Book Review: Learning Responsive Data Visualization

This post is about describing my experiences reading a book: “Learning Responsive Data Visualization” by Christoph Körner.

What is it all about?

The book aims to explain the concepts and application of responsive data visualization technologies. It describes the famous CSS framework from Twitter “Bootstrap“, SVG graphics and the JavaScript visualization framework D3.js.

The book has 9 chapters: starting from a short introduction of the components in use, it quickly enables the user to create their first visualization and increases the level of detail and complexity systematically. Later, it describes a combined usage of these components and presents techniques on how to create more elaborate layouts and animations.

In the end,  the book motivates and explains how to test visualization applications, as well as outlines how to solve cross-browser issues.

About the Author

From Amazon

Christoph Körner, CTO and lead developer at GESIM, a start-up company, is a passionate software engineer, web enthusiast, and an active member of the JavaScript community with more than 5 years of experience in developing customer-oriented web applications. He is the author of Data Visualizations with D3 and AngularJS and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Visual Computing at Vienna Institute of Technology.

My opinion

Christoph uses short, concise descriptions. Instead of being verbose, he yields many links for further reading to official documentation or interesting blog entries by utilizing non-invasive text boxes throughout the chapters. The author understands how to direct the reader’s attention at the important parts of the technologies introduced.

Nevertheless, here and there, the author finishes a section with an outlook to an advanced topic that sometimes could have needed a little closer attention. An example of this can be found at the end of chapter 2, when the author mentions, that “D3 provided more useful methods on the generator functions”. He then names only one such method and describes it in one sentence. More useful would have been a small list of these methods or to provide yet another of the excellent code examples in the book.

What I really enjoyed is that the author follows the title of the book closely and visualizes not only the code examples but also graphically depicts the concepts and philosophy of the frameworks in use. This helped me a lot to understand the ideas.

One of the most important things of a textbook is to be simple and comprehensible. Christoph easily reaches these goals.

responsive_data_vis

Audience

In my opionon, you need some level of experience with HTML, CSS and JavaScript before you can get started.
Thus, I believe the book aims at developers of intermediate level. On the other hand, if you bring these prerequisites this book is aimed at beginners of D3.js.

Conclusion

At Amazon I rated the book with 4 stars: While I mentioned above, that I like that it is completely fact based and content focused, I kind of miss to get some historical information or funny side stories in footnotes or fact boxes. Instead, fact boxes are used efficiently to point to additional technical content. There are some rare 5-star-books out there that achieve to create this fine bridge of being educational and entertaining. “Learning Responsive Data Visualization” does not build this bridge, but delivers a solid book to teach yourself and others modern responsive data visualization.

How to Create a Data Pipeline Using Luigi

This is a simple walk-through of an example usage of Luigi. Online there is the excellent documentation of Spotify themselves. You can find all bits and bytes out there to create your own pipeline script. Also, there are already a few blog posts about what is possible when using Luigi, but then – I believe – it’s not very well described how to implement it. So, in my opinion there is either too much information to just try it out or too few information to actually get started hands-on. Also, I’ll mention a word about security.

Therefore, I publish a full working example of a minimalist pipeline from where you can start, copy and paste everything you need

These are the question I try to answer:

  • What is Luigi and when do I want to use it?
  • How do I setup the Luigi scheduler?
  • How do I specify a Luigi pipeline?
  • How do I schedule a Luigi pipeline?
  • Can I use Luigi with a secure Hadoop cluster?
  • What I like about Luigi?

What is Luigi?

Luigi is a framework written in Python that makes it easy to define and execute complex pipelines in a consistent way. You can use Luigi …

  • … when your data is processed in (micro) batches, rather than it is streamed
  • … when you want to run jobs that depend on (many) other jobs.
  • … when you want to have nice visualizations of your pipelines to keep a good overview.
  • … when you want to integrate data into the Hadoop ecosystem.
  • … when you want to do any of the above and love Python.

Create Infrastructure

Every pipeline can actually be tested using the --local-scheduler tag in the command line. But for production you should use a central scheduler running on one node.

The first thing you want to do is to create a user and a group the scheduler is running as.

groupadd luigi
useradd -g luigi luigi

The second step is to create a Luigi config directory.

sudo mkdir /etc/luigi
sudo chown luigi:luigi /etc/luigi

You also need to install Luigi (and Python and pip) if you did not do that already.

pip install luigi

It’s now time to deploy the configuration file. Put the following file into /etc/luigi/luigi.cfg. In this example the Apache Pig home directory of a Hortonworks Hadoop cluster is specified. There are many more configuration options listed in the official documentation.

