Taking care of business, one python script at a time

Mon 06 March 2017

# Forecasting Website Traffic Using Facebook’s Prophet Library

Posted by Chris Moffitt in articles

A common business analytics task is trying to forecast the future based on known historical data. Forecasting is a complicated topic and relies on an analyst knowing the ins and outs of the domain as well as knowledge of relatively complex mathematical theories. Because the mathematical concepts can be complex, a lot of business forecasting approaches are “solved” with a little linear regression and “intuition.” More complex models would yield better results but are too difficult to implement.

Given that background, I was very interested to see that Facebook recently open sourced a python and R library called prophet which seeks to automate the forecasting process in a more sophisticated but easily tune-able model. In this article, I’ll introduce prophet and show how to use it to predict the volume of traffic in the next year for Practical Business Python. To make this a little more interesting, I will post the prediction through the end of March so we can take a look at how accurate the forecast is.

Mon 06 February 2017

# Guide to Encoding Categorical Values in Python

Posted by Chris Moffitt in articles

In many practical Data Science activities, the data set will contain categorical variables. These variables are typically stored as text values which represent various traits. Some examples include color (“Red”, “Yellow”, “Blue”), size (“Small”, “Medium”, “Large”) or geographic designations (State or Country). Regardless of what the value is used for, the challenge is determining how to use this data in the analysis. Many machine learning algorithms can support categorical values without further manipulation but there are many more algorithms that do not. Therefore, the analyst is faced with the challenge of figuring out how to turn these text attributes into numerical values for further processing.

As with many other aspects of the Data Science world, there is no single answer on how to approach this problem. Each approach has trade-offs and has potential impact on the outcome of the analysis. Fortunately, the python tools of pandas and scikit-learn provide several approaches that can be applied to transform the categorical data into suitable numeric values. This article will be a survey of some of the various common (and a few more complex) approaches in the hope that it will help others apply these techniques to their real world problems.

Mon 19 December 2016

# Building a Financial Model with Pandas - Version 2

Posted by Chris Moffitt in articles

In my last article, I discussed building a financial model in pandas that could be used for multiple amortization scenarios. Unfortunately, I realized that I made a mistake in that approach so I had to rethink how to solve the problem. Thanks to the help of several individuals, I have a new solution that resolves the issues and produces the correct results.

In addition to posting the updated solution, I have taken this article as an opportunity to take a step back and examine what I should have done differently in approaching the original problem. While it is never fun to make a mistake in front of thousands of people, I’ll try to swallow my pride and learn from it.

Mon 21 November 2016

# Building a Financial Model with Pandas

Posted by Chris Moffitt in articles

In my previous articles, I have discussed how to use pandas as a replacement for Excel when it comes to data wrangling. In many cases, a python + pandas solution is superior to the highly manual processes many people use for manipulating data in Excel. However, Excel is used for many scenarios in a business environment - not just data wrangling. This specific post will discuss how to do financial modeling in pandas instead of Excel. For this example, I will build a simple amortization table in pandas and show how to model various outcomes.

In some ways, building the model is easier in Excel (there are many examples just a google search away). However, as an exercise in learning about pandas, it is useful because it forces you to think about how to use pandas strengths to solve a problem in a way different from the Excel solution. In my opinion the solution is more powerful because you can build on it to run multiple scenarios, easily chart various outcomes and focus on aggregating the data in a way most useful for your needs.

Whenever I am doing analysis with pandas my first goal is to get data into a panda’s DataFrame using one of the many available options. For the vast majority of instances, I use `read_excel`, `read_csv`, or `read_sql`.
However, there are instances when I just have a few lines of data or some calculations that I want to include in my analysis. In these cases it is helpful to know how to create DataFrames from standard python data structures such as lists or dictionaries. The basic process is not difficult but because there are several different options it is helpful to understand how each works. I can never remember whether I should use `from_dict`, `from_records`, `from_items` or the default `DataFrame` constructor. Normally, through some trial and error, I figure it out. Since it is still confusing to me, I thought I would walk through several examples below to clarify the different approaches. At the end of the article, I briefly show how this can be useful when generating Excel reports.