Tag Archives: North Carolina

Deep Learning with SAS

I don’t know if you’ve seen SAS‘s campus. It’s a collection of enormous glass buildings. Abstract art greets you throughout the grounds. Outside the S-building stands a thirty-foot structure of red pipes bent at 90 and 45 degree angles and inside is what looks a bit like the cross-section of a cube. Looking out a window, one can just see the top of another big glass building over a copse of conifers.

As of the Friday before last, this is the organization that offers the funds that provide my stipend and pay for my tuition. Leaving the Leonardo project happened so subtly that my team and I all forgot to have some sort of commemoration ceremony. Last Friday I stood up from my desk shook my team leader’s hand, telling him it was “good working with him,” then he said we should arrange for one last team celebration. Our co-workers joked that this might be like the going-away parties in the Godfather, and I recommended we make sure to  eat at a popular, well-lit restaurant.

Now my way is paid to work on deep learning for language. Really, I couldn’t imagine a better fit to my interests. Of course I’m interested in Natural Language Processing, and my zeal for deep learning is such that I need to actively temper it to avoid poisoning conversations by implying to other researchers that all the techniques they’ve been using are outdated and soon to be obsolete. Now I get to work with a group of people to put my money where my mouth is and actually make something revolutionary, or at least useful.

Since we’re just starting, right now I’m reading papers about deep learning language techniques. I’ve found twenty-five papers over the last three years in the small set of conferences that I’ve checked. There’s an awful lot of interest in the domain of machine translation, but my favorite paper thus far has taken a sentiment analysis approach to identifying ideological biases in written text. With deep learning, it is able to understand that “the big lie of ‘the death tax'” is ideologically liberal, whereas an old-style system would take words two or so at a time and likely see “death tax” and think conservative.

I spoke with my new team leader, Brad, about using the big, fancy computer they’ve offered me for my personal research. He said that would not be a good idea, as it would complicate the ownership of whatever research I produced. “If you want a bigger computer,” he said, “I’ve just got one laying around that nobody’s using. I can get that to you within a week.”

Things are going pretty well.


Sam’s Blog Classic: Wolfman

This is a re-post from August 21st, 2011. At this time I had just moved in to North Carolina State University.mypicture

So, I get to NC State, and move into Wolf Village on Wolf Village Way. A statue of a wolf greets me at the door. From Wolf Village I take the Wolfline bus and pick up some Wolfpack T-shirts for my parents. After I get back I need to print an employment eligibility form, so I go down to the computing center and log on to WolfPrint (through the WolfNet service) and attempt to print my document, but a picture of an anthropomorphic wolf with empty pockets informs me that I need to bump up my print quota. Unfortunately, it’s unwise to give credit card information on a public computer, so I have to take my Wolfmobile back to my Wolfcave. Shimmying down the wolfpole I find my wallet next to my wolferang and a few cans of wolf-Shark repellent. All this going back and forth was making me hungry, so as I drove the Wolfmobile back to the computing lab I wolfed down a bag of wolf wolfs and also wolfed the wolf wolf wolf all the way to wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf. Wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf-wolf, wolf wolf wolf. Wolf.

I have now written the word “Wolf” enough that it no longer looks like a real word to me. This is called Jamais Vu, the sense that a familiar experience is somehow unfamiliar. It is the opposite of the more well-known Deja Vu. Presque Vu is the term for something on the tip of one’s tongue that one just barely can’t remember. Of the three it’s the easiest to work into normal conversation, I’ve found.

Anyway, my roommates are really chill, and have presented no issues that have significantly impacted my ability to sleep. I am already feeling really busy, even though I have hardly done anything yet, so I’m not entirely certain what that portends. Mostly I expect I just have to finish getting settled and I’ll be fine.


You are so awesome.


While en wolf route, I recommend several stops: the home of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, the homes of the three little pigs, and that pond (over there!) with the duck in it. This will save you a few wolf bucks because you won’t need to buy as many bags of wolf wolfs. Cheers, Canis Lupis
Who is Canis Lupis???
I must know!
That was me, Sam, by the way.


Ever since Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com correctly predicted the last presidential election, he’s gotten a bit of a name for himself. Now he’s apparently the face of election polling. All of the activist emails that I get have been saying things like “Nate Silver says we can’t do it. He says we’re going to lose. Let’s prove Nate Silver wrong.” I’ve been getting a lot of these emails.

Then my friend got a job canvassing for Kay Hagan, incumbent senatorial candidate for North Carolina. From what I understand, the below Dilbert comic roughly represents how his job works.


