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Dec 23 16

eBPF is Wicked Cool

by C. Ross Jam

Quentin Monnet is making it easy to dive into eBPF.

So instead, here is what we will do. After all, I spent some time reading and learning about BPF, and while doing so, I gathered a fair amount of material about BPF: introductions, documentation, but also tutorials or examples. There is a lot to read, but in order to read it, one has to find it first. Therefore, as an attempt to help people who wish to learn and use BPF, the present article introduces a list of resources. These are various kinds of readings, that hopefully will help you dive into the mechanics of this kernel bytecode.

A little virtual machine running inside the kernel is such a wicked concept.

Nov 26 16

4K Monitor Buyer’s Guide

by C. Ross Jam

I’m in the market for a new desktop monitor. 4K resolution seems to have hit a reasonable price and quality point. The Wirecutter has a top notch list of suggestions.

Nov 25 16

Au Revoir AMPLab

by C. Ross Jam

End of Project has arrived for UC Berkeley’s AMPLab. Spark and the other varied projects of the group hit my radar back in July of 2012. The project was run according to Prof. Dave Patterson’s guidance for collaborative research centers. I think it’s fair to say AMPLab was a success.

Looking forward to what comes next and Go Bears!

Nov 24 16


by C. Ross Jam

Duly noting a number of things I’m thankful for this year:

  • My enduring family, surviving and thriving as African-Americans in the US. Special remembrance for my Aunt Gracie who passed away this summer after a long battle with cancer. She went to work for NASA straight out of high school and served the country for 38 (!!) years. Her eulogy highlighted some of the BS she overcame but I never knew about. I’ll always remember her as a faith filled, uplifting spirit.
  • Widely scattered friends, who nevertheless helped me get through a very challenging year.
  • The continuing gift of my education, focused and funded by my parents, that keeps opening up opportunities of all sorts, especially chances to help others.
  • Interesting, challenging, and impactful employment.
  • Eight years of President Obama, an intelligent, even keeled, leader who did the office proud.
  • That I actually have a lot to be thankful for. There are many out there struggling to find even a tiny morsel of hope.
Jun 6 16

kube-ui Trick

by C. Ross Jam

Eventually I’ll get into k8s enough that this trick will be useful to know:

In my opinion, the standard kube-ui is pretty spartan. It doesn’t really give me a good overview of what is going on in my cluster.

Weave Scope is an open source tool that helps you monitor and visualize your cluster. It is currently very beta, but I think it has a lot of potential!

Running it is also super easy.

Plus I really like what the Weave folks have been up to.

Thanks Sandeep!

Jun 4 16

Link Parkin’: The Flattened Big Data Reading List

by C. Ross Jam

I’ve already read a bunch of links on this reading list, but there’s some new nuggets. I also like Lars Albertsson’s take on the process of building data intensive systems:

This is a curated recommended read and watch list for scalable data processing. It is primarily aimed towards software architects and developers, but there is material also for people in leadership position as well as data scientists, in particular in the first section. The content has been chosen with a bias towards material that conveys a good understanding of the field as a whole and is relevant for building practical applications.

Jun 4 16

Processing A Billion Taxi Rides

by C. Ross Jam

Mark Litwintschik has been doing yeoman’s work with the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission data. Over a series of blog posts he’s taken this one dataset and processed it with a number of data management and “big data” technologies, including purchasing an Amazon Redshift cluster:

Over the past few months I’ve been benchmarking a dataset of 1.1 billion taxi journeys made in New York City over a six year period on a number of data stores and cloud services. Among these has been AWS Redshift. Up until now I’ve been using their free-tier and single-compute node clusters. While these make Data Warehousing very inexpensive they aren’t going to be representative of the incredible query speeds which can be achieved with Redshift.

In this post I’ll be looking at how fast a 6-node ds2.8xlarge Redshift Cluster can query over a billion records from the dataset I’ve put together.

Litwintschik’s admirable in how well he documents the steps he takes to actually running queries against such a large dataset. Just getting such data into the right place to work with is challenging. There are lots of places you can trip up doing this stuff and his work can save others a lot of trouble.

Something along these lines is what I’m aspiring to do with Fun With Discogs Data.

