satRday Cape Town: Call for Submissions


satRday Cape Town will happen on 18 February 2017 at Workshop 17, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.

Keynotes and Workshops

We have a trio of fantastic keynote speakers: Hilary Parker, Jennifer Bryan and Julia Silge, who’ll be dazzling you on the day as well as presenting workshops on the two days prior to the satRday.

Call for Submissions

We’re accepting submissions in four categories:

  • Workshop [90 min],
  • Lightning Talk [5 min],
  • Standard Talk [20 min] and
  • Poster.

Submit your proposals here. The deadline is 16 December, but there’s no reason to wait for the last minute: send us your ideas right now so that we can add you to the killer programme.


Register for the conference and workshops here. The tickets are affordable and you’re going to get extraordinary value for money.

PLOS Subject Keywords: Association Rules

In a previous post I detailed the process of compiling data on subject keywords used in articles published in PLOS journals. In this instalment I’ll be using those data to mine Association Rules with the arules package. Good references on the topic of Association Rules are



Data suitable for mining Association Rules should consist of:

  • a set of uniquely identified transactions, where
  • each transaction should have one or more items, where
  • items are binary attributes.

The derived rules take the form X → Y, where X and Y are disjoint itemsets, each consisting of one or more items. The itemsets X and Y are known as the antecedent (lhs or left hand side) and consequent (rhs or right hand side). The rules should be interpreted as “If X is present then so too is Y”.

An Association Rules analysis aims to identify pairs (or groups) of items that are commonly found together. A shopping analogy would be that bread is often purchased with milk, while peanuts are often purchased with beer. This kind of analysis is not only confined to this sort of “consumption” scenario: it can be applied in any situation where a discrete set of items is associated with individual transactions.

In the context of the data we previously gathered from PLOS, where every article is tagged with one or more subjects, each of the articles is a “transaction” and the subjects are then the “items”. We’ll be deriving rules for which subjects commonly occur together. Or, more specifically, we’ll be generating rules like “If an article is tagged with subject X then it is probably also tagged with subject Y”.

Transaction Matrix

The arules package derives Association Rules from a Transaction Matrix. The form in which we have the subjects data is particularly convenient for building a sparse matrix (class ngCMatrix from the Matrix package).

> head(subjects)
                           doi      journal              subject count
1 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology               Borneo     1
2 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology Conservation science     1
3 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology            Elephants     1
4 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology   Endangered species     2
5 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology        Plant fossils     2
6 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000007 PLOS Biology    Pleistocene epoch     1

For the purposes of the arules package the ngCMatrix needs to have items (in this case case subjects) as rows and transactions (in this case articles) as columns.

> library(Matrix)
> subjects.matrix <- with(subjects, sparseMatrix(i = as.integer(subject),
+                                                j = as.integer(doi),
+                                                dimnames = list(levels(subject),
+                                                                      levels(doi))))
> dim(subjects.matrix)
[1]   9357 185984
> class(subjects.matrix)
[1] "ngCMatrix"
[1] "Matrix"

There are 185984 articles and 9357 subjects. Next we coerce this into a Transactions Matrix.

> library(arules)
> subjects.matrix <- as(subjects.matrix, "transactions")
> class(subjects.matrix)
[1] "transactions"
[1] "arules"

Here’s some summary information. We see that the vast majority of articles are associated with eight subjects.

> summary(subjects.matrix)
transactions as itemMatrix in sparse format with
 185984 rows (elements/itemsets/transactions) and
 9357 columns (items) and a density of 0.000824 

most frequent items:
          Gene expression Polymerase chain reaction          Mouse models             Apoptosis                none 
                    17819                      9458                  8773                  7630                7593 

element (itemset/transaction) length distribution:
     1      2      3      4      5      6      7      8 
  7625     16     22     34     26     30     54 178177 

   Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
   1.00    8.00    8.00    7.71    8.00    8.00 

includes extended item information - examples:
1     293T cells
2 3D bioprinting
3    3D printing

includes extended transaction information - examples:
1 10.1371/annotation/008b05a8-229b-4aca-94ae-91e6dd5ca5ba
2 10.1371/annotation/00a3b22e-36a9-4d51-89e5-1e6561e7a1e9
3 10.1371/annotation/00d17a45-7b78-4fd5-9a9a-0f2e49b04eee

Generating Rules (Default Settings)

There are two major algorithms for generating Association Rules: Apriori and Eclat. We’ll be using the former here. We’ll try to derive some rules using apriori() with default parameters.

> rules <- apriori(subjects.matrix)

Parameter specification:
 confidence minval smax arem  aval originalSupport support minlen maxlen target   ext
        0.8    0.1    1 none FALSE            TRUE     0.1      1     10  rules FALSE

Algorithmic control:
 filter tree heap memopt load sort verbose
    0.1 TRUE TRUE  FALSE TRUE    2    TRUE

Absolute minimum support count: 18598 

set item appearances ...[0 item(s)] done [0.00s].
set transactions ...[9357 item(s), 185984 transaction(s)] done [0.13s].
sorting and recoding items ... [0 item(s)] done [0.00s].
creating transaction tree ... done [0.01s].
checking subsets of size 1 done [0.00s].
writing ... [0 rule(s)] done [0.00s].
creating S4 object  ... done [0.01s].

