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Many thanks, Martyn.

“Contrary to slanderous Eastern opinion, much of Iowa is not flat, but rolling hills country with a lot of timber, a handsome and imaginative landscape, crowded with constant small changes of scene and full of little creeks winding with pools where shiners, crappies and catfish hover.”

Paul Engle

Catfish are said to be named because of their passing resemblance to land-roving felines. Admittedly, it’s not like any cat I’ve seen around the house, but if you simultaneously squint your eyes – impressionist style, guzzle a quart of bourbon and smoke a stash of ganja then maybe the resemblance becomes more obvious.

Catfish come in all sizes and varieties, at times they are native and other times they are classed as an alien species, rather like this Welshman who finds himself living in the Spain of Evo Morales, Kirchner and King Mohammed. Nonetheless, you won’t find many thrilling and delightful catfish videos on YouTube nor will you see many entered for the best of breed category at the International Cat Show.

So, what have catfish got to do with Big Data?

Well, there’s loads of them, they come in many varieties, and when they aren’t eating, they can be quite swift. But that’s not what I really wanted to discuss.

Now imagine this. Given the immense geographic dispersion, varieties and volumes of catfish around the world, wouldn’t it be interesting to carry out the Ma and Pa of all Big Data experiments?

We capture – over time of course, this is not the work of one day – all the catfish in the world, and we not only electronically tag them but we also fit them with IoT (Internet of Things) devices that will tell us:

  • Where the catfish is
  • Who the catfish is with
  • What are they doing
  • What are they eating
  • How do they feel in general
  • How do they feel about certain things, like the food they just ate, the company they keep, and what they do for entertainment and distraction, etc.

We could then collect this data, in centers all around the world, and then bring it all together in a massive Catfish Big Data Processing Centre in, for example, Coney Island.

Then the data we have so carefully collected, multiplied twice, and then searched and word-counted, in parallel, can be put to revolutionary, evolutionary and amazing uses such as:

  • Analysing and forecasting the Amazon buying trends of the lost Fukawi tribe – yes, the very same tribe who used to wander around boasting about their culture and presence usually accompanied with cries such as “We’re the Fukawi” or “Where the Fukawi?”
  • Creating appealing, compelling and revenue-busting online interactive ads for Bob Hoffman
  • Predicting the outcome of the US Presidential election, the regional elections in Catalonia and the vote for Chairperson at the Hello Working Person’s Club, Hello Village, in Jolly Olde England.
  • Preventing the outbreak of a world-wide pandemic of universal proportions thanks to Big Data being used to intervene virus-bearing inter-terrestrial vehicles sent by radical-fundamentalist-Martians inhabiting the once munificent planet of Zog.
  • Providing a wealth of material success stories that can be liberally sprinkled like fairy-dust on amazing Big Data stories from the keyboards of some of the finest Big Data bullshit babbling princesses on the entire world wide webs.

Over time, the competence, repertoire and agility of Catfish of all varieties, species, volumes and velocities (did anyone mention Catfish voracity and veracity?) could be augmented, potentiated and expanded by invasive, elliptical and sublime manipulation and neuro-retraining. We could then start with in-aqua interactive stimulus, menu variation and programming and extra-sensory passivation. Later the experiments could be more complex and more all-inclusive, reaching greater and greater degrees of perfection and inclusivity and exclusivity as the Catfish Big Data bandwagon rolled on… Waterlogged, waylaid and none the wiser. Indeed, in the future, all individual decisions will also rely on Catfish input, insight and turbo-charged predictive analytics of great and lasting charm.

Diet manipulation, an habituation test, and chemical analysis of urinary free amino acids were used to demonstrate that bullhead catfish (Ictalurus nebulosus) naturally detect the body odors of conspecifics and respond to them in a predictable fashion. These signals are used in dominance and territorial relationships and lead to increased aggression toward chemical “strangers.” The results support the general notion that nonspecific metabolites, as well as specific pheromones, are important in chemical mediation of social behavior.

There is also one very important thing about catfish that not many people know – apart from Michael Caine, who of course is a leading authority on catfish – and not many people know that either. But, anyway… Catfish are also bottom feeders, this is because of some complex physiological configuration that I won’t go into here – for fear of hurting the sensibilities of the puerilely prudish and wasting valuable drinking time – so in terms of data, the Catfish are able to plumb the depths of the most obtuse, dark and murky data, gobble it up, transform it and… err… load it into Hadoop, to be analyzed with Spark and presented in Excel… or something like that.

So, you’re not convinced by this story? Okay, I didn’t want to tell you this, but here it goes…

Many of us worry about leveraging all data, and mainly we worry because we don’t really have a clue about what we are bullshitting about. We see Big Data, and we believe that is good, whether we know this to be true or not. We are grasping at straws like so many bottom feeders, so many feces-eating walking-catfish, motivated by ideas of maximizing the sale of useless and outdated crap to ignorant people who don’t need it and can’t derive any tangible benefit from it in the first place. This is the biggest takeaway from this current schizophrenic Big Data BS Kulturkampf. Beyond a limited set of interest stories and an even more limited set of peripheral benefits accruable in very specific circumstances, there is nothing tangible that really grabs the attention, apart from the razzle-dazzle, smoke and mirrors of vacuous cant dressed up as showmanship.

The biggest problem with Big Data isn’t so much the plethora of technology (which is more and more reminding me of box of half-eaten chocolates,) nor even the niche applications – for as miraculous and mysterious as most of them are. It’s more about Big Data being turned into a seriously creepy religion, where belief is paramount, and where there is little or no questioning of the tenets, the fables, the dogma and the liturgy, and where one person’s willful ignorance is just as valid as another person’s aspiration to gain knowledge and experience.

Make no mistake, Big Data can be useful for certain businesses and for certain situations. But for many of us in practice it’s either a peripheral player or doesn’t even make it to the bench.

A final thought. Treating Big Data as a religion is foolish, unhelpful and ultimately doomed to failure and ignominy. You have been warned!

For what it’s worth, I am currently writing the Ma and Pa of all Big Data parallel-analytics languages (details to follow), and I might even call it catfish (it’s sorta catchy) and I will have it represented by a muddy-looking open-source cartoon catfish, one worthy of a spot on YouTube.

Many thanks for reading.

If you enjoy this piece or find it useful then please consider joining The Big Data Contrarians: https://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=8338976

Many thanks, Martyn.