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Data Munging using #rstats Part 1 -Understanding Data Quality

This is a series of posts on Data Munging using R.

we will examine the various ways to input data and examine errors in the data input stage. We will accordingly study ways to detect errors and rectify them using the R language. People estimate that almost 60-70% of a project’s time goes in the data input, data quality and data validation stage. By the principle of Garbage-In -Garbage -Out, we believe that an analysis is only as good as the input quality of data. Thus data quality is both an integral part as well as one of the first stages in a project before we move to comprehensive statistical analysis.

Data Quality is an important part of studying data manipulation. How do we define Data Quality?

In this chapter, Data quality is defined as manipulating data in the desired shape, size and format. We further elaborate that as follows-

Data that is useful for analysis without any errors is high quality data.

Data that is problematic for accurate analysis because of any errors is low quality data.

Data Quality errors are defined as deviations from actual data, due to systematic, computing or human mistakes.

Rectifying data quality errors involves the steps of error detection, missing value imputation. It also involves using the feedback from these steps to design better data input mechanisms.

The major types of Data Quality errors are-

Missing Data- This is defined as when data is simply missing. It may be represented by a “. “or a blank space or by special notation like NA (not available) . In R , missing data is represented by NA. Missing data is the easiest to detect but it is tough to rectify since most of the time we deal with data collected in real time in the past time and it is difficult and expensive to replace it with actual data. Some methods of replacing missing data is by imputing or inferring what the missing values could be , by looking at measures of central tendency like median , or mean, or by checking correlation with other variables or data points with better data population or by looking at historic data for a particular sub-set. Accordingly missing values for a particular data variable can be divided into sub sets for imputation by various means (like for different Geographic Values, or Different Time Values)

Invalid Data (too high or too low numeric (and date-time) data, character data in invalid format).

Incorrect Data (due to input errors including invalid or obsolete business rules, human input, low quality OCR scans)

The major causes of Data Quality Errors are-

Human Error (due to input, typing )

Machine Error ( due to invalid input readable eg. like by low resolution scanning device)

Syntax Error ( due to invalid logic or assumptions)

Data Format Error (due to a format that is not readable by software reading in data)

Steps for Diagnosis-

Missing Value Detection (using functions related to is.NA) and Missing Value Imputation

Distribution Analysis (using functions like summary,describe, and visualizations like boxplot, histogram)

Outliers (Bonferroni) Detection and Outlier Capping ( Minimum- Maximum)

Correlation with other variables ( using correlation statistics)

Diagnosis of Data Quality

 

The following functions in R will help us evaluate the quality of data in our data object.

str- gives structure of object for a data frame including class, dimensions, variable names, variable types, first few observations of each variable)

names- gives variable names.

dim- dimensions of object.

length- gives length of data object.

nrow- gives number of rows of data object.

ncol – gives number of columns of data object.

class- gives data class of object. This can be list, matrix or data.frame or other classes.

We use the famous iris dataset and attach it or load it in our R session using the command

data(iris). We then try out each of the functions given above.

> data(iris)

> str(iris)

data.frame': 150 obs. of 5 variables:

$ Sepal.Length: num 5.1 4.9 4.7 4.6 5 5.4 4.6 5 4.4 4.9 ...

$ Sepal.Width : num 3.5 3 3.2 3.1 3.6 3.9 3.4 3.4 2.9 3.1 ...

$ Petal.Length: num 1.4 1.4 1.3 1.5 1.4 1.7 1.4 1.5 1.4 1.5 ...

$ Petal.Width : num 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.1 ...

$ Species : Factor w/ 3 levels "setosa","versicolor",..: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 ...

> names(iris)

[1] "Sepal.Length" "Sepal.Width" "Petal.Length" "Petal.Width" "Species"

> dim(iris)

[1] 150 5

> length(iris)

[1] 5

> nrow(iris)

[1] 150

> ncol(iris)

[1] 5

> class(iris)

[1] "data.frame"

It is quite clear that the str function by itself is enough for the first step data quality as it contains all the other parameters.

