Category: tools

Google’s Dataset Search: Direct access to 25 million interesting datasets

Google’s Dataset Search: Direct access to 25 million interesting datasets

I used to keep a repository of links to interesting datasets to learn data science. However, that page I can retire, as Google has launched its new service Dataset Search.

The “world wide web” hosts millions of datasets, on nearly any topic you can think of. Google’s Dataset Search has indexed almost 25 million of these datasets, giving you a single entry point to search for datasets online. After a year of testing, Dataset Search is now officially out of beta.

After alpha testing, Dataset Search now includes filter based on the types of dataset that you want (e.g., tables, images, text), on whether the dataset is open source/access. For dataset on geographic area’s, you can see the map. The quality of dataset’s descriptions has improved greatly, and the tool now has a mobile version.

Anyone who publishes data can make their datasets discoverable in Dataset Search by describe the properties of their dataset using a special schema on their own web page.

Visualize graph, diagrams, and proces flows with graphviz.it

Visualize graph, diagrams, and proces flows with graphviz.it

Graphviz.it is a free online tool to create publication-ready diagrams in an interactive fashion. It uses

It uses graphviz-d3-renderer Bower module and adds editor and live preview of code. Try it on Graphviz fiddling website.

Here are some examples:

A diagram of state transitions
A very complex… graph?
Some clusters with subgraphs

The github page hosts more details and you can even follow the development on twitter.

Record2, apparently
Leonardo: Adaptive Color Palettes using Contrast-Ratio

Leonardo: Adaptive Color Palettes using Contrast-Ratio

Leonardo is an open source tool for creating adaptive color palettes; a custom color generator for creating colors based on target contrast ratio. Leonardo is delivered as a Javascript module (@adobe/leonardo-contrast-colors) with a web interface to aid in creating your color palette configurations, which can easily be shared with both designers and engineers. Simply put, Leonardo is for dynamic accessibility of your products.

Read all about Leonardo in this Medium blog post by its author.

The tool is very easy to use. Even I could create a quick palette! Though it’s probably horrendous (due to my colorblindness : ))

Python Web Scraping: WordPress Visitor Statistics

Python Web Scraping: WordPress Visitor Statistics

I’ve had this WordPress domain for several years now, and in the beginning it was very convenient.

WordPress enabled me to set up a fully functional blog in a matter of hours. Everything from HTML markup, external content embedding, databases, and simple analytics was already conveniently set up.

However, after a while, I wanted to do some more advanced stuff. Here, the disadvantages of WordPress hosting became evident fast. Anything beyond the most simple capabilities is locked firmly behind paywalls. Arguably rightfully so. If you want to use WordPress’ add-ins, I feel you should pay for them. That’s their business model after all.

However, what greatly annoys me is that WordPress actively hinders you from arranging matters yourself. Want to incorporate some JavaScript in your page? Upgrade to a paid account. Want to use Google Analytics? Upgrade and buy an add-in. Want to customize your HTML / CSS code? Upgrade or be damned. Even the simplest of tasks — just downloading visitor counts — WordPress made harder than it should be.

You can download visitor statistics manually — day by day, week by week, or year by year. However, there is no way to download your visitor history in batches. If you want to have your daily visiting history, you will manually have to download and store every day’s statistics.

For me, getting historic daily data would entail 1100 times entering a date, scrolling down, clicking a button, specifying a filename, and clicking to save. I did this once, for 36 monthly data snapshots, and the insights were barely worth the hassle, I assure you.

Fortunately, today, after nearly three years of hosting on WordPress, I finally managed to circumvent past this annoyance! Using the Python script detailed below, my computer now automonously logs in to WordPress and downloads the historic daily visitor statistics for all my blogs and pages!

Let me walk you through the program and code.

Modules & Setup

Before we jump into Python, you need to install Chromedriver. Just download the zip and unpack the execution file somewhere you can find it, and make sure to copy the path into Python. You will need it later. Chromedriver allows Python’s selenium webdriver to open up and steer a chrome browser.

