Knights, peasants, castles and Java

PRAGUE – The University of Calgary has walked away with the crown at the IBM Corp. Java Challenge 2004. In a match that brought together the best and the worst of medieval times, Calgary has proven that cowboy boots are the best footwear for beating down other teams of programmers.

The Java competition is considered a warm-up event to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) being held here in Prague on Wednesday. It’s a way to give practice time to the 73 teams of university students who are at the world finals this year, in what’s know as the battle of the brains among the best of the best for academia-based programmers.

Before the competition took place, the team’s coach, Jim Parker, was all smiles and seemed rather confident with his teams program plan for the Java challenge. He said the Calgary team is composed of complimentary skills, and its members have a great ability to interact with each other.

This year’s Java challenge was set in a medieval setting, and pitted rulers against each other in a series of matches. Points could be gained my ordering peasants to claim land; by ordering knights to capture peasants, knights, and castles of other rulers; and by the number of peasants, knights and castles remaining at the end of the match. Some of the teams chose the world domination approach by programming endless numbers of peasants and knights to take over other teams’ land and players, while others tried a less aggressive approach by focusing primarily on land takeover.

Unlike the ACM-ICPC world final match — a five-hour competition sponsored by IBM Corp. and challenges teams of three university students to solve eight or more complex, real-world programming problems that span various industries — the teams were given the Java problem set early in the day and had until the afternoon to provide their coded answer.

Each team was given a six-page manual which included application program interfaces to use for coding and descriptions of how the point scale worked. In the ACM-ICPC final, teams are only given the problems right before the sand starts running through the hourglass.

Tim deBoer, software development manager at IBM who works out of the Toronto lab, said the Java challenge took place on the Eclipse, open source tools environment, to allow those competitors who might not be familiar with Java to program for the contest.

“There are millions of combinations that teams can use,” he said.

Calgary’s student programmers, Alex Fink, Sonny Chan and Kelly Poon, said they are excited about being at the world finals.

“We’d like to solve at least five problems,” said Poon, whose specialty is dynamic programming and geometry-based questions.

Chan said the competition is a way for him to challenge himself and test how much he knows and what he can do.

Both Poon and Chan will be participating in an IBM internship this year called Extreme Blue — what IBM calls an incubator for talent, technology and business motivation — an opportunity for students to develop technology and business plans for an emerging business opportunity.

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