The American Computer Science League All-Star Contest

Short version: I (my mom) paid $200 so that I could fly to Cincinnati, write 1 program, answer 12 multiple-choice question, play Axis & Allies for 8 hrs, and then fly back.

Long version:
So I skipped most of the 2nd day of DI training to catch a plane with the rest of the Taylor ACSL team (Senior 3 Team: me, fairley, and aditya; Intermediate 3 Team: frank, max, matt) and Mrs. Scherer to Cincinnati. The plane ride was fairly uneventful, though I did manage to “beat” Frank twice at chess. The first time, we didn’t finish, but I had a pretty big piece advantage when we had to pack up, and the second, I was actually behind a bishop and knight in the endgame when he fudged up and let me get a pawn across, whereupon he resigned. ‘Neways, we get there and get in our rental car to go to our hotel. It turns out that we have a Durango, which, with 7 ppl and various laptops, luggage, and other belongings, isn’t that big. We arrive at the hotel past 11:00 at night, whereupon we stay up for another 2ish hours watching family guy and hanging out. Frank, Fairley, and I go back to our room, where we, with none of us actually tired, lie in bed and talk for awhile. Around 4, Fairley comments that mebbe we should try to go to sleep.
We then wake up at 550 to get ready to go to contest. With 1 1/2 hr of sleep, we run to Lakota East High School or something. It was actually a pretty new school, with natural light and stadium-like basketball court (I don’t know what you call it, but it’s like a real court, not a school one; the court is sunk in the middle, while spectators can sit for several rows up on all sides.) The hallways actually have street names, and their auditorium had a broadway-like sign above it. It was a lot smaller than Taylor, however (in Ohio, it was considered a 2A school; dunno if it’s the same system), but obviously, a lot nicer.
Another little nifty thing about this contest is that while it is called ACSL, there were actually a couple teams from Romania, Croatia, and Canada. Apparently, them Eastern European countries consistently come in and own all the American teams up. Go figure.
So for the actual contest, it started when all the teams go to the auditorium and pick up the programming packets at the same time, whereupon we all read and work through the problems for about 1/2 hr without computers and have the opportunity to ask questions about the problems. We then run over to our room (each team has its own classroom to work in) and start programming the problems.
It was pretty easy.
See, for TCEA and local contests, we have 18 problems to do in 2 hrs. At this contest, we had, effectively, 3 hrs to do 4. And I had done some practice on programs from previous years, and figured them to be jokes. So, in the end, Aditya programmed 2, I did 1, and Fairley did the hard one, while we all sat around and wrote up test cases, since each program only gets one run to get all the correct outputs.
We actually tossed balls of paper into the trashcan and searched the classroom and stuff. We actually thought the room was that of a female teacher’s, since there were arts/crafts stuff (like yarn) in the drawers, and it was just kind of fruit-ily designed, but it turns out it was for a Male Football coach. Weird stuff. And apparently, they actually have real classes there, like 7 different types of history (can’t ‘member details, but it was obscure stuff, like sports history, no joke) and a meditation class and stuff.
Anyways, we finish with lots of time, though we had figured that we’d wait till the very end of the time, because it’d be better to just do test cases over and over since we only had one run for each program to work. Well, about 10 min before the end, I come up with a relatively unspecial case where one of our programs didn’t work (not really a trick case, per se, but the way that the program was written, it was a likely flaw). Unable to fix it, we go through grading, getting perfect scores on the first 3. On the very last problem, there was an amazing amount of tension as to whether the case would show up, but it didn’t. Thank goodness. Perfect score on programming (on a side note, while we thought programming was a joke, we were probably one of less than 5 teams in the entire competition, across all division, of 70ish teams that got a perfect score).
We have lunch, then go to the written, which was 12 multiple-choice questions about random topics that we “learned” over the year (the senior team was basically working off what we ‘membered from fishmen year when we learned it. And the practice we did for written involved 1-2 written tests on the plane, figured mentally). While none of the problems were hard, they were very tedious, like trying to find cycles on a graph (don’t ask; just know that there isn’t an easy way to do it. You have a rough mental tactic towards approaching it, but often, the algorithm often involves staring at the picture for awhile and hoping that you see something), working through recursive functions, and reading assembly. In the end, I got 9/12 (10/12 for my teammates) after some really stupid mistakes (-3-1=-2, 1+2+3+4+6+12=24). We came out of that pretty confident, and then just kind of hung out, walked around the school, etc for about an hour.