Zero rules! Well, that’s a little disappointing. But not entirely surprising: the default minimum thresholds on support (0.1) and confidence (0.8) are rather conservative. (I’ll explain what support and confidence mean shortly.) We’ll relax them in order to at least generate a decent selection of rules.

Generating Rules (Relaxed Settings)

Reducing the thresholds on support and confidence to 0.002 and 0.75 respectively results in 35 rules. Lower values for these thresholds are necessary because there is a relatively small degree of subject overlap between the articles in the collection. Not surprising since they are derived from a wide range of disciplines!

> rules <- apriori(subjects.matrix, parameter = list(support = 0.002, confidence = 0.75))

Parameter specification:
 confidence minval smax arem  aval originalSupport support minlen maxlen target   ext
       0.75    0.1    1 none FALSE            TRUE   0.002      1     10  rules FALSE

Algorithmic control:
 filter tree heap memopt load sort verbose
    0.1 TRUE TRUE  FALSE TRUE    2    TRUE

Absolute minimum support count: 371 

set item appearances ...[0 item(s)] done [0.00s].
set transactions ...[9357 item(s), 185984 transaction(s)] done [0.14s].
sorting and recoding items ... [838 item(s)] done [0.01s].
creating transaction tree ... done [0.10s].
checking subsets of size 1 2 3 4 done [0.04s].
writing ... [35 rule(s)] done [0.00s].
creating S4 object  ... done [0.04s].

Below is some summary information on those rules. We see that the largest rule length (total number of items on lhs and rhs of rule) is only 3.

> summary(rules)
set of 35 rules

rule length distribution (lhs + rhs):sizes
 2  3 
25 10 

   Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
   2.00    2.00    2.00    2.29    3.00    3.00 

summary of quality measures:
    support          confidence         lift       
 Min.   :0.00203   Min.   :0.756   Min.   :  9.34  
 1st Qu.:0.00233   1st Qu.:0.795   1st Qu.: 27.89  
 Median :0.00290   Median :0.858   Median : 39.60  
 Mean   :0.00337   Mean   :0.859   Mean   : 66.18  
 3rd Qu.:0.00365   3rd Qu.:0.923   3rd Qu.: 90.97  
 Max.   :0.01154   Max.   :1.000   Max.   :233.23  

mining info:
            data ntransactions support confidence
 subjects.matrix        185984   0.002       0.75

This seems like a good time to peruse the rules themselves. To see the details we need to use inspect().

> inspect(rules)
   lhs                                        rhs                                        support   confidence lift    
1  {Memory T cells}                        => {T cells}                                  0.0021292 0.98020     28.1633
2  {Circadian oscillators}                 => {Circadian rhythms}                        0.0021292 0.85900    233.2272
3  {HbA1c}                                 => {Diabetes mellitus}                        0.0023550 0.90123     38.5500
4  {Secondary lung tumors}                 => {Lung and intrathoracic tumors}            0.0026346 1.00000    123.9067
5  {H1N1}                                  => {Influenza}                                0.0020432 0.76923     90.7770
6  {Corals}                                => {Coral reefs}                              0.0020271 0.75551    199.5923
7  {T helper cells}                        => {T cells}                                  0.0022314 0.82341     23.6585
8  {Face recognition}                      => {Face}                                     0.0021400 0.77282    191.3866
9  {T cell receptors}                      => {T cells}                                  0.0026669 0.91176     26.1971
10 {Breast tumors}                         => {Breast cancer}                            0.0024142 0.79610     57.2330
11 {Forest ecology}                        => {Forests}                                  0.0030271 0.94147     93.3362
12 {Antibody response}                     => {Antibodies}                               0.0028336 0.87542     39.0439
13 {Surgical oncology}                     => {Surgical and invasive medical procedures} 0.0024626 0.75702     50.3737
14 {Prostate gland}                        => {Prostate cancer}                          0.0030218 0.79603    130.7859
15 {HIV prevention}                        => {HIV}                                      0.0035003 0.90669     42.3372
16 {Tuberculosis diagnosis and management} => {Tuberculosis}                             0.0036885 0.93333     91.1686
17 {Geriatrics}                            => {Elderly}                                  0.0033229 0.80469    125.9756
18 {HIV diagnosis and management}          => {HIV}                                      0.0036186 0.81675     38.1376
19 {HIV epidemiology}                      => {HIV}                                      0.0038390 0.85817     40.0719
20 {Regulatory T cells}                    => {T cells}                                  0.0040971 0.87687     25.1945
21 {Chemotherapy}                          => {Cancer treatment}                         0.0040917 0.77259     22.3432
22 {Multiple alignment calculation}        => {Sequence alignment}                       0.0050811 0.85987     30.8255
23 {Malarial parasites}                    => {Malaria}                                  0.0051617 0.79668     74.8332
24 {HIV infections}                        => {HIV}                                      0.0076888 0.84816     39.6044
25 {Cytotoxic T cells}                     => {T cells}                                  0.0115386 0.95846     27.5388
26 {HIV epidemiology,HIV infections}       => {HIV}                                      0.0020432 0.95000     44.3597
27 {Gene expression,Regulator genes}       => {Gene regulation}                          0.0023174 0.77798     26.6075
28 {Malarial parasites,Parasitic diseases} => {Malaria}                                  0.0030863 0.78415     73.6565
29 {Malaria,Parasitic diseases}            => {Malarial parasites}                       0.0030863 0.82117    126.7428
30 {Phylogenetics,Sequence alignment}      => {Phylogenetic analysis}                    0.0022260 0.79310     33.2517
31 {Cytotoxic T cells,Flow cytometry}      => {T cells}                                  0.0023497 0.98202     28.2157
32 {Cytotoxic T cells,Immune response}     => {T cells}                                  0.0033121 0.96100     27.6117
33 {Cytokines,Cytotoxic T cells}           => {T cells}                                  0.0028981 0.96078     27.6055
34 {Enzyme-linked immunoassays,Vaccines}   => {Antibodies}                               0.0026293 0.77619     34.6185
35 {Gene regulation,Microarrays}           => {Gene expression}                          0.0041885 0.89437      9.3349

