Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
software created
extended or repaired


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Monday 25 March 2013 The Forest Road Reader, No 4

Like all right-thinking people I've been a fan of Jeff Minter's games since I was a kid. My particular favourite was Sheep in Space - I used to have to sneak into the physics lab to play it on Mr Spurgeon's Commodore 64. Well, it wasn't really sneaking, but I was supposed to be writing a program to do lens and mirror ray diagrams, not flying a sheep around. We did have a ray program already, but it was for the 380-Z, inconveniently located, for physics purposes, in the computer science room. (I'm not going to attempt to describe Sheep in Space. If you know it, then you'll know it. If not, you can a feel for its wonderfulness with this splendid video.) I read a long interview with him in Popular Computing Weekly, carried in the school library by the redoutable Miss Mack, and discovered he was self-taught, essentially by reading a book on assembler while laid up in bed with glandular fever. He was just like us! Except a bit older and with longer hair. Of all the big name game programmers of the early 80s, the Matthew Smiths, the Costa Panayis, the Don Priestleys, the Mike Singletons, Jeff Minter was simultaneously the most normal - he lived with his parents and played arcade slotmachines - and the coolest - he fizzed with excitement for games and really liked ungulates. Sometime around the turn of the millenium I chanced upon his LiveJournal and I've followed his picaresque career since. He's still working, still a bit older than me, still has long hair, still creating remarkable, delightful games. In fact, he farted one out just this week, and if you're iOS-equipped I think you should have a jolly good look.

These chairs are rather Sorry CJ.

One of the aspects of London in the Age of Reason that Stephenson plays up is just how busy and congested it was. On several occasions, people walk rather than take a carriage because walking was certainly going to be quicker. The primary reasons for taking a carriage or sedan chair, for Stephenson at least, are privacy - you can draw the curtains - or, conversely, to display your status - you've got your coat of arms painted on the side. I suppose the same still applies today, as the majority of private cars inside the congestion charge area are ridiculously large and/or powerful and actually not very well suited to the modern urban environment. They certainly don't go any quicker than the carriages, with average speeds hovering around 15km/h. That's 9mph in old money, spot on what Reuben Smeed predicted in 1949. Smeed posited that for congested networks, such as you find in city centres, that below some minimum speed people won't drive, but as speeds rise more people will drive, causing speeds to fall again. The system finds equilibrium at around 9mph - presumably he found this by observation - and the data seems to bear this out. Oh look, here's a report that says this time last year average speeds in central London between 7am and 7pm topped out at 8.98mph. Knock yourself out kids, I'll be on my bike.

I wonder if you could draw a connection between the self-stabilisation of Smeed's traffic modelling and James Lovelock's Daisyworld?

That quiz? Leading at the half way point. Not leading at the end.


Tagged llamasoft, london, neal-stephenson, and daisyworld


Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
software created
extended or repaired

Older posts are available in the archive or through tags.

Feed

Follow me on Twitter
My code on GitHub

Contact
About