The RubeTube

Life's a cube.  Solve it.

March 29, 2007
There are three qualifying rounds for the 2007 TopCoder Open Algorithm Competition, and if you place in the top 550 in one of them, you qualify for the next round (Online Round 1). And the results from tonight's qualifiers were... discouraging, to say the least:

I ranked 705; I didn't qualify. I feel very fortunate though that I've still got two more qualifying rounds where I could redeem myself.

The best way to describe my performance today would be: I sucked. To be honest, I expected to qualify today. The problems weren't all that hard. The difficult problem was too tough for me and I never bothered with it, but the easy and moderate problems were a cinch... or so they were supposed to be.

(The following narration won't make much sense unless you know the rules.)

I got fixated on a messed-up and error-prone approach for the easy problem which I couldn't even get to work properly (runtime errors). Then I panicked, opened the moderate problem, thought it was too difficult, then went back to the easy problem. I finally managed to submit a a solution which didn't have any runtime errors.

The moderate problem turned out to be not as hard as I thought. I hastily submitted a working solution, but I lost a lot of points because the timer started ticking as soon as I opened it. After that, I reviewed my solution to the easy problem and found a bug. I fixed it and submitted it again, which merited a 10-percent penalty for resubmitting. Later on, despite all my efforts, it would fail the system test because the whole approach was just plain wrong.

Discouraged, I didn't bother with the difficult problem and simply waited out the rest of the Coding Phase. The Challenge Phase did not turn out well for me either. I made one unsuccessful challenge, and got beaten to the punch to three would-be successful challenges by a matter of seconds! Argh!

(Edit: I missed the second qualifying round today... One last chance on Wednesday!)

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March 28, 2007
Students held hostage on bus in Manila:

"I love these kids; that's why I am here," says Jun Ducat, the hostage-taker and owner of the day-care center where the children were taken from. Ducat said the hostage-taking was for the children's benefit. With the children chanting his name, Ducat was allowed to make a rambling statement, with media microphones laid beside a loudspeaker, in which he railed against corruption and politicians' failure to make good on promises of free education and housing for the poor. "I am asking for justice so they can have continued education up to college."

That is one sick bastard.

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March 22, 2007
I've qualified for Online Round 2 of the 2007 TopCoder Open Marathon Match Competition! Take a look at the standings here.

Well, that wasn't so hard. All you had to do was make a submission that compiled and you'd make it to the next round because the cut-off score was zero to become one of the top 500 advancers. Awesome achievement, huh? Well, I did score 2523.80 (and ranked 186) so I guess I actually earned my ticket to round 2... and a limited edition 2007 TopCoder Open t-shirt!

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March 19, 2007
I was invited by Dr. Rodrigo to be a mentor for the Ateneo teams joining in this year's Imagine Cup; more specifically, to the three teams joining the Software Design invitational. As a participant in the in IC 2004 (finalist in Brazil) and IC 2005 (didn't make the finals), I was more than happy to contribute what I can to the teams: project ideas, technical expertise, and lessons learned from the contest.

The theme of this year's Imagine Cup is "Imagine a world where technology enables a better education for all." Pretty tough theme, in my opinion. I had but one decent idea and it didn't quite pass the "for all" clause. If you'd like to help us out (Atenean or not), email me at and I'll be glad to pass along your idea to the group.

As a mentor, I attended the Imagine Cup Philippines launch party last Saturday night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Glorietta 3. I got to meet the teams and share some of my ideas. I'm pretty excited about the students; they've got loads of potential and I can't wait to see what they come up with. (And the food at the party was good, too!) The party also brought back some bad memories which I shall leave unmentioned in this blog entry.

One of the activities was a game where each table was given a sheet of Manila paper and a couple of crayons and was asked to draw a symbol that represented Korea (South Korea, the site of the finals). Our table's symbol was easily the best among the entries. How could you lose with the geekiest Korean symbol possible: a poorly drawn "screenshot" of Starcraft, which is like Korea's national sport or something (for 7 years now!). For our efforts, we drew huge laughs from the judges and I scored a brand new paperback copy of Writing Secure Code ($32.99 at
Sweet! The others in our group either got that, or Code Complete, which I already have.

The whole Starcraft thing was my idea, but Wil Li (a CS freshman) did most of the hard work. I wish I'd taken a picture of our drawing, but I guess you'll just have to settle for a picture of the book cover:

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March 16, 2007
When you've got a broadband connection, you're probably maximizing its potential by download ingeverything you can lay your hands off. Which means your hard disks are bound to run out of space at some point (if they're not full already). Burning your stuff to DVDs is a pretty good solution, but sometimes you just want everything in one place without having to organize an entire library.

