Evolve Words

Posted on 2023-10-31 21:39 +0100 in Coding • Tagged with Python, evolution, biology, terminal, textual • 2 min read

This follows on from my previous post. If you've not read that, it's worth having a dive in first for the background.

The Ruby code I mention, that was written back in 2008, was actually a pair of scripts. The first one, called selection, did what visual-selection does, only visual-selection does it with a nice TUI interface: it takes a random collection of letters and symbols and evolves them into a target phrase.

As covered before: I don't remember all of the details of the conversation that was going on at the time, but I do seem to remember something along the lines of "yes, but you start out and end up with something the same length" and "nothing more complex is made" (let's gloss over the whole "complex" thing for now... well okay let's just gloss over it, end of story; this is just a fun coding exercise).

What I do remember is that the seed of an idea was planted. Fine: how about I start off with one small word, and using a list of English words as the "fitness landscape" that the mutations had to survive in, mutate a population over and over and see what happens. Would I "randomly" create known words, with fewer letters, with the same letters, with more letters?

So this version of the code randomly did three forms of mutation: it would randomly flip a letter, or randomly delete a letter, or randomly insert a random letter. It would do this over and over and eliminate words that aren't in the original list (the simple form of selecting for survival within the landscape).

Like I said last time: never going to convince anyone of anything, but fun to write some code.

This version became selection2.

So, having turned selection into a TUI application with Textual, I had to do the same with this code...

Evolve Words

As before, because it's fun to do so, this leans heavily on the worker API and textual-plotext.

If you want to check out the app itself there's a GitHub repo and it can also be installed from PyPi using pipx.

Visual Selection

Posted on 2023-10-26 18:50 +0100 in Coding • Tagged with Python, evolution, biology, terminal, textual • 4 min read

Over the last few weeks I've had a couple of sessions of working on a library to wrap Plotext -- a popular terminal-based plotting library for Python -- so that it can easily be used in Textual apps; textual-plotext is the result.

I feel it's come together pretty well

But... I've been itching to find a reason to use it in a project of my own.


Back in the mid-2000s, when phpBB systems were still the fashion, I used to hang out on a site that was chiefly aimed at the atheist and secular humanist crowd. We'd get a good number of drive-by YEC types who'd want to argue (sorry... debate) and often talk nonsense about biology and the like.

Now, I'm no biologist, I'm no scientist, I'm just a hacker who likes to write code for fun and profit; so any time there was a chance to write some code to help illustrate an idea I'd jump at the chance. I forget the detail now -- this was back in 2008; 15 years ago as of the time of writing -- but one time I remember a conversation was taking place where someone was just flat out claiming that "random mutation" can only cause "loss of information" and could never lead to a "desired result", or some such thing.

If you've ever had, read or watched those debates, you'll know the sort of thing I mean.

So that got me thinking back then, could I write something that could give a simple illustration of how this doesn't quite make sense?

So I had a little hacking session and came up with some Ruby code1 that did what I felt was the job. You'd give it a phrase you wanted it to generate (a stand-in for the current "fitness landscape", in effect), it would then generate a totally random string of that length, and then would set about mutating it, finding mutations that were "fitter" than others (a stand in for selection), breed the best two so far (randomly copy one chunk from another to create a child), then repeat over and over.

When I first wrote it I wasn't sure what to expect; would it ever finish given a reasonably large target string?

It did.

It was fun to code.

It got posted to the BB and of course wasn't in any way persuasive to them (honestly I never expected it would be). I seem to recall it being hand-waved away with calls of there obviously being an intelligent designer involved2.

Anyway, the "meanwhile..." in this: a few times this year I've thought it could be fun to rework this in Python (it's really not that complex after all; just a string-chopping loop really) and use Textual to put a fun UI on it.

So, that's what I did, complete with textual-plotext plot:

Visual Selection in action

While, 15 years on, this isn't going to convince anyone of the underlying point, I think it does serve a good educational purpose. It shows that you can create a fun UI for the terminal, with Textual, with not a lot of code. It also shows off how you can easily create dynamic plots. Plus -- and I think this might be the really important one -- it shows you can write "traditional" tight-loop code in a Textual application and still have a responsive UI; all thanks to the worker API.

The heart of the code for this application is this:

environment = Environment("This is the target string we want to create!")
while not environment.best_fit_found:

Sure, there's some detail in the Environment class, but you get the idea: while we've not hit the target, let life find a way. A loop like that would totally bog down an application with a UI without some other work taking place. With Textual and workers the resulting method in the application, complete with code to send updates to the UI, really doesn't look much different:

@work(thread=True, exclusive=True)
def run_world(self, target: str) -> None:
    worker = get_current_worker()
    environment = Environment(target)
    iterations = 0
    self.post_message(self.WorldUpdate(environment, iterations, *environment.best))
    while not worker.is_cancelled and not environment.best_fit_found:
        iterations += 1
        if (iterations % 1000) == 0 or environment.best_fit_found:
                self.WorldUpdate(environment, iterations, *environment.best)
    if environment.best_fit_found:

I honestly think the worker API is one of the coolest things added to Textual and I so often see people have real "woah!" moments when they get to grips with it.

Anyway... I've covered science, religion, and how Ruby is better than Python, so I'm sure I've annoyed almost everyone. Job done I guess. ;-)

If you want to check out the app itself there's a GitHub repo and it can also be installed from PyPi using pipx.

Expect it to be my tinker project of choice for a wee while; there's a couple of other things I'd like to add to it.

  1. Possibly unpopular opinion with some folk who will read this, but I've long been a fan of Ruby as a language and actually generally prefer it to Python. 

  2. Me, the coder. While utterly missing the point of a simple illustration, while apparently not understanding the concept of an analogy, I guess at least they felt I was intelligent?