Sunday, April 10, 2005

Busing Around (Pereslavl'-Zalessky, Russia)

15th Tournament of Towns Summer Conference

The buses were packed with people, and yet they were clean. Apparently, good advice actually works:

“Eat candies with the wrapper and fruits along with the peel.”

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 06:20 PM / Comments (1)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Canned Drinks

Tokyo, Japan - International Mathematical Olympiad

In our spare time, the Canadian Team enjoyed varieties of canned drinks. In Japan, the vending machines don’t serve Crush or 7UP, they serve Royal Milk Tea, Aloe with White Grape and Pocari Sweat. They still have coke though, which is good. If you thought the names are strange, the drinks are stranger too. You have to be cautious, sometimes you can find stuff floating inside!

In Japan, they have a lack of aluminum. So, they build their cans out of stainless steel. Not only the mass is bigger, but the size is bigger too - 355 ml coke cans are actually hard to find. What you get are elongated 500 ml ones (evidently the Japanese like to drink a lot). And you don’t get “Original Taste”, you get “No reason!”

The day after the closing ceremony (our flight departed a day later), we went to this “fast food” place. Normally, people order through person. However, here - we ordered through a vending machine. At least the delivery wasn’t automated. Can’t help but think, these people really are strange.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 01:18 PM / Comments (3)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Subway Manifolds

Tokyo, Japan - International Mathematical Olympiad

The Japanese subway system gave us hell. The tickets were bought on-site with a pre-marked destination, thus they were required for both entry and exit (the greater the distance, the more you pay). They passed through the machines at an alarmingly fast rate and came out the other side while we walked through. We never looked at which way we put the ticket in, but since it worked, the machines must have had to flip the ticket as well.

One time when we were exiting the subway, the machine crashed on Janos. It made a few loud noises (besides the alarm) and steam came out. Two guards came over took a look. You can’t believe what happened: Janos folded the ticket. I mean come on, folding a ticket!?

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 06:06 PM / Comments (4)

A Tale of Three Cities

Vancouver - IPhO Team Training Camp at UBC

Well, our four days in Vancouver were over. We managed to squeeze in, between many hours of fooling around, two mock exams - theory and experiment. Here’s a sample problem:

Supernova SN1987A produced neutrinos of all flavours with an energy of 15 MeV. They travelled 1000 light-years to Earth and 12 were detected at the Kamiokande water-tank in a burst lasting 12 seconds. What limit can you place on the maximum mass-squared difference between neutrino types in this observation?

(If you can solve this problem, you should try out for the IPhO team! If you can’t, try out anyway!)

The team leader calls a taxi (no limo, unfortunately) and we’re off to the airport.

Once we got there, we went straight to check-in with Singapore Airlines. The person there was nice, and became even nicer when he found out we were the IPhO team! This didn’t help much though, because Ali’s Iranian (a.k.a terrorist) passport was apparently flagged for some serious background checking. After ten minutes of hushed words and one superior referring to another, they finally gave Ali his boarding pass. Here comes the cool part - the nice ticket counter guy informs us about the particular perks of flying Singapore. Now, if you have ever flown with this airline, on their sweet new Boeing 777’s, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Besides seating us in a very spacious arrangement of alternating occupied and empty seats, he politely informs us of their interactive entertainment system. Needless to say, once we found out we would be able to watch video-on-demand, challenge anyone on the plane to chess, and play everything from Zelda to baseball, we forgot about all those practice problems we planned to do and physics textbooks we planned to read! =)

Before we got on the plane, though, we realized we needed to bring something “Canadian” to Korea to give to our hosts. After perusing through the atrociously priced gift shops, we settled on a beaver and a box of chocolates. Coincidentally enough, we named it Amirali the Beaver.

Anyway, it was time to board. All the stewardesses were dressed in traditional Asian garb, and the seats in economy class were as spacious as Air Canada first class ones. We were flying in style, unlike those American losers (just kidding!), who had only cards for entertainment on their flight. Taking off, not surprisingly, felt just like one of those Vancouver buses. As soon as the seat belt warning lights went off, we went berserk with the touch screens in front of us. I watched Taking Lives first. It was pretty good, but not very memorable, so I don’t really remember what happened. Just some story with a cop and a murderer… then I watched The Big Bounce. It might as well have been called “Big Mistake” because that’s exactly what it was. You would think that a movie with Morgan Freeman and Owen Wilson in it would be much better, but as one online reviewer put it: “This movie is a huge, messy abortion.” Oh, and Gary Sinise was in it too…

