Thursday, 14 July 2011

Small World in Melbourne

Having two young kids and no family in Melbourne (Australia) to babysit, my evening social activities are very minimal at the moment. They normally revolve around analytic type user groups that start after work and last for a couple of hours - then home for bath time.

Last night was a double header.

The Melbourne Tableau User Group had a meeting to demonstrate the new features of Tableau that are due to be released later this month. Tableau is a package that will draw you graphs and plot geographic data on maps. It is one of my favourite pieces of software for quickly drilling down on issues - you get to what you want very quickly. It costs ~$1,000 for a single licence or $2,000 for an advanced licence that lets you connect to ODBC data sources.

They gave away an IPad at the presentation - as one of the new features is dashboards for mobile devices. With only 27 people there I was feeling lucky, but #5 won (who incidentally already had one and was using it in the meeting to take notes), I was #9.

I spoke to the new Melbourne based Tableau employee, and asked him what he did, as I thought the biggest sales people for Tableau are the users themselves. He agreed - it is a great product and I've not heard a bad word about it.

The meeting was concluded with free beer and finger food that was nice. Here I met one of only two previous Australian KDDCup winner  Bhavani Raskutti, who I know very well (the other was the University of Melbourne).

Immediately as this event drew to a close at 6:30, it was 100m down the road to a Data Melbourne talk. This one was even more social as a beer was thrust in my hand before the talk even began.

The reason I attended this event (permission for a leave pass had to be booked in advance) was that the speaker was non other than Matt Kwan from the HHP team Planet Melbourne who are currently 6th on the leaderborad. Matt talked about his PhD reasearch on using mobile phone data to analyse daytime population movements, which was really quite interesting. He then talked about the HHP, just basically introducing the concept of the competition.

He didn't give a way any secrets, but some interesting outtakes were that he had never heard of Kaggle before and was drawn to this by the lure of big money. He was an accomplished programmer but had done no analytics and had to learn linear algebra from scratch and is coding all his own software and wishes he had a pc with more grunt. All in all he is doing very well.

One interesting comment was that wouldn't it be more profitable to put all the effort into creating your own startup than spending all these hours for a potential but not very likely $500k. It is worth noting that several companies started up as a result of the Netflix Prize, including Commendo.

Melbourne is a small place. It is also the spiritual home of Kaggle. In fact I saw Anthony Goldblooms first ever presentation of the Kaggle concept at AusDM 2009, well before it was actually launched (incidentally  I was running a data mining comp for this conference that was about blending solutions from the Netflix prize to get the best mega ensemble - may be handy for the HHP?).

At an R user group about 12 months ago, Anthony and I were sat at the same table as one Jeremy Howard, who became intrigued with the Kaggle concept and went on to become Kaggles most successful competitor and now part of the Kaggle team.

So, small world in Melbourne - my adopted home and a great place to live and work.


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