Merlin, a fun little program

Ron Stephens rdsteph at
Mon Jul 7 03:37:15 CEST 2003

I posted to my web site a fun little program called today. 
Please keep in mind that I am a hobbyist and this is just a little hack, 
if you look at the code you will see that it is still possible to write 
spaghetti code, even with Python. I apologize, and I do intend to clean 
up the code, but it may take awhile. For now it works, with some bugs.

It is a composite of a few scripts. The first, based on a script Max M 
uploaded to this newsgroup a while ago (2 years?), is a web scraper 
based multiple choice guesser. I re-wrote the web scraper to use Yahoo 
rather than Google, as Google somehow recognizes it as a script now and 
so has disabled the ability to use Google, as they say it violates their 
terms of service. I certainly do not want to violate anyone's terms of 
service, this is a just a fun little script. I also used string 
functions instead of regexes and an algorithm of my own.  Kudos to David 
Mertz' Text Processing in Python for helping me figure out how to do 
this, indirectly. (BTW, I also posted a review of his new book on my web 
site...and submitted it to Slashdot, but  one never knows if they will 
run it).

The stand alone version of the web scraper ( uses NLQ, a 
natural query language class found on the web at to identify possible answers to a user's's 
questions, to then be submitted to the main algorithm to choose amongst 
the possible answers, which I call options. Of course, the program is 
much more likely to be accurate when you give it a correct "option" to 
be picked out from amongst several incorrect options that you also give 
it; and in fact a bug in the composite program I call Merlin ( crashes completely if you do not give it any options; but 
this can be fixed. doesn't crash and uses NLQ, but gives 
poor answers. However, I have a much better algorithm in mind for this 
part of the program; instead of giving NLQ the main response page from a 
  query, I will give it the first "link" page from a query, which I 
reckon to be much more likely to contain keywords that represent good 
possible answers. Alas, this may have to wait until the next long 
weekend, unless someone else takes up the task ;-)))

In the long run, the program is much more interesting using NLQ to find 
answers to questions where the user offers no possible answers to choose 
amongst or other clues; I think this has potential.

For now, please give Merlin options to choose amongst. Then, I include a 
slightly improved Decision Analysis script, and two fun variations or 
specific applications of it. This script has the virtue of being my own 
creation, although I did recieve help from Paul Winkler and others on 
this list.

Then I also include a script shamelessly stolen off the web that will be 
instantly recognizable to most of you on this newsgroup, but perhaps not 
to some newbies.

I have in mind more such fun stuff to be added.

Also, I intend to do a full GUI version, with a much better user 
interface, and then to create executable installers for Windows, Linux, 
and Mac OS X. For now  though, the command line interface has the 
advatage of working anywhere one can get a Python command prompt; I have 
tested it on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and the Sharp Zaurus PDA. The 
additon of a GUI and creation of executable files should keep this 
hobbyist busy for a while ;-)))

A GUI version of Decision Analysis, that I wrote using PythonCard, is 
available already.

All of the above can wait until I add more fun stuff to it, make it 
better, fix bugs,  move it from the deprecated regex to the re module, 
and clean up the code!

OK, so this hack may not be worth all the words I've given it, but, in 
the spirit of computer programming for everybody, I am pleased that I am 
producing something. I think it might be something other newbies might 
be able to understand and hack on also, since it is so simple.

If not, so be it. I am having fun.

All of this is on my web site, right at the top, at

Ron Stephens

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