We need another module for browsing: webdriver_manager. The other modules and their functions are for more common purposes: os for directory management, re for regular expression, datetime for working with dates, and time for letting the computer sleep in between operations.

from selenium import webdriver
from webdriver_manager.chrome import ChromeDriverManager
from time import sleep
from datetime import datetime, timedelta
import os
import re

Helper Functions

I try to write my code in functions, so let’s dive into the functions that allow us to download visitor statistics.

To begin, we need to set up a driver (i.e., automated browser) and this is what get_driver does. Two things are important here. Firstly, the function takes an argument dir_download. You need to give it a path so it knows where to put any downloaded files. This path is stored under preferences in the driver options. Secondly, you need to specify the path_chromedriver argument. This needs to be the exact location you unpacked the chromedriver.exe. All these paths you can change later in the main program, so don’t worry about them for now. The get_driver function returns a ready-to-go driver object.

def get_driver(dir_download, path_chromedriver):
    chrome_options = webdriver.ChromeOptions()
    prefs = {'download.default_directory': dir_download}
    chrome_options.add_experimental_option('prefs', prefs)
    driver = webdriver.Chrome(executable_path=path_chromedriver, options=chrome_options)
    return driver

Next, our driver will need to know where to browse to. So the function below, compile_traffic_url, uses an f-string to generate the url for the visitor statistics overview of a specific domain and date. Important here is that you will need to change the domain default from paulvanderlaken.com to your own WordPress adress. Take a look at the statistics overview in your regular browser to see how you may tailor your urls.

Now, in the rest of the program, I work dates formatted and stored as datetime.datetime.date(). By default, the compile_traffic_url function also uses a datetime date argument for today’s date. However, WordPress expects simple string dates in the urls. Hence, I need a way to convert these complex datetime dates into simpler strings. That’s what the strftimefunction below does. It formats a datetime date to a date_string, in the format YYYY-MM-DD.

def compile_traffic_url(domain='paulvanderlaken.com', date=datetime.today().date()):
    date_string = date.strftime('%Y-%m-%d')
    return f'https://wordpress.com/stats/day/posts/{domain}?startDate={date_string}'

So we know how to generate the urls for the pages we want to scrape. We compile them using this handy function.

If we would let the driver browse directly to one of these compiled traffic urls, you will find yourself redirected to the WordPress login page, like below. That’s a bummer!

Hence, whenever we start our program, we will first need to log in once using our password. That’s what the signing_in function below is for. This function takes in a driver, a username, and a password. It uses the compile_traffic_url function to generate a traffic url (by default of today’s traffic [see above]). Then the driver loads the website using its get method. This will redirect us to the WordPress login page. In order for the webpages to load before our driver starts clicking away, we let our computer sleep a bit, using time.sleep.

def signing_in(driver, username, password):
    print('Sign in routine')

    url = compile_traffic_url()

    driver.get(url)
    sleep(1)

    field_email = driver.find_element_by_css_selector('#usernameOrEmail')
    field_email.send_keys(username)

    button_submit = driver.find_element_by_class_name('button')
    button_submit.click()

    sleep(1)

    field_password = driver.find_element_by_css_selector('#password')
    field_password.send_keys(password)

    button_submit = driver.find_element_by_class_name('button')
    button_submit.click()

    sleep(2)

Now, our automated driver is looking at the WordPress login page. We need to help it find where to input the username and password. If you press CTRL+SHIFT+C while on any webpage, the HTML behind it will show. Now you can just browse over the webpage elements, like the login input fields, and see what their CSS selectors, names, and classes are.

If you press CTRL+SHIFT+C on a webpage, the html behind it will show.

So, next, I order the driver to find the HTML element of the username-input field and input my username keys into it. We ask the driver to find the Continue-button and click it. Time for the driver to sleep again, while the page loads the password input field. Afterwards, we ask the driver to find the password input field, input our password, and click the Continue-button a second time. While our automatic login completes, we let the computer sleep some more.

