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RFC: Policies WRT the Obfuscated Perl Contest

by mwp (Hermit)
on Aug 11, 2000 at 02:25 UTC ( #27412=monkdiscuss: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

As (many|most|all) of you have probably heard by now, the 5th Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest (OPC) has been announced. Posts have been made at slashdot.org and all of the usual locations.

Looking over user records, it's very apparent that perlmonks.org has grown somewhat (hah!) since the last OPC. I think we can expect (many|tons|a flood of) questions regarding obfuscated Perl. I would like to propose a series of (not that many, really) policies to take in approach to these people coming in for the (first|second|umteenth) time and making posts regarding the OPC.

The 5th Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest

Provisions, Policies, and Protection for PerlMonks.org

  1. The Potential
  2. Existing Obfuscated Perl on PerlMonks.org
  3. Questions Regarding Posted OPC Entries
  4. Questions Regarding as-of-yet Unposted OPC Entries
  5. Questions Regarding Obfuscated Perl In General
  6. Front Page (Welcome|Notice|Warning) and Advertisements
  7. Conclusion

1. The Potential

It is clear to me that PerlMonks.org has a great potential here to accomplish several things. Or, for that matter, fail and get trounced. If we welcome newcomers from the OPC into our ranks and aid them with any questions they may have, we have the potential to expand our user base and increase the already existing talent pool. This would be a Good Thing. However, if we scare away visitors, or phrase our welcoming in an inappropriate fashion, we may attract the "wrong kind" of users and none of the "right kind."

The right kind of perl monks are A) any newbie who lurks, asks intelligent questions, and eventually begins to contribute answers and code, or B) a talented and motivated individual with a desire to answer questions and become a contributor to the site. The "wrong kind" is subject to interpretation, but I think we can all agree on certain things, like A) spamming, B) refusing to RTFM, and C) disrespect and general rudeness.

Another potential we have here is the generation of name recognition and boku banner ad traffic. This is obviously a boon to our saints, for they may increase the maximum load of the network with the aid of a little funding. At the same time, however, we may just be slashdotted and tossed aside like a used tissue. This would obviously be a Bad Thing.

The potentials need to be carefully weighed (not here) and approaches should be evaluated and acted upon quickly.

2. Existing Obfuscated Perl on PerlMonks.org

We have a wide variety of contributions here that need to be preserved and even protected. It is unclear what legal rights the originators of the obfuscated Perl have, other than they created it and therefore it is copyright protected. Under the terms of United States Law. However, as we have seen, copyright protection is poor and misguided when it comes to the Internet. Some options we have are:

  • Temporary disabling of the Obfuscated Perl code section, to be reopened at the end of the OPC.
  • Access to $_ granted on a user-at-level-X basis only, or by registered users only.
  • Open access to $_ and lawful persecution if and when any code is stolen, abused, or submitted to the OPC as an entry.

Each of these options should also be carefully weighed and considered. A path, if any, should be chosen only if we determine an existing threat.

Each of the following three items assumes the following: The 5th Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest is sanctioned. Submissions to the contest should be creations of the submitter, him or herself, and not created by or with the assistance of a member of PerlMonks. Down that road lies madness... and possible legal complications. :-)

3. Questions Regarding Posted OPC Entries

Ocassionally a user will wander in and ask us a question regarding an OPC entry, as has already happened. I believe that any questions should be verified (by opening up a web browser and checking a list of current OPC entries) before being answered. Perhaps this should fall upon the moderators, perhaps not. The problem with this is that a technique, carefully and painstakingly developed by another obfuscated Perl contestant, can be easily manipulated and duplicated, once understood. Hopefully the moderators of the OPC will see this, but can we depend on that?

Another option, that will be discussed more in depth later, is a strict refusal to answer any and all questions regarding obfuscated perl.

4. Questions Regarding as-of-yet Unposted OPC Entries

My buddy just showed me a piece of obfuscated Perl that he is planning on submitting to the OPC, and I was wondering...

