tertiary analytics

jim o'neill | austin texas


I’m Jim O’Neill, and this is my blog that focuses on entity and workload analytics. I have spent a decade working on high scale entity resolution engines, tuning both the accuracy and performance of large scale deployments that handle billions of records and trillions of comparisons.

Tertiary Analytics, is a nod to the KT extinction, an event that saw the end of the dinosaurs and rise of mammals. Large scale computing platforms are at a similar inflection point, as we shift from high dollar, on premise solutions, to low cost, cloud based solutions, providing an even greater opportunity to leverage analytical principles in how we explore entity composition and relationships, and deploy and manage workloads.

If you like reading C.V.’s or resumes, then you can find mine here. You can find more information on me on my personal website as well.

Often the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a large set of numbers – even a very large set – is to look at pictures of those numbers.

edward r tufte

data visualization

I’ve spent most of my career integrating, developing and tuning a variety of software and hardware products that support core infrastructure applications. For the past 10 years I have been able to focus on aggregating data across complex infrastructure stacks and developing techniques for enhancing our visual representation of these large scale data sets.

My philosophy has focused on viewing the entire data set for rapid assessment of the behavior of a system. This focus has been on the performance of high scale systems, mostly delving into low level profiling of transactional latency patterns for OLTP style applications. Though my ultimate goal is to provide rapid solutions to my customers for their performance issues, I also strive to make the representation of their data sets comprehensive, visual, clear, and interesting to view.

I’ve compiled a sample of some of the data visualization projects I have taken on over the years, applying a variety of techniques championed by Edward Tufte to these data sets. Hopefully you’ll find looking at these data visualizations as much fun as I had building them.

Some of my favorite visualizations

Click the title to see the graphic and description.

Fault injection testing on kubernetes

This is a time series summary of multiple layers of metrics during fault injection testing on a kubernetes deployment.

Project timeline and outcome

In this visualization I have combined combined a project timeline with test results from a workload profiling sequence following the deployment and tuning of an application on a clustered database environment for the first time. This is an information rich view of the project outcome that illustrates the progress made over the duration of the engagement. Tools like these are helpful in explaining software deployment cycles and the tuning investments required for at-scale projects.

Name token count regression study

An interesting example of the use of linear regression analysis to identify the normalized comparison latency for a person-search workload as the number of tokens in a name is increased. This experiment design was used to compare a baseline comparison function COMP1 to multiple tuning efforts of a new comparison, COMP2.

Weather data

This is an example of the visualization of daily weather readings spanning a decade’s worth of data from a weather station in Brazil. The objective of this plot was to identify seasonal weather patterns in a specific region and the subsequent replication of these patterns in a controlled environment.

Fault injection testing on DB2 Purescale

This visualization focused on illustrating the impact of fault injection during a cluster test. Faults include the soft and hard removal of nodes from a clustered database while three types of transactions were issued against a dataset stored on the cluster. Impacts to the workload were noted, as well as recovery times. Additional CPU metrics from the application and database tiers were presented below the transactional time series plots.

Impact of store openings on transaction rates

A transactional summary view of API calls from a B2C nationwide search workload. This visualization illustrates the ramp up of traffic (light gray) as the day progresses, and the stabilization of transactional search latency (dark gray) as the database buffer pools warm and the physical read rate drops. My favorite portion of this visualization is the illustration of the impact of store openings across time zones in the United States on the transaction rate.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.13.02 PM
Time series scatter plot

A time series latency scatter plot that allows for the visualization of all transactional latency values captured over the course of three hours. In this particular case, the customer was unable to detect a series of micro-outages using their standard 5 minute sample interval. Visualizing the entire data set allowed for the rapid identification of the pattern.


