Working with submodels : Introduction to association

Introduction to the association submodel concept

The association submodel concept in Simile represents possibly the most significant contribution that Simile has made to the field of ecological modelling. It is a very powerful concept, with two key benefits:

  • it enables important aspects of the model design - the relationship between objects - to be represented in the diagram; and
  • it greatly reduces the computational cost of models involving interactions between large numbers of objects of the same type, thus rendering some models tractable that otherwise would simply take too long to run.

However, it's also true that a significant amount of effort is required on the part of the modeller to understand the association submodel, and how to use it in a given situation. This is partly because the ideas involved are unfamiliar, at least in the formal, computational way needed in a modelling environment such as Simile; and partly because the ideas are difficult. However, for the modeller who deals with interactions between many objects, the effort spent in learning how to use the association submodel will be well worthwhile.

But in order to understand how to use the relational submodel in your modelling, it is important to understand why we have introduced this construct.

Why is there an association submodel concept in Simile?

Consider a model in which we decide to have two types of object: farmers and fields. There are multiple farmers, and there are multiple fields. Each farmer has dynamic attributes (such as the amount of cash they have) and each field has dynamic attributes (such as the state of crop growth or the amount of nitrogen in the soil). Clearly, in Simile terms, our model would have two multiple-instance submodels: one for the farmers, and one for the fields.

However, there are interactions between farmers and fields. The amount of grain in a field is influenced by the harvesting decision of the farmer that owns a particular field. And the cash held by a particular farmer is increased by revenue from the grain sold from each of the fields owned by that farmer. How can we handle this?

There are two ways. Let's consider the case of calculating the grain yield for each farmer. One way is for each farmer to be presented with the grain yield from all the fields, and to use only the values from the fields he owns. This can be readily done in Simile: it simply requires that the array of grain yields is multiplied by an array (also with as many elements as fields), containing 0's or 1's, with the 1's indicating that the farmer owns the field. This works fine for smallish problems, but it means that the number of operations that have to be performed is equal to n*m, where n is the number of farmers and m is the number of fields. Thus, with 1000 farmers and 5000 fields, Simile would be performing 5 million calculations every time step. This is hugely wasteful of computing time, since in fact it only needs to do 5000 (one for each field).

The other way is to pass to each farmer only the grain yield values for the fields that he himself owns. In the present example, that would be an average of 5 values per farmer - instead of 5000! These values can then simply be summed to give the total grain yield for each farmer.

The job of the association submodel is to make it possible to restrict the amount of information in this way.

Naming the components of an association

The following practise is suggested, as it results (with luck) in meaningful text being generated for the parameter names that are used in equations. These are generated by appending the name of the relevant role arrow to the name of the source component.

Model object: Grammatical class of Caption: Example(s):
Base submodel Noun Farmer, field
Role arrow Adjective Owning, owned
Association submodel Verb (or abstract noun) Owns (or Ownership)

You can also use "my" and "his" for the role arrow names when symmetry means that there aren't two distinct adjectives, as might be the case in a neighbour relationship between grid squares.

In: Contents >> Working with submodels >> Association submodels