Interview Ajay Ohri Decisionstats.com with DMR

From-

http://www.dataminingblog.com/data-mining-research-interview-ajay-ohri/

Here is the winner of the Data Mining Research People Award 2010: Ajay Ohri! Thanks to Ajay for giving some time to answer Data Mining Research questions. And all the best to his blog, Decision Stat!

Data Mining Research (DMR): Could you please introduce yourself to the readers of Data Mining Research?

Ajay Ohri (AO): I am a business consultant and writer based out of Delhi- India. I have been working in and around the field of business analytics since 2004, and have worked with some very good and big companies primarily in financial analytics and outsourced analytics. Since 2007, I have been writing my blog at http://decisionstats.com which now has almost 10,000 views monthly.

All in all, I wrote about data, and my hobby is also writing (poetry). Both my hobby and my profession stem from my education ( a masters in business, and a bachelors in mechanical engineering).

My research interests in data mining are interfaces (simpler interfaces to enable better data mining), education (making data mining less complex and accessible to more people and students), and time series and regression (specifically ARIMAX)
In business my research interests software marketing strategies (open source, Software as a service, advertising supported versus traditional licensing) and creation of technology and entrepreneurial hubs (like Palo Alto and Research Triangle, or Bangalore India).

DMR: I know you have worked with both SAS and R. Could you give your opinion about these two data mining tools?

AO: As per my understanding, SAS stands for SAS language, SAS Institute and SAS software platform. The terms are interchangeably used by people in industry and academia- but there have been some branding issues on this.
I have not worked much with SAS Enterprise Miner , probably because I could not afford it as business consultant, and organizations I worked with did not have a budget for Enterprise Miner.
I have worked alone and in teams with Base SAS, SAS Stat, SAS Access, and SAS ETS- and JMP. Also I worked with SAS BI but as a user to extract information.
You could say my use of SAS platform was mostly in predictive analytics and reporting, but I have a couple of projects under my belt for knowledge discovery and data mining, and pattern analysis. Again some of my SAS experience is a bit dated for almost 1 year ago.

I really like specific parts of SAS platform – as in the interface design of JMP (which is better than Enterprise Guide or Base SAS ) -and Proc Sort in Base SAS- I guess sequential processing of data makes SAS way faster- though with computing evolving from Desktops/Servers to even cheaper time shared cloud computers- I am not sure how long Base SAS and SAS Stat can hold this unique selling proposition.

I dislike the clutter in SAS Stat output, it confuses me with too much information, and I dislike shoddy graphics in the rendering output of graphical engine of SAS. Its shoddy coding work in SAS/Graph and if JMP can give better graphics why is legacy source code preventing SAS platform from doing a better job of it.

I sometimes think the best part of SAS is actually code written by Goodnight and Sall in 1970’s , the latest procs don’t impress me much.

SAS as a company is something I admire especially for its way of treating employees globally- but it is strange to see the rest of tech industry not following it. Also I don’t like over aggression and the SAS versus Rest of the Analytics /Data Mining World mentality that I sometimes pick up when I deal with industry thought leaders.

I think making SAS Enterprise Miner, JMP, and Base SAS in a completely new web interface priced at per hour rates is my wishlist but I guess I am a bit sentimental here- most data miners I know from early 2000’s did start with SAS as their first bread earning software. Also I think SAS needs to be better priced in Business Intelligence- it seems quite cheap in BI compared to Cognos/IBM but expensive in analytical licensing.

If you are a new stats or business student, chances are – you may know much more R than SAS today. The shift in education at least has been very rapid, and I guess R is also more of a platform than a analytics or data mining software.

I like a lot of things in R- from graphics, to better data mining packages, modular design of software, but above all I like the can do kick ass spirit of R community. Lots of young people collaborating with lots of young to old professors, and the energy is infectious. Everybody is a CEO in R ’s world. Latest data mining algols will probably start in R, published in journals.

Which is better for data mining SAS or R? It depends on your data and your deadline. The golden rule of management and business is -it depends.

Also I have worked with a lot of KXEN, SQL, SPSS.

DMR: Can you tell us more about Decision Stats? You have a traffic of 120′000 for 2010. How did you reach such a success?

AO: I don’t think 120,000 is a success. Its not a failure. It just happened- the more I wrote, the more people read.In 2007-2008 I used to obsess over traffic. I tried SEO, comments, back linking, and I did some black hat experimental stuff. Some of it worked- some didn’t.

