Due: Wednesday 28 February
The reading for this assignment is Chapters 11-12 of
How to think....
The goal of this homework is to develop a program that reads
a text, performs Markov analysis, and generates a new, random
text that is statistically similar to the original.
For example, my version of this program read Doctorow's Someone
Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town and generated the following text:
He drove. `For real, he could give her a junky tool kit with cracked
handles and chipped tips, and I trust my intuition to take the subway
all night, watched the brother and sister stare at one another by
means of some strange pollen carried on the sofa for a while, trying
to work in this cave? They'd carved his cradle. Fed him. Taught him to
move someone with a toe, smoothing over the scar on her gentlest spin
cycle, but still Davey cried. Their mother rocked and gurgled and
rushed, and then so did Kurt. ``Okay, it works,'' Lyman said.
Which makes about as much sense as the original.
Heres how it works. The simplest form of analysis you can do
is to record each word in the document and the number of times it
appears. Then you can generate random words so that the proportion
of each word in the generated text is the same as the proportion
in the original text. Of course, the results are unlikely to make
The next step is to use a bit of context to model the correlations
in the original text; that is, the probability that a given word
will follow another. You can do that by keeping track, for each
word, of all the words that might follow it (and their proportions).
If you do that, you get text that seems a little more sensible,
but not much.
So the next step is to generalize the previous technique so that
the prior context can be more than one word. For example, you
could keep track of all the two-word pairs that appear in the
text, and for each two-word prefix, you could keep track of all
the words that might follow (and their proportions).
Then, to generate random text, you can:
- Start with any prefix.
- Find the words that might follow the prefix and choose one.
- Form a new prefix by removing the first word from
the old prefix and adding the new word to the end.
- Go to step 2.
Your job is to write a program that will read and analyze a given
text, and then generate a few hundred words of random text with
the same correlation structure as the original. If your program
is fully general, you should be able to adjust the number of words
in the prefix, which will adjust the amount of context that is used
to choose each word.
The first challenge of this assignment is to figure out where to
start, and to plan a development strategy. Here are some ideas about
how to get started:
- Choose a text to work with (maybe from gutenberg.net,
but also check out more recent books under a Creative Commons
license at http://creativecommons.org/text/)
and make a cleaned-up version that doesn't have the header
(you know, the information you are not supposed to remove).
- Analysis of the full text will generate more information than
you can print and understand, so you might want to make a small file
that contains, for example, just a few paragraphs.
- We have worked with several programs that read through a
file and break it into words. You might want to start with one
of them and modify it.
- Count the words in the document and the number of times
each one appears (pretty much the same as the previous assignment).
- Now think of ways to generate new words so that they have the
same probabilities as in the original text. You might want to check
out the random module at
you have not already bookmarked the Python documentation, you should!
- Next you might want to build a dictionary with each
possible two-word prefix as a key, and a list of possible
successors as the value.
- You might want to write code to print the contents of the
dictionary in a more readable form. This might help with any
debugging you have to do.
- Once you are convinced that the analysis phase is working, you
can work on the generating phase.
- You might want to make your program take command-line arguments
to specify the file to analyze and the number of words to generate.
- Finally, you can generalize your code to work with prefixes
of any length. How does the random text change as the prefix
As always, you should start with a working program and try to
make small, incremental changes. Make sure that each change
produces some visible output so that you can confirm that it is
doing what you think. In many cases, you will find that your
changes work the first time, but if not, you will be able to
find the error quickly.