We now and try and print out a part of the object to check what is stored there. By default we can print the entire object by just writing it’s name. However this may be inconvenient in some cases when there are a large number of rows.

Accordingly we use the head and tail functions to look at the beginning and last rows in a data object.

head – gives first few observations in a data object as specified by parameter in head (objectname, number of rows)

tail -gives last few observations in a data object as specified by parameter in tail (objectname, number of rows)

Here we take the first 7 rows and the last 3 rows of dataset iris. Note that the first column in the output below is the row.number.
> head(iris,7)

Sepal.Length Sepal.Width Petal.Length Petal.Width Species

1 5.1 3.5 1.4 0.2 setosa

2 4.9 3.0 1.4 0.2 setosa

3 4.7 3.2 1.3 0.2 setosa

4 4.6 3.1 1.5 0.2 setosa

5 5.0 3.6 1.4 0.2 setosa

6 5.4 3.9 1.7 0.4 setosa

7 4.6 3.4 1.4 0.3 setosa

> tail(iris,3)

Sepal.Length Sepal.Width Petal.Length Petal.Width Species

148 6.5 3.0 5.2 2.0 virginica

149 6.2 3.4 5.4 2.3 virginica

150 5.9 3.0 5.1 1.8 virginica

We can also pass negative numbers as parameters to head and tail. Here we are trying to take the first and last 7 rows ( or numbers of rows in object -143 rows). Since the object iris has 150 rows , -143 evaluates to 7 in head and tail functions.

> head(iris,-143)

Sepal.Length Sepal.Width Petal.Length Petal.Width Species

1 5.1 3.5 1.4 0.2 setosa

2 4.9 3.0 1.4 0.2 setosa

3 4.7 3.2 1.3 0.2 setosa

4 4.6 3.1 1.5 0.2 setosa

5 5.0 3.6 1.4 0.2 setosa

6 5.4 3.9 1.7 0.4 setosa

7 4.6 3.4 1.4 0.3 setosa

> tail(iris,-143)

Sepal.Length Sepal.Width Petal.Length Petal.Width Species

144 6.8 3.2 5.9 2.3 virginica

145 6.7 3.3 5.7 2.5 virginica

146 6.7 3.0 5.2 2.3 virginica

147 6.3 2.5 5.0 1.9 virginica

148 6.5 3.0 5.2 2.0 virginica

149 6.2 3.4 5.4 2.3 virginica

150 5.9 3.0 5.1 1.8 virginica

1.2 Strings

One of the most common errors in data analytics is mismatch in string variables . String variables also known as character variables are non-numeric text, and even a single misplacement in white space, or upper case, lower case can cause discrepancies in the data. One of the most common types of data for which this error attains criticality is address data and name data.

From the perspective of R, the data “virginica” is a different data (or factor-level) from “ virginica” and from “Virginica”.“1600 Penn Avenue” is a different address from “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” and from “1600 PA”. This can lead to escalation of costs especially since users of business analytics try and create unique and accurate contact details ( names and addresses). This attains even more importance for running credit checks and financial data, since an inaccurate data mismatch can lead to a wrong credit score to a person, leading to liability of the credit provider.

For changing case we use the functions toupper and tolower

> a=c("ajay","vijay","ravi","rahul","bharat")

> toupper(a)

[1] "AJAY" "VIJAY" "RAVI" "RAHUL" "BHARAT"

> b=c("Jane","JILL","AMY","NaNCY")

> tolower(b)

[1] "jane" "jill" "amy" "nancy"

sub,gsub,grepl

 

grepl can be used to find a part of a string . For example, in cricket we denote a not out score of 250 runs by a star, .i.e. 250* but denote a score of 250 out as 250. This can create a problem if we are trying to read in data. It will either treat it as character level data, or if we coerce it to return numeric values, it will show the not out scores by missing values.

