Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Imagine Cup 2007 Recap

ImagineCup 2007 is over. It was phenomenal event. In a few words I will try to explain my feelings about the event. I will start with my disappointments.

What sucked

As any big event there are some things that are not as they should be (or at least as I think they should be).

  • Schedule. The schedule was very tight. Fortunately we have arrived a couple of days before the event (the flights for Korea are not everyday destination for Europeans smile_regular so we were able to acclimatize with the local culture and food. On our first presentation one of the judges was yawning like a lion. It was obvious that he did not have enough sleep the night before. Also the judges had to listen at 9 presentations in a row without any big break. I'm not sure how productive they were at the last presentation. In the official schedule we had only one day to look around the Seoul. As the mayor of the city said this is not enough time to make a whole trip and we spent most of the time travelling with the bus from one sightseeing to another. Another problem was that sometimes in the agenda was written one name of a hall, but actually the event was in another hall.
  • Food. I was first introduced to the traditional Korean meal "Bibimpap" in the airplane flying to Korea and I like it. But oh man when you see dozen men preparing it with big giant forks in a basketball arena it's not that delicious any more. Another Korean speciality was sea food - this includes not only shrimps, mussels, but sea plants as well. Only one day there were burgers for lunch. Next time guys give us pizza, burgers and stronger coffee. We are developers. This is our main source of energy. Last but not least is the green tea. In Bulgaria we drink this to loosen our self in Korea this is traditional drink. Check what this guy says about it.
  • Competition rooms & booths - Oh man. Competition rooms was awful. Noise, noise, noise. As if we were at a football stadium. On our second presentation one of the judges even came out of the room without saying a word. Eventually he went to the next rooms to say to the people there to be quiet (By the way the same judge was late for the presentation smile_cry). The rooms were small as well. We had more audience than the chairs in the room. Weak organization and testing here. Also the competition booths were not properly situated. They were in the form of fish bone, rather than the usual concentrated circles arrangement. This means that the guys at the end will be hidden by the team in front of them. If the team in front has a big poster or flag of his country it is almost impossible to see the rear teams smile_sad
  • Attitude to the host team (Korean guys). My applaus e to the Korean Team. Great idea. They have developed a glove that helps blind, deaf and mute born people to communicate and educate. But as a host team they had some more privileges. For example when the competitor rooms were shown to them, only they were allowed to enter and listen to the speaker who was presenting the room and the door was shut in front of our noses. Also on their final presentation the girl read out their presentation. And yes these guys did not know English language, so they needed a translation guy for the Q&A session. Isn't this strange. And they got second. Next time it will be better for them to create translation software to help them with the language barrierssmile_regular. Talking about this reminds of my other disappointment.
  • Software Design as pure software - Software Design as a topic sounds great. But actually what is valued more is what hard ware you bring with you. From the 6 finalist 4 of them have some specific devices - Austria - big interactive board with expensive pens; Korea - hi-tech glove, Serbia - full blown car system, Ireland - again gloves (these gloves were not hardware based, but again special equipment). I am pretty happy that the winners Thailand had produce pure software solution. So it seems software design is more like embedded development isn't it smile_regular No one looked at your architecture, no one care did you have extensible UI and plug-in based system, no one cared about your object model, no one cared did you use the best practices to create your masterpiece. But remember if you have decided to go in production with your software these things will be priceless thensmile_wink. But for ImagineCup bring the big giant minority report table with censored enabled gloves and you will be one of the finalists.

What rocks

Of course there were things that rock as well. Here are some of them:

  • Team supporters. Korean guys are extremely kind people. I think everybody like the local. They were very responsive, helpful and the smile was not leaving their faces. Both hands up for the supports. Kimchi
  • Sheraton (especially the bed). The conditions at the hotel

    were perf ect. The bed was one of the most comfortable that I have slept in . Actually we did not sleep a lot, but this is another topic. The Sheraton complex was big enough to handle the Imagin e Cup masses. The guys at the reception were also very kind and fulfil all our wishes (when they understand us what we wanted)
  • Joe Wilson (aka Microsoft's Tom Cruise :) This is the man. Joe is the guy who runs all the MS Academic initiatives. And man this guy rocks da house. If you happen to know him you know what I mean. One example from me: The day that was scheduled for trip around Seoul the agenda said that each participant should go to its own bus where we were listed. Of course some of our team was at one bus and other was at another. And this was not only with our team, but with all teams as well. A chaos has begun to happen when everybody wants to switch its bus. And here from nothing came Joe speaking from the mic. I'm paraphrasing him here but he said something like this: "We need a little bit less organization here. This is what we are going to do. We are going to trust you. You choose in which bus you want to travel at least you travel with the same bus all the time". audience applauded him and everybody smiled. This is Joe Wilson.

So as I conclusion I will end up with what I think (and my whole team also) is the real value of Imagine Cup.

