Tuesday, May 29, 2018

29th May 1968 #ilovefootball

Exactly 50 years ago I watched my first ever football game on TV. It was the European Cup final between Manchester United and Benfica, United won 4-1 after extra time. At the time I was 8, nearly 9 years old.

I watched this game in my grandmother's house in Mount Argus - I must have been staying for a few days. As far as I recall, there was no mention of the game beforehand - I had no knowledge of football as I had never watched it before. My glamorous aunt Eileen came in to the house and said she wanted to watch Georgie Best (I think she fancied him!) - so I joined her in watching the game on a small black and white TV. My grandmother was concerned about me watching TV for so long, and the effect it might have on my eyes. So Eileen gave me sun glasses, and I watched my first match with them on. Weird. But wonderful. Many years later I saw a photo from the game and realised that Man Utd were wearing blur jerseys. I thought they wore grey!

I remember Bobby Charlton's two goals, but George Best was the star of the show for Eileen and me. He scored in extra time and we jumped around my granny's kitchen. I had never heard of Man Utd, Charlton, or Best before - but I was an instant fan of football. And wanted more. Today 50 years later - I still want more. So every time I see an eight year old boy at a game - I see myself 50 year ago in the same wonder of putting the ball into the net.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What do you do when your Data Analysis project is not working? #analytics

We have all suffered project "block" at some stage - we reach a point where we don't know what to do next, or something we are trying to do just doesn't work the way we would like it to. It is common  in Analytics for students to understand how a basic data set used in class works, perhaps also understand and get the slightly more complicated example used in a tutorial - but when they try to use a new data set it doesn't fit neatly into what was covered in class. I carefully select data sets (many are recommended by text books) to use in class. They work for me and are often perfect for explaining concepts such as regression and principal component analysis. But what happens when students try to use their own or third party data in a project? Believe it or not, I do get students who often say to me "I can't find a data set", but what I really feel they are saying is "I can't find a data set that does what I want it to do".

Image source: veragist.com.

Jonathan Nolis, writing in Medium, poses "So your data science project isn’t working". He wonders what to do when you try to "predict something no one has predicted before", and "optimize something no one has optimized before", or "understand data that no one has looked at before". 

Sometimes the data you want just doesn't exist in the format you need, or is inaccessible behind a firewall or paywall that students can't afford to pay for. As Nolis says "If the data isn’t there then you can’t science it". Sometimes even after a suitable data set is found, the analysis leads to very little insight or a model just doesn't work. Students often forget that a "no" or a negative answer can also be useful. Either a data set will tell you something useful or it won't - go figure.

Perhaps you have asked the wrong or inappropriate question - mistakes happen. Nolis advises "Flops will happen to you and it’s okay! You can’t avoid them, so accept them and let them happy early and often". Most of the time we cannot control what data is stored or made available by an organization, nor can we make it give us the insight we want. There is no guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the Big Data rainbow. If there is value to be found, it will take effort to find it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

An Apple for Teacher

"An apple for the teacher is always gonna do the trick,
If you didn't study your arithmetic."

Bing Crosby & Connie Boswell, lyrics to 'An Apple For The Teacher' (1939).

I'm feeling good at the end of semester - just got the equivalent of an apple for teacher! Thank you - you know who you are!