Seoul - IPhO Team En Route

Between those movies, a game of chess with Amir (which I lost), and two meals, most of the flight was up. Our plane lands at Seoul Incheon Airport (and all the stewardesses say an-yong to me thinking I’m Korean), which is the biggest airport I have EVER seen! We disembark, pick up our luggage, and head to border security, or whatever it’s called. Now, I don’t know whether this is an isolated incident or a trend, but Korean border officials are hilarious. I don’t pay attention as the people in front of me passed through, but when it’s my turn, I went and presented my passport for inspection. The guy looks it over, and instead of handing it back to me and telling me “Welcome to Korea,” he makes this abrupt, loud grunting noise and jerks the passport towards me. I flinched noticeably, and then got scared thinking maybe it was some sort of terrorist checking system - arrest the guys who flinch. Luckily, I was wrong, and later I find out from Peter that the guy was humming some sort of Korean tune. I hope he doesn’t try out for Korean Idol.

Our connecting flight to Busan isn’t for another 2 hours, so the five of us are set loose in a foreign airport. Here are a couple of odd things we notice about these Koreans…

1) Everything is digitized. They even have the digital photograph and license of the janitor that cleans their washrooms at Incheon posted outside the entrance. How degrading…

2) Koreans love PlayStation 2. You can play it for free… yes, I said FOR FREE at the airport. There are probably more PS2 consoles scattered around than payphones (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit).

We pass the time with what else but PlayStation 2. Believe me, we tried to find a cyber-cafe that offered Counterstrike, but outrageously, the computers at the airport are coin operated. When it’s time to fly again, we board a much smaller and less luxurious Asiana Airlines plane (Yes, I’m an airplane nut and snapped a picture of every single plane we took). In a short 45 minutes, we’re at Busan Gimhae airport. We would find out later that the poor team from Iceland took a six-hour bus ride to travel the same route. Losers =).

Busan - IPhO Team En Route

Gimhae is a real backwater place - can you believe we had to get off the airplane using STAIRS??? I have only take planes between major transportation hubs in the past, so there was always a gate that the plane pulled up to. Apparently, according to our two Iranian teammates, that’s how all the airports in Iran are. In fact, they say the Tehran airport has been “under construction” for the past few decades. Glad to know they are slower than when we built the Sheppard subway! Regardless, it felt quite cool to get off a plane like George Bush. The five of us are obviously smarter than he is, so why was there no crowd for us to wave to? One of the many injustices in this world… =)

Disembarking was an adventure in itself. You see, this was the first time we actually breathed “real” air since Vancouver. We were completely sealed inside at Incheon, so that doesn’t count. As we start down the stairs towards the tarmac, we are nearly knocked over by this blast of air… and this isn’t one of those cool, Sprite commercial blasts… it felt like the Shuttle taking off! You can imagine what it must have been like, since our bodies were still in 15 degree Vancouver mode, while it was easily 30 degrees in Busan.

So, we’re quickly whisked inside by those neat low-riding airport buses (no picture available, unfortunately). Inside, we find waiting for us, of all things, an IPhO booth! The Canadians have arrived at the 35th International Physics Olympiad.

This “tale of three cities” is nearly over, but there is one more story to tell. We met the nice people waiting for us at the booth, and they led us away to a trio of idling taxis. What we didn’t know was that we would have to pay for those taxis, and that the trip would take an hour and a half. So, we’re driving along in what is most likely a Hyundai, and of course, being foreigners, the taxi driver is nice enough to put on some foreign music for us. We restrain ourselves from laughing as Elvis blast out of the speakers behind us. I wish I remembered what song it was… I can only recall that it was really fast, and there were a lot of words like “baby” and “love you” in it… which doesn’t help much in narrowing down the title. Meanwhile, the taxi driver appears to be very happy and is singing along with a terrible Korean accent.

This wasn’t the only incident during the trip. Another time, we were on an empty city street, and this other taxi was sitting in the middle of the street, either broken down or something. Our driver pulls to a stop, rolls down the windows and barks out some rapid-fire Korean. This goes on for five minutes, leaving the rest of us quite puzzled, but also quite helpless, since we didn’t know how to say “shut up and let’s go” in Korean.

At last, our entourage arrives at our destination - the Gyeongju Hilton. The taxi ride cost us a few hundred American dollars, which the team leader unhappily pays. The whole hotel has been taken over by the IPhO, but we’re too exhausted to care. I get to share a room with Peter, and the two of us fall asleep without another word.

