Most in need to be tweeted

Christopher Mills
Twitter: @MisterXopher

Judges' comments:

To use:


make cpclean
# Let this run for about about an hour and then kill it
./prog Shakespeare.txt
./prog < $(< ls -1tr cp* | tail -1) | head -100


# If you are on a 64-bit system:

make test-64bit

less IOCCC-Rules-Guidelines.output.txt

less IOCCC-hints.output.txt

less Eugene_Onegin.output.txt

# However, as the binary model files used to produce the output are in an implementation-specific format,
# your mileage may vary.

Selected Judges Remarks:

Can a machine learn?

Some say so.

But can a machine learn to write like Shakespeare,

or tweet like Trump?

Can it write rules and guidelines for the IOCCC?

You decide. :-)

Author’s comments:

Welcome to OMLET! 🍳

OMLET is the Obfuscated Machine Learning Environment Toolkit, a micro-framework for experimenting with recurrent neural networks. OMLET lets you build, train and evaluate deep neural networks. Why invest hours reading documentation and megabytes of disk space on a full-featured DNN framework like TensorFlow or Torch when you can have full RNN functionality in less than 4 KB!

OMLET has the following features:

OMLET is based on Andrej Karpathy’s character-level language model as described in his blog post The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks. I’ve included a small sample dataset to use for training, but you can have even more fun by downloading some larger datasets:

Getting started with OMLET

OMLET has three operating modes:

For your first OMLET experiment, we will try training a simple single-level RNN to write some Shakespere plays. Start by typing


After it builds, train it using

./prog shakespere.txt

This will immediately start outputting gibberish to the output, e.g.

./prog shakespere.txt
 sins ohennAu
T-teooclelp tiThoWy

sselW usnsofueB Aoee pasfUsuslhe ooM ot Wou moy
me neltAl -no IoyI mhuyakse  inT-l chu ghenn ffo? fnsoe yhyye
ue nnfrlass heUthole saounlcesyee pee 
T0:0% 3.210888
 An ,hTf lnm  Far rur:s moilt WoEgrv wonds mith Aog thernw
Rni So
co Nnd :
For an bImy pgafoun:
Wf'r hom wortiverita
int fod mous Eheledet,
Tho he theket nonS wnu-ang dorlaMSp
nrocWiSe tflg 'o.
T0:0% 2.995950
d whecedhencrysesil yr bn,
we hh y thiwt

hut fithlot,
Fmdy s he alt
Vh th no dh foud bobt werw:s Aotnf Fhwi't whe, eusu

lhh thele wewcond ary soupfy wind tDont couc ths:
er fucwald oncli hen bos, f
T0:1% 2.878945

The gibberish is the networks attempt to write a play. So far, it’s not very successful! Between the chunks of gibberish are training progress reports that look like

T0:1% 2.878945

This tells you that we are 1% through training epoch 0, and that the training loss is about 2.88. As the training continues, the training loss will reduce and the generated snippets will improve quickly:

ses, kuth
LAs of the wish,
As, I nos you,
Yov not to nalll,
Tr tot wonds.

First Sondy, llt lrte, our, tw.


Helsting the kith gops of hoch Whay, fars surd what to,
The cownens golt te.
T0:12% 2.259114
eplerrotrur tandans one wiok thy or thach and cullice ded yourssting
And wours:
Whed ur surt.

On we lain bith
rerytund: tich lon hyivetetgor.

He brich nom dove worthan then wise,
T0:13% 2.254926

It’s already started to figure out things about Shakespere plays – how to spell short English words, how long lines tend to be, and that characters take turns speaking with their names capitalized. The training loss has dropped to 2.25 and the improvement is noticeable.

Eventually, we will finish with the training data set and move on to a validation cycle:

y fath onother,
I sucess,
For I me the west crare.

Whow and'd have not to had you you one in my lapteny she very ame come me a gut and shourd aghir you as ignested; shend to make I strem
To h
T0:99% 1.924063
 notnce gaud and is nicked thou day, ha the dusing you disaid: in thim, you things in ere thee thus erile Iht that tare theme my hast thesp thou shay: thou not eaten-or-ho-bess resing: I the but had d
T0:99% 1.923128
V0:0% 1.678907
V0:9% 1.700527
V0:18% 1.733179
V0:27% 1.714891
V0:36% 1.716672
V0:45% 1.782946
V0:54% 1.835629
V0:63% 1.876108
V0:72% 1.906814
V0:81% 1.924096
V0:90% 1.954492
V0:99% 1.969287
serfs you'll alliencseard:
got you? before
I say.

Farstred dentlentecaly, sir, I it one bosticield
All me the backnour mino,
Whith capitaned mid! but stell the ifvemion

First Cumfol of
T1:0% 1.885619

Validation cycles are used to test the network to see if it has learned to generalize – how well performs on data it hasn’t seen before (as opposed to the training data that the network will see many times as it trains). Progress on the validation set is also displayed with a validation progress report that looks like

V0:36% 1.716672

which means we are 36% of the way through the validation for epoch 0, and the validation loss is about 1.72. Comparing the validation loss and the training loss will give you an idea of how well the network is learning and can let you know if the network is overfitting or underfitting.

