by W. Daniel Hillis for Physics Today

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I hesitated. "I'm sad because you're going to die."

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Experiment with all the data we collected.

Some forms were modified for specific use in the various fisheries: the oyster skiff, crab skiff, haul-seine skiff, crawfish skiff, etc. With the advent of gasoline and diesel motors, the skiff evolved dramatically as oars were discarded. In general, marine plywood and, more recently, sheet aluminum, have replaced the once common cypress planks as building materials.

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The notion of cellular automata goes back to von Neumann and Ulam, whom Feynman had known at Los Alamos. Richard's recent interest in the subject was motivated by his friends Ed Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram, both of whom were fascinated by cellular automata models of physics. Feynman was always quick to point out to them that he considered their specific models "kooky," but like the Connection Machine, he considered the subject sufficiently crazy to put some energy into.

Reprinted with permission from . Copyright 1989, American Institute of Physics.

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Cellular automata started getting attention at Thinking Machines when Stephen Wolfram, who was also spending time at the company, suggested that we should use such automata not as a model of physics, but as a practical method of simulating physical systems. Specifically, we could use one processor to simulate each cell and rules that were chosen to model something useful, like fluid dynamics. For two-dimensional problems there was a neat solution to the anisotropy problem since [Frisch, Hasslacher, Pomeau] had shown that a hexagonal lattice with a simple set of rules produced isotropic behavior at the macro scale. Wolfram used this method on the Connection Machine to produce a beautiful movie of a turbulent fluid flow in two dimensions. Watching the movie got all of us, especially Feynman, excited about physical simulation. We all started planning additions to the hardware, such as support of floating point arithmetic that would make it possible for us to perform and display a variety of simulations in real time.

Louisiana Boatbuilding: An Unfathomed Fortune

Perhaps the most popular large trawler in the shrimp industry today is also a skiff. Large trawling skiffs, still built of cypress or Spanish cedar planks, are 40' to 55' in length. These boats also have a semi-V hull design and great sheer in the bow section. Motored by powerful gas or diesel engines, these trawlers are built for serious commercial shrimpers. Melvin Kiff, Rodney Cheramie, the Guidry brothers, Lawrence and Joseph Billiot, Robert Mobley, and Jack Fillinich are among the masters of this variety of skiff.

"That sounds like a bunch of baloney," he said. "Give me something real to do."

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The game of Life is an example of a class of computations that interested Feynman called [cellular automata]. Like many physicists who had spent their lives going to successively lower and lower levels of atomic detail, Feynman often wondered what was at the bottom. One possible answer was a cellular automaton. The notion is that the "continuum" might, at its lowest levels, be discrete in both space and time, and that the laws of physics might simply be a macro-consequence of the average behavior of tiny cells. Each cell could be a simple automaton that obeys a small set of rules and communicates only with its nearest neighbors, like the lattice calculation for QCD. If the universe in fact worked this way, then it presumably would have testable consequences, such as an upper limit on the density of information per cubic meter of space.

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Most traditional boatbuilding in Louisiana takes place in small, relatively isolated villages located within the watery frontier of South Louisiana. These villages are seldom visited by outsiders who could hardly pronounce their place names. The great majority of the boatbuilders interviewed for this article claim some form of French as a mother tongue. Most are Cajun, although many claim affinities to two or more ethnic groups. Their boatbuilding skills were developed in a varied, polyethnic, polyglot cultural setting which had few formal educational opportunities, places historically cut off from many elements of civilization and as far from "mainstream America" as anywhere in this country. Perhaps somewhere in these facts lies a clue as to why the fascinating maritime heritage of Louisiana is often misunderstood, taken for granted at home, and frequently ignored by the outside world.

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The flat boat and related types are also very popular in Louisiana. Boats with a flat bottom and a blunt bow and stern have been around since the earliest colonial days. is the local French term for a simple flat boat or barge; the English speakers refer to them as punts or scows.