Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Interstellar public transport?

That hook was the arm of an interstellar garbage collector! The story is getting weirder with every picture I manage to extract.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007


Andres Löh, another member of the ICFP Programming Contest team, visited us today. Together with Bastiaan he managed to decrypt the two pictures. Here they are.

Strange content for a spam message.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Practical requirements for the ICFP Programming contest

In a previous message I discussed the most important goals of the ICFP Programming Contest: the contest should offer the possibility to show off your favorite programming language and/or programming tools, and the contest should be fun.

The programming task should at least test language + programming skills + intelligence. We considered using the programming task for addressing a real problem.

Recent contests had thousands of contestants, working from anywhere in the world, with very different backgrounds. The contestants may use any tools they like, and any information at their disposal. Furthermore, teams may be of arbitrary size. These `contestant-friendly' rules have some important practical consequences for the organizers (that is: us!).
  1. the programming task should not be easily solvable
  2. the programming task should not be solvable by using a lot of computing power
  3. a solution to the programming task should not be lying around (or for sale) somewhere
  4. we have to think about how to deal with the fact that contestants are going to use many programming languages and compilers
  5. the solution space of the programming task should be large: we don't want many teams to submit the same, correct or best, solution
  6. there should be a clear way to determine the winner of the contest: the solution space of the programming task should have a total ordering without a top (or bottom)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Objects in Space?

Bastiaan sent me another picture. It is somewhat clearer than the last one, but there's obviously still something wrong with the pictures. It doesn't make much sense. Bastiaan also tells me that he has an idea now what might be the problem, namely a bug in the decryption program, and that he's working on corrected versions as well as on extracting more pictures.

Monday, 14 May 2007

The first test run

The group of students, mentioned in the Power Outage and Goals messages, just finished their test run of our first version of the ICFP Programming Contest 2007. The good news is that they exhibited the same kind of addiction we felt when working on last years' contest: each of them was supposed to spend 40 hours on the contest (72 hours minus sleeping, eating, and some travelling), about the number of hours we spend when working on the 2006 contest, but some of them spent more than double the amount of time. And they had quite a lot of fun working on the contest. It doesn't happen often to me that, despite me telling a student not to work on a task anymore, he tells me he is going to work on it, in a way which clearly shows that I cannot stop him even if I wanted to. They actually got quite far, but they also missed some aspects. They're clearly very good students, but I expect that they are not of the level of the top teams working on ICFP contests. So we might make the task a bit more challenging at some points. They had some interesting observations about our task description, and the way with which we ranked solutions. All in all this test round has proved very useful:
  • we were forced to finish a first version of the task long before the actual contest. We spent a very hectic weekend before the deadline. Besides being a very productive weekend, it was also very enjoyable.
  • the students got a very good idea of what the contest is about, and how contestants will go about trying to solve it. Probably better than us.
  • we got to see how contestants go about the task, what kind of (sometimes undesirable) problems they encounter, etc.
From now on the students will help in producing the next test version of the task, scheduled for the beginning of July.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Blog syndication

I've been asked to have my blog added to http://planet.haskell.org/. I think getting more exposure for the contest is a Good Thing, but I certainly don't want to give the impression that the ICFP Programming Contest is a Haskell contest. It definitely isn't. If other blog aggregators or syndicators want to add this blog as well, please contact me.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Sleeping beauty?

Remember the strange mail message I talked about? We (that is, me and some persons in the offices around me) are trying to figure out what it is in our free time. Actually, I had already given up last week after spending several hours without getting anywhere, but today, I can report our first success. Guess what? More or less by accident, Bastiaan Heeren (also a member of the contest organization committee) found a picture hidden in the flood of seemingly random data. He says it was encrypted, and that he somehow managed to decrypt it. I do not know the details, but I am not sure he did it right, as it looks really strange. But see for yourself!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Advertising the ICFP Programming Contest

I think the ICFP Programming Contest is an established contest by now. The publicity chair of ICFP thinks that it will sell itself, and he is probably right. However, to be on the safe side, we started advertising the ICFP Programming Contest last week. And lo and behold, our server experienced a hit explosion! In the last week, http://www.icfpcontest.org/ got five times as many hits as usual. Even this blog about the contest gets a considerable amount of hits; more than my homepage, for example. (But I admit: my homepage is probably much more boring than this blog (is going to be).)

I'd like to ask you, reader, for help though. I've published the advertisement on a lot of places, and I guess you have read it somewhere. But do you know of a good place to advertise the contest, which I missed? You are welcome to forward the advertisement yourself, but you can also let me know, and I will do it. Actually, I've seen the advertisement, or variants of it, appear on a couple of places where I did not publish it. One of those, http://programming.reddit.com/, has generated more than 700 hits! So please contact me if you know a good place to advertise the contest.

Here is the list of places where I (or someone I know) advertised the contest: haskell, haskell-cafe, caml-list, plt-scheme, ruby-talk, fp-nl, prog-lang, types-announce, clean-list, erlang-questions, comp.lang.c, c++, dylan, functional, haskell, lisp, ml, prolog, python, ruby, scheme.