This ends The Tale of Three Cities, but the IPhO team’s adventures in Korea have just begun…

Posted by Tout Wang, 02:51 PM / Comments (2)

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 /

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)

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)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Journey Home

It was the end of my adventures, or so I thought. It was time to go home. Iternary: Moscow to Paris, Paris to Toronto, Toronto to Montreal. Why Toronto to Montreal? Funny thing is, tickets are cheaper that way - this would complete a full circle from Montreal where our IMO Training Camp was held. Of course, I would just walk off at Toronto…

The only problem is - Charles de Gaulle Airport is the second biggest mess in Europe. The Air Canada flight to Toronto was initially scheduled from Terminal 2. However, midway my adventure, Air Canada was moved to Terminal 1 and I had to take a shuttle bus to switch terminals. To make matters even worse, the Aeroflot flight arrived 15 minutes late.

I ran right through the terminal… between me and Toronto was the Air Canada guy (local Frenchman). “Where are you going?” — Toronto. “You can’t go to Toronto. Its too late.” — Why? “The plane is gone.” — Except, its not gone. (What? They couldn’t afford an extra bus?) He grabs my passport and tickets out of my hand (without my consent). Then, he starts talking to his assistant - all in rapid French. I understood nothing. Then he looks back at me. “Paris - Toronto, Toronto - Montreal”. He tells me that I am in luck and that he will put me on the next flight to Montreal which will be in 2 hours.

Of course, I don’t want to go to Montreal. He says “We are responsible to take your final Air Canada destination.” — But I live in Toronto. “Thats not my problem - you would have to get to Toronto on your own means.” Then he mysteriously disappears. I go to the Air Canada check-in team. The check-in team doesn’t know what to do. They either don’t understand my problem, or simply too lazy to help me. They tell me to go to ticketing. I go to ticketing (its outside the security/international zone). But nobody’s there. I spend 7 € to buy a phone card I will only use once. Time is running out… and off I go to Montreal.

I spent one hour going through customs. My luggage doesn’t turn up - apparently, it didn’t miss the flight to Toronto (which is strange because I did). After filing for lost luggage, I go to connections. The connection guy tells me that I have no ticket (the French stole both the Paris - Toronto and Toronto - Montreal coupons) and forwards me to ticketing. The ticketing guy tells me that theoretically I could have refused to fly asked them to book me to Montreal via Toronto the following day. However, back in Paris, I was never given that choice. He tells me that it would be better to buy a brand new ticket. So, I am him “How much” — $300. “You crazy?” — You could buy a ticket from Jetsgo. “How much would that be?” — a little over a hundred dollars. I tell him to go to hell.

I had no money; I have no food; and no way to get home. Luckily, I have a Canadian calling card - so I call home. Dad tells me to take a shuttle bus (luckily, its free) to the VIA Rail Station - he reserved a ticket for me through the internet (its only $80). Too much crying that day. So, I am left to wait 5 hours for the train (it departs at 11:58PM). I call a bunch of friends. Dad meets me at Union station - I didn’t even have a TTC ticket. After a fun subway ride - I am home. My adventures are finally over.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 01:34 PM / Comments (4)

Friday, December 24, 2004

Bloody Mess

Mir, Belarus - Tournament of Towns Summer Conference

Janos and I settled in a room with two Germans. Four of us knew little of Belarussian communism. We were being watched - and marked on a 2 - 5 system. They had a billboard in the lobby… our room deserved a 2 everyday, but they gave us 3’s and an occasional 5.

How did the mess come about? I arranged my clothes in nice neat piles on the window sill. You know, every morning, you grab a new set of clothes and your off for the day. When you work on problems, you accumulate a large stash of paper. Now, where do we keep it? On the desk? There is no space left on the desk. The beds? We are working on the beds. So we had nice stacks of paper conveniently arranged on the floor. Thanks to the watermelon, our garbage was overflowing - we had to sneak half of it next door to the Serbian room.

The troubles started when the cleaning lady came in. She simply didn’t know what to do. We thought she was doing us a service and we told her that it is OK, that she didn’t have to clean, and that she could come back tomorrow.

She called in the landlord. Man, was he ever bitchy. “What are the barricades doing there?” - pointing to the window sill. “Where is the pillow case?” - he was especially bitchy about the pillow case. “What is the paper doing on the floor? Up, clean it up. This place is a sewer. If you don’t clean this place up by tomorrow, you boys are going to pack your stuff and leave!” Then he paraded some organizers through our room. Since I was the only one who spoke Russian, I took most of the blame.

The next day, at breakfast, the landlord announced messy rooms. “Room 341 - St. Petersburg. Very messy room… [But the credit goes to] Room 343 - Canada/Germany - The worst room of all. An absolute sewer.” Luckily, we cleaned up before the inspection came in.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 11:43 AM / Comments (1)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Dogs are Evil

Gorodets Labour Camp: July 20th - 29th

We stayed at the “main” building. However, our duties required us to venture beyond the house walls. There was only one entrance - and that was also the exit. At that exit, there were two dogs. One was a large black and especially angry dog. The other, tan in colour, was smaller but barked just as loud. The dogs petrified us throughout the camp - even after repeatedly being told that dogs were completely harmless.

The distance to the spring was a hundred meters down slope. Even if you managed to sneak past the dogs with an empty bucket going to the spring, there was no chance in hell you could get by them when you returned. One time I was carrying two buckets. The dog stole one of them and drank half the contents. Bummer - quarter of the hard work had went to waste.

The “washrooms” - two nice wooden hole-in-the-ground toilet boxes - had locks on both the inside and the outside. The outer locks just kept the door in place - as a method to lock somebody in, they were useless. At night, Janos “preferred” to create his waterfall off the 2nd floor balcony (he never actually did it, did he?).

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 04:11 AM / Comments (3)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Theorem on 12

Mir, Belarus - Tournament of Towns Summer Conference

From my log on the Tournament of Towns in Toronto website:

The conference was driven by the willpower to research rather than competition. On the first day, we were presented with a few projects: series of connected tasks. We were to choose one or two of them to work on during the week. There aim was not to prove one main theorem, but rather develop a technique.

Janos and I teamed up to prove the Theorem on 12. Progress went well underway. The jury responsible for the problem promised the first team who solved it a prize. Can you believe it - we were that team. So we claimed our surprize - a big, green, juicy watermelon. Now, if in Gorodets, there was no beds, in Mir, there were no knives. But luckily, we had scissors. It was a bloody mess, and we had established a reputation of having the messiest room at the conference. Half the watermelon went to waste.

Originally, we handed in our papers to Dorichenko, but we found Skopenkov to be friendlier (in terms of marking). After the Semi Final, we were given additional problems. In one of them, we found out that we could classify the entire theorem in just a few cases (up to affine transformation). Thats like making us do hard work the old fashioned way and then spitting in our faces.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 03:08 PM / Comments (5)

Monday, December 20, 2004

Wake up, everybody!

The hotel offered many obscure services such as wake-up calls. There were many phones in the building - in rooms, in corridors and in the elevators. One could request a wake up call from any one of them by dialing 52 followed by the room number and the time. Some contestants abused this feature to wake me up two times during the night before the second day of the Olympiad. And of course, since the pundits didn’t dial from their room, they were never caught!

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 04:17 PM / Comments (2)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Amazing Claim

University of Waterloo - Mathematics Seminar

For the morning session, my group had this professor-guy who was obsessed with talking in point form. Each time before he proved a theorem, he loudly announced "CLAIM". David made a tally of the number of times the words "CLAIM", "FACT" and "NOTE" were said. According to the it, by the pigeon-hole principle, there was a minute when the professor said "CLAIM" three times.

Once the professor stated a theorem and said "This is another claim. CLAIM!". Another time, he even announced "STORY" (and told us a story). Also, when the chalk broke into two pieces (stupid university just couldn't afford normal chalk), the professor madly threw the remaining piece (that was still in his hand) at the board and cursed for a while.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 01:10 AM / Comments (4)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Odd Elevators

Athens, Greece - International Mathematical Olympiad

There were six elevators in the building to serve the twenty floors, the restaurants, shops, offices and the pool deck. They were very small - one could even call them 'miniature'. Interestingly enough, there were other even smaller elevators for the workers to transport equipment. There were three elevators on the left and three on the right. Some contestants always went in elevators on the left while others always went in the elevators on the right. What's the difference you might think? Interestingly enough, elevators on the left stop only at odd floors while the elevators on the right only stop at even floors.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 01:24 AM / Comments (1)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Shoot 'em down

