The Best Book Ever on Machine Learning (and Intelligent Systems) in R

lantz-ml-in-rDear Brett (Lantz),

In short: your book, Machine Learning with R, is the book I’ve been dreaming about for years. Everyone who applies machine learning techniques for their work, teaches applied machine learning at a university, or just loves R and wants to know more about these super cool algorithms should buy and use your book.

I’ve been teaching a course called “Intelligent Systems” (ISAT/CS 344 at JMU) for the past few years. I inherited a syllabus and course description from professors who had taught the course from the mid-1990′s until 2009, so I started out following their lead and broadly covering expert/knowledge-based systems, simple neural networks for regression, and some elements of robotics. We used a commercial package to build the expert systems (rather than a declarative language like Prolog), which was fine, but we also used a commercial package for the neural networks. I was unsatisfied for two reasons: first, I knew that far more “stuff” was going on in the world of intelligent systems which we weren’t sharing with our students, and second, I knew there were tons of free packages in the R Statistical Software that could perform the same tasks… and more. I started a yearlong process of soul-searching and creating new materials… determined to bring R to the classroom, along with neural networks for both classification and regression, classification using k-nearest neighbors and Naive Bayes approaches, clustering with k-means, and some text mining and analysis to show students what you could do with unstructured data.

I also wanted to compare and contrast neural network regression with simple linear regression, classification algorithms in general with logistic regression, and share how to evaluate and improve model performance using metrics like precision, recall, and F1. (I mean, who cares about developing an intelligent software system if you can’t evaluate and continually improve its performance?) In addition, I’ve dreamed about adding a module on decision trees, in particular focusing on the C5.0 algorithm. But I haven’t found the time to explore or create new course materials on this topic. So I knew it would be even harder to compile all of my course materials into a book for my students to reference.

But you, in the meantime, have saved my life. I’ve explored tons of books on machine learning and intelligent systems that focus more on the practical applications of the techniques rather than the theory… and I have not found one that meets my standards, until now. In a friendly and conversational manner (that’s not overfriendly, condescending, or flippant) you have managed to cover pretty much all of the topics I want to share in my intelligent systems class — in a way that I’m comfortable with.

Chapters 1 (Introduction to Machine Learning) and 2 (Managing and Understanding Data) provide a great, simplified introduction to what machine learning is all about and highlights the data structures and R commands that might be the most useful for these purposes. Chapters 3 and 4 cover classification… first with k-nearest neighbors, then with Naive Bayes. Chapter 5 covers decision trees and C5.0. Chapter 6 covers regression in general, but with applications to decision trees (yeah!) In Chapter 7 (Black Box Methods – Neural Networks and Support Vector Machines) there’s a great example based on Optical Character Recognition (which will pair nicely with the lab exercise I already use). Chapter 8 covers Apriori, Chapter 9 introduces clustering with k-means, and Chapters 10 and 11 specifically deal with evaluating and improving model performance.

As a cherry on top of the cake that is this book, Chapter 12 provides an overview of most-used ways to acquire data (e.g. using RCurl, XML, and JSON) and even introduces parallel computing.

I am eternally grateful to you for writing the book that’s been in my head in a way I (think I!) would have written it. It’s not PERFECT (I would have spent more time on concepts like overfitting, and maybe given examples… and maybe some prose on the Turing Test and Reverse Turing Test) — but I can easily use your book as a required text and then provide supplemental materials on the side.

Thank you Brett!

Sincerely and with a world of gratitude,

Nicole

We’re Back Online!

In the almost 8 years I’ve had this blog online, I can’t remember having a major outage that put me offline.

That is, until today. My domain registration got decoupled from my blog hosting setup on 3/27 and armageddon ensued. Only I didn’t know the site was down until this morning. Fortunately it was a disaster narrowly averted — and everything is now back to normal.

Just got back from visiting the Downtown Project in Las Vegas… a hive of social innovation and good vibes. More to follow (including pictures).

