Many data scientists (and even statisticians) often suffer under one of the following misapprehensions:
They believe a technique doesn’t work in their current situation (when in fact it does), leading to useless precautions and missed opportunities.
They believe a technique does work in their current situation (when in fact it does not), leading to failed experiments or incorrect results.
I feel this happens less often if you are working with observable and composable tools of the proper scale. Somewhere between monolithic all in one systems, and ad-hoc one-off coding is a cognitive sweet spot where great work can be done.
We are pleased to announce a new free e-book from Manning Publications: Exploring Data Science. Exploring Data Science is a collection of five chapters hand picked by John Mount and Nina Zumel, introducing you to various areas in data science and explaining which methodologies work best for each.
We are pleased to release a new free data science video lecture: Debugging R code using R, RStudio and wrapper functions. In this 8 minute video we demonstrate the incredible power of R using wrapper functions to catch errors for later reproduction and debugging. If you haven’t tried these techniques this will really improve your debugging game.
A great number of readers reacted very positively to Nina Zumel‘s article Using PostgreSQL in R: A quick how-to. Part of the reason is she described an incredibly powerful data science pattern: using a formerly expensive permanent system infrastructure as a simple transient tool.
In her case the tools were the data manipulation grammars SQL (Structured Query Language) and dplyr. It happened to be the case that in both cases the implementation was supplied by a backing database system (PostgreSQL), but the database was not the center of attention for very long.
In this note we will concentrate on SQL (which itself can be used to implement dplyr operators, and is available on even Hadoop scaled systems such as Hive). Our point can be summarized as: SQL isn’t the price of admission to a server, a server is the fee paid to use SQL. We will try to reduce the fee and show how to containerize PostgreSQL on Microsoft Windows (as was already done for us on Apple OSX).
The Smashing Pumpkins “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (start 2 minutes 6s)
“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage!”
The combination of R plus SQL offers an attractive way to work with what we call medium-scale data: data that’s perhaps too large to gracefully work with in its entirety within your favorite desktop analysis tool (whether that be R or Excel), but too small to justify the overhead of big data infrastructure. In some cases you can use a serverless SQL database that gives you the power of SQL for data manipulation, while maintaining a lightweight infrastructure.
We call this work pattern “SQL Screwdriver”: delegating data handling to a lightweight infrastructure with the power of SQL for data manipulation.
We assume for this how-to that you already have a PostgreSQL database up and running. To get PostgreSQL for Windows, OSX, or Unix use the instructions at PostgreSQL downloads. If you happen to be on a Mac, then Postgres.app provides a “serverless” (or application oriented) install option.
For the rest of this post, we give a quick how-to on using the RpostgreSQL package to interact with Postgres databases in R.
One of the big points of Practical Data Science with R is to supply a large number of fully worked examples. Our intent has always been for readers to read the book, and if they wanted to follow up on a data set or technique to find the matching worked examples in the project directory of our book support materials git repository.
Some readers want to work much closer to the sequence in the book. To make working along with book easier we extracted all book examples and shared them with our readers (in a Github directory, and a downloadable zip file, press “Raw” to download). The direct extraction from the book guarantees the files are in sync with our revised book. However there are trade-offs, sometimes (for legibility) the book mixed input and output without using R’s comment conventions. So you can’t always just paste everything. Also for a snippet to run you may need some libraries, data and results of previous snippets to be present in your R environment.
To help these readers we have added a new section to the book support materials: knitr markdown sheets that work all the book extracts from each chapter. Each chapter and appendix now has a matching markdown file that sets up the correct context to run each and every snippet extracted from the book. In principle you can now clone the entire zmPDSwR repository to your local machine and run all the from the CodeExamples directory by using the RStudio project in RunExamples. Correct execution also depens on having the right packages installed so we have also added a worksheet showing everything we expect to see installed in one place: InstallAll.Rmd (note some of the packages require external dependencies to work such as a C compiler, curl libraries, and a Java framework to run).
“Data Science” is obviously a trendy term making it way through the hype cycle. Either nobody is good enough to be a data scientist (unicorns) or everybody is too good to be a data scientist (or the truth is somewhere in the middle).
And there is a quarter that grumbles that we are merely talking about statistics under a new name (see here and here).
It has always been the case that advances in data engineering (such as punch cards, or data centers) make analysis practical at new scales (though I still suspect Map/Reduce was a plot designed to trick engineers into being excited about ETL and report generation).
In this spirit next week we will write about the sequential analysis solution for A/B-testing, invented in the 1940s by one of the greats of statistics and operations research: Abraham Wald (whom we have written about before).