Jun 3 16


by C. Ross Jam

Heck yeah, you know I ordered up some of Mark Farina’s forthcoming Mushroom Jazz 8. Now it’s just a matter of what and when I add some other items.

May 31 16

Diggin’ On: Data Machina

by C. Ross Jam

Really been enjoying the weekly Data Machina e-mail newsletter put out by @ds_ldn a.k.a. Data Science London. It’s actually fairly dense, but usefully eclectic, focused on things relevant to “data science”, broadly construed. I always find at least a handful of links that are out and out great.

Subscribe now or try before you buy

May 30 16

FWDD 0: Fun With Discogs Data

by C. Ross Jam

This may become a recurring aspect of the blog, thus the abbreviation and numbering. I’ve managed to catch up and download the entirety of data dump archives to my personal laptop. As of this writing, it’s about 153 Gb of mostly compressed XML data, at varying levels of quality going all the way back to 2008.

I don’t really have much of a plan other than to explore an interesting longitudinal data set. One thing I’m hoping to do is come up with a modernish set of tools to process the data, including normalizing and transforming to other formats. The other goal is to push it all up into Google Cloud Platform and see what working with data in that environment is like. Also, planning to make code and generated data open, since Discogs provides it under an extremely liberal license.

May 29 16

Consul Service Discovery

by C. Ross Jam

Nice little video overview of service discovery in microservice architectures and how Consul can fill that role. “Why is service discovery important? (And what is Consul?)”. Fair notice, it’s a teaser for an O’Reilly video training course on microservices.

May 27 16

What’s A Unikernel?

by C. Ross Jam

I recently worked on a proposal that heavily incorporated the notion of unikernels. Even still, I’m not really sure I could have explained what they were to even someone else technically proficient.

Enter the Google Cloud Platform Podcast. Listening to Pivotal’s John Feminella I finally heard a clear, clean explanation. Check it out for yourself, but the notion of an automatically constructed, application specific, machine image that can run on a hypervisor nails it for me.

They’re still extremely bleeding edge, but it looks like unikernel based approaches will have a place in the microservices oriented future.

P.S. I just started listening to the GCP Podcast, but I’m encouraged by how informative these first couple of episodes have been.

May 26 16

Armbrust on Spark Structured Streaming

by C. Ross Jam

I enjoyed this O’Reilly Data Podcast conversation with Michael Armbrust regarding Apache Spark 2.0’s Structured Streaming:

With the release of Spark version 2.0, streaming starts becoming much more accessible to users. By adopting a continuous processing model (on an infinite table), the developers of Spark have enabled users of its SQL or DataFrame APIs to extend their analytic capabilities to unbounded streams.

Within the Spark community, Databricks Engineer, Michael Armbrust is well-known for having led the long-term project to move Spark’s interactive analytics engine from Shark to Spark SQL. (Full disclosure: I’m an advisor to Databricks.) Most recently he has turned his efforts to helping introduce a much simpler stream processing model to Spark Streaming (“structured streaming”).

You’ll need a login, but there’s also a deeper dive video from Armbrust and Tathagata Das going into more details of Structured Streaming.

At one point, Ben Lorica asked Armbrust about the dimensions upon which developers should evaluate streaming platforms. The obvious ones (delivery guarantees, latency, throughput) were brought up. I’d add a few more

  • expressiveness, how convenient is it to express common streaming computations and how possible is it to implement exquisite solutions
  • agility, the ease with which stream processing code can be correctly updated and re-deployed
  • monitoring, getting useful performance metrics and debugging information out of the system

Apache Spark Structured Streaming, Kafka Streams, Twitter Heron, Apache Flink. So much to choose from.

May 25 16

Twitter Heron

by C. Ross Jam

Like I said, a crowded space.

Last year we announced the introduction of our new distributed stream computation system, Heron. Today we are excited to announce that we are open sourcing Heron under the permissive Apache v2.0 license. Heron is a proven, production-ready, real-time stream processing engine, which has been powering all of Twitter’s real-time analytics for over two years. Prior to Heron, we used Apache Storm, which we open sourced in 2011. Heron features a wide array of architectural improvements and is backward compatible with the Storm ecosystem for seamless adoption.