We want to find all instance of “*” in address field and see if they are not out. grepl returns a logical vector (match or not for each element of x). We will further expand on this example in our Case Study for Cricket Analytics

table2$HSNotOut=grepl("\\*",table2$HS)


We use sub and gsub to substitute parts of string. While the sub function replaces the first occurrence, the gsub function replaces all occurrences of the matching pattern with the parameter supplied.

Here we are trying to replace white space in a sentence. Notice the sub function seems to work better than gsub in this case.

> newstring=" Hello World We are Experts in Learning R"

> sub(" ","",newstring)

[1] "Hello World We are Experts in Learning R"

> gsub(" ","",newstring)

[1] "HelloWorldWeareExpertsinLearningR"

Let us try to convert currency data into numeric data.For the sake of learning we are using a small data object , a list called “money” with three different inputs.

> money=c("$10,000","20000","32,000")

> money

[1] "$10,000" "20000" "32,000"

We replace a comma (used mainly for thousands in currency data) using gsub as shown before.

> money2=gsub(",","",money)

> money2

[1] "$10000" "20000" "32000"

$ indicates the end of a line in regular expressions. \$ is a dollar sign. So we have to use \\$ as an input in the gsub expression.

> money3=gsub("\\$","",money2)

> money3

[1] "10000" "20000" "32000"

At this point we may be satisfied that we have got the format we wanted. However this is an error, as these are still strings- as we find out by running the mean function

> mean(money3)

[1] NA

Warning message:

In mean.default(money3) : argument is not numeric or logical: returning NA

We then use the as operator to convert one data type (character) into another ( numeric).The as operator is generally used in syntax as.outputdataobject.class. Accordingly we will use as.numeric for the conversion.

 

> money4=as.numeric(money3)

> money4

[1] 10000 20000 32000

> mean(money4)

[1] 20666.67


Please note , we used many intermediate steps to do the multiple steps of data manipulation and used the = sign to assign this to new objects. We can combine two steps into one by putting them within successive brackets. This is illustrated below, when we are trying to convert character data containing (% Percentages) into Numeric data.

> mean(as.numeric(gsub("%","",percentages)))

[1] 35

> percentages

[1] "%20" "%30" "%40" "50"

Note we have found the mean but the original object is not changed.

 

Do gsub only one variable at a time

Slight problem is suppose there is data like 1,504 – it will be converted to NA instead of 1504.The way to solve this is use the nice gsub function ONLY on that variable. Since the comma is also the most commonly used delimiter , you dont want to replace all the commas, just only the one in that variable.

dataset$Variable2=as.numeric(paste(gsub(“,”,”",dataset$Variable)))

 

 

Additional- The function setAs creates methods for the as function to use. This is an advanced usage.

 

 

 

 

Databases in the cloud

One more day of me mucking around MySQL and Amazon (hoping to get to the R)

Think Big Analytics

I came across this lovely analytics company. Think Big Analytics. and I really liked their lovely explanation of the whole she-bang big data etc stuff. Because Hadoop isnt rocket science and can be made simpler to explain and deploy.

Check them out yourself at http://www.thinkbiganalytics.com/resources_reference

Also they have an awesome series of lectures coming up-

check out

http://www.eventbrite.com/org/1740609570

Up and Running with Big Data: 3 Day Deep-Dive

Over three days, explore the Big Data tools, technologies and techniques which allow organisations to gain insight and drive new business opportunities by finding signal in their data. Using Amazon Web Services, you’ll learn how to use the flexible map/reduce programming model to scale your analytics, use Hadoop with Elastic MapReduce, write queries with Hive, develop real world data flows with Pig and understand the operational needs of a production data platform

Day 1:

  • MapReduce concepts
  • Hadoop implementation:  Jobtracker, Namenode, Tasktracker, Datanode, Shuffle & Sort
  • Introduction to Amazon AWS and EMR with console and command-line tools
  • Implementing MapReduce with Java and Streaming

Day 2:

  • Hive Introduction
  • Hive Relational Operators
  • Hive Implementation to MapReduce
  • Hive Partitions
  • Hive UDFs, UDAFs, UDTFs

