Behaviour Composer release fixes a few bugs

Details at

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News from Oxford and Barcelona

1. Andreas Duering won best student post at the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference on Saturday:

We are delighted to announce that the Archaeopress Prize for the Best Student Poster/Paper at CAA-UK, Oxford 2014 was awarded to Andreas Duering (Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford) for his paper on The Population & Cemetery Simulator.  The judges –  Dr. Mark Gillings (University of Leicester), Prof. Gary Lock (University of Oxford) and Steve Stead (Paveprime Ltd.) – were unanimous in their decision.  Andreas will receive a £50.00 Archaeopress voucher.  Congratulations Andreas!

2. The Behaviour Composer is being used by Faculty of Political Sciences and Sociology in the Universitat Automoma de Barcelona. Ken will visit them when he is in Spain later in the year, and Howard will meet some of the group when he gives a workshop at the start of ESSA-2014.

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Bug fix release of Behaviour Composer and BC2NetLogo

This release fixes several bugs. Details at

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Latest Behaviour Composer has new support for using data to create agents

Frequently one needs to create agents based upon data. There is a new micro-behaviour where one just lists the attributes and pastes in the data (for example, copied directly from a spreadsheet) and agents are created initialised by each row of data. The behaviour can be found in the ‘Adding agents’ section of the main library.


Improvements were also made to the support for automatically applying edits made in BC2NetLogo to the Behaviour Composer model.

And, as usual, bugs were fixed.

Here are the full details of the changes.



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Latest release of Behaviour Composer moves further from Java applets

This release includes several improvements to BC2NetLogo (which connects the Behaviour Composer directly to NetLogo). It provides support for translation, the Epidemic Game Maker, and the NetLogo view update policy (and changes the default to be tick-based). Also for those not using BC2NetLogo the Download tab was much improved and warnings were added to the Run tab about problems running Java applets. Release includes bug fixes as well including some that caused BC2NetLogo to fail on some versions of Linux and MacOS. Full details at

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ABM at the Oxford Conference on Systemic Risk

Tuesday I attended the conference on System Risk at the Oxford James Martin School.

Doyne Farmer gave a good talk about his group’s work on modelling financial systems. He presented two ABMs: one that models price crashes in markets where some investors (hedge funds)  use leverage. Shows why there are nice long periods of calm growth and profits followed by a crash and then chaos before the cycle starts again. Talked about work -in-progress for a larger financial system model that includes different kinds of banks including the central bank.

Didier Sornette gave a talk about super exponential growth caused by positive feedback leading to bubbles that burst.  In response to an audience question (from me) about what effect investors who used his models to foresee crashes before they happen might have on the market itself. He said they are building an ABM to explore that question where a fraction of the investors use his predictive model.

ABM came up in other talks and conversations.

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A talk entitled ‘Urban growth and decay’ was as much about archaeology and rioting

I just returned from an interesting talk in the Mathematical Institute by Hannah Fry from UCL’s CASA centre. There was lots of heavy mathematics and some interesting applications. I especially liked the model of the London riots in 2011. It combined nicely a contagion model (SIR where ‘I’ means become a rioter and ‘R’ means being arrested), a retail model (where shoppers trade-off distance to travel with size of retail outlets), and Epstein’s civil disobedience model where the probability of being arrested depends upon the ratio of police to rioters. They even did some participatory modelling where a model of riots breaking out in London was displayed on a table and the police moved toy police cars and vans around in response. There was a Kinect camera above the table that updated the model as the toys were moved around.

During cake after the talk Hannah, Chris Farmer, and I had an interesting discussion of the relationship between ABM, model output, discrete mathematics, and continuous mathematics.

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How to represent a village, farmland, forest and other features (for a game-like ABM)

Some will prefer a sketch (perhaps that they have drawn?), others might be happy to use prototypical fields, village and forest and play around with the space parameters at will. It depends on the questions the model is being used to think about and a person’s literacy in terms of reading the representation. (A constructionist might say the best representation is one that a person has built themselves).

The satellite map approach might be confusing if you’ve never thought about scanning your terrain from space or used a map. I currently favour this approach though for a number of reasons:

  1. I don’t think it is much of a leap of imagination to key into this kind of representation, and I think there are a number of techniques I can put into the model to help people imagine themselves within the model. Tricks that might work: ask gamer to use a mouse click to put their house into the village in the right location; show farmer agents going about activities in a recognizable way e.g. walking to the fields, clearing weeds, harvesting; change the size of farmer agent depending on which map scale they are in (smaller in fields)
  2. One patch is equivalent to about 2m x 2m or a couple of average dinner tables (or desks) – easy to imagine but nevertheless quite amazing that it is possible to make a combined GIS/ABM at this level of detail.
  3. 2m x 2m is easy to imagine when thinking about doing a farming tasks i.e. answering a question – how long does it take to clear weeds
  4. 2m x 2m is also on the scale of a few handheld quadrat samples i.e. if we’re to measure the distribution of fauna and flora, and take soil chemistry readings then there can be a more or less direct relationship between where the data is measured and a patch in the model.
  5. I like the idea of using an even higher resolution in the village so that I can visualize farming agents doing different activities e.g. repairing a roof, digging a new latrine, selling at the market, going to school, recovering from illness etc.

Point 3 needs thinking through. What I’d like to do is update patch and agent attributes at a frequency that doesn’t effect the performance of the model. Perhaps there are predictive equations I can use that take into account the main factors that influence soil and crop growth e.g. temperature, rainfall and how the farmers treat the soil. Then it will be interesting to make it easy to update the model with empirical data and see how these compare to predictions – how fast is maize growing, how long did it take to mature, what was actual rainfall/temperature, how are key soil chemistry readings changing.

This approach fits the idea of ABM as dashboard i.e. a tool that can be used to repeatedly explore and update local farming strategies and communicate these strategies to others.

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ABM get-together February 2014

Ken Kahn (IT Services), Tamas David-Barrett (Social Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group), Howard Noble (IT Services), Richard Taylor (Stockholm Environment Institute), David Zeitlyn (Institute of Social Cultural Anthropology), Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute), Doyne Farmer (iNET), Andrew Snyder-Beattie (Future of Humanity Institute), Ivvet Modinou, (co-founder of, Citt Williams ( Oxford Internet Institute), Mark Gilbert (Mathematical Institute), Maja Zaloznik (Oxford institute of population aging), Kevin Burrage, (Computer Science), Stuart Armstrong (Future of Humanity Institute), Rob Axtell (iNET), Wybo Wiersma (Oxford Internet Institute)

  1. Ken Kahn talked about recent discussions with medical researchers at Oxford interested in ABM.
  2. Howard Noble gave an update on the game he is making for participatory research in Cameroon
  3. Richard Taylor introduced the KnETs and participatory research at the Stockholm Environment Institutes
  4. Tamas David-Barrett introduced us to computational evidence of the cognitive cost of sociality and how this might limit monkey and ape group size
  5. Anders Sandberg then asked us for data sets he could use to model the effect of the perfect epidemic i.e. the spread of a (man-made) pathogen and which isolated (?) populations might survive
  6. Wybo Wiersma gave us an overview of his plans to use various modeling techniques to study the role social media networks might play in revolutions (such as the Arab Spring).
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All UK school children expected to learn computer modelling

The UK National Curriculum (Key Stage 3 – 11 to 14 year olds) now requires that students

design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems

8 to 11 year olds are expected to

design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts

And 5 to 7 year olds are supposed to

create and debug simple programs

use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs

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