Saturday, January 29, 2005

House of Dust

Gorodets Labour Camp: July 20th - 29th

If anything was plenty in Gorodets, it was dust. First, we slept in room #8. When we arrived, it was clean… but after a “sleeping bag” fight, it was dirty again. And to make matters even worse, we got our sleeping bags dirty as well. Then we slept on the “tree house” in the attic. It wasn’t really a tree house, because there was no tree - but it reminded me of one. You can call it a jungle gym if you like. Sleeping in the basement was fun as well - it was cold and dirty, but had no flies.

After Konstantinov left, Anton replaced him as our supervisor. Anton made life much easier - he insisted in doing all the cooking and cleaning himself and we quickly became lazy. Konstantinov had two batteries, one of which powered his laptop (craptop by our standards) and the other powered his keyboard (the musical kind). Anton was an expert organ player, and we enjoyed his performances very much. Anton told us that last year a kid wanted to sleep on the water tower, and that the supervisor at that time had to sleep up there with him. Life was fun.

How big are the fish? I ask a guy how big are his fish? And he says <—- this big —-> stretching out his arms. All’s well, except when you show someone a dimension, you keep your arms still.

Fifty bucks: Janos is afraid to get lost (Its Russia). What will he de do? What will he say? Most locals doesn’t speak English. So he is thinking: What will they say? “Fifty bucks?” Janos will give them the fifty bucks. They will take it and say “Fifty bucks?” again - because thats probably the only thing they know.

Swim away: We swam in the river. There were no showers, so it was our only source of becoming clean. The current was fast in the middle, so Konstantinov forbid us to swim there. When Anton came, the first thing we did was to swim across. That colony on the other side had electricity and broadband (Russian edition). Did I say Anton was an expert swimmer as well?

Cooking: Konstantinov had very nice frying pans. He bought them on the cheap - they had defects (the company could not sell them, so employees stole them). They were extremely heavy and almost impossible to clean (but Konstantinov managed to do that anyway). One time, I had nowhere to put the frying pan, so I put it inside a plastic bucket of water. Man, that was ever stupid. The sides of the bucket melted and glued themselves onto the frying pan. This ruined the bucket - but that wasn’t the real problem - someone had to clean the plastic off the frying pan. That someone was the ever-helpful Anton.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 02:17 PM /

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Urban Exploration

We people are going to be doing some Urban Exploration soon. My Exercise Science presentation on “Extreme Sports” was a major success. Good tools make good presentations. And that means using Keynote, Apple’s stunning presentation software. Its similar to Powerpoint, but much much better. And I managed to get my hands on Keynote 2 which came out only a few days ago on Jan. 22. Even the losers found it funny. Man, were they ever laughing! Thanks to them, my blog is going to get a lot more popular. The two best parts:

Elevator Surfing: What started out as a new branch of urban exploration - became a sport in its own right. Basically, the idea is to move around on top of elevators. In most places, elevator surfing is illegal. It is also very dangerous: surfers can be crushed between the elevator and the top, sides or bottom of the shaft, be struck by counterweight, or simply slip off the elevator - or even be knocked off by a passing elevator. It is usually performed in skyscrapers or on college campuses. Most large buildings have elevators grouped close together. Participants usually go early in the morning (at day, others have to use the elevator for valid reasons). Once in the elevator, they open the safety hatch and climb on top. Another way to enter is to force the doors open on the floor above the elevator and jump down. While this is easier to do, the elevator should not be moving (for obvious reasons). Accomplices would often press buttons on different floors to keep the elevator moving (otherwise the surfing would be rather boring).

Urban Housework: The idea of urban housework is making vacuuming a sport. Basically, people (known as suckers) go outside and start vacuuming the great outdoors. Some believe that this will cause damage to the natural recycling of decaying matter, while others argue that the vacuum has to be emptied somewhere. Some argue that the great outdoors aren’t and shouldn’t be clean. Recent urban housework advocates are attempting to expand the sport to include downhill vacuuming, mop-joust, inner city clothes drying, apocalypse dishwashing and so on.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 09:20 PM /

Everything is under control

Homework is finished. It took a while, the teachers tried to fail me, but I showed them who is boss and did it. What a bloody waste of time. Now, its time to review for exams (they are just like tests except bigger, why would anyone be scared of them?). I never reviewed before, but I would have to now… this place was silent for three days too many. I am working on another blog, it looks like this one, but can do more cool tricks like generate LaTeX. But more on that later. Google AdSense profits showed a dent in traffic (less impressions per visit rather). Once people see nothing new they close the window instead of clicking the post-a-comment link. Rapid coverage resumes tomorrow. The party is bigger, and Oleg is bigger too.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 09:02 PM /

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Don't give me a zero!