Is the Manufacturing Outlook Sufficiently Far-Reaching?

view-from-qIn his January post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski discusses the results from ASQ’s 2013 manufacturing outlook survey. Although the majority of manufacturers reported revenue growth in 2013, many are still very concerned about the state of the economy. Paul was inquiring whether this “optimistic but guarded” perspective was a good assessment, and asked for examples from manufacturers that might shed some more light on the situation.

I’ve alluded over Twitter that my relationship with quality – as a concept – has been changing over the past few months. That’s the main reason that I haven’t been posting as frequently on this blog… I’m trying to sort out my feelings. (It’s almost like what happens when you’ve been in a relationship for years, but then gradually discover that you’ve changed, and the relationship is no longer meeting your deepest needs.)

Paul’s January post has helped me clarify some of these feelings.

If we focus on revenue growth as a measure of “the health of manufacturing”, we’re all missing the point. Current trends in production indicate that the locus of power is increasingly shifting from large manufacturing companies to individuals and small groups. Examples such as the Maker movement, the success of online platforms like Etsy to support craftspeople, and the increasing availability of new technologies like 3D printing at reasonable costs are shifting the environmental dynamism of what has traditionally been a slowly evolving arena:

“with the Maker movement we will be increasingly surprised at what seemed small and local and small‑scale, now will continue to grow…”  –http://techonomy.com/conf/13-detroit/the-new-techonomy/can-the-maker-movement-re-make-america/

I was reminded of Clayton Christensen’s landmark 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. By successfully satisfying current needs, we are potentially blinded to the ability to satisfy future needs. We are so accustomed to the model of manufacturing working so well, over so many decades, that we may fail to recognize when the centralized approach is losing ground.

How are manufacturers addressing these shifts? Are they re-examining the core assumptions upon which their industries are based? I think this should be the focus, rather than continued revenue growth and “concern” about the state of the economy.

Getting Deep With Value Creation

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In his November post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “What new fields or disciplines could most reap the benefits of quality tools and techniques?”

He notes that although the tradition of quality assurance, control, and improvement emerged from manufacturing, the techniques are now widely acknowledged and applied in many fields such as healthcare, education, and service. So what’s next?

One of the things I like to do when I’m trying to be a futurist is to go back to first principles. Explore the basis for why we do what we do… what makes us tick… why we like improving quality and making processes more effective, more efficient. And in doing so, while reflecting on Paul’s question, I think what’s next is…

Getting Deep with Value Creation.

As quality professionals we spend most of our time and energy figuring out how to create value. Either we’re improving the systems we work with to tweak out additional value, or we’re working with customers and stakeholders to figure out how to provide them with more value, or we’re focusing on innovation – figuring out how to create value for the future – reliably, consistently, and according to new and unexpected business models.

To me, this starts with me. How can I improve myself so that I’m a kickass vessel for the delivery of value? How can I use quality principles and quality tools to find – and align myself – with what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time? How can I become most productive in terms of the deep, meaningful value I add to those around me?

I know that others feel the same way. Marc Kelemen, a member of the ASQ Board of Directors, is leading a charge to develop a Body of Knowledge for Social Responsibility. He recognizes that the personal element is crucial if we’re trying to become socially responsible as teams, and organizations, and communities. So we’ll be working on this over the next few months… figuring out how to get deep with the notion of value creation, and how we can do it within ourselves so that we are better positioned to help others do it too.

Thrivability: A Sneaky Awesome Little Book About Innovation

thrivabilityI just got done reading Jean Russell’s new book, Thrivability, from Triarchy Press. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most compelling book about innovation that’s been written in the past few years – and it’s not even expressly about innovation. But it can help you think about all the assumptions you make about society and the environment in which you’re embedded – assumptions that, when relaxed, can open up new ways of thinking that will help you more effectively innovate.

Here’s the review that I’ll be publishing in the January 2014 issue of the Quality Management Journal. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Jean’s book — and please share your comments below! I want to know what you think about it.