As part of the training process, the data set (which for OMLET is the shakespere.txt file you gave on the command line) is divided into training and validation sets (by default, 95% of the data is used for training, but like most OMLET parameters, you can change this at compile-time).

At the end of the validation run, OMLET writes out a checkpoint file with a name like cp01_1.970. This saves the state of the run at the start of the epoch 1, after computing a validation loss of 1.970. The checkpoint is helpful if you need to stop and restart training. You can stop training by doing Control-C.

You can continue training from a previous checkpoint by providing the checkpoint file name as the second parameter, for example:

./prog shakespere.txt cp01_1.970

After the validation cycle finishes, OMLET begins the next epoch by restarting training at the beginning of the training set. Training continues forever, until you quit it with Control-C. You should monitor the checkpoints to see that the validation loss continues to drop. If it rises, the network has probably started to overfit on the training data.

Once you’ve trained the validation loss as low as it will go, you can use OMLET to run the network in inference mode which uses the frozen checkpoint parameters to generate data. Inference mode takes the checkpoint file as standard input (not on the command line) and hence must be run with a command like

./prog < cp55_1.807

Running it produces an infinite amount of generated output, until you hit Control-C to stop it.

Note that if you decide to change networks or use a different input file, you will want to delete all the checkpoint files because the format depends on both the network and the input – using the wrong checkpoint is likely to cause a crash.

Experimenting with different networks

The default network for OMLET (the one you get if you type make with the executable name prog) is the simplest recurrent neural network. It looks like

h = tanh(Wxh * x + Whh * h' + Bh)
y = Why * h + By


The W’s and B’s are the trainable parameters of the network, and the process of training is optimizing the values of these parameters to minimize the loss of the network across the training set.

It is the presence of the hidden state vector that allows the RNN to “remember” the past. We can see what would happen if we removed this hidden state. If you type

make lin1

OMLET will create an ADALINE network that does

y = Wxy * x + By

This simple linear feed-forward network. You can run it with

./lin1 shakespeare.txt

The linear network won’t be able to get past the gibberish stage, because it lacks history:

./lin1 shakespeare.txt
UERond w,

KINof s, mesther s thouth.
KINTret, at fu,
GOMy t, as sth kesewit sooos atse ang k, ck,
Sotheouserivesthecowhet been's, t he, h nre; t and, har wiread of pincer cedst sur has, ut:

T14:67% 2.465115
NGaromy soreate e m esewfoure pamitherarjulthengeoly tl.
NG s at e! w.

Wamisw ofilem:
I'delandinarrstath har aksubly s cath Whern t Is, weciss:

GLat s; llde.
Y aterit dsthence 
T14:67% 2.465404

It is able to guess at what character is likely to follow the current one (by doing a linear regression), but it lacks any history beyond that to guide it.

You might be wondering about the role of the tanh function in the RNN. tanh acts as an activation function which adds nonlinearity to the network and allows it to solve complicated problems. Without nonlinearity, all of the linear functions would fold together into a single matrix-vector multiply and you’d effectively regress to the linear network above. Alas, even adding a nonlinearity to the feed-forward network (creating a perceptron) does not improve the performance because we still lack the history provided by the hidden state vector (although if you want to try it yourself, you can do so with make per1).

Going deeper

We can try to improve the RNN’s performance by stacking RNN modules atop each other:

h1 = RNN(h1', x)
h2 = RNN(h2', h1)
y = Why * h2 + By

with RNN(h, x) defined as above. Each RNN module has its own set of parameters and its own hidden state vector. This will improve the network’s performance, at the cost of a much larger parameter space

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since OMLET uses the system stack for network storage, larger networks may cause OMLET to crash (typically with a message like Segmentation fault) unless the system stack size is first increased. The exact command for doing so depends on your shell and your system’s hard limits. On sh/ksh/bash shells, you can view the hard limit with ulimit -Hs and set it with ulimit -s 65532 (replacing 65532 with the actual hard limit). On csh/tcsh shells, you can view the hard limit with limit -h stacksize and set it with limit stacksize 65532 (replacing 65532 with the actual hard limit).

You can try the deeper network by doing

make rnn2

(or even make rnn3 if you want a three-layer RNN) and train it with

./rnn2 shakespeare.txt

The additional depth should allow the network to make better predictions (it can represent more complicated history), but it may take a long time to train – both because the network (being larger) now requires more time to train and because of the vanishing and exploding gradient problem, which might keep it from ever reaching its potential.

LSTMs and GRUs

RNNs are particularly hard to train because the they are trained using bankpropagation through time. The RNN is trained by effectively converting it into a non-recurrent network by making many copies of it and propagating the hidden state through the copies. During training, the backpropagation through many clones of the network amplifies the gradient, worsening the exploding and vanishing gradient problem.

