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Welcome to Al Zimmermann's Programming Contests. *You've entered an arena where demented computer programmers compete for glory and for some cool prizes.* The current challenge is just about to come to an end, but you can peruse the previous contests and prepare for the new one starting next month.

Visualizing Algorithms shows you how computer algorithms can be represented visually, leading to better understanding of how the algorithms work:

"Have you ever implemented an algorithm based on formal description? It can be hard! Being able to see what your code is doing can boost productivity. Visualization does not supplant the need for tests, but tests are useful primarily for detecting failure and not explaining it. Visualization can also discover unexpected behavior in your implementation, even when the output looks correct."

"Have you ever implemented an algorithm based on formal description? It can be hard! Being able to see what your code is doing can boost productivity. Visualization does not supplant the need for tests, but tests are useful primarily for detecting failure and not explaining it. Visualization can also discover unexpected behavior in your implementation, even when the output looks correct."

Scott Aaronson on building a 'PageRank' for (eigen)morality and (eigen)trust - "Now, would those with axes to grind try to subvert such a system the instant it went online? Certainly. For example, I assume that millions of people would rate Conservapedia as a more trustworthy source than Wikipedia—and would rate other people who had done so as, themselves, trustworthy sources, while rating as untrustworthy anyone who called Conservapedia untrustworthy. So there would arise a parallel world of trust and consensus and 'expertise', mutually-reinforcing yet nearly disjoint from the world of the real. But here's the thing: *anyone would be able to see, with the click of a mouse, the extent to which this parallel world had diverged from the real one*." [more inside]

Computers are providing solutions to math problems that we can't check - "A computer has solved the longstanding Erdős discrepancy problem! Trouble is, we have no idea what it's talking about — because the solution, which is as long as all of Wikipedia's pages combined, is far too voluminous for us puny humans to confirm." (via; previously ;)

Using computer systems for doing mathematical proofs - "With the proliferation of computer-assisted proofs that are all but impossible to check by hand, Hales thinks computers must become the judge." [more inside]

New research can detect five different emotions with 81 percent accuracy. [Additional project information].

Eigenfaces for facial recognition. (*This post assumes familiarity with the terminology and notation of linear algebra, particularly inner product spaces.*)

Rediscovering WWII's female "computers". While researching a documentary in Philadelphia, filmmaker LeAnn Erickson came across two women with a story she'd never heard before: thousands of women with advanced mathematical skills employed as "computers", working day and night during WWII to supply soldiers in the field with precise ballistics algorithms. Some of those women also went on to program ENIAC, the first general-purpose computer (previously). Erickson turned their stories into Top Secret Rosies, a documentary released to theaters last year and to DVD this month. One of those programmers, Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, spoke at length to the Computing History Museum in 2008. [youtube, 1:07:19] [via]

In today's example of kids smarter than you and I, Wired follows the exploits of two teens competing at the International Olympiad in Informatics.

"Computers can search all possible outcomes of all possible moves in conventional chess and beat even top human players, so Akl wanted to make the computation more difficult." The result? Quantum chess! [via]

"Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems."

Started in 2001 as a sub-section of Maths Challenge, it has since grown large enough to become its own entity. It now boasts over 200 problems, many of them insanely difficult. [more inside]

Started in 2001 as a sub-section of Maths Challenge, it has since grown large enough to become its own entity. It now boasts over 200 problems, many of them insanely difficult. [more inside]

If you could use a great big free handbook of discrete math and algorithms, Jörg Arndt's fxtbook wants to be your friend. Plain text table of contents to whet your appetite.

Fractran. A Turing complete programming language expressed in prime numbers from John Conway. (Interpreter here.) More pathological programming. Via Good Math, Bad Math.

Project Euler is a running contest of programming challenges to hone your algorithm skills.
*"Each problem is designed according to a 'one-minute rule', which means that although it may take several hours to design a successful algorithm with more difficult problems, an efficient implementation will allow a solution to be obtained on a modestly powered computer in less than one minute."*

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