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Minor victories (10 Oct 2006 at 21:57)
Here are some minor victories:

The Portland Race for the Cure finally posted their results and I came in 49th out of 3022 (8th in my age group). Not bad. I still yearn to run an official sub-20:00 time.

I was a semifinalist in the (admittedly tiny) 2006 Underhanded C Contest. The purpose is to write innocent-looking code that fails at its apparent purpose: in this case, it must be code that runs mysteriously slowly on one platform but not another. My code (README and tom7.c) is available if you want to try to figure it out, it's a fun little puzzle. I encourage you to look a little. (Or maybe you think you can find bugs in code just by looking!) If you give up or want to confirm your answer, check out the annotated version of the code. The underhanded c contest page has a spoiler-laden summary of the other semifinalists and the winner.

Also, Kansas was fun! Pictures from that trip soon.
Category:  contests (13 comments — almost 14 years ago)   [ comment ]
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ICFP trip, contest report, race, etc. (23 Sep 2006 at 16:22)
The thing that chewed up all my time was my trip to ICFP 2006. For it I prepared and delivered three talks. The first two were in ML Workshop and they were called ML Grid Programming with ConCert [paper] and A Separate Compilation Extension to Standard ML [paper]. You need the Flash 8 player or later to view these, so you might need to upgrade. These are kinda straight-up research stuff, and also perhaps less exciting than usual because I was saving all my vim for my third talk. These talks went well but nothing particularly special.

All through the conference I had the odd but cool experience of being recognized by people who know my name from research or fonts or music or games or whatever. I guess these people probably see my blog so thanks! I'm sorry for not having much time to hang out more...

The third talk was the ICFP Programming Contest, which I spent weeks preparing for. The ICFP Programming Contest is a yearly open programming contest that the academic conference organizes; we organized this 9th incarnation. The contest itself, which ran July 21–24, was a huge success and the most ambitious ever in terms of its organization. You can check out the slides from the talk (again, with Flash 8 or later) but much better would be to watch the presentation video (130Mb Quicktime) that Malcolm Wallace shot. If you don't want to download 130Mb (for some reason it refuses to stream) you can check out the almost unwatchably low quality google video version. But really, go with the Quicktime. Also it's like an hour long so if you wanna fast forward to the end, my feelings won't be hurt. Isn't it a little eerie how, if you are wearing matching "Cult of the Bound Variable" logo polo shirts and conference badge and the same glasses and haircut, one can look so similar to his advisor?

That's why I usually prefer to wear brighter orange shirts in group photos because like nobody has one of those.

The conference itself was really fun. I had a good time at the talks that I was able to make it to, and a much better time talking with all the smart people—some old friends—that attended over beers and hippie west coast food. There are a lot of great breweries in Portland, my favorite of which was probably Bridgeport. I can't believe that I somehow forgot that one of my favorite American breweries, Rogue, is in Portland. I also missed out on Powell's outrageously enormous book store, so I will have to go back some day with more free time.

I did get a chance to wake up bright and early and run in the Portland Race for the Cure, which they claim to be the largest West Coast race "event" (that means that when they say 46,000 participants they are talking about the Run and Walk for the Cure and Row for the Cure and Sleep In for the Cure), but it was quite fun and a nice way to see a new city. Also, as respects my last post, I felt a little bit good about the fact that I witnessed the very front of the pack (5–10 guys) go the wrong way and have to be turned around. Hah! Those were like, pros. The only other thing to say about the race is that I think my Pittsburgh training has been helping on hills, because when we came to the one like 3.5% grade hill in the whole race I started to be a lot faster than the local like permanent press runners and that was a pretty nice feeling. There were no chip timers and I have no idea how I did really except for my own inaccurate stopwatching, so I guess I have to wait patiently for the hand-tabulated chads like in the old days.

What else? On the flight home I saw a major lightning storm from above, which was perhaps the coolest thing I've ever seen while flying. The whole sky was lighting up all over, and every once in a while a huge bolt would shoot down to the planet or occasionally upward. Highly recommended.