Each of the rules consists of two itemsets, a lhs and a rhs, with the implication that if the lhs itemset is selected then so too is the rhs itemset.

Rule Metrics

Naturally some rules are stronger than others. Their relative quality is measured by a set of metrics: support, confidence and lift.


The support for an itemset is the proportion of transactions which contain that itemset. The support for a rule is the proportion of transactions which contain both the antecedent and consequent itemsets.

The five rules below are those with the highest support. The rule {Cytotoxic T cells} → {T cells} has support of 0.0115386, which means that “Cytotoxic T cells” and “T cells” are present in 1.15% of transactions. Likewise, the rule {Gene regulation,Microarrays} → {Gene expression} has support of 0.0041885, indicating that “Gene regulation”, “Microarrays” and “Gene expression” appear in 0.4% of transactions.

> inspect(head(sort(rules, by = "support"), n = 5))
   lhs                                 rhs                  support   confidence lift   
25 {Cytotoxic T cells}              => {T cells}            0.0115386 0.95846    27.5388
24 {HIV infections}                 => {HIV}                0.0076888 0.84816    39.6044
23 {Malarial parasites}             => {Malaria}            0.0051617 0.79668    74.8332
22 {Multiple alignment calculation} => {Sequence alignment} 0.0050811 0.85987    30.8255
35 {Gene regulation,Microarrays}    => {Gene expression}    0.0041885 0.89437     9.3349

Support does not directly indicate the strength of the rule, just how often the components of the rule are present in the data. However, having a decent level of support for a rule is important because it indicates what proportion of the data contributed to deriving that rule. Obviously if a rule is based on only a few transactions then it is not likely to be very robust.


The confidence assigned to a rule is the proportion of transactions which contain both the antecedent and consequent relative to those which contain the antecedent. Equivalently, this is the ratio of the support for the rule to the support for the antecedent. Alternatively confidence is the probability of the rhs being present in a transaction conditional on the lhs also being present.

The five rules below are those with the highest confidence. For example, we see that articles with subjects which include “Secondary lung tumors” will certainly also contain “Lung and intrathoracic tumors”. Similarly, articles which have both “Cytokines” and “Cytotoxic T cells” as subjects will very likely also have “T cells”.

> inspect(head(sort(rules, by = "confidence"), n = 5))
   lhs                                    rhs                             support   confidence lift   
4  {Secondary lung tumors}             => {Lung and intrathoracic tumors} 0.0026346 1.00000    123.907
31 {Cytotoxic T cells,Flow cytometry}  => {T cells}                       0.0023497 0.98202     28.216
1  {Memory T cells}                    => {T cells}                       0.0021292 0.98020     28.163
32 {Cytotoxic T cells,Immune response} => {T cells}                       0.0033121 0.96100     27.612
33 {Cytokines,Cytotoxic T cells}       => {T cells}                       0.0028981 0.96078     27.606


The lift of a rule indicates how much greater the support for the rule is relative to the support for the antecedent and consequent, treated as if they are independent. Equivalently, lift is the ratio of confidence in a rule to the expected confidence were the antecedent and consequent independent. A useful interpretation of the lift is the increase in probability for the consequent if the antecedent is present. Alternatively, it’s the ratio of the conditional probability of the consequent given the antecedent to the marginal probability of the consequent. Write out the expression and it’ll make more sense.

A lift of 1 indicates that the antecedent and consequent are independent. In the rules below we see that the presence of “Circadian oscillators” results in a massive increase in the likelihood of the presence of “Circadian rhythms”. Similarly, if both “Malaria” and “Parasitic diseases” are present then the probability of “Malarial parasites” being used increases by over one hundred fold.

> inspect(head(sort(rules, by = "lift"), n = 5))
   lhs                             rhs                  support   confidence lift  
2  {Circadian oscillators}      => {Circadian rhythms}  0.0021292 0.85900    233.23
6  {Corals}                     => {Coral reefs}        0.0020271 0.75551    199.59
8  {Face recognition}           => {Face}               0.0021400 0.77282    191.39
14 {Prostate gland}             => {Prostate cancer}    0.0030218 0.79603    130.79
29 {Malaria,Parasitic diseases} => {Malarial parasites} 0.0030863 0.82117    126.74

Rule Selection

Before we look at rule selection we’ll generate a more extensive assortment of rules by further lowering the thresholds for support and confidence.

