Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Imagine Cup 2006 (India) Blog

The Imagine Cup 2006 competition has begun! I will be updating this Weblog with the latest on the next 24-hours of the head to head competition...

Pre-competition: Well we started the competition with over 27,000 students representing 143 countries back in January of this year. We went through the first round and second round narrowing the competition to the top 6 in the world!

The judges, Rand Morimoto and Chris Amaris, from Convergent Computing left California on Wednesday the 2nd and after an 11-hour flight to Munich, 2-1/2 hour layover, 8-hour flight to Delhi, and then a 6-hour coach ride, we arrived in Agra finally on Friday morning the 4th.

The 32 computer systems that we were expecting to be here upon our arrival were a "bit late" and weren't going to arrive until 6pm on Friday evening, which was fine, gave us enough time to take a shower and have a quick bite to eat. By 6pm on Friday, we were told the computers couldn't be delivered on Friday day because transports must be done at night, so we were expecting the equipment by 10pm on Friday evening. We reconvened on Friday night, but by 11pm, the computers that were supposed to leave Delhi didn't "quite" leave as expected, but they were guaranteed to be delivered by 6:30am on Saturday morning.

We met in the ready room at 9am on Saturday morning, but the computers never arrived. They were guaranteed to be delivered before 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon, so we went sight seeing on Saturday and arrived back by 4:30pm only to find that the computer delivery was just "slightly delayed", but will be here no later than 6:30pm. Do I need to say the computers weren't here by 6:30pm, nor 10:30pm, nor 6am on Sunday morning? However, by 10am on Sunday morning, the computers had finally arrived!!! So our 3-days of prep was now down to less than 24-hours, and they were a fun 24-hours getting the hardware up and running.

So, with about a 50% failure rate on hardware, systems with only 512m instead of the "required" 1gb we needed, network adapter drivers that were mysterious, and then electrical power that dropped every 30-45 minutes, we had a lot of fun! Oh, and then one of the student helpers that was burning USB drivers with ISO images we needed for the competitors left the drives out on a table before going home on Sunday night, and when he arrived on Monday morning to give us the drives, the drives were missing. So we had to scramble to get CDs and software for the competitors to install as part of the competition...

Monday, August 7, 2006
Pictured Above: Chris Amaris (Judge), Rand Morimoto (Judge) Andreas Tomek (Austria), Valy Greavu (Romania), Daniel Boteanu (France), Gabriel Cristescu (Romania), Duca Florin (France), Hernan Lionel Cianfagna (Italy)

10:16am (Let the Games Begin!): So when we're excited here at 10:16am (16-minutes into the competition) that we are off and running, it's because we've had quite a challenging past few days to get the competition rolling, but we are NOW off and running. Our 6 competitors are hard at work building their server systems, and (knock on wood) we haven't lost power (yet)!

11:23am (1 Internet line for 300 competitors, think we have a bandwidth issue???): Electrical power is holding out, but the Internet connection here on the site has gone to a crawl (or worse than a crawl). With 6 separate competitions all started here in the past hour, with competitions accessing the Internet to download software, drivers, tools, and knowledge base materials, we'll see how long it takes to push up this blog...

12:27pm (IT without electrical power???): Okay, finally had our first power outage, fried a couple of the competitor workstations despite the units have UPS power and surge protectors, so we're about 3 spare systems down out of our pool of 6 spares, and we're only 2-1/2 hours into the 24-hour competition. However, the competitors are trudging along. They are wondering how to download a 43mb service pack over an Internet connection that is giving up less than 56kb speeds (when it's up). Maybe the answer is "don't install the service pack and move on to the next line item of things you need to do for the competition???" Oh to be in the real world...

2:50pm (Power or Internet - Choose one... and mini-Food crisis): Power has stayed up reasonably well for the past couple hours, although the Internet has been down for most of the past 2 hours, so I guess its one or the other. But the life of an IT person from the 3rd world, most of these guys think nothing of the unreliable internet and electrical power, guess they're used to it. From the technical standpoint, it's been quiet, the students are trying to figure out how to configure ISA/2004 for the first time, or they are learning Rights Mgmt Server on the fly (and some I think I trying to even figure out how to do credential based document storage), so lots of work and effort going on right now. And, the latest mini-crisis is food. The hotel was supposed to setup food here on the 3rd floor, however they haven't quite gotten around to it, so the students are getting a bit hungry, although focused still on their task at hand...

