Programming Collective Intelligence Review

Programming Collective Intelligence

Programming Collective Intelligence is a great conceptual introduction to many common machine learning algorithms and techniques. It covers classification algorithms such as Naive Bayes and Neural Networks, and algorithmic optimization approaches like Genetic Programming. The book also manages to pick interesting example applications, such as stock price prediction and topic identification.

There are two chapters in particular that stand out to me. First is Chapter 6, which covers Naive Bayes classification. What stood out was that the algorithm presented is an online learner, which means it can be updated as data comes in, unlike the NLTK NaiveBayesClassifier, which can be trained only once. Another thing that caught my attention was Fisher’s method, which is not implemented in NLTK, but could be with a little work. Apparently Fisher’s method is great for spam filtering, and is used by the SpamBayes Outlook plugin (which is also written in Python).

Second, I found Chapter 9, which covers Support Vector Machines and Kernel Methods, to be quite intuitive. It explains the idea by starting with examples of linear classification and its shortfalls. But then the examples show that by scaling the data in a particular way first, linear classification suddenly becomes possible. And the kernel trick is simply a neat and efficient way to reduce the amount of calculation necessary to train a classifier on scaled data.

The final chapter summarizes all the key algorithms, and for many it includes commentary on their strengths and weaknesses. This seems like valuable reference material, especially for when you have a new data set to learn from, and you’re not sure which algorithms will help get the results you’re looking for. Overall, I found Programming Collective Intelligence to be an enjoyable read on my Kindle 3, and highly recommend it to anyone getting started with machine learning and Python, as well as anyone interested in a general survey of machine learning algorithms.

Bay Area NLP Meetup

This Thursday, June 7 2011, will be the first meeting of the Bay Area NLP group, at Chomp HQ in San Francisco, where I will be giving a talk on NLTK titled “NLTK: the Good, the Bad, and the Awesome”. I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve learned using NLTK, operating, and doing random consulting on natural language processing. I’ll also explain why NLTK-Trainer exists and how awesome it is for training NLP models. So if you’re in the area and have some time Thursday evening, come by and say hi.

Update on 07/10/2011: slides are online from my talk: NLTK: the Good, the Bad, and the Awesome.

Upcoming Python Book Reviews

Programming Collective IntelligenceProgramming Collective Intelligence

I recently finished reading Programming Collective Intellegince and will be posting a review soon. The TL;DR review is: get it if want an great introduction to machine learning with Python. It covers a lot of complex algorithms in a simple way, and provides some great example use cases.

Python Testing CookbookPython Testing Cookbook

Testing is something nearly every developer can do more of, and this Python Testing Cookbook looks to be full of techniques for integrating testing at various levels of a project. As a preview, you can download a PDF of Chapter 3 – Creating Testable Documentation with doctest.

Python 3 Web Development

Python 3 Web Development Beginner’s Guide

I haven’t used Python 3 yet, so Python 3 Web Development Beginner’s Guide is a good excuse to do so. I also haven’t done any web development outside of Django in a few years, and I’m interested to see how it compares to doing it from scratch. As a preview, you can download a PDF of Chapter 3 – Tasklist I Persistence.

Kindle 3

Kindle 3

I’m reading all of these on a Kindle 3, which has worked out surprisingly well. It’s obviously not good for copy & pasting code snippets, but that’s generally a bad idea anyway. And if don’t want to type code in yourself, you can always download it from the publisher’s site.

Weotta at TechCrunch Disrupt

For those that missed it, my company, Weotta, launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2011. The experience was at turns exciting, stressful, and fun. We met many cool people (like the teams from Skylines and Rexly) and had some delicious food at restaurants like Song, Fatty Crab, and Momofuku.

On the first day, we gave our demo, and I nearly swore on stage when I saw the big red X’s that you get when the Google Static Maps API rate limits your IP address. I had checked before the session started, and everything seemed okay, but I guess you can’t escape Murphy’s Law (especially when hundreds of people are sharing the same IP address). Afterwards, we immediately scrambled to get the site ready to allow people in. So many people were sharing our beta invite link on Facebook that the Weotta Facebook App was temporarily disabled due to unusual behavior. Luckily, our excellent advisor Mike Hart connected us with some great people at the Facebook API team, and they quickly got us back online.

The next day we discovered, and quickly fixed, an inaccurate geocode that was causing certain plans not to generate. Then I found out that anonymized facebook emails are much longer than Django’s 75 character default EmailField max_length. Not wanting to do a database migration while so many people were using the site, I waited until getting back home to fix this issue. But despite these small problems, hundreds of people were able to get in to Weotta, make plans, and discover fun things to do with their friends.