Day 3:

  • Pig Introduction
  • Pig Relational Operators
  • Pig Implementation to MapReduce
  • Pig UDFs
  • NoSQL discussion

Making Big Data Analytics an API call away

I have compared some of Amazon’s database in the cloud offerings with Google’s and especially the Google BigQuery API in my latest article. With more than 2 years under its belt for development, Google BigQuery API is a good service to test out if you want to reduce dependencies on database vendors.
Read it at
Google BigQuery API Makes Big Data Analytics Easy

http://blog.programmableweb.com/2012/08/07/google-bigquery-api-makes-big-data-analytics-easy/

New Amazon Instance: High I/O for NoSQL

Latest from the Amazon Cloud-

hi1.4xlarge instances come with eight virtual cores that can deliver 35 EC2 Compute Units (ECUs) of CPU performance, 60.5 GiB of RAM, and 2 TiB of storage capacity across two SSD-based storage volumes. Customers using hi1.4xlarge instances for their applications can expect over 120,000 4 KB random write IOPS, and as many as 85,000 random write IOPS (depending on active LBA span). These instances are available on a 10 Gbps network, with the ability to launch instances into cluster placement groups for low-latency, full-bisection bandwidth networking.

High I/O instances are currently available in three Availability Zones in US East (N. Virginia) and two Availability Zones in EU West (Ireland) regions. Other regions will be supported in the coming months. You can launch hi1.4xlarge instances as On Demand instances starting at $3.10/hour, and purchase them as Reserved Instances

http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/instance-types/

High I/O Instances

Instances of this family provide very high instance storage I/O performance and are ideally suited for many high performance database workloads. Example applications include NoSQL databases like Cassandra and MongoDB. High I/O instances are backed by Solid State Drives (SSD), and also provide high levels of CPU, memory and network performance.

High I/O Quadruple Extra Large Instance

60.5 GB of memory
35 EC2 Compute Units (8 virtual cores with 4.4 EC2 Compute Units each)
2 SSD-based volumes each with 1024 GB of instance storage
64-bit platform
I/O Performance: Very High (10 Gigabit Ethernet)
Storage I/O Performance: Very High*
API name: hi1.4xlarge

*Using Linux paravirtual (PV) AMIs, High I/O Quadruple Extra Large instances can deliver more than 120,000 4 KB random read IOPS and between 10,000 and 85,000 4 KB random write IOPS (depending on active logical block addressing span) to applications. For hardware virtual machines (HVM) and Windows AMIs, performance is approximately 90,000 4 KB random read IOPS and between 9,000 and 75,000 4 KB random write IOPS. The maximum sequential throughput on all AMI types (Linux PV, Linux HVM, and Windows) per second is approximately 2 GB read and 1.1 GB write.

Interview James G Kobielus IBM Big Data

Here is an interview with  James G Kobielus, who is the Senior Program Director, Product Marketing, Big Data Analytics Solutions at IBM. Special thanks to Payal Patel Cudia of IBM’s communication team,for helping with the logistics for this.

Ajay -What are the specific parts of the IBM Platform that deal with the three layers of Big Data -variety, velocity and volume

James-Well first of all, let’s talk about the IBM Information Management portfolio. Our big data platform addresses the three layers of big data to varying degrees either together in a product , or two out of the three or even one of the three aspects. We don’t have separate products for the variety, velocity and volume separately.

Let us define these three layers-Volume refers to the hundreds of terabytes and petabytes of stored data inside organizations today. Velocity refers to the whole continuum from batch to real time continuous and streaming data.

Variety refers to multi-structure data from structured to unstructured files, managed and stored in a common platform analyzed through common tooling.

For Volume-IBM has a highly scalable Big Data platform. This includes Netezza and Infosphere groups of products, and Watson-like technologies that can support petabytes volume of data for analytics. But really the support of volume ranges across IBM’s Information Management portfolio both on the database side and the advanced analytics side.