In the end, I started asking questions and interviewing people. To my surprise, senior management is almost always more candid , frank and honest about their views while middle managers, public relations, marketing folks can be defensive.

Social Media helped a bit- Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook really helped my network of friends who I suppose acted as informal ambassadors to spread the word.
Again I was constrained by necessity than choices- my middle class finances ( I also had a baby son in 2007-my current laptop still has some broken keys :) – by my inability to afford traveling to conferences, and my location Delhi isn’t really a tech hub.

The more questions I asked around the internet, the more people responded, and I wrote it all down.

I guess I just was lucky to meet a lot of nice people on the internet who took time to mentor and educate me.

I tried building other websites but didn’t succeed so i guess I really don’t know. I am not a smart coder, not very clever at writing but I do try to be honest.

Basic economics says pricing is proportional to demand and inversely proportional to supply. Honest and candid opinions have infinite demand and an uncertain supply.

DMR: There is a rumor about a R book you plan to publish in 2011 :-) Can you confirm the rumor and tell us more?

AO: I just signed a contract with Springer for ” R for Business Analytics”. R is a great software, and lots of books for statistically trained people, but I felt like writing a book for the MBAs and existing analytics users- on how to easily transition to R for Analytics.

Like any language there are tricks and tweaks in R, and with a focus on code editors, IDE, GUI, web interfaces, R’s famous learning curve can be bent a bit.

Making analytics beautiful, and simpler to use is always a passion for me. With 3000 packages, R can be used for a lot more things and a lot more simply than is commonly understood.
The target audience however is business analysts- or people working in corporate environments.

Brief Bio-
Ajay Ohri has been working in the field of analytics since 2004 , when it was a still nascent emerging Industries in India. He has worked with the top two Indian outsourcers listed on NYSE,and with Citigroup on cross sell analytics where he helped sell an extra 50000 credit cards by cross sell analytics .He was one of the very first independent data mining consultants in India working on analytics products and domestic Indian market analytics .He regularly writes on analytics topics on his web site www.decisionstats.com and is currently working on open source analytical tools like R besides analytical software like SPSS and SAS.

Interview Jamie Nunnelly NISS

An interview with Jamie Nunnelly, Communications Director of National Institute of Statistical Sciences

Ajay– What does NISS do? And What does SAMSI do?

Jamie– The National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) was established in 1990 by the national statistics societies and the Research Triangle universities and organizations, with the mission to identify, catalyze and foster high-impact, cross-disciplinary and cross-sector research involving the statistical sciences.

NISS is dedicated to strengthening and serving the national statistics community, most notably by catalyzing community members’ participation in applied research driven by challenges facing government and industry. NISS also provides career development opportunities for statisticians and scientists, especially those in the formative stages of their careers.

The Institute identifies emerging issues to which members of the statistics community can make key contributions, and then catalyzes the right combinations of researchers from multiple disciplines and sectors to tackle each problem. More than 300 researchers from over 100 institutions have worked on our projects.

The Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) is a partnership of Duke University,  North Carolina State University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and NISS in collaboration with the William Kenan Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science and is part of the Mathematical Sciences Institutes of the NSF.

SAMSI focuses on 1-2 programs of research interest in the statistical and/or applied mathematical area and visitors from around the world are involved with the programs and come from a variety of disciplines in addition to mathematics and statistics.

Many come to SAMSI to attend workshops, and also participate in working groups throughout the academic year. Many of the working groups communicate via WebEx so people can be involved with the research remotely. SAMSI also has a robust education and outreach program to help undergraduate and graduate students learn about cutting edge research in applied mathematics and statistics.

Ajay– What successes have you had in 2010- and what do you need to succeed in 2011. Whats planned for 2011 anyway

Jamie– NISS has had a very successful collaboration with the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) over the past two years that was just renewed for the next two years. NISS & NASS had three teams consisting of a faculty researcher in statistics, a NASS researcher, a NISS mentor, a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate student working on statistical modeling and other areas of research for NASS.

NISS is also working on a syndromic surveillance project with Clemson University, Duke University, The University of Georgia, The University of South Carolina. The group is currently working with some hospitals to test out a model they have been developing to help predict disease outbreak.