So now I am back in town and ready to spend some time on projects and relaxing and friends. My birthday is in four days, in fact, when I turn 27. I'm going to try to finish my entry to the KVR VST Plugin contest (prodding will help, Destroy FX fans), catch up on some reading and video games and sleep, and then ease into my thesis. Talk to you again soon!
Categories:  momentous  video  talks  favorites  contests (28 comments — almost 14 years ago)   [ comment ]
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PG Article (16 Aug 2006 at 10:12)
There's a nice article about our programming contest in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (The print version has a bit more in it, like a code snippet from one of the programming languages.)
Categories:  sightings  contests (10 comments — 14 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Ahhh. (30 Jul 2006 at 20:22)
Ahhh. The programming contest finished on Monday, and seems to have gone really well. Almost everything played out exactly as we schemed. I'll have some more work to do preparing the talk and a document explaining what we did and how we did it, but for now I can stop thinking about that thing (a full time+ project for the last 4 months) and relax and work on other things. This weekend is an instance of the former. We drove back to Hamden, CT to visit my parents. I did some running and we toured the thimble islands and we climbed the chin on our sleeping giant and went to New Haven and Pepe's and the pool and et cetera. I took and posted pictures of some of that stuff. See you back in Pittsburgh soon!
Category:  contests (2 comments — 14 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Contest start! (22 Jul 2006 at 08:38)
The ICFP contest is starting at noon (EDT) today! We've worked really hard on this, especially some long hours over the last week to wrap things up, but I think it's going to go great. If you like to program, please try it out!

Four of us are going to be staffing "command HQ" continuously in pairs for the next 72 hours. I'm hopeful that it will actually be a relaxed and fun time! And after that, glorious sleep...

(oops, never actually posted that yesterday...)

Update! The contest has been running for almost 20 hours, and teams have made a lot of progress. A lot of people are stuck on the very first part, but many have solved it, and there have hardly been any problems on the later parts at all. Very interesting and exciting to watch teams solve problems from a judge's perspective.
Category:  contests (14 comments — 13 years ago)   [ comment ]
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T Minus 10 (11 Jul 2006 at 21:23)
By the way, registration for the ICFP Programming Contest (this year from July 21–24) is now open. If you like programming for fun you should try it—we've put a lot of work into it this year.

Speaking of ICFP, both of our papers were accepted to the colocated ML Workshop, so I'll definitely be in Portland for the big show. Any recommendations? (Favorite brew pubs or specialty beer places?)

Also, I hear that some kind of «relic» was found in the dig for the new Gates Center at CMU. I hope the computational archaeolinguistics folks can figure it out...

Category:  contests (8 comments — almost 15 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Question and Answer Session (18 Apr 2006 at 01:01)
Question and Answer Session
1024×683 version
Q.

"What is the haps, Tom?"
A.
"Easter and Taxes! But taxes sure are boring. Let's not talk about that. On Easter weekend we helped to prepare a lovely and alarmingly gourmet dinner replete (this usage problem is thus placed in the blog post like a hidden Easter egg for you, grammarnerd) with mojitos and microbrew, and to demonstrate our ability to be simultaneously classy and childishly base we also roasted marshmallow peeps over a Sterno on fondue forks to make S'meeps and microwaved them so that they'd explode Mr. Wizard style, encouraged or at least prophesized by the fortune-cookie message Ms. Nerd's mom sent with the Peeps, namely
HELP STAMP OUT PEEPS ABUSE
and we also dyed Easter Eggs just like old times. You have already seen some of those eggs above. If you look carefully, a few of the eggs appear toxically slick, because they were coated with a strange 10 egg-dyeing kit which still stains my hands more than a day later, despite scrubbing with the most potent solvent known to mankind (nail polish remover), so I am just going to wait until my fingers exfoliate and take that sticky shit with it, like how sharks don't use dentists or teeth-sharpeners, they just keep squeezing out new rows of teeth when their old ones get dull.

Speaking of cavities, Neal and I have just invented a new candy. It's called milk coffulate and it's just plain old milk chocolate except that where every granule of cocoa dust was once present, it is instead replaced by finely ground coffee bean. What do you think? Does this confection already exist? Often when I have a good idea it is in fact the case that it has already been invented.

Continuing in reverse chronology: On saturday it was national Really Nice Day in Pittsburgh Day, and Cortney took me on my first ever urban bike riding trip. We went downtown on the Furnace Trail and then to the South Side. I find running or bike riding around town to be really empowering much unlike driving a car, which I find really panic-inducing and crummy. I still need to build up some ass callouses or whatever the analogue of callouses are for muscles because my butt is really sore from that hard seat, but I'm looking forward to more biking as the weather gets even nicer. That night we went and saw Winterpills and Rosie Thomas at the Club Café, which was a good show as usual. When I visited the merch table to pick up a Winterpills CD the guy invited me to visit the band's myspace profile, which means that either I am too easily pegged as an internet kind of guy or myspace is even more commonplace than I have yet to become comfortable with. But now my band's myspace profile is friends with his band's myspace profile, whatever that means.

Speaking of internet entertainment systems, my internet music friend MAT64 has a new album TurboLoad out which I am rocking to right now. The last two songs are especially good. This is Commodore 64 chiptune stuff, so only listen if you like to LOAD *,8,1.