When you don’t hand in an assignment, you get a mark of 0. What kind of mark is that? Thats a no mark. You should be getting a mark proportional to the marks you are getting now. Suppose the coefficient is k = 1/2 and all assignments weigh the same (in schools k=0). That means instead of getting 0, you get 1/2 your standard mark.

If you hand in one assignment and get 100, and if you don’t hand in the next, you get a mark of 50 on it. Thus, your average becomes 75. If you don’t hand in another assignment, you get a mark of 37.5, moving your average down to 62.5. Only after two more unhanded assignments, you start failing with 63/128 (which is still bumped up to 1/2).

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 09:18 PM /

Friday, January 21, 2005

Chemistry Textbooks

I and Kirill were arguing:

REGARDING: Chemistry textbooks.

I SAID: Its a picture book.

HE SAID: Its a photo album.

I SAID: Its a poorly written science fiction novel.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 10:36 PM / Comments (1)

Our Readers Write

The gloves, what happened to them? Oh, I gave them back (accidents happen every other day).

You going to take revenge on Vlad? No, I officially gave up.

You planning a new party? How about a trip to the zoo? Maybe, after the IMO. Speaking of which, that was definitely the coldest day this winter.

How do you expect people to give you PayPal™ cash? I don’t, the amount is still 0, but you know: one day, I might earn a few dollars.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:00 PM /

Who the hell is Ben?

Making a non-existent person come to life is harder than it seems. Before I created Justin… now I made Ben. I had to make a group project (it could have not been individual) so I wrote in the name Ben (has to be someone from school, not necessarily the class). The thing is: there is no Ben. Ben does not exist. But the teacher doesn’t know that. Trouble is: the teacher wants to see this Ben; but I say, Ben isn’t evaluated for this thing, and that he is too lazy to come. Ben surfaced in other places… in the chess club, in the CNML. I wonder if the teachers post a reward for this guy, Ben. Maybe I should ally with a few people and create another Koz’ma Prutkov.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 04:33 PM / Comments (1)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Regarding Textbooks

Has anyone bought a textbook recently? Anyone notice the outrageous prices? I just burned around $280 USD on textbooks for three of my courses - and I am taking six courses in total. A thirty-page manual of supplementary notes - $17.65 USD. Universities realize that they hold monopolies on the textbook market, which allows them to charge outrageously high prices for their textbooks.

Even better are the “Special Cornell Edition” textbooks, of which our Cornell Store is the sole distributor of. The best example is the textbook for introductory chemistry; the same Olmsted & Williams that you use at the University of Toronto for your introductory chemistry class. So what’s the difference between the Cornell Edition (TM) Olmsted and Williams and the standard edition? Well, in the Cornell Edition, a few pages have been cut out and replaced with black and white photocopied pages of the same size. Yes, my friends, this entitles Cornell to charge something on the scale of $150 USD to’s more “reasonable” $132.95. Might I add that the Olmsted and Williams textbook is one of the worst chemistry textbooks I have ever seen.

But the shameless highway robbery of the textbook market doesn’t end there. Take, for example, the Purcell Electromagnetism book that I talked about a little while back.’s price is $103.44, much cheaper than the Cornell Store’s $154.50. As we clearly see, the university is taking great advantage of the on-campus store - after all, if you buy from the store, you know you’ll be getting the right “edition” of the textbook.

Textbook companies aren’t helping much with this price inflation either. There are two big problems that must be dealt with. First is the virtual monopoly a textbook company has with respect to its textbooks. The second is the profusion of new editions that plague the market.

If your professor chooses a textbook for a course, then the students of the course will, of course, have to buy the textbook. This practically allows the company to charge whatever it wants for that textbook. After all, the sales of the textbook are in no way related to the price. You don’t need Introduction to Economics to figure out what an excellent opportunity for businesses this is.

Let’s take a look at introductory calculus for a moment now. We can say with historical certainty that the calculus of integrals and differentials invented by Newton and Leibniz in the late 1600s hasn’t changed much since then. After all, the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus is still the same Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. So why do we need a rehash of it year after year? Adams Fifth Edition, Stewart Fifth Edition, and the endless books that we had in high school… every semi-decent university calculus lecturer seems to have their own two cents about d(fg)/dx = fg + fg’. And it seems that those two cents seem to change as rapidly as the US Mint’s coinage. Every year, on the year, the writers write and the publishers publish a new two cents on a basic rule that hasn’t changed for at least 300 years. Keeping up with their spiffy new editions (sarcasm fully intended) becomes a high-cost enterprise for students, considering how the previous edition ends up as recycling paper to print the new textbooks.