Once we have logged in once, we will remain logged in until the Python program ends, which closes the driver.

Okay, so now that we have a function that logs us in, let’s start downloading our visitor statistics!

The download_traffic function takes in a driver, a date, and a list of dates_downloaded (an empty list by default). First, it checks whether the date to download occurs in dates_downloaded. If so, we do not want to waste time downloading statistics we already have. Otherwise, it puts the driver to work downloading the traffic for the specified date following these steps:

  1. Compile url for the specified date
  2. Driver browses to the webpage of that url
  3. Computer sleeps while the webpage loads
  4. Driver executes script, letting it scroll down to the bottom of the webpage
  5. Driver is asked to find the button to download the visitor statistics in csv
  6. Driver clicks said button
  7. Computer sleeps while the csv is downloaded

If anything goes wrong during these steps, an error message is printed and no document is downloaded. With no document downloaded, our program can try again for that link the next time.

def download_traffic(driver, date, dates_downloaded=[]):
    if date in dates_downloaded:
        print(f'Already downloaded {date} traffic')
    else:
        try:
            print(f'Downloading {date} traffic')
            url = compile_traffic_url(date=date)
            driver.get(url)
            sleep(1)
            driver.execute_script("window.scrollTo(0, document.body.scrollHeight);")
            button = driver.find_element_by_class_name('stats-download-csv')
            button.click()
            sleep(1)
        except:
            print(f'Error during downloading of {date}')

We need one more function to generate the dates_downloaded list of download_traffic. The date_from_filename function below takes in a filename (e.g., paulvanderlaken.com_posts_day_12_28_2019_12_28_2019) and searches for a regular expression date format. The found match is turned into a datetime date using strptime and returned. This allows us to walk through a directory on our computer and see for which dates we have already downloaded visitor statistics. You will see how this works in the main program below.

def date_from_filename(filename):
    match = re.search(r'\d{2}_\d{2}_\d{4}', filename)
    date = datetime.strptime(match.group(), '%m_%d_%Y').date()
    return date

Main program

In the end, we combine all these above functions in our main program. Here you will need to change five things to make it work on your computer:

  • path_data – enter a folder path where you want to store the retrieved visitor statistics csv’s
  • path_chromedriver – enter the path to the chromedriver.exe you unpacked
  • first_date – enter the date from which you want to start scraping (by default up to today)
  • username – enter your WordPress username or email address
  • password – enter your WordPress password
if __name__ == '__main__':
    path_data = 'C:\\Users\\paulv\\stack\\projects\\2019_paulvanderlaken.com-anniversary\\traffic-day\\'
    path_chromedriver = 'C:\\Users\\paulv\\chromedriver.exe'

    first_date = datetime(2017, 1, 18).date()
    last_date = datetime.today().date()

    username = "insert_username"
    password = "insert_password"

    driver = get_driver(dir_download=path_data, path_chromedriver=path_chromedriver)

    days_delta = last_date - first_date
    days = [first_date + timedelta(days) for days in range(days_delta.days + 1)]
    dates_downloaded = [date_from_filename(file) for _, _, f in os.walk(path_data) for file in f]

    signing_in(driver, username=username, password=password)

    for d in days:
        download_traffic(driver, d, dates_downloaded)
    driver.close()

If you have downloaded Chromedriver, have copied all the code blocks from this blog into a Python script, and have added in your personal paths, usernames, and passwords, this Python program should work like a charm on your computer as well. By default, the program will scrape statistics from all days from the first_date up to the day you run the program, but this you can change obviously.

Results

For me, the program took about 10 seconds to download one csv consisting of statistics for one day. So three years of WordPress blogging, or 1095 daily datasets of statistics, were extracted in about 3 hours. I did some nice cooking and wrote this blog in the meantime : )

The result after 3 hours of scraping

Compare that to the horror of having to surf, scroll, and click that godforsaken Download data as CSV button ~1100 times!!

