Sunday, September 21, 2014

3 film non-meme

Riffing off previous post - was discussing with my wife last evening what we thought the three best "recent" films we had seen were. Here's my list:

1) Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin.

Reason: this is a powerful, powerful film that explores the effects of radical individualism, and economic inequality and of the overturning of normal, local, rooted communities. Banned by the Chinese government, it is as much a critique of the values of neoliberalism globally as it is of the current Chinese economic experiment.

2) Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful.

Reason: a moving exploration of responsibility and ethics in the face of poverty, hopelessness and impending death. What do we make of the human spirit and our obligations to each other - and our obligations in the face of The Other?  Javier Bardem was birthed for this role - fantastic acting.

3) Pavel Lungin's The Island.

Reason: who is guilty before whom and for what? Take a director of Jewish background, give him a story that is loosely inspired by a hagiography of the fool-for-Christ Feofil of the Kieven Caves, and cast a retired-rock-star-current-recluse (Pyotr Mamonov) as a Orthodox monastic in the far north of Russia, and I would have quite low expectations for the outcome. What Lungin produced is instead not only his best film but I think one of the best films of the last 20 years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top 10 Book Meme

What books have most impacted me? I picked books I have returned to over and over. Yes, I know this is solipsistic to publish, but its a fascinating thing to think through. I'm sure the list will not look right in a few months anyway. But here I go...

1 The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Reason: the best book ever written. Duh.

2 Iob, LXX
Reason: bad things happen to good people, quite often.

3 I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki
Reason: comedy is good for the soul. This is the funniest book I've ever read.

4 The Symposium, Plato
Reason: love. And I'm an only partially reconstructed platonist.

5 Demons, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Reason: explains a big part of the 20th century. Makes 1984 look like crude propaganda.

6 Also Spracht Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
Reason: Nietszche saw the enormity of the modern project clearly.

7 Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa
Reason: before structuralism, post structuralism, semiotics, and deconstruction, there was Gregory of Nyssa. And apokatastasis.

8 For the Time Being, WH Auden
Reason: aside from the fact that Auden is the best English language poet, this is a deeply moving meditation on Christmas in the anglophone experience. Read it several times each winter.

9 The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
Reason: great art meets allegory meets beauty. Honestly, stuck with only one book this might be it.

10 Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Reason: we are all compromised to one degree or another.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Silence

Silence. Sometimes sought after, but in reality almost certainly feared - the absence of not just sound but voice. Silence is often associated with divine encounter - the neptic tradition of the Philokalia comes to mind - but also and perhaps more accurately with abandonment, divine or otherwise. I recently read Shusaku Endo's Silence, a remarkable work, dwelling on the theme of abandonment in the context of the extirpation of Kakure Kirishitan communities in Tokagawa Japan. Many resilient families survived and eventually came out of hiding in the liberalization in the mid-19th century, but the persecutions were terrible. Their story is deeply moving (sufficiently so that over time I find myself drawn to devotion to the image of Maria-Kannon). Endo's novel was not without controversy but remains one of the great literary accomplishments of the 20th century.

In fact, the reason for this post is a kind of double entendre on silence: the relative silence in literate western circles with respect to Japanese literature of the past century. Over the last month, I realized that virtually no one I had spoken with had read a single Japanese novel. Yet, like Russia of the 19th century, Japan produced a concentration of great writers and great novelists in the last 20th century that is set apart: the forces of of profound national changes (and defeat) created the crucible of great art. That art carries the distinctive aesthetic sense of Japan - a kind of openness of form, but is necessarily the carrier of universal, humanistic themes.

Endo is a writer in the post war period - the so-called third generation, and in my view the last of the wave of great Japanese literature. Read him. But don't stop - perhaps don't start - there. The early 20th century work of Natsume Soseki are a product of the Meiji period. In my view, Soseki is not only a father of Japenese literature but one of the greatest figures of world literature taken as a whole - I am a Cat remains one of my very favorite novels. Two troubling post-war novels by Yukio Mishima merit attention - Confessions of a Mask and the Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, both I would characterize broadly as existential masterpieces. The topic of identity in the face of westernization is also a moving theme in Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human. I hardly mean this as a complete survey - something in any case I am not qualified to provide -just a pointer toward something broader and important.

My encounter with contemporary Japanese literature - albeit limited - has been less impactful (I want to like Haruki Murakami in the same way I want to like Victor Pelevin, but both make me think of the distorted echo of something far better). And again like Russia, it is difficult to know what to make of Japan today - where its future will lead, whether it will see a cultural resurgence or decline. It is certain that its roots are deep and I hope she finds a way to draw on them and to flourish.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spark: A Discussion

A great presentation, worth watching in its entirety.

With apologies to my Hadoop friends but this is good for you too.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Exactly Wrong

I normally avoid anything that smacks of a competitive discussion on what I consider to be a space for personal reflection. So while I want to disclose the fact that I am not disinterested in the points I am making from a professional standpoint, my main interest is to frame some architecture points that I think are extremely important for the maturation and success of the Hadoop ecosystem.