Long Short Term Memory networks (also called LSTMs) were developed to solve this problem. Christopher Olah gives a good description of them at his blog posting. You can build a two-level LSTM by doing

make lstm2

and train with it with

./lstm2 shakespeare.txt

The LSTM is much easier to train because it explicitly decides how to update its hidden state via “gates”. These gates are called

The basic LSTM equations are

f = sigmoid(Wxf * x + Whf * h' + Bf)
i = sigmoid(Wxi * x + Whi * h' + Bi)
o = sigmoid(Wxo * x + Who * h' + Bo)
c = f * c' + i * tanh(Wxc * x + Whc * h' + Bc)
h = o * tanh(c)


There are several LSTM variants (see C. Olah’s blog post for more examples). One important one is the gated recurrent unit. GRUs are simplified versions of an LSTM which combine the gates together, meaning they require fewer learned parameters. This allows them to train faster than a generic LSTM. You can build a two-layer GRU with

make gru2

Building your own networks

The OMLET Makefile comes with one-, two- and three-layer RNNs, LSTMs and GRUs, along with simpler feed-forward networks like multi-layer perceptrons and a linear network. This isn’t the limit of OMLET’s power – you can create your own networks by modifying the Makefile. Networks are passed in on the compiler’s command-line by using -D directives. The network is defined by a -DNW='...' command which consists of a series of comma-separated assignments. For example, the simple one-layer RNN could be defined like

-DNW=` x  = I(n), hp = I(128),                  \
       h  = C(hp, T(A(L(128, x), L(128, hp)))), \
       y  = L(n, h)'

The network declares x as an input vector (there must be a declaration for x). It is declared as I(n), which is an input vector of size n, which is the number of characters of the input alphabet (OMLET computes this from the input file at the start of training). OMLET will arrange to present the input character as a one-hot vector based on the current input character.

The second declaration, hp, declares the previous hidden state vector (what we called h' above). We declare this to be of size 128 – an arbitrary choice. A larger state vector can (theoretically) carry more state, but at a cost of larger parameter matrices and longer training time. You can experiment with increasing the hidden vector size and see.

The third line is the core of the RNN. It sets h, the hidden vector output to be the sum of two linear elements specified by L. The L function takes two parameters – the output vector size (which must match the size of h) and the input vector. L will compute y = W * x + B where each L has its own W (weight) and B (bias) training parameters. Both x and hp are sent through L and the result passed through the A function, which does vector addition. That result is passed through T which does element-wise tanh activation.

Next, we wrap the whole thing with the C function. C connects hp with h, causing the new value of h to be passed to the hp vector on the next iteration of the algorithm (allowing the RNN to retain state in h).

Finally, the whole result is passed through another instance of L, this time producing a vector of size n, which will have the negative log likelihood function. This is assigned to y, which is the output of the network (and hence must also be declared).

OMLET will take the y result and pass it through the softmax function, which converts the log probabilities into a probability distribution. In inference mode, this is used to select the next character to emit. In training mode, this is used to generate the loss which is backpropagated.

As an example of a more complicated network, we can look at a two-layer GRU network:

-DHS=128,                                 \
-DNW=' x  = I(n),                         \
       y  = L(n, MD(MD(x)))'              \
-DBK=' hp = I(HS),                        \
       z  = S(A(L(HS, x), L(HS, hp))),    \
       r  = S(A(L(HS, x), L(HS, hp))),    \
       c  = T(A(L(HS, x), L(HS, hp))),    \
       zc = OG(1, -1, z),                 \
       h  = C(hp, A(M(zc, hp), M(z, c))), \
       y  = h'

We are using a few new tricks here – first, we are defining HS as the size of the hidden and cell vectors. There’s nothing special about this name, its just convenient to specify it so we don’t have a bunch of constants in the code. Second, the network itself is very simple – it declares x and has the matrix that converts the HS-sized hidden vector back to the n-sized alphabet vector… but it now calls MD, which is the user-definable module (here we are using it twice, to have two cascaded GRU blocks). The MD function performs the sub-network defined by the BK compile-time parameter (specified in the -DBK='...' setting). This sub-module again takes an x parameter and produces a y output. Inside it, we declare hp and h, the previous and current state vector, plus equations for the various GRU gates (these use S for the sigmoid activation function). One final new call is OG which does offset and gain, performing y = offset + gain * x where offset (the first parameter) and gain (the second) are constants. We are using this here to compute (1 - z) for the GRU’s linear interpolator.

The full set of available function blocks follows:

Note: even if you don’t use MD in your network, you should still define BK by adding -DBK='y=x' to the command line, otherwise you will get a compile-time error.


OMLET has a large number of training and inference parameters which can be changed by the user. All of these are set by -D on the compile command line. The list of hyperparameters follows:

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