Twitter Heron, now an open source project.

May 24 16

Kafka 0.10.0

by C. Ross Jam

As I said, I use (and like) Kafka quite a bit. The new release of Kafka 0.10.0, as covered by Confluent’s Neha Narkhede, has a number of interesting features:

I am very excited to announce the availability of the 0.10 release of Apache Kafka and the 3.0 release of the Confluent Platform. This release marks the availability of Kafka Streams, a simple solution to stream processing and Confluent Control Center, the first comprehensive management and monitoring system for Apache Kafka. Around 112 contributors provided bug fixes, improvements, and new features such that in total 413 JIRA issues and 13 KIPs were resolved.

Kafka Streams becomes official, but the timestamped messages will turn out to be very handy.

May 23 16

K8S Udacity Course

by C. Ross Jam

K8S stands for Kubernetes, which is a container orchestration platform from Google. Translation? Kubernetes is a system for running distributed code with high availability at scale. Looks like there’s a nice bitesized Udacity course on Kubernetes serving as an introduction.

This course is designed to teach you about managing application containers, using Kubernetes. We’ve built this course in partnership with experts such as Kelsey Hightower and Carter Morgan from Google and Netflix’s former Cloud Architect, Adrian Cockcroft (current Technology Fellow at Battery Ventures), who provide critical learning throughout the course.

Mastering highly resilient and scalable infrastructure management is very important, because the modern expectation is that your favorite sites will be up 24/7, and that they will roll out new features frequently and without disruption of the service. Achieving this requires tools that allow you to ensure speed of development, infrastructure stability and ability to scale. Students with backgrounds in Operations or Development who are interested in managing container based infrastructure with Kubernetes are recommended to enroll!

Might have to carve out some time for this one.

May 22 16

Storm Still Going Strong

by C. Ross Jam

Apache Storm LogoApache Storm is approaching 5 years as an interesting, useful, important vibrant open source project. P. Taylor Goetz, one of the project leads, is doing an overview of Storm in concert with the 1.0 release.

In this series of blog posts, we will provide an in-depth look select features introduced with the release of Apache Storm (Storm) 1.0. To kick off the series, we’ll take a look how Storm has evolved over the years from its beginnings as an open source project, up to the 1.0 milestone release.

The space of computing over and developing against streaming data has grown crowded in the past year or two. Storm is one of those technologies good to know about as it provides a useful baseline of features to discuss and has significant “burn in”. And it’s still getting better!

May 20 16

Kafka Summit Recordings

by C. Ross Jam

Apache Kafka Logo These days, I do a lot of work with Apache Kafka. Kafka implements partitioned, replicated, append only logs. If you squint enough, those logs can look like a messaging system. Turns out Kafka is pretty good for a lot of distributed system and “big data” use cases.

I couldn’t make it to the inaugural Kafka Summit, but the organizers have made video recordings and slides available for all of the presentations. Well done!

May 19 16


by C. Ross Jam

On July 22, 2016, Farina returns with the 8th installment of one of electronic music’s longest running compilations, Mushroom Jazz, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series.

There is nothing else that can be added to this announcement. You know I’m all over this one.

Jan 2 16

The New Smack

by C. Ross Jam

You know you’ve been around awhile when you start observing “acronym recycling”.

Circa 2010:

Storage, MAp/reduce, Query

Circa 2016:

Spark, Mesos, Akka, Cassandra, Kafka

When I first heard the term in Ben Lorica’s O’Reilly Data Show podcast episode with Evan Chan, I did a double take. Trawling the interwebs a bit looks like there might be some there there. MeetUps. Slides. Talks. Conferences, sort of. Even manifestos!

Not exactly one-to-one, but definitely square in the same ecosystem. The 2010 Radar article is still surprisingly relevant. And if you think of the trends in “Big Data” over the last 5+ years, SMACK is basically an evolution of SMAQ, refined for the rise of Spark as a compute engine, and updated for the emergence of streaming, unbounded data processing.

SMACK HARD is a little too cute by half though, if you ask me.

