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Whitman Bot Redux

RNN image source: canonical RNN diagram, found here

We see, in some mining surface languidly written, and we can be allow’d the forms of things, as I believe so heavy, with their way to ourselves. The new and scripture of the future, the characteristic prose of the soul which had can be continued, more than a spectacle which seem’d to be so through all his effects in a man or teacher. Have an infinite tried to be profuse and complete and only be reconsider’d, for superb and waving on the family. A long coolness of all fit thereof, (the vital west month, or born for the scene of its conditions). I have done the time on the barns, the scrups, mothers, steady, green.


RNNs are amazing! While it isn’t a surprise that we can’t recreate Walt Whitman in his entirety using only a few lines of code and a GPU, we can generate highly entertaining results with a relatively small corpus and minimal training time. I had better results using a character-based approach instead of a neural net that learns a word at a time. I won’t explain the basics of what an RNN is or how it works; there are many tutorials on this subject that are quite good including the one from which the above diagram was found, and Andrej Karpathy’s excellent and now famous blog post on the subject. But long story short, RNNs have a ‘working memory’ of sorts in that the outputs are dependent not only on the immediately preceding vector of inputs, but also a history of previous inputs (of adjustable length). So for generative text, this means that the word or character that the neural net generates takes the previous context into account.

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Moving and Shaking


Ariadne has been moved out of the boatyard, and into her new home - a section of cleared woods in Scott’s parents’ backyard. The moving process was relatively painless, thanks to the generosity of the local boatyard owner and his team, and to Scott and his family who built the tent that will protect the boat from the elements as she is being restored. We are now able to begin the process of taking apart pieces of the hull in the most vulnerable areas, and really assessing the scope of what we are working with.

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Whitman Bot


Machine learning amazes me - and so does my brother in law Aaron Moe, professor of English, literature genius, and ecopoeticist. Whenever I hang out with Aaron, I learn something. Among many things, Aaron is an expert on E.E. Cummings and the works of Walt Whitman. One of our conversations led to an idea: what if we were to adapt some of the advances of leading machine learning engineers to mimic the prose of Whitman? You could feed the bot a “seed” of a few words, and then see how Walt might finish your sentence.

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Shiny Potatoes


In an effort to explore the vast possibilities of R Shiny, I built a very simple Shiny app using data from a survey designed and conducted with colleagues in Ethiopia. The data explores the relationships between different seed potato storage technologies (which turn out to be very important!) under different hypothetical future conditions.

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