ESCI LiveCoda 2006 Debrief
Fourteen teams. Forty programmers. Six different languages. Ten minutes to correct a corrupted image. One nightclub. Six hundred dollars up for grabs.
On Wednesday the 24th of May at Loop Bar in Melbourne (Australia) fourteen teams of programmers gathered for the first ESCI LiveCoda real-time programming competition. Possibly the first performance based real-time programming competition. Before a packed night club with live music provided by Simulus and the Vs Chorus Crew, each team had just ten minutes to write a program which could correct a corrupted image.
Although each member of the team was placed at a separate computer, each computer shared the program source allowing the team to collaborate on a single file in real-time. The developing source code was then projected onto Loop's twenty-three foot screen along with the compilation errors and the current state of the corrupted image.
The evening started furiously with Booming Egg and Machinemongers taking the stage for some extreme Java action. However, a bug in the competition code resulted in only the first 512 bytes of their program being compiled. The organizer loaded up the code, made a patch recompiled and everything was ready to go.
The Toasted Monkeys then took over with C prowess and a team strategy which would lead them to victory in 5 minutes and 40 seconds. The Python crew Hot Coffee tried to match that time but we unsuccessful. Similarly, unalias -a started strong but a screen of C++ errors seemed to slow down their progress. A second Python crew, CodeMonkeys, also didn't deliver the time required to get them into first place.
Walking on to toast their freshly prepared martini's, Martinis All Round loaded up Awk and were set. Though with a finish time of 8 minutes and 40 seconds they only managed second place. The Java Speed Players also did not threaten pole position.
The C hackers 17 Hours Left finished in 7 minutes and 30 seconds taking second position before the Unix Tools stepped in for the real upset of the evening. In just 3 minutes 45 they had a C program which seemed to correct an image of Stonehenge with a blue sky. The crowd applauded but unfortunately the sky was supposed to be a sunset red. Within 2 minutes and 15 seconds they had fixed the problem, but not fast enough to take first place.
The C group Last Minute did not post a faster time and the Awk Team Cthulu proved that alcohol was not a performance enhancing drug in this context. A fact supported by them printing, "we are so screwed" to standard error.
LiveCoda demonstrated a novel use of computers for entertainment. In doing so it challenged programming to transform from an isolated activity to a collaborative performance art. Furthermore, it challenged the night club environment to accommodate a more intellectual activity. The success of LiveCoda in both cases illustrates a strong potential for programming to improve audience understanding and participation in new forms of digital art.