Saturday, April 26, 2008

SACO Online Contest

The second training camp for the South African IOI squad is coming up in a weeks time on the weekend of 2-4 May. This will be the final round of training and competition before we select the team for the IOI in Egypt.

As we've done in the past, we are continuing to offer the problems in an online contest that will be run simultaneously. You are all welcome to participate. The contest page and place to register is:

The times are:
Languages accepted are C/C++, Pascal, Java, Python and Haskell. If you have any clarification requests or other queries, email them to

And while I'm at it, there are a couple other really good contests coming up soon. The IPSC on 24 May is a team of 3 contest with no limits on computers used or programming language. The problems are typically very mathematical and some rather interesting and unusual problems creep in.

The there's the ICFP Contest. Yes, that's the one we came 2nd in last year! Things weren't looking so hot for this one as there was a long period of silence as to what was happening with the contest this year. We were concerned in particular because we had offered to host and received positive feedback initially, but then the organisers went mute and we never heard from them. Anyway, it's being hosted by John Reppy (University of Chicago) and Tim Sheard (Portland State University) this year (from here), although we don't yet have the dates. As soon as we have them we will know who's available for our team. Here's hoping it's a smashing contest this year! If you look around you'll see that John hosted the 2000 and Tim the 2002 ICFP Contests...interesting!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Playboy Energy Drink

When one travels internationally as much as I do there are many interesting people you bump into. However, it's most interesting the people you sometimes meet while flying. On my return flight from New York earlier this week I sat next to someone with the following business card:

Yes, the name of the company is Playboy Beverages. And Rick Liberty, the sales rep manager of the company is the one that was sitting next to me. He told me about their new Playboy Energy Drink that they had just begun launching less than a month ago, although only available in the Boston area for now. He was on his way to South Africa to try continue discussions to distribute it here and he told me that if things went smoothly we would see it in stores here in about a month! Many people like me don't like the taste of Red Bull, but I've tasted Monster which tastes much better and apparently this one's taste is much closer to Monster.

One thing that really surprised me is how they got so many shots with celebrities holding the drink and that they all asked for their picture to be taken without requesting a single cent!

From what I heard they sound like they have amazing fun doing this. And it's amazing how much just three people, yes three!, can do with such a great idea.

Google Code Search Added To Universal Search

Many readers of my blog will have heard of Google Code Search and some will remember that I was previously a part of the project. Well, that gives me special pride in announcing the introduction of Code Search into Google's main web search! For a sneak peak have a look here and see if you can spot the difference.

If you recall, it was little under a year ago when Google started going live with universal search. The problem this project attempted to solve was that almost all users of Google only ever make use of the main web search. The solution they had was to bring all the other specialised search results (from Maps, Images, News, etc.) to the main web search. Two major problems present themself in attempting to achieve this:

  1. The specialised search engines were used to receiving far lower levels of traffic than the web search, but in munging all the results together they would now all have to deal with the traffic levels obtained by the web search they were to integrate with.
  2. It's all fine and dandy saying that you're going to integrate the results, but deciding what type of results should be shown when is a challenging problem that needs to be solved per specialised search engine, but in such a way that the main web search guys are happy.
So this is what the fourth result now looks like when searching for StringTokenizer on

Some other examples: printf, atan2, strlen, ClassLoader

How useful will this be? Well, for one I think it will be useful in attracting users' attention to Code Search. I doesn't occur often enough in the results to be overly useful when trying to search for help on some class or function. And since web search doesn't allow for regular expressions, the most powerful feature of Code Search, it is severely hindered in its integrated form. Still cool though in my opinion. Is it clogging up the results page? I don't think so, since it only takes up one of ten results.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Home Sweet Home

After a long and treacherous journey we have finally made it back home in one piece. Thankfully South African Airways decided to treat me a little by giving me an emergency exit seat from New York to Johannesburg (which has plenty leg-room) and upgrading me to first class for the short flight to Cape Town. I'm pretty sure this has to do with my recent achievement of silver status on the Voyager programme.

