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Tag - so-i-am-at-this-conference-right

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Tuesday, June 12 2012


So I am at this conference, right?

Having been looking, for a few months now, without luck, for someone who teaches C programming*, I figure this conference is as good an occasion to find em as any. But it sounds kind of stupid to go to someone and just ask "excuse me, but would you happen to teach C?"

Having reduced a problem I have been stuck with for a while to the easier problem of not looking stupid, I find that if I augment my question a little, it may just become weird enough as to look cute. And I can increase my chances at the same time. And learn something on the side. So I prepare a mini-survey that I feel scientific-minded people might receive positively:

  1. Do you happen to teach C?
  2. If you do not, do you know someone at this conference who might or who might recursively know someone who might?

You will have recognized a “small world”-type experiment, one that could reveal something interesting about the connectedness of the graph whose nodes are the attendees of this particular conference.

Just as I feel ready to start, two gentlemen in front of me arrive to a pause in their discussion. I seize the opportunity to introduce myself and ask them both my carefully prepared first question. And it turns out one of them is a teaching assistant for a C programming class. Disappointing, isn't it? Now I no longer have reason to continue my survey, and although I have learnt something about this conference's attendees, it will never be very statistically significant. I didn't even get to the “small world” part.

But wait, it does not end here! Just a little while later, as we are still discussing C in relation to teaching, a third person who knows us each interjects “oh, have you two guys found each other?” and, when it appears we did not even know we were looking for each other, does some proper introductions. It turns out that I am talking to a 2011 IOCCC laureate.

So at this conference I am at, one attendee in two has written a winning IOCCC entry. With low confidence.

(*) many “introduction to programming”-kind of classes have moved from C to Java, apparently, which would be a good thing if Java didn't have its own set of failures as a beginner's language. Anyway, there is a work-related experiment I want to conduct and it only works with a C course.