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In the game of craps (50cpp, prob. 9), the player throws two dice. If the total is 7 or 11, he wins. If it’s 2 or 3 or 12, he loses. Otherwise, the value thrown is remembered as the “point”, and he continues to throw the two dice. If he is able to repeat the “point”, he wins. If he throws 7, he loses. Otherwise, he continues throwing. What is his probability of winning?

Here’s the Monte Carlo simulation:

(defmodule craps
  (export (run 0)))
(defun game ()
  (random:seed (now))
  (let ((throw-1 (+ (random:uniform 6)
                    (random:uniform 6))))
    (cond ((orelse (== throw-1 7) (== throw-1 11))
          ((orelse (== throw-1 2) (== throw-1 3) (== throw-1 12))
           (fletrec ((loop ()
                           (let ((throw-i (+ (random:uniform 6) (random:uniform 6))))
                             (cond ((== throw-i throw-1) 1)
                                   ((== throw-i 7) 0)
                                   ('true (loop))))))
(defun run ()
  (montecarlo:run #'game/0))

Timed trials

The above should work most of the time, but there is a teeny chance that the program will loop forever or at least for too long. One way to avoid this danger is to limit the amount of time the game can go on, and to grant the player the win if he lasts that long. We need a wrapper procedure, timed-experiment, that can run the game within a time limit. We’ll put this procedure in the montecarlo module, as we expect it will be useful in other problems:

(defun timed-experiment (experiment timeout default-result)
  (lambda ()
    (let* ((experiment-ref (make_ref))
           (spawner (self))
           (experiment-pid (spawn (lambda ()
                                    (! spawner (tuple experiment-ref (funcall experiment)))))))
        ((tuple experiment-ref result) result)
        (after timeout
               (exit experiment-pid '"taking too much time; return default result")

We now start to use LFE features that are not usually mimickable in standard Scheme and Lisp. timed-experiment sets three local variables: First, experiment-ref, which contains a unique reference returned by (make_ref), i.e., a value whose sole purpose is to be equal nothing but itself, in other words, an identity marker. Second, spawner, which holds the current process ID or PID, as returned by (self). And finally, experiment-id, which holds the PID of a child process, which is created using spawn.

The child runs concurrently with the parent, and takes care to run the experiment. When (if!) the experiment completes, the child sends a message to the parent process, using (! spawner ...), a tuple containing experiment-ref and the result of the experiment.

A tuple is nothing but a composite object containing other objects, possibly even other tuples.

The parent, meanwhile, is waiting to receive messages. If it gets a message tuple whose first element is the experiment-ref when it spawned this child, then it knows that the tuple’s second element is its desired result. If too much time elapses, receive triggers its after-clause, which deems default-result to be the result, but not before killing off the child process.

We could have had the child process simply return the raw result instead of wrapping it a tuple along with experiment-ref, but the latter gives the calling procedure some assurance that this is the message it was waiting for. This is important when there is a crowd of processes, all busily sending messages to the parent, as in this case. Note, that the parent PID may not be sufficiently distinctive as an ID, as we have multiple trials created within the same parent process, each trial requiring a result peculiar to itself from a child peculiar to itself. In our case, each trial waits (or blocks) until its child is either done or killed, so there is little likelihood that a child from a previous trial could send a message that is picked up by a subsequent trial, but it helps to be defensive.

Remember to add (timed-experiment 3) to montecarlo’s exports.

Back in module craps, we now redefine run to use a timeout of 2 minutes:

(defun run ()
     (montecarlo:timed-experiment #'game/0
        ;if taking more than
        (* 2 60 1000) ;ms
        ;let customer win

(craps:run) should give answers close to 0.49293.

Note that we called (random:seed (now)) in the beginning of game’s body. This reseeds the random-number generator’s state using the current time. This is especially needed in this problem because we’re running each game in its own process. Which implies they all inherit an identical copy of the same random state, which further implies they will all act identically, producing the same result, thus sabotaging the simulation. If the games were not spawned, as in our first attempt, this would not be a problem, as the games all operate on the same random state (not a copy), so they can’t mimic each other’s stream of random numbers.

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