Posts Tagged ‘open source’

A couple of days ago, I wrote a script that would tweet anything you plurked. Thanks to some code from Neville Newey (based on PHP code by Charl van Niekerk), the script I wrote has been updated to both plurk your tweets and tweet your plurks. This should work on both windows and linux machines. If you have access to a linux machine, I suggest setting up a cron job to take care of this. As I mentioned in the previous post, if you set up a cron job, be sure to change the path to plurkdb.dat to an absolute path. I have done the most testing on this with python 2.4 in linux.

This code is open source under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license that this blog uses Creative Commons BSD license. Neville’s code appears to be under CC:Attribution 2.5 for South Africa, by what I could glean from his site. I have considered making this an open source project under Google code but have yet to take it all the way. Google sets a lifetime limit of 10 projects, so I will continue to hoard those against future need. If you make modifications to the code, please let me know and I will probably post them here and in the code for future releases, so we all win.

Note that the command line parameters have changed: <twitter username> <twitter password> <plurk username> <plurk password>

And of course, as with all software, use at your own risk.


So I decided to finally fart around with OpenCalais a little. There’s a nice video on the site that gives you an impression of what it is capable of, but it’s also like all videos about software: propaganda. Calais is basically Named Entity Recognition (NER) software that can be accessed via a web API. Whereas a regular NER system might recognize named entities like people, organizations, and places, Calais also recognizes relationships like corporate acquisitions. To be a little more clear if you aren’t familiar with NER, it is basically the task of identifying the proper nouns in a body of text. Named entities aren’t always proper nouns, but that is one starting point. Examples would be: John Hancock (Person), New York (Place), and Apple (Organization). Calais recognizes relationships, which means we get an extra layer of information: Acquisition(Microsoft, Yahoo!).

Calais is put out by Reuters which has a long history of helping out the NLP and IR research communities with data sets. Being Reuters, the data sets are all newswire stuff, and Calais is produced in that spirit. Currently the relationships and named entities available reflect that bias, but the list is expanding and it is probably flexible enough for most domains. Their claim is that with each new release, there will be additional entities and relationships available. Also, the software is completely open source free for commercial and private use. For this, I give Reuters props.

OpenCalais uses SOAP or HTTP post to issue requests and you can take a look at their tutorials for exactly how to use it. After some very shallow digging on the googles, I found an open source project called python-calais, which is basically just a script that wraps some text and sends it to the Calais service, then processes the output. The output is in RDF (resource description framework), which is a type of xml document that is not very friendly to the human eye but is nice and powerful otherwise. The python-calais script uses an rdf library for python, so you’ll need to download that if you don’t already have it.

Running it on my most popular post, you get the following output:

93B6642D-0D7C-37Ab-A92F-66Ebfef13C8D :: Recommender Systems (Industryterm)
0Dccb106-442A-3848-Bd0B-A388E73F4C8C :: Chris Sternal-Johnson (Person)
Aab0D16A-Ad5A-348A-A8Dc-58Cf59A1Bc15 :: Kristina Tikhova (Person)
42F476A0-2Fae-3F36-808D-803E4F620Ab0 :: Java (Technology)
6C4Cd5D9-5866-35B5-81Ab-B8A5C1751A44 :: Pre-Processing Phase (Industryterm)
4003D863-C7A6-3E6F-8E3C-0913Bf2F8242 :: National Aeronautics And Space Administration (Organization)
77D1Ceb3-9900-3Dd7-8351-F29408B21412 :: Carnegie Mellon University (Organization)
Ee58Ef4B-1C98-3F8B-Aff8-3Fd6E3D76A9E :: Wonderful Site (Industryterm)
8F12E551-A8F1-3705-866C-D44D1A6A54F4 :: Richard M. Hogg (Person)
Adee23De-B1B0-37Ad-9E20-1Fa8094F6D39 :: Steel (Industryterm)
0Ace00C6-2B9F-32C2-8949-82A0F6C6B444 :: Xml (Technology)
2Ed2F085-1C63-324E-B518-60332388E273 :: Norman French (Person)
136157D8-D62E-3C55-Ae67-3Ec182C2C703 :: Phil Barthram (Person)
B6A8Dbfa-Fd35-32Bb-9E05-A2811C480000 :: Mike Tan (Person)
Ed8B5Fe4-616A-36Ea-8C47-3Eea7C71Aee0 :: Ben Eastaugh (Person)
D3Bcba58-00Fc-33C5-9346-Dbf6A2441867 :: Machine Learning (Technology)
F17C3779-3810-3Ff9-A42D-75C3137F0F7F :: Modern English (Person)
38116E8D-F8B4-3D03-B0Ad-C9A24B888E61 :: Jason M. Adams (Person)
4386B07C-F6B8-3991-Af74-Ab11A951F0Ee :: David Petar Novakovic (Person)
Aa14303F-F9F0-31B8-Adff-3B9C68E0A9F1 :: Language Technologies Institute (Organization)
Ca1E4Eb7-7820-3862-8443-26E37B33E13F :: Machine Translation (Technology)