What it is all about

Not being qualified for the second round showed us the real value of the Imagine Cup. We stopped thinking about the presentation and look around us. Guess what we saw. People. Yeah, that's right. We saw people from all over the world, from Brazil to Singapore, from Korea to Sri Lanka. We played StarCraft with Bosnia, we beat everybody on table football :), we played Gong-Gong-Chi-Bang with locals, we played X-box 360, we sign "We will rock you" with French, we played darts, we just have fun. So looking back it is clear for me what Imagine Cup is all about - it's about the people. It's about putting them together and let then enjoy. It's about you, it's about me, it's about anyone. Can you imagine this? If you can't I will see you in Paris :)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Before first presentation

Yesterday was the welcome reception. On the Channel8 site you can see a lot of videos and interviews with teams.

On the party drawed lots about first round groups and order of presentations. We are with group with Malaysia, Norway, Mexico, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. We start at 17:40 Korean time.

We don’t see real rivalry in other teams. We have great presentation :). Wish us good luck.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Time mismatch!

Due to unconfigured date on my camera the dates on the pictures do not match the dates I explained about. I'll fix that in future.

Korea - First touch to local culture.

Today was the first whole day that we spent in Korea. We went out of the hotel to walk around the shops in Seoul for 3-4 hours and eat some decent food.
We went to a Techno-market in the center of Seoul. We looked around for a little bit and then got to a fast food restaurant to have a bite. Of course we chose the one that offers the most western-like food. Strangely, the locals looked at us like we were some monsters when we offered 2 chicken burgers for each of us (we hadn't eaten decent food for 3 days). Obviously they don't eat that much and we were an attraction for them. After finishing the meal we stared at the site on the terrace next to the restaurant.
After that was the time! You probably imagine what joy is for developers and technical people to wonder around an enormous techno-market (7 floors at least).
Starting from the floors about PCs and going down we wondered for about an hour. It was enormous! Lots of stocks on lots of stands! What stunned us at the beginning was the fact that there were no prices on most of the stocks. After a 10-20 mins we realized that this was due to the fact that for each item there is not a fixed price. It is all about what deal you will arrange with the salesman. Not everywhere, but on some of the stands you can achieve up to 20% discount off the price after a small bargaining. However, for a country so technically advanced we were quite disappointed to see this kind of trade. It reminded us for a trading place in Sofia (back in Bulgaria) called Iliyantsi. However, this place was almost out of the city (not in downtown) and mainly there are small items (cloths, blankets and other small things). Seeing this in the center of Korea was not an expected experience.
Whatever, even that there were no fixed prices, those that were initially offered were lower compared to those in Bulgaria for a few items.
Going back to the hotel we met other teams arriving one day earlier. It will be a tense competition and I'm sure that the judges will have a hard time choosing the winners.
I've uploaded the pictures I took today here.

Have fun and keep your fingers crossed for Brainstorm and Bookvar!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Korea - The starting

Great news!
We are already here. Yes! Here in the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill hotel in Seoul. Being one of the finalists, our team arrived in Seoul 2 days earlier than the announced time.
I'll try to describe as detailed as possible the whole trip.

Starting from Sofia at 14:45 PM we traveled to Frankfurt with Lufthansa. As we had only 1 hour between arrival and departure of plains, we were a bit worried whether we will be able to take the connecting flight to Seoul. For everyone that has ever been to the Frankfurt airport is quite clear how big it is. For the rest, know that it is bigger than you think :).
By plan we had to arrive in Frankfurt and directly from there to start travel again with Lufthansa to Seoul. By mere luck, instead of directly going to the gate with the boarding passes that we had, we went to the cash desk and from there we were offered to switch our tickets with ones for the Korean Airlines and get as compensation additional 400 Euros in flight checks or 300 Euros in cash. As you probably suspect we dumped Lufthansa and took the money :). None of us had ever traveled with Korean Air and we wondered whether it will be as good as Lufthansa. Boarding the Korean Airlines flight KE 906, it appeared that this plain and service is even better than the one of Lufthansa. So we got better service and money out of the blue... :)

If you haven't been to the Inchon Airport - it is even bigger than Frankfurt. Coming from Bulgarian climate, for us weather in Korea was a killer - hot and misty! Cannot breathe properly.... And the air was stinking. Like a whole flock of cows passed in front of the Airport just before we went out. Traveling from Inchon airport to Sheraton Grande Walkerhill hotel took about 80 mins (a lot to travel ah.. :) ) and was as pleasing as possible for all of us (Air Conditioning and comfortable chairs). When we arrived at the hotel, it all shifted to a strange direction - first the receptionist hardly understood what we were saying (even though we consider our English to be pretty decent). Then instead of being placed with me, Stefan was assigned to share room with Mr. Abdullah Someone. Fortunately, after showing the printed reservation confirmation they fixed the mistake and we went to our rooms.

The evening went great (we went experimenting with local food and trained for the finals.
As a whole the trip started adventurous and ended safely and the hotel is great (excluding the language difficulties that we had and probably will continue to have).
I have uploaded pictures from the trip and yesterday here.

For now this... See you later.