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The Square Wheel September 19, 2011

Posted by gordonwatts in Analysis, computers, LINQToTTree, ROOT.

Another geek post, I’m afraid. Last week I posted about some general difficulties I was having with doing analysis at the LHC. I actually got a fair amount of response – but all of it was people talking to me here at CERN rather than comments on the blog. So to summarize before moving on…

The biggest thing I got back was that as the corrections become well known, they get automated – so there is no need for this two step process I outlined before – running on MC and data, deriving a correction, and then running a third time to do the actual work, taking the correction into account. Rather, the ROOT files are centrally produced and the correction is applied there by the group. So the individual doesn’t have to worry. Sweet! That definitely improves life! However, the problem remains (i.e. when you are trying to derive a new correction).

I made three attempts before finally finding an analysis framework that worked (well, four if you count the traditional approach of C++, python, bash, and duct tape!). As you can tell – what I wanted was something that would correctly glue several phases of the analysis together. The example from last time:

  1. Correct the jet pT spectra in Monte Carlo (MC) to data
    1. Run on the full dataset and get the jetPt spectra.
    2. Do the same for MC
    3. Divide the two to get the ratio/correction.
  2. Run over the data and reweight my plot of jet variables by the above correction.

There are basically 4 steps in this: run on the data, run on the MC, divide the results, run on the data. Ding! This looks like workflow! My firs two attempts were based around this idea.

Workflow has a long tradition in particle physics. Many of our computing tasks require multiple steps and careful accounting every step of the way. We have lots of workflow systems that allow you to assemble a task from smaller tasks and keep careful track of everything that you do along the way. Indeed, all of our data processing and MC generation has been controlled by home-rolled workflow systems at ATLAS and DZERO. I would assume at every other experiment as well – it is the only way.

This approach appealed to me: I can build all the steps out of small tasks. One task that runs on data and one that runs on MC. And then add the “plot the jet pT” sub-task to each of those two, take the outputs, and then have a small generic tasks that would calculate a rate, and then another task that would weight the events and finally make the plots. Easy peasy!

So, first I tried Trident, something that came out of Microsoft Research. An open source system, it was designed to work with a number of scientists with large datasets that required frequent processing (NOAA related, I think). It had an attractive UW, and arbitrary data could be passed between the tasks, and the code interface for writing the tasks was pretty simple.


I managed to get some small things working with it – but there were two big things that caused it to fail. First, the way you pass around data was painful. I wanted to pass around a list of files to run on – and then from that I needed to pass around histograms. I wanted fine grained tasks that would manipulate histograms (dividing the plots) and the same time other tasks would be manipulating whole files (making the plots). Ugh! It was a lot of work just to do something simple! The second thing that killed it was that this particular tool – at the time – didn’t have sub-jobs. You couldn’t build a workflow, and then use it in other workflows. It was my fault that I missed that fact when I was choosing the tool.

So, I moved onto a second attempt. Since my biggest problem had been hooking everything up I decided to write my own. Instead of a GUI interface, I had an XML interface. And I did what is known as “coding-by-convention.” The idea is that I’d set a number of defaults into the design so that it “just worked” as long as the individual components obeyed the conventions. Since this was my own private framework there was no worry that this wouldn’t happen. The framework knew how to automatically combine similar histograms, for example, or if it was presented with multiple input datasets it knew how to combine those as well – something that would have required a another step in the Trident solution.

This solution went much better – I was able to do more than just do my demo – I tried moving beyond the reweighting example above and tried to do something more complex. And here is where, I think, I hit on the real reason that workflow doesn’t work for analysis (or at least for me): you are having to switch between various environments too often. The framework was written in XML. If I wanted a new task, then I had to write C++, or C# (depending). Then there was the code that ran the framework – I’d have to upgrade that periodically.

Really, all I wanted to do was make a stupid plot on two datasets, divide it, and then make a third plot using the first as a weight. Why did I need different languages and files to do that – why couldn’t I write that in a few lines??

Those of you who are active in this biz, of course, know the answer: two different environments. One set of code deals with looping over, possibly, terrabytes of data. That is the loop that makes the plot. Then you need some procedural code to do the histogram division. When that is done, you need another loop of code to do the final plots and reweighting. Take a step back. That is a lot of support code that I have to write! Loading up the MC and data files, running the loop over them, saving the resulting histogram. The number of lines I actually need to create the plot and put the data into the plot? Probably about 2 line or 3. The number of lines I need to actually run that job start to finished and make that plot? Closer to 150 or so, and in several files, some compiled and some interpreted. Too much ceremony for that one or two lines of code: 150 lines of boilerplate for 3 or so lines of the physics interesting code.

So, I needed something better. More on that next week.

BTW, the best visual analysis workflow I’ve seen (but not used) is something called VISPA. Had I known about it when I started the above project I would have gone to it first – it is cross platform, has batch manager, etc., integrated in, etc. (a fairly extensive list). Looking in retrospect it looks like it could support most of what I need to do. I say this only having done a quick scan of its documentation pages. I suspect I would have run into the same problem: having to move between different environments to code up something “simple”.



1. Phil - September 22, 2011

I’m intrigued to hear what you came up with – I fight with this kind of thing all the time

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