Well, I have to go now and put up my new collection of winter tinder on my bookshelf.

Posted by aSo, 02:28 PM / Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Big Checklist

Well, homework is piling up. I have so many things to do… until next Thursday. After that… exams. One time, I had no exams (just summatives)… Now, I have four exams: one per day. I don’t want to come to school every day; I rather have them split 2 and 2. The work load is more than what its worth (but I still feel inclined to do it). I would have to BS my way through it (whatever works). Oh well! What can I say?

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:28 PM /

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Heck, it was fun while it lasted...

Unfortunately for all of you (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I will be leaving for Cornell tomorrow. Considering that I have met most of you already, I can say quite confidently that I have had a very excellent break in this respect. However, I completely failed and wasted my five-week-long break in another respect, and that is workwise.

Before break, I swore to myself that I would work through all of Purcell’s Electricity and Magnetism. However, all I have accomplished is to partially read through the first and second chapters, and learn a fragment of the vector calculus required to work the problems in the book. Break seems to make people inefficient, but, as all of you can attest, inefficiency (a.k.a. procrastination, if the context is school work) is fun. And now that break is over…

…heck, it was fun while it lasted.

Posted by aSo, 11:51 PM / Comments (1)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Computing at DMCI

Hello, folks! I am in school. The connection here surprisingly sucks. Half the time, it is broken. Half the time, your computer freezes. The other half (there are three halves, what?), it sort of works. But right now, it sort of doesn’t work. When you want to download a “large enough” file, at first it goes relatively quickly (say at 30K/sec) but then it just as quickly slows down to (5K/sec).

Logging in takes like half an hour. Graduates might not be familiar with the “New System”. First, you have to wait for the Script Logic to load. It says “Registered to 15512 users”. Do I need to know that? Do I want to know that? No. Then why do I know that? Because the progress bar is always on strike. It simply doesn’t show progress. Then, when you do log in, you are bombarded by a McAfee security checks. You promptly close those.

Then you want to open the web browser. Once you open it, it takes you to the Cyberlinks page. The page takes 10 seconds to load and does not conform to the W3C standards. You wanna click the “STOP LOADING” button but the browser doesn’t listen. Finally you manage to type in the URL for blog posting. You write your entry and set the post status to “publish”. Except, it doesn’t get published (luckily it still gets saved, so I would have to republish it later at home).

There is this annoying floating language/drawing bar. Every time you minimize it, you get a dialog that this bar is actually useful, and tells you how you can bring it back. Also, it asks you whether or not to show the dialog again. You click the checkbox, but the thing doesn’t go away - it keeps coming back the next time you log in. How horrible.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:20 PM / Comments (2)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Gorodets: A brief history

Gorodets was a former hunting reserve. Before Konstantinov (the founder of the Tournament of Towns), there were three grannies. When they passed away, Konstantinov’s rich student, a business man, bought Gorodets for Konstantinov to set up his school. The place was composed of two buildings, a large shed and a water tower. Actually there were a few more structures, including a full-sized industrial chimney, but I doubt they were of any use to Konstantinov.

When Konstantinov acquired the area, the main building was missing a roof. Konstantinov rapidly set off to renovate the area. He set up a well, the toilets; brought in an oven, cooking supplies and his prized electric keyboard (battery powered). The only form of communication was Konstantinov’s cell phone. But since, the place was in the middle of nowhere, it worked only from atop of the water tower. Since people don’t live on the water tower, phone calls originated only in Gorodets (one-way dialing).

Electric lines passed through the area, but since the old owners did not pay for them - there was no electricity. Getting to Gorodets wasn’t easy. First, we had to take a train to Maloyaroslavets (a well-populated town), then a bus to Uhnov (a small village), then finally a taxi (and even that didn’t carry us all the way). Getting out of Gorodets was harder (taxis don’t stop there). Gorodets was a historic place. In surrounding woods, we saw the remains of barbed wire left from World War II. But thats for another time.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 12:35 AM / Comments (1)

Journey to Western...

