using big data to create bad art

A few weeks back, I installed a lot of software on my computer at home with the plan to work out what to do with large data sets, particularly web archives. One of my roles at work is being responsible for managing and running the Library’s web archiving strategy and regularly harvesting publicly available government websites. That’s all fun and good but you end up with a lot of data and I think there’s close to 5TB in the collection now. The next tricks revolve around what you can use the data for and what sorts of data are worthwhile to make accessible. Under my current, non NBN, download speeds I estimate it would take a few months to download 5TB of data assuming a steady connection.

The dataset I’m using currently is a cohesive collection of publicly available websites containing approximately 68GB of data in 61 files. Each file is a compressed WARC file, WARC being the standard for Web ARChive files. Following some excellent instructions, I ran the scala code from step 1 in my local install of spark shell and successfully extracted the site structure. The code needed to be modified slightly to work with the pathname of my data set, roughly

  • run Spark Shell with sufficient memory, I’m using 6 of my 8GB of RAM
  • run “:paste”
  • copy in scala code
  • hit “Control-D” to start the code analysing the data

I think that took around 20-30 minutes to run. The first time through, it crashed at the end as I’d left a couple of regular text files in the archive directory and the code sample didn’t handle those. Fair enough too, as it’s only sample code and not a full program with error detection and handling. I moved the text files out and ran it again. Second time through it finished happily.

The resultant file containing all the URLs and linkages was a total of 355kb, not bad for a starting data size if 68GB and provides something a little more manageable to play with. Next step is to load the file into Gephi which is an open source, data visualisation tool for networks and graphs. I still have little idea how to use gephi effectively and am mostly just pressing different buttons and playing with layouts to see how stuff works. I haven’t quite got to the point of making visually interesting displays like the one shown in the tutorial, however I have managed to create some really ugly art:

ugly data analysis

I hit the point a while back where it’s no longer sufficient to play with sample bits and pieces and I need to sit down and learn stuff properly. To that end I ordered a couple of books on Apache Spark, then ordered another book, Programming in Scala, and wondering whether I should also buy The Scala Cookbook. Or perhaps I shouldn’t try and do everything at once. I am reading both the Spark books concurrently as they’re aimed for different audiences and take different approaches. However after an initial spurt through the first couple of chapters, I haven’t touched them in a couple of weeks. I also need to learn how to use Gephi effectively and there’s a few tutorials available for doing that. I should explore other visualisation tools too as well and continue to look at what other sorts of tools can be used.

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