The horror button (in Dutch)

Final notes

The main goal of this blog was to share the basic inner workings of this scraper with you, and to give you the same tool to scrape your own visitor statistics.

Now, this project can still be improved tremendously and in many ways. For instance, with very little effort you could add some command line arguments (with argparse) so you can run this program directly or schedule it daily. My next step is to set it up to run daily on my Raspberry Pi.

An additional potential improvement: when the current script encounters no statistics do download for a specific day, no csv is saved. This makes the program try again a next time it is run, as the dates_downloaded list will not include that date. Probably this some minor smart tweaks will solve this issue.

Moreover, there are many more statistics you could scrape of your WordPress account, like external clicks, the visitors home countries, search terms, et cetera.

The above are improvement points you can further develop yourself, and if you do please share them with the greater public so we can all benefit!

For now, I am happy with these data, and will start on building some basic dashboards and visualizations to derive some insights from my visitor patterns. If you have any ideas or experiences please let me know!

I hope this walkthrough and code may have help you in getting in control of your WordPress website as well. Or that you learned a thing or two about basic web scraping with Python. I am still in the midst of starting with Python myself, so if you have any tips, tricks, feedback, or general remarks, please do let me know! I am always happy to talk code and love to start pet projects to improve my programming skills, so do reach out if you have any ideas!

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Getting started with Python in Visual Studio Code

Getting started with Python in Visual Studio Code

After several years of proscrastinating, the inevitable finally happened: Three months ago, I committed to learning Python!

I must say that getting started was not easy. One afternoon three months ago, I sat down, motivated to get started. Obviously, the first step was to download and install Python as well as something to write actual Python code. Coming from R, I had expected to be coding in a handy IDE within an hour or so. Oh boy, what was I wrong.

Apparently, there were already a couple of versions of Python present on my computer. And apparently, they were in grave conflict. I had one for the R reticulate package; one had come with Anaconda; another one from messing around with Tensorflow; and some more even. I was getting all kinds of error, warning, and conflict messages already, only 10 minutes in. Nothing I couldn’t handle in the end, but my good spirits had dropped slightly.

With Python installed, the obvious next step was to find the RStudio among the Python IDE’s and get working in that new environment. As an rational consumer, I went online to read about what people recommend as a good IDE. PyCharm seemed to be quite fancy for Data Science. However, what’s this Spyder alternative other people keep talking about? Come again, there are also Rodeo, Thonny, PyDev, and Wing? What about those then? A whole other group of Pythonista’s said that, as I work in Data Science, I should get Anaconda and work solely in Jupyter Notebooks! Okay…? But I want to learn Python to broaden my skills and do more regular software development as well. Maybe I start simple, in a (code) editor? However, here we have Atom, Sublime Text, Vim, and Eclipse? All these decisions. And I personally really dislike making regrettable decisions or committing to something suboptimal. This was already taking much, much longer than the few hours I had planned for setup.

This whole process demotivated so much that I reverted back to programming in R and RStudio the week after. However, I had not given up. Over the course of the week, I brought the selection back to Anaconda Jupyter Notebooks, PyCharm, and Atom, and I was ready to pick one. But wait… What’s this Visual Studio Code (VSC) thing by Microsoft. This looks fancy. And it’s still being developed and expanded. I had already been working in Visual Studio learning C++, and my experiences had been good so far. Moreover, Microsoft seems a reliable software development company, they must be able to build a good IDE? I decided to do one last deepdive.

The more I read about VSC and its features for Python, the more excited I got. Hey, VSC’s Python extension automatically detects Python interpreters, so it solves my conflicts-problem. Linting you say? Never heard of it, but I’ll have it. Okay, able to run notebooks, nice! Easy debugging, testing, and handy snippets… Okay! Machine learning-based IntelliSense autocompletes your Python code – that sounds like something I’d like. A shit-ton of extensions? Yes please! Multi-language support – even tools for R programming? Say no more! I’ll take it. I’ll take it all!

