Friday, July 11, 2008

ICFP at a Glance

This years problem is simple and very very hard (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a contest). It is a hard path finding problem with time constraints like many past years. Unlike recent years the problem doesn't favor big teams or teams with lots of CPU power. OK, it favors them a little but not much.

The problem is to write a "Mars Rover" control program that communicates over a TCP/IP socket and receives and sends messages with a small real-ish time delay (around ~100ms). All submitted programs will run on the same hardware so the team with the best algos will likely win.

Bob is out but I'm still sticking to the bourbon and steaks theme. I spent an hour on the porch reading and interpreting the problem. And I brought some friends:

Beside Huey, Duey, and Louey are the printed problem description, a fifth of Bulleit bourbon, my engineering notebook, and a trusty Uni-Ball Roller (blue).

If it doesn't violate the rules ... here is how I'm approaching the problem for a first draft:
* ignore the delay in sending commands
* treat all boulders and craters as square
* treat hostile martians as immobile boulders

As the joke goes a Physicist was asked to guess how much a horse weighed and said "Well first we assume the horse is a sphere..." Good enough for a first estimate.

You will notice that I'm a good sport - the rubber bands have been cut on the lobsters. Also, lobsters aren't a big deal in Boston. They cost $8/lb (similar to luncheon ham) so what would be extravagant in land-locked Iowa costs just $30 here.

The problem has a bunch of complicating quirks, of course. It may be profitable to crash into a boulder to slow down and on some maps it may be best to suicide as quickly as possible because of the scoring system. 20 grad students spent a month designing the problem so I'm sure more subtleties will out. Bastards.

Aside I should have mentioned that I went bowling before food shopping and the problem was published. 152, 159 - not good but not terrible considering I was jet lagged and I was a week out of practice. Plus the lanes were messy (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

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