May 26, 2018

Save the date

0 comments

Edited: May 26, 2018

There's still one thing we encounter all to frequently when working with, manipulating or simply extracting data. We can book tickets over our mobile phones, check the news, integrate AI into our websites and determine if one message should be reviewed before another based on sentiment analysis. But in this technological nirvana there is one quiet, dystopian corner... Dates!

 

For most developers dates are almost a right-of-passage, when you are no longer considered a junior but have morphed into someone more world-wise (and possibly a little more bitter) because you've discovered time zones, or possibly even date formats.

 

Just to pick on one of these issues lets have a look at date formats. If I write down the date and time of 09/03/2018 10:03 then am I referring to the 9th March or the 3rd September, also is this 10am or 10pm? For internal documents this might not matter when your entire team is located in the same geographical area, but if you're using this in your data or sharing with people in other countries then it matters a lot. I once got a 10 minutes lecture from someone in America about how I'd published a document 3 months in the future.

 

Some tools don't help either, Microsoft Excel is terrible for adjusting dates and times to local formats when you open and save files. We sometimes see Excel files with a combination of date formats in the same file when people from different countries have worked on different parts of the same file.

 

So what can be done? Well, there's a few things which you can do which will make life easier for you and everyone else.

 

Storing dates as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)

This makes working with dates from devices or systems operating globally a lot easier. Trying to work out the time between two events, distributed globally, when you have to factor in timezone differences and daylight savings is incredibly difficult.

 

Also, when working with files from others don't assume that they're in UTC or your local time zone. Always double check.

 

When exchanging dates and times use ISO-8601

Yep, this is such an issue that there is an international standard defining how dates and times should be exchanged, including timezone offsets.

 

Avoid exchanging dates using tools which can change the format

Tools like Excel are incredibly popular for working with data, but Excel files aren't so good for exchanging data. This is why formats like csv, json, xml and parquet, amongst others, exist.

 

Anything else?

If you do need to start manipulating date structures or dates with time zones, or even adding time to existing dates then make sure you use good libraries to do this, such as Joda Time if your working with Java based languages.

New Posts
  • Something that comes up quite frequently when people start using Spark is "How can I filter my DataFrame using the contents of another DataFrame?". People with SQL experience will immediately look to trying to replicate the following. SELECT * FROM table_a a WHERE EXISTS (SELECT * FROM table_b b WHERE b.Id = a.Id) So how do you do this in Spark? Well, some people will try to use the Column.isin method which uses varargs, this is okay for a small set of values but if you have a couple of large DataFrames then it's less than optimal as each row needs to be evaluated against the list. So what's the other choice? We can use joins to do the same thing. There are 2 we can use, a SEMI JOIN which is equivalent to our above example of running EXISTS; the other is ANTI JOIN which is equivalent to a NOT EXISTS. Using the above example and keeping the table names as DataFrame names we could re-write this in Scala as: table_a.join(table_b, Seq("Id"), "left_semi") These 2 joins are unique in that they only return the output of the left DataFrame, without any content from the right DataFrame. So what does this look like in practice. Well using Azure Databricks we can quickly create some sample data to try them out. First lets create a couple of DataFrames. First lets runs a simple query to find heroes which have an arch-enemy. This uses the SEMI JOIN to keep records in the left DataFrame where there is a matching record in the right DataFrame. Now, lets have look for heroes who've been a little more active and have removed their arch-enemies (for now). This time we've used an ANTI JOIN to keep only those records in the left DataFrame where there are no matching records in the right DataFrame. You'll notice that in the examples the join condition uses the slightly longer form, that's because in this example the columns we're joining on have different names, and also because there is a column in both DataFrames which have the same name.
  • Recently I needed to deploy an Azure Data Lake Store - Gen 2 instance and thought I'd take the opportunity to use some custom ARM template functions . These aren't something you often see in the example templates but can be really useful if there's a complex expression which you find yourself writing repeatedly within a template. If, for instance, you routinely create resource names based on a prefix, unique name and a suffix then this could save you a few keystrokes. In essence you are simply parameterizing the expression as follows: In this way you can use this simpler expression where you would have previously used the more complex version. [namespace.function(parameter1, parameter2)] If you want to see what this looks like in a full template then checkout this simple ARM template I put together for creating a Data Lake Store - Gen 2 instance over on GitHub.
  • Documentation is not something people often spend time reading, or if they do then its to quickly find the one thing their after and then get out as quickly as possible, very similar to how I do my Christmas shopping. Sometimes it's worth spending time reading the documentation though as there can be some useful bits of information hidden in summary descriptions, links etc... One such item is the Azure Data Lake Store client. If you find yourself reading or writing a lot of files and your doing it in multiple tasks (or threads, but you should be using Tasks if possible), then reading the docs can really help you out. For instance this snippet taken from the description at the top of the documentation page . If an application wants to perform multi-threaded operations using this SDK it is highly recomended to set ServicePointManager.DefaultConnectionLimit to the number of threads application wants the sdk to use before creating any instance of AdlsClient. By default ServicePointManager.DefaultConnectionLimit is set to 2. Okay, so how bad can things be if you don't read this? Well, to answer that I created an ADLS instance and uploaded a number of small parquet files. Then wrote an application to read each file (using the excellent Parquet .NET ) and return the number of records in the file, each file is processed in it's own Task and each uses the same AdlsClient instance. The simple process being followed here is to get a list of files, call " ProcessPath " on each and then when all the files have been process output the results. The output of this initial version is as follows: It's not too bad, but with multiple tasks I would have expected it to be better. Looking at the documentation snippet above it suggests we need to change the ServicePointManager.DefaultConnectionLimit value, but what to? Well doing some digging around came across a suggestion from Microsoft Support which, for ASP.NET, is to limit the number of requests that can execute at the same time to 12 per CPU (or 12 per core). So let's give that a go and see what happens. The code change for this is pretty simple and we can use System.Environment to get the number of processors available. So does it make much of a difference? Well, yes, quite a lot of difference actually. I ran the code in both variations a few more times to check it wasn't intermittent networking issues, other processes on my laptop interfering etc... but no, it really does make that much of a difference. So next time you're working with multiple tasks sharing resources, maybe spend a bit of time reading the documentation to see if there's anything which can make a difference to your application.