Dec 16 15

Diggin’ On Evil Nine

by C. Ross Jam

Fabriclive28 evilnine packshot small

I’ve been on a bit of a spending binge over the products from the Fabric London store. When in the mood for some “new to me” music, I trawl their back catalog. To be honest, the purchases have been a combination of buying second market CDs or digital downloads from the Amazon Music Store. Hopefully, this plug will send some purchases their way. But over the course of the past month, I’ve collected over 6 different titles.

The current leader of the pack is Evil Nine’s entry into the FabricLive list. The end-to-end DJ mix is a nice journey into breaks territory. Opens quite well, dips a little, then really picks up steam near the tail end. Highlights are, Technologic, All I Wanna Do Is Break Some Hearts, and Nowhere Girl. Not to mention an inspired outro with The Clash’s London Calling.

The musical style is most reminiscent of stuff from Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, and an incredible one shot effort, The Dirtchamber Sessions, by The Prodigy. Give Evil Nine a whirl if you fancy that particular flavor.

Dec 14 15


by C. Ross Jam

Link parkin’:

Large-scale time-series data shows up across a variety of domains. In this post, I’ll introduce Spark-TS, a library developed by Cloudera’s Data Science team (and in use by customers) that enables analysis of data sets comprising millions of time series, each with millions of measurements. Spark-TS runs atop Apache Spark, and exposes Scala and Python APIs.

Deployed by Cloudera with real customers, according to them. Sorely needed. Appreciate the Python modules, which I hope aren’t too far behind the Scala API.

Dec 1 15

NodeBox for OpenGL

by C. Ross Jam

A while ago, I started a project called AdoptedArt, where I attempted to transliterate Matt Pearson’s work at into Python. Back then there were two impediments. One, there really weren’t any graphical toolkits that were a solid equivalent of processing. I cobbled something out of pyprocessing but it wasn’t very satisfying. Not to mention the project wasn’t particularly active. Two, my lil’ ole White MacBook really didn’t have enough horsepower to compensate for the Python performance penalty.

AdoptedArt fell by the wayside, but just for giggles, over Thanksgiving I took a lark to see if it could be resurrected. Now I have two things on my side. One, the new MacBook Pro is easily an order of magnitude faster thanks to processing speedups, multiple cores, GPU acceleration, and a big old SSD. Second, NodeBox for OpenGL emerged, adding image manipulation capabilities and hardware acceleration to the NodeBox vector drawing API. Moore’s Law FTW! Plus, the install was painless using Continuum’s Anaconda, even though there was some C based extensions to be built from source.

Bottom line, it only took me a little bit of work to adapt my adoption of AbandonedArt’s first processing sketch, Spirograph into NodeBoxGL. And it ran smooth as silk, with the MacBook barely breaking a sweat.

I’ve got high hopes to revive this project as a creative endeavor and a complete diversion from work stuff. We’ll see how it goes!

Nov 27 15


by C. Ross Jam

Just for posterity, some of the reasoning behind coming back to these here parts, besides fulfilling a stated commitment.

TL;DR Commuting and creating. Less of the first, more of the latter.

read more…

Nov 25 15

Conda Envs

by C. Ross Jam

I don’t find Python’s virtualenvs to be as cumbersome as Tim Hopper, especially when combined with virtualenvwrapper, but his argument for using Anaconda environments is compelling:

In 2015, I have almost exclusively used Python installations provided through Continuum Analytics’s Conda/Anaconda platform. I have also switched from using virtualenvs to using conda environments, and I am loving it.

The only contra is that pip and virtualenv are so widely distributed and easily deployed with distro packages that they’re somewhat safe to rely on. Conda, not so much, even though it’s a light lift and spreading.

Interestingly, I probably overlapped with some of Tim’s Qadium colleagues on a DARPA program.

Nov 24 15


by C. Ross Jam

Stuff I’m currently interested in and will probably frequently comment on here. First off on the technical front:

read more…

Nov 23 15

GLA Podcast 50

by C. Ross Jam

I’ve given it two listens so far and good stuff. A welcome return to straight ahead house music.