Those who have read the classics of Chinese literature will understand the somewhat lacking - but nonetheless present - allusion in the title. As I mentioned before, after visiting UW, I then went on to visit the University of Western Ontario. Unlike the industrial brutalist UW, UWO possesses a much less intimidating campus. The weather there was poor, but at least there were no buildings to loom over you and cast their gloomy shadows over you as you walked through the campus.

By this time in the trip, I had become exceedingly lazy and did not take many pictures. After all, taking pictures at a university is the mark of tourist (then again, that was exactly what I was). The buildings are not oversized like the ones at UW, nor are they all built from concrete. However, the complaint I have about the buildings is their uniformity. Each building’s exterior is the same - unevenly shaped, but fitted, stone. Architectural conformity, just as at UW.

Posted by aSo, 12:02 AM / Comments (1)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Confused here!

Some people believe too much in me and think I can never get confused. At times, I am even abused! I and friend are talking. He tells me all those formulas, all those complicated names, writes in some weird notations (of his own), scribbles, and you don’t have a clue what’s going on - then he tells you “right?”. Discussion is only helpful if both sides understand it. I work on the basis that people grasp a concept fully at the end of the segment… but some people don’t even allow for that! They are using complicated and obscure terminology - and you have no clue what it is. @!&% - is it a noun? is it a verb? is it a process? a function? what is it supposed to do? what are you supposed to do with it? how do you do with it?

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 11:42 AM /

Friday, January 14, 2005

What a loser

Last month, I wrote the entry “such a loser” which proved to be quite popular… the saga continues: People in my exercise science class… are just your plain ordinary run-of-the-mill kind of losers. Spending time with them, is making me a loser - I am becoming one of them. Again, we have a supply teacher and off we go on the computers. I tell the guy next to me about my board. He looks: “Talk with Oleg”. What is the guy thinking? I’ll tell you what he is thinking - he is thinking that I am a loser (however, I think that he is the loser). The guy next to him wonders why anyone would want to “Talk with Oleg”.

Turns out there are such losers - deep losers! Those losers… are quite hard to find. There is a thing called loser chess. Basically you are supposed to give away all your pieces and if you can take you have to take. Now, these kind of people… are losers in every sense of the word. These losers never sleep. They call themselves the Loser Squad. You go on the chessclub any time, say past midnight, and they are still there playing in their Losers Quad. How they became such losers is beyond me.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 11:54 PM / Comments (1)

University of Waterloo

I recently went on a tour of two Ontarian universities, which explains Oleg’s recent complaint to me about not having written much in a while. The conversation goes like this:

O: you know what Adrian, you haven’t been posting much lately
A: No, I have not.
O: slacking off
A: I was going to write something tonight [now] though.
O: I will cut your salary in half :(

I was at the University of Waterloo for the last weekend and in London (where the University of Western Ontario is) for Monday through Wednesday morning. First, my impressions of Waterloo.

To all of you from UW, I’m sorry. You have one of the most depressing university campuses that I have ever been to (bear in mind that I go to school in Ithaca, New York, which is a hellhole if there ever was one). It’s one thing to be like Cornell and have one industrial brutalist building on the university, but to have a campus full of them is just painful. Unfortunately (rather fortunately), I haven’t many pictures of Waterloo - two notables are the arts library and the math/computer science building.

Another strange phenomenon that I have noticed with respect to Waterloo is about the weather. While all I have is a semi-complete inductive proof to this phenomenon - perhaps we can say that all I have is the proof for n equals 1 - that the sky at Kitchener/Waterloo is always overcast and gray. I have been to the University of Waterloo thrice (including this excursion); each time, the sun was obscured by clouds. As for this trip, just look at the pictures. They are consistent with my observation.

I realize that the topic of my trip to Waterloo was not promised in my last entry, but heck, promises are made to be broken.

Posted by aSo, 10:13 PM / Comments (3)

Law of Inertia

My theory: normal people (that doesn’t include tourists) are lazy. They don’t like travel. When I am at home, I don’t want to go to school. When I am at school, I don’t want to go home. A little strange, don’t you agree? The hardest point, as inertia suggests, is to get on the bus or walk out of the house - but once it is done, you keep rolling until you get to your destination. The bus gives a feeling of sadness - knowing that something is not done, or the day ahead will go to waste.

The bus really isn’t a nice place - especially if it is caught in traffic. Perhaps, I don’t like city travel is because its so boring - and this has nothing to do with inertia after all?!

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 02:09 PM /

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Who reads this blog anyway?