               “Thrivability,” or the “ability to thrive,” suggests strength, grace, health, growth, and sustainable value creation – all in one word. In this book, Jean Russell articulates over 20 years of knowledge and insights she’s gleaned from delving into this one concept from the perspective of multiple disciplines. The end result is a book that is unique, richly textured, and achieves its stated goal: “to equip you with tools to see and act in ways that enrich your life, your community, your business, and our world.” As a result, this book contributes indirectly (yet profoundly) to the expanding body of knowledge on innovation.

               The book is structured in three Parts: Perceiving, Understanding, and Doing.  The first chapters encourage the reader to critically examine his or her external environment, the assumptions that are inherent to the economic and political systems within which we are embedded, and the individual stories that we use to construct our expectations about ourselves, our capabilities, and others around us. It does this by emphasizing the importance of storytelling and narrative – to imagine ourselves in the context of a story that inspires us about our world, rather than fills us with fear. To be successful at this, we must first learn how to look at our world and the people around us with compassion and acceptance. This, according to the author, will help us generate new perspectives on existing situations, and open us to new possibilities for improvement.

               Part II, on Understanding, explores how we can shift our beliefs to help create more positive, productive, connected environments and organizations. A large part of this section reflects on the psychological influences of social media and how this is changing the ways we identify opportunities and even the definition of “success” itself. For example, in education, grades are losing their significance as society recognizes that complex creations are more effective measures of accomplishment than passing tests. Part III, on Doing, focuses on tools and techniques to enliven creativity, enhance trust, and break through limiting beliefs and blocking situations.

               This book has essential insights for both academics and practitioners in quality-related fields. Most significantly, Russell’s work can help us envision the new world in which we might soon find ourselves, where the search for meaning and compassion for others (and our environment) take precedence over profit and capturing or creating new markets.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part II (via Deming!)

brc-phone

Even the phones at Burning Man tell you that you’re in Black Rock City, NV

In Part I, I described some observations from my experiences at BIF and Burning Man, and alluded to the notion that I might have uncovered a very simple “secret sauce” they share. Here are the observations:

  • Both communities consist of active and engaged participants who could be considered “innovation junkies”. Whereas the BIF crowd focuses on more traditional organizational and social innovation, the Burning Man crowd spans the extremes of experiential innovation (through art, technology, interactions with other people, or even just figuring out how to navigate life in the Black Rock Desert).
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS) is the norm in both environments. First, the “unusual suspects” seem to be attracted to opportunities to be inspired and get their brains re-wired; second, the participants in both environments seem predisposed to the notion that serendipity is working on their behalf — and they let it happen.
  • People at both BIF and Burning Man tend towards non-judgment, seeking to appreciate and learn from their differences (rather than to resist, deny, or challenge those differences).

The common thread is that both environments have something magical designed into them, and this is the secret sauce: the push to drive out fear. Many of the BIF storytellers have been through Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and make themselves vulnerable so that the audience can vicariously (and often emotionally!) experience their transformation; at Burning Man, you’re stripped of your usual identity and thus unburdened from the fear you might carry as a result of having developed that identity over so many years.

When quality guru W. Edwards Deming formulated his 14 Points decades ago – principles for managers to transform business effectiveness – he expressed that the purpose of the points was to enable everyone to work with joy. One of the points (my favorite one, in fact) is to drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively.

If you are to fully embrace innovation, there is no room for fear! You must work towards fully being yourself, to push your own boundaries, and by extension, to push the boundaries of others, and to push the boundaries of traditional and accepted ways of doing things (“business models”). You are encouraged to own your own story, to TELL your own story, and to connect with others to help them identify with their own stories – and chase away the fear of being authentic, of being able to contribute to your greatest potential.

Why do we hold back? Why are we fearful? (I do it too, all the time.)