The award ceremony was pretty boring, as they first announced all the regional winners and stuff from over the year (a long string of names and schools). Next, they announced “high” scores on the written test, which went as low as 6-7/12, which resulted in a large majority of the kids getting some sort of award, which happened to be books (we weren’t allowed to choose; they assigned us books based on estimated skills lvls. I got a book called the “pragmatic programmer”). That took forever, and then they finally got around to the actual awards.
It was actually kind of funny, because they started with the “junior division”, which I guess must be some weird pre-cs lvl, because our CS1 kids start in intermediate. Anyways, we got a kick out of seeing some 9/10th graders getting owned by jr high kids. After that, they announced Intermediate 3, and our intermediate team won. We were pretty happy about that (you must understand, none of us really cared about ACSL, noted by the 1 1/2 hr of sleep and the lack of studying, so when we did well, it was kind of a “whatever”), seeing the lvl of preparation, and that a Taylor team, as far as I can determine by the records on the website, has never placed before. Regardless, they felt gypped when they gave the school a printer, instead of the PDAs they gave to each student last year. In the Intermediate 5 division, they Croatians owned (btw, they’re really loud. When they were announced, it was like a wolfpack, how they were howling and clapping).
In the Senior 3 division, things went pretty well. When they announced that 2nd place got 68 pts (if you haven’t done the math, as I assumed you haven’t, we got 69 pts, and knew that b4 the awards), I swear, we must have been happier than the team that got 2nd. Regardless, we went up for our award as well, which was pretty awesome. While I still don’t care about ACSL, it’s good for bragging rights. Unfortunately, they only gave 1 printer to each school, regardless of how many teams from that school won. Croatians owned Senior 5.
After that, we were in good spirits, sang happy birthday to Mr. C’s answering machine, and went back to the hotel. Oddly enough, I think we were feeling good more because we knew that we would get back to the hotel by 6, and that we didn’t have to wake up until 10 the next morning, and we had “Axis & Allies” with us (I also think that we were more excited about Axis & Allies than the actual ACSL competition). If you don’t know, A&A is kind of like Risk; ie, war game where you place troops in countries, attack other countries, roll dice, etc. Except it’s a lot more complicated (after playing it, it actually isn’t that complicated, for a game; it’s just a lot more involved than Risk. But mebbe that’s because I spend way too much time thinking about and playing various computer/board strategy games), as there are multiple types of troops, naval/air units, technology research, etc. ‘Neways, the game is split into 2 teams, with Britain, the US, and the USSR on one side, and Germany and Japan on the other. While it might sound unbalanced, the game starts in 1942, where Germany has France already, and Japan has basically all of SE Asia, so it turns out pretty okay. Me and Fairley had never played before, and the board starts kind of complicated, so we spend about an hour setting up and discussing rules before going to Fazolis for dinner.
Fazoli’s was interesting. I ended up splurging just a little, getting a “Freezi’s” Strawberry Smoothie something-or-other (it’s okay; I spent about $12 for the entire trip) and an oven-packed spaghetti. Unfortunately, they offered “bottomless” spaghetti/alfredo, which put Matt, Max, and Aditya into an eating contest. In the end, it was less-than-incredible, but still funny, as they backed out at 3 bowls each, calling what was basically a tie (Matt won on the breadsticks tiebreaker, however.)
Back to Axis & Allies. So we started playing, with the teams as Me(USSR), Max (US), and Fairley(Britain), and Aditya(Germany) and Matt(Japan). It was extremely slow, but it was a lot of fun, though we got owned in the end (which I can defend partially since Aditya kind of cheated due to general ignorance of the rules). We got to sleep around 4, and then left at 11 the next morning.
Other than kind of losing a laptop in an airport, the way back was kind of boring (we’re just hoping that Taylor High School on the bag and KISD on the laptop and the security on it will get it sent back), but we were all dead ‘neways.
And that’s that.