Lots of people - the IMO, ICHO, IPHO, IOI alumni; WPC people… Chessmasters… people who felt they deserved but didn’t make it… the losers from exercise science… pretty much everyone. It feels good to be connected. Sometimes these people notice things I miss… curses! :D

Update: We crossed over 5000 Google AdViews (from Dec. 31) and 13000 Total Visits (from Dec. 5). The number includes the board pages as well.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 08:39 PM / Comments (3)

Stop dying, already!

My teachers… they die too much. Sometimes, they get sick or take a few days off… sometimes they go their workshops or coach some sports team… whatever the reason, I have supply teachers every other day. But sometimes, they actually “die” - by “die”, I don’t mean die, (well, they sort of die) but take long, long vacations.

During my unfinished highschool years, I had a few such cases. One teacher got drunk in a car accident not to return till the Final Exams… another teacher, was only temporary, and went away after half the semester, and left another teacher as a replacement. One could really wonder who really was the actual teacher and who was the supply. It was all too sudden… we were never told of this. And now, our teacher “falls of the staircase and breaks her arm” or something like that… well, we’ve got a new teacher; but there is just so much disorder, so much panic! Who am I to complain if my marks are bound to increase?

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 02:22 PM / Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Can you hear me now?

The board is up an running. So do I need the blog anymore? Of course, I do. To remove confusion from the matter… the two will work in parallel, because they are made for different reasons - the blog is formal mostly “one way” monologue; whereas, the board is an informal discussion - where everybody is equal, sort of like communism. The blog is the place where I tell you my ideas, the board is where I come up with them. The only thing they have in common are the Google ads.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 07:40 PM / Comments (1)

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Progress bars

If you thought, watching progress bars was not very exciting, you could not be more wrong! Some people watch planes. Some watch trains. Some watch buildings. Some even watch homeless people. Why not progress bars? &*!$ing tourists.

Now back to progress bars… you can have 20, 50, running in one time. Two bottles of cola and you are off for the night. Every 1% (or 0.1% for big files) - you toast. You can make the window bigger and smaller, and than bigger again. The good thing about progress bars, is that they always animate in one direction (they only go up), after all, Progress must progress. Other than that, its definitely the most useless way to waste time.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 07:06 PM / Comments (3)

Back from Camp

According to Scott, I wasn’t going camping, I was going to camp. He reasons that camping requires tents, and university buildings simply don’t qualify. However, I reason, that campers (like the ones in computer games) go to camps - and camp, do camping, that sort of stuff. Plenty math people there, even Richard. I enjoyed the camp, solving problems and all - but at the last few days, I felt a little homesick; eating those “free” meatballs (we are given $100 to waste over 5 days) doesn’t seem to be too fun anymore.

The PayPal donations are still pegged at $0, but the Google “Add Cents” money is steadily going up. The official Oleg’s Big Party headline/slogan is “And more…” - I think thats the second most popular!? (The most popular is “You heard it here first!”).

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 10:08 AM / Comments (1)

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Four Stories of Absurdity

Well, as promised, this blog will be on the series of idiotic things that occurred in Vancouver training camp. It will be presented in the format of a series of short, unrelated stories.

Vancouver - IPhO Team Training Camp at UBC

Story No. 1 - The Electric Bus

The story starts off when the five of us decide to go on a mini-adventure into downtown Vancouver. Now, the buses in Vancouver sure are something… first of all, they are electric powered! (not all of them though, I think) What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, I guess electricity accelerates better than diesel, because the feel of the bus roaring out of a stop was not unlike that of an airplane taking off! The fun did not end there… eventually, the bus must come to a stop again, and amazingly enough, the brakes on this thing are just as good as the engine! Whether I was holding onto a handrail or sitting in my seat, the deceleration would jerk me about to the brink of falling over.

Once, we were on the bus and I insisted on standing even though there were plenty of empty seats… wait, I think this was in Korea, but I’ll tell the story anyway. It was really, REALLY hot, and so I gave the excuse that it was cooler to remain standing. Of course, my teammates thought this was outrageous (it was probably after the 2 exams sessions, when they had already lost faith in my reasoning skills), and demanded a physics explanation. I gave them one - heat transfer occurs faster when you are standing up because you expose greater surface area - and they had no more objections after that!

Story No. 2 - The Tub of Ice Cream

Our team arrived at UBC in the middle of a science outreach camp run by the physics department. So, you had in the same room about 30 little kids making balloons and messing around with markers… and then you had us in the corner.

Anyway, it so happened that one of their activities, rather chemistry related unfortunately, was “make our own ice cream.” So all these kids, presumably with a little bit of adult assistance, put their hands together and synthesized a gigantic tub of ice cream (picture later). It was time for the kids to go, and all the parents were there to pick them up. The question arose about what the heck they were going to do with the ice cream.

