ,and what are the things you prefer to do in Rapid Miner (comparison for technical synergies)

Analyst- Our experience has been that RM is superior to R at writing and maintaining structured processes, better at handling larger amounts of data, and more flexible at fine-tuning model parameters automatically.  The biggest limitation we’ve had with RM compared to R is that R has a larger library of user-contributed packages for additional data mining algorithms.  Sometimes we opted to use R because RM hadn’t yet implemented a specific algorithm.  The introduction the R extension has allowed us to combine the strengths of both tools in a very logical and productive way.

In particular, extending RapidMiner with R helped address RM’s weakness in the breadth of algorithms, because it brings the entire R ecosystem into RM (similar to how Rapid-I implemented much of the Weka library early on in RM’s development).  Further, because the R user community releases packages that implement new techniques faster than the enterprise vendors can, this helps turn a potential weakness into a potential strength.  However, R packages tend to be of varying quality, and are more prone to go stale due to lack of support/bug fixes.  This depends heavily on the package’s maintainer and its prevalence of use in the R community.  So when RapidMiner has a learner with a native implementation, it’s usually better to use it than the R equivalent.

Interview John Myles White , Machine Learning for Hackers

Here is an interview with one of the younger researchers  and rock stars of the R Project, John Myles White,  co-author of Machine Learning for Hackers.

Ajay- What inspired you guys to write Machine Learning for Hackers. What has been the public response to the book. Are you planning to write a second edition or a next book?

John-We decided to write Machine Learning for Hackers because there were so many people interested in learning more about Machine Learning who found the standard textbooks a little difficult to understand, either because they lacked the mathematical background expected of readers or because it wasn’t clear how to translate the mathematical definitions in those books into usable programs. Most Machine Learning books are written for audiences who will not only be using Machine Learning techniques in their applied work, but also actively inventing new Machine Learning algorithms. The amount of information needed to do both can be daunting, because, as one friend pointed out, it’s similar to insisting that everyone learn how to build a compiler before they can start to program. For most people, it’s better to let them try out programming and get a taste for it before you teach them about the nuts and bolts of compiler design. If they like programming, they can delve into the details later.

We once said that Machine Learning for Hackers  is supposed to be a chemistry set for Machine Learning and I still think that’s the right description: it’s meant to get readers excited about Machine Learning and hopefully expose them to enough ideas and tools that they can start to explore on their own more effectively. It’s like a warmup for standard academic books like Bishop’s.
The public response to the book has been phenomenal. It’s been amazing to see how many people have bought the book and how many people have told us they found it helpful. Even friends with substantial expertise in statistics have said they’ve found a few nuggets of new information in the book, especially regarding text analysis and social network analysis — topics that Drew and I spend a lot of time thinking about, but are not thoroughly covered in standard statistics and Machine Learning  undergraduate curricula.
I hope we write a second edition. It was our first book and we learned a ton about how to write at length from the experience. I’m about to announce later this week that I’m writing a second book, which will be a very short eBook for O’Reilly. Stay tuned for details.

Ajay-  What are the key things that a potential reader can learn from this book?

John- We cover most of the nuts and bolts of introductory statistics in our book: summary statistics, regression and classification using linear and logistic regression, PCA and k-Nearest Neighbors. We also cover topics that are less well known, but are as important: density plots vs. histograms, regularization, cross-validation, MDS, social network analysis and SVM’s. I hope a reader walks away from the book having a feel for what different basic algorithms do and why they work for some problems and not others. I also hope we do just a little to shift a future generation of modeling culture towards regularization and cross-validation.

Ajay- Describe your journey as a science student up till your Phd. What are you current research interests and what initiatives have you done with them?

John-As an undergraduate I studied math and neuroscience. I then took some time off and came back to do a Ph.D. in psychology, focusing on mathematical modeling of both the brain and behavior. There’s a rich tradition of machine learning and statistics in psychology, so I got increasingly interested in ML methods during my years as a grad student. I’m about to finish my Ph.D. this year. My research interests all fall under one heading: decision theory. I want to understand both how people make decisions (which is what psychology teaches us) and how they should make decisions (which is what statistics and ML teach us). My thesis is focused on how people make decisions when there are both short-term and long-term consequences to be considered. For non-psychologists, the classic example is probably the explore-exploit dilemma. I’ve been working to import more of the main ideas from stats and ML into psychology for modeling how real people handle that trade-off. For psychologists, the classic example is the Marshmallow experiment. Most of my research work has focused on the latter: what makes us patient and how can we measure patience?

