Blog seriously

    Sometimes I receive letters with offers to sell as a blogger, that is, to write custom things for a certain fee. For the most part, these are unworthy and inappropriate ventures such as viral marketing, which do not require special writing skills, to which a person who respects himself and his business will not agree (unless, of course, he dies of hunger). But once I received an offer that I could not refuse - if only because I had dreamed about this for several years. So I became one of the three official bloggers of TopCoder Open 2010. In this article I will talk about how the “Blog” label settled in my mail for six months, about how unexpectedly it turned out to be difficult to write on a given (albeit even a favorite) topic within a fixed schedule, and how it all ended.


    TCO (and earlier a similar tournament for TCCC students) is held every year, and every year the organizers make a lot of efforts to make the tournament as interesting as possible for participants and observers. The climax of the tournament is the onsite finals, and it is very important to convey the spirit of what is happening there to spectators watching only on the Internet. Since 2007, TopCoder has been experimenting with blog formats to do this best. oncewe even had a video blog shot by specially invited professionals, but usually a blog has a more familiar form of text and photos, and is written by admins and / or selected community members (hmm, TC member sounds better). Until this year, reporting was only from the finals, and bloggers were selected on a competitive basis for one article in which they had to prove why they should be chosen. I did not participate in these competitions even once - I was still small, then there were other things, I was simply embarrassed to present my pig’s snout in the ranks of the previous winners - stars of the scale Peter Mitrichev (who was one of the first “elected” bloggers, who unexpectedly dropped out in the last round of Algorithm).

    This year, TopCoder decided to add an element of novelty to the blog itself and to the selection process for bloggers. Bloggers were selected by closed admin vote (or by one of the admins alone - right, I don’t know) based on the totality of previous services to the community. The blog should have been running for six months - an article a week from the start of online competitions to the start of the finals, and the prize for such a busy schedule was a trip to Las Vegas for the finals, from which it was supposed to write three or four articles a day. However, a specific schedule was announced after all the bloggers happily agreed - although I do not think that this information would have changed their decisions :-)

    Formulation of the problem

    So, I got a blog schedule and an invitation to onsite, and in parallel with getting a visa to the USA (which is a quest in itself) I thought for the first time, what will I write about for the first six months? Everything is clear at the finals - you circulate in the Arena, communicate with people, take pictures of everything that comes under the lens - you’ll think of something. But during the online rounds the task is more interesting - because everything that happens, happens online, is available for observation, and I do not have access to any exclusive information. Well, almost to no one - I wrote tasks for three rounds, but they could be commented on only after the round, in order to avoid spoilers :-) In addition, when dividing the topics for blogs, I got my favorite Marathons, which I can talk about for a long time, but of which there were only three in six months - not a very rich source of news.

    Here are a few categories of posts that I can highlight for filling out an online blog with at least something interesting, and how I and other bloggers used them:

    1. Thematic posts

    The category is obvious, but rather complicated, in which only descriptions of the three Marathons fell. In the rounds themselves, I (as the author of some of the first two) could not participate, and the decisions of the participants are discussed in the forum immediately after the match. Therefore, I could only walk through how the task was invented and how it evolved in the preparation process, and delve into the statistics - comparing the popularity of the task with previous tournaments and the distribution of participants by country. In the last round, 10 finalists were determined for which you can’t count the statistics, so it was replaced by a story about the final achievements of the finalists (and, for some, about their rapid debut). Statistics in general are extremely convenient for a blogger - do not know what to write about? - count some statistics or compare something with something.

    Fred himself participated in the Algo-rounds, so he wrote about them “from the inside”, with per-minute reporting and screencasts, and also played with the shortest solutions to problems (the whole solution is stuffed into a return statement - not the best programming style, almost obfuscation) and laid out odds - statistics on the chances of participants to enter the finals and victory, calculated by modeling the remaining rounds.