Haha, you guessed it, they gave ice cream that could feed 30 to a quintet of physics geeks… it was heaven on earth! =) They got us some bowls, some spoons, and most importantly, some chocolate and caramel squeeze bottles. The result cannot be described by mere words… I’ll just call it “IPh-cream” and leave it at that.

Anyway, it just goes to show that five physics Olympians can be quite creative with chocolate, caramel and a gigantic tub of ice cream!

Story No. 3 - What’s the Ph in IPhO?

The International Olympiad is an exciting place to be, and perhaps I was a bit too excited upon disembarking my plane in Vancouver. I began taking snapshots of anything and everything, much to the annoyance of our veteran Olympian Amir.

We were walking towards the physics building, and I was taking random scenery snapshots when Amir decided he had finally had enough. “Calm down, Tout,” he suggested, “this isn’t the International Photography Olympiad.” After that outburst, I was careful where I pointed my camera! =)

Story No. 4 - The Last Supper, and some CounterStrike

Our four days at UBC were nearly over. We had finished our (practice) experiment and theory exams… I did a lot better on them than I did on the real thing, unfortunately. Anyway, the story starts off at a Greek restaurant called Candida or something. Our team leader had instructed our deputy leader to take us out for a nice meal before we flew off to Korea, and so this Greek place was the one we went to.

We each ordered seemingly identical platters of souvlaki, and they were really, really big portions. We were halfway through our meal when Amir started looking like he would leave about half the plate unfinished. I chided him about being so wasteful, making stupid comments about hungry kids all over the world and other such cliches. I bothered him to the point that he decided he would not leave the restaurant until he finished his entire meal. At that point, the four of us became a bit concerned at the fact that our potential gold medallist might end up in hospital due to a burst stomach or something.

Our desperate pleading was of no use. Slowly but surely, Amir managed to cram down the rest of his souvlaki, looking pretty good when he finished too!

Well, after all that food, we had to walk it off, so we decided to walk all the way back to campus from midtown, retracing the path we took by bus earlier that day. We managed to get back without incident. However, the night was still young, our deputy leader was at some bar with friends, and we had nothing to do…

So, it was off to the arcade! First on the menu was Dance Dance Revolution. Peter turned out to be an amazing dancer, having practiced regularly in Calgary with his many girlfriends. Noemie was really good too because she did gymnastics in high school. As for the rest of us… my musical training enabled me to hit SOME beats, whereas Ali and Amir were simply hopeless.

Enough of the embarrassing DDR… it was time for some good old CounterStrike. Unfortunately, Noemie wasn’t much into violent first person shooters, being a girl and all, so she watched. That made it a perfect 2 on 2, with teams divided along some very ethnic lines - the Chinese vs. the Iranians… can you guess which team was the terrorists? Funny enough, both Peter and I were decent players, whereas Amir and Ali never even played before, so it wasn’t much of a match the first few rounds. Physics Olympians learn fast, though, and it wasn’t long before it became a heated battle.

We played maps like dust and assault for a while before someone came up with the brilliant idea of trying 747. It was great since we happened to be heading off for the airport the next morning! So, Amir and Ali would camp out on the plane while Peter and I would try to rescue the poor hostages. Our success rate wasn’t very 1337… Amir and Ali made such good terrorists that we joked they would either have trouble boarding the plane at Vancouver International Airport or be detained once they arrived in Korea. That would become a running joke for the rest of the trip, though we were careful never to mention the word “terrorist” on airplanes or at checkpoints.

Incidentally, Ali did have some passport problems at the airport. Unfortunately, I’m out of time even though there are so many more tales to tell.

Until next time…

Posted by Tout Wang, 11:26 PM / Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Crazy Taxi

Well, it’s T-minus 1 day until Oleg is off to his math camp. Adrian has already posted something in anticipation of his absence, and I guess I should too, or else let my author privileges go to waste.

This will be the first in a series of stories about the 2004 IPhO team’s (mis)adventures from the period of July 9th - July 23rd, 2004. The format will be much like Oleg’s accounts of his IMO trip, and hopefully the stories will be just as interesting as well!

Vancouver - IPhO Team Training Camp at UBC

Amir and I left together from Pearson nice and early at 9am on the 9th of July. The five-hour flight arrived at about noon due to the time zone thing. We step off our tiny Air Canada jet, and who was there to meet us but Peter, whose plane had arrived a lot earlier from Calgary. Noemie, whose plane from Montreal arrived simultaneously, met up with us in baggage collection.