> rules <- apriori(subjects.matrix, parameter = list(support = 0.001, confidence = 0.25))

Parameter specification:
 confidence minval smax arem  aval originalSupport support minlen maxlen target   ext
       0.25    0.1    1 none FALSE            TRUE   0.001      1     10  rules FALSE

Algorithmic control:
 filter tree heap memopt load sort verbose
    0.1 TRUE TRUE  FALSE TRUE    2    TRUE

Absolute minimum support count: 185 

set item appearances ...[0 item(s)] done [0.00s].
set transactions ...[9357 item(s), 185984 transaction(s)] done [0.15s].
sorting and recoding items ... [1600 item(s)] done [0.02s].
creating transaction tree ... done [0.13s].
checking subsets of size 1 2 3 4 done [0.07s].
writing ... [984 rule(s)] done [0.00s].
creating S4 object  ... done [0.04s].

You can use the subset() function to focus on particular rules of interest. What other subjects are commonly associated with “HIV”?

> subset(rules, subset = lhs %in% "HIV")
set of 19 rules 

So there is quite a selection of them. We can narrow that down by focusing on those which have a relatively high level of confidence.

> inspect(subset(rules, subset = lhs %in% "HIV" & confidence > 0.5))
    lhs                                            rhs              support   confidence lift  
677 {HIV,HIV prevention}                        => {HIV infections} 0.0018174 0.51920    57.274
685 {HIV,Tuberculosis diagnosis and management} => {Tuberculosis}   0.0010646 0.92958    90.802
694 {HIV,HIV epidemiology}                      => {HIV infections} 0.0020432 0.53221    58.709
844 {Cytotoxic T cells,HIV}                     => {T cells}        0.0010108 0.97917    28.134

Selection criteria are applied in subset() using the operators %in% (does item appear in itemset?), %pin% (like %in% but with partial matching) and %ain% (match all items specified) to operate on lhs and rhs. Arithmetic comparisons are used on the rule metrics.

Here’s another example which indicates that articles with subject “Dementia” will also have either “Alzheimer disease” or “Cognitive impairment” as a subject roughly 50% of the time.

> inspect(subset(rules, subset = lhs %in% "Dementia"))
    lhs           rhs                    support   confidence lift  
101 {Dementia} => {Alzheimer disease}    0.0011022 0.53385    67.681
102 {Dementia} => {Cognitive impairment} 0.0011399 0.55208    55.502


It might have occurred to you that these rules should be symmetric: if X → Y then surely Y → X too? This is certainly the case. Consider the four rules below, which consist of two symmetric pairs.

> inspect(subset(rules, subset = lhs %in% "Fungal genetics" | rhs %in% "Fungal genetics"))
    lhs                  rhs               support   confidence lift   
165 {Fungal genetics} => {Fungal genomics} 0.0010646 0.38900    135.482
166 {Fungal genomics} => {Fungal genetics} 0.0010646 0.37079    135.482
167 {Fungal genetics} => {Fungi}           0.0016453 0.60118     94.195
168 {Fungi}           => {Fungal genetics} 0.0016453 0.25779     94.195

The highlighted rules {Fungal genetics} → {Fungi} and {Fungi} → {Fungal genetics} form one symmetric pair. Note that the support and lift are the same for both rules, but that the first rule has a higher confidence than the second. This is due to different supports for the antecedent in each case. Whereas “Fungal genetics” is a subject for 509 articles, “Fungi” appears as a subject for 1187 articles. The corresponding values of support are 0.0027368 and 0.0063823 respectively. Since “Fungi” is more than twice as common, the confidence in the second rule is diminished significantly. This emphasises the fact that rules with the highest confidence are those for which the support for the antecedent is almost as high as the support for the rule itself.


Although the example presented here has been confined to binary (presence/absence) data, Association Rules can also be applied effectively to categorical data, as illustrated in Example 2 of the paper by Hahsler et al. cited above.

Association Rules are a powerful unsupervised learning technique which can be fruitfully applied in data mining. The resulting rules are often instrumental in identifying actionable insights from the data.

ubeR: A Package for the Uber API

Uber exposes an extensive API for interacting with their service. ubeR is a R package for working with that API which Arthur Wu and I put together during a Hackathon at iXperience.



The package is currently hosted on GitHub. Installation is simple using the devtools package.

> devtools::install_github("DataWookie/ubeR")
> library(ubeR)


To work with the API you’ll need to create a new application for the Rides API.

  • Set Redirect URL to http://localhost:1410/.
  • Enable the profile, places, ride_widgets, history_lite and history scopes.

With the resulting Client ID and Client Secret you’ll be ready to authenticate. I’ve stored mine as environment variables but you can just hard code them into the script for starters.



We can immediately use uber_me() to retrieve information about the authenticated user.

