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Mark Pearl


In the closing keynote at TechEd Africa 2011, Clifford de Wit (Microsoft South Africa) made improvements on his previous years attempt to geekily give away a prize, but unfortunately still got it wrong… here’s why.

At Teched 2010 Clifford gave away an amazing prize of a wheel barrow full of tech goodies – if my memory serves me right, it included a laptop, xbox, kinect as well as a whole bunch of other fun stuff – a geeks delight. Unfortunately he was given some flack on how he decided to pick the winner of this prize. In 2010 he took a toy screaming monkey slingshot and manually launched the monkey into the crowd. Totally not geeky enough.


And so after starting a twitter storm for a whole year he decided that this year he would do it properly. It went something like this.

  • Have a program that monitors a twitter tag and looks for a keyword
  • When the keyword is found, trigger off a digital rolling ball that will go through a maze and trigger a button.
  • When the button is pressed, send a signall to a electronic catapult that will then launch the monkey into the crowd.

I have tried to illustrate this in the diagram below…

The Concept

It was a great attempt at being a true geek but unfortunately Clifford, you got it wrong ;-(

If Clifford was a true geek / programmer he would remember that back in his programming days when you worked with a random number generator you would typically still have to call an initial randomizer method (the joys of Pascal are coming back to me) else even though you were calling a random number generator the sequence would be predictable. What he did today was the equivalent to that… the whole process was flawed.


Because the catapult did not have a rotational base, regardless of how quickly the correct word was streamed through to twitter – the winner was pretty much predetermined as people took their seats at the beginning of the keynote. The trajectory of the catapult was predetermined, the distance that it would be thrown was also pretty much predetermined (I am smelling a conspiracy here) and so while I am glad that the person who won the prize really won the prize – I have to unfortunately still stay – Clifford, you got it wrong. You forgot to randomize the timer. Your process is flawed.

What you really needed was something like this… a rotating based so that the direction of the monkey could not be predetermined. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be that easy, you would also need to set it up so that it would not launch the monkey if the catapult was facing the stage, and make sure that it would go out in the direction of the crowd – also, you would want some sort of random vertical direction so that the distance would not be totally predetermined. So a little more work for next year, but come on… you work for Microsoft, I am sure you can do it.

Rotating Base


So, while I give props to an attempt to looking like a geek, you are going to have to really do a proper job next year. We are expecting a real device with true random direction and trajectory so that this little monkey can be distributed in a true geek way!


BTW… well done on a great conference!

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 8:44 PM Misc | Back to top

Comments on this post: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…

# re: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…
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Ah, some very good points - but perhaps the actual randomization was introduced based on when people chose their seats. :-)
Left by Brian Keller on Oct 21, 2011 10:57 PM

# re: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…
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Yes, there was a random element there... however this is where the conspiracy theories come in, if someone got wind of the direction and distance of the catapult the placement of the people would not be as random as it could be...

I am thinking next year maybe they put a robotic arm that moves randomly around the stage and when the twitter feed gets the right answer we propell the monkey witha potato gun?
Left by Mark Pearl on Oct 22, 2011 10:20 AM

# re: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…
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I personally think he got it just right :)
Left by WilliamBZA on Oct 22, 2011 10:29 AM

# re: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…
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lol... I think you are the only guy there that thinks that! Nice catch BTW!
Left by Mark Pearl on Oct 22, 2011 10:48 AM

# re: TechEd 2011 - Why Clifford got it wrong…
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In fact there was a random element, the monkey's arms - the longer the monkey was stuck on the catapult the shorter it shot, in the quick tests it hit 11th row, but on the day made only 5th or so due to time. Would've been funny if it went flop off the front and didn't make the first row.

Source for this was Dave Russell, also known as Cliff's build monkey :P
Left by Robert MacLean on Oct 24, 2011 4:04 PM

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