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Entries from September 2022
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ICFP Contest 2022, Great Race 2022, Birthday 2022 (30 Sep at 22:53)
As I mentioned in the post 1208 we did get the band partly back together for this year's ICFP Programming Contest. This is a freeform (any size team, "any computational resources at your disposal") 72-hour contest that I've participated in many times before (and led the design of the 2006 contest). This year's was a pretty good problem which was basically to try to draw pictures using a little instruction set with a strange cost function. The instructions are things like: split a rectangle into subrectangles, color a rectangle, swap rectangles of equal size, merge rectangles. We had a team of four working full time (I took a vacation day from my "programming" job to program this instead) with a some help from others in the chat room. As expected we all kinda gravitated towards our favorite part of the problem (often, not the most important thing), like I wrote some kind of mediocre heuristic solver and got distracted by some algorithmic subproblem and optimizing code; Jason made a UI; David wrote submission and solution management infrastructure and Adam dabbled in everything. We didn't do that great; at some points we were in the top 10, or even briefly at 1 because our automated solution and submission infrastructure allowed us to solve a new batch of puzzles before anyone else. But by the last day we were pretty behind. It's easy to imagine how we could have done much better at the contest—my solver was not that bad in principle but I had ignored part of the cost function (cut size) that I thought was a minor detail, but which turned out to maybe be the most impactful term, for example. But it's hard to imagine having more fun; we definitely achieved that late-night delirium of in-joke upon in-joke that was just like the grad school days. (I also take some pride in how many bugs we found and reported in the task and support code!)

Here's an example image our solution produced:
Problem 27, Robot
Problem 27, Robot
Somehow this one reminds me of artwork from "Sword and Sworcery."

I'm feeling somewhat better than I did last month, and had some tests that have at least cleared me for active duty, so that's good. I've been trying to get back in running shape, and for example ran Pittsburgh's Great Race this last weekend. I've run this one many times before, both in an attempt to get a good time and in ridiculous costumes and also several times just casually. This weekend was in the casual category, and I had an acceptable time of 44m03s. In a few weeks we're going to do the Detroit Marathon, which is exciting because the course goes under the Detroit river into Canada! But I'm not going to be in shape enough to set a personal record on this one (despite my declaration of intent in May) nor will I try any shenanigans.

Real quick in Video Games: I finished Sniper Elite 5 (it continued to be exactly what you expected) and started Stray (excellent animation and mood; not totally sold on "gameplay" but I'm enjoying it), and then binged Trombone Champ. This game has pretty much the same vibe as my favorite YouTube video, and though it's very silly, it's also a pretty solid rhythm/music game. Some of the original tracks get stuck in my head for sure. No way I am going to try to get the S-rank achievements but I did become a proper Champ.

But mostly I've been spending my free time trying to wrap up this most recent silly programming project, which I think is fundamentally a good joke and probably new, but there's always something to either get distracted or stymied by. I'm in the phase where new project ideas are beckoning me, which tends to be a pretty good motivator!

(Oh yeah, and then I turned 43 years old!)
(4 comments — a month ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from August 2022
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Do we do Dewey or Rehoboth or both? (31 Aug at 22:43)
Wow, August sure went by fast. Unfortunately the Covid after-effects I mentioned in the last post are continuing to vex me, specifically the lightheadedness/dizziness that just happens throughout the day. It's pretty annoying, but having had some tests now, at least we can probably rule out some scary things, and it might just be a matter of taking it easy for a while. Taking it easy is not easy for me but I do like hard things!

On that front, we went on a short little vacation to Delaware, which is drivable and has some nice beaches on the Atlantic ocean. Even though it was a very hot weekend and the second-to-last of the summer, it was less crowded than I was worrying, and generally quite nice. Before that we saw The Beths in Baltimore, at a great little club called Ottobar. I love this indie rock band from New Zealand and they rarely play in the US, so I was willing to make a trip to see them; of the drivable places Baltimore was the only one that didn't conflict with anything. But after we booked it they added a show in Pittsburgh! In fact they are playing a few miles away just as I write this. But the show and venue was great and we did other stuff on the trip, so no regrets. On the way back for example, we stopped at the corner of Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to hike into the woods to the little stone marker that indicates their triple-point (I guess this was also where the Mason–Dixon line began?), for the sake of my side quest to "run" (hiking counts too I guess if I'm recording a GPS trail) across as many border crossings as I can. Doing multiple crossings in one trip is bonus points. This one is not as good as Germany, France, Switzerland but it's still good bonus points.