As it picks up everything on the page, there is a lot included there that isn’t related to the post about Old English translation. Also, it picks up some weird so-called industry terms like “steel.” If you filter out just the text (manually), the output is a little more sensible:

6C4Cd5D9-5866-35B5-81Ab-B8A5C1751A44 :: Pre-Processing Phase (Industryterm)
Ca1E4Eb7-7820-3862-8443-26E37B33E13F :: Machine Translation (Technology)
0Ace00C6-2B9F-32C2-8949-82A0F6C6B444 :: Xml (Technology)
2Ed2F085-1C63-324E-B518-60332388E273 :: Norman French (Person)
136157D8-D62E-3C55-Ae67-3Ec182C2C703 :: Phil Barthram (Person)
F17C3779-3810-3Ff9-A42D-75C3137F0F7F :: Modern English (Person)

(The codes are unique identifiers.) Unfortunately, some important terms are still missed, like Old English. So it appears Calais has some growing to do, but it’s off to a good start. Part of the problem might be that that blog post is out of domain. I imagine with time, it will continue to improve. We’ll see.

Rumors are brewing that Microsoft is going to announce the release of a new product called Worldwide Telescope later this month. WT should allow users to zoom in on parts of the sky for which data exists. Data will be drawn from a number of ground-based telescopes as well as Hubble. Google Sky does this already in a nauseatingly ugly way. It’s bad. Epic fail there. Stellarium, on the other hand, is an open source star charting program that blows Google Sky away. I’ve been using it for a few years now and have been very happy with it. From the sound of the TechCrunch article, though, Worldwide Telescope could blow Stellarium away. I really hope so. And if it’s free, I’ll be forced to give Microsoft props for doing something right for a change.

OpenEphyra is a question answering (QA) system developed here at the Language Technologies Institute by Nico Schlaefer. He began his work at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, but has since continued it at CMU and is currently a PhD student here. Since it is a home-grown language technologies package, I decided to check it out and play around. This is the first QA system I have used that wasn’t integrated in a search engine, so this isn’t exactly an expert review.

Getting started in Windows (or Linux or whatever) is pretty easy if you already have Apache ant and Java installed. Ant isn’t necessary, but I recommend getting it if you don’t have it already. It’s just handy. First, download the OpenEphyra package from sourceforge. The download is about 59 MB and once it’s done unpack it in whatever directory you want. Assuming you have ant installed, all you have to do is type ant to build it, though you may want to issue ant clean first. I had to make one slight change to the build.xml file to get it to run, which was on line 55: <jvmarg line="-server& #13;-Xms512m& #13;-Xmx1024m"/>, which had to be changed to <jvmarg line="-server -Xms512m -Xmx1024m"/>. Easy enough. Then to run it, all you have to do is type ant OpenEphyra.