Under the terms of the assumption listed above, this and any similar posts should be dismissed flat-out as fradulent and abusive.

5. Questions Regarding Obfuscated Perl In General

Obfuscated Perl is fun to write, and is hubris-oriented in that it provides a challenging problem: how to write something SO horrible that it's actually DIFFICULT to understand. Some Perl programmers write like this naturally, but for most of us it's something new. Thus the contest.

Thus, in a similar thread as above, if someone trundles along and asks us something about obfuscated Perl, do we answer it? Do we ask if it's for the contest, and THEN answer it? This is probably the most debateable topic, I'm sure everyone is going to have a different opinion...

6. Front Page (Welcome|Notice|Warning) and Advertisements

I propose a sort of "splash page" as the default page for PerlMonks, perhaps at the top of the Monastery Gates. This would consist of quick information about getting started with the site, and also a quick blurb about obfuscated Perl, which should reflect the outcome of this node. In the spirit of CYA, but I hate that acronym so we won't go there. :-P

Based on our discussion here, this will either be a broad welcome, a notice of our policies, or a warning.

7. Conlusion

I had hoped to pontificate a bit more, and a bit more coherently, unfortunately I am at work and had to rush through this a bit. I've raised some (what I feel are) important issues that need to be discussed. The potential for greatness is there, but the potential for an embarassing legal or communal situation is also there. Please consider our options carefully, as well as the fact that this is an RFC, or REQUEST FOR COMMENTS, and nothing is even water and dirt, let alone concrete, at the time of this writing.

Your humble monk,

Alakaboo

Comment on RFC: Policies WRT the Obfuscated Perl Contest
RE: RFC: Policies WRT the Obfuscated Perl Contest
by turnstep (Parson) on Aug 11, 2000 at 02:33 UTC
    I understand where you are coming from, but I think you overstate the importance of the contest. I don't expect swarms of people to suddenly appear at the monastery with obfuscated scripts in hand. Limit nothing, and answer all. I am here to help people learn more about perl. I will not question someone about the "motives" of their obfuscated code. The monastery should stay open to all and nuetral - all supplicants are welcome, no matter how suspicious, ragged, or shify they may appear.
(Eschew Obfuscation) RE: RFC (..)
by mwp (Hermit) on Aug 11, 2000 at 03:11 UTC

    Some corrections and clarifications:

    • That's Conclusion, not Conlusion. Looks like I was trying for my own little obfuscation.
    • I too feel that perlmonks.org is an open, nearly unrestricted forum, and should remain that way. However, there is a limit.
    • The OPC home page does not specifically state (although it should, IMHO) that submissions have to be authentic. For it not to do so is very brash and unresponsible, and darn near encourages miscreant behaviour. My $0.02 I guess. However, I feel that many of the above issues still stand, and need to at least be talked about.

    Thanks,

    Alakaboo

      I agre absolutely that the limit should be almost theoretical. But I would be concerned if the almost did not include GoRN if he was what he appeared to be. (See Echo off in IO::Sockets)
Responding to nodes
by gryng (Hermit) on Aug 12, 2000 at 05:52 UTC
    Even in light of nodes like Echo off in IO::Sockets, which may or may not be more cleverly asked in the future, I would not like perlmonks to ask me to alter my behaviour beyond what is already there: "use your best judgement".

    I would, however, follow any policy perlmonks decides upon, as best I can. I just wouldn't be very happy about it :) , as I don't see how any policy could do any better than asking our monks to just use their best judgement.

    It would be also worth noting that the less concealed a question's "questionability" is, the less likely our answers would have a negative affect on some unwary 3rd party.

    Following that, more crafy people would probably not need even ask a question, and even if they did, we would not easily suspect them. So, I think we can't do anything to effectively stop any of this, so just answer as you think you should, and things should (IMO) turn out for the best.

    Bests,
    Gryn

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