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Sunday, September 19, 2021

CONTEXT: Cellular Automata Laboratory, the Music Video

Just like Peter Schickele's P. D. Q. Bach concerts, I couldn't resist slipping a little something of my own in. Cellular Automata Laboratory is a little-known and, in my opinion, underappreciated cornerstone of Fourmilab. In 1988 and 1989 Rudy Rucker and I developed the original Cellular Automata Laboratory for MS-DOS, using every dirty trick in the armamentarium of the whacked-out 80x86 assembly language programmer to wring acceptable performance out of the machines available to us and our audience, which amounted to IBM PC/AT and clones running an 80286 processor at 6 MHz. At one point, I hooked an oscilloscope up to an extension card to verify the inner loop of my evaluator and screen update code was driving the memory as hard as it could be driven, without waiting for the processor.

In 2017, impressed with the spectacular progress in browser-based applications implemented in JavaScript and the power of the canvas graphics facility, I decided to explore whether Cellular Automata Laboratory might be resurrected as a Web application. Well, it worked, and in June 2017 it went live—try it for yourself! (Here is a more detailed history of Cellular Automata Laboratory and the complete development log of the Web edition.)

One of the innovations in the Web version was “shows”—the ability to script self-running demonstrations, and this was used to create a series of YouTube videos illustrating various cellular automata rules implemented in it. These were, however, all silent movies. Now, Jason Higley has set the Cellular Automata Laboratory demonstrations to freely redistributable music, which dramatically improves the flow and watchability of the video. Enjoy!

Posted at September 19, 2021 11:29