Wow, is this long enough yet or what? Speaking of long, in a bit of spare time I made an entry for the 2006 Underhanded C Contest. (I've always wanted to enter the International Obfuscated C Code Contest, but the competition there is really stiff; I figure it'd be better to get in on the ground floor with a relatively new contest.) Here the idea is to write a program that appears to be a very normal and easy to understand program but that conceals some devious behavior. In this case, you have to write a simple "benchmark" application that runs with vastly different performance on two different operating systems. (Mine runs about 130 times slower on Linux than it does on Windows.) This kind of contest is almost as fun as the IOCCC, but makes a more important point: Whereas everybody sort of already knows that one can write very obfuscated code, this contest makes it clear how easy it is to write programs that look trustworthy (even under substantial scrutiny) but that contain malice like backdoors and such. This fact is really damning against software projects like OpenBSD that attempt to build secure and robust code merely by pouring a lot of time into looking at and testing it. This kind of contest really shows that this is a losing battle if there are malicious parties involved, and highlights the usefulness of something rather more infallible like Proof Carrying Code for ensuring the saftey (or some day maybe even correctness) of code from unknown origin. Since the contest doesn't end for another few months though, I'm going to sit on my entry in case any brilliant enhancements occur to me.

Speaking of programming contests—one last thing—we have been pouring a lot of time into the ICFP contest and I think it is going to be just so damn fun this year. Pass on the word to your programmer buddies and please do take a look come July."

Category:  contests (26 comments — almost 5 years ago)   [ comment ]
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And the delicious concrete mortar shall fill their maw (03 Apr 2006 at 20:01)
This saturday our team Eating Buildings competed in Puzzlestorm 2006. It was a fun time as usual, but we got only 6th place (our worst showing ever?), and some mistakes in the puzzles and problems with the submission process made it frustrating at times. Congrats to all the teams that roundly defeated us, and thanks to the organizers for all their work!

Positive consequence of puzzle mistakes: a new word added to our in-joke lexicon, "snialar." Pronounce this to Adam or Jason or William or me in six months and I can guarantee a chuckle.
Category:  contests (1 comment — almost 15 years ago)   [ comment ]
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ICFP teaser site (03 Mar 2006 at 09:25)
We chose a weekend and made a teaser web site for the ICFP Programming Contest. This is the annual contest associated with the International Conference on Functional Programming, one of the major conferences in our field. There's not much on the site but a teaser graphic intended to create mystique, but mark your calendars for the weekend of July 21–24 2006. More information and secrecy to follow, but mostly secrecy.
Category:  contests (1 comment — almost 15 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Puzzlequest 2005 et al (13 Nov 2005 at 12:30)
Puzzlequest 2005 et al
800×533 version
So far, quite a fun weekend.

If I get to count Friday morning (why not?) then I am happy to have finally broken the twelve minute barrier on one of the routes that I run around Shadyside. (1.91 miles in 11:57 = 6:15 pace, not bad!) This thing had been taunting me for weeks, where I'd push on the last stretch but always be a few seconds over twelve minutes. My longer route similarly vexes me, but it will fall soon. Aren't totally arbitrary goals great? I recommend setting some yourself.

If I get to count Friday afternoon (who doesn't?) then a stimulating lunch with old and new friends, an uncharacteristically relevant meeting with the POP seminar speaker, some breezy hacking and then bites and brews with the dudes at Bites and Brews.

The big event on Saturday (now we are definitely in weekend territory, right?) was "Puzzlequest 2005." This is an annual (and sometimes multi-annual) all-day puzzle competition at CMU. I believe this was our sixth time participating. Did I tell you guys that we always come in the top few teams, and never win? Because this time we came in fourth again, just outside the prizes bracket. A very fun year, though. Sadly, Adam could not join us due to avian flu or whatever. But first year and ConCert alum Ruy proved a worthy replacement. Rounding out team Eating Buildings were Jason and William: stalwart compatriot and newest official inductee, respectively. In the picture above you can see us workin' it. (In truth; those other guys are workin' it, which is why they are not facing the camera and actually looking at puzzle stuff, whereas I am posing, having just set the camera on timer-mode and so cognizant of its impending activation.) One of the highlights this year was solving puzzles in totally incorrect ways: one of them I solved by port-scanning their server Wargames style, and a few of them Jason solved by brute-forcing parts of the metapuzzle. The product of my hacking on friday—the puzzle auto-solving software "Puzzletron"—did also solve one of them, but it was the easiest in the pack. Next time it will actually be complete, and then you watch out, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st places!!
Category:  contests (6 comments)   [ comment ]
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