Interview Rob J Hyndman Forecasting Expert #rstats

Here is an interview with Prof Rob J Hyndman who has created many time series forecasting methods and authored books as well as R packages on the same.

Ajay -Describe your journey from being a student of science to a Professor. What were some key turning points along that journey?
Rob- I started a science honours degree at the University of Melbourne in 1985. By the end of 1985 I found myself simultaneously working as a statistical consultant (having completed all of one year of statistics courses!). For the next three years I studied mathematics, statistics and computer science at university, and tried to learn whatever I needed to in order to help my growing group of clients. Often we would cover things in classes that I’d already taught myself through my consulting work. That really set the trend for the rest of my career. I’ve always been an academic on the one hand, and a statistical consultant on the other. The consulting work has led me to learn a lot of things that I would not otherwise have come across, and has also encouraged me to focus on research problems that are of direct relevance to the clients I work with.
I never set out to be an academic. In fact, I thought that I would get a job in the business world as soon as I finished my degree. But once I completed the degree, I was offered a position as a statistical consultant within the University of Melbourne, helping researchers in various disciplines and doing some commercial work. After a year, I was getting bored doing only consulting, and I thought it would be interesting to do a PhD. I was lucky enough to be offered a generous scholarship which meant I was paid more to study than to continue working.
Again, I thought that I would probably go and get a job in the business world after I finished my PhD. But I finished it early and my scholarship was going to be cut off once I submitted my thesis. So instead, I offered to teach classes for free at the university and delayed submitting my thesis until the scholarship period ran out. That turned out to be a smart move because the university saw that I was a good teacher, and offered me a lecturing position starting immediately I submitted my thesis. So I sort of fell into an academic career.
I’ve kept up the consulting work part-time because it is interesting, and it gives me a little extra money. But I’ve also stayed an academic because I love the freedom to be able to work on anything that takes my fancy.
Ajay- Describe your upcoming book on Forecasting.
Rob- My first textbook on forecasting (with Makridakis and Wheelwright) was written a few years after I finished my PhD. It has been very popular, but it costs a lot of money (about $140 on Amazon). I estimate that I get about $1 for every book sold. The rest goes to the publisher (Wiley) and all they do is print, market and distribute it. I even typeset the whole thing myself and they print directly from the files I provided. It is now about 15 years since the book was written and it badly needs updating. I had a choice of writing a new edition with Wiley or doing something completely new. I decided to do a new one, largely because I didn’t want a publisher to make a lot of money out of students using my hard work.
It seems to me that students try to avoid buying textbooks and will search around looking for suitable online material instead. Often the online material is of very low quality and contains many errors.
As I wasn’t making much money on my textbook, and the facilities now exist to make online publishing very easy, I decided to try a publishing experiment. So my new textbook will be online and completely free. So far it is about 2/3 completed and is available at I am hoping that my co-author (George Athanasopoulos) and I will finish it off before the end of 2012.
The book is intended to provide a comprehensive introduction to forecasting methods. We don’t attempt to discuss the theory much, but provide enough information for people to use the methods in practice. It is tied to the forecast package in R, and we provide code to show how to use the various forecasting methods.
The idea of online textbooks makes a lot of sense. They are continuously updated so if we find a mistake we fix it immediately. Also, we can add new sections, or update parts of the book, as required rather than waiting for a new edition to come out. We can also add richer content including video, dynamic graphics, etc.
For readers that want a print edition, we will be aiming to produce a print version of the book every year (available via Amazon).
I like the idea so much I’m trying to set up a new publishing platform ( to enable other authors to do the same sort of thing. It is taking longer than I would like to make that happen, but probably next year we should have something ready for other authors to use.
Ajay- How can we make textbooks cheaper for students as well as compensate authors fairly
Rob- Well free is definitely cheaper, and there are a few businesses trying to make free online textbooks a reality. Apart from my own efforts, is producing a lot of free textbooks. And is another great resource.
With, we will compensate authors in two ways. First, the print versions of a book will be sold (although at a vastly cheaper rate than other commercial publishers). The royalties on print sales will be split 50/50 with the authors. Second, we plan to have some features of each book available for subscription only (e.g., solutions to exercises, some multimedia content, etc.). Again, the subscription fees will be split 50/50 with the authors.
Ajay- Suppose a person who used to use forecasting software from another company decides to switch to R. How easy and lucid do you think the current documentation on R website for business analytics practitioners such as these – in the corporate world.
Rob- The documentation on the R website is not very good for newcomers, but there are a lot of other R resources now available. One of the best introductions is Matloff’s “The Art of R Programming”. Provided someone has done some programming before (e.g., VBA, python or java), learning R is a breeze. The people who have trouble are those who have only ever used menu interfaces such as Excel. Then they are not only learning R, but learning to think about computing in a different way from what they are used to, and that can be tricky. However, it is well worth it. Once you know how to code, you can do so much more.  I wish some basic programming was part of every business and statistics degree.
If you are working in a particular area, then it is often best to find a book that uses R in that discipline. For example, if you want to do forecasting, you can use my book ( Or if you are using R for data visualization, get hold of Hadley Wickham’s ggplot2 book.
Ajay- In a long and storied career- What is the best forecast you ever made ? and the worst?
 Rob- Actually, my best work is not so much in making forecasts as in developing new forecasting methodology. I’m very proud of my forecasting models for electricity demand which are now used for all long-term planning of electricity capacity in Australia (see  for the details). Also, my methods for population forecasting ( ) are pretty good (in my opinion!). These methods are now used by some national governments (but not Australia!) for their official population forecasts.
Of course, I’ve made some bad forecasts, but usually when I’ve tried to do more than is reasonable given the available data. One of my earliest consulting jobs involved forecasting the sales for a large car manufacturer. They wanted forecasts for the next fifteen years using less than ten years of historical data. I should have refused as it is unreasonable to forecast that far ahead using so little data. But I was young and naive and wanted the work. So I did the forecasts, and they were clearly outside the company’s (reasonable) expectations, and they then refused to pay me. Lesson learned. It’s better to refuse work than do it poorly.