    Justin, for whom the components at TopCoder is the main job, got even more thorough: since these competitions consisted of accumulating points for many ordinary components, which there is no sense in writing separately, he wrote about the general ideology of each type of competition, starting with Conceptualization .

    2. Interview

    Perhaps the only category that I categorically failed to do. It still remains a mystery to me about what is really interesting to ask a person after the Marathon. The standard “how much time I spent, whether I liked the task, whether I expected a win” is boring.

    Fred ran into the other side of the interview - even if you know what to ask, you still need to get an answer! It is during a personal meeting that you can drive a person into a corner, block the path to retreat and not let out until you answer - and by mail it is very difficult, almost impossible.

    Justin is the only one of us who managed to embed interviews with experienced competitors in his posts. Personally, I secretly suspect that he simply blackmailed them using his official position ;-)

    3. The spirit of TCO (he is talking about nothing)

    The category is very convenient to score the air and flaunt your style, but again not easy due to the fact that English is still not my native language, and I speak it much less flowery than in my native Russian :-) a welcome post with an overview of all types of competitions (almost habraanons , but taking into account the target audience), as well as stories about time management for participants of different types of competitions, about the preparation of the tournament (by the way, the only interview I managed) and about getting a visa.

    Fred and Justin, on the other hand, did not abuse this category by writing only their welcome posts. Apparently, men are much cooler in socializing and offtopics: the following three categories are almost entirely mine.

    4. Puzzles

    What is the point of a blog if it has no pictures or conversations? - I remembered the classics and set out to come up with pictures for the blog. A self-portrait in a welcome post and photos from the finals is sacred, but what's in between? And then I remembered one old cryptography task, written based on the “Cases of Dancing Men,” which was never launched, but lonely lay in the archive of rejected tasks. “Yes!” - for some reason, I exclaimed in the English manner, and over the course of the evening I sketched out the concept of a series of puzzles based on cryptographic motives, united by Sherlock Holmes’s new case, “The Lady Case with TopCoder”. It all started with the fact that a man turned to Holmes, worried that his wife was receiving mysterious letters from TopCoder ...

    So there was TCO'10 Puzzle Contest which I am deservedly proud. Perhaps the puzzles after the first one turned out to be complicated (only 3-4 solutions for each), and the puzzles themselves are somewhat monotonous (another one, to compare famous people with TopCoder with little-known facts about them, failed because people categorically refused to share facts about themselves), but readers liked it!

    If interested, you can see the first puzzle and its solution , as well as other puzzles .

    5. Games

    Another entertaining element that I was going to contribute to the blog was games based on TopCoder. True, I managed to do only one, and I borrowed the game mechanism and many semantic elements from elegar (please note, with his kind permission): TC Alchemy . Still, my range of interests is quite far from game development, and it turned out to be much more labor-intensive than I could afford this summer.

    6. Programming languages

    Another principle that I often used on this blog is to reuse existing knowledge to solve new problems. This helped me out with puzzles, and with the game, and with a description of the tasks that I wrote, and again, when I had to write something interesting about qualifications in algo-competitions. It would seem that everything that could be said has already been said, and the creative crisis was already very close when I remembered my favorite programming languages, and literally in the evening a post was written about solving problems from qualifications in marginal languages.


    Before this experiment, I only kept a personal blog, but wrote a lot about TopCoder in it, and it seemed to me that writing about the same officially would not be much more difficult. It turned out that writing on a post a week, regardless of mood and inspiration, is much more difficult, especially in English. Not all ideas were realized - so, fairy tales, in contrast to poems, are written only on inspiration, so not a single one got to the blog; the ideas of a couple more games and one puzzle rested in peace (I hope, not an eternal dream); Well, and before the interview with the sponsors, the hands reached only on the onsite. But the experience as a whole is useful, and if you also include that abyss of new and interesting that was on the trip to the finals, then we can confidently say that letters with offers to sell (with one of which everything, in fact, started) before the definition of spam should still be read.

    PS Actually the blog itself is .

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