visualizing cyberculture

Having asked students in the class on ‘Cyberculture’ that I’m currently teaching to try coding something in Processing that relates, in some way, to the themes of our first few weeks of reading and discussion, I figured it was only fair to try it myself.

We’ve been reading Fred Turner, Gabriella Coleman, Steven Levy, and others on the origins of free software, the countercultural roots of Internet ideology, and the idea of a ‘hacker ethic’. Perhaps the sketch below has something to do with those themes, or perhaps not.

Click below to start, and again to stop. Code is here.

SIMPLOT: an antique animal movement simulator

sample output from Donald Siniff's 1967 program SIMPLOT
sample output from Donald Siniff’s 1967 program SIMPLOT

The application below is a re-implementation — a sort of digital re-enactment — of an animal movement simulator originally developed by biologist and statistician Donald Siniff in the mid-1960s. This may have been the first computer-generated simulation of the movements of an individual animal ever created; it was certainly one of the earliest.

SIMPLOT — a portmanteau of “simulation” and “plot” — was meant to produce patterns matching those observed by Siniff and his colleagues in animals radiotracked at the Cedar Creek Natural History Area in central Minnesota. The path drawn on the map represents the movement of a single animal over time. At each step of the simulation, a turning angle and distance of movement are randomly selected from pre-specified probability distributions.

The distributions were intended to reflect the behavioral characteristics and ecological conditions of different animals — so that, for instance, the movement patterns of a fox could be rigorously compared to those of a rabbit, or those of an adult fox could be compared to those of a juvenile fox, or those of a fox in winter could be compared to those of a fox in summer.

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