So I treated myself to an external hard disk. It's a 200GB Toshiba MK2035GSS 2.5-inch laptop hard disk that comes with a SATA-to-USB enclosure. I got it at a dirt-cheap price from TipidPC: PhP 7500 (around US$ 150). (The enclosure may look like a cheap knock-off, but at least the hard disk itself is sealed/brand-new.) A Froogle search reveals that a MK2035GSS sells for around US$ 220 so I definitely got an awesome deal.

It works perfectly, it won't hurt your wallet (but only of bought from TipidPC), it does its job well, it's huge, and it's all ready to get filled up. For all these reasons and more, the Toshiba MK2035GSS is this week's RubeTube Pick of the Week. (It is only worthy of a PoW if bought from TipidPC, so check out the seller's list if you are looking to score one of your own.)

(Interestingly enough, if you take a look at the screenshot below, Windows says that the capacity is only 186 GB. A look at the fine print below the product specs reveals the answer: "*Toshiba defines a megabyte (MB) as 1,000,000 bytes and a gigabyte (GB) as 1,000,000,000 bytes." I was fooled!)

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March 12, 2007
Wish me luck, friends. I'm going to test my coding skills at the 2007 TopCoder Open. Aside from the lure of fame and fortune, I had this nagging problem solving itch that I felt compelled to scratch.

I'll be joining the traditional Algorithm Competition and I'll also be trying out the Marathon Match Competition for the first time. The Marathon Match Competition doesn't have the same nerve-wracking time pressure as the Algorithm Competition, which is good since I have responsibilities at work that I can't just drop.

Registration is closed for the Marathon Match but it's not too late to register for the other three events (Algorithm, Component Design and Development, Studio Design). What are you waiting for?

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March 08, 2007
The first edition of TechBits comes courtesy of Lifehacker. You know how Firefox resizes images to fit in the browser window when they're too large for it? Personally, I find that annoying, and if you don't like how Firefox behaves, here's how you can disable that feature:

  1. Open a new tab (Ctrl+T) in Firefox. Type about:config in the address bar and press Enter.
  2. In the "Filter" text box, start typing browser.enable_automatic_image resizing. You don't need to type the whole thing; you just need to make the setting appear in the list below.
  3. Double click on the browser.enable_automatic_image resizing entry in the list and the value should change to false.
  4. You're done!
Don't worry, you can still shrink or expand the image by clicking on it, but by changing the above setting to false, it doesn't shrink large images by default anymore.

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March 06, 2007
And for the long overdue next installment of the RubeTube Pick of the Week, I present to you... Hamad Darwish's Windows Vista wallpapers. Hamad Darwish is a professional photographer who was commissioned by Microsoft for some photos to be included in the Windows Vista's wallpaper collection, and these two are the ones that actually made the cut.

A lame pick? Perhaps, but I like shuffling my desktop wallpaper from time to time. When there's a bit of a lull in the work at the office, I press Windows+D to show my desktop and I just stare blankly. When my desktop wallpaper doesn't suit my current mood (e.g., angry, frustrated, bored, harassed-by-customers, just-got-my-paycheck), I open up my collection of downloaded wallpapers and pick one that fits best. Right now, this is what's on my desktop right now:

It's easily my favorite in Hamad Darwish's collection. And it fits my current mood of "I just need something pleasing to look at". The clouds and the ripples in the water produce a soothing, calming effect. The warm presence of the sand balances out the scene to prevent it from becoming dull and boring, and its gold/rust color is just right on the eyes (i.e., doesn't make your eyes burn). The presence of rocks beautifully interrupts the plainness of the vista (he he). Awesome shot!

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March 01, 2007
("Attaboy" is the term popularized by Dilbert author Scott Adams that refers to an award given by a company to recognize one of their employee's achievements. Don't underestimate the power of an attaboy.)

Last Tuesday, I received my very first attaboy, in the form of an HP eAward. eAwards are given out monthly to individuals for their outstanding work, and I finally got my turn this month. This is the text on the print-out:

Hewlett-Packard eAwards
Mark C Punzalan

in appreciation for your outstanding efforts

Reason for Recognition:
Kicking off a project three days before the Holiday shutdown. Mark was able to transform vague customer requirements to transform vague customer requirements and an aggressive timeline into a fully interactive blog that was the toast of the ****** [edited out] conference.

Awesome! Extra effort does pay off; I had worked at times into the wee hours of the morning for this. And now I am more motivated then ever! The attaboy effect works indeed!

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After I drove AndreƩ home late last night, I ran into a hellish traffic jam approaching Ayala, which is something you certainly would not expect at 11 in the evening (on a non-Friday). I was actually quite happy at this turn of events, because I finally had an excuse to cough up 85 bucks and get on the Skyway.

I turned right at Ayala Avenue and found my way to the Skyway's on-ramp at Arnaiz Avenue. Home in 20 minutes. Sweet.

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About me

Mark Punzalan
a.k.a. "Punzki"
Location: Redmond, WA
Occupation: Softie

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