Tag: robot

PyBoy: A Python GameBoy Emulator

PyBoy: A Python GameBoy Emulator

If you are looking for a project to build a bot or AI application, look no further.

Enter the stage, PyBoy, a Nintendo Game Boy (DMG-01 [1989]) written in Python 2.7. The implementation runs in almost pure Python, but with dependencies for drawing graphics and getting user interactions through SDL2 and NumPy.

PyBoy is great for your AI robot projects as it is loadable as an object in Python. This means, it can be initialized from another script, and be controlled and probed by the script. You can even use multiple emulators at the same time, just instantiate the class multiple times.

The imagery suggests you can play anything from classic Super Mario to Pokemon. I suggest you start with the github, background report and PyBoy documentation right away.

Go catch ’em all!

Or get a bot to catch ’em all for you!

GitHub - Baekalfen/PyBoy: Game Boy emulator written in Python
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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Identifying “Dirty” Twitter Bots with R and Python

Past week, I came across two programming initiatives to uncover Twitter bots and one attempt to identify fake Instagram accounts.

Mike Kearney developed the R package botornot which applies machine learning to estimate the probability that a Twitter user is a bot. His default model is a gradient boosted model trained using both users-level (bio, location, number of followers and friends, etc.) and tweets-level information (number of hashtags, mentions, capital letters, etc.). This model is 93.53% accurate when classifying bots and 95.32% accurate when classifying non-bots. His faster model uses only the user-level data and is 91.78% accurate when classifying bots and 92.61% accurate when classifying non-bots. Unfortunately, the models did not classify my account correctly (see below), but you should definitely test yourself and your friends via this Shiny application.

Fun fact: botornot can be integrated with Mike’s rtweet package

Scraping Dirty Bots

At around the same time, I read this very interesting blog by Andy Patel. Annoyed by the fake Twitter accounts that kept liking and sharing his tweets, Andy wrote a Python script called pronbot_search. It’s an iterative search algorithm which Andy seeded with the dozen fake Twitter accounts that he identified originally. Subsequently, the program iterated over the friends and followers of each of these fake users, looking for other accounts displaying similar traits (e.g., similar description, including an URL to a sex-website called “Dirty Tinder”).

Whenever a new account was discovered, it was added to the query list, and the process continued. Because of the Twitter API restrictions, the whole crawling process took literal days before Andy manually terminated it. The results are just amazing:

After a day, the results looked like so. Notice the weird clusters of relationships in this network. [original]
The full bot network uncovered by Andy included 22.000 fake Twitter accounts:

At the end of the weekend of March 10th, Andy had to stop the scraper after running for several days even though he had only processed 18% of the networks of the 22.000 included Twitter bots [original]
The bot network on Twitter is probably enormous! Zooming in on the network, Andy notes that:

Pretty much the same pattern I’d seen after one day of crawling still existed after one week. Just a few of the clusters weren’t “flower” shaped.

Andy Patel, March 2018, link

Zoomed in to a specific part of the network you can see the separate clusters of bots doing little more than liking each others messages. [original]
In his blog, Andy continues to look at all kind of data on these fake accounts. I found most striking that many of these account are years and years old already. Potentially, Twitter can use Mike Kearney’s botornot application to spot and remove them!

Most of the bots in the Dirty Tinder network found by Andy Patel were 3 to 8 years old already. [original]
Andy was nice enough to share the data on these bot accounts here, for you to play with. His Python code is stored in the same github repo and more details around this project you can read in his original blog.

Fake Instagram Accounts

Finally, SRFdata (Timo Grossenbacher) attempted to uncover fake Instagram followers among the 7 million followers in the network of 115 important Swiss Instagram influencers in R. Magi Metrics was used to retrieve information for public Instagram accounts and rvest for private accounts. Next, clear fake accounts (e.g., little followers, following many, no posts, no profile picture, numbers in name) were labelled manually, and approximately 10% of the inspected 1000 accounts appeared fake. Finally, they trained a random forest model to classify fake accounts with a sensitivity (true negative) rate of 77.4% and an overall accuracy of around 94%.

Robert Coombs and his application robot

Robert Coombs and his application robot

Robert Coombs wanted to see whether he could land a new job. He was aware that, these days, organizations often employ applicant tracking systems to progress/fail incoming applications. Hence, Robert concluded that he had two challenges in his search for a new job:

  • He was up against leaders in their field, so his resume wouldn’t simply jump to the top of the pile.
  • Robots would read his application, along with those of his competition.

Being a tech enthusiast and having some programming skills, he decided to build his own application robot, capable of sending a customized CV and resume to the thousands of jobs posted online every day, in a matter of seconds. I strongly recommend you read his full story here, but these were his conclusions:

  • It’s not how you apply, it’s who you know. And if you don’t know someone, don’t bother.
  • Companies are trying to fill a position with minimal risk, not discover someone who breaks the mold.
  • The number of jobs you apply to has no correlation to whether you’ll be considered, and you won’t be considered for jobs you don’t get the chance to apply to.

What I found most amusing is that he A/B tested one normal-looking cover letter and a letter in which he that admits right in the second sentence that it was being sent by a robot. “Now, one of those letters should have performed either a lot better or a lot worse than the other. For my purposes, I didn’t care which” he states. But as far as he could tell from the results of this experiment, it seems that nobody even reads cover letters anymore – not even the robots supposedly used in application tracking systems.