Linting messages in the editor and the Problems panel
Linting in VSC provides code suggestions

My goods friends at Microsoft were not done yet though. To top it all of, they have documented everything so well. It’s super easy to get started! There are numerous ordered pages dedicated to helping you set up and discover your new Python environment in VSC:

The Microsoft VSC pages also link to some more specific resources:

  • Editing Python in VS Code: Learn more about how to take advantage of VS Code’s autocomplete and IntelliSense support for Python, including how to customize their behvior… or just turn them off.
  • Linting Python: Linting is the process of running a program that will analyse code for potential errors. Learn about the different forms of linting support VS Code provides for Python and how to set it up.
  • Debugging Python: Debugging is the process of identifying and removing errors from a computer program. This article covers how to initialize and configure debugging for Python with VS Code, how to set and validate breakpoints, attach a local script, perform debugging for different app types or on a remote computer, and some basic troubleshooting.
  • Unit testing Python: Covers some background explaining what unit testing means, an example walkthrough, enabling a test framework, creating and running your tests, debugging tests, and test configuration settings.
IntelliSense and autocomplete for Python code
Python IntelliSense in VSC makes real-time code autocomplete suggestions

My Own Python Journey

So three months in I am completely blown away at how easy, fun, and versatile the language is. Nearly anything is possible, most of the language is intuitive and straightforward, and there’s a package for anything you can think of. Although I have spent many hours, I am very happy with the results. I did not get this far, this quickly, in any other language. Let me share some of the stuff I’ve done the past three months.

I’ve mainly been building stuff. Some things from scratch, others by tweaking and recycling other people’s code. In my opinion, reusing other people’s code is not necessarily bad, as long as you understand what the code does. Moreover, I’ve combed through lists and lists of build-it-yourself projects to get inspiration for projects and used stuff from my daily work and personal life as further reasons to code. I ended up building:

  • my own Twitter bot, based off of this blog, which I’ll cover in a blog soon
  • my own email bot, based off of this blog, which I’ll cover in a blog soon. It sends me cheerful pictures and updates
  • my own version of this Google images scraper
  • my own version of this Glassdoor scraper
  • a probabilistic event occurance simulator, which I’ll share in a blog post soon
  • a tournament schedule generator that takes in participants, teams (sizes), timeslots, etc and outputs when and where teams needs to play each other
  • a company simulator that takes in growth patterns and generates realistic HR data, which I plan to use in one of my next courses
  • a tiny neural network class, following this Youtube tutorial
  • solutions to the first 31 problems of Project Euler, which I highly recommend you try to solve yourself!
  • solutions to the first dozen problems posed in Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. This book and online tutorial forces you to get your hands dirty right from the start. Simply amazing content and the learning curve is precisely good

I’ve also watched and read a lot:

Although it is no longer maintained, you might find some more, interesting links on my Python resources page or here, for those transitioning from R. If only the links to the more up-to-date resources pages. Anyway, hope this current blog helps you on your Python journey or to get Python and Visual Studio Code working on your computer. Please feel free to share any of the stories, struggles, or successes you experience!

An Introduction to Docker for R Users, by Colin Fay

An Introduction to Docker for R Users, by Colin Fay

In this awesome 8-minute read, R-progidy Colin Fay explains in laymen’s terms what Docker images, Docker containers, and Volumes are; what Rocker is; and how to set up a Docker container with an R image and run code on it:

On your machine, you’re going to need two things: images, and containers. Images are the definition of the OS, while the containers are the actual running instances of the images. […] To compare with R, this is the same principle as installing vs loading a package: a package is to be downloaded once, while it has to be launched every time you need it. And a package can be launched in several R sessions at the same time easily.

Colin Fay, via https://colinfay.me/docker-r-reproducibility

In his blog, Colin also refers to some great additional resources on Rocker/Docker…

… as well as reading list for those interested in learning more about Docker: