Almost two weeks ago there was SIGBOVIK 2014, the 8th annual April Fool's academic conference at CMU. When I say April Fool's conference, it's not that it's a conference about April Fool's Day or something, rather, it takes place on A.F.D. and contains "research" that may or may not be real, and is usually whimsical.
This year I emceed, labcoat and all, and begin with a one-day-hack "SIGBOVIK Plays Twitch Plays Pokémon Plays SIGBOVIK", where I rigged up a website with a controller that looks like this:
(told you I did it on the morning of SIGBOVIK!) and internet people could click the buttons to vote in real time on what a Nintendo emulator running this weird Chinese pirate NES version of Pokémon would do:
although it was delayed 10 seconds due to streaming to twitch.tv, just like the real Twitch Plays Pokémon. But the "twist" here is that the software then reads some bytes out of Pokémon's RAM, and uses those to pose the line drawing of a person, the idea being that the current SIGBOVIK presenter must take on the pose indicated, thus completing the Circle of Life and "playing" SIGBOVIK. Even though my prerogative as emcee is technically limitless, almost nobody followed this decree. It might have had something to do with the fact that the pose changed three times a second, due to bad planning/tuning. Still, it was there projected on the wall, always haunting you:
Connoisseurs of weird pirate versions of Pokémon will notice that we made it into Professor Oak's laboratory to select our beast, which took hours of trying to time the ten-second delay correctly. We accidentally exited the lab before selecting a Poké-egg.
There were many fine ideas at the conference, some of which are collected in the SIGBOVIK 2014 proceedings. My papers this year are even more abstruse than usual. The first was "New results in k/n Power-Hours", a ten-page hangover that revisits the incorrect or nonsensical theories in our paper from 2012, "Algorithms for k/n Power-Hours". Both are about a generalized version of the popular drinking game, but only the latter was written while sober. The results here are completely accurate, studied at length with real software. The "joke" in this case may be a little edgy for SIGBOVIK, the idea being to oversolve some pointless problem and then not even present it in a way that's humorous. It has some cool-looking figures, though. That one won the "Most Deserving of Being Real Research" award. Second I contributed "What, if anything, is epsilon?", a more or less serious descriptive account of how programmers set the value of epsilon in their software (spoiler alert: they range over 300 orders of magnitude!), whose results are obscured by absurd choices in data visualization. Third was "It still seems black has hope in these extremely unfair variants of chess", wherein I combine chess with populist board games, ruining it, and then study strategies for avoiding domination as player 2, using computer game tree search.
I think I started 7 other SIGBOVIK papers that I didn't finish on time, obviously, but I'm keeping the dream alive.
Up next: I have an idea for the Pittsburgh Marathon, and if I simply apply myself to something useful for once, I should be able to put together the apparatus in time (three weeks). In two weeks, another trip to Zurich with a stop in Lugano. Also: Barn-based board games.
This one doesn't have too much technical materials, as it's the exact same program playing a bunch more games: Color A Dinosaur, Cliffhanger, Pro Wrestling, Pinball, Mega Man 2, Gradius, Double Dare, Arkanoid. There are also some new results for Super Mario Bros. It's a bit lengthy, but I tried hard to keep it dense and filled with entertainment.
I'm currently working on different projects for SIGBOVIK this year, but I also have some more ideas for the NES AI stuff. All we need is more time!
SIGBOVIK 2012: The National Month Of Pushing Spacebar
(31 Mar 2012 at 22:31)
SIGBOVIK was upon us once again and now it is off. This is CMU's annual satirical research conference, which pokes fun at academics and itself. The conference website has approximately "one nine" of reliability, and is currently down, but when it's up you can probably find this year's proceedings. The papers are no more than half the fun, though. Something else that's not quite half the fun is the conference event, which I emceed again this year. It was a good one, with lots of fresh contributors and a pretty full house and cake.
SIGBOVIK 2011: What words ought to exist?
(01 Apr 2011 at 23:06)
Today was SIGBOVIK 2011, the fifth one. This is my favorite CMU CS tradition; a fake conference thrown with real aplomb (carefully bound and printed proceedings, entertaining talks, product demonstrations, awards, promotion, budget and steering committees, paper management systems and reviews, etc.). People use it as both a venue for childish drivel and for deeply satirical but essentially real work that in my opinion is too good for actual conferences. I love it because of how it simultaneously scorches (for its pointless navel-gazing) and celebrates (for its pointless navel-gazing) academia.
I always participate. This year I was emcee and I did not have enough time to execute all of my ideas (do I ever?), but I did write two papers. The first was just the slapdash results of the thing I posted earlier, Who is the biggest douche in Skymall?. It's more fun to continue to play the on-line game than read the results, though I did add a douche-detecting image recognition "algorithm" to that paper, at least.
