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Archive for October, 2010

Venn Diagram of Google Bible Searches

Monday, October 25th, 2010 just released a Google Suggest Venn Diagram Generator, where you enter a phrase and three ways to finish it: for example, “(Bible, New Testament, Old Testament) verses on….” It then creates a Venn diagram showing you how Google autocompletes the phrase and where the suggestions overlap.

The below diagram shows the result for “(Bible, New Testament, Old Testament) verses on….” The overlapping words–faith, hope, love, forgiveness, prayer–present a decent (though incomplete) summary of Christianity.

A Venn diagram shows completions for (X Verses on...): Bible (courage, death, friendship, patience), New Testament (divorce, homosexuality, justice, tithing), Old Testament (Jesus), NT + Bible (hope, strength), OT + Bible (faith), OT + NT (marriage), and all three (forgiveness, love, prayer).

Procedurally Generating Archaeological Sites

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Walking around an archaeological site–whether an active dig or excavated ruins–makes you wonder what it would be like to see the site in its glory days. Existing computer tools make it possible to model small-scale sites virtually (a building, perhaps), but anything larger than a city block would take a long time to create. Even a small city is beyond the capabilities of any but the most dedicated team.

One solution is procedural generation, where a human designer lays down a few rules–a basic city plan, for example–and a computer fills in the rest according to those rules. The result is a complete rendering of a city filled with buildings that plausibly inhabit the space, with a human only having to set up the initial parameters. Consider this reconstruction of Pompeii:

The creators of this video started with street plans and a variety of historically correct architectural models. A computer then generated buildings that fit the excavated ruins, resulting in a city that you can tour virtually. While it undoubtedly has inaccuracies, the result is compelling.

Pompeii is better-preserved than most ancient cities, but you can apply a similar technique to any archaeological site. Archaeologists have partially excavated many biblical cities; they know at least some of the city’s layout. Even if they don’t know the whole thing, they can guess at what features a city of a given size needs; by starting with what archaeologists know, a computer can extrapolate a plausible street plan for the rest of the city. (I suppose that you could run the simulation many times and generate a probability of where a certain building–such as a synagogue–is likely to be.)

These projects don’t often generate interior spaces or simulate objects like furniture, both of which dramatically increase the complexity of the simulation for only a modest benefit. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t model interior spaces. A forthcoming game called Subversion, for example, uses procedural generation on both macro and micro scales: it generates both complete cityscapes and architectural floorplans of the buildings that it creates.

A screenshot from Subversion shows a building's procedurally generated floorplan.

Recreating interiors for ancient houses is fairly straightforward: floorplans weren’t nearly as complicated as they are today. Imagine walking around ancient Capernaum, for example, and visiting the house where people lowered a paralytic through the roof. Architecture plays a crucial role in the story, a role that a virtual-reality model would help illuminate.

Further Reading

  1. Procedural, Inc. creates software for procedurally generating cities, both modern and ancient.
  2. Rome Reborn from the University of Virginia recreates ancient Rome using a combination of hand-modeled buildings (for thirty models and 250 elements) and procedurally generated buildings (for the remaining 6,750 buildings). Academic papers provide more technical detail, especially the one by Dylla, Kimberly, Frischer, et al. (PDF). They use the Procedural, Inc. software.
  3. A Subversion video shows the steps a computer goes through to generate a cityscape.
  4. Procedural 3D Reconstruction of Puuc Buildings in Xkipché demonstrates an academic application of the technology applied to archaeology.
  5. Magnasanti talks about the “ultimate” SimCity city and was the inspiration for this post.