> identity <- uber_me()
> names(identity)
[1] "picture"         "first_name"      "last_name"       "uuid"            "rider_id"       
[6] "email"           "mobile_verified" "promo_code"   
> identity$first_name
[1] "Andrew"
> identity$picture
[1] ""

Clearly I haven’t made enough effort in personalising my Uber account.

Designated Places

Uber allows you to specify predefined locations for “home” and “work”. These are accessible via uber_places_get().

> uber_places_get("home")
[1] "St Andrews Dr, Durban North, 4051, South Africa"

> uber_places_get("work")
[1] "Dock Rd, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, 8002, South Africa"

These addresses can be modified using uber_places_put().


You can access data for recent rides using uber_history().

> history <- uber_history(50, 0)
> names(history)
 [1] "status"       "distance"     "request_time" "start_time"   "end_time"     "request_id"  
 [7] "product_id"   "latitude"     "display_name" "longitude"

The response includes a wide range of fields, we’ll just pick out just a few of them for closer inspection.

> head(history)[, c(2, 4:5, 9)]
  distance          start_time            end_time  display_name
1   1.3140 2016-08-15 17:35:24 2016-08-15 17:48:54 New York City
2  13.6831 2016-08-11 15:29:58 2016-08-11 16:04:22     Cape Town
3   2.7314 2016-08-11 09:09:25 2016-08-11 09:23:51     Cape Town
4   3.2354 2016-08-10 19:28:41 2016-08-10 19:38:07     Cape Town
5   7.3413 2016-08-10 16:37:30 2016-08-10 17:21:16     Cape Town
6   4.3294 2016-08-10 13:38:49 2016-08-10 13:59:00     Cape Town

Product Descriptions

We can get a list of cars near to a specified location using uber_products().

> cars <- uber_products(latitude = -33.925278, longitude = 18.423889)
> names(cars)
[1] "capacity"          "product_id"        "price_details"     "image"            
[5] "cash_enabled"      "shared"            "short_description" "display_name"     
[9] "description"  
> cars[, c(1, 2, 7)]
  capacity                           product_id short_description
1        4 91901472-f30d-4614-8ba7-9fcc937cebf5             uberX
2        6 419f6bdc-7307-4ea8-9bb0-2c7d852b616a            uberXL
3        4 1dd39914-a689-4b27-a59d-a74e9be559a4         UberBLACK

Information for a particular car can also be accessed.

> product <- uber_products(product_id = "91901472-f30d-4614-8ba7-9fcc937cebf5")
> names(product)
[1] "capacity"          "product_id"        "price_details"     "image"            
[5] "cash_enabled"      "shared"            "short_description" "display_name"     
[9] "description"      
> product$price_details

[1] 0.7

[1] "km"

[1] 20

[1] 7

[1] 5

[1] 25

[1] "ZAR"


It’s good to have a rough idea of how much a ride is going to cost you. What about a trip from Mouille Point to the Old Biscuit Mill?


> estimate <- uber_requests_estimate(start_latitude = -33.899656, start_longitude = 18.407663,
+                                    end_latitude = -33.927443, end_longitude = 18.457557)
> estimate$trip
[1] "mile"

[1] 600

[1] 4.15

> estimate$pickup_estimate
[1] 4
> estimate$price
  high_amount display_amount display_name low_amount surge_multiplier currency_code
1        5.00           5.00    Base Fare       5.00                1           ZAR
2       56.12    42.15-56.12     Distance      42.15                1           ZAR
3        8.30      6.23-8.30         Time       6.23                1           ZAR

Not quite sure why the API is returning the distance in such obscure units. (Note to self: convert those to metric equivalent in next release!) The data above are based on the car nearest to the start location. What about prices for a selection of other cars?

> estimate <- uber_estimate_price(start_latitude = -33.899656, start_longitude = 18.407663,
+                     end_latitude = -33.927443, end_longitude = 18.457557)
> names(estimate)
 [1] "localized_display_name" "high_estimate"          "minimum"                "duration"
 [5] "estimate"               "distance"               "display_name"           "product_id"
 [9] "low_estimate"           "surge_multiplier"       "currency_code"         
> estimate[, c(1, 5)]
  localized_display_name  estimate
1                  uberX  ZAR53-69
2                 uberXL  ZAR68-84
3              uberBLACK ZAR97-125

The time of arrival for each of those cars can be accessed via uber_estimate_time().

> uber_estimate_time(start_latitude = -33.899656, start_longitude = 18.407663)
  localized_display_name estimate display_name                           product_id
1                  uberX      180        uberX 91901472-f30d-4614-8ba7-9fcc937cebf5
2                 uberXL      420       uberXL 419f6bdc-7307-4ea8-9bb0-2c7d852b616a
3              uberBLACK      300    uberBLACK 1dd39914-a689-4b27-a59d-a74e9be559a4

So, for example, the uberXL would be expected to arrive in 7 minutes, while the uberX would pick you up in only 3 minutes.

Requesting a Ride

It’s also possible to request a ride. At present these requests are directed to the Uber API Sandbox. After we have done further testing we’ll retarget the requests to the API proper.

A new ride is requested using uber_requests().

> ride <- uber_requests(start_address = "37 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town",
+                       end_address = "100 St Georges Mall, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town")

Let’s find out the details of the result.

