There are a lot of neat things to do with Cellular Automata and the CAM-8 machine in particular. I actually don't use the CAM-8 that much, since my main tasks are to develop software for the host SparcStation which make it easier to use the CAM-8.
I have three main projects:
My real long-term goal (which I hope to use as my Master's Thesis) is to develop a new language for designing cellular automata, and write a compiler which compiles this language into experiments which will run on the CAM-8. Currently, all experiments run on the CAM-8 are written in Forth, an ancient language which most people hate to use. (But my boss likes it.)
While the CAM-8 is insanely powerful in many respects, it also has some hard limitations, which require sneaky work arounds. For instance, the look up tables for site updates can only have 2^16 entries, and each entry can have only 16 bits of data. Thus, even though a given cell can have an arbitrary amount of state associated with it, the update rules must be decomposed into functions which are 16 bits in, 16 bits out.
When someone dreams up an automata with more than 16 bits of state, this presents a problem. However, most of the operations which make up the functions used can be decomposed into a series of smaller functions.
A clever compiler could erase all this hassle by:
Moreover, a good language would go a long way into making CA experiments more understandable and modifiable. Since most people don't have much familiarity with Forth, and even people who do have a hard time reading other people's code, a clean language which is specifically designed for readability and ease of use would be a big help to the CA field in general.
This is currently my highest priority project. Progress has been
somewhat slow though. There are too many interesting things in the
world to spend time on.
Campat was and is a program for generating inital conditions for CA
experiments on the CAM-8. The current incarnation works ok, for what
it does, but there are a lot of improvements which could be made.
Some of these are listed in the man page I wrote for it, and I'm back
to work on them.
Overall, what campat needs is:
This library will help in two ways. First, it extends the drawing capabilities of the system into 3 dimensions. Second, it provides a very modular way of changing the lowest level routines without changing anything else. This feature will make the implementation of a direct interface to the CAM-8 hardware very simple.
I did manage to get a new version of campat mostly working, which
included 3d primitives, more powerful specification, and a generally
nicer interface. Unfortunately, I haven't documenteded it or polished
it yet. This will happen eventually.
Steplib is really Harris's project, but I'm pretty involved in it as well. Steplib is an attempt to make a library of C routines which access the CAM-8 hardware without using Forth routines. If we really get it to work, it could be the greatest thing the CAM has ever seen, since it will entice people to use the CAM who would otherwise look at Forth code and shudder with horror. Moreover, a good non-forth interface is needed for my CAM Compiler project to be practical.
When I last worked on Steplib, we had a lot of good stuff working, but we weren't free of the Forth yet. Part of the difficulty is that the forth version of Step has both low-level routines for talking to the CAM hardware, (which we've mostly re-written in C) and a familiar user interface (with an interpreted language) for actually running the experiments. Thus, in order to actually run anything, we still need the Forth code, and we dynamically link in our C funtions.
Some work has been done to integrate Steplib into Tcl, in order to make a new interface which will be "Forth Free". But not a whole lot has been accomplished yet. (As far as I know.) Since I'm not a big fan of Tcl, I may try to develop an interface to Scheme (or Guile?).
Since Harris is now working out at Phillips Labs for Jeff Yepez, (one of our collaborators) I'm no longer up to date on what he's doing. I hope he's made some real progress!