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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

  • Waterloo Black team goes to ACM final
  • Sabbaticals: biomechanics to pavements
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Waterloo Black team goes to ACM final

by Amy Aldous, Faculty of Mathematics

Waterloo Black programming team, 2011

It’s been called “a five-hour battle of wits and bytes” – and Waterloo Black is the team to beat.

This year, the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC) world finals will be held in Orlando, Florida, Friday May 27 through next Tuesday, May 31.

The Waterloo Black team members (above, in blue T-shirts) are Brian Bi, Hanson Wang and Tyson Andre. This photo was taken at the ACM-ICPC regional competition, held at the University of Windsor last fall. Host Ziad Kobti is on the left, Waterloo coach Ondrej Lhoták on the right.

The Waterloo Black team finished first out of 112 teams from 56 universities and colleges competing in the East Central North America Regional Programming Contest. The team finished ahead of runners-up Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, earning a spot in the world finals.

This is the 19th year in a row that a Waterloo team has qualified for the world finals – more than any other university worldwide. In the finals, Waterloo teams have placed first in the world twice: in 1994 and 1999.

The University of Waterloo’s reputation for dominance in this competition is so well known, it inspires defiance in other teams. One University of Michigan-Dearborn team's name is “winner != waterloo.” (Rendered in English, that’s “winner does not equal Waterloo.”)

Will history repeat itself?

Waterloo Black 1999 ACM winning team

One of the 1999 championship team members, Ondrej Lhoták, is now a University of Waterloo computer science faculty member coaching the 2011 ACM-ICPC team. (That's Lhoták, right, in blue shirt, with the other two members of the 1999 team, Viet-Trung Luu, holding the cup, and David Kennedy.) He is impressed with the performance of all three Waterloo teams that competed in the regional competition this time around — placing first, eighth, and sixteenth out of 112. Only one team can represent each university at the world finals.

This year’s ACM-ICPC was to have been held at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, but security concerns caused the event to be postponed and eventually relocated to Orlando. The delay did give the team more time to practice. However, Tyson, Brian, and Hanson are all co-op students who are scattered for May-August work terms.

All three of the Waterloo Black team members have represented Canada at the International Olympiad of Informatics (IOI), the world’s premier computing competition for high school students. Like the ACM-ICPC, the IOI competition tasks are algorithmic, requiring problem analysis, programming, and testing.

ACM logoACM describes the International Collegiate Programming Competition

“The contest pits teams of three university students against eight or more complex, real-world problems with a grueling five-hour deadline," says the ACM on its website. "Huddled around a single computer, competitors race against the clock in a battle of logic, strategy and mental endurance. Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges.”

Waterloo’s team members are chosen from among the winners of University of Waterloo programming competitions. Individually, they are brilliant programmers – the challenge is learning to work together as a team. Three contestants share one computer, so it’s important to know each other’s strengths, communicate well, and use the machine time most effectively.

Training for the regional competition and the world finals involves simulating the contest. The contestants work to solve actual problems from past competitions in the same type of environment under the same time constraints. Afterwards, they discuss the algorithms. Each training session is five hours plus an hour for discussion.

Back in the 1990s when Ondrej first became involved with the ACM competition, there were fewer resources and less programming contest activity for high school students. He competed in the very first Canadian Computing Competition in 1996. Students now benefit from a multitude of online resources.

The ACM-ICPC has grown dramatically over the years. More competition has led to increasingly strong teams, chosen from growing numbers of interested students. Some universities have poured resources into ACM-ICPC preparation, even to the extent of formalizing it as part of the curriculum so that students get course credit for training. At Waterloo, the competition remains a voluntary extra-curricular activity.

For those of us cheering on the Waterloo Black team from afar on May 30, competition organizers provide a scoreboard with updates in real time — along with photos and video — at

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Sabbaticals: biomechanics to pavements

Here’s a further list of Waterloo faculty members who are currently on sabbatical leave. The plans quoted are taken from documents submitted to the university’s board of governors, which has to approve all sabbaticals.

ECE prof Magdy SalamaMagdy Salama (left), electrical and computer engineering (12 months that began January 1): “I’ll be focusing on my research activities and supervising my graduate students. I have recently established a new research direction in Smart Distribution Systems with Hydro One and Natural Resources Canada and I need to put a concentrated effort to make this initiative succeed. I am the principal investigator in four major research grants (plus my operation and equipment grants) and I am a research collaborator in another three research grants. Also with the new structuring of the Renewable Energy Resources (wind and solar), there are great opportunities for research funding in this area, and during my sabbatical I’ll be participating in these activities.”

Pascal Poupart, computer science (6 months that began February 1): “I plan to write a book on Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes and to visit other institutions (e.g., Google, AT&T, MIT or Cambridge) to advance my research in natural language processing.”

Changling Chen, accounting and finance (6 months that began March 1): “The purpose of applying for the leave of absence is to complete my unfinished research projects and start a couple of new projects. Right now, I have five research projects in progress and several research ideas to explore. I also plan to visit other universities for research purposes.”

ECE prof Ladan TahvildariLadan Tahvildari (right), electrical and computer engineering (6 months that began March 1): “During this time period, I will visit several research institutions in Canada, Europe and Brazil to initiate new collaborations. I also plan to consolidate my research collaborations with my industrial partners, RIM and IBM, during this sabbatical period. This leave will also be spent preparing journal publications in collaboration with my graduate students and colleagues from other universities.”

