In search of the Ballmer Peak, and other results from SIGBOVIK 2024

Raymond Chen

The Special Interest Group on Harry Q. Bovik (SIGBOVIK) is an annual event at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science’s Association for Computational Heresy, featuring research papers which try to make up for lack of merit with excess of entertainment.

The Proceedings of the 2024 SIGBOVIK were published a few weeks ago, and I’d like to call out a few papers for your attention.

All page numbers are nominal. Add four to get physical page numbers.

The one that perhaps has the greatest industry application is The Ballmer Peak: An Empirical Search by Twm Stone and Jaz Stoddart (page 48), which takes a phenomenon originally isolated by researcher Randall Munroe in 2007 and seeks to refine its estimated value through experiments designed to identify the optimal blood alcohol content for computer coding. And they found it.

A paper that may help you with your software architecture decisions is An empirical performence [sic] evaluation between Python and Scratch by Morgan Nordberg (page 174), which undertakes a detailed performance comparison between two popular programming languages.

One of the great joys of research is discovering an entire new field of study which serves as a wellspring for future research. We were able to observe the birth of one such field with the paper An Empirically Verified Lower Bound for The Number Of Empty Pages Allowed In a SIGBOVIK Paper by Frans Skarman (page 249). The initial paper merely sets the groundwork, and I look forward to future papers that expand our understanding.

The paper Are Centaurs Actually Half Human and Half Horse? by Kyle Batucal (page 367) employs image classification theory to determine whether wisdom from the ancient Greeks holds up. And the paper A computer-assisted proof that e is rational by RĂ©mi Garcia and Alexandre Goldsztejn (page 375) produces a surprising result that may revolutionize our understanding of numbers.

And hidden among all the silly papers is a real research paper: A Genius Solution: Applications of the Sprague-Grundy Theorem to Korean Reality TV by Jed Grabman (page 438), which takes the combinatorial game theory of impartial games and applies it to an elimination game used in the Korean reality television program The Genius.

I’m sentimentally partial to that last paper because my advisors during my brief academic career include John H. Conway and Elwyn Berlekamp, two of the three authors of Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays, one of the foundational texts for combinatorial game theory. The work in the Genius Solution paper is exactly the sort of thing we would work out as a goofy exercise.


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  • Marco Comerci 0

    I am an actual researcher and the paper on the Ballmer peak was exhilarating.
    I was also rickrolled following one of the links in the notes…

  • Joe Beans 0

    For me the “Ballmer Peak” is when Windows Phone 10 was about to take the market by storm, then was killed by Steve’s successor without a whimper.

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