In God we trust, all others must bring data.

w. edwards Deming

Poison frog infographic

I keep three species of poison frogs (they are not poisonous in captivity – they are not on the same diet required to form their poisons) from the Ranitomeya genus:

  • Ranitomeya reticulata
  • Ranitomeya summersi “nominal”
  • Ranitomeya fantastica “nominal”

There was a recent reclassification of some species based on a phylogenomic analysis of the evolution of the Ranitomeya genus; the summary graphic from the article is beautiful and useful at the same time.

Here is a link to the original article.

The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

Gen. Omar Bradley

Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.


Seeing missing data

Abraham Wald and his work on WWII bomber damage is a really cool story highlighting why we need to always challenge the way we look at data and consider what our data is really telling us, and what data we may be missing.

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Google Sheets sparkline visualization design choices

Google Sheets has native support for sparklines. This is more versatile than the Excel implementation, which has me torn – plotting in Excel is MUCH better than plotting in Sheets, but the sparklines in Sheets is better than Excel. I thought I would take you through an example of how I’m leveraging sparklines in Google Sheets in this post.

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LISD COVID-19 stats & analysis

We’ve been keeping an eye on the reported cases coming out of our kids’ school district, Leander ISD. Living in Texas, the mitigation steps taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 is minimal:

  • an unenforced mask mandate
  • no social distancing
  • no pods / containment strategies for limiting contact in secondary school
  • no staggered bell schedules to reduce hallway crowding
  • no outside lunch options available for increased distancing

The relative lack of mitigation efforts alarmed us, so we started taking a closer look at what data was available from the district that we could use to better inform ourselves of what was going on in our school, and the schools around us.

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I’m smellin’ a lotta “IF” comin’ off this plan.

Jayne cobb

And, when you analyze those situations, what you find is that we as humans simply have a profound inability to understand statistics and probability. It’s really that simple.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Never memorize something that you can look up.

albert einstein

a lack of imagination

We were seeing details in the rings that were shocking. We just lacked the imagination that it would require to predict what it would look like.

Carolyn porco, cassini imaging science team lead

This wonderful quote highlights a key element in exploring complex systems – we have to approach our investigations with a wide open imagination, exploring all possible data sources so we can better understand what drives the systems around us.

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plot ’em all

Plotting all you data can be hard. Some think it’s pointless. Some think it’s a waste of time. Some think generic dashboards are better. Some think logging is more precise.

Nothing can replace a well designed scatter plot as a critical diagnostic tool.

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COVID19 / US War comparison

Here’s a visualization of COVID19 average daily death rates compared to US wars. Approximately 866 Americans have died each day during the pandemic from COVID19, eclipsing the American Civil War’s average daily death rate of 449.

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So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.

donald trump

Knowledge itself is power.

Sir Francis Bacon, Meditationes Sacrae (1597)

We’re all mutants, what’s more remarkable is how many of us appear normal.

walter bishop

The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.

Albert Einstein

southern border data

With all the talk about southern border security and a security crisis, I figured I’d poke around and see what data is available that illustrates long term trends in apprehensions along the southern border, and plot those statistics by presidency. Fun project, and I’ll burn through a few iterations of the graphic as I get some ideas. Here’s my first attempt:

So far the only trend I see is a sharp decline in apprehensions beginning with George W. Bush’s presidency and continuing through Barak Obama’s. The current apprehension levels on the southern border have not been seen since the Nixon era.

There’s likely multiple modifications I can make to the infographic. The trend line was a quick fit with a black line. It’s likely too heavy of a contrast and I’ll have to lighten that to fit the color scheme. I’m not sure I like the bar next to the president names. I think the alternating colors for different presidents on the bar graphs are likely sufficient rendering the vertical line redundant. I’d also like to add more summary statistics and maybe numerical representations of the trend numbers, but that could clutter the plot.

Never underestimate the predictability of stupidity.

bullet tooth tony

i hate donuts (and pies)

Donut plots that is – the new hot plot that has displaced the old pie chart. What is it with us and fatty dessert terms for terrible plotting concepts?