Ajay- How can academia and private sector solve the shortage of trained data scientists (assuming there is one)?

John- There’s definitely a shortage of trained data scientists: most companies are finding it difficult to hire someone with the real chops needed to do useful work with Big Data. The skill set required to be useful at a company like Facebook or Twitter is much more advanced than many people realize, so I think it will be some time until there are undergraduates coming out with the right stuff. But there’s huge demand, so I’m sure the market will clear sooner or later.

The changes that are required in academia to prepare students for this kind of work are pretty numerous, but the most obvious required change is that quantitative people need to be learning how to program properly, which is rare in academia, even in many CS departments. Writing one-off programs that no one will ever have to reuse and that only work on toy data sets doesn’t prepare you for working with huge amounts of messy data that exhibit shifting patterns. If you need to learn how to program seriously before you can do useful work, you’re not very valuable to companies who need employees that can hit the ground running. The companies that have done best in building up data teams, like LinkedIn, have learned to train people as they come in since the proper training isn’t typically available outside those companies.
Of course, on the flipside, the people who do know how to program well need to start learning more about theory and need to start to have a better grasp of basic mathematical models like linear and logistic regressions. Lots of CS students seem not to enjoy their theory classes, but theory really does prepare you for thinking about what you can learn from data. You may not use automata theory if you work at Foursquare, but you will need to be able to reason carefully and analytically. Doing math is just like lifting weights: if you’re not good at it right now, you just need to dig in and get yourself in shape.
About-
John Myles White is a Phd Student in  Ph.D. student in the Princeton Psychology Department, where he studies human decision-making both theoretically and experimentally. Along with the political scientist Drew Conway, he is  the author of a book published by O’Reilly Media entitled “Machine Learning for Hackers”, which is meant to introduce experienced programmers to the machine learning toolkit. He is also working with Mark Hansenon a book for laypeople about exploratory data analysis.John is the lead maintainer for several R packages, including ProjectTemplate and log4r.

(TIL he has played in several rock bands!)

—–
You can read more in his own words at his blog at http://www.johnmyleswhite.com/about/
He can be contacted via social media at Google Plus at https://plus.google.com/109658960610931658914 or twitter at twitter.com/johnmyleswhite/

Online Education takes off

Udacity is a smaller player but welcome competition to Coursera. I think companies that have on demand learning programs should consider donating a course to these online education players (like SAS Institute for SAS , Revolution Analytics for R, SAP, Oracle for in-memory analytics etc)

Any takers!

http://www.udacity.com/

 

Coursera  is doing a superb job with huge number of free courses from notable professors. 111 courses!

I am of course partial to the 7 courses that are related to my field-

https://www.coursera.org/

 

 

Churn Analytics Contest at Crowd Analytix

Crowd Analytix- the Bangalore based Indian startup is moving fast in the

data scientist contest space (so watch out Kaggle!! )


Churn (loss of customers to competition) is a problem for telecom companies because it is more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep your existing one from leaving. This contest is about enabling churn reduction using analytics.

To join, go to – http://www.crowdanalytix.com/contests/why-customer-churn/

Interview Alain Chesnais Chief Scientist Trendspottr.com

Here is a brief interview with Alain Chesnais ,Chief Scientist  Trendspottr.com. It is a big honor to interview such a legend in computer science, and I am grateful to both him and Mark Zohar for taking time to write these down.
alain_chesnais2.jpg

Ajay-  Describe your career from your student days to being the President of ACM (Association of Computing Machinery http://www.acm.org/ ). How can we increase  the interest of students in STEM education, particularly in view of the shortage of data scientists.
 