Montreal - IMO Training Camp 2004

Even though we were doing a lot of IMO preparation in Montreal, we also had free time. At one point, I decided to build a fleet of 25 paper airplanes. The place where we stayed had 2 floors. I spent quite a while getting the planes onto the window ledge near the ceiling. The problem came when our leader ordered me to take those planes down. Since the ledge was 4 meters above the first floor, it was clearly unreachable. Janos and Jacob decided to have a little fun too. Together, we made more airplanes and started shooting the old ones off the ledge. It was a very long and seemingly diverging process because most of the time instead of knocking a plane down, we simply got another one up there. The planes were very resistant, but in the end, teamwork won.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 01:15 AM / Comments (2)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Charge that Player

Athens, Greece - International Mathematical Olympiad

The hotel were we stayed in Athens had really good sockets. To recharge my CD player, I would need to plug in the recharger through a transformer and a socket adapter. However, in the hotel the sockets were in round holes in the wall. The rectangular shaped adapter simply couldn't fit in those holes. As a result, my CD player was left uncharged. Later in Mir, I had a slightly different problem. The weight of the transformer and the recharger was significant enough to pull the adapter out of the socket. Luckily there was an "adjustable" table. It was made by the students themselves like the rest of the furniture. I tweaked its height a little by leaning it sideways. After this, it nicely supported the weight of the transformer and recharger. However, further tweaking by my roommates ended my short-lived happiness.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:19 PM / Comments (2)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Labour Camp

Gorodets Labour Camp: July 20th - 29th

Guys! I have been at a Russian labour camp whose point was to earn work days. Wait, it is not like it is the point: you have to earn them. Actually there was no camp - the whole point was to help build the camp. There was no water, no electricity and no grocery shops nearby. We had to cook, clean, washes the dishes, carry the water and bike to Uhnov (16 km one way) ourselves. And on top of that we had to level the soccer field! What kind of camp is it? When I asked one of the other kids this question, he replied, "I don't know".

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 07:24 PM / Comments (3)

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Taste of Applied Math

University of Waterloo - Mathematics Seminar

It was decided that we should get a taste of applied math in the seminar. The first applied math lecture was on imaging. The guy was the best. The lecture was very interesting but the guy prepared it in a rush and had a few queer moments. "If you scale a picture which is 8 bits per pixel many times you'd get something which is 0.25 bits per pixel". Then followed "I was trying to impress you, so I calculated a completely different thing." Or, at one point he was so excited, "JPEG, JPEG, JPEG". Another time, he showed us some formulas but he noted that professionals use other ones. Why did he show us those formulas in the first place? At one point he was a little puzzled: "When are two things the same?" But it got even better. He was talking very seriously... "Suppose this is a part of the brain" pointing to the overhead - "Or a piece of luggage...".

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:40 PM / Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The Farewell Banquet

Athens, Greece - International Mathematical Olympiad

The farewell banquet took place at a prestigious golf club in Athens. The organizers have decided to put two teams per table with the leaders sitting elsewhere. Our leader, Dr. Small, insisted that he should sit with the team - yet the organizers denied his request several times. Anyway, we were supposed to sit with the Bulgarians at table number 10. However, when we came to the table, the Bulgarians weren't there. We waited - but then they didn't show up. Then, I noticed them sitting at another table and raised the flag with our table number 10. Much to our surprise, they also raised their flag, also with table number 10. One of the guides remarked to the leader, "Table 10 is the only double table. What are the odds?" After the banquet when I found that guide, I told him, "Its you!" and he replied, "And its you!"

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 03:14 PM / Comments (4)

Monday, December 6, 2004

Domino Wars

I have lived for a considerable number of time and accumulated a history. So every once in a while I will post a story from my past. Not too often, of course, otherwise I will seem to be one of those old people. Okay, lets forget about them.

Montreal - IMO Training Camp 2004

Dr. Recio has brought his amazing set of "Cuban" dominoes which go up to (9,9) instead of (6,6). We have wasted a lot of precious training time making long domino chains and playing "Capture the Flag". In the game one player builds a castle and hides the flag in it. The other player uses the remaining dominoes to knock down the flag using a series of domino effects. David made the most artistic chains, however mine were more effective in terms of achieving the goal. Janos engineered the best castles. These required 12 to 15 explosions. One time, I made a very high and unstable tower. David decided to destroy it (to get more dominoes for his himself to play with) and he made a long chain of dominoes leading up to my castle. But David forgot that chains go both ways, so when he was about to knock it down, I just triggered his chain from the other end!

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 06:22 PM / Comments (7)

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