For real time Velocity, we have real time data acquisition. We have a product called IBM Infosphere, part of our Big Data platform, that is specifically built for streaming real time data acquisition and delivery through complex event processing. We have a very rich range of offerings that help clients build a Hadoop environment that can scale.

Our Hadoop platform is the most real time capable of all in the industry. We are differentiated by our sheer breadth, sophistication and functional depth and tooling integrated in our Hadoop platform. We are differentiated by our streaming offering integrated into the Hadoop platform. We also offer a great range of modeling and analysis tools, pretty much more than any other offering in the Big Data space.

Attached- Jim’s slides from Hadoop World

Ajay- Any plans for Mahout for Hadoop

Jim- I cant speak about product plans. We have plans but I cant tell you anything more. We do have a feature in Big Insights called System ML, a library for machine learning.

Ajay- How integral are acquisitions for IBM in the Big Data space (Netezza,Cognos,SPSS etc). Is it true that everything that you have in Big Data is acquired or is the famous IBM R and D contributing here . (see a partial list of IBM acquisitions at at http://www.ibm.com/investor/strategy/acquisitions.wss )

Jim- We have developed a lot on our own. We have the deepest R and D of anybody in the industry in all things Big Data.

For example – Watson has Big Insights Hadoop at its core. Apache Hadoop is the heart and soul of Big Data (see http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/infosphere/hadoop/ ). A great deal that makes Big Insights so differentiated is that not everything that has been built has been built by the Hadoop community.

We have built additions out of the necessity for security, modeling, monitoring, and governance capabilities into BigInsights to make it truly enterprise ready. That is one example of where we have leveraged open source and we have built our own tools and technologies and layered them on top of the open source code.

Yes of course we have done many strategic acquisitions over the last several years related to Big Data Management and we continue to do so. This quarter we have done 3 acquisitions with strong relevance to Big Data. One of them is Vivisimo (http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/37491.wss ).

Vivisimo provides federated Big Data discovery, search and profiling capabilities to help you figure out what data is out there,what is relevance of that data to your data science project- to help you answer the question which data should you bring in your Hadoop Cluster.

 We also did Varicent , which is more performance management and we did TeaLeaf , which is a customer experience solution provider where customer experience management and optimization is one of the hot killer apps for Hadoop in the cloud. We have done great many acquisitions that have a clear relevance to Big Data.

Netezza already had a massively parallel analytics database product with an embedded library of models called Netezza Analytics, and in-database capabilties to massively parallelize Map Reduce and other analytics management functions inside the database. In many ways, Netezza provided capabilities similar to that IBM had provided for many years under the Smart Analytics Platform (http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/infosphere/what-is-advanced-analytics/ ) .

There is a differential between Netezza and ISAS.

ISAS was built predominantly in-house over several years . If you go back a decade ago IBM acquired Ascential Software , a product portfolio that was the heart and soul of IBM InfoSphere Information Manager that is core to our big Data platform. In addition to Netezza, IBM bought SPSS two years back. We already had data mining tools and predictive modeling in the InfoSphere portfolio, but we realized we needed to have the best of breed, SPSS provided that and so IBM acquired them.

 Cognos- We had some BI reporting capabilities in the InfoSphere portfolio that we had built ourselves and also acquired for various degrees from prior acquisitions. But clearly Cognos was one of the best BI vendors , and we were lacking such a rich tool set in our product in visualization and cubing and so for that reason we acquired Cognos.

There is also Unica – which is a marketing campaign optimization which in many ways is a killer app for Hadoop. Projects like that are driving many enterprises.

Ajay- How would you rank order these acquisitions in terms of strategic importance rather than data of acquisition or price paid.

Jim-Think of Big Data as an ecosystem that has components that are fitted to particular functions for data analytics and data management. Is the database the core, or the modeling tool the core, or the governance tools the core, or is the hardware platform the core. Everything is critically important. We would love to hear from you what you think have been most important. Each acquisition has helped play a critical role to build the deepest and broadest solution offering in Big Data. We offer the hardware, software, professional services, the hosting service. I don’t think there is any validity to a rank order system.

