If only I had the time…

I would reimplement BINSIC using a JIT compiler as outlined in this rather good blog from Josh Haberman.

(And, at least now I have bumped Chomsky from the top of my blog.)


Learnt this week… 24 January

My friend and former colleague Adam Higgitt every Friday posts a list of “five things I have learned this week”. It’s popular and good fun – especially as Adam is not afraid of an argument if you challenge some of his claims.

For a while I tried to do the same thing myself, but failed miserably.

I am not going to try again, but I am proposing to try something different, if inspired by Adam.

So here is the first list of things “learnt this week” scientific or mathematical facts and amusements. I will aim for five, but this week just did not make it.

1. A random walk can be used to build a binomial distribution – but not a very good one!

Imagine a left-right ruled line centred on zero and a marker than can, in every time step move either left or right be one step where the probability of moving left p_l and of moving right, p_r are both the same: i.e., p_l = p_r = 0.5 . At the “beginning of time” the marker stands at 0.

Then if we count the times the marker is at any given position they will be distributed bionomially (well, as we approach an infinite time). The BASIC code below (which I wrote using BINSIC) should give you an idea (this code runs the risk of an overflow though, of course and the most interesting thing about it is how unlike a binomial distribution the results can be).

10 DIM A(1001)
12 FOR I = 1 TO 1001
14 LET A(I) = 0
20 LET POS = 500
30 FOR I = 1 TO 50000
40 LET X = RND * 2
60 LET A(POS) = A(POS) + 1
90 FOR I = 1 TO 1001
95 LET X = I - 500
110 PRINT X," ",A(I)
120 NEXT I

Here’s a chart of the values generated by similar code (actually run for about 70,000 times):
Not much like a binomial distribution2. Things that are isomorphic have a one-to-one relationship

Up to this point I just had an informal “things that look different but are related through a reversible transformation” idea in my head. But that’s not fully correct.

A simple example might be the logarithms. Every real number has a unique logarithm.

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A little plug for BINSIC

Thirty-three years ago my brother and I got a new cassette player for Christmas.

That allowed us to write and save games for our ZX80 computer (like many ZX80 owners we found that an older cassette player just didn’t work) and in 1981 I wrote a Z80 machine code version of Conway’s Game of Life – still my proudest programming achievement.

Last year I sought to complete the circle by writing an interpreter/DSL that mimiced ZX80 BASIC and called it BINSIC as “BINSIC Is Not Sinclair Instruction Code” and then wrote a BASIC version of the Game of Life (see the screenshot below).

Game of Life in BINSICSo, if you are from that generation computer users, or even if you are not, why not give it a try – more details here: BINSIC

Getting booted from Wikipedia

A short article on “Binsic Is Not Sinclair Instruction Code” (BINSIC), my BASIC-like interpreter/DSL for Groovy faces getting deleted from Wikipedia on the grounds of lack-of-notability.

It would not be right or proper for me to intervene to stop this, but if you have been a BINSIC user then a proper third-party reference to it (followed by a clearance of the deletion message in the prescribed manner) would be very much appreciated.

The BINSIC article does not generate much traffic here (perhaps a visit a day), so I admit it is not a particularly important project in the world of computer science, but I hope it has been fun for at least a few people and it is worth keeping as a link to a quick and easy way to get BASIC on your computer.

More than a game: the Game of Life

English: Diagram from the Game of Life
English: Diagram from the Game of Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conway’s Game of Life has long fascinated me. Thirty years ago I wrote some Z80 machine code to run it on a Sinclair ZX80 and when I wrote BINSIC, my reimplentation of Sinclair ZX81 BASIC, Life was the obvious choice for a demonstration piece of BASIC (and I had to rewrite it from scratch when I discovered that the version in Basic Computer Games was banjaxed).

But Life is much more than a game – it continues to be the foundation of ongoing research into computability and geometry – as the linked article in the New Scientist reports.

For me, it’s just fun though. When I wrote my first version of it back in 1981 I merely used the rubric in Basic Computer Games – there was no description of gliders or any of the other fascinating patterns that the game throws up – so in a sense I “discovered” them independently, with all the excitement that implies: it is certainly possible to spend hours typing in patterns to see what results they produce and to keep coming back for more.