Nov 23 15


by C. Ross Jam

Invincea Wall It occurs to me that there is a major event that I have not noted in this venue. About 18 months ago, I gave up my position at Lockheed Martin and moved to a much smaller company Invincea. That web site is almost exclusively about the commercial product side of Invincea, but we also have a federal services division called Invincea Labs.

Labs is in exactly the same DoD Science and Technology research space I worked for LM. We hustle Contracted Research and Development (CRAD) from various agencies looking for technical solutions to bleeding edge problems.

It’s an amusing story of how it came about, but I literally ended at LM on a Friday afternoon and started across the street at Invincea the following Monday. The biggest change is that I went down 3 orders of magnitude in employee head count. Also, Labs has a pure focus on cybersecurity. No more worrying about expensive jet fighters and all that. Lean, mean, and a relaxed attitude have been a refreshing change of pace.

I’m part of the Cyber Analytics team, and Labs has a lot of open positions. We work on all sorts of bleeding edge projects so shoot me an e-mail at bria n.d if any of them seem to fit you.

Nov 21 15

It’s Been A Long Time…

by C. Ross Jam

…, I shouldn’t have left you,
Without a strong rhyme to step to.
Think of how many weak shows you slept through.
Time’s up. I’m sorry I kept you… — Rakim

MacBook Pro 2015

It’s a new Macaversary around here.

Jul 9 15

Gibson’s “The Peripheral”

by C. Ross Jam

The Peripheral Cover I finished reading William Gibson’s The Peripheral about a day ago. As an avowed Gibson fanboy, I’ve oddly got some pretty mixed feelings about the book.

First off, I did this weird thing of pre-ordering from Amazon, so I had the book on the first day of availability. October 28th, 2014. Six. Months. Ago. For whatever reason, I parked the hardcover and never got started. Maybe it was the dread of hauling the hefty tome around.

So taking advantage of some vacation time, I jumped in and devoured it promptly. Ticked all of my Gibson check boxes. But in the end I felt a bit unsatisfied.

Can’t quite put my finger on it, but I really didn’t get a rush. Since Cayce Pollard, I haven’t really felt like a Gibson protagonist has been in much peril. Just a matter of waiting to see how they get out of it. Yeah, Flynne got kidnapped and threatened, but everybody came out clean in the end.

And the Chinese server explanation I found lacking.

Maybe this one just needs to grow on me like the Blue Ant Trilogy.

Jun 21 15

EMR Spark

by C. Ross Jam

Muy bueno! Spark is now an official part of Amazon Elastic MapReduce.

I’m happy to announce that Amazon EMR now supports Apache Spark. Amazon EMR is a web service that makes it easy for you to process and analyze vast amounts of data using applications in the Hadoop ecosystem, including Hive, Pig, HBase, Presto, Impala, and others. We’re delighted to officially add Spark to this list. Although many customers have previously been installing Spark using custom scripts, you can now launch an Amazon EMR cluster with Spark directly from the Amazon EMR Console, CLI, or API.

May 27 15

Shades of Redis

by C. Ross Jam

Good piece from Charles Leifer highlighting a couple of alternative takes on the redis key/datastructure store:

Recently I’ve learned about a few new Redis-like databases: Rlite, Vedis and LedisDB. Each of these projects offers a slightly different take on the data-structure server you find in Redis, so I thought that I’d take some time and see how they worked. In this post I’ll share what I’ve learned, and also show you how to use these databases with Walrus, as I’ve added support for them in the latest 0.3.0 release.

I’m particularly intrigued by the embedded Rlite store. Seems like something useful for situations slightly less relational than what SQLite can service.

May 9 15

Deep Cassandra

by C. Ross Jam

Andrew Montalenti relates’s experience with Cassandra. Lots of interesting tidbits, but the money graf is this:

A well-seasoned technologist friend of mine was not at all surprised when I walked him through some of these issues we had with Cassandra. He said, “You honestly expected that adopting a data store at your scale would not require you to learn all of its internals?” He has a point. After all, we didn’t adopt Elasticsearch until we really grokked Lucene.

May 8 15

Upserts, mmmmmm!

by C. Ross Jam

I don’t know how I missed Craig Kerstiens’ post on upserts in PostgreSQL 9.5, but I’m glad they’re here.