A few weeks back, Mike Olson of Cloudera spoke at Spark Summit on how Spark relates to the future of Hadoop. The presentation can be found here:

http://youtu.be/8kcdwnbHnJo

In particular I want to draw attention to the statement made at 1:45 in the presentation that describes Spark as the "natural successor to MapReduce" - it becomes clear very quickly that what Olson is talking about is batch processing. This is fascinating as everyone I've talked to immediately points out one obvious thing: Spark isn't a general purpose batch processing framework - that is not its design center. The whole point of Spark is to enable fast data access and interactivity.
 
The guys that clearly "get" Spark - unsurprisingly - are DataBricks. In talking with Ion and company, it's clear they understand the use cases where Spark shines - data scientist driven data exploration and algorithmic development, machine learning, etc. - things that take advantage of the memory mapping capabilities and speed of the framework. And they have offered an online service that allows users to rapidly extract value from cloud friendly datasets, which is smart.

Cloudera's idea of pushing SQL, Pig and other frameworks on to Spark is actually a step backwards - it is a proposal to recreate all the problems of MapReduce 1: it fails to understand the power of refactoring resource management away from the compute model. Spark would have to reinvent and mature models for multi-tenancy, resource managemnet, scheduling, security, scaleout, etc that are frankly already there today for Hadoop 2 with YARN.

The announcement of an intent to lead an implementation of Hive on Spark got some attention. This was something that I looked at carefully with my colleagues almost 2 years ago, so I'd like to make a few observations on why we didn't take this path then.

The first was maturity, in terms of the Spark implementation, of Hive itself, and Shark. Candidly, we knew Hive itself worked at scale but needed significant enhancement and refactoring for both new features on the SQL front and to work at interactive speeds. And we wanted to do all this in a way that did not compromise Hive's ability to work at scale - for real big data problems. So we focused on the mainstream of Hive and the development of a Dryad like runtime for optimal execution of operators in physical plans for SQL in a way that meshed deeply with YARN. That model took the learnings of the database community and scale out big data solutions and built on them "from the inside out", so to speak.

Anyone who has been tracking Hadoop for, oh, the last 2-3 years will understand intuitively the right architectural approach needs to be based on YARN. What I mean is that the query execution must - at the query task level - be composed of tasks that are administered directly by YARN. This is absolutely critical for multi-workload systems (this is one reason why a bolt on MPP solution is a mistake for Hadoop - it is at best a tactical model while the system evolves).  This is why we are working with the community on Tez, a low level framework for enabling YARN native domain specific execution engines. For Hive-on-Tez, Hive is the engine and Tez provides the YARN level integration for resource negotiation and coorindation for DAG execution: a DAG of native operators analogous the the execution model found in the MPP world (when people compare Tez and Spark, they are fundamentally confused - Spark could be run on Tez for example for a much deeper integration with Hadoop 2 for example). This model allows the full range of use cases from interactive to massive batch to be administered in a deeply integrated, YARN native way.

Spark will undoubtedly mature into a great tool for what it is designed for: in memory, interactive scenarios - generally script driven - and likely grow to subsume new use cases we aren't anticipating today. It is, however, exactly the wrong choice for scale out big data batch processing in anything like the near term; worse still, returning to a monolithic general purpose compute framework for all Hadoop models would be a huge regression and is a disastrously bad idea.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dependent Rational Animals

I wanted to briefly comment on Alisdair MacIntyre's lectures collected as "Dependent Rational Animals", but let me precede that with a couple of comments for context: first, as I alluded in my last post referencing Levinas, it is my view that the the ethics demands a certain primacy in any healthy conception of life and society; second, in the area of ethics, Macintyre's After Virtue is the book that has had perhaps the biggest impact on my own thinking.

One of the criticisms of MacIntyre is that his critique of rational ethics is, on the one hand, devastating; on the other hand, his positive case for working out a defense of his own position - a revivification of social ethics in the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition(s) was somewhat pro forma. I think this is legitimate in so far as it relates to After Virtue itself (I believe I have read the latest edition - 3 - most recently), though I am not enough of a MacIntyre expert to offer a defensible critique of his work overall.

I do, however, want to draw attention to Dependent Rational Animals specifically in this light. Here MacIntyre begins with is the position of human as animal - as a kind of naturalist starting point for developing another pass at the importance of the tradition of the virtues. What is most remarkable is that in the process of exploring the implications of our "animality" MacIntyre manages to subvert yet another trajectory of twentieth century philosophy, this time as it relates to the primacy of linguistics. The net effect is to restore philosophical discourse back toward the reality of the human condition in the context of the broader evolutionary context of life on earth without - and this I must say is the most amazing part of this book - resorting to fables-masked-as-science (evolutionary psychology).

Monday, July 07, 2014

George EP Box

"Essentially, all models are wrong. Some models are useful."