End of Another CSC Season

The TCEA Computer Science State Competition was yesterday, and it ending marked the end of the regular CS season (discounting other side contests, including UIL and ACSL). But let’s rewind.
Friday was the day we were supposed to bus up to San An for the contest, but Wind Ensemble had UIL, so Fairley, Tom, and I went to that and drove up with the Fairleys. UIL went, in my opinion, very well. A lot of it sounded very good, with Nick sounding exceptionally awesome on his solo in “Horkstow Grange”, but I’ve come to expect that. My solo went about how I wanted, with fewer cracked pitches than in the previous days, though I did have to back off a lot, to avoid “offending the judges”, as Dr. Sedatole told me to do. Thankfully, I managed to play past the slightly cracked lip and cankersore I received from my darned cold. Sightreading went fine as well, though I can’t say it was the most exciting piece I’ve ever gotten. I don’t think there was near enough in the piece itself for us to work with, but that’s fine.
We left soon after to go to San An. Fairley, thank your parents for driving us. The ride up was fine, if in slightly cramped quarters. When we arrived, we met up with Frank, Farhad, and Matt, who apparently were partying just fine at about 9. A “2 for 1” pizza deal and a visit from Tom’s EMT cousin, who was on call at the time, we settled in to stay up. For quite awhile, my team worked on a connectivity algorithm (ask me about it later if you really care). Actually, it was more Frank and Fairley working, while I just chimed in with occasional comments. We stayed up till 2-3 ish doing this, while Tom managed to find some… curious programming on HBO that I did my best not to watch, but we won’t talk about that.
Waking up tired, of course, we went to contest at Reagan High School, which was actually pretty nice for a school (coincidentally, we saw a notice on the wall for ppl to join Reagan Guard. ‘Neone ‘member that?) that had an entrance that looked like a prison. Unlike our prison, they had a courtyard in the middle and windows. ‘Neways, the contest was held in a similarly odd manner, with tables going up and down a hallway, but it worked better than last year.
The contest itself went pretty well for our team. I worked from the bottom up, writing out all 6 2s, 5 5s, and 1 9. I managed to type all but 2 5s, maintaining my pride by getting that one 9. Fairley got 3 9s and a 5 in great time, with one of the 9s solved with connectivity, a product of staying up. Frank, unfortunately, picked the 2 hardest programs to work on, and, chasing the sweep, didn’t give up, but got neither. We felt a bit shaky after the fact, but I think, on the whole, it was a much better packet than we’ve seen from TCEA since last year’s area packet. That was good enough for a 2nd place finish to the Cy-Falls team, a team that really did deserve 1st, though it was very close. Our 2nd team had 40 pts to a 10th place 43 pts, so they did extremely well. In the end, I’m very happy with the results of our slap-together team.
With both of those over, my extra-curricular weight just got a lot lighter. Now to finish off the APs.

Recap on Life

Olympics, CS, Solo

So I’ve been a bit too busy to write, which basically means I was addictively watching the Olympics these past 2 weeks. Sure, a lot of the events aren’t worth watching, but there’s stuff to do in the breaks. I have other concerns, however.
I’m sure enough of my manhood that I can say that I like figure skating, mostly due to a family filled with females. The womens’ singles were this last week, and as exciting as it was, I was quite disappointed. The new scoring system is supposedly more foolproof, but I really think it’s killed a lot of it. I might be completely off, not knowing the details of the sport, but basically, the new system is designed to have more calculated, objective scoring than the old one, giving credit for specific moves and stuff in an effort to prevent the disaster of pairs at the last Olympics. Unfortunately, as I saw it, the athletes instead seemed a bit tense about getting all of those moves right and racking up the points with a lot of moves instead of just really cool skating. It’d be like if in band/orch/choir, the group was judged on how many notes they hit instead of how much music they made out of the music. But as I said, I’m a layman in the sport.