  • I am afraid you won’t accept me. I am afraid you won’t like me.
  • I am afraid you will disagree with my choices or decisions, and struggle with me or reject me as a result.
  • I’m afraid you won’t think I’m smart enough, good enough, worthy enough.
  • I am afraid that if you know who I really am, it might have consequences for my health or well-being (e.g. I could lose job, my reputation, my standing within the organization or community).
  • I’m afraid that what I’m trying to do – or be - just won’t work.

 

FEAR **IS** THE BOX.


To think “out of the box,” you must be living out of the box, and it’s an ongoing (and lifelong) process to do that.

I have not yet achieved healthy fearlessness as my steady state – I’m still awaiting bursts of my own personal transformation.  According to Ignite.me:

Joseph Campbell talked about the ‘Heroes Journey’ whereby the hero is beckoned to enter an unfamiliar world.  When the hero enters this world, they are met with challenges, hurdles, and eventually a seemingly insurmountable confrontation which is achieved by using skills they picked up along the journey.  By overcoming this obstacle, the hero attains new self-knowledge which they can bring back to their people in the ‘ordinary land’ as their gift to the world.

Common themes of ancient mystery traditions are secrecy, death of the ego, participating with archetypal reality, and a rebirth of a new self.  The Eleusinian Mysteries took place over almost 2000 years and were shrouded in mystery from the uninitiated. Shamanic initiation often comes with the shaman being psychologically and experientially deconstructed and put back together.  Some tribal societies had rites of passage where children are ripped away from the bosom of the mother and left in the bush to learn how to become a warrior.  Rites of passage are transformational experiences where the old you is transformed into a new YOU.  That’s where we want to take you, and we create the container for that transformation.

What that means is that you may come as a journalist, or a chef, or a bike messenger, or a computer programmer but for the duration of our journey, you may choose to leave that behind to lose yourself in the present in workshops, dance, yoga, and celebration.  Transformation is disruptive and disorienting and actually occurs when past beliefs are shattered, habits are broken, and futures are rewritten.

By temporarily suspending fear, you create the space for transformation - the space for new experiences to redefine what you know and feel about yourself, and your interactions with other people and the world around you.

But this concept has been around for thousands of years… more on that tomorrow.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part I

reg-desk-830-small

Registration Desk for our “Transform Learning” Unconference at Burning Man 2013

I spent the last week of August at Burning Man, and two days in September at Saul Kaplan‘s Business Innovation Factory Summit (BIF-9). On the surface, these two events couldn’t seem more different – the former is a counterculture festival of art and technology and spirit in the middle of the barren Nevada desert, whereas the latter is a traditional conference with TED-style talks punctuated by opportunities for business-card networking — in metropolitan Providence, Rhode Island. 

So why did I emerge from each of these vastly different experiences with the exact same, buoyant, intellectually inspired feeling? I’ve been curious ever since my plane touched the ground at DCA last week, and I emerged from the jetway with the same bittersweet resignation that I’d need to return to the “default world” in the morning. Granted, there’s a little bit of overlap… Peter Hirshberg, one of my 2013 neighbors from Playaskool, gave a great BIF talk about “retribalizing the city” and specifically cited Black Rock City as the kind of vision for the future that might have been celebrated at a World’s Fair of the past. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, also briefly noted the shared vibe of the Maker movement, Burning Man, and BIF when he was on stage — a vibe he aims to capture in his Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

But what’s the overlap? Why did both events inspire similar feelings in me?

Thanks to BIF-9 (and @AngelaMaiers), I remembered that I am a genius and the (default) world needs my contribution! And when Matt Murrie of What If? published his article yesterday on the Huffington Post, he provided another clue:  He reminded me that the spirit of BIF is easily captured by the phrases on those giant yellow slides that stay up on the screen in between BIF talks: think transformation, and try more stuff.

Think transformation! Try more stuff! And I’m needed… I’m an important part of all this!