That’s not fair. He’s allowed to get help from friends as well as family. Now I’m out canvassing for Kay Hagan in Hillsborough. Not because a boss with devil horns for hair forced me to, but because I personally would rather have Kay Hagan in congress than her competitor, and I like to try and make the things I want to be be the things that are.

I’ve learned a lot in my two canvassing endeavors so far. Mostly that the people on the list to be canvassed are often people who don’t want to talk with canvassers. It’s remarkable how many people don’t answer their doors.  Once a person started to open the door and then abruptly stopped, probably noticing that we weren’t anyone she knew. My father, canvassing with me, also noticed that people often didn’t want to talk with him. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of people in the shower in the middle of the day when a canvasser was at the door.  Once a little girl at the window shouted at her mother “Mommy, I’m hiding upstairs! You can hide with me if you want!” No one answered the door.

Nevertheless, we did get some people willing to talk to us. A lot of people were more invigorated by dislike of Thom Tillis than like of Hagan, so I encouraged them to think of a vote for Hagan as a vote against Tillis. It seemed like someone here and there may have gone from not voting to voting for Hagan. I hope so.

Greetings from Sunny Baltimore!

IMG_20140619_202434894_HDRI took a trip this week. It started with SAYMA in the mountains, as described in my previous post. Then I drove (with help from Alice) back to Raleigh, slept one night and drove two hours alone to the other side of North Carolina, the beach where my friend Jimmy was visiting from Baltimore.IMG_20140624_150744638

Down on the boardwalk of the beach we were treated to an image of a more-psychotic-than-usual Spongebob Squarepants, an anemic Patrick Star, and what appears to be a cross between the cat-in-the-hat and Lord Voldemort. After one day at the beach, I returned to Raleigh and slept one night, waking up at 6:00 AM for a flight to Baltimore.


That’s right, I flew away from my friend Jimmy visiting my home state to his normal place of residence. I went to attend Building Educational Applications and present a poster, but while I was there I sent a Baltimore postcard to Jimmy’s address, stating “Wish you were here!”

The Other YAF



This weekend I went to SAYMA – Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting Association – a four-day Quaker yearly meeting in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. There are several different groups within SAYMA, mainly separated based on age and walk of life. I currently belong to the young adult Friends (YAF), where “Friend” is another term for “quaker” , who are famous for disorganization and a group dynamic that might be accurately described as “Heisenbergian.” There seems to really be no way to know how many people are in YAF at any given time.

This year in particular brought that dynamic into stark relief. Five YAFs including myself were regular attenders of our business meetings, but based on chance encounters in the dorms it seemed like there must be at least twice that number of young adults wandering around. I even got a few of them to freely admit to being YAFs and promise to come to business meeting, but they never showed.

These YAFs consisted primarily of Friends who had not been in the middle and high school groups, Southern Appalachian Young Friends (SAYF), during their respective youths, and who were therefore largely unknown to the YAF core, those of us who had been around for the long haul. Until very recently I assumed these YAFs to be non-YAF YAFs, that is, young adults who lived in the dorm provided for young adults but had no interest in any YAF activities, and instead spent most of their time distributed among the older adults. As clerk (Quaker term for head organizer) of YAF, I was responsible for them in some technical and abstract way, but if they didn’t want to be part of the community, I didn’t see any good in forcing them.

That was until Saturday night. Saturday night is special at SAYMA. It is the night when the SAYF and YAF communities celebrate the transition of senior SAYFers from SAYF to YAF. Because this is a two-part process, the first of which, saying goodbye to SAYF, begins at ten and ends between midnight and one in the morning, the “welcome to YAF” bit generally involves staying up past my bedtime. There’s some free time between supper and welcoming new YAFs, so I was upstairs working on my recursive autoencoders. Eventually I decided I need a break, and I came downstairs to see something happening on the dorm’s deck.

On the deck, I saw the people I had passed in the halls. They were sitting around a table drinking beer and wine, playing cards and making bawdy jokes. A cell-phone sat in the center of the table playing 20’s-era jazz. I stood for a moment in shocked un-worshipful silence (Quaker reference), and the evident head of the party, who looked a bit like Vince Vaughn and had broken his promise to come to business meeting that very morning,  said “oh, hello there. Welcome to YAF.”

Fortunately, with my clerkly powers I managed to convince a majority of these people to actually join us in our late-night celebration of graduating SAYFers. Later they explained that they couldn’t come to our business meeting because it conflicts with the general business meeting. I hope to bring these concerns to next year’s planning committee, and maybe we can bring some healing to the fractured YAF community.