I did finish Thimbleweed Park, which I recommend for genre fans, though I did have to get a couple of hints. I tried Cursed to Golf but I don't think I'm getting into it... it just feels a bit too slow to do the actual golfing and too easy to have your run ruined by a mistake you made several strokes ago. I decided I needed a thing that's less frustrating, so I picked up Sniper Elite 5 which is exactly what it sounds like.

I made some more stuff for my expansive and silly programming project that will probably become the subject of my next technical video, so that's something. The ICFP Programming Contest is this coming weekend, and I will participate in that with the same old crew (look for team "Cult of the Bound Variable") as long as the programming task is appealing.

OK but now I must get to bed because I have an early doctor's appointment tomorrow.
(2 comments — almost 3 months ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from July 2022
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C\shamrock{}VID-Jr. (31 Jul at 23:12)
Well, it looks like the last post was right when I had "recovered" from COVID the first time. I had tested negative several days in a row, but then started feeling bad again, and had a full rebound with strong positive tests and everything. The second time through was a lot worse than the first but after five more days I was at least testing negative again. Since then I'm mostly back to normal; a lingering cough (not surprising) and some bouts of lightheadedness. These had been keeping me from running (plus trying to take it easy) most of the month, but I have been picking it up a bit for the last week or two. It's pretty weird how my legs feel in shape but the rest of the body, not so much. Quite a contrast with two months ago when I nearly ran a PR marathon. Bleh!

Fortunately I am not experiencing "brain fog," at least no more than the usual 40s stuff. So I've been spending a lot of time on this silly programming project I mentioned in the previous post. For a while I had the feeling that I had invented a "programming contest" for myself and was in "the good part" of it (is it even possible?; breakthroughs while thinking about something else; optimizations reducing from "possible but silly" to "almost reasonable"; etc.). And maybe this is a good way to conceptualize future projects or project prompts. This one is still in the expansive phase but I have some "results" for sure now, and I think a story is starting to come together. Of course it remains confidential but how about this mysterious image?

op4strobe
op4strobe


Amazingly this 80s "school portrait laser background" emerged from an ernest attempt to visualize something computational, not to create artwork.

I did finally finish Elden Ring. I certainly didn't 100% it but I visited all the places you can go and beat all the accessible dungeons and bosses and that stuff. It's definitely a good game that I recommend, although it did suffer from the same late-game absurdly-strong-character problem that most of these open-world games have. I truly had no idea what was happening in pretty much any of the cutscenes, which I think is a compliment. After that one I wanted something pretty different. I played through MO:Astray which was a decent but forgettable puzzle platformer (highlight here are some well-designed boss fights). I'm also about half-way (?) through Thimbleweed Park, which is a point-and-click adventure by the creator of Monkey Island (one of my all-time favorites). It's good in the same way those old LucasArts games were, and obviously targeted at people like me. I have only needed a few hints but I admit to such weakness after trying to apply every verb to every pair of inventory item and object in town, you know?
  [ comment ]
Entries from June 2022
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C\shamrock{}OVID-22 (30 Jun at 23:58)
Hello. I bolted from my chair in the middle of a relaxing late-night game of Elden Ring after remembering to do the ceremonial post before the end of the month.

A few weeks ago we went to Ireland for a wedding (not mine), the first time I've been there and our first international trip since COVID. It was pretty fun; we drank beer (I discovered that Ireland has good beer, but Irish Pubs are not the place to find it: It seems to be part of their "thing" to just have the same 5 mediocre things on draft) and went in some castles and climbed some rocky mountains. But then we got infected with COVID, which makes sense, as the wedding activities were exactly the kind of thing that will give you COVID. This was a rude disruption to the vacation that created many logistical problems and costs, but we did make it back and have pretty much recovered by now (I'm testing negative and even did some gentle running). I took antivirals (Paxlovid); it's hard to know whether they specifically helped me, but I think it is cool technology and it seemed likely from looking at the studies that it would do more good than harm. So assuming that I continue to get better and can continue my running training, it might even turn out to be overall a relief to have that in my rear-view. \fingers_crossed{}