6:00pm (International Visitor): All's quiet on the competition front, the competitors are quietly trudging along. The hotel did figure out the food thing and brought over some cheese burrito looking things, these veggie tot things (potato tots made from vegetables), and some fried fish things, so with food in their stomachs and a slew of things to do still with just 16-hours left to go, the competitors are quietly working away. While they were working away, I grabbed an hour break away to meet up with a Round 2 semi-finalist who lives here in India who wanted to meet with me since I was in the area. He ranked in the top 50 in the world in the semi-finals, very sharp kid, currently going to school in IT Management. He wanted to meet me and get my thoughts on what he can do for a career. He traveled 1,000-miles by train, cart, and by foot to meet me. When he sent me an email a month or so ago, part of me wanted to say "no" that I wouldn't meet with him to prevent him from traveling such a long way, but on the other hand, if he was so committed to make the journey, that I had the responsibility to make time to meet with him. So I did arrange to have him visit, and it was a wonderful conversation of what he wants to do, and where IT may fit in his career after college.

7:10pm (First Milestone - Sending in an Email): We just completed our first milestone, after 9-hours, the competitors should have been able to send an email into us judges (as their ISP) to request DNS A-record entries and MX record entries into our DNS table. The competitors were given points whether they have made this milestone achievement, which hopefully after 9-hours they would have been able to build a Windows server, AD infrastructure, loaded up Exchange, and would be able to send and receive messages. Four of the competitors successfully met this milestone, 2 of the competitors did not. Next milestone is at 10pm local time (which will be 9:30am California time)

10:10pm (Second Milestone - Internet Outage): Okay, this milestone "challenge" didn't seem like too much of a challenge given our Internet connection has been up and down on a regular basis all day. However, the purpose of this milestone was to pull the plug on the DMZ that everyone was connected to, and expect their "branch office" to still be able to have access to files that were sitting on their "central office" fileserver. For those techies among the group, basically the competitors had to run DFS and replicate a share off the Central server to the remote branch office fileserver so that in the event the link between Central and the Branch failed, the branch users still had file access. So technically this is not all that difficult, however the students have now been at it for 12-solid hours, they only arrived 2 days earlier from their home country, likely have been up for the past couple nights getting over jetlag and a case of the butterflies in anticipation of the competition, so they're losing a bit of steam (and what seemed simple and obvious is not with fatigue and a "low" after the initial adrenaline rush is starting to wear off...). Alright, so the end scoring on this round, 2 of the competitors had it figured out, 2 thought they had it figured out but couldn't demonstrate the solution to work, and 2 are in a heap of trouble (when you have ISA working on a system, don't tinker with the RRAS mgmt tool). So, more coffee, and will post again in a couple hours after the next milestone happens at 1am local time (12:30pm California time)

Tuesday, August 8, 2006
1:40am (Third Milestone - Sleepiness Settling In...): Okay, we just flipped in to Tuesday on this side of the world and we had our 3rd milestone in the past hour. The competitors had to connect from their wireless laptop to their network and transfer a text file in a manner that protected the privacy of the contents of the information. Of course, that simply was a VPN connection to their network, of which 6 out of 6 got this challenge correct. It was a good morale booster for a couple of the competitors who up until now has failed the previous challenges, and as we approach 2 o'clock in the morning, that extra jolt of optimism was a good thing. Although you can see everyone slouching in their chairs, getting up and taking more walks around the room, grabbing for more bottled water, which means more trips to the bathroom. As you walk around the room, with each competitor with 5 computer systems, it's funny how you see at least 3 of the screens with some Webpage search with a "page not found" error as the competitors are franticly surfing the internet trying to find a magical whitepaper or configuration guide on how to install something, how to fix some problem they're having, etc. I think Rights Mgmt Server (RMS) is getting the better of most of them as that's an upcoming task they'll need to figure out. So, next milestone challenge is at 4am, so 3:30pm on Monday afternoon for all of you back home. Stay tuned...