So, anyway, the four of us got our stuff and headed out of the airport together. We encounter, of course, the ever-present lineup of taxis waiting to take us to UBC. But Amir, eagle-eyed as ever, spots a sign in the distance that says “Limo service, $39.99 to downtown Vancouver.”

“Hey, we’re the IPhO team, we should roll up to the university in a limo!” Amir suggests. But I, being the stupid one, remind him that UBC isn’t exactly in downtown Vancouver, and so the ride would cost a lot more than 40 bucks - mistake No. 1. I remind everyone how we should make at least a decent impression on our team leader before acting like idiots. More on the “idiots” part next time. Of course, being as persuasive as I am, the rest of the team sides with me and Amir loses out on a limo ride.

So, we instead hop into the first taxi waiting in line. There are four of us so it’s a tight fit. The driver is of either Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent, and his radio is blasting out some decidedly ethnic tunes. I, being the classical music lover, tried unsuccessfully to stifle a chuckle… which causes the poor guy to turn off his radio.

It’s not long before we pull up to our destination, the Hebb Physics Building, which is unimpressive like all physics buildings are. Only math department buildings are uglier, I think… but I digress. We ask the driver for a receipt, since the Olympiad sponsors are supposed to be covering all of our expenses, and the driver asks whether we just want a blank one, which saves him trouble. Sure, we respond! What can go wrong with a carte blanche?

Well, a few things, actually! First, since it was a blank receipt, it was also unsigned. Now, physicists are smart fellows, so what would the team leader think if we gave him an unsigned receipt?? Ok, fine, so we’ll forge the signature. But there’s a problem - we don’t know his name, so what if someone calls the taxi company for confirmation? (Yes, we’re very paranoid people) No problem, we’ll make up a name!

After an intense brainstorming session, we decide that he looked kind of like an Arash… you know the times when you see someone, and you become convinced that he’s a Jason or a Michael or something? This was perhaps inspired by the fact that we had our very own Arash from National Olympiad Finals (back row, far right), although I don’t know whether the taxi driver bore any actual resemblance to him.

Ok, so we had a name… but who among us would be mischievous enough to be the author of this forgery? All eyes fell on me. Well, fine, I’ll do it, but I have to protect myself! What happens if the team leader is marking my paper, and realizes that the taxi driver’s handwriting looks remarkably similar to my own? Solution: I took a pen in my left (non-writing) hand, and scrawled out as illegibly as I could the word “Arash” on the signature line. Yes, our fictional taxi driver would be so illiterate that he knows only how to write his first name.

So we had a signature, but our problems weren’t over yet. Nobody remembered how much the taxi ride cost. Some entrepreneurial person among us suggested we can put an outrageous fare, say, $500, and make quite a handsome profit at the expense of our sponsors. But, remember I was the stupid one back when we wanted to take a limo, and I was the stupid one here also. I reminded everyone once again how angry-looking… just kidding =)… our team leader looked on the website photo, and how we should put at least minimal effort into making a good first impression. So, I write $30 on the receipt - mistake No. 2 - and we head off to meet our hosts.

Well, a few days later, our team leader asked us for our receipt. There were grins all around as I pulled out the receipt from “Arash” and warily handed it over. The team leader doesn’t even glance at it (we told him before it cost 30 bucks), and gives us 30 bucks.

Damn it!!! We should have at least gone for the limo ride… or made a few hundred bucks at our sponsors’ expense by committing fraud… but because of my TWO stupid mistakes, we didn’t even have that stupid receipt with nothing but “$30” and “Arash” scrawled on it anymore! Oh well, not to worry… we would have many more adventures in the upcoming days…

Posted by Tout Wang, 08:39 PM / Comments (1)


Oleg gave me authoring privileges on Big Party several days ago, and I promised him that I would write an entry within the day. The day passed - nothing from me. Several more days passed - still nothing. I would have what you would call a writer’s block for that bit of time, mostly attributed to an indecisiveness about what to write about. But enough of my miserable story.

So what is the point of a blog? What should it be used for? Do blogs even have purposes? People write blogs that reveal all, perhaps as a form of emotional catharsis. I had LJ once for that, but because I never wanted people to read what I wrote, I never told anyone what my LJ account was. It’s gone now, so don’t bother looking. A diary is much more suitable for personal events and thoughts; who would want a stranger reading about your life online? A bout of emotional irrationality brought on that bit of online blog-writing in my case. After it cleared up, I let the blog die off to be overwritten by other’s stories on the LJ servers.

