Sunday, 4 March 2012

Some recognisably computational features

Blog entries are becoming sporadic, due to slow dial up collection (and now, intermittent mains power, after our first storm of the year).

Nevertheless, progress is steady (isolation has its benefits!), with a number of more recognisable programming language features now implemented. Many of the basic layers are now parameterised in simple ways, and the mechanics of binding and substitution of parameter types has been necessary. This in turn has required a type mechanism - the basic set of value types are point, vector, proportion, rate, colour and count. These can be derived from each other in various ways, as well as from properties of source images. 

Bound parameters are propagated dynamically, and it is possible to explore some interesting interactive effects by binding multiple layer controls to the same values as in the picture here. These are sufficiently interesting that I wanted to watch the results over more extended periods - so I've created a mouse tracker, and a record/replay layer that allow dynamic sequences to be used, with the replay rate also under dynamic rate control (motivated by the importance of dynamics in the Random Dance project). It also turns out to be nice to provide a motion-persistence filter that can be superimposed on these dynamic images, providing more of a visual transition between the static and interactive displays (as used for this image).

I've also made an initial attempt at a layer supporting a second order function, mapping a layer with one or more unbound parameters over a collection of possible parameter values. It turned out to be quite a challenge to define an appropriately "sloppy" approach to this, since the kinds of functional language that usually provide features like this emphasise correct type matching and map cardinality as fundamental control mechanisms. Instead, I've created a parameter binding mechanism that searches a set of available values for one of compatible type, with a new binding instantiated as soon as sufficient values are found. If the set doesn't have enough members for even one binding, partial instantiations can be created. And if the number of resulting instances is insufficient, the user can define a minimum count value. I should probably stop coding to think more carefully about the cognitive dimensions implications of these decisions.

Another slightly disconcerting result of all this computational work is that my own usage of the system has gravitated toward repeated definition of simple geometric figures - lines, points and circles. This is not at all the kind of aesthetic that I'm wanting to promote, but is so much more natural and convenient when implementing and debugging rather mathematical relationships. In principle, it should be very easy to parameterise the image operations that I created before leaving Cambridge, and also derive values from those images. But I shouldn't delay much longer before getting around to it - this is exactly the kind of thing that I complain to students about, when they get too absorbed by the mathematical requirements of their work, and neglect aspects of the user experienced that are less precisely specifiable.

No comments:

Post a Comment