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John Horton Conway Confluence

My freshman year in college, the last assignment in the Pascal class was to implement a version of Conway's rules of Life.  The assignment was fairly simple, as it should be (after all the rules of Life are simple).  The hard part was conjuring up a UI for the beast, since the I/O consisted of a TeleVideo 973 terminal running at 2400 baud, and the OS, VMS was none too kind about being able to get keypresses interactively with the libraries we could access.  It doesn't help that Pascal I/O starts off being fairly handicapped.

Nonethless, the students busted their asses producing some pretty nifty work.

I was proud enough of my own work to keep a copy of the source code, with the intentionally misspelled file name LIFF.PAS, which was a reference to a book by Douglas Adams and Joh Lloyd.

A few years later, Conway did a talk at Bell Communications Research, where I was doing an internship and I convinced him to autograph the source for me.  He was nice enough to do so.

I also ran into an implementation that used the Commodore Amiga's inspired blitter chip to run the rules.  It ran at a fairly insane frame rate, given the pokey CPU (by today's standards).

Later, I worked at a place that implemented a high speed 3D engine using VRML as the scene description language.  Since I was responsible for scripting, I wrote a VRML app that generated 3D geometry using the rules of Life and colored the cells based on their seniority.  Since it was 3D, you could spin it around to change your view as the cells marched around.  I could get it up to a fairly surprising generation rate, considering how much computation was necessary to sort and render all the polygons without hardware acceleration.  It was nice eye candy.

I bring this up because I had recently read a book by David Brinn that included Life as a recreational game using mechanical pieces.

Today I found a link to a computational model by Conway called Fractran.  Hurry up and enjoy it before your brain explodes - it's pretty rough on the synapses.
Published Wednesday, November 01, 2006 2:33 PM by Steve Hawley


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