Probably the biggest impact I’ve had is in helping the Australian government forecast the national health budget. In 2001 and 2002, they had underestimated health expenditure by nearly $1 billion in each year which is a lot of money to have to find, even for a national government. I was invited to assist them in developing a new forecasting method, which I did. The new method has forecast errors of the order of plus or minus $50 million which is much more manageable. The method I developed for them was the basis of the ETS models discussed in my 2008 book on exponential smoothing (

. And now anyone can use the method with the ets() function in the forecast package for R.
Rob J Hyndman is Pro­fessor of Stat­ist­ics in the Depart­ment of Eco­no­met­rics and Busi­ness Stat­ist­ics at Mon­ash Uni­ver­sity and Dir­ector of the Mon­ash Uni­ver­sity Busi­ness & Eco­nomic Fore­cast­ing Unit. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Inter­na­tional Journal of Fore­cast­ing and a Dir­ector of the Inter­na­tional Insti­tute of Fore­casters. Rob is the author of over 100 research papers in stat­ist­ical sci­ence. In 2007, he received the Moran medal from the Aus­tralian Academy of Sci­ence for his con­tri­bu­tions to stat­ist­ical research, espe­cially in the area of stat­ist­ical fore­cast­ing. For 25 years, Rob has main­tained an act­ive con­sult­ing prac­tice, assist­ing hun­dreds of com­pan­ies and organ­iz­a­tions. His recent con­sult­ing work has involved fore­cast­ing elec­tri­city demand, tour­ism demand, the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment health budget and case volume at a US call centre.

New Free Online Book by Rob Hyndman on Forecasting using #Rstats

From the creator of some of the most widely used packages for time series in the R programming language comes a brand new book, and its online!

This time the book is free, will be updated and 7 chapters are ready (to read!)

. If you do forecasting professionally, now is the time to suggest your own use cases to be featured as the book gets ready by end- 2012. The book is intended as a replace­ment for Makri­dakis, Wheel­wright and Hyn­d­man (Wiley 1998).

The book is writ­ten for three audi­ences:

(1) people find­ing them­selves doing fore­cast­ing in busi­ness when they may not have had any for­mal train­ing in the area;

(2) undergraduate stu­dents study­ing busi­ness;

(3) MBA stu­dents doing a fore­cast­ing elec­tive.

The book is dif­fer­ent from other fore­cast­ing text­books in sev­eral ways.

  • It is free and online, mak­ing it acces­si­ble to a wide audience.
  • It is con­tin­u­ously updated. You don’t have to wait until the next edi­tion for errors to be removed or new meth­ods to be dis­cussed. We will update the book frequently.
  • There are dozens of real data exam­ples taken from our own con­sult­ing prac­tice. We have worked with hun­dreds of busi­nesses and orga­ni­za­tions help­ing them with fore­cast­ing issues, and this expe­ri­ence has con­tributed directly to many of the exam­ples given here, as well as guid­ing our gen­eral phi­los­o­phy of forecasting.
  • We empha­sise graph­i­cal meth­ods more than most fore­cast­ers. We use graphs to explore the data, analyse the valid­ity of the mod­els fit­ted and present the fore­cast­ing results.

A print ver­sion and a down­load­able e-version of the book will be avail­able to pur­chase on Ama­zon, but not until a few more chap­ters are written.


(Ajay-Support the open textbook movement!)

If you’ve found this book helpful, please consider helping to fund free, open and online textbooks. (Donations via PayPal.)