Alain- I’m trying to sum up a career of over 35 years. This may be a bit long winded…
I started my career in CS when I was in high school in the early 70′s. I was accepted in the National Science Foundation’s Science Honors Program in 9th grade and the first course I took was a Fortran programming course at Columbia University. This was on an IBM 360 using punch cards.
The next year my high school got a donation from DEC of a PDP-8E mini computer. I ended up spending a lot of time in the machine room all through high school at a time when access to computers wasn’t all that common. I went to college in Paris and ended up at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan in the newly created Computer Science department.
My first job after finishing my graduate studies was as a research assistant at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique where I focused my efforts on modelling the behaviour of distributed database systems in the presence of locking. When François Mitterand was elected president of France in 1981, he invited Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Papert to come to France to set up the Centre Mondial Informatique. I was hired as a researcher there and continued on to become director of software development until it was closed down in 1986. I then started up my own company focusing on distributed computer graphics. We sold the company to Abvent in the early 90′s.
After that, I was hired by Thomson Digital Image to lead their rendering team. We were acquired by Wavefront Technologies in 1993 then by SGI in 1995 and merged with Alias Research. In the merged company: Alias|wavefront, I was director of engineering on the Maya project. Our team received an Oscar in 2003 for the creation of the Maya software system.
Since then I’ve worked at various companies, most recently focusing on social media and Big Data issues associated with it. Mark Zohar and I worked together at SceneCaster in 2007 where we developed a Facebook app that allowed users to create their own 3D scenes and share them with friends via Facebook without requiring a proprietary plugin. In December 2007 it was the most popular app in its category on Facebook.
Recently Mark approached me with a concept related to mining the content of public tweets to determine what was trending in real time. Using math similar to what I had developed during my graduate studies to model the performance of distributed databases in the presence of locking, we built up a real time analytics engine that ranks the content of tweets as they stream in. The math is designed to scale linearly in complexity with the volume of data that we analyze. That is the basis for what we have created for TrendSpottr.
In parallel to my professional career, I have been a very active volunteer at ACM. I started out as a member of the Paris ACM SIGGRAPH chapter in 1985 and volunteered to help do our mailings (snail mail at the time). After taking on more responsibilities with the chapter, I was elected chair of the chapter in 1991. I was first appointed to the SIGGRAPH Local Groups Steering Committee, then became ACM Director for Chapters. Later I was successively elected SIGGRAPH Vice Chair, ACM SIG Governing Board (SGB) Vice Chair for Operations, SGB Chair, ACM SIGGRAPH President, ACM Secretary/Treasurer, ACM Vice President, and finally, in 2010, I was elected ACM President. My term as ACM President has just ended on July 1st. Vint Cerf is our new President. I continue to serve on the ACM Executive Committee in my role as immediate Past President.
(Note- About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery www.acm.org, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. )
Ajay- What sets Trendspotter apart from other startups out there in terms of vision in trying to achieve a more coherent experience on the web.
 
Alain- The Basic difference with other approaches that we are aware of is that we have developed an incremental solution that calculates the results on the fly as the data streams in. Our evaluators are based on solid mathematical foundations that have proven their usefulness over time. One way to describe what we do is to think of it as signal processing where the tweets are the signal and our evaluators are like triggers that tell you what elements of the signal have the characteristics that we are filtering for (velocity and acceleration). One key result of using this approach is that our unit cost per tweet analyzed does not go up with increased volume. Using more traditional data analysis approaches involving an implicit sort would imply a complexity of N*log(N), where N is the volume of tweets being analyzed. That would imply that the cost per tweet analyzed would go up with the volume of tweets. Our approach was designed to avoid that, so that we can maintain a cap on our unit costs of analysis, no matter what volume of data we analyze.
Ajay- What do you think is the future of big data visualization going to look like? What are some of the technologies that you are currently bullish on?
Alain- I see several trends that would have deep impact on Big Data visualization. I firmly believe that with large amounts of data, visualization is key tool for understanding both the structure and the relationships that exist between data elements. Let’s focus on some of the key things that are pushing in this direction:
  • the volume of data that is available is growing at a rate we have never seen before. Cisco has measured an 8 fold increase in the volume of IP traffic over the last 5 years and predicts that we will reach the zettabyte of data over IP in 2016
  • more of the data is becoming publicly available. This isn’t only on social networks such as Facebook and twitter, but joins a more general trend involving open research initiatives and open government programs
  • the desired time to get meaningful results is going down dramatically. In the past 5 years we have seen the half life of data on Facebook, defined as the amount of time that half of the public reactions to any given post (likes, shares., comments) take place, go from about 12 hours to under 3 hours currently
  • our access to the net is always on via mobile device. You are always connected.
  • the CPU and GPU capabilities of mobile devices is huge (an iPhone has 10 times the compute power of a Cray-1 and more graphics capabilities than early SGI workstations)
Put all of these observations together and you quickly come up with a massive opportunity to analyze data visually on the go as it happens no matter where you are. We can’t afford to have to wait for results. When something of interest occurs we need to be aware of it immediately.
Ajay- What are some of the applications we could use Trendspottr. Could we predict events like Arab Spring, or even the next viral thing.
 