During my illness I played a lot of video games (of course) since I wasn't finding much energy for projects. I played through Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate (recommendation and gift from Adam); I've been a Benjamin Soule fan since the early days of Ludum Dare and this game is a good exemplar. The gameplay is a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer (but turn-based). I beat it on hard and that's enough for me. And speaking of Chess I also discovered the engine called Maia, which tries to predict human moves rather than trying to destroy all humans with computer precision, and this is my new favorite engine to play against (it's on lichess as @maia1 or @maia5). It is much more fun than Stockfish because it will fall for traps and when it makes a losing move, it tends to be a reasonable looking one, not like the weird random ones that low-level Stockfish will make. But anyway back to the finer arts, videojuegos: I also played through The Looker, which is a free, single-sitting parody/tribute to The Witness. It has a few creative puzzles in it, and I found it funnier than I was expecting ("Gravity's Rainbow", ha ha), enough to get me through the uncustomizable controls! Then I played ElecHead which is a short puzzle platformer. This game has a small set of mechanics (which felt fresh) and they get a lot of mileage out of them, with constant new ideas. Very good game. I even stumbled upon the mysterious developer room organically. And then finally I'm on my hundred-somethingth hour of Elden Ring, but I'm pretty sure that when I destroy this other tree or whatever it is I'm doing (????), it will nearly be over.

I do have a little programming project going on, though, and I managed to succeed at the main "joke," so I'm pretty sure it will at least become a little paper or maybe even short video. So that's nice!
(4 comments — 4 months ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from May 2022
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Pittsburgh Marathon 2022 (30 May at 22:37)
Hello! This month I've been taking a break project-wise: Not letting myself start anything big, or feel bad about not finishing projects that have been lingering for some time. This is nice, and I did a little bit of tinkering, but mostly video games, summer travel, and fixing things around the house. (For example I replaced those miswired basement outlets described in in my last video with proper GFCIs, and hooked the correct color wires to the correct terminals. Seriously, how does anybody screw this up??)

In the previous post I mentioned that I'd run the Pittsburgh Marathon, my first real race in some time. No costume. I have been running pretty much daily since early 2020, and did about two weeks of 10k/day in the run up to this, which is a pretty decent load. I only slept a couple hours the night before (preoccupied with urgent thoughts like "what if I don't get enough sleep for the race??"), but somehow I felt quite good for it. The temperature was excellent (50°s). I didn't have any particular plan except to give it a solid go. About 10 miles in, I saw that I was actually just ahead of the 3h30m pace group, which was better than I had expected. So I decided to stay ahead of that, and maybe with a kick at the end, even challenge my all time best (which I set in my first marathon actually, at the age of 28). It had been drizzling a little but right around then it started to rain really hard, which did slow me down. For example because it melted the paper bib—which you need to bring with you for timing purposes (has some RFID in it) and to show that you are Authorized To Run (nobody cares about this) and so that if they photograph you, they know it's you and can send you Last Chance To Get Your 2022 Dick's Sporting Goods Marathon Official Race Photos from PhotoZone™ every week for the rest of your life—so I was trying to figure out how to re-safety-pin that thing while keeping the pace. And worse, stuff like your shoes get soaked with water and then you have heavy, squishy shoes. This race goes right by my house, like I can see my house at mile 18 or so. It's not even so much that it tempts me to stop because I'm right there (the shower is appealing but you can just think about how painful it will actually be with the chafing), but the inescapable thought that now I need to run all the way back downtown, and THEN find my way back to where I already am. Probably I have already complained about this in a previous post; it happens every time. Anyway, I kept ahead of the pace group, and thought maybe I could even beat my PR, but I couldn't remember what it was? 3h26m? Something around there. I finished in 3h25m43s; 251st place (10th %ile). This is a pace of 7m49s/mile, which ain't bad for a 42 year old. Since I had ditched my shirt (soaked, useless) and figured they wouldn't let me on the bus without it, I ended up walking home (5.5 miles). It was colder when walking. But I got a great Civic Arena shirt from a guy on the way in the Strip for a sweaty $10. (When I got home I found that my PR is actually 3h23m04s, which knowledge probably would have caused me to run faster!) Since I came so close, it's clear that for the next one my goal needs to be to actually set a new PR. It'll be somewhat dependent on conditions (like today it was 90° F and I gave myself a headache struggling to run 8.5 miles at 9m16s/mile pace!) but I can do it. We're probably going to do Detroit, which also helps on my side quest to run across many borders: This one, improbably, crosses (south!) into Canada through the mile-long underwater Detroit–Windsor tunnel.

OK this is all :)
Category:  races (3 comments — 6 months ago)   [ comment ]
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