Sunday, June 24, 2012

ICFP Contest Call for Teammates

Update: I have posted an overview of the tools that were used as well as a post mortem for the team's attempt this year.

I have been competing in the ICFP Contest for the last 5 years or so and will do so again this year. The contest begins in 3 weeks, it starts on July 13 at 12:00 UTC and will continue until July 16 at 12:00 UTC.

For those that don't know, the ICFP Contest is a long running competition that poses a single hard, and sometimes mathematically deep, question for the participants to solve in a 3-day time period. The task is a secret which is revealed at the beginning of the contest. The problems are hard to solve, but (usually) easy to understand.

To give some idea of what kinds of problems you might expect, previous years have some awesome tasks like:

  1. Designing control systems for a Mars rover
  2. Designing a flight system for orbiting satellites
  3. Writing an AI for a complex card game

And also some interesting, but esoteric problems like:

  1. Reverse engineering an alien machine code from a compiled executable and data mining that executable
  2. Writing code in various, odd computational models (typically involving writing an interpreter and an optimizing compiler)

In the past I have worked either by myself or in a group of people where each used their language of choice. I have found that when you work by yourself it is easy to lose motivation, particularly when you get stuck and you have no one to bounce ideas off of. When you work with others it is easy to stay with it, but when you are each using your own language, a great deal of effort is spent in porting solutions between various languages or in designing flexible interfaces and protocols between the various code pieces. What I would like to do this year is work with a team of people using Common Lisp for the main development.

The idea would be to get together a group of Lisp programmers that will communicate over IRC, Google+ hangouts (group video chat), or even a Mumble VoIP server and share files using Dropbox and/or GitHub. We can even try some more cutting edge collaborative setups such as shared VNC and/or screen sessions, collaborative editing using Rudel with Emacs, or just connecting to a single Lisp image with multiple swank connections if we are able to try it out prior to the contest start. Last year, my team used a setup with some of these elements to facilitate development with people from Boulder, Colorado to southern Georgia to Seoul, South Korea. It worked pretty well.

The contest is sponsored by Facebook this year, which means that there will be some monetary prizes, which is unusual. The real reward, however, is working for a few days on an interesting problem that you might never have thought about before. I am hoping to have a team that aims to have fun with this competition. We might have a few late nights if you are up for it, but the main goal is to enjoy the competition and not work anybody to the bone that doesn't want to do that.

Anyway, if you are interested spending a weekend participating and would like to work with me, using Common Lisp, please contact me by leaving a comment or sending mail directly to

Update: I have written a post about the collaborative tools that I hope to use this year.

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