Look for yourself at


Little Book of R For Time Series #rstats

I loved this book. Only 75 pages and very lucidly written and available on Github for free. Nice job by Avril Coghlan

.Of course My usual suspects for Time Series Readings are –

1) The seminal pdf (2008!!) by  a certain Prof Hyndman


2) JSS Paper -Automatic Time Series Forecasting: The forecast
Package for R

3) The CRAN View

This is cluttered and getting more and more cluttered. Some help on helping recent converts to R, especially in the field of corporate forecasting or time series for business analytics would really help.

Avril does an awesome job with this curiously named ( 😉 ) booklet  at


I have been busy-

1) Finally my divorce came through. My advice – dont do it without a pre-nup ! Alimony means all the money.

2) Spending time on Quora after getting bored from LinkedIn, Twitter,Facebook,Google Plus,Tumblr, WordPress

See this answer to-

 What are common misconceptions about startups?

1) we will change the world
2) if we get 1% of a billion people market, we will be rich
3) if we have got funding, most of the job is done
4) lets pay ourselves high salaries since we got funded
5) our idea is awesome and cant be copied, improvised, stolen, replicated
6) startups are painless
7) it is a better life than a corporate career
8) long term vision is important than short term cash burn
9) we will never sell out or exit. never
10) its a great idea to make startups with friend

Say hello to me –

3) Writing freelance articles on APIs for Programmable Web

Why write pro? See point 1)

Recent Articles-

4) Writing poetry on It now gets 23000 views a month. I wish I could say my poems were great, but the readers are kind (364 subscribers!) and also Google Image Search is very very kind.

5) Kicking tires with next book ” R for Cloud Computing” and be tuned for another writing announcement

6) Waiting for Paul Kent, VP, SAS Big Data to reply to my emails for interview after HE promised me!! You dont get to 105 interviews without being a bit stubborn!

7) Sighing on politics engulfing my American friends especially with regards to Chic-fil-A and Romney’s gaffes. Now thats what I call a first world problem! Protesting by eating or boycotting chicken sandwiches! In India we had the world’s biggest blackout two days in a row- and no one is attending the Hunger Fast against corruption protests!

8) Watching Olympics! Our glorious nation of 1.2 billion very smart people has managed to win 1 Bronze till today!! Michael Phelps has won more medals and more gold than the whole of  India has since the Olympics Games began!!

9) Consulting to pay the bills. includes writing R code, making presentations. Why consult when I have writing to do? See point 1)

10) Reading New York Times to get insights on Big Data and Analytics. Trust them- they know what they are doing!

RevoDeployR and commercial BI using R and R based cloud computing using Open CPU

Revolution Analytics has of course had RevoDeployR, and in a  webinar strive to bring it back to center spotlight.

BI is a good lucrative market, and visualization is a strength in R, so it is matter of time before we have more R based BI solutions. I really liked the two slides below for explaining RevoDeployR better to newbies like me (and many others!)

Integrating R into 3rd party and Web applications using RevoDeployR

Please click here to download the PDF.

Here are some additional links that may be of interest to you:


( I still think someone should make a commercial version of Jeroen Oom’s web interfaces and Jeff Horner’s web infrastructure (see below) for making customized Business Intelligence (BI) /Data Visualization solutions , UCLA and Vanderbilt are not exactly Stanford when it comes to deploying great academic solutions in the startup-tech world). I kind of think Google or someone at Revolution  should atleast dekko OpenCPU as a credible cloud solution in R.

I still cant figure out whether Revolution Analytics has a cloud computing strategy and Google seems to be working mysteriously as usual in broadening access to the Google Compute Cloud to the rest of R Community.

Open CPU  provides a free and open platform for statistical computing in the cloud. It is meant as an open, social analysis environment where people can share and run R functions and objects. For more details, visit the websit:

and esp see

Jeff Horner’s

Jerooen Oom’s

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.
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
He can be contacted via social media at Google Plus at or twitter at

Big Noise on Big Data

Increasingly Big Data is used in writing where Business Analytics was used, and data mining is thrown in as a word just to keep liberal art majors happy that they are reading a scientific article.

Some Big Words I have noticed in my Short life-

Big Data? High Performance Analytics? High Performance Computing ? Cloud Computing? Time Sharing? Data Mining? SEMMA? CRISP-DM? KDD? Business Intelligence? Business Analytics and Optimization? (pick a card and any card)

(or Just Moore’s Law catching up with the analytics)

Some examples-

Replace Big Data with Analytics in these articles and let me know if you can make out much of a difference

  • Big Data on Campus

  • From the man who famously said BI is dead, is now burying Business Analytics within the new buzzword , SAS CMO Jim Davis

How to transform big data from an obstacle into an asset

(Related- Is big data over hyped? by Jim Davis )

I am sure by 2015, Jim Davis, NYT and the merry men of analytics will find some other buzzwords to rally the troops. In the meantime, let me throw out the flag and call it Big  .