Computer Simulations of Tree Growth, circa 1989

The Gentlemen Scientists misspent their youth. While other teenagers were out and about picking up chicks, we were at our AT386 computers learning all the ins and outs of the QuickBasic compiler and interpreter. The bad boys at school were smoking and getting expelled, but we barely left the computer labs. And when our friends were experimenting with the odd leafy narcotic, we were too busy marvelling at the intricate fractal growth patterns of the marijuana leaf and their simulation using L-systems.

Ah, those were the days.

Now that we are grown and have managed (despite the odds) to have families of our own, we can look back with fondness on our wasted years. The beauty of having been a programming nerd is that our youthful follies are preserved in code. BASIC code, to be exact. Following our recent archeological survey of ancient floppy and hard drives, a number of old gems have surfaced, such as the program in our previous post about genetic algorithms.

Here is an old QuickBasic program we wrote in our teenage years around 1990. Although we were already interested in fractals and the dynamics of plant growth, our program was nothing more than some hard-coded mathematical tricks that created some vaguely realistic, “tree-like” shapes. But it was this kind of tinkering around that first got us interested in the power of computer simulation. It seemed amazing to us then that a small set of simple rules could produce realistic patterns.


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