Donuts are a complete waste of space and are seemingly ubiquitous in dashboards these days. They serve little purpose other than to dilute data density while splashing useless color across an interface. Their complete lack of utility should have them outright banned from from the tool box of any serious data scientist.

So here’s a graphic I encountered recently:

There are a few problems here:

  • You have to roll over the graphic to see the actual numeric values.
  • You cannot read or see the smallest values.
  • If you are colorblind like me, you have a really hard time mapping the color to the legend.
  • Speaking of the legend, your eye is bouncing from left to right then back to the left each time you try to understand what value you are looking at.

In short, this “pretty” and “interactive” graphic requires the viewer to do a lot of work just to get a basic understanding of what is going on with the data. It’s exhausting, a waste of time, and a waste of pixels.

So let’s look at what we can do with a variant of a good old fashioned table with a few enhancements:

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The 50-50-90 rule: anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong.

andy rooney

There are two ways to do great mathematics. The first is to be smarter than everybody else. The second way is to be stupider than everybody else — but persistent.

Raoul Bott

helicopter parenting and perceived risk

If you are like me, you remember the days from your childhood of free ranging far from home for hours on end without your parents really knowing where you were. Whether that was walking a mile to the ballpark for baseball practice, or taking a skiff a few miles from home to go out fishing in the bay, my parents rarely knew where I was most of the day. That type of parenting today would have you locked up.

This is a Q&A with a pair of researchers who conducted an interesting study on how moral judgement impacts policy / lawmaking surrounding the regulation of parenting. It’s a very in depth look at the class implications of these new regulations; an interesting blend of behavioral sciences and perceived versus actual risk.


simple solutions

A humorous yet low tech and possibly effective method for warding off lion attacks on cattle herds in Africa – painting eyes on the rear ends of cows. The study is in it’s initial phases, but it looks promising. It also illustrates that the most simple of solutions can be the most effective; something we need to consider in our analytics methodologies.


The full article can be read here:


Big Data, privacy and non-obvious patterns

As a performance data scientist, my day job is about finding non-obvious data access patterns in workloads. These patterns can be leveraged to tune a system, or learn more about the behaviors of users driving these workloads. We can often tell a lot from the metadata without seeing the contents of the transactional data which may contain private or sensitive data. This leads us to develop broad transitional profiling methodologies that allow us to provide feedback loops into applications to self-tune configurations to optimize the cost of running a workload, or in some cases, provide insights back to operators about their users and their usage patterns.

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John Oliver and credit reports

This is a great example (in between the cussing) that highlights the danger of entity linking rules that glue people together based on limited data, or in some cases, a single attribute, like SSN.

Good experiment design – queues from the sciences


I was reading this interesting study on the impact of fear on the stability of a food web which led me to start thinking about principles of sound experimental design, and how such designs can yield valuable insight into a variety of systems, natural or man made. From the authors:

When it comes to conserving biodiversity and maintaining healthy ecosystems, fear has its uses. By inspiring fear, the very existence of large carnivores on the landscape, in and of itself, can provide a critical ecosystem service human actions cannot fully replace, making it essential to maintain or restore large carnivores for conservation purposes on this basis alone.

The experimental design behind this study was fascinating. Using two islands off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, the team setup an experiment:

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name-only match rules

This was a recent highly publicized event here are 4 year old kid in Egypt was sentenced to life in prison because of, well, really crappy entity resolution:


This issue was essentially caused by a match on name (and not even exact), while no other consideration was given to other attributes that would have clearly shown the child that was sentenced was not the actual target. Here are the names referenced in the BBC report in the link I embedded above:

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Zipf’s Law & entity distributions

If you are into Entity Analytics (like I am) then a cursory understanding of Zipf’s Law should be a tool in your bag. It’s a really cool mathematical relationship that governs most of the distributions you will encounter in our line of work, mainly dealing with natural data sets that follow a consistent frequency distribution.

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