Archive for August, 2011
Well I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, and on Sunday with a freshly installed (and therefore speedy) net book under my belt, I thought I’d have a crack at it.
Last year (maybe even 2 years now) ago, I made a weak plasmoid generator with the intention of using it for terrain generation. I’ve always wanted to use that library for some agent based programming, and a simple (rule wise) example of it would be water. You put some water agents on the map they move as low as they can go, then evaporate. This kind of does that, and definitely suffers from “proof of concept” syndrome. Water moves, but to do anything fancy will require redoing, which I’ll probably end up doing on my next free Sunday.
So, using a library called Gosu to handle the drawing and the event loop, and a library called TexPlay which allowed me to modify pixels, I got a render up and running which displayed a map of tiles (1 pixel tile ), and the colour was defined with a lambda that was passed to all of them.
As I’m learning Haskell at the moment, I thought I’d give some lambdas a go, and it made it really easy actually.
There are two types of agents in this program, Rain and Sources.
- Rain just flows to a low point.
- Sources make Rains.
Rains become sources if they hit a low point, which basically has the effect of stacking the Rains that have pooled there so they can make lakes. As Rains are destroyed when they stop, and Sources can only produce a finite amount of Rains based on how many are there when it is made, the system sort of stays constant. Initial sources are given enough Rains to cover the whole map 1 deep.
That is awkward to explain.
Most of the issues with this program was making the renderer fast enough to work on a net book, and as I’m not a graphics man, I made many rooky mistakes.
This is fairly mesmirizing to watch, and I’ll definitely improve it further, by:
- Making the map colouring sample from colour->height table
- Have water level as a tile attribute to make things cleaner
- Fix evaporation
- Make it so that tiles which have a constant flow of agents over them are distinguished from one-off “rain” paths
- Fix Rain
It’s a project, feel free to fork from git hub here at https://github.com/carl-ellis/Rain
Old school screen capture.
Video here: Rain – agent-based
If anyone else has this error thrown inexplicably after installing a fresh version of Arch, you may want to look at this handy post, which will solve all your problems.
So I’ve spent the last 4 weeks in Cambridge working as an intern at Microsoft Research and I thought I’d share my observations on the differences between academia and corporate research.
Academia, I find, is far from the ivory tower that it once was. Forgetting the worrying need to find economic benefit for projects, most research is now being spun as a product.
Surely the last thing you want for a product is a buggy bloated research prototype, and surely the last thing you want for a research project is a polished product. I mean you want it for one thing, to prove a hypothesis for your thesis.
This of course, is a massive generalisation, and more applied to the recent batch of Ph.Ds coming through, especially as they come through doctoral training schemes which mesh (mostly unsuccessfully) different fields together. Still, scoring a blue-skies research project without lying through your teeth in the impact section of a proposal is like finding real ale in Essex.
Of course, there is the positive side of academia too. The freedom to tackle your problem via any means. Flexible working hours (unless you are an RA), flexible supervision, flexible scope. You can produce a highly polished massively overworked Ph.D, or the bare minimum which gets the job done. It is a very personal thing. Research projects are a bit more managed, you have a more rigid supervisory system, project meetings, but your section of stuff is pretty much yours to do as you will.
This environment breeds two types of people: the successful ones who generally ask for and give help to their peers, accept criticism with grace, and who thrive in a space where they make the rules; and the other ones who, having seen the gaping ravine of work in front of them, bottle it and fail. Maybe not straight away nor suddenly, as it could creep up after a year or two, but Ph.Ds have been known to just disappear into industry after 4 years, with not a word to anyone. It is very easy to lose sight of where you are aiming to get to, reaching a false summit of your thesis and calling it done.
Academia is very much a dog eat dog world. The UK has a much nicer tenure-free environment, but even the tenant of the American “publish or perish” culture still exists. Academics live off their reputation, and their reputation is written in the black ink of a bibliography.
Corporate research is exactly the same landscape but with a few key differences.
For a start, the “build a prototype” message is very clear, especially for systems which may one day be products. You are building and evaluating a proof of concept, as it should be.
Secondly, the atmosphere is completely different. Whereas in the academic environment it is almost taboo to ask on a struggling Ph.D how their work is going, in corporate research struggling researchers are actively propped up and discussions at lunch and the pub are refreshingly problem orientated.
Thirdly, your supervisor is your manager. Which from a managerial point of view is awesome, you have someone who is your boss and *knows* what they are talking about, whilst still being your supervisor and knowing all the issues that come from research and how best to stimulate ideas out of dead ends. From an intern perspective this is also good, as seeing your supervisor as your boss makes you want to impress them more, and meet deadlines days earlier.
Finally, the pay is miles better.
Those are the good bits, and of course, there are some bad bits too.
Corporate research labs tend to have a “eat your own dog food” policy, which means that if the company creates a tool that can do you job, you use it, unless you can find a valid research reason not to. Working at Microsoft and being a Linux user, you can see how this has led to initial slow productivity as I’ve readjusted to an alien tool-chain.
There are also some scary law type things which get attached to the job, such as losing a kidney if I speak of what I see on whiteboards and such. However, this style of development is slowly losing ground as projects like Gadgeteer are being released under an Apache licence.
As a final point, having worked in some small companies where you have the “family” feel, I still find that you get this here. It may be due to the organisation of the research lab, but everyone is very friendly and you associate with your research group quite strongly. But not in a “compete against other group” way, as everyone in the building is amazingly friendly.
So far I’m enjoying it, we’ll see if I still do in 8 weeks time