The Commuter Challenge

2 September 2014

The September 2014 Challenge

by CC @ 11:49

For the rest of 2014 the Commuter Challenge is breaking away from its usual format in hopes of inspiring more grandiose projects with our first Long Form Challenge.

Use September to decide upon a personal creative project that would take 3 months to complete, and plan it out logistically. At the end of September, submit a schedule of deadlines and requirements, with concrete goals that must be completed by the end of each month (October, November and December). This schedule then defines your October and November Commuter Challenges as the work towards completing the overall challenge by the end of December.

This Long Form Challenge was conceived with the thought that it could drive us to tackle more ambitious projects which might be too difficult to achieve in a single month, so think big, and pick something you’ve been thinking you might want to do if you had the time and motivation.

The Results

Tyler Zahnke

I am writing a novel called Peintown Front.


  • End of October – Have a draft of the novel completed.
  • End of November – Have that draft edited into something that’s actually finished.
  • End of December – Submit the manuscript to CreateSpace or other self-publishing outlet.
Ryan Finholm

My long-form challenge is to record a set of songs, with the general “EP” or “extended single” as the model in terms of content and format.

For comparison, I dug through some of my old boxes and found 7 different They Might Be Giants CD EPs. The EPs had 4 to 6 songs each (most had 5 songs). They each had 0 to 2 remixes of the main track (most had one remix). They each had 0 to 2 cover songs, averaging approximately one cover song per CD. I will endeavor to conform to that general format, with some extra stipulations to help ensure that I don’t end up phoning it in at the last minute.

The overall minimum requirements will be for me to record no fewer than 4 songs (with a personal goal of recording 5 or more). At least three of the songs must be original compositions (not covers, and not remixes). At least one of those songs must be either a cover of a song by a different artist, or a remix of one of my original songs on the EP. If five or more songs are recorded, at least three of them must be original compositions, at least one must be a cover or a remix, and the other(s) can be originals, covers, or remixes.

Extra rules:

  • I should avoid instrumentals. Only one of the songs (but hopefully zero) may be completely instrumental.
  • I should avoid “experimental” or “avant-garde” compositions. Only one of the songs (but hopefully zero) may be “avant-garde”. This is to prevent me from lazily subverting the spirit of the challenge by producing low-effort, gimmicky submissions like Negativland’s Over the Hiccups or John Cage’s 4’ 33” [I do admire and appreciate both of those songs, but if I were to submit something in that vein it would be a lame ploy to avoid putting time and effort into the song(s)].
  • I am allowed to collaborate with other musicians to whatever extent I desire; I am allowed to employ/engage other musicians and vocalists to perform any amount of the music on any or all of the songs. I am allowed to use any samples, loops, or other recordings that I want to any extent I choose.
  • At least one of the original songs must be submitted to The Songfight submission should not be an instrumental. The words of the song must be relevant to the associated Songfight title. The song must conform to the Songfight submission guidelines, and it must be submitted to in time to compete that week. I should make every effort to meet the Songfight requirement of the Challenge in October or November.
  • I must create original CD EP case insert art for this project – at minimum a CD case front insert (4 ¾” square), but my personal goal is to also have a back insert (5 3/8” by 4 5/8”) and lyrics/liner notes.
  • I may or may not choose to maintain a running blog about this project at

Timeline/interim due dates:

  • October 31, 2014: The minimum I must submit is demo versions of two songs.
  • November 30, 2014: The minimum submission requirement is demo versions of two other songs. They must be different songs than those submitted October 31, 2014 (though one of the songs may be a remix of one of the other three songs submitted in October and November). It is very highly recommended that one Songfight submission should be completed before this date.
  • December 31, 2014: The minimum submission is four completed song recordings (at least one of which has to have already been submitted to plus original CD case art per the above requirements. The personal hope is that more than four songs are recorded by this date, but I will have fulfilled the bare minimum requirements with four songs and one piece of CD case art.
Brian Raiter


To design and write a computer program that implements an abstract multi-player game in which the (initial) purpose of the game is to modify the program.

Project Details

The nature of the program will be a relatively simple self-contained server. The program will only provide a programmatic interface. A human-friendly user interface will be assumed to be provided by external clients, and can be skeletal or elaborate as desired.

Peter Suber’s game of Nomic is the inspiration for this program, and the initial version of the program will be partially patterned after the typical Nomic’s initial ruleset. The program will allow players to submit proposed code changes and cast votes. When a change is voted in, the program will then apply the change to itself, and be in effect going forward. The program will need to have multiple safeguards in place so that non-functional code changes can be automatically reverted. As with Suber’s initial ruleset, some small amount of points will be awarded by a simple criteria so as to have an initial winning condition, at which point the program will end game play.

The program (that is, the initial version of the program, as it stands before game play) should be simple to read and understand. Conciseness is important, but not as important as flexibility: the initial code should provide a wide range of entry points for modifying game logic and inserting new features.

Finally, the program will need to be self-contained. A crucial aspect of game play is that no part of the program is off-limits to alteration. The program will of course need to rely on an external operating system (for things like the file system and measuring the passage of time). So as much of the functionality as possible should be implemented inside the program, so that it is available for change.

October Goals

  1. Organize my existing ideas into a design document. The document should outline the architecture of the program, and cover the functionality that the program needs in order to provide a good initial game state.
  2. Learn the Erlang programming language, or at least enough of it to proceed with the challenge. (Alternately, if this process reveals that Erlang is not a good language choice, select a better one.)
  3. (Stretch goal) Write a partially-working prototype in Python or some other high-level language. This will serve as a more in-depth documentation of the proposed design.

November Goals

  1. Write an initial draft of the game — an early-beta version, with approximately 2/3rds of the essential, non-self-modifying parts fully functional.
  2. Write an appendix to the design document outlining the tradeoffs of the current design vs other possible initial versions, taking advantage of existing hindsight.
  3. (Stretch goal) Write a game client that provides a basic UI.

December Goals

  1. Complete a working beta version, with all desired functionality in place, and debugging being the only major phase left before release.
  2. Complete an second draft of the game’s documentation, including a list of known bugs.
  3. Assemble a list of potential code changes that a hypothetical player might submit in the course of game play, demonstrating the approxmiate level of difficulty in making different types of changes.
  4. (Stretch goal) Write a fully functional UI client for the game.
  5. (Stretch goal) Complete a play-testing session with other people. Generate a list of modifications and improvements based on the experience.

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