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RE: st: A bug in egen and gen?


From   "Liao, Junlin" <junlin-liao@uiowa.edu>
To   "statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu" <statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu>
Subject   RE: st: A bug in egen and gen?
Date   Fri, 18 Feb 2011 00:50:02 +0000

Sarah,

I hope my discussion is making contribution instead of detraction to Stata. Most of the users subscribed to this list are somewhat committed to Stata. We all wishes improvement and perfection of Stata. But somehow I get a sense that it's not easy for people from Stata to recognize perspectives raised by users. I have suggested some feature changes. 1. have an option for user to compress data before saving data files; 2. the -compress- command should recast double to float when variable values will not change. I hope someone is taking note of such issues.

In terms of default to double or float, I'm voicing what I see as the other side of coin. Practically I see no relevance of memory and storage. There is a strong reason behind this. Other than the exponential increase in computing capacity, there is a clear logic favoring my preference. Suppose memory and storage issues do arise in practice. I need to adjust memory allocated to Stata from time to time. So I know I have such a problem. It gets corrected. How about instances not in "most of time" that a double is required but a float is used? Will I get a warning that Stata generated inaccurate results? No. I would assume everything is OK and proceed with analysis with wrong results. Nick used the word "noise" to describe the gain in precision in double data type. I would not consider that as appropriate. It's definitely not noise. Noise is unwanted and precision is desirable.

We need to come back to Nick's first reply. He suggested that I had a attitude problem by demanding two much of Stata. Really? Per Mr. Gould's article about precision, we know for sure that double precision is what Stata used for calculation--if this was not true, I would be worrying about many statistical reports I generated before. So, we know Stata has the correct data at hand (for the -gen- and -egen- commands). However, because of data settings, Stata chooses to store it in a wrong type of data. Should Stata figure out the correct data type? It's a matter of opinion. But can Stata figure out the correct data type to store numeric values? My knowledge and experience of Stata are limited. But I'm 100% confident that Stata or programmers of Stata can. It's simply a matter of willingness and attitude. With a defiant attitude, Stata cannot be that "smart". My no. 3 suggestion is indeed to make the -gen- and -egen- commands smarter to be able to figure the CORRECT data type--!
 if there is "noise", this suggestion will get rid of it.

Let's talk about storage for a change. If Stata is so keen in keeping the files small and usage of memory maximized, I do have another suggestion to increase efficiency at no cost of precision. In my experience, I have many variables stored as 0/1. The smallest data type for it in Stata is Byte. One byte is 8 bits. However, for this type of data, we only need 2 bits (four times less). Will Stata be interested creating a boolean type data? I'm not trying to suggest that Stata do need to create such a data type. I'm highlighting the point that storage may be too much of an excuse for not accepting suggestions for improvement.

Best wishes

Junlin

________________________________________
From: owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu [owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu] on behalf of Sarah Edgington [sedging@ucla.edu]
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2011 5:13 PM
To: statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
Subject: RE: st: A bug in egen and gen?

Junlin,
If it works for you then fine.  The problem is that doubling the size of the
dataset also doubles the amount of memory required to open it.  Judging by
the number of requests this list gets from people looking to increase the
amount of memory Stata can use on their systems, that's much more likely to
be a limiting factor than storage space.  Since, as Maarten notes, in most
cases you're just increasing the size of your data with noise, for many
users, particularly those with large data sets, your recommendation will
actually make using Stata harder not easier.
-Sarah

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
[mailto:owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu] On Behalf Of Liao, Junlin
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2011 2:48 PM
To: statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
Subject: RE: st: A bug in egen and gen?

I took from Bill Gould's article on precision for two points:

1. Stata makes all calculations in double precision, and 2. float provides
more than enough precision for most data applications

What really matters comes down to storage. The experiments did not include
decimal numbers, therefore, the final storage space would not differ. The
point Nick tried to make is that not all numbers are integers, then compress
would not make any difference since compress does not convert decimal double
numbers to float type (even though it should when the recast does not change
the variable values). I looked at my data files. The largest of them all is
a dataset with 135MB. If I convert all float numbers to double, I saw an
increase of size 14% (to 155MB). That is indeed a significant waste of
storage. However, I would still argue for precision. The storage capacity
increase as fast as memory does. In fact I keep a few process variables for
convenience. If I drop those variables, my file size can be reduced to 129MB
with all decimal variable in double type and 119MB with all decimal in float
type (difference reduces to less than 10% now). I can reduce further the
size of my f!
 ile by getting rid of calculated fields. You can blame me as careless in
keeping my files. But in reality I have hundreds of giga bytes wasted every
day (sitting there idle) any way. My point is that the storage factor is not
that important realistically.

In the old days storage and memory mattered a lot. The programs were much
smaller and probably more efficient. The fast increase in computing power is
making the distinction of float and double type numbers increasingly
irrelevant. For Bill's view, float may indeed provide more than enough
precision for most data applications, however, if precision can be gained at
negligible cost--I seriously doubt anyone today running Stata have a
capacity constraint issue with their computers, why not? I do a lot of data
analysis; but still, before my next upgrade of computer, the possibility of
running out of disk space because I set my precision to double is zero.
That's why I choose to change the default to double and recommend others to
do so as well.

Tx,

Junlin

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
[mailto:owner-statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu] On Behalf Of Maarten buis
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:09 PM
To: statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
Subject: RE: st: A bug in egen and gen?

--- On Thu, 17/2/11, Liao, Junlin wrote:
> I just fail to see your point " You can get some of that back by
> -compress-, but not all ". My experiment clearly proves that what
> matters is the "final" storage data type. I understand that by using
> double in place of float or long will increase requirement of memory.
> My point is that computing power is increasing exponentially. For
> example, any computers I use have at least 4GB of memory.
> The machine I load with Stata has 8GB. Memory is least of my concerns,
> but accuracy is always important.

If you store real data as double you are trying to regain accuracy that does
not exist in your data. All you have done is doubled the size of your file
to store random noise. -compress- will only help avoid this if your
variables are all integers.

There are situations where storing or generating variables as doubles make
sense, but they are the exception not the rule.

-- Maarten

--------------------------
Maarten L. Buis
Institut fuer Soziologie
Universitaet Tuebingen
Wilhelmstrasse 36
72074 Tuebingen
Germany

http://www.maartenbuis.nl
--------------------------




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