Ajay-What are the initiatives regarding open source that Big Data group have done or are planning?

Jim- What we are doing now- We are very much involved with the Apache Hadoop community. We continue to evolve the open source code that everyone leverages.. We have built BigInsights on Apache Hadoop. We have the closest, most up to date in terms of version number to Apache Hadoop ( Hbase,HDFS, Pig etc) of all commercial distributions with our BigInsights 1.4 .

We have an R library integrated with BigInsights . We have a R library integrated with Netezza Analytics. There is support for R Models within the SPSS portfolio. We already have a fair amount of support for R across the portfolio.

Ajay- What are some of the concerns (privacy,security,regulation) that you think can dampen the promise of Big Data.

Jim- There are no showstoppers, there is really a strong momentum. Some of the concerns within the Hadoop space are immaturity of the technology, the immaturity of some of the commercial offerings out there that implement Hadoop, the lack of standardization for formal sense for Hadoop.

There is no Open Standards Body that declares, ratifies the latest version of Mahout, Map Reduce, HDFS etc. There is no industry consensus reference framework for layering these different sub projects. There are no open APIs. There are no certifications or interoperability standards or organizations to certify different vendors interoperability around a common API or framework.

The lack of standardization is troubling in this whole market. That creates risks for users because users are adopting multiple Hadoop products. There are lots of Hadoop deployments in the corporate world built around Apache Hadoop (purely open source). There may be no assurance that these multiple platforms will interoperate seamlessly. That’s a huge issue in terms of just magnifying the risk. And it increases the need for the end user to develop their own custom integrated code if they want to move data between platforms, or move map-reduce jobs between multiple distributions.

Also governance is a consideration. Right now Hadoop is used for high volume ETL on multi structured and unstructured data sources, or Hadoop is used for exploratory sand boxes for data scientists. These are important applications that are a majority of the Hadoop deployments . Some Hadoop deployments are stand alone unstructured data marts for specific applications like sentiment analysis like.

Hadoop is not yet ready for data warehousing. We don’t see a lot of Hadoop being used as an alternative to data warehouses for managing the single version of truth of system or record data. That day will come but there needs to be out there in the marketplace a broader range of data governance mechanisms , master data management, data profiling products that are mature that enterprises can use to make sure their data inside their Hadoop clusters is clean and is the single version of truth. That day has not arrived yet.

One of the great things about IBM’s acquisition of Vivisimo is that a piece of that overall governance picture is discovery and profiling for unstructured data , and that is done very well by Vivisimo for several years.

What we will see is vendors such as IBM will continue to evolve security features inside of our Hadoop platform. We will beef up our data governance capabilities for this new world of Hadoop as the core of Big Data, and we will continue to build up our ability to integrate multiple databases in our Hadoop platform so that customers can use data from a bit of Hadoop,some data from a bit of traditional relational data warehouse, maybe some noSQL technology for different roles within a very complex Big Data environment.

That latter hybrid deployment model is becoming standard across many enterprises for Big Data. A cause for concern is when your Big Data deployment has a bit of Hadoop, bit of noSQL, bit of EDW, bit of in-memory , there are no open standards or frameworks for putting it all together for a unified framework not just for interoperability but also for deployment.

There needs to be a virtualization or abstraction layer for unified access to all these different Big Data platforms by the users/developers writing the queries, by administrators so they can manage data and resources and jobs across all these disparate platforms in a seamless unified way with visual tooling. That grand scenario, the virtualization layer is not there yet in any standard way across the big data market. It will evolve, it may take 5-10 years to evolve but it will evolve.

So, that’s the concern that can dampen some of the enthusiasm for Big Data Analytics.

About-

You can read more about Jim at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/james-kobielus/6/ab2/8b0 or

follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jameskobielus

You can read more about IBM Big Data at http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/

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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