Duane Cronin, mechanical and mechatronics engineering (12 months that began May 1): “The proposed sabbatical will be focused in two areas. I am planning a short (approximately 3 months, starting in May) academic visit (location TBD) to further my work in the area of impact biomechanics. The remainder of the sabbatical will be devoted to supporting several large research projects currently underway including my project as a Centre of Expertise for the Global Human Body Models Consortium.”

Carl Haas, civil engineering professorCarl Haas (left), civil and environmental engineering (6 months that began May 1): “Development in research, teaching and service, including, for example, deepening current collaborative research relationships with Canadian industrial partners such as Aecon and Coreworx, and with academic colleagues at Les Ecoles Centrale in France, TU Munchen, Carnegie Mellon University, Laval, Concordia, and the University of Texas at Austin. The outcome will be a strategic plan that may include a centre proposal.”

Ali Elkamel, chemical engineering (12 months that began May 1): “I will focus on finalizing a book on planning process operations, preparing invited book chapters, and continue writing journal papers to advance my research program on green process systems engineering. I also plan to spend time to update my lecture notes and develop new ones. I will try to be stationed at another institution in order to start new collaborations.”

CPA staff

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Link of the day

Quilt and fibre art

When and where

PAS (Psychology) building hot water shut off today, 8 a.m. to noon.

Touring Players children’s performance: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” May 24 (10:30 and 12:45), May 25 (10:00 and 12:30), Humanities Theatre.

Walking meditation led by Beth Bower and Linda Mackay of counselling services, Today, 12:05, meet in front of Needles Hall.

Career workshops today: “Interview Skills, Preparing for Questions” 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1208; “Networking 101” 4:30, Tatham 1208. Details.

WatRISQ seminar: Marc Henry, Université de Montréal, “Comonotone Measures of Multivariate Risks” Today, 4:00, Davis Centre room 1304.

Co-op employer interviews (pharmacy students) for fall work term begin May 25; rankings open May 27, results May 31.

‘Old World, New Realities’ lecture by Warren Jestin, chief economist at Scotiabank, Wednesday, 11 a.m., LCAO Lecture Theatre, Accounting wing of Hagey Hall; to be followed by funding announcement.

Procurement and Contract Services Trade Show Wednesday (Staples) and Thursday (computer and tech), 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Davis Centre room 1301 (fishbowl). Details.

Batteries for Biscuits: Federation of Students event gives out baked goods in exchange for batteries and old electronics. May 25 and 26, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., Student Life Centre Vendor Alley.

Career workshop: “Interview Skills, Selling Your Skills” Wednesday, 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Stratford Campus “Making the Future” dinner, presentation by dean of arts Ken Coates on the vision for Stratford, Waterloo and Canada, Wednesday, 7:00, Church Restaurant, tickets $90. Details.

Co-op employer interviews for fall work term begin May 26 (main group) and continue through June 16.

Surplus sale of furniture and equipment, Thursday, 12:30 to 2:00, East Campus Hall.

Enterprise Co-op launch event hosted by Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the Communitech Hub, Thursday, 2 to 4, by invitation.

Career workshop: “Exploring Your Personality Type” (Part I) Thursday, 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1113. Details.

Water Institute Distinguished Lecture: Tony Allan, King’s College London, “Water Security and the Role of Trade” Thursday, 3:00, EIT room 1015.

Retirees Association annual general meeting Thursday, 3:30, Sunshine Centre, Luther Village.

Centre for Family Business, based at Conrad Grebel U College , gala awards night Thursday, 6 p.m., Bingemans Conference Centre, Kitchener.

PAS (Psychology) building hot water shut off Friday, 8 a.m. to noon.

Guelph-Waterloo Centre for Graduate Work in Chemistry and Biochemistry, annual general meeting Friday, 1:00, Thornborough building room 1200, University of Guelph. Seminar by Guy Guillemette, Waterloo, “Mapping the Binding and Calmodulin-Dependent Activation of Nitric Oxide Synthase Isozymes”, 3:00, followed by graduate student poster session and awards.

‘Hairspray’ at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, outing sponsored by UW Recreation Committee , Sunday, May 29, 4:00.

Start-Up Chile program presentation by Nicolas Shea, Gov't of Chile advisor. Monday, May 30, 9:30 a.m. - noon, Needles Hall room 1101. RSVP to

Final date for fee arrangements, spring term, May 31.

May Court Club of KW lunch & learn about volunteering. Tuesday, May 31, 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., Davis Centre room 1302. Details.

Perimeter Institute lecture: Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, “Living Through Four Revolutions” Wednesday, June 1, 7:00, Waterloo Collegiate Institute. Details.

Department of English debate: author Christopher Hitchens and academic Barry Brummett, “Religion, as a literary value, is a force for good” Saturday, June 4, 7 p.m., Humanities Theatre, tickets $20 from Humanities box office; part of Literature, Rhetoric and Values conference .

Commuter Challenge June 5-11. Register here; questions to Mark Lisotto-Smith, ext. 38257.

President’s Golf Tournament in support of Athletics Excellence and Awards Fund, Monday, June 6, Westmount Golf and Country Club. Details.

Keystone Campaign picnic, Tuesday, June 7.

Matthews Golf Classic (21st annual), Monday, June 13, Grand Valley Golf Club. Details.

Friday's Daily Bulletin