  • “Life.bas” should run on any system that will support the Java SDK – for instance it will run on a Raspberry Pi – follow the instructions on the BINSIC page. A more up to date version may be available in the Github repository at any given time (for instance, at the time of writing, the version in Git supports graphics plotting, the version in the JAR file on the server only supports text plotting). On the other hand, at any given time the version in Git may not work at all: thems the breaks. If you need assistance then just comment here or email me adrianmcmenamin at gmail.

BINSIC plotting working

At the risk of being attacked as an enemy of all that is good, I have to confess to being less than riveted by the Olympics, so far. So I have made far more productive use of my time in seeking to recreate the computing experience of 30 years ago – by working some more on BINSIC – Binsic Is Not Sinclair Instruction Code, my reimplementation of Sinclair ZX81 BASIC.

I have finally got PLOT and UNPLOT to work – not on the same screen as ordinary output, but on a separate graphics console.

Game of Life on BINSIC graphics consoleAs the above – from Conway’s Game of Life –  shows, this has all the sophistication and élan of the original ZX81 experience!

It’s just in the Git repo now (at Github under mcmenaminadrian) but an executable JAR will follow shortly.


Running BASIC on the Raspberry Pi

Actually, I ran BINSIC, my very own dialect of BASIC on the Raspberry Pi – it is very slow (a bit slower even than a ZX81 back in the day) but it does work.Raspberry Pi running

Haven’t had a chance to investigate what happens if I tweak the settings on the thing – possibly I might be able to speed execution up. Could be that Java and Groovy is just too much bloat, could be that BINSIC just demands a lot of computation (I refuse to consider that it might be poorly designed and executed).

Some fixes for BINSIC

I have made a few small, but important, fixes to BINSIC, the reimplementation of BASIC I have built using Groovy.

You can download the jar file (which can be run in any standard Java environment) from here:

Here’s another BASIC “game” (it’s amazing that this sort of thing used to fascinate those of us with these machines), for you to try – it was fixing this up that helped me find the bugs:

10 REM **DICE GAME**SLR/1983**
20 LET A=0
30 LET B=0
70 GOSUB 160
90 GOSUB 220
130 LET X$ = INKEY$
132 IF X$ = "" THEN GOTO 130
136 CLS
140 IF X$ = "S" THEN STOP
150 GOTO 10
160 FOR G=1 TO 2
170 LET Z=INT (RND*6+1)
180 LET A=A+Z
190 GOSUB 280
200 NEXT G
220 FOR G=1 TO 2
230 LET Z=INT (RND*6+1)
240 LET B=B+Z
250 GOSUB 280
260 NEXT G
280 REM Draw
282 PAUSE 100
285 IF Z = 1 THEN GOSUB 500
290 IF Z = 2 THEN GOSUB 600
300 IF Z = 3 THEN GOSUB 700
310 IF Z = 4 THEN GOSUB 800
320 IF Z = 5 THEN GOSUB 900
330 IF Z = 6 THEN GOSUB 1000
400 PRINT "[ ][ ][ ]"
420 PRINT "[*][ ][*]"
440 PRINT "[ ][*][ ]"
460 PRINT "[*][ ][ ]"
480 PRINT "[ ][ ][*]"
500 REM 1
510 GOSUB 400
520 GOSUB 440
530 GOSUB 400
600 REM 2
610 GOSUB 460
620 GOSUB 400
630 GOSUB 480
700 REM 3
710 GOSUB 460
720 GOSUB 440
730 GOSUB 480
800 REM 4
810 GOSUB 420
820 GOSUB 400
830 GOSUB 420
900 REM 5
910 GOSUB 420
920 GOSUB 440
930 GOSUB 420
1000 REM 6
1010 GOSUB 420
1020 GOSUB 420
1030 GOSUB 420

The original game can be found here: http://zx81.reids4fun.com/zx81/dice/dice_list.html – I had to change it to cope with the main weakness of BINSIC – that GOTOs to lines inside loops fail.

Raspberry Pi delivered

English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at Tr...
English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at TransferSummit 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, what do I do now?

My original plan was to run my BASIC-as-a-DSL that became BINSIC on it, but I am just not convinced that’s a good use of it now (or that BASIC is, in general, a good educational tool).

Want to do something interesting and out of the ordinary with it though – I only have one, so the other obvious idea: “imagine a Beowulf cluster of those!” is also out for now.