2:32am (Got a Sleeper!!!): Been waiting for this moment, we have our first sleeper of the competition, poor guy is so tired, he doesn't even realize his head is asleep on his keyboard and the overrun buffer on his computer is beeping insistently right now... Well Chris took a picture of me updating the blog, so now as you read the blog, you can see me write the blog. and since it's already tomorrow here in India, you can see me writing something "in the future" that you are reading today in the past... Hmm, okay, maybe it's sleepy time for me on my keyboard too, getting a bit punchy and goofy. Next milestone happens in just over an hour, and the competition ends in 7-hrs, 11-mins, and 52-secs...

2:58am (Security but no Fire Marshall...): All right, slapping myself to stay awake, gotta love sleep writing, I took a couple minute doze there as I was writing an email, and came to with the phrase "...wait an extra hour to take the train, the choo-choo is much better through the forest..." on an email about a legal contract and NDA review for a client. I know all of the authors in the company can probably relate on those late night chapter writes where you slip in to netherland and mix up some dream with your writing... So as I write here at 3 in the morning, Chris snapped off a picture of the security guard posted outside of our room. These guys are guarding the doors of every competition room, on the end of every corridor, and at the top and bottom of every stairwell. Security is definitely tight, unlike other conferences where you have something that looks like a badge around your neck, here, they check the badge color to make sure you are authorized to be in the room you are walking in to, and the guards have begun to recognize the competitors and judges for "their rooms" and are stopping anyone who walks in even if they have the right color badge. BUT, you'll find in the picture to the right that their idea of electrical wiring of the work areas is a bunch of loose red, green, black wires, twisted together, and held together with masking tape. The picture is of the "wiring area" where a good 220-volts and 40-50 amps of current is going to the competitor stations. Ain't no fire marshal around here...

3:09am (Chris found an undocumented Bug!!!): Okay, not a bug like a software bug in Windows, but rather Chris just found a 1-1/4" long beetle crawling across the table, and of course he had to take a picture of it. I'm hoping the bug didn't eat much of the leftover dinner he has on his table there, or at least I hope Chris is "done" with dinner now... Hmnm, it's now 3:23am, another 37-minutes before the next challenge... Okay, more coffee, more water, another chocolate bar, two more trips to the bathroom, and I think I'll be just in time for the 4am IT challenge, which by the way is a challenge on a site outage where the competitors will be tested on their ability to be paged / notified in the event of a failure of their remote site, so effectively they should setup something like MOM/2005 to monitor their servers and site connections, and when they lose connectivity, that an alert goes out to them of the failure.

4:40am (4 Milestones Down, 1 to Go...): We just finished the 4th of 5 milestones here at the 4am time mark, and we have less than 6-hours to go in this grueling 24-hour competition! The competitors are beginning to sweat a bit as they have a LOT to do, and just over 5-hours to get it done. The two guys from Romania have combined smoked probably 3 cartons of cigarettes so far, and I think their country leader went out to go buy a couple more cartons so the guys can make it to the very end... Bad judgment is setting in as the competitors are getting tired and are undoing good work, and replacing it with bad work. This is the point in the competition where the person who screws up the least in their configuration will end up the winner. It's almost 5am, the sun will be rising soon, and the push to the end is near! We had a very "interesting" 4am snack prepared for us by the hotel. I think someone woke up the hotel cook, told the person to whip up a meal for the competitors, and the person was a bit bent because we ended up with this funky green bread, a quesadilla looking thing that had sweet corn and BBQ chicken chunks in it, and cucumber sandwiches that had 1 thin slice of cucumber smack dab between two full slices of bread. I kind of think the chef woke up and said "I'll teach those Microsoft people to wake me up in the middle of the night to have me fix them a snack...". I stuck to the chocolate bars, potato chips, and bottled water, wonder why my stomach hurts, blah!