Weotta has been running smoothly ever since, and now that the conference craziness is over, we can start focusing on our #1 feedback: when will Weotta be in my city? We got requests for everywhere from Chicago and Denver to Sydney and Singapore. We hear you, and will be expanding outside of SF and NY as fast we can. While our methods are very algorithmic and we don’t depend on UGC, it still takes human effort to give you focused, localized, highly relevant content so you can easily discover and plan amazing occasions. And if you’d like to help us expand and improve Weotta, get in touch. On the technical side, we’re looking for at least 2 developers: a crawler/content person familiar with Scrapy, and a Django/jQuery web developer. If you’re interested, contact me on github, LinkedIn, or directly at

We hope that everyone who signed up for the beta has received their invite; if you haven’t (or want one), then you can signup for Weotta here (only a limited number will get in). And if you want to learn more about Weotta, then check out the Weotta press coverage. Weotta currently covers San Francisco and New York, so if you’re interested in a “personal concierge” like service that can provide recommended plans/itineraries of things to do in a city, then signup for weotta here.

Interview and Article about NLTK and Text-Processing

I recently did an interview with Zoltan Varju (@zoltanvarju) about Python, NLTK, and my demos & APIs at, which you can read here. There’s even a bit about Erlang & functional programming, as well as some insight into what I’ve been working on at Weotta. And last week, the API got a write up (and a nice traffic boost) from Garrett Wilkin (@garrettwilkin) on

Text Processing API Survey

If you’ve been using the API, or are thinking about using it, I’d appreciate it if you take this survey. Usage of the API has gone up recently (especially sentiment analysis), and a number of people have gone over the 1k requests/day/IP limit, so I’m considering a freemium model and/or commercial licensing for a self-hosted version. So if you’d like to use the API to do more than 1k reqs/day and/or analyze text whose length is greater 10k characters, please take this short survey.

Click here to take the Text Processing API Survey.

Analyzing Tagged Corpora and NLTK Part of Speech Taggers

NLTK Trainer includes 2 scripts for analyzing both a tagged corpus and the coverage of a part-of-speech tagger.

Analyze a Tagged Corpus

You can get part-of-speech tag statistics on a tagged corpus using Here’s the tag counts for the treebank corpus:

$ python treebank
loading nltk.corpus.treebank
100676 total words
12408 unique words
46 tags

  Tag      Count
=======  =========
#               16
$              724
''             694
,             4886
-LRB-          120
-NONE-        6592
-RRB-          126
.             3874
:              563
CC            2265
CD            3546
DT            8165
EX              88
FW               4
IN            9857
JJ            5834
JJR            381
JJS            182
LS              13
MD             927
NN           13166
NNP           9410
NNPS           244
NNS           6047
PDT             27
POS            824
PRP           1716
PRP$           766
RB            2822
RBR            136
RBS             35
RP             216
SYM              1
TO            2179
UH               3
VB            2554
VBD           3043
VBG           1460
VBN           2134
VBP           1321
VBZ           2125
WDT            445
WP             241
WP$             14
WRB            178
``             712
=======  =========

By default, sorts by tags, but you can sort by the highest count using --sort count --reverse. You can also see counts for simplified tags using --simplify_tags:

$ python treebank --simplify_tags
loading nltk.corpus.treebank
100676 total words
12408 unique words
31 tags

  Tag      Count
=======  =========
#               16
$              724
''             694
(              120
)              126
,             4886
.             3874
:              563
ADJ           6397
ADV           2993
CNJ           2265
DET           8192
EX              88
FW               4
L               13
MOD            927
N            19213
NP            9654
NUM           3546
P             9857
PRO           2698
S                1
TO            2179
UH               3
V             6000
VD            3043
VG            1460
VN            2134
WH             878
``             712
=======  =========

Analyze Tagger Coverage

You can analyze the coverage of a part-of-speech tagger against any corpus using Here’s the results for the treebank corpus using NLTK’s default part-of-speech tagger:

$ python treebank
loading tagger taggers/maxent_treebank_pos_tagger/english.pickle
analyzing tag coverage of treebank with ClassifierBasedPOSTagger

  Tag      Found
=======  =========
#               16
$              724
''             694
,             4887
-LRB-          120
-NONE-        6591
-RRB-          126
.             3874
:              563
CC            2271
CD            3547
DT            8170
EX              88
FW               4
IN            9880
JJ            5803
JJR            386
JJS            185
LS              12
MD             927
NN           13166
NNP           9427
NNPS           246
NNS           6055
PDT             21
POS            824
PRP           1716
PRP$           766
RB            2800
RBR            130
RBS             33
RP             213
SYM              1
TO            2180
UH               3
VB            2562
VBD           3035
VBG           1458
VBN           2145
VBP           1318
VBZ           2124
WDT            440
WP             241
WP$             14
WRB            178
``             712
=======  =========

If you want to analyze the coverage of your own pickled tagger, use --tagger PATH/TO/TAGGER.pickle. You can also get detailed metrics on Found vs Actual counts, as well as Precision and Recall for each tag by using the --metrics argument with a corpus that provides a tagged_sents method, like treebank:

$ python treebank --metrics
loading tagger taggers/maxent_treebank_pos_tagger/english.pickle
analyzing tag coverage of treebank with ClassifierBasedPOSTagger

Accuracy: 0.995689
Unknown words: 440

  Tag      Found      Actual      Precision      Recall
=======  =========  ==========  =============  ==========
#               16          16  1.0            1.0
$              724         724  1.0            1.0
''             694         694  1.0            1.0
,             4887        4886  1.0            1.0
-LRB-          120         120  1.0            1.0
-NONE-        6591        6592  1.0            1.0
-RRB-          126         126  1.0            1.0
.             3874        3874  1.0            1.0
:              563         563  1.0            1.0
CC            2271        2265  1.0            1.0
CD            3547        3546  0.99895833333  0.99895833333
DT            8170        8165  1.0            1.0
EX              88          88  1.0            1.0
FW               4           4  1.0            1.0
IN            9880        9857  0.99130434782  0.95798319327
JJ            5803        5834  0.99134948096  0.97892938496
JJR            386         381  1.0            0.91489361702
JJS            185         182  0.96666666666  1.0
LS              12          13  1.0            0.85714285714
MD             927         927  1.0            1.0
NN           13166       13166  0.99166034874  0.98791540785
NNP           9427        9410  0.99477911646  0.99398073836
NNPS           246         244  0.99029126213  0.95327102803
NNS           6055        6047  0.99515235457  0.99722414989
PDT             21          27  1.0            0.66666666666
POS            824         824  1.0            1.0
PRP           1716        1716  1.0            1.0
PRP$           766         766  1.0            1.0
RB            2800        2822  0.99305555555  0.975
RBR            130         136  1.0            0.875
RBS             33          35  1.0            0.5
RP             213         216  1.0            1.0
SYM              1           1  1.0            1.0
TO            2180        2179  1.0            1.0
UH               3           3  1.0            1.0
VB            2562        2554  0.99142857142  1.0
VBD           3035        3043  0.990234375    0.98065764023
VBG           1458        1460  0.99650349650  0.99824868651
VBN           2145        2134  0.98852223816  0.99566473988
VBP           1318        1321  0.99305555555  0.98281786941
VBZ           2124        2125  0.99373040752  0.990625
WDT            440         445  1.0            0.83333333333
WP             241         241  1.0            1.0
WP$             14          14  1.0            1.0
WRB            178         178  1.0            1.0
``             712         712  1.0            1.0
=======  =========  ==========  =============  ==========

These additional metrics can be quite useful for identifying which tags a tagger has trouble with. Precision answers the question “for each word that was given this tag, was it correct?”, while Recall answers the question “for all words that should have gotten this tag, did they get it?”. If you look at PDT, you can see that Precision is 100%, but Recall is 66%, meaning that every word that was given the PDT tag was correct, but 6 out of the 27 words that should have gotten PDT were mistakenly given a different tag. Or if you look at JJS, you can see that Precision is 96.6% because it gave JJS to 3 words that should have gotten a different tag, while Recall is 100% because all words that should have gotten JJS got it.

Training Part of Speech Taggers with NLTK Trainer

NLTK trainer makes it easy to train part-of-speech taggers with various algorithms using

Training Sequential Backoff Taggers

The fastest algorithms are the sequential backoff taggers. You can specify the backoff sequence using the --sequential argument, which accepts any combination of the following letters:

a: AffixTagger
u: UnigramTagger
b: BigramTagger
t: TrigramTagger

For example, to train the same kinds of taggers that were used in Part of Speech Tagging with NLTK Part 1 – Ngram Taggers, you could do the following:

python treebank --sequential ubt

You can rearrange ubt any way you want to change the order of the taggers (though ubt is generally the most accurate order).