If you’ve followed anything I’ve written about Postgres, you know that I’m a fan. At the same time you know that there’s been one feature that so many other databases have, which Postgres lacks and it causes a huge amount of angst for not being in Postgres… Upsert. Well the day has come, it’s finally committed and will be available in Postgres 9.5.

May 5 15


by C. Ross Jam

Since my last extended run of blogging, I’ve really gotten into message system infrastructure and streaming data computation architectures. May have to kick the tires on GearPump

GearPump is a lightweight real-time big data streaming engine. It is inspired by recent advances in the Akka framework and a desire to improve on existing streaming frameworks. … Per initial benchmarks we are able to process 11 million messages/second (100 bytes per message) with a 17ms latency on a 4-node cluster.

That seems like a lot of msgs/sec. Gotta see the specs on that cluster.


May 5 15

Customizing IPython for Pandas

by C. Ross Jam

Link parkin’

Chris Moffit’s blog post doesn’t have a lot of detail, but the attendant IPython notebook looks chock full of goodness

The combination of IPython + Jupyter + Pandas makes it easy to interact with and display your data. Not surprisingly, these tools are easy to customize and configure for your own needs. This article summarizes some of the most useful and interesting options.

May 3 15

Ignite v Spark

by C. Ross Jam

I’m an unabashed Apache Spark fanboy, but it’s good intellectual hygiene to know about the technical alternatives. Apache Ignite is one that has slipped beneath my radar. Konstantin Boudnik contrasts Ignite and Spark:

Complimentary to my earlier post on Apache Ignite in-memory file-system and caching capabilities I would like to cover the main differentiation points of the Ignite and Spark. I see questions like this coming up repeatedly. It is easier to have them answered, so you don’t need to fish around the net for the answers.

Clearly not from a native English speaker, but definitely worth the read.

May 1 15

Get Famous With Spark

by C. Ross Jam

You too can win fame and fortune using Apache Spark! Helps to invent it and write up a great PhD dissertation.

Matei Zaharia won the 2014 Doctoral Dissertation Award for his innovative solution to tackling the surge in data processing workloads, and accommodating the speed and sophistication of complex multi-stage applications and more interactive ad-hoc queries. His work proposed a new architecture for cluster computing systems, achieving best-in-class performance in a variety of workloads while providing a simple programming model that lets users easily and efficiently combine them.

Go Bears!

Feb 1 15

Reconciling Streaming Jargon

by C. Ross Jam

I really enjoyed reading Martin Kleppmann’s treatise on varying communities and terminology related to stream processing:

Some people call it stream processing. Others call it Event Sourcing or CQRS. Some even call it Complex Event Processing. Sometimes, such self-important buzzwords are just smoke and mirrors, invented by companies who want to sell you stuff. But sometimes, they contain a kernel of wisdom which can really help us design better systems.

In this talk, we will go in search of the wisdom behind the buzzwords. We will discuss how event streams can help make your application more scalable, more reliable and more maintainable. Founded in the experience of building large-scale data systems at LinkedIn, and implemented in open source projects like Apache Kafka and Apache Samza, stream processing is finally coming of age.

On the day job, I’m on my third deployment of a message queueing system to support prototyping of stream processing algorithms. I’m really starting to appreciate the fundamental differences between various approaches. I can also say there’s no “right way” to do it. Each use case has to be looked at individually and there definitely will be some bespoke customization. Carefully define your correctness and performance guarantees and there’s a chance you’ll get it right.

Dispatches like Kleppmann’s though, are helpful in understanding what the landscape looks like and where you’d like to be.

Jan 25 15

Sprung For Pinner

by C. Ross Jam

I’ve gotten back into consistently collecting links of interest and started heavily using the fine Pinboard product. Capturing links from iOS devices was a drag though, having to go through a JavaScript bookmarklet. Felt sort of convoluted. Too much friction. But my iPhone and iPad are the places where I run across most of the links I want to stash.

Enter Pinner, a $4.99 app. A little pricey, but it looks very nice and provides a clean experience for browsing Pinboard. Best of all it adds a custom share sheet so posting a link to Pinboard is just one click away.