I tried something different this year. I feel like the conference is filled with loads of satire and irony (which is great), but that the best way to celebrate what I feel is the SIGBOVIK spirit is to be off-puttingly impenetrable about where the work is even coming from. Like "Is this real or a joke? Why did you even do this? I don't understand" is the ideal reaction. So, controlling for SIGBOVIK tenor, this time my paper is a completely earnest and thorough attempt to answer an interesting philosophical question (titular). It starts with a maximalist approach, my variant of Scrabble called Scrallbe (where they can all be words), which is pictured above. It's like God mode for Scrabble. I dismiss this as too coarse and then look at a bunch of different methods for figuring out what words should exist, and justifying that mathematically. I tried to write it for the layperson, but I think my notion of layperson may be distorted. Read the paper to decide for yourself.
I won another award this year (keeping my perfect batting record!), this time for "Most frighteningly like real research," which I think is apt.
Help science determine: Who is the biggest douche in Skymall?
(07 Feb 2011 at 14:47)
In that Luddite void between closing the cabin doors and the beep indicating it is now safe to use approved electronic devices, there is one perfect pleasure: The Skymall catalog. It has everything, including: Pointlessly impractical products you cringe at just imagining someone receiving as unwanted gifts at Christmas, copy that preys on the insecurities of business travelers, typo and physically impossible hyperbole treasure hunts galore, Photoshop disasters, new friends, and old familiar faces. But since 1990, science has wondered: Who is the biggest douche in Skymall?
SIGBOVIK 2009 has come and gone, and was a great success. This is a real simulated conference that we've been holding at CMU for the past few years. It's hard to really describe the vibe, but it's a bunch of academics getting together to make fun of the academic conference and publication system by putting loads of work into making very sophisticated and polished papers and presentations about nonsense ideas, or to put together disturbingly real implementations of things that pretty much should not exist, just for fun. This year was great, I think better than last year's. My contributions were as follows:
(2) The "LFMan" game and associated ephemera. If you have never seen the old TV Show "Square One" then you should watch this video of Mathman to understand the referent. It is a paper and talk and sort of an actual game: LFMan. (Use the arrow keys and '1' or '2' to select between SERVER OK and ABORT). The talk and demo went well even though I think there were a lot of people that are too young to have seen Square One.
The award is itself an unplayable Arkanoid clone. This was playing on the screen during the awards presentation, and had just one dot left (you'll see it takes like 10 minutes for it to get that last one) for a long time, with people continuously going "awwwww" when the ball just barely missed the last dot. For the "people's choice award" we used the Clap-O-Meter to determine the favorite paper from a short list, but while we were using applause to determine that, the final dot was struck in the Arkanoid award, which was met with the clearly most enthusiastic cheering of the Clap-O-Meter phase. So the People's Choice award ended up being given for my own Award drawing, which I think we are pretty happy about the way that turned out.
If you like this kind of thing, do check out the full proceedings. There's lots of good stuff in there. Long live SIGBOVIK!
Theme from SIGBOVIK (robot dance party)
(02 Apr 2008 at 23:46)
Nels and I played as Sick Ridiculous and The SIG Ridiculous at the SIGBOVIK pre-afterparty on Saturday. Other than the stealth open mic night we did last monday, this was my first time ever performing with someone else in front of a live audience including people I didn't know. (Most of them were people I did and continue to know (phew). Thank you for coming. Next time I will announce it better.) The concert was rather last minute—we even bought the PA equipment that very morning—but nonetheless we did have time to lovingly slap together a new song particularly for the occasion. The graphic above illustrates us performing it, I think the "encore" where we remembered how the chorus goes. This is a robot dance party because the song actually plays off my phone in live scenarios, with us just singing and dancing during the robot beeping parts. To engender enthusiasm for the eponymous upcoming fake/real conference, we tonight recorded this tune, and it is of course Theme from SIGBOVIK (robot dance party).
Well, the faux/real SIGBOVIK conference on April 1 was a staggering success. Basically, Harry Q. Bovik is a fake graduate student that the Computer Science Department uses for various purposes and in-jokes. His 64th birthday was this Sunday so we had a conference filled with joke papers and presentations in his honor.
The website has a full draft proceedings, and I think soon you'll be able to get a bound printed copy to enhance your office's gravitas or to place with randomly generated call numbers into your university's engineering and science library.
If you hate reading you can watch the totally pre-recorded version of "Generalized Super Mario Bros. is NP-Complete" (make sure your sound is on, and wait for the whole thing to load before starting it) (warning: this is very immature) or look at the talk for Wikiplia (but this mostly consists of words). Both need the newest Flash player. Since I really implemented the latter (I think the only SIGBOVIK paper that comes even close to being real) you could also just use it, at least until I eventually shut it down for taking up too much of my office machine's resources.