> names(ride)
 [1] "status"           "destination"      "product_id"       "request_id"
 [5] "driver"           "pickup"           "eta"              "location"
 [9] "vehicle"          "surge_multiplier" "shared"     
> ride$pickup
[1] -33.9

[1] 18.406
> ride$destination
[1] -33.924

[1] 18.42

Information about the currently requested ride can be accessed using uber_requests_current(). If we decide to walk instead, then it’s also possible to cancel the pickup.

> uber_requests_current_delete()


For more information about units of measurement, limits and parameters of the Uber API, have a look at the API Overview.

We’ll be extending the package to cover the remaining API endpoints. But, for the moment, most of the core functionality is already covered.

Also Relevant

A nice blog post by Simon Jackson who used ubeR to plot his recent trips.

PLOS Subject Keywords: Gathering Data

I’m putting together a couple of articles on Collaborative Filtering and Association Rules. Naturally, the first step is finding suitable data for illustrative purposes.

There are a number of standard data sources for these kinds of analyses:

I’d like to do something different though, so instead of using one of these, I’m going to build a data set based on subject keywords from articles published in PLOS journals. This has the advantage of presenting an additional data construction pipeline and the potential for revealing something new and interesting.

Before we get started, let’s establish some basic nomenclature.


Data used in the context of Collaborative Filtering or Association Rules analyses are normally thought of in the following terms:

– a “thing” which is rated.
– a “person” who either rates one or more Items or consumes ratings for Items.
– the evaluation of an Item by a User (can be a binary, integer or real valued rating or simply whether or not the User has interacted with the Item).

Sample Article

We’re going to retrieve a load of data from PLOS. But, just to set the scene, let’s start by looking at a specific article, Age and Sex Ratios in a High-Density Wild Red-Legged Partridge Population, recently published in PLOS ONE. You’ll notice that the article is in the public domain, so you can immediately download the PDF (no paywalls here!) and access a wide range of other data pertaining to the article. There’s a list of subject keywords on the right. This is where we will be focusing most of our attention, although we’ll also retrieve DOI, authors, publication date and journal information for good measure.


We’ll be using the rplos package to access data via the PLOS API. A search through the PLOS catalog is initiated using searchplos(). To access the article above we’d just specify the appropriate DOI using the q (query) argument, while the fields in the result are determined by the fl argument.

> library(rplos)
> partridge <- searchplos(q = "id:10.1371/journal.pone.0159765",
+                         fl = 'id,author,publication_date,subject,journal')$data

The journal, publication date and author data are easy to consume.

> partridge$id
[1] "10.1371/journal.pone.0159765"
> partridge[, 3:5]
   journal     publication_date                                       author
1 PLOS ONE 2016-08-10T00:00:00Z Jesús Nadal; Carolina Ponz; Antoni Margalida

The subject keywords are conflated into a single string, making them more difficult to digest.

> partridge$subject %>% cat
/Biology and life sciences/Population biology/Population dynamics;
/Ecology and environmental sciences/Conservation science;
/Earth sciences/Atmospheric science/Meteorology/Weather;
/Earth sciences/Atmospheric science/Meteorology/Rain;
/Ecology and environmental sciences/Ecology/Community ecology/Trophic interactions/Predation;
/Biology and life sciences/Ecology/Community ecology/Trophic interactions/Predation;
/Biology and life sciences/Population biology/Population metrics/Population density;
/Biology and life sciences/Organisms/Animals/Vertebrates/Amniotes/Birds;
/Biology and life sciences/Organisms/Animals/Vertebrates/Amniotes/Birds/Fowl/Gamefowl/Partridges

Here’s an extract from the documentation about subject keywords which helps make sense of that.

The Subject Area terms are related to each other with a system of broader/narrower term relationships. The thesaurus structure is a polyhierarchy, so for example the Subject Area “White blood cells” has two broader terms “Blood cells” and “Immune cells”. At its deepest the hierarchy is ten tiers deep, with all terms tracking back to one or more of the top tier Subject Areas, such as “Biology and life sciences” or “Social sciences.”

We’ll use the most specific terms in each of the subjects. It’d be handy to have a function to extract these systematically from a bunch of articles.

> library(dplyr)
> options(stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
> split.subject <- function(subject) {
+   data.frame(subject = sub(".*/", "", strsplit(subject, "; ")[[1]]),
+              stringsAsFactors = FALSE) %>%
+     group_by(subject) %>%
+     summarise(count = n()) %>%
+     ungroup
+ }

So, for the article above we get the following subjects:

> split.subject(partridge$subject)
# A tibble: 8 x 2
               subject count
                 <chr> <int>
1                Birds     1
2 Conservation science     1
3           Partridges     1
4   Population density     1
5  Population dynamics     1
6            Predation     2
7                 Rain     1
8              Weather     1

Those tie up well with what we saw on the home page for the article. We see that all of the terms except Predation appear only once. There are two entries for Predation, one in category “Ecology and environmental sciences” and the other in “Biology and life sciences”. We can’t really interpret these entries as ratings. They should rather be thought of as interactions. At some stage we might transform them into Boolean values, but for the moment we’ll leave them as interaction counts.