7:53am (Last Milestone Down, 2-hrs Left to Go...): At the 7 o'clock hour, we completed the last milestone "challenge" which was for the each of the competitors to have written private information onto a 1gb USB thumb drive, and then accidentally "lost" the thumb drive, but not be impacted because the information was encrypted with Rights Management Services (RMS). This was a trickier challenge for the competitors because none of them had used RMS in the past. As such, only 3 out of the 6 actually got RMS installed and working to the point where they were able to encrypt files. So, just 2 hours left to go, and the 5 milestone challenges accounted for 25% of the total score, with 75% of the score left to whether the competitors are able to have successfully met all of the goals and requirements of the scenario. This includes building out a primary CENTRAL site, setting up a secured VPN using ISA/2004 to ISA/2004 to a BRANCH site, having Exchange do secured / encrypted emails, to establishing secure wireless mobile communications, having appropriate perimeter and edge security including anti-virus and anti-spam, and creating a secure portal (ie: SharePoint 2003 SP2) with SQL/2005 as the data backend all managed by SMS/2003, MOM/2005, etc. Whole lot of stuff to throw to the competitors in a 24-hour period, we'll see who ends up on top...

9:50am (T-minus 10-minutes and counting...): This will likely be my last post on this blog until Thursday afternoon, India time (that's late Wednesday night back home) when I can officially post the winners of the competition. While Chris and I will know the outcome in about 2-hours, the hush-hush of the winners must be maintained until the awards ceremony takes place in New Delhi later this week. So a few final words here... For a competition that started off with over 27,000 students, it's a huge honor to be in this room with the top 6 in the world. Not a single one of the competitors has given up, and even the guy that was way way behind even as recent as sunrise this morning put his head down, rebuilt all his servers, and might have a good go at this. For whomever ends up in the final 3, it'll likely change their lives, and actually just being one of the finalists here in India, these students will forever have something to put on their resume that they competed at this level in a global competition. As the 2nd place winner from last year emailed me a few months after the competition, the prize money was more than both his parents made in an entire year, and the job he got with Microsoft allowed him to move his family of 9 brothers and sisters to a big city, live with heating and cooling, have a concrete floor instead of a dirt floor of a 1 room living space for his family. The opportunity that this Imagine Cup competition creates for smart minds and skilled individuals makes it all worthwhile for CCO to actively participate in this event again this year!

Thanks go out to Andrew and Mike who helped out with the semi-finals judging, and to Chris who led the blogs for the entire competition and traveled to India to lead the final judging activities here in Agra!

Thursday, August 10, 2006
5:45am (Gotta Wait Another Day...): So I said to check back on the site on Thursday for the results, and actually you're going to have to wait another day as the final awards ceremony is on Friday afternoon here in New Delhi, not on Thursday, so you'll have to wait another day, sorry about that...

I did finally get out of the hotel / competition room and saw the Taj Mahal yesterday though...

Friday, August 11, 2006
5:33pm (And the winner is...): So the final awards ceremony was held this afternoon at the Ashok International Convention Center here in New Delhi, India. After keynote presentations by Microsoft India Chairman, Ravi Venkatesan, and India's Minister of Science, Technology, and Oceanography, Kapil Sibal, the awards were announced. The winners of the IT Invitational were as follows:

  • 1st Place: Andreas Tomek (Austria)
  • 2nd Place: Valy Greavu (Romania)
  • 3rd Place: Daniel Boteanu (France)

The first place winner receives $8,000, second place receives $4,000, and third place receives $3,000. As I noted earlier in the blog, while the top 3 received cash prizes, to just be invited to India to complete as one of the six finalists in a competition that started with over 27,000 entrants is an amazing point of recognition for all of the competitors! A HUGE Congratulations to the winners!!!

Here's the IT Invitational Awards video leading up to the winner announcement...

6:05pm (On to Korea...): At the end of the awards ceremony it was announced that the 5th Annual Imagine Cup World Finals for 2007 will be held in Seoul, Korea. Welcomed personally by Korea's Deputy Prime Minister, Byoung Joon Kim, the theme for the 2007 Imagine Cup is "Imagine a world where technology enables a better education for all..."

Thank you everyone for following this blog, hopefully you enjoyed following the progress of this competition! Until next year in Korea.... Rand

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