Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bad tea

Firstly, the TCCC final: it sucked. The "easy" problem took forever to get working, a stupid bug killed the medium, and all this left me without time to do the hard, so I ended up stone last. Oh well, at least I made the finals.

The more I go to the USA, the more I agree with Douglas Adams that tea is not part of American culture (the way it is in British culture) simply because they don't drink proper tea. I actually had some decent tea in New York with the Google Code Jam finals, but this time it was back to the rubbish. To start with, it seems that herbal stuff is now fashionable, instead of good old British-style Ceylon tea. Then, they don't know how to make it. To make a proper British cup of tea, the water has to be boiling when it hits the teabag. An insulated container with a tap, filled with water that was boiling half an hour ago, just doesn't cut it. Apparently there is also a nation-wide shortage of plastic spoons, because both at the hotel and on United Airlines, the only implement provided to stir the tea was a short, thin plastic straw. Think about this: the larger the cross-section, the better the stirrer. A thin plastic straw is almost completely useless. My finger would be more effective.

I had a wonderful cup of tea on SAA and a spoon with which to stir it, which just proves that it can be done right even in a low-pressure environment where water boils at a lower temperature.

Anyway, I'm posting this from back in South Africa, which means that this is the last I'm likely to post until either I go away again (nothing planned at the moment) or something annoys me enough to write about it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Enigma

No, not an enigma, the Enigma. As an advertising stunt, the NSA has borrowed a genuine working WWII German Enigma machine. These were used to encode a lot of German military signal traffic, and was broken by the Allies - quite possibly changing the course of history.

Here's me with the Enigma:

Curses, said the red coder

The curses are about the evils of jet-lag. Tuesday night I woke up a few times but managed to get to sleep again each time. Last night I woke up at about 2:30am and never really managed to get back to sleep.

Nevertheless, it seems that I haven't completely lost my touch, because I managed to pull off second place in my semi-final (despite making a mess of the medium problem, although it turned out not to matter). That puts me straight through to the finals, without having to compete in the wildcard room this afternoon.

For those of you with a decent internet connection, the final will be webcast tomorrow. It's at 1:30pm PST (11:30pm SAST - a bit late I know). Hopefully I can kick butt, especially since several of the top seeds have already been eliminated and some others must compete for the 2 slots from the wildcard round.

No photos yet, partially because I haven't been out to see any sights (I don't think there are many), and partly because I haven't had time to download them off my camera.

Gotta go - the NSA is giving a presentation. Should be... interesting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

TCCC round 1

I'm now at the TopCoder event. The first algorithm semi-final took place this morning. They've got monitors spread around the room that mirror what is on the contestant's monitors, which makes it into more of a spectator sport that I would have expected. It's only really other programmers who are likely to find it that interesting though. The organisation is actually extremely slick: big screens at the front which show the standings, booths for the sponsors, the works. I'll post pictures when I get around to it. The first semifinal was quite interesting: the number 1 seed was knocked out completely. Hopefully the same thing doesn't happen to me tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tales from a confusing airport

I'm currently in LAX (that is, while writing this - it's unlikely to be the case when you read this). I think it is one of the worst signposted airports I've been through. I knew (but only because I'd previously read my itinerary and made a note of it) that I had to get to terminal 8. After walking out of customs there was ground transportation etc, but nothing to indicate how to get to any other terminal. After asking someone, I learned that I should go up an escalator, which deposits me at the curbside where people get dropped off, then walk in a particular direction. I was at terminal 6, after a short walk I was at terminal 7, then... that was the end of the building. I ended up walking inside and noticing I sign for a particular gate range which included the gate I'd noticed was the departure gate for my flight, so I followed that and ended up where I needed to be. Heaven help anyone who doesn't speak English or use the Latin symbols for numbers.

On the plus side, the WiFi is free :-)

Anyway, if you haven't been following, this trip is for the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge. Unlike the Google Code Jam, they've put me on the flight schedule from hell: Cape Town - London - Los Angeles - San Diego, and returning San Diego - San Francisco - Frankfurt - Cape Town, with about 7 hours of temporal homicide in Frankfurt and arriving in Cape Town at 6am. The
only good news is that my first round isn't until Thursday. I don't know what internet access will be like, so I'll post more if and when I can.