First UNIX/Linux National Competition Held in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A look at the questions and answers for a contest to find Linux solutions to common problems.
Results

Thirteen competitors entered this year. They had 90 minutes to solve all exercises using pencil and paper. They were allowed to use all available literature, but did not have access to a computer to test their solutions. Therefore, the committee decided to judge favorably all solutions exhibiting the correct ideas, even if they were not written syntactically error-free. After reviewing all submitted solutions, the committee decided to award prizes to the following three contestants:

  • Andraz Tori

  • Mitja Bezget

  • Gasper Fele-Zorz

The average quality of the submitted solutions suggests that despite all the publicity Linux received during the last year, high school students are not particularly familiar with the tools from the UNIX/Linux programming environment. This is a pity, since we believe that the many strong scripting languages and modular tools are one of Linux's advantages over its competitors.

The analysis of the anonymous questionnaire which the competitors were asked to fill in also yielded some interesting results. The competitors were asked questions about their own computing environment, to classify the exercises on a scale of 1 to 5 from “easy” to “difficult” and to give suggestions. Some found the limit to scripting languages too restrictive. An interesting response came from a competitor who considered the exercises would be simple “provided that C or C++ could be used”.

This calls for a comment. Every exercise is easiest to solve in a language one is familiar with. Anybody familiar with both C and some scripting language would probably agree that these exercises can be solved in the latter with much less effort. This was intentional. What wasn't intentional is that we discovered the fact that high school students hardly touch on any scripting language at all and are thus unaware of their benefits. Rapid prototyping, for example, is quickly and easily accomplished from readily available tools. This is a complement rather than a replacement for the compiled languages. If speed is truly important, a successful prototype is normally followed by a compiled version, usually distinguished by much faster execution. In practice, both approaches coexist, while in our schools, one seems to have a complete dominance.

Last but not least, the title of this competition also probably deserves a comment. UNIX, or Linux in its narrower sense, denotes the operating system kernel. Kernel-level exercises were not part of this competition and, given the limited time and resources available to competitors, would not be feasible at this moment. It would be honest to admit that in the trade-off between short and catchy names and long and precise ones, we have leaned towards the former. Who knows—perhaps the extra room we have created for ourselves will even prove useful at some later time.

Primoz Peterlin holds a M.Sc. in Physics and works for the Institute of Biophysics, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Getting his first computer in 1983, he discovered Linux in 1992 and has never left it since. His diverse interests include biocomputing, typography and mountain hiking. He can be reached at primoz.peterlin@biofiz.mf.uni-lj.si.

Ales Kosir has a BS in Mathematical Physics and an MS in Mechanical Engineering. In the company Hermes SoftLab, he works on compiler-based technology, while he is interested in many aspects of localization. He enjoys cooking, particularly seafood, and for his own pleasure he plays the piano. More about him can be found on nl.ijs.si/GNUsl/.

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