After taking a short bit to load up, you can enter questions on the command line. Based on what I can tell from the output, it begins by normalizing the question (removing morphology, getting rid of punctuation). Then it determines the type of answer it is looking for, like a person’s name or a place and assigns certain properties to what it expects to find. Next it automatically creates a list of queries that are sent to the search engine(s). The documentation indicates that the AQUAINT, AQUAINT-2 and BLOG06 corpora are included (at least preprocessing is supported), but there are searchers for Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo and several others. Indri is a search engine which supports structured queries and OpenEphyra auto-generates some structured queries from what I saw playing around. After generating the queries, they are sent to the various searchers and results are obtained and scored. Finally, if you’re lucky, you get an answer to your question.

Here are the results of screwing around with it for a few minutes:

  • Who created OpenEphyra?
    • no answer (sorry, Nico)
  • Who invented the cotton gin?
    • Eli Whitney
  • Who created man?
    • God
  • What is the capital of Mongolia?
    • Ulaanbaatar
  • Who invented the flux capacitor?
    • Doc Brown (awesome!)
  • Who is the author of the Mendicant Bug?
    • Zuckerberg — damn you, Facebook! :(
  • How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?
    • no answer (correct)
  • What is the atomic number of Curium?
    • 96 (also correct)
  • Who killed Lord Voldemort?
    • Harry (correct, but partial)
  • How many rings for elven kings?
    • 3021 (so, so very wrong)

Fun stuff! It’s not anywhere near perfect, but there are definite uses and the thing is ridiculously easy to install and use. Also, it’s in Java, so you can integrate it with your own system with very little effort. Depending on what sort of question you are looking for answers to, you get various levels of results. Factual questions about geography and people tend to do better than questions about numbers and fiction, as you might expect. Also, why-questions are not supported.

Another bonus is the project is open source, so if you’re into QA, you can help develop it.


Posted: 1 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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When I was around 12 or 13, I first got a hold of my stepfather’s physics text book. It was magic. The rules that governed the physical world were right there in the form of equations on a page. I was totally captivated. Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, angular momentum, and the theory of relativity. When I first learned about relativistic time dilation, it was life-changing. I resolved to become an astrophysicist. A lot of changes happened in my life that turned that dream into my current one. But, like all first loves, it never went away.

When I got my first computer, I had hopes of writing a program that would plot the positions of the stars as they were in space (3-D) versus how they appeared in the Earth’s sky (2-D). I achieved a little bit of success getting the vectors worked out from the distance, right ascension, declination and so on. I had no easy way of visualizing it though. Doing 3-D plots in BASIC back in 1990 wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. So that project died.

Then like a ghost, Celestia came to me last night. Wrapped up in her open source glory, I dared not even dream that she could perform what I had so long abandoned all hope of. But she did my friend, she did. (My wife won’t like this imagery :))


Phil Barthram recently announced on the ENGLISC mailing list a new Old English translator. For those unfamiliar with Old English, this is not the really cheap malt liquor. This is the grandmother of Modern English (by way of its mother, Middle English and a few others, chiefly Norman French). Whereas an Olde English (the malt liquor) translator might look like this:

“You look pretty.”
“I’m trashed on cheap swill.”

an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) translator looks more like:

Nu sculon herigean heofonrıces weard
Now we should praise the guardian of the kingdom of heaven

This is the first line of Cædmon’s Hymn. Check out the wikipedia page for Cædmon to read the whole nine lines.


Beautiful Bolide

Posted: 13 August 2007 in Uncategorized
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As I mentioned in a previous post, I visited my family in Ohio this past weekend. The Perseid meteor shower peaked Sunday night/Monday morning, but the shower was going fairly strong Saturday night/Sunday morning. For the first time since the early 90’s I got a chance to sit out beneath the stars in perfect weather with no moon to watch a meteor shower.