Scrabble in Purley

For Mother’s day I went with Alice to her mother’s house in Purley, North Carolina. Purley is a rural area, and out there in the country the first thing I noticed was that the cricket noise didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular – it was just ambient. It was nice. What was also nice was the abundance of green fields, as pictured below, and the general simplicity of life out in Purley, where most residents seemed to be retired and very little was going on at any given time. Purley is a nice place to cool down when one tires of the big city life.


Below are Alice’s family. They factor into this story only to the extent that they participated in a game of Scrabble.  This game of scrabble turned out to be very interesting indeed.


Sandy, on the left, is very good at Scrabble. He denies it categorically, but his score by the middle of the game made the truth clear. Here is part of the Scrabble board near the end of the game:


If you look near the center of this image, you will see a word “welp.” Those of you skilled in the ways of spelling will note that, in fact, “welp” should be spelled “whelp.” I did not notice this word when Alice played it much earlier in the game, or I would never have allowed it, but once a word is on the board, there’s no contesting it. By this point in the game, I had narrowly been able to get back in the lead past Sandy with “movie” on a triple word score with an “i” on the double letter score for thirty-three points. Sandy was poised to pull back into first by adding a single letter to the partially obscured “treat” to make it “treats” while simultaneously making “welp” into “welps”

This is where Sandy’s plan fell apart. Unfortunately for him, although I had not been paying enough attention to stop Alice from playing “welp” in the first place, I could stop him from modifying this nonexistent word to make another nonexistent word “welps.” So I did. Sandy lost his turn, and I won the game.

The Meeting

<- Continued from 54 Degrees

Upon Nate’s return, our house assumed an internal temperature of a balmy 63 degrees. One day, I came home to find it turned up to 65, which was too high. I asked Nate about the situation, and he told me that he was dreadfully ill, and needed the heat turned up or he, Nate paused for effect,  would certainly die.

I carefully weighed the cost of the extra two degrees against my roommate’s untimely demise and grudgingly agreed to let the temperature stay at 65 until J came home. That evening, true to his word, Nate lay curled on his bed in the fetal position, repeatedly calling my phone and leaving messages of him retching and hacking up his lungs and various other vital organs.

The next day I checked my messages and was duly satisfied that Nate had not been bluffing about his illness. I was particularly impressed when he demonstrated his delirium by leaving a message of six minutes of silence followed by “Hello, hello? Who is this?” and hanging up. Eventually, J told me, Nate had given up trying to get in touch with me and called him instead. J had gotten Nate’s medicine from CVS and rescued him from death’s icy clutches.

The next day, the temperature was back down to fifty-four degrees. Evidently there had been a meeting (with a quorum of two out of three household members). Nate would heat his room with a space heater, and to make up the electricity difference we would go below mine-strike level again in the rest of the house.

I put up with it for three days. Eventually when I was worried my fingers might snap off from being allowed to get so cold, I went to have a conversation with Nate, who was now feeling much better.

“Nate,” I said, somewhat reluctantly, “I think… I think it’s too cold.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” said Nate.

“Yeah, I think we should have a meeting and decide the right temperature once and for all,” I said.

“Just turn it up,” Nate replied, rubbing his hands together to keep them from getting frostbite and making no attempt to hide that he was wondering when I would let him go back into his warm little room.

“No, no, no,” I insisted. “This thermostat has been changed without the input of the whole house too many times. This time we all agree.”

“Ok,” said Nate, “go get J, then.”

So I went and knocked on J’s door. When I told him I wanted to have a meeting about the temperature, J came down to the thermostat and said “What temperature do you want it at?”

This caught me off guard, so I said, “63, I guess.”

“Ok, ” J said. Without missing a beat he punched the thermostat back up to 63 and returned to his room. Nate, satisfied that the issue had been resolved, also left. “Good meeting, everyone!” I called after them both.

On my way up the stairs I remained baffled at J’s mysterious ability to be comfortable at any temperature. As I climbed the stairs and reached the landing, a blast of hot air from his room answered my question. Looking through a crack in J’s door, I saw a rack of open-air processors covering his entire desk. An enormous box fan distributed the heat from this collection around the room. Upon returning from the restroom, J explained that an enormous process running on those processors had been heating his room for the last few weeks. I remain convinced that J knows how to handle cold temperatures, but evidently it wasn’t what he was doing this time.

Now that Nate has his personal heater, and J has his superheated processors, we cover up the vents in their rooms and use the HVAC to heat the kitchen and my room. It seems to have ended the conflicts and confusion, at least.