SAMSI had a very successful year with two programs ending this past summer, which were the Stochastic Dynamics program and the Space-time Analysis for Environmental Mapping, Epidemiology and Climate Change. Several papers were written and published and many presentations have been made at various conferences around the world regarding the work that was conducted as SAMSI last year.

Next year’s program is so big that the institute has decided to devote all it’s time and energy around it, which is uncertainty quantification. The opening workshop, in addition to the main methodological theme, will be broken down into three areas of interest under this broad umbrella of research: climate change, engineering and renewable energy, and geosciences.

Ajay– Describe your career in science and communication.

Jamie– I have been in communications since 1985, working for large Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors and Tropicana Products. I moved to the Research Triangle region of North Carolina after graduate school and got into economic development and science communications first working for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership in 1994.

From 1996-2005 I was the communications director for the Research Triangle Park, working for the Research Triangle Foundation of NC. I published a quarterly magazine called The Park Guide for awhile, then came to work for NISS and SAMSI in 2008.

I really enjoy working with the mathematicians and statisticians. I always joke that I am the least educated person working here and that is not far from the truth! I am honored to help get the message out about all of the important research that is conducted here each day that is helping to improve the lives of so many people out there.

Ajay– Research Triangle or Silicon Valley– Which is better for tech people and why? Your opinion

Jamie– Both the Silicon Valley and Research Triangle are great regions for tech people to locate, but of course, I have to be biased and choose Research Triangle!

Really any place in the world that you find many universities working together with businesses and government, you have an area that will grow and thrive, because the collaborations help all of us generate new ideas, many of which blossom into new businesses, or new endeavors of research.

The quality of life in places such as the Research Triangle is great because you have people from around the world moving to a place, each bringing his/her culture, food, and uniqueness to this place, and enriching everyone else as a result.

Two advantages the Research Triangle has over Silicon Valley are that the Research Triangle has a bigger diversity of industries, so when the telecommunications industry busted back in 2001-02, the region took a hit, but the biotechnology industry was still growing, so unemployment rose, but not to the extent that other areas might have experienced.

The latest recession has hit us all very hard, so even this strategy has not made us immune to having high unemployment, but the Research Triangle region has been pegged by experts to be one of the first regions to emerge out of the Great Recession.

The other advantage I think we have is that our cost of living is still much more reasonable than Silicon Valley. It’s still possible to get a nice sized home, some land and not break the bank!

Ajay– How do you manage an active online social media presence, your job and your family. How important is balance in professional life and when young professional should realize this?

Jamie– Balance is everything, isn’t it? When I leave the office, I turn off my iPhone and disconnect from Twitter/Facebook etc.

I know that is not recommended by some folks, but I am a one person communications department and I love my family and friends and feel its important to devote time to them as well as to my career.

I think it is very important for young people to establish this early in their careers because if they don’t they will fall victim to working way too many hours and really, who loves you at the end of the day?

Your company may appreciate all you do for them, but if you leave, or you get sick and cannot work for them, you will be replaced

. Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrystler, said, “No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?” I think that is what is really most important in life.

About-

Jamie Nunnelly has been in communications for 25 years. She is currently on the board of directors for Chatham County Economic Development Corporation and Leadership Triangle & is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal and public communications at Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in mass communications at the University of South Florida.

You can contact Jamie at http://niss.org/content/jamie-nunnelly or on twitter at

SAS announcement in education initiatives

From the Research Triangle, some pleasant and positive news- http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2010/10/04/daily27.html

“As a high tech company, SAS depends on a strong educational system for its long-term success,” said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. “Beyond that, STEM education – developing skills for a knowledge economy – is critical to American competitiveness. Without emphasis on STEM, we sacrifice innovation and export our knowledge jobs to other countries.”

Goodnight and SAS have been active in education for years. The SAS co-founder and his wife, Ann Goodnight, launched college prep school Cary Academy in 1996, and the SAS inSchool program has developed educational software for schools since the mid-1990s. In 2008, Jim Goodnight made SAS Curriculum Pathways available free to all U.S. educators. The web-based service provides content in English, mathematics, social studies, science and Spanish.

SAS is the only Triangle-based company among the Change the Equation corporate partners, but the group includes several other companies with a significant Raleigh-Durham presence: chief among them IBM (NYSE: IBM), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO).

Read the full article at http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2010/10/04/daily27.html

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Read more: SAS joins IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco Systems in Obama education effort – Triangle Business Journal