After the dinner concert last week, we finally got new music for the UIL season, including a really cool piece called “J’ai ete au bal” (accent aigu’s over the e’s in ete). When I got it, I looked at the front page, which covers 100 measures, and I had literally 10 notes on it. Typical, I though, flipping the page to probably the most insane tuba solo I have ever seen! It’s quite odd, because I felt quite a bit of pressure to do well. For Region Band, as important as it is, it really has been just, “whatever”, without a whole lot of stress, but having to play a solo in front of a room of your peers, and later, a panel of judges and parents, is beyond ‘nething else I’ve had to do. The first night, I looked over it and hacked through it, but the day after, there was definitely some insane practicing going on. It’s funny how it works, cuz when I play it in class and stuff, I play it, and then afterwards, go “f*ck” almost everytime, because it’s never nearly as good as it should be. People say, “good job” and whatever, but Jandaisms definitely win this time: “The only real judge is yourself”, because even if people think it sounds good, I know it should be a lot better. Guess it just means more practicing.

Frank and Fairley are absolutely insane (David, Willie, you guys are still awesome, but these guys are definitely making their move). So, without the mentioned two having ever met each other, we managed to score 87 points, a problem away from sweeping, and take 2nd place to the CyFalls team that has been on top for 3 years. We’ve gotten that close with, a basically, untested team. Those two are incredible.
Our pre-game was pretty interesting. We managed to take the grounds of the Prime Collective and update it into an updated system with Scanner, printf, and more shortcuts. We nailed a couple types of common problems to commit to memory (which most directly caused an instant solution to at least one 9pter), and just about prepared as much as a team could without ever really working together. In contest, we had an early scare, along with a slew of incorrects on easy problems, but thank goodness for Frank, who managed to cover my butt. General brilliance and good preparation covered up terrible organization, and it went really well. Good job, boys, I’m proud.

Life is spelled S-C-H-O-O-L. At least, 2nd semester it is

Back to school. Fun. I know all about it.
It’s better and worse than it was before. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but I’ve been unable to maintain my Hope for studying and such. I excuse it by saying that I haven’t had as much work, but it’s just that: an excuse. I’ve done infinitely more math hw at home than I did during the first semester, literally. So I guess that’s something.
For those of you who shared my anxiety for testing results, it was good. I qualified for National Merit on my SAT, and Shellum gave an apparently generous curve on the exam, so I’ve managed to hang onto my A’s for another semester. Unfortunately, Shellum is also leaving.
True, I knew this about a year ago, but I had hoped that she loved our class enough to watch us finish. But she is neither staying, nor doing “Wasteland” with us. Oh well. Even as tough as that class is, I think I’ve managed to get more out of it than English for the past 3 years (Mrs. Jaime’s class was very good as well). Looking at what we do, it’s basically insane test, discussion, and essay. Not much different than the past 3 years, you might say? Tremendously.
It’s odd, how I look back, and I think, “Dude, I can’t believe we weren’t doing this in 8th grade. True, we didn’t know as much, but what we’ve done has prepared us not at all for this. I’ve gotten so much out of this class, and I think that I was at least vaguely capable of this work for awhile.” Taylor’s going down the drain.
Past school, my CSC team went to a contest, where we managed to pull in 2nd, which was quite nice, considering that we hadn’t done any contest programming for over 6 months. We got off to a slow start and had some difficulties with the judges, but it ended up okay. Unfortunately, there is more.
So yesterday, Mr. C, my CS teacher, comes up to me and asks me why I wasn’t going to the next contest (a week from next sat). I tell him that DNev has AD so we weren’t going to go, since we’ve only ever gone as a team, but apparently he had a problem with this, so he takes me into his office so I can speak with him and Super-Scherer. It literally took 40 min, so I’ll paraphrase (note, it was much more friendly than this translation and not near as harsh):
Mr. C: “I think you’re being arrogant by not going and programming only as a team. Where do your loyalties lie: to your team or to the Taylor CSC? You need to go to the next contest to help everyone, because right now, you’re not contributing enough. I’m going to threaten you with Code Wars if you don’t go to the next contest.”
Me: “…okay.”
As I said, it was significantly more complicated and respectful than that, and in the end, all we resolved was that I would agree to talk to my team. Well, that has transpired, so me and Willie are going to pick up our third man and go to contest. Wish us luck: we have no clue what’s going to happen.
I would write more, but there is distinctly a steel wall blocking my train of thought. Perhaps I’ll find the door and update soon. Mebbe I’ll wait my usual week.