Let me rewind a bit and tell the last bit of our trip. We woke up at 09:00 yesterday morning and had to leave for the airport at 14:00. Since we had only a few hours left we chose to split up and each do our own thing. I went down to Times Square first where I walked into a few shops, but never bought anything.

After about 90 minutes of that I took the subway to 59th and 5th, where the top shopping is in Manhattan. The first shop that caught my eye immediately was the Apple store. They never cease to amaze me by their architecture, but this one was something special. It's this glass cage with the Apple logo dangling in the middle and a lift with a circular glass staircase taking people down into the store. Even inside, it was was by far the busiest Apple store I've seen. And this one's open 24 hours a day! I was blown away when the one salesman showed me the Apple TV streaming 720p video over the Internet in realtime!

After Apple I went into a few more stores. I bought something at Abercrombie and Fitch and then walked into this amazing Japanese/French department store called Takashimaya. They had some simply amazing crockery and ornaments. To get an idea of just how much there was to see in such short time have a look at this map of 5th Avenue. And what would it be without the annoyingly large number of taxis:

After all that I rushed back to the hostel where the others were waiting for me. I was a little late, but we had planned to arrive early. While on the subway to the airport taking the route we used when we first arrived at JFK we were told about a much faster route. Thankfully we took this faster route as it saved us a lot of time. As we caught the AirTrain and I checked our tickets for the terminal we had to go to I noticed I made a big boo-boo! I had read off the departure time for the wrong flight!! However, luckily the correct time was only 70 minutes earlier and since we were early for the "original" time we were able to make it to the check-in counter in time. Just in time!

Now that I'm home I'll be writing a post on looking back. It's bound to be long though, so don't expect it too soon. :-P I'm also going back through the past posts on these world finals and replacing the small images with high-res copies as I have ironically returned to faster Internet! Guess what happens when you leave 400 of the top computer minds in a hotel with free Internet? ;-)

Back to varsity tomorrow to find out when we're receiving our robots (or if they've already arrived!). And the team returns to Johannesburg on Tuesday for the IT Challenge Finals.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New York City

So we have finally arrived in New York! Luckily our flight this morning was on time and we checked into our hostel at 12:30. Unfortunately we've been charged for the night we missed, but things could have turned out worse. Time to test out this flight protection plan that we paid $25 each for!

Our flight to South Africa departs at 18:30 tomorrow evening so we have to leave for the airport at around 14:00. So we're trying to make the most of our limited time here, which we started off by going downtown.

We first visited the World Trade Center site. I was in New York in December 2004 so I knew exactly what it looked like then. In the three years since then it really hasn't changed much. The plans for the site seem to have been finalised at long last, but they're still working on the foundations. They've built a temporary subway station (the subway goes underneath the WTC) with the permanent one scheduled for completion next year. Then they have two water pools they're building where the two towers used to be and are engraving the names of all the victims of 9/11 and the prior bombing. The sole replacement WTC tower is scheduled for completion in 2012.

Then there's this giant electronics store nearby called J&R. I visited it my last time here and when I returned I was once again surprised at the sheer size. It appears to have expanded quite a bit since 2004, but either way it's enormous and the salesmen are very helpful and knowledgable. As the others were rather overwhelmed by the quantity of products they had they chose not to purchase anything as they couldn't decide what to pick. There was nothing in particular I was looking for either, but it's always fun visiting such a store nonetheless.

Ever heard of China Town? How about Little Italy? Well we visited both today. They're small areas of Chinese and Italian shops respectively. China Town is rather large actually -- it would take a couple hours to walk all its streets. They have some rather intrieging shops, especially those selling food. I finally got to see a durian, which we had some interesting discussions about at NVIDIA. Then the fish shops had some things I wish I had rather not seen, such as this strange fish in a bucket that was looked dead, but then opened its mouth when I looked closer. I bought some funky Chinese dried fruit and other stuff, which I hope customs won't confiscate.

Little Italy was awesome! Okay so it's not very authentic, but it's good enough being so far from the real deal. Most of the people don't even speak Italian and the restaurants try too hard to get you to eat there, which brings back memories of Tijuana. After putting our name down for one restaurant we thought we'd be a little naughty and go into another instead. We chose Il Palazzo as it looked so nice inside and the food wasn't a disappointment.

Earlier on when we first arrived in New York this morning we tried to look for a show we could go watch. Being New York and Broadway it's something that just can't be missed. We wanted to see the Phantom of the Opera as it's a classic, however, tickets were difficult to come by so we settled for Chicago. It recently started showing in Cape Town, however it's never the same. I thought it was very good, although perhaps not meeting all the buzz about the show.

After the show we took a bit of time to reflect on the amazing lights of Times Square, which although nowhere close to Las Vegas is still an amazing sight at night. Unfortunately it was rather misty, but the lights are so bright that you don't notice it much at night. And if you're wondering why the sky is still not pitch black, well that photo was taken at about 12:30 in the middle of the night!

The last time I was here in December 2004 one of the things I enjoyed the most was the horse and carriage ride. I remember the horse, Whitey, so well and how he was so exhausted as he was nearing the end of his stint that he tried pulling the carriage away when the rider got out! So I went for another trip, once again going through central park, but this time in the rain. I find it amazing how such a large park can be allowed to last for so long in an area where land is so sought after the buildings all reach for the sky. The ride was nice, although due to the rain we didn't get to speak much with the driver and we didn't see nearly as many cool sights I saw last time I was here.

After the carriage we walked through Central Park a bit more, but the rain was getting a bit much so we looked for the closest subway. I feel so embarrassed when I ask someone where the nearest subway and they point to one that's right across the street! The subway was unbelievably packed for this late at night, worse so than many cities get during rush hour!

So this is almost over. Tomorrow we take the final leg back to Cape Town, arriving home on Sunday evening. I hope I recover from the jetlag quickly!

Friday, April 11, 2008

As If 28 Hours Wasn't Enough!

What a miserable ending to such a wonderful World Finals. We're stuck in Minneapoles with a wonderful snow storm brewing outside and a blizzard forecast for tomorrow morning!

It all started last night when we had the first snow in Banff and it came down hard, although it didn't last very long. We took the bus to Calgary this morning at 09:30 and as we got closer to Calgary airport so the snow started to plummet. By the time we arrived at the airport the roads were full of slush, the trees were coated in thick snow and the visibility was limited to less than 100 meters. About half a foot of snow had fallen in a matter of hours.

It went from this in Banff:

to this in Calgary:

to this at the airport:

As we got off the bus we were debating as to whether or not the flight was delayed. Unfortunately my gut feelings were confirmed when our flight originally scheduled for take-off at 13:50 was delayed until 14:54. I was immediately concerned as our connection time was already limited to 90 minutes, but as it stood we would have been able to make it. We were also told the weather in Minneapoles where we were to stop-over was also bad so we were hoping that our connecting flight was also ironic!

When we went to check-in we discovered there were several teams on the same flight, some of whom also had tight connections. So we weren't entirely board waiting as we got to meet more teams. As the time approached so the delay was extended! We finally started boarding at about 16:00. When boarding I asked one of the flight attendants for the expected arrival time and it she said 19:27. The woes...our connection was scheduled to depart at 18:58 and it was shown as on time on their systems. So things were looking rather bad!

Finally we took off at about 16:30 and when we were approaching Minneapoles they told us that only one runway was in use due to bad weather!! So we had to fly in circles and only got to land at 20:30. Boy did we cross our fingers and just wish as hard as we could! We were told to go to gate G15 to get details on our connmecting flight. Some people called to find out about their connecting flights, but since our phones don't work in the US we had to stand in the queue. Luckily we chanced our luck and went to another gate that was able to help us without the wait. Unfortunately our flight had just departed 40 minutes ago!

There was, however, a flight to JFK departing at 22:50 so we changed to that flight. When we went to ask about our luggage at the gate they told us that due to the bad weather they were not re-routing any luggage and therefore our luggage would be sent to LGA (another airport in New York). So we were faced with two options:

1. Take the 22:50 flight to JFK tonight arriving at 02:30, taking a taxi to the hotel and then visiting LGA to collect our luggage.

2. Take a 07:00 flight to LGA tomorrow morning arriving at 10:39 and taking the bus to the hotel.

Tough choice! We had had enough of slugging around though and therefore after much debate we settled for the second option. The flight to JFK has just departed and so now we're stuck with our choice. Since there are so many delayed flights they've supplied portable mattresses for us to sleep on so we'll at least get a decent sleep at the airport.

Now we just need to hope like hell that this weather doesn't further affect us tomorrow morning and that our flight leaves on time. It's not looking good though as it's been coming down hard for the last two hours and there's a blizzard forecast for tomorrow!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

World Finals Results

The results of the 32nd ACM ICPC World Finals are in. My team came in 47th place out of 100 teams, just clinching the African and Middle East title by about 20 minutes! So they won $1,050 and a plaque to be added to the other five we have. While they have slipped a few places since last year, it's got a lot to do with the vigorous training programs improving rapidly.

A total of nine teams got 7 problems, with one solving 8! It's great that the winning team was decided on problems solved rather than time penalty. It was the Russian's that took back the title with St. Petersburg University of IT, Mechanics and Optics the world champions. MIT, Izhevsk and Lviv shared the remaining gold medals coming in that order, but with only 13 minutes separating them all! In the end 22 teams solved 6 or more problems, which I find an amazing achievement.

The final standings are available right here.

The University of Aukland won the South Pacific region and the Universidad de Buenos Aires won the Latin America region. Together with them we were the three southern hemisphere champions -- a great photo opportunity. I'm hoping most people can work out which team is which below.

The final celebrations was exciting, but still doesn't meet the high standards set by Shanghai in 2005. We had a nice dinner followed by two shows. They had two apparently famous jugglers followed by an apparently famous hypnotist. It was interesting to watch, but I don't believe it's something we can't watch back home which is was disappoints me. However, all in all it was a magnificent week and I am very sad to be leaving. It just started snowing down rather strongly (the strongest snowfall I've ever seen!) as we walked out of the celebrations theatre. It's stopped now, but it was a lovely touch to end of this amazing experience.

I'll blog more about the finals and in particular the topics discussed at the coaches meeting when I return to South Africa. I've got a 2 hour bus to catch in about 6.5 hours (and I still have to pack and squeeze in some sleep!), followed by 6 hours of flying to New York. We spend a couple nights there and then we return to Cape Town with 20 hours of flying.

World Finals Over

The 32nd ACM ICPC World Finals have just recently been completed. The teams are all exhausted and taking a nap before the awards ceremony and final celebrations begin.

It started out with a surprise of eleven problems instead of the usual ten. Things got even stranger when the first problem was only solved after 31 minutes and that the first five solutions were for five different problems! Something that is very unusual for the world finals where they usually have one definite easy problem which can be solved in under 20 minutes.

Our team took some time to solve their first problem (problem F) after 124 minutes. The American University of Cairo (who we were competing with for the Africa and Middle East title) were close behind from early on by solving F in 137 minutes, but ran ahead after 169 minutes with problem K (although they had 4 wrong submissions). We then got K with just under an hour to go, but then soon after Cairo got B (with at least 2 wrong submissions -- scoreboard stopped updating in the last hour). With less than ten minutes to go I saw the white balloon for problem G slowly moving closer to our team's table. And that's the way it ended -- both teams on three each and neck-and-neck with time. I did a rough calculation and it seems we're less than 20 minutes apart so we'll have to wait until the awards ceremony to find out if we will retain the title for the 6th consecutive year (out of 6 appearances in the world finals!).

You can view the scoreboard from an hour before the end of the contest here and the problems here. At least one team got an 8th problem right at the end -- St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics. And at least the following seven teams got 7:

  • Izhevsk State Technical University
  • Lviv National University
  • MIT
  • Michigan State University
  • Stanford
  • Tsinghua University
  • University of Zagreb
The final results should be published on the ICPC website shortly after the awards ceremony. After the ceremony is the final celebration which is always kept a surprise until the very last moment and is usually the most awesome part of the week besides the contest itself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

ACM ICPC World Finals: Live Scoreboard

The 32nd ACM ICPC World Finals starts in just under two hours (countdown). You as the public will be able to for the very first time view the problems and the scoreboard live at the very same time as we do on-site. All you have to do is go to this site.

Good luck to all and may the best team win!

ACM ICPC World Finals: Contest Warmup

After breakfast this morning we moved across to the Van Horne Ballroom for the opening ceremony. The reason they hold it a day after the start of events is because the actual contest-related events only began today with the practice session. As we gathered outside quite a crowd developed rather quickly as we waited for the doors to open.

The ceremony was held in the same venue as the contest will be held tomorrow so the contestants and coaches sat at their computers. This has often been done in the past to save space. Unfortunately they have the words "Do not touch!" in big red caps, so they all had to wait in front of the computer without touching it until the practice contest began.

The opening ceremony is usually started off with a local dance. This year we had the Blackfoot Medicine Speaks dance for us. Unfortunately we couldn't see much of them from where we were, but the music was rather unusual.

Then all the major people gave their talk. It was the same old talks, except I was interested by the enthusiasm of the government in the event. Usually they have a video of someone in the local government record a speech, but this time they had several deputy majors and so on actually on-site to give their speeches.

Bill Poucher, the director of the world finals. His talk is the one I always look forward to at the opening and closing ceremonies. He's always guaranteed to bring some much needed humour to the splur of thank-you's, recruitments and congratulations. This year he didn't upset. It started out with someone having swiped his notes from the podium and watching him trying to find them was a laugh:

He had the long list of the names of the core people that make the event run on the projector and went through thanking them. This is my fourth time at the world finals, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people are required to get the whole thing to work as smoothly as it does. Just to give you and idea, the problems are worked on and matured over a nine month period compared to the problems we set which take maybe two weeks to set and check. One of the technical teams, when asked to stand up walked in with bathrobes as a joke to show just how confident they were with the setup:

When the ceremony ended the practice session began. The contest director went through a few rules of the contest and how the practice session was to run. They always have the same, very easy problem that is written in such a way as to test the contest software PC2. Unfortunately some teams decide to go against the rules a bit to get the top spot on the practice leader board. The biggest culprit was one of our African counter-parts from the American University in Cairo who took top place -- lets see them get that in the real deal tomorrow!

As the last bit suggests I finally met up with our African counter-parts. This year we have two challengers for the African and Middle East championship. I met both of them and we're keen on getting some collaboration going and possibly hosting an African collegiate contest, something I'd love to see happen! I also met many of our other fellow southern hemisphere teams, which interestingly enough comprise just under 10% of the teams!

During the practice session we got a picture of the team holding the trophy, something we're all hoping we'll see more of after tomorrow!

After the rather eventless practice session we had lunch followed by answers to some of the questions raised during the practice session. There wasn't anything really new, but two teams got called aside for attempting to crash the contest servers. I'm not sure what they did exactly, but we were all told not to attempt that tomorrow. Last year it was unusual network activity, what will it be next?

There was a second practice session, which the team used to poke around and try out Java as well in case they need it for things like big numbers.

After that brief taste of what the big day tomorrow will be like we went on our second excursion. My team had chosen the gondola ride up the mountains, but by the time I went to register it was full so I selected the hot springs. I was hoping for the hot springs to be in the middle of the snow, but that wasn't the case. It was very relaxing and an opportunity to meet some more teams. I had a long chat with one of the Egyptians and the Australian team from Griffith University. When they left early I went to chat with the two teams from Florida. I find it really interesting exchanging regional contest experiences.

After the hot springs we returned for dinner where I met the team from Simon Fraser University who have a total of seven people on-site, just behind British Columbia with nine. Then I met up with my team as well as the American University in Cairo team. After dinner we went for a walk with them and they started a massive snowball fight! After that eventually subsided we walked down to the river and then returned for a game of poker, which I failed at miserably (but I'll try again!).

Tomorrow is what the 100 teams have been waiting for. It's the big day. Some teams have been practising for many months, but it all boils down to these five hours. It wouldn't surprise me if Warsaw retains the championship as their same team returns to clinch a potential double, which I don't recall ever happening before. Our team is aiming to improve on the 26th place they earned last year by solving four problems with the slight glance at the medals.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

IBM Tech Trek and Columbia Icefield

So after most of the teams arrived yesterday (I know only of two Iranian teams that couldn't get visas -- sad story!) we had our first full day of activities today. Before I go any further though I must mention how simply amazing our hotel is. I think this is the first time I have a king bed all to myself. The bath has air jets and the shower nossel can be set to massage you! And the overall style of the hotel is wonderful.

If you want to see more pictures of what's going on in Banff they have hundreds up on the official website over here. They're also doing a daily video clip -- here's the first of them:

After a short sleep last night (we had to wake up at 07:00) we were served a good breakfast. I'm really loving the teas they have and that's saying a lot considering I'm far more a coffee person. I met some more IBMers again. They tried convincing me to try get South Africa to host the world finals, but as I told them money is the major issue holding us back (we had a serious look into it last year).

After breakfast we attended the IBM TechTrek, which is a series of presentations by IBM. Doug Heintzman was the lead speaker as always. I used to find him rather boring, but he's definitely improved over time and this year he was rather interesting to listen to. He talked mostly about how the software development methodologies at IBM were changing quite drasitically from the classical model. He ended off by touching on Jazz -- an interesting IBM project that allows for collaboration via IM from within Eclipse. What makes it appear to be so effective is the ease of starting a conversation with the person who wrote the piece of code you're interested in and how well everything is integrated.

The first speaker up was Jean-Francois Barsoum. After some fairly nasty technical difficulties (when will people learn to test out their laptops on the projector before giving a talk?) he delved into Web 2.0. His main focus was on whether or not Web 2.0 will survive and that we now require Human 2.0. Then Li-Te Cheng took the stage to talk to us on three examples of how students have joined IBM as interns and made an impact. He had changed his topic overnight since his original topic of Jazz was being displayed in the evenings at the CyberCafe anyway. He also touched on an internal social networking site they use which has now got over 20,000 users (out of a total of 360,000 employees).

Finally someone who's name I cannot remember talked on IBM's Extreme Blue internship program. They give a talk on it every year, but this was the first time I actually listened as I might be interested in applying. To summarise briefly they get three technical students and one business student to work together in a team, which they find works better than giving the students their own project to work on. This is only for their top 200 interns so it's difficult to get into. An ex-intern who now works full-time for IBM went up on stage to give a brief history of her experience on the project.

After two and a half hours of listening to the talks we started the first excursion. We were given a choice of a trip to either the Columbia Icefield or Lake Louise. We chose the former, which it seemed most other teams also went for. It was a long three hour bus ride to the icefield, but it was very scenic and we had a guide telling us some history behind the area and telling us about the surrounding mountains. I think the pictures will describe the beauty of the scenery far better than I could ever describe. So here's a small selection of the mountains on the way to the icefield:

About two hours into the journey we stopped over at Bow Lake. It was amazing how the lake was completely frozen and then covered with a thick layer of snow in such a way that it no longer looks like there's a lake there. If you haven't caught the drift yet, we're not used to snow in South Africa at all so this is quite an experience! Here's a picture of us standing on the lake:

Soon after that stop-over we arrived at the icefield. We were all simply in awe. In front of us was the largest icefield south of the Arctic totalling at around 325km² of glaciers. Below is a shot of the main glacier, the Athabasca Glacier. A lot of the glacier in the shot is below snow. It stretches from just past the road all the way to the edge of the picture and continues for about 6km ranging from 90 to 300 meters deep!

Glaciers are formed by compacted snow turning into ice. Over time the ice builds up and is so strong and large that it carves through the mountains! Apparently it's the glaciers that formed the valley between the mountains and make some of the mountain peaks smooth on top. These glaciers are melting gradually over the years and they used to be much, much larger. Below you can see us standing on the thickest part of the glacier with the three "steps" of the glacier in the background. If you look closely we are standing on a portion of the glacier exposed through the snow. We had to take a snowcoach to get out onto the glacier and it goes down the steepest slope in North America at a 32% gradient.

The icefield is made up of many hundreds of glaciers, with the one we were on being the largest. In the picture below you can see another glacier just below the top of the mountain. The glaciers all feed on one another as crevasses form and huge chunks break off and smash into another glacier.

That was the Columbia Icefield. Upon our return we had dinner waiting for us, which was delicious yet again. If the food is this good now I can't imagine what the final dinner is going to be like as they usually spoil us on the last day! After dinner I went to have a chat with the Extreme Blue team and I'm going to follow up with them later. I then played a little bit of Wii tennis which we lost.

Tomorrow is the opening ceremony, which should hopefully have some great Canadian bands, followed by the practice sessions and the second excursion. The practice sessions are always amusing as the judges make interesting decisions such as the one on graph paper in the past. My team chose to take the gondola up the mountains for tomorrow's excursion, while I chose the more relaxing hot springs. Hopefully both live up to expectations.

Monday, April 7, 2008

ACM ICPC World Finals 2008: Arrival in Banff, Canada

After 28 hours of flying (not counting stopover time and ground transportation) we finally arrived in Banff this afternoon. The journey took us from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Dakar (refuelling only) to New York (where we spent a night) to Minneapolis to Calgary (where we spent a night) to Banff. I'd love to hear of any other teams that may have had a longer journey as at registration they hadn't heard of anything as long as ours.

My camera was flat for our brief stopover in New York, however, we will be returning there for a couple days on the way back. We mostly just wandered around times square going into places that looked interesting and noting places to see when we return next week. Calgary was the first all but one of our delegation had seen of Canada. We were rather surprised by the weather as it was about 10 degrees, when we were expecting sub-zero weather. Calgary is a fairly large city, but there wasn't all that much to see in the short time we had. Below is a picture of the city's skyline.

After a night in Calgary we headed back to the airport where we caught the 2 hour bus to Banff. In Calgary there were tiny patches of snow, but Banff is in the mountains and so there's plenty snow around. Banff is the largest national park in Canada, situated in the Rocky Mountains. We're staying in the Banff Springs Hotel, which I think is an amazing hotel. Not such a great shot, but below is what the hotel looks like from the outside.

And here's a shot of the team and me outside the hotel (me, Migael, Tamara, Timothy):

We arrived in Banff at 14:30 and dinner being the first scheduled activity started only at 18:00, so we took a walk up one of the mountains. In the middle of the many snowball-fights we decided to put together a little snowman. However, this would be no ordinary snowman -- it was made to look like Bruce. It's a snowbruce! :-P

After the walk up the mountain we went to see the river, which was half frozen, as well as the frozen waterfall. Below is a shot of the scenery with the river in the foreground.

Dinner was pretty good. We met the RCD from Virginia with which we had a very interesting conversation on their experiences versus ours as well as a discussion on the American economy. After dinner they had some wild birds on show and we got to hold an owl:

After dinner we went to check out how registration was going. We were scheduled to register at 20:00, however, things seemed to be moving very efficiently so were able to register early. I find it annoying that they alternate between some years having a very efficient registration process and others (2005 and 2007) being very inefficient. During the registration process we picked up the load of free goodies which you can see below. Hopefully they are more reasonable this year like they were last year with the enforcement of wearing the single t-shirt for so many events.

Just recently to end off the day they had two speakers giving talks on Chinook (the project that solved checkers) and IBM's Unified Parallel C compiler. They were both very interesting and I hope they are a sign of what's to come!

That's all for today. Time for sleep. Tomorrow there's the IBM TechTrek which is usually a rather boring sequence of talks, followed by an excursion to the Columbia Icefield, which has the largest ice glacier south of the artic.