Training Affix Taggers

The --sequential argument also recognizes the letter a, which will insert an AffixTagger into the backoff chain. If you do not specify the --affix argument, then it will include one AffixTagger with a 3-character suffix. However, you can change this by specifying one or more --affix N options, where N should be a positive number for prefixes, and a negative number for suffixes. For example, to train an aubt tagger with 2 AffixTaggers, one that uses a 3 character suffix, and another that uses a 2 character prefix, specify the --affix argument twice:

python treebank --sequential aubt --affix -3 --affix 2

The order of the --affix arguments is the order in which each AffixTagger will be trained and inserted into the backoff chain.

Training Brill Taggers

To train a BrillTagger in a similar fashion to the one trained in Part of Speech Tagging Part 3 – Brill Tagger (using FastBrillTaggerTrainer), use the --brill argument:

python treebank --sequential aubt --brill

The default training options are a maximum of 200 rules with a minimum score of 2, but you can change that with the --max_rules and --min_score arguments. You can also change the rule template bounds, which defaults to 1, using the --template_bounds argument.

Training Classifier Based Taggers

Many of the arguments used by can also be used to train a ClassifierBasedPOSTagger. If you don’t want this tagger to backoff to a sequential backoff tagger, be sure to specify --sequential ''. Here’s an example for training a NaiveBayesClassifier based tagger, similar to what was shown in Part of Speech Tagging Part 4 – Classifier Taggers:

python treebank --sequential '' --classifier NaiveBayes

If you do want to backoff to a sequential tagger, be sure to specify a cutoff probability, like so:

python treebank --sequential ubt --classifier NaiveBayes --cutoff_prob 0.4

Any of the NLTK classification algorithms can be used for the --classifier argument, such as Maxent or MEGAM, and every algorithm other than NaiveBayes has specific training options that can be customized.

Phonetic Feature Options

You can also include phonetic algorithm features using the following arguments:

--metaphone: Use metaphone feature
--double-metaphone: Use double metaphone feature
--soundex: Use soundex feature
--nysiis: Use NYSIIS feature
--caverphone: Use caverphone feature

These options create phonetic codes that will be included as features along with the default features used by the ClassifierBasedPOSTagger. The --double-metaphone algorithm comes from, while all the other phonetic algorithm have been copied from the advas project (which appears to be abandoned).

I created these options after discussions with Michael D Healy about Twitter Linguistics, in which he explained the prevalence of regional spelling variations. These phonetic features may be able to reduce that variation where a tagger is concerned, as slightly different spellings might generate the same phonetic code.

A tagger trained with any of these phonetic features will be an instance of nltk_trainer.tagging.taggers.PhoneticClassifierBasedPOSTagger, which means nltk_trainer must be included in your PYTHONPATH in order to load & use the tagger. The simplest way to do this is to install nltk-trainer using python install.

Spelling Replacers in Microsoft Speller Challenge

Microsoft/Bing recently introduced its Speller Challenge, and I immediately thought about using my spelling replacer code from Chapter 2, Replacing and Correcting Words, in Python Text Processing with NLTK Cookbook. The API is now online, and can be accessed by doing a GET request to With an Expected F1 of ~0.5, I’m currently at number 12 on the Leaderboard, though I don’t expect that position to last long (I was at 10 when I first wrote this). I’m actually quite suprised the score is as high as it is considering the simplicity / lack of sophistication – it means there’s merit in replacing repeating character and/or that Enchant generally gives decent spelling suggestions when controlled by edit distance. Here’s an outline of the code, which should make sense if you’re familiar with the replacers module from Replacing and Correcting Words in Python Text Processing with NLTK Cookbook:

repeat_replacer = RepeatReplacer()
spelling_replacer = SpellingReplacer()

def replacer_suggest(word):
    suggest = repeat_replacer.replace(word)

    if suggest == word:
        suggest = spelling_replacer.replace(word)

    return [(suggest, 1.0)]

Python Text Processing with NLTK Cookbook Chapter 2 Errata

It has come to my attention that there are two errors in Chapter 2, Replacing and Correcting Words of Python Text Processing with NLTK Cookbook. My thanks to the reader who went out of their way to verify my mistakes and send in corrections.

In Lemmatizing words with WordNet, on page 29, under How it works…, I said that “cooking” is not a noun and does not have a lemma. In fact, cooking is a noun, and as such is its own lemma. Of course, “cooking” is also a verb, and the verb form has the lemma “cook”.

In Removing repeating characters, on page 35, under How it works…, I explained the repeat_regexp match groups incorrectly. The actual match grouping of the word “looooove” is (looo)(o)o(ve) because the pattern matching is greedy. The end result is still correct.