That’s precisely how I felt as a resident of Black Rock City… and as a member of the BIF community sitting in the Trinity Rep theater. But the real secret sauce is… well, I’ll save that reveal for the end :)

First, some observations about the shared vibe between Burning Man and BIF:

  • Burners and BIFfers are, by their nature, “innovation junkies”. At a Burn, you are released into an environment where the normal rules and societal standards of engagement are temporarily suspended. The playa provides experiences that will snap you out of the way you thought life was, is, or should be. Want to send a postcard at the Post Office? OK, but you might have to do some cartwheels or tell the entire post office staff a good joke before they’ll take your mail. Nothing is impossible. At BIF, the same spirit prevails in the storytellers’ presentations and the conversations that happen over breaks and at dinner. I don’t have to be afraid of sharing crazy ideas with anyone in either group. I’m not shunned, looked at weird, or talked down. If anything, recommended refinements to my ideas will come with authenticity, insight, and a genuine feeling of support.
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS using the tweetable parlance of Deb Mills-Scofield) is the norm in both environments. It is very difficult to wander around Burning Man without stumbling into unusual suspects (the guy who stopped traffic to give out hugs; the guy in the Superman costume who sprayed people with water so they could cool down; the people dancing with the giant jellyfish at White Ocean). BIF welcomes, with open arms, the same type of crowd but in different clothing (quite literally): the inspiring techno-matriarch, Deb Mills-Scofield (what I imagine Jane McGonigal will be like when she’s a grandmother — or as @sandymaxey beautifully observed, Deb is more like a “Fairy Godmother”), Amelia Friedman (who’s trying to help westerners learn widely used languages like Bengali), Evan Ratliff (who decided to create a story for Wired by “disappearing” – and then have people hunt for him), Jonathan Katz (who had a traumatic brain injury that wiped out his sense of taste and smell, and yet he works in a lab making new artificial flavors and scents!) and the girl who’s going to give me a numerology reading soon! OH!! And the guy wearing the nested alien suits at BIF. (Yeah, he would fit in well at Burning Man.)
  • At BIF and Burning Man, people tend towards non-judgment. In the “default world” it’s common to be criticized, ostracized, “tolerated” for your behaviors or beliefs, or (the worst case) expressly demonized, shunned, or outright excluded. At Burning Man, the principle of radical inclusion is honored as a core value of the community:

Burning Man is for absolutely everyone. Everyone. That’s what Radical Inclusion means. If you’re a starving artist, you should go. (if you want to, of course!) If you’re a plumber, you should go. If you’re a billionaire, you should go. If you’re a Saudi Prince that can only go if a turnkey camp is provided for you, please, please come. I’ll make you a sandwich. If you believe you’re a member of the class of people who actually deserve to be there, well then I definitely want you to keep going. One day, you’ll get it. Elitism in all forms distracts us from the truth of our common humanity.
— Dustin Moskovitz, inRadical Inclusion vs. Radical Self-Reliance at Burning Man

At BIF, I noticed that people tend to just naturally accept and honor differences – to get excited about differences, in fact – because if we’re different, we’ve got unique perspectives to share with one another! I met Jeffrey Sparr and Matthew Kaplan, for example, from PeaceLove Studios. They want to remove the stigma associated with mental illness so that people who need help are more receptive to getting it – and with support, can contribute their own gifts to society.

As a personal example, after having a rather open and vulnerable conversation with Greg Satell and his wife Liliana over beer and oysters (where I shared some things about myself that I ordinarily would be completely hesistant to admit to anyone) — Greg’s body language told me he was clearly a little bit uncomfortable. For a moment, I thought I’d misjudged the openness of the BIF crowd. I started to feel hesitant, weak, as if I’d miscalculated and really shouldn’t be making myself vulnerable. But then he spoke up: “Well, I can’t say I feel the same way for me, but if that’s what works for YOU – I’m glad you’ve figured out a way to make it happen.”

Greg’s response, for me, encapsulated the secret sauce of BIF, of Burning Man, and of transformation in general… which I’ll talk more about in a day or two in Part II.

(Ahhhhhhh… the anticipation! Yes, I’m doing this on purpose.)

Continue to Part II —->