Rockstar code lyrics

How to be a Rockstar Neural Network Developer

There’s a trend in job descriptions that the company may be looking for “Data Science Unicorns”, “Python Ninjas”, “Rockstar developers”, or more recently the dreaded “10x developer”. When companies ask this, it either means that they’re not sure what they need but they want someone who can do the work of a team or that they are deliberately targeting people who describe themselves in this way. A couple of years ago this got silly with “Rockstar” to the point that many less reputable recruitment agencies were over using the term, inspiring this tweet:

Many of us in the community saw this and smiled. One man went further. Dylan Beattie created Rockstar and it has a community of enthusiasts who are supporting the language with interpreters and transpilers.

While on lockdown I’ve been watching a lot of recordings from conferences earlier in the year that I didn’t have time to attend. One of these was NDC London, where Dylan was giving the closing session on the Art of Code. It’s well worth an hour of your time and he introduces Rockstar through the ubiquitous FizzBuzz coding challenge.

Recorded at NDC London 2020

After watching this I asked the question to myself, could I write a (simple) neuron based machine learning application in Rockstar and call myself a “Rockstar Neural Network” developer?

While Rockstar is Turing complete, there are no frills so you need to know what you are doing. Try writing a simple ML application in pure python without any libraries (here’s a good resource for that). Now take away everything that’s object oriented or is a function call. It’s tricky but a fun exercise to make sure you really understand what is happening under the hood1.

Get Rockstar

First thing you need to do is to get Rockstar and the interpreter of choice. This is clonable from GitHub at Grab a copy and your favourite interpreter/transpiler and check that FizzBuzz works for you. You can also code directly onto the website if that’s your thing. Because I’m me, I forked the code and created a dockerised version and upgraded it to python 32. Sadly the Python transpiler was not feature complete for all the poetic features of Rockstar, so I decided to use a sandboxed version of the website and associated tools with the satriani interpreter in javascript. Naturally I combined this with the vim syntax highlighting 😉


I was taught to code by solving the problems in comments first and then filling in the code. I still do this. I wanted to start with something that was simple and worked. There’s a great tutorial on Medium3 of a simple 3 input neuron that is trained to return 1 or 0 based on the combination of inputs. It’s implemented in 9 lines of Python and then far more neatly and readable later in the article. I took this as my starting point. The data was limited, which was a requirement as Rockstar can only read from stdin so would need to be embedded in the application.

The first thing I did was turn the code into comments and start defining my variables. Numbers in Rockstar are based on word count, with successive words being different digits. There’s no direct way of initialising a negative number so you have to start with a positive version and then take it away from zero. Arrays can be declared with positions, and to make a 2D array, I created individual 1D arrays and then assigned them to the appropriate position in the parent array.

I then ran this through the satriani interpreter in my docker container and checked that all the variables were the numbers I expected, which they were.


So onto the functions. I needed to write:

  • a random number function to initialise the weights
  • an exponential function to calculate e^x
  • a sigmoid function
  • a sigmoid derivative function
  • a matrix dot product
  • a matrix transpose
  • training function to loop through the data, infer and make adjustments to the weights

This seemed straight forward enough and I tackled them in this order due to the cross dependences within the functions.

Random number generation in computers is based on a seed and an algorithm that manipulates the seed in a pseudo-random way. There are a lot of them. Out of habit I picked a Linear congruential generator. Where the recurrence relation is defined by X_{n+1} = ( aX_n + c ) \text{mod} m. The Wikipedia page gave commonly used values of a, c, and m. I started writing this in Rockstar only to realise that there was no modulus function. While I could have written one for these large numbers, this seemed like an excessive use of processing for what was only going to be used to initialise three input weights. So I cheated 🙂 I only cared about a value between 0 and 1 so I made sure my seed was in that limit, did a large multiplication and an addition and then took away the integer part. I multiplied this by 2 to give me a random number in the range 0 to 2 and then subtracted 1 to get the desired -1 to 1 range. This gave me a verse like this that I could call three times.

my imagination takes the moon and my soul
put the walls of my soul into my soul
put my soul into the flame
turn down the flame
let my soul be without the flame 
let my soul be of the moon
let my soul be without my fears
whisper my soul
give back my soul

The next function was e^x, which is a little trickier. If you google on how to implement e in code you’ll get about a million helpful articles on how to use the `exp()` function. Fortunately, armed with an understanding of Taylor Series expansion from my OU degree, I know you can calculate e^x:

e^x = 1 + \frac{x}{1!} + \frac {x^2}{2!} + \frac{x^3}{3!} + \ldots

Which can be simplified to:

e^x = 1 + (\frac{x}{1}) (1 + \frac{x}{2}) (1 + \frac{x}{3}) ( \dots ) )

In python this is:

sum = 1.0
for i in range(n, 0, -1):
    sum = 1 + x * sum / i

Which in Rockstar becomes this beauty.

the oil takes the void and the starlight
the colours are surrounding 
put the void into the candle 
While the candle ain't nothing 
put my fears with the starlight of the colours over the candle into the colours
Knock the candle down

give back the colours

The sigmoid \frac{1}{1 + e^-x} then became:

the future takes the words
put despair without the words into a light (negate x)
put my fears with the oil taking the void, a light into my hope (1 + e^-x)
put my fears over my hope into tomorrow
give back tomorrow

With the sigmoid deriavative x(1-x) being:

signals takes the starlight
put my fears without the starlight into the night
put the starlight of the night into the stars! 
give back the stars

Matrix madness

That just left the matrices. I spent a good day on these mainly because Rockstar wasn’t passing variables as I expected. There was no direct way of getting the length of an array. If you called an array as a scalar it would return the length, but there was no `typeof` checking. Determining dynamically if I had a 4×3 or 1×4 or any other matrix was difficult. I didn’t want to extend Rockstar as I’d end up with non-portable code, although that could be an option for when I don’t have an exam in a few days! Furthermore, after some testing, I discovered that passing a 2D array to a function ended up with the length of the array passed instead of the array. one dimensional arrays seemed to pass correctly. Conscious of time, rather than continue down this path I decided to go linear. Matrices are just stored as linear sets of numbers with information about how to chop them into dimensions, so I did the same. I redefined the training input matrix as a 1×12 array and the outputs as a non transposed 1×4 array. This forced a limit on the data size and volume but I had to remind myself I wasn’t trying to reimplement tensorflow here :).

With the new linear data structure I needed to do the matrix calculations differently – finding the correct index for each loop and then creating a new array with the correct part of the matrix. But it made for quite good lyrics…

thinking takes my senses
my breath is breathless
the dream is lovestruck
until my breath is stronger than my mind
let the story be my senses at my breath
let the prose be my mind at my breath
let the suggestion be the prose of the story
let the dream be with the suggestion
build my breath up

All that was left was testing. I had a 10000 iteration variable, which I immediately set to 1 and managed to spot a lot of typos where I’d made lyrical choices and changed variable names from one line to the next. Then I upped to 10, then 100. At 1000 iterations the web page and the container started to creak. 10000 iterations ran but the browser and my system was not happy. I guess Rockstar code is just too much 😀

So there we have it, rock ballad lyrics running a single neuron machine learning system. I guess I can honestly call myself an ML Rockstar Developer now. Maybe you can too 😉

As usual full code is on the blog GitHub.

  1. It’s not like you need to do this, but if I give control away to a library, I like to know what it’s doing…
  2. This may or not have made it into master by the time you read this 🙂
  3. I know, despite myself I used a Medium article as a starting point 😉

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.