A sneak peek at the Studio finals - 06.28.07 4:00 PM EDT
As the algorithm competition continues (this morning was the third semi-final round), it becomes more stressful for me to watch. Over the course of days, I've gotten to know more of the competitors and watching their successes and failures has taken on some personal weight. I'm alternately overjoyed to see a friend making good headway on a difficult problem and gutted to see a swath of compile errors greet another. It's especially nerve-wracking to notice a bug or typo floating in code; no amount of telepathic effort has yet allowed me to fix a competitor's bug, but that doesn't stop me from concentrating hard enough to make little blood vessels appear on my forehead. Watching the challenge phase is even more confusing, as I'm torn between cheering for a successful challenge and grieving for the other player's lost problem. The competitors themselves seem to bear a close failure better than I do.
You'll notice I've been a bit mute on the play-by-play for the algorithm competitions. As before, I'm certainly paying close attention - but the coverage Petr has been putting together is nothing short of amazing. He's assembled quite the team of analysts among both live attendees and TopCoders around the world via chat in the arena. If ever there is some crisis facing the Earth that demands quick analysis of a board game, I'll be glad to have such a team ready to assemble. I really recommend tuning in via his live blog (or the competition arena) - not only are the predictions and analysis spot on, but there's a sense of humor and comradery that's not to be missed.
Notwithstanding all that, I've decided I'll take a turn doing a play-by-play of the wildcard round anyways, in case any of you are hankering for something a little more whimsical and inaccurate.
Of course the other big event today is the Studio competition, which is proving to be engrossing as expected. The "visualization" for this round is obvious - we just get an over-the-shoulder view of what each competitor is doing. So far, it seems there's no danger of having a paucity of choice. While all of the competitors started in the same place, they seem to be moving in very different directions. While hopefully not giving too much away, here's how the designs are shaping up:
FMX's design recalls perhaps a previous incarnation of TopCoder studio - an analog bulletin board where artists come together to share ideas.
This is a very early shot at yiming's design effort. The whole thing feels very soft and natural. For a while, though, he's been working at pixel level on what I gather is a tiling pattern - and none of the spectators I talked to could figure out what he's up to (though we're all confident it'll turn out well).
For a while I was hoping these yellow figures might turn out to be cousin's of oton's little sketch from yesterday. For many of the submissions the competitors are working on elements that don't immediately suggest the nature of the final design - so it's a bit of a game trying to figure out how everything they're working on will fit together.
Several competitors have put together very impressive "pure art" skills in Photoshop, combining a variety of tools to produce impressive effects. Here Maraqja has created a cool, swirling, something.
Tricia_Tjia seems to have a bright idea here, though until it's plugged in it will be unclear exactly how bright it is.
A number of spectators were gathered watching SIGCHLD perform some Photoshop voodoo to create the neat scrollwork next to the login box here.
amiune's design has a great "hand-painted" energy to it that I think meshes well with the Studio concept.
All of the competitors work seems to be progressing in fits and starts - with quiet contemplative periods followed by bursts of activity and quick progress. There looks to be a number of great designs in progress - and if this competition is any indication, it looks like TopCoder studio has a bright future.