The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems® Community, Episode 14

Tech Talk Blog ImageOn May 17, 2018, HPCC Systems hosted the latest edition of The Download: Tech Talks. This series of workshops is specifically designed for the community by the community with the goal to share knowledge, spark innovation, and further build and link the relationships within our HPCC Systems community.

Watch the Tech Talk

Links to resources mentioned in Tech Talk 14:

2018 HPCC Systems Community Day
American Heritage School Press Release
Autonomous Golf Car Project
HPCC Systems Internship Program
HPCC Systems Academic Papers
Support Forums

Episode Guest Speakers

Taiowa Donovan, Robotics Program Director,  PLTW Certified Design and Modeling/Robotics and Automation Instructor, Intro to Robotics Honors I and Robotics Honors II Instructor, FIRST Robotics® Competition Team Coach/Founding Mentor American Heritage School 

Taiowa graduated with a B.S. in Early and Secondary Science Education and studied abroad at the London Metropolitan University, focusing on exceptional education and teaching the inner-city child. His teaching experience includes the George Junior Republic Union Free School District; the Advent School in Boca Raton, where he taught science and served as Science Department Chair; and LeadAmerica High School in Boca Raton where he was Program Director of the Engineering and Robotics program helping to design the curriculum and manage the teaching staff. Mr. Donovan is currently the Heritage Robotics Program Director at the Boca/Delray campus, as well as the FIRST Robotics Competition Team Coach and Founding Mentor.

Lorraine Chapman, Consulting Business Analyst, LexisNexis® Risk Solutions 

Lorraine has worked alongside software developers for over 20 years in a supportive role which has ranged from producing documentation including developing on-line help systems to software testing and release management. Lorraine joined LexisNexis in 2004 and as well as continuing to work alongside the HPCC Systems platform development team, also administers the HPCC Systems Intern Program and manages our application to be an accepted organization for Google Summer of Code. Lorraine is an active blogger on our website covering a wide range of subjects from new release information, features and improvements and the work students have completed during their internships.

Richard Taylor, Chief Trainer, HPCC Systems LexisNexis® Risk Solutions 

Richard has worked with the HPCC Systems technology platform and the ECL programming language for over 15 years. He is the original author of the ECL documentation, developer and designer of the HPCC Systems Training Courses, and is the Chief Instructor for all classroom and remote based training.

Key Discussion Topics:

1:15– Flavio Villanustre provides community updates: 
HPCC Systems Platform updates 

  • 6.4.16 is the latest gold version 
  • View the changelog for details

Recent Blogs 

Register for the upcoming Webinar! 

Looking for Speakers! 2018 HPCC Systems Summit Community Day 

  • October 8-9 in Atlanta at the Marriott Buckhead 
  • Two workshops and Poster Competition on October 8 
  • Sponsorship packages 
  • View more at

9:15 – Taiowa Donovan, Robotics Director, American Heritage School – High School Autonomous Agricultural Project

Taiowa introduces us to the rich history of the Robotics Program at American Heritage and the connection the school has with HPCC Systems and LexisNexis.  He provides an overview of the Autonomous Golf Car project students completed last year and explains the work 5-6 students are doing on an autonomous agricultural project with the goal of providing time sensitive data to the owner-operator/farmer/grower of a production farm.  Why autonomous agriculture? Taiowa addresses that question and he discusses why it is important to prepare students for an ever-changing future.

33:35 – Q&A
Q: Will we see you on Battlebots this season?
:  Yes.  Actually, I did have a great opportunity to participate in season three of the reboot of Battlebots on Discovery Channel. They are airing every Friday at 8:00 p.m. Our specific match will air on Friday the 25th. They do have behind-the-scenes and occasionally, we’ll see our smiling faces pop up in some behind-the-scenes stuff. We should be on several episodes and I would recommend catching them all. That’s how we keep everything in check. We need to let the robots know that it’s still us in charge.

Q: Can you take a moment to talk a little about the role of HPCC Systems on all of the projects and how it’s being used?
I think the big help with the connection is that we build robots and we’ve done very well when it comes to the mechanical side and the programing of a robot to get from point A to point B to interact with its environment. But what we’re doing, and our goal for this project is so far beyond where we are right now, that having the connection with HPCC allows us to work on a platform to take this massive amount of data from all of these sensors, and I think one of the big things with what Aramis will be doing is trying to narrow that down and really consolidate the information into something that will be usable for somebody that is not as programming-driven or tech-based in that area, so somebody could look at a map with all of the data that was collected and put it in easy to digest terms. Having that connection, I think, is extremely crucial for us to take this to the next level.

Q: Will your students be doing the analysis on the soil samples that are collected?
It’s a really good question. In fact, that was one that came up in our discussions. The big discussion that we had with the farmers was what is the process, what do you have to do to the soil to get the information you are looking for? One of the big challenges with that is the amount of preparation that you have to do to the soil to get that ready for analysis. We did do a little research and one of the big things for the analysis, the soil has to be sifted through, so there’s no irregular pieces, uniform size, and dried completely, ground up, and then the analysis can take place.

For us, I think it was beyond the scope of what we would be able to do effectively, so we wanted to focus on the collection. What we’ll be doing is collecting soil samples in GPS marking nodes with the coordinates, and then we will be putting those in a box, and each sample will be individually labeled. And that is what we’re looking at doing – taking the task that would take place during the day and have the robot run at night, so it’s able to work when everybody else is sleeping.

If you have additional questions, please contact Taiowa Donovan.


