Ants, Ant Books, Programming, and Raccoons
I have a group project writing an agent-based program to simulate the foraging behaviour of ants. The NetLogo implementation of this idea makes it look easy. Turns it out it’s not. Which has lead to lots of interesting questions about ants.
Incidentally, the project is being written using the RePast agent based modeling libraries for java. Now, I haven’t looked at the code of the NetLogo sample implementation since I started writing this thing, because we’re not supposed to. But I did look at it last semester, and I seem to remember you could fit the code on a tshirt, using a fairly hefty font, if you were so inclined. You could not fit the equivalent java code on a tshirt. You could not fit it on a muumuu. If nothing else, this project is convincing me that as soon as we’re let loose, I’ll be switching to NetLogo. RePast may not be as clumsy or random as a blaster, but NetLogo is just like way faster. Bring on the clumsy and random.
In an effort to answer some of my questions about how real ants have solved their RePast programming issues, I got a copy of Ants at Work by Deborah Gordon out of the library. I was shocked and mildy irritated to see that no one has checked out this copy — the only one in the UMich system — before me. WTF? I first read AaW when I was contemplating a project for my final year field course in undergrad, and it sticks in my memory as one of the most interesting books I have read. Dr. Gordon studies how it is that individual ants, obeying no rules outside of their own tiny heads, somehow come together to form the persistent yet adaptable superorganism that is an ant colony. She uses methods ranging from painting individual ants to digging up colonies with backhoes. It was my first introduction to the idea of emergence, before I (or apparently Dr. Gordon) had ever heard the word.
I can’t believe nobody else has read it around here. What’s wrong with these people? It’s so much more portable than The Ants, and costs 1/20th as much, even if you don’t include the cost of the hand cart.
Also, there is a raccoon sleeping in the garbage bin to the east of the Shapiro library doors.