Some data is collected explicitly, perhaps by asking people to rate things, and some is collected casually, for example by watching what people buy.
Toby Segaran, Programming Collective Intelligence

Article Collection

We’ll need a lot more data to do anything meaningful. So let’s use the same infrastructure to grab a few thousand articles.

> dim(articles)
[1] 185984      5

Parsing the subject column and aggregating the results we get a data frame with counts of the number of times a particular subject keyword is associated with each article.

> subjects <- lapply(1:nrow(articles), function(n) {
+   cbind(doi = articles$id[n],
+         journal = articles$journal[n],
+         split.subject(articles$subject[n]))
+ }) %>% bind_rows %>% mutate(
+   subject = factor(subject)
+ )
> dim(subjects)
[1] 1433963       4

Here are the specific data for the article above:

> subset(subjects, doi == "10.1371/journal.pone.0159765")
                                 doi  journal              subject count
1425105 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE                Birds     1
1425106 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE Conservation science     1
1425107 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE           Partridges     1
1425108 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE   Population density     1
1425109 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE  Population dynamics     1
1425110 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE            Predation     2
1425111 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE                 Rain     1
1425112 10.1371/journal.pone.0159765 PLOS ONE              Weather     1

Note that we’ve delayed the conversion of the subject column into a factor until all of the required levels were known.

In future instalments I’ll be looking at analyses of these data using Association Rules and Collaborative Filtering.

Certificates with Ubuntu Guest on VirtualBox

Just made a sparkling new install of Ubuntu 16.04 in VirtualBox on a Windows machine. Feeling much better about having a decent environment to work in, but somewhat irritated by the certificates issues I encountered when I started to run the browser. The machine in question is sitting behind a gnarly firewall and proxy, which I suspect are the source of the problem.

Even more irritated by the fact that I don’t seem to be able to install R packages from GitHub.

> devtools::install_github("ropensci/RSelenium")
Error in curl::curl_fetch_disk(url, x$path, handle = handle) : 
  Peer certificate cannot be authenticated with given CA certificates

Clearly there’s a problem with certificates. I also need to use --ignore-certificate-errors when running chromium-browser, which points to the same issue.

Here’s a work-around. It does not resolve the general issue with certificates, but at least allows installs from GitHub in R.

> httr::set_config(httr::config(ssl_verifypeer = 0L))

Note that this is by no means a fix to the problem, but it’ll allow you to get your work done while you’re getting your hands on the required certificates to properly sort it out.

Animated Mortality

Kyle Walker’s pyramid plots gave me a serious case of visualisation envy. Here’s something similar using the mortality data from the lifespan package.

Animated mortality pyramid plot.

The change in the mortality profile from year to year over two decades is evident. There’re unmistakable peaks which propagate up the plot, corresponding to babies born in 1943 and 1947, around the start and just after the Second World War.

feedeR: Reading RSS and Atom Feeds from R

I’m working on a project in which I need to systematically parse a number of RSS and Atom feeds from within R. I was somewhat surprised to find that no package currently exists on CRAN to handle this task. So this presented the opportunity for a bit of DIY.

You can find the fruits of my morning’s labour here.

Installing and Loading

The package is currently hosted on GitHub.

> devtools::install_github("DataWookie/feedeR")
> library(feedeR)

Reading a RSS Feed

Although Atom is supposed to be a better format from a technical perspective, RSS is relatively ubiquitous. The vast majority of blogs provide an RSS feed. We’ll look at the feed exposed by R-bloggers.

> rbloggers <- feed.extract("")
> names(rbloggers)
[1] "title"   "link"    "updated" "items"

There are three metadata elements pertaining to the feed.

> rbloggers[1:3]
[1] "R-bloggers"

[1] ""

[1] "2016-08-06 09:15:54 UTC"

The actual entries on the feed are captured in the items element. For each entry the title, publication date and link are captured. There are often more fields available for each entry, but these three are generally present.

> nrow(rbloggers$items)
[1] 8
> head(rbloggers$items, 3)
                                                              title                date
1                                                       readr 1.0.0 2016-08-05 20:25:05
2 Map the Life Expectancy in United States with data from Wikipedia 2016-08-05 19:48:53
3 Creating Annotated Data Frames from GEO with the GEOquery package 2016-08-05 19:35:45

Reading an Atom Feed

Atom feeds are definitely in the minority, but this format is still used by a number of popular sites. We’ll look at the feed from The R Journal.

> rjournal <- feed.extract("")

The same three elements of metadata are present.

> rjournal[1:3]
[1] "The R Journal"

[1] ""

[1] "2016-07-23 13:16:08 UTC"

Atom feeds do not appear to consistently provide the date on which each of the entries was originally published. The title and link fields are always present though!

> head(rjournal$items, 3)
                                                                                title date
1                         Heteroscedastic Censored and Truncated Regression with crch   NA
2 An Interactive Survey Application for Validating Social Network Analysis Techniques   NA
3            quickpsy: An R Package to Fit Psychometric Functions for Multiple Groups   NA


I’m still testing this across a selection of feeds. If you find a feed that breaks the package, please let me known and I’ll debug as necessary.