38:00 – Lorraine Chapman, Consulting Business Analyst, LexisNexis Risk Solutions – Meet Our Summer Interns

By the end of 2018, ten students will have completed projects as part of the HPCC Systems intern program. Find out about these students, including where and what they are studying, the projects they will be working on and the intern experience we provide to help them feel part of the team. Lorraine will also speak about how you can get involved with the program by being a mentor or contributing a project idea for a new feature or enhancement to the HPCC Systems platform and/or Machine Learning Library.

54:40 – Q&A
Q: What projects in the past have been put to use at LexisNexis?
I would like to say that all the projects that we have had students mentored on have been put to use in some way, or at least there is a plan to do so. That is the point of the project. We want them to produce a contribution that can go into the code base so that everybody else can take advantage of it. The fact that they work with our mentors very closely means that there’s a greater chance of being able to have something that is actually of great benefit to everybody who might want to use HPCC Systems.  For example, we have some unicode functions that were worked on by a student last summer. He worked on the standard library, and those, I think, are going in for 7.0. I’ve been seeing some of those being checked in to the code base.

We are also using a project from last year for the student who is creating the ability for us to automate the generation of documentation for machine learning library. As I said, Matt’s standard library function also stands a good chance of going into 7.0. It’s great that we get these projects that give us these extra opportunities to add more features into our code base.

Q: Can I still enter my HPCC Systems project into the poster competition if I’m not an intern?
We have students that enter the poster competition every year that aren’t actually part of our intern program. The majority of the students that enter the poster competition are either an intern or they’re working with some of our academic partners on an HPCC Systems related project. If there are any students out there who are working on a HPCC Systems related project and they’re not part of our academic community, we would be very pleased to hear about that.

Q: Is it difficult to serve as internship director with individuals all over the world?
This is a good question, but the answer is no. The reason the answer is no is because communication these days is so much easier. It’s very, very easy to communicate with people all around the world. You do sometimes have to think carefully about organizing meetings across different time zones, but I haven’t yet come across a situation where we haven’t been able to manage that.

I guess that one of the reasons why it doesn’t really occur to me to think it might be a problem is because I work remotely from the rest of the platform team every single day, working remotely from my home. There are seven of us in the U.K. and Ireland working remotely from our homes. There’s a team in the Boca Raton office. We work with others in Dayton, Ohio, and so we’re all spread around and are used to communicating with each other, and we try to be understanding as best as we can about the different time zones. So really, for me, it’s no different than my regular working day. I hope that answers your question.

And our mentors are also dispersed all over the place too. They’re not all in the same areas, and quite a lot of our students work remotely from their mentor every day. But that’s why, when you saw on my slides earlier, I had communication up there in capital letters. I think that the reason why the program works so well despite what some people may perceive as a problem with working remotely, it does seem to work because we make sure that everybody is talking to each other and communicating effectively. That’s what we on the platform team do every day. 

If you have additional questions, please contact Lorraine Chapman.

58:40 – Richard Taylor, Chief Trainer, HPCC Systems, LexisNexis Risk Solutions – Current/Longest Event Sequence by Month

Richard discusses processing event dates to discover for each event within a given time frame: the current number of sequential months the event occurred, and the longest contiguous month-by-month sequence. This topic is based on questions from one of our Statistical Modelers (new to ECL) regarding how to approach the problem in a non-procedural manner. The example code will make use of the GROUP and HAVING functions.

1:17:32 – Q&A
Q: Why is sequential analysis important?
That’s a really good question. I’m a code jockey so I’m a little more interested personally in the how to discover the answer. That is more of a statistical modeler’s type of question, so I really don’t know the answer. Obviously, we need to make sure that we’re discovering the information that our customers want to see.

Q: Do you typically post the questions and your answers in the forum?
 Yes, Bob Foreman and I monitor the community forums daily. If a question is asked directly to me from an interaction in the office, it isn’t going to be appearing on the forums. But otherwise, every answer that we post out there is there for everybody because the dissemination to the widest possible degree of how you can accomplish things with ECL is what the forum is really all about.

Q: I never knew of the HAVING function. Is that something that you teach in ECL training?
Absolutely. It’s one of those functions, I forget exactly which course it’s covered in, but we do discuss it. It’s one of those things that’s a little more arcane, and it’s probably in one of the ROXIE classes.

Q: Are inline transform structures more efficient than the standard transform end structure?
We’ve actually done some side by side type of things. The difference between an inline transform structure, as this particular code shows in that iterate, I did the transform inline. And in the project, also I did the transform inline versus the table. You noticed that between the project and the table, the graph showed absolutely no difference between doing it one way or the other. I didn’t show the graphs for the difference between an inline transform versus a non-inline transform, but I guarantee there’s absolutely no difference in the generated C++ code. There is no performance impact on the difference between doing an inline transform versus a separate transform function.

Now, the productivity aspect of it comes into play though, and if you’re doing a transform structure, that transform functions that could be used by multiple different operations, given slightly different sets of data or whatever. The point being, if you are going to be reusing the transform structure, then I always want to do that as a separate structure, so you only have to write it once. If you do it inline, then you’re going to rewrite that every time that you actually do exactly the same thing.

If you have additional questions, please contact Richard Taylor.

Have a new success story to share? We would welcome you to be a speaker at one of our upcoming The Download: Tech Talks episodes.

• Want to pitch a new use case?

• Have a new HPCC Systems application you want to demo?

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• Have a new suggestion for the roadmap?

Be a featured speaker for an upcoming episode! Email your idea to

Visit The Download Tech Talks wiki for more information about previous speakers and topics.

Watch past episodes of The Download:

The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 4

The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 5

The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 6

The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 7

The Download: Tech Talks by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 9

The Download: Tech Talk by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 10

The Download: Tech Talk by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 11

The Download: Tech Talk by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 12

The Download: Tech Talk by the HPCC Systems Community, Episode 13