April 23, 2004

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ISC stories: Elimination

I was 12 years old and bored out of my wits in the high school freshman computing class that Hagee Sarmago taught. Although the "Bastard Operator from Hell" series he gave us for our MSDOS Edit practice were amusing, I itched to program, to do something more. To keep me busy, Hagee dumped me in front of a Linux computer, gave me the root password, and told me to figure out how to set up a bulletin board system. Seeing how I threw myself into the task, he suggested that I try out for a yearly competition using the QBasic programming language.

I knew absolutely no QBasic. Sure, I'd been programming since I was a kid, but GWBASIC's line numbers intimidated me so much that I learned Turbo Pascal on my own instead. I'd never been in a programming contest before. I'd participated in chess tournaments and even a trivia contest here and there, but my grade school had never joined any programming contests. I'd have to learn the language, then I'd have to learn all the algorithms. How on earth was I going to compete in a programming competition only a few months away?

"Try it anyway," he urged. With some trepidation, I turned up at school during the morning of the eliminations, wondering if I could avoid making a fool of myself.

March 19, 1996. The fourth floor auditorium was deserted. Uh oh. Correct date? Check. Correct place? I made sure of that. Correct time? Didn't Hagee tell me it was in the morning? I paced, trying to ignore my rising panic as I checked the corridor for any announcements. Could they have moved the eliminations earlier? Did I miss it? Could I still make up?

Hagee found me on my third or fourth circuit around the rooms. I asked him where everyone else was, and he laughed and told me to come back in the afternoon. With a sigh of relief, I went down the stairs and kept myself busy.

The eliminations were held after lunch. I recognized some of my classmates in the crowd. There were few empty seats, and I gulped as I pondered the tough competition. Newsprint sheets and problem statements were handed out, and the contest began.

Selection was simple. They would train six people with the most number of problems correctly solved. I flipped through the problem set and picked the easiest one. We could solve the problems any way we wanted, so I started sketching a solution in Turbo Pascal.

Half-way through, I found myself grinding my teeth in frustration. Syntax seemed suddenly restrictive. Thanking whatever gods may be that Hagee taught us how to flow-chart, I started doodling all over the page. Flow-charts took a lot more space, but it made it easier to change my mind and stick something in the middle of a solution.

Around me, other people were similarly frustrated. Many quietly got up and left. I continued scribbling furiously. I might have a chance!

The organizers called the time, and I reluctantly passed my papers forward. A tall guy with a shaved head checked the papers, laughing maniacally. I hovered about the front, anxious to find out how I did. Five! I'd solved five out of nine problems correