Wednesday, August 20, 2008

IOI Day 4: Pyramids and Task Selection

This morning there was another GA meeting to discuss any problems with the first day of competition. I asked Taha, one of the leading members of the HSC, and he told me there were no appeals so not much would happen at the meeting. Given this and me being really exhausted I chose an extra hour of sleep in favour of attending the meeting, while our team leader attended just in case anything important arose.

I had some interesting words with Taha last night. He said that there was only a single 100% submission for fish, the hardest task, and that the marks were very low in general. He proposed and set islands, the medium problem, and it was very interesting hearing the procedures he had to go through to get the task and most importantly the test data really polished. It's disappointing that all the organisation around him and the contest itself, i.e. the outings and such, have been plagued by so many problems.

After breakfast this morning (the same...again!) we went to the pyramids of Giza. You hear so much about the history behind the pyramids, possibly more than any other man-made structure that it's amazing to simply think that we were actually going to see them. Last night, as mentioned in my previous post, we saw a glimpse of some pyramids. I had no idea at the time, but these happened to be the ones we were to go up close to today.

When the bus drove past the pyramids we were able for the first time to put into perspective just how amazing a feat it was for man to have built such structures so many years ago. Each block was nearly the height of an average person. It's just amazing getting the opportunity to see them so close I don't think I'll ever get over it.

When we got out the bus for the first time to get an overall view of the three pyramids we were immediately scavenged by locals trying to make a quick buck out of people. They would put one of those material things on your head and get a picture taken of you with them after which they'd ask for money. This happened to me once (pic below), but I never had any money on me so I couldn't pay and he didn't seem to frustrated. After this, however, Robert and Mark got caught out with the local taking the picture with Rob's camera. It looked for a moment that he wasn't going to return the camera until he received money, but then one of our guides came to the rescue!

After taking enough pictures we were called back to the bus which took us right down to the pyramids. Here we had a rather interesting encounter with a local and his camel. This guy approached him with his camel and almost forced him to hop on, while Schalk-Willem continuously said "No money, no money!" and he replied "You student, free for you." After a few words flew back and forth he hopped on the camel. I rushed in front of the camel to get the following picture:

He then insisted that I got on the camel together with Schalk-Willem, which after a bit of hesitation I did. He gave us a nice camel ride and even gave me the whip to speed him up. Then he took our cameras and took what turned out to be very nice photos:

During the ride he asked us if we had US dollars or Euros. I said South African money only, believing I had brought my wallet with me. He got a bit confused and upset, but sounded eventually like he would accept it. Shortly after he let me get off so that Schalk-Willem could ride the camel alone without him holding the lead. When he asked for money I quickly felt in my pocket and realised I had left my wallet in our room (since I had no local money anyway) and he wasn't happy to hear this. During the ride our team leader, Peter, took a couple pictures of us and so he knew we weren't alone. So I went to go ask Peter, but saw our guide and decided to ask him instead.

Our guide had local money and we agreed that 10 Egyptian Pounds ($2) was a fair price. Unfortunately the camel man didn't agree with our definition of fair. He had a lengthy, heated argument with our guide in Arabic which drew quite a crowd. I later found out he wanted 40 pounds for each of us, i.e. 80 pounds ($16) and that our guide said he could do nothing to us and was threatening not to pay a thing. He eventually handed over the money (10 pounds) and we walked away in hysterical laughter anxiously trying to find out what he had said.

After that was all over we went to stand on the edge of one of the pyramids. The blocks were so large that we could only climb up one level. It was an awesome feeling to be able to stand on the pyramids and touch them. Unfortunately we were told not to go inside the pyramids, which we later found out some of the teams had done. I had heard the day before that they only allow a limited number of people in a day, but this was obviously not very accurate.

After nearly reaching the Great Pyramid of Giza (the only standing of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) we were called back to the bus. The last stopover was the Sphinx. I just couldn't believe that we were actually seeing all this for real, it was that amazing. It was right there in front of us. There was a bit of a crowd to get above the Sphinx to get a good view. In this area we were constantly bumping into locals trying to sell things, but we never bought anything.

Once that was all over we headed back to Mubarak City. I was zonked out the whole way back. When we arrived we quickly had lunch which ended with some of the contestants constructing a pyramid of cans. After lunch we had a few hours for activities, but I had my presentation to finish off so I only booked for the paintball at 17:00.

Just before the paintball our team had got hooked onto Counter Strike which also attracted some other contestants. Lets see if this starts a new trend in IOI like we've had in our SACO for a few years now. We were told earlier that the paintball would be 40 on 40, but this was definitely not happening once we saw the field. It ended up being 5 on 5 matches, but they took forever to split us into teams and get things going that by 18:00 they were still busy with the second game. While it looked exciting, us leaders had an important GA meeting to attend to scrutinise the second set of tasks for tomorrow.

The meeting began with some other matters such as the IOI Workshop that took place in May this year and the possibility of a new IOI logo for the return to Bulgaria (hosts of the first IOI) next year. The tasks were then distributed for us to check. The problem set for tomorrow is a really great set, even better than yesterday's. Unfortunately they were once again all batch tasks with no data or interactive problems. This was one of three major objections, the others were that the last problem was similar to a previous task and that the story behind the first one was similar to a previous task. All major objections were rejected while all sixteen minor objections were accepted.

Thankfully food had arrived before we were done with the meeting and so dinner went quickly. We then had a meeting with the leaders from Nigeria and Ghana to discuss introducing an IOI-like competition for the African continent. For now it looks like it will be hosted in Nigeria and about eight countries will be invited. It's nice to see other African countries taking such initiative and we're gladly supporting them. I also discussed the ACM ICPC-like competition I've been planning with them and they're really eager to get more West African universities to enter.

Last night I mentioned to Taha that I would probably be going to the Egyptian museum instead of Dream Park World on Thursday. He put forward the suggestion that we have the option of going to the museum all paid for and such instead of the park and they announced they were doing this at the GA meeting. I was very impressed that he managed to get this changed! Later on though they told us the contestants had to go to the park and only us leaders had the choice, but we're going anyway.

At about 22:00 we were given permission to leave. There was a little mis-communication with those guarding the exit, but we eventually got out. The security was also much tighter as we were walked to our rooms and not allowed to wander inside the building.

So tomorrow is the second and final day of competition. I'm very eager and stressed right now to find out how the guys are going to manage with the problems. The first one is easy, the second needs some thought and the last one is easy to get some marks but I'm still not sure yet how to score full marks, although I have ideas. I am also presenting our paper on "Challenges Running a Computer Olympiad in South Africa" tomorrow morning at 10:30. In the evening us team leaders have a VIP dinner with the H.E. Minister of Communications and IT after some well-earned free time.

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