Alain- TrendSpottr won’t predict what will happen next. What it *will* do is alert you immediately when it happens. You can think of it like a smoke detector. It doesn’t tell that a fire will take place, but it will save your life when a fire does break out.
Typical uses for TrendSpottr are
  • thought leadership by tracking content that your readership is interested in via TrendSpottr you can be seen as a thought leader on the subject by being one of the first to share trending content on a given subject. I personally do this on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/alain.chesnais) and have seen my klout score go up dramatically as a result
  • brand marketing to be able to know when something is trending about your brand and take advantage of it as it happens.
  • competitive analysis to see what is being said about two competing elements. For instance, searching TrendSpottr for “Obama OR Romney” gives you a very good understanding about how social networks are reacting to each politician. You can also do searches like “$aapl OR $msft OR $goog” to get a sense of what is the current buzz for certain hi tech stocks.
  • understanding your impact in real time to be able to see which of the content that you are posting is trending the most on social media so that you can highlight it on your main page. So if all of your content is hosted on common domain name (ourbrand.com), searching for ourbrand.com will show you the most active of your site’s content. That can easily be set up by putting a TrendSpottr widget on your front page

Ajay- What are some of the privacy guidelines that you keep in  mind- given the fact that you collect individual information but also have government agencies as potential users.

 
Alain- We take privacy very seriously and anonymize all of the data that we collect. We don’t keep explicit records of the data we collected through the various incoming streams and only store the aggregate results of our analysis.
About-
Alain Chesnais is immediate Past President of ACM, elected for the two-year term beginning July 1, 2010.Chesnais studied at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de l’Enseignement Technique and l’Université de Paris where he earned a Maîtrise de Mathematiques, a Maitrise de Structure Mathématique de l’Informatique, and a Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies in Compuer Science. He was a high school student at the United Nations International School in New York, where, along with preparing his International Baccalaureate with a focus on Math, Physics and Chemistry, he also studied Mandarin Chinese.Chesnais recently founded Visual Transitions, which specializes in helping companies move to HTML 5, the newest standard for structuring and presenting content on the World Wide Web. He was the CTO of SceneCaster.com from June 2007 until April 2010, and was Vice President of Product Development at Tucows Inc. from July 2005 – May 2007. He also served as director of engineering at Alias|Wavefront on the team that received an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for developing the Maya 3D software package.

Prior to his election as ACM president, Chesnais was vice president from July 2008 – June 2010 as well as secretary/treasurer from July 2006 – June 2008. He also served as president of ACM SIGGRAPH from July 2002 – June 2005 and as SIG Governing Board Chair from July 2000 – June 2002.

As a French citizen now residing in Canada, he has more than 20 years of management experience in the software industry. He joined the local SIGGRAPH Chapter in Paris some 20 years ago as a volunteer and has continued his involvement with ACM in a variety of leadership capacities since then.

About Trendspottr.com

TrendSpottr is a real-time viral search and predictive analytics service that identifies the most timely and trending information for any topic or keyword. Our core technology analyzes real-time data streams and spots emerging trends at their earliest acceleration point — hours or days before they have become “popular” and reached mainstream awareness.

TrendSpottr serves as a predictive early warning system for news and media organizations, brands, government agencies and Fortune 500 companies and helps them to identify emerging news, events and issues that have high viral potential and market impact. TrendSpottr has partnered with HootSuite, DataSift and other leading social and big data companies.

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