Those about to rock - 06.27.07 11:00 AM EDT
Coming into the TopCoder Open as a non-competitor, as a "civilian", is somewhat like being Jane Goodall in reverse. Rather than a human trying to fit in with apes, I'm an ape who has wandered into a human gathering - and I'm trying not to give my identity away by grunting or dragging my knuckles as I walk.
Despite this species gap, the competitors have been uniformly friendly and consistently understanding as I butcher pronouncing their handles, confuse them with other people, or forget the conversation we just finished. Top competitors have also been very understanding when I get a little star-struck over meeting them. I suppose they're used to a little swooning and extra attention, but still I appreciate that nobody has chuckled at my gushing fanboyism.
The opening ceremony featured very little in the way of long speeches, and a lot in the way of general socializing, games, and great food. Guitar Hero seemed to be a particular hit; apparently there is a large intersection between coders and "those about to rock", whom I salute.
For my part, I was quite happy to give Guitar Hero a go. I've played it a bit, so when my playing partner seemed a bit hesitant with the controller I was ready to help him get started. I wouldn't have recommended he start off on "expert", which he did - and I suppose in retrospect that was a bit of a hint. When the song finished, and he'd hit 99% of the notes, I had a strong suspicion that he'd either played before or that the man I was playing with was SnapDragon. It turns out it was both. Apparently, he's in a band with tomek. I'd just never heard their music before because my mom doesn't let me buy anything with a "Parental Advisory: NP Lyrics" warning label.
The event also gave us a chance to check out the sweet competition setup. Below you'll see the main flux junction, which TopCoder uses to warp in their other more complex structures from offsite.
I found it interesting that competitors were allowed to bring in their own input devices. I expected a few people might bring in their favorite keyboard, but apparently some competitors work best by typing on small burritos (below). I tried it out, but I found the hot oil the devices had been fried in was a little burny on the hands. The lady at the table was quite vehement that I was supposed to be using the tong things. She was probably right, and I guess that's why I'm not a red in algorithms. And why my hands hurt.
I'm afraid I'm a bit overwhelmed by the number of things going on and the number of competitors there are to meet. I've already found many reasons to be impressed with the TopCoder staff and with the TopCoder population in general. While I suppose things haven't really got going yet, everything is running very smoothly and the mood is happy (though many competitors I talked to were ready for a good sleep after a long day of travel). I'm looking forward to an exciting few days of competition; I'll try to keep you up to date on stuff as best I can.