Blog is a mutation of “weblog”, which would give an individual a better idea of where it originated from. Blogs should be a ranting ground for an individual’s opinions - an online High Park. With the advent of blogs, anyone with a basic knowledge of webpage creation could become a pundit. You don’t need fancy software to set up a blog - a dedicated user with a free Geocities account willing to update the page every day becomes your modern cyberpundit.

So what is Oleg’s Big Party? It now features, in addition to the original blog written by the great Oleg himself, a forum for Oleg’s loyal readers to discuss whatever is brought up in the blog, or whatever comes up in the readers’ minds. But Oleg’s blog is a curiosity. It is not exactly a ranting ground for Oleg to share, or rather, expound, his views on the daily news. It is definitely not a day-to-day diary of his exploits either. Besides, some of it is quite imaginative and reads like fiction. Oleg’s Big Party tells stories - but those stories fall into the category of History as opposed to daily life stories. Oleg’s blog is quite an oddity in this respect - it’s not a diary or a ranting ground. And that he has given privileges to others to write for the blog leads us into the next topic - wikis.

Posted by aSo, 12:15 AM / Comments (1)

Monday, January 3, 2005

Talk With Oleg

What? A blog is not enough for Oleg? He needs a whole board as well? This party is getting really big. I installed Invision, added a ranks scheme, changed a few templates around - that sort of stuff. So join in the fun, its time to Talk with Oleg.

  • Level 1. Normal - 0 posts
  • Level 2. Deranged - 10 posts
  • Level 3. Crazy - 30 posts
  • Level 4. Insane - 60 posts

If you want to see what comes after that, start posting!

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 09:45 PM /

Sunday, January 2, 2005


While some ask for donations, some go out and take money - forcefully. That is the essence of creating a bankroll. It has come to that time that I began building my poker bankroll, and on the way to doing that - quadrupling the initial investment of $5. But why have a bankroll? Should you not just play with whatever money is in your pocket at the time, and spend the winnings after? Yes and no. Once a bankroll is established and consistent stakes are established (10-20, 20-40 games at best, most likely - maybe large buy-in no limit), the winnings could be used to supplement income - to buy yourself something hype. But the question is — why can’t you just do that with what’s in your pocket? The reason is simple — a bankroll is a cushion that allows for total and complete failure while not affecting your everyday life.

Imagine losing all of your money that you earned from a legit job just before the winter holidays, or more importantly before your bills are to be paid. Well, you’re screwed. Losing a whole bankroll… its just a cushion — life goes on.

The point of this is — we need more games in the North York area. Bankrolls need building. Anyone wish to build their own bankroll, please contact me (or if you’re seriously interesting in building a bankroll, contact Oleg.)

Posted by VladiO, 09:45 PM /

Donations welcome!

I have put a PayPal donations box on the side bar - nicely tucked away under the fold, hoping to make some moneys you see. If you enjoy reading my blog, you should support it - and if you don’t, then don’t read it, or better yet, tell me why you don’t like it. The Google ads are paying well, and recent reports show that I am building up traffic - getting more and more readers from different sides of the world. :P

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 02:58 PM / Comments (3)

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Alpha-beta Pruning

The idea behind alpha-beta pruning is that instead of looking for good moves, we look for “good-enough” moves. Originally, “good-enough” is negative infinity. This lower bound is the beta. At this point, any move is good for Sean. However, once Sean finds better moves, this beta increases. Sean doesn’t need moves worse than what he already found. He doesn’t need to find their exact values (examine them fully) to decide that these moves are inferior.

Good moves for Sean, are bad for Vlad. Sean’s lower bound becomes Vlad’s upper bound - the alpha. If Vlad finds a move better than alpha (than the beta comes bigger than alpha), the position cannot result from optimal play and no longer needs to be searched. This is called an alpha-beta cutoff.

The only “interesting” moves are the ones which have the values between alpha and beta. As the search progresses, the “window” between the beta and value becomes smaller. Alpha-beta pruning saves a lot of the search and typically reduces the effective branching factor to its square root - hence, doubling the depth of the search.

Another bonus of alpha-beta pruning is that it has a decent move to return even after an incomplete search. However, efficiency of the algorithm heavily depends on how fast we find moves which turn out to be good (so we achieve cutoffs quickly). Some moves just “look” better than others - thus it would make sense to search them first. This concept is called ordering heuristics, but more on this later.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:03 PM /

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