Web Scraping and “invalid multibyte string”

A couple of my collaborators have had trouble using read_html() from the xml2 package to access this Wikipedia page. Specifically they have been getting errors like this:

Error in utils::type.convert(out[, i], = TRUE, dec = dec) :
  invalid multibyte string at '<e2>€<94>'

Since I couldn’t reproduce these errors on my machine it appeared to be something relating to their particular machine setup. Looking at their locale provided a clue:

> Sys.getlocale()
[1] "LC_COLLATE=Korean_Korea.949;LC_CTYPE=Korean_Korea.949;LC_MONETARY=Korean_Korea.949;

whereas on my machine I have:

> Sys.getlocale()

The document that they were trying to scrape is encoded in UTF-8, which I see in my locale but not in theirs. Perhaps changing locale will sort out the problem? Since the en_ZA locale is a bit of an acquired taste (unless you’re South African, in which case it’s de rigueur!), the following should resolve the problem:

> Sys.setlocale("LC_CTYPE", "en_US.UTF-8")

It’s possible that command might produce an error stating that it cannot be honoured by your system. Do not fear. Try the following (which seems to work almost universally!):

Sys.setlocale("LC_ALL", "English")

Try scraping again. Your issues should be resolved.

Building a Life Table

After writing my previous post, Mortality by Year and Age, I’ve become progressively more interested in the mortality data. Perhaps those actuaries are onto something? I found this report, which has a wealth of pertinent information. On p. 13 the report gives details on constructing a Life Table, which is one of the fundamental tools in Actuarial Science. The lifespan package has all of the data required to construct a Life Table, so I created a lifetable data frame which has those data broken down by gender.

> library(lifespan)
> subset(lifetable, sex == "M") %>% head
  x sex     lx      dx         qx
1 0   M 100000 596.534 0.00596534
2 1   M  99403 256.848 0.00258389
3 2   M  99147 174.077 0.00175575
4 3   M  98973 114.213 0.00115398
5 4   M  98858  83.082 0.00084041
6 5   M  98775  71.536 0.00072423
> subset(lifetable, sex == "F") %>% head
    x sex     lx      dx         qx
133 0   F 100000 452.585 0.00452585
134 1   F  99547 203.525 0.00204450
135 2   F  99344 130.223 0.00131083
136 3   F  99214  84.746 0.00085418
137 4   F  99129  62.055 0.00062600
138 5   F  99067  54.475 0.00054988

The columns in the data above should be interpreted as follows:

  • lx is the number of people who have survive to age x, based on an initial cohort of 100 000 people;
  • dx is the expected number of people in the cohort who die aged x on their last birthday; and
  • qx is the probability that someone aged x will die before reaching age x+1.

A plot gives a high level overview of the data. Below lx is plotted as a function of age. Click on the image to access an interactive Plotly version. The cohort size has been renormalised so that lx is expressed as a percent. It’s readily apparent that the attrition rate is much higher for males than females, and that very few people survive beyond the age of 105.


Using these data we can also calculate some related conditional probabilities. For example, what is the probability that a person aged 70 will live for at least another 5 years?

> survival(70, 5)
      F       M 
0.87916 0.80709 

Another example, what is the probability that a person aged 70 will live for at least another 5 years but then die in the 10 years after that?

> survival(70, 5, 10)
      F       M 
0.37472 0.46714

Interesting stuff! Everything indicates that in terms of longevity, females have the upper hand.

Somebody made the following witty comment on LinkedIn in response to my previous post:

Just good to know that death risk visibly decreases after 100y/o. This helps.

Well, yes and no. In an absolute sense your risk of dying after the age of 100 is relatively low. But the reason for this is that the probability of you actually making it to the age of 100 is low. If, however, you do manage to achieve this monumental age, then your risk of dying is rather high.

> survival(100)
      F       M 
0.65813 0.60958

So men aged 100 have 39% probability of dying before reaching the age of 101, while the probability for women is 34%.

Note that there are also life table data in the babynames package.

Calculating Pi using Buffon’s Needle

I put together this example to illustrate some general R programming principles for my Data Science class at iXperience. The idea is to use Buffon’s Needle to generate a stochastic estimate for pi.

> #' Exploit symmetry to limit range of centre position and angle.
> #' 
> #' @param l needle length.
> #' @param t line spacing.
> #' 
> buffon <- function(l, t) {
+   # Sample the location of the needle's centre.
+   #
+   x <- runif(1, min = 0, max = t / 2)
+   #
+   # Sample angle of needle with respect to lines.
+   #
+   theta = runif(1, 0, pi / 2)
+   #
+   # Does the needle cross a line?
+   #
+   x <= l / 2 * sin(theta)
+ }
> L = 1
> T = 2
> #
> N = 10000
> #
> cross = replicate(N, buffon(L, T))
> library(dplyr)
> #
> estimates = data.frame(
+   n = 1:N,
+   pi = 2 * L / T / cumsum(cross) * (1:N)
+ ) %>% subset(is.finite(pi))

Here are the results (click on the image for an interactive version). The orange line is the reference value and the blue line represents the results of the computation.

Estimating pi with Buffon's Needle