[core]
default-scheduler-host=www.example.com
default-scheduler-port=8088

[pig]
home=/usr/hdp/current/pig-client

Don’t forget to create directories for the process id of the luigi scheduler daemon, the store log and libs.

sudo mkdir /var/run/luigi
sudo mkdir /var/log/luigi
sudo mkdir /var/lib/luigi
chown luigi:luigi /var/run/luigi
chown luigi:luigi /var/log/luigi
chown luigi:luigi /var/lib/luigi

You are now prepared to start up the scheduler daemon.

sudo su - luigi
luigid --background --port 8088 --address www.example.com --pidfile /var/run/luigi/luigi.pid --logdir /var/log/luigi --state-path /var/lib/luigi/luigi.state'

A Simple Pipeline

We are now ready to go. Let’s specify an example pipeline that actually can be run without a Hadoop ecosystem present: It reads data from a custom file, counting the number of words and writing the output to a file called count.txt. In this example two of the most basic task types are used: luigi.ExternalTask which requires you to implement the output method and luigi.Task which requires you to implement the requires, output and run methods. I added pydocs to all methods and class definitions, so the code below should speak for itself. You can also view it on Github.

import luigi

class FileInput(luigi.ExternalTask):
    '''
    Define the input file for our job:
        The output method of this class defines
        the input file of the class in which FileInput is
        referenced in "requires"
    '''

    # Parameter definition: input file path
    input_path = luigi.Parameter()

    def output(self):
        '''
        As stated: the output method defines a path.
        If the FileInput  class is referenced in a
        "requires" method of another task class, the
        file can be used with the "input" method in that
        class.
        '''
        return luigi.LocalTarget(self.input_path)

class CountIt(luigi.Task):
    '''
    Counts the words from the input file and saves the
    output into another file.
    '''

    input_path = luigi.Parameter()

    def requires(self):
        '''
        Requires the output of the previously defined class.
        Can be used as input in this class.
        '''
        return FileInput(self.input_path)

    def output(self):
        '''
        count.txt is the output file of the job. In a more
        close-to-reality job you would specify a parameter for
        this instead of hardcoding it.
        '''
        return luigi.LocalTarget('count.txt')

    def run(self):
        '''
        This method opens the input file stream, counts the
        words, opens the output file stream and writes the number.
        '''
        word_count = 0
        with self.input().open('r') as ifp:
            for line in ifp:
                word_count += len(line.split(' '))
        with self.output().open('w') as ofp:
            ofp.write(unicode(word_count))

if __name__ == "__main__":
    luigi.run(main_task_cls=CountIt)

Schedule the Pipeline

To test and schedule your pipeline create a file test.txt with arbitrary content.
We can now execute the pipeline manually by typing

python pipe.py --input-path test.txt

Use the following if you didn’t set up and configure the central scheduler as described above

python pipe.py --input-path test.txt -local-scheduler

If you did everything right you will see that no tasks failed and a file count.txt was created that contains the count of the words of your input file.

Try running this job again. You will notice that Luigi will tell you that there already is a dependency present. Luigi detects that the count.txt is already written and will not run the job again.

Now you can easily trigger this pipeline on a daily base by using, e.g., crontab in order to schedule the job to run, e.g., every minute. If your input and output file has the current date in the filename’s suffix, the job will be triggered every minute, but successfully run only exactly once a day.

In a crontab you could do the following:

1 * * * * python pipe.py --input-path test.txt

Security

The cool thing about Luigi is, that you basically don’t need to worry much about security. Luigi basically uses the security features of the components it interacts with. If you are, e.g., working on a secure Hadoop cluster (that means on a cluster, where Kerberos authentication is enforced) the only thing you need to worry about, is that you obtain a fresh Kerberos ticket before you trigger the job – given that the validity of the ticket is longer than the job needs to finish. I.e., when you schedule your pipeline with cron make sure you do a kinit from a keytab. you can check out my answer to a related question on the Hortonworks community connection for more details on that (https://community.hortonworks.com/questions/5488/what-are-the-required-steps-we-need-to-follow-in-s.html#answer-5490) .

What do I like about Luigi?

It combines my favourite programming language and my favourite distributed ecosystem. I didn’t go too much into that now. But Luigi is especially great because of its rich ways to interact with Hadoop Ecosystem services. Instead of a LocalTarget you would rather use HdfsTargets or Amazon S3Targets. You can define and run Pig jobs and there even is a Apache Hive client built in.