Engineering Data Science at Automattic

Many useful gleanings from my colleague Yanir Seroussi — he has a plan to keep the interest on your A.I. technical debt real low.

Data for Breakfast

Most data scientists have to write code to analyze data or build products. While coding, data scientists act as software engineers. Adopting best practices from software engineering is key to ensuring the correctness, reproducibility, and maintainability of data science projects. This post describes some of our efforts in the area.

Data scientist Venn diagram example One of many data science Venn diagrams. Source: Data Science Stack Exchange

Different data scientists, different backgrounds

Data science is often defined as the intersection of many fields, including software engineering and statistics. However, as demonstrated by the above Venn diagram, viewing it as an intersection tends to be too exclusive – in reality, it’s a union of many fields. Hence, data scientists tend to come from various backgrounds, and it is common to encounter data scientists with no formal training in computer science or software engineering. According to Michael Hochster, data scientists can be classified into two types

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A good year for Robert Langlands

I just saw that Robert Langlands has won this year’s Abel Prize in mathematics. A month back I had noted that two University of Chicago mathematicians –Sasha Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld — had received the Wolf prize for work that builds upon Langlands’ ideas.

What are those ideas? Langlands has spent his life looking for connections between number theory and real analysis. The featured image is a rendering of an automorphic form, one of the kinds of functions that Langlands has been interested in. As far as I could understand, Beilinson and Drinfeld found ways of connecting this work to modern physics. Maybe a deeper understanding is my goal for 2018. This Quartz article is a good quick read as is this short piece on the fundamental lemma.

Or, you can let the distinguished Dr Langlands explain it himself.

Whether or not you have a liking for numbers, seeing an 81 year old still in the thick of things is infectiously inspiring. Perhaps you’ll allow him to re-acquaint you with Pythagorus?

I feel such a blessing to have the optimistic spirit of my 80-something mother still present to bring uplift, laughter, and fresh greens from the garden to us — all served with divinely channeled love.  I think of the many 70+ year olds who passionately hold the world accountable,  try to make a difference with their material success, fathom prime numbers like Langlands, weave saxophone melodies, and make the world a beautiful place with their wisdom and selflessness. Spring persists in the garden of the ageless mind. I’ll leave you with some Sonny Rollins


Mothers of invention, a parting nod from Stephen Hawking

We learned of Stephen Hawking’s passing today. I learned that one of the technologists behind the assistive technology that amplified the continuous flow of so many of his ground breaking insights is Lama Nachman.

Her story and the implications for better assistive technology is fascinating.

We are both mourning the passing of Stephen Hawking and celebrating Women’s History Month in the US (wait, so that mean’s the other 49% get the rest of the year?). It reminds me of the legions of Joan Feynmans (her brother got the spotlight), Vera Sóss (other Erdös-1’s seem to get the spotlight — wait can we get an Anna Erdös number? ), Katherine Johnsons (took a while to get that spotlight), Maryam Mirzakhanis that are working away, far from the spotlight, building and unfolding the universe.


The geometrical beauty of Doha

As we passed through Doha on the way to Gaborone, I was amazed by the architectural beauty of so many Islamic inspired structures. It was truly a feast for the eyes and mind.

Though we did not have time to visit many of the older architectural treasures, I discovered that a lot of the buildings have received prestigious architectural awards over the last decade. The investment of Qatar in its country is amazing, and Al Jazeera is a gift to humanity.

There is even wonder in the Qatar airways “air sickness” bags!



Making the subway more readable

Heading back from New York City last weekend I was amazed to see an updated station stop display (graph) on the E train to JFK. I don’t have a video, but you can see the how it updates the destinations (I didn’t notice eta) below — a list of next stops shifts to the right:

But wait, something is off!

My colleague Boris Gorelik had posted a piece entitled How to make a graph less readable? Rotate the text labels arguing that rotation of the axis labels imposes a processing cost on the reader. Keep the text aligned. Wouldn’t moving the destination labels up and down as Boris suggests save the jostled E train rider precious milliseconds?


The fractal beauty of Maun

We visited Maun with our family in December. Located near the eastern edge of the Okavango delta, it possesses a still, quiet beauty.

We took a short plane ride over the delta. As I look again at the images taken that day, I  am struck by the fractal quality of the images.

How do you assess the “fractalness” of an image? I suppose that it has to do with the degree to which the image can be described by a self-similar patterns, hints of the same regularity as you zoom closer in. It looks like natural landscapes exhibit fractal qualities only over limited scales — perhaps 2 or 3 dimensions at most.

Maybe the echo of patterns at different scales hints at complex interactions of life in the delta.

Does it matter? The beauty is simply indescribable.


The Wolf prize mathematicians outside my nook

Yesterday  I came across a photo of two gentlemen sitting outside of my old grad-school student lounge. They are Sasha Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld, two mathematicians from my alma mater who were awarded this year’s Wolf Prize in Mathematics.

The CS department at the University of Chicago shared space with Mathematics and Statistics in my day, so it was not unusual to encounter mathematicians while having lunch (or a nap) in the lounge. There have been many useful collaborations and intersections between these departments.

I have no idea what Sasha or Vladimir do. I tried to understand. I glanced at their ground breaking work, a book called Chiral algebras. They state in the introduction “Chiral algebras have their origin in mathematical physics;” and “Chiral algebras are “quantum” objects.” Ok.

Drinfeld and Beilinson still run the Geometric Langlands Seminar that of course captures the essence of what they care about most. As best I can figure, Langlands, himself a 1996 Wolf prize recipient, is a mathematician who envisioned building links between algebra and modern physics. Drinfeld and Beilinson have extended that work. Maybe the best explanation of this undertaking is provided by Edward Frenkel.

He seems to be a celebrity in his own right. I enjoyed how he connects Solaris to universals of number theory!

If Frenkel is still too abstract for you, then Mitya Boyarchenko suggests that this poem that I include below might be of use in understanding the Langlands talks


A man called Pakhomych, shaking as he rode on the carriage footboards,

Carried a bunch of forget-me-nots.

He got corn on his heels,

And treated them at home with camphor.

Reader! Having discarded the fable’s forget-me-nots,

Which were put here as a joke,

You can arrive at only a single conclusion:

If you get corns

And you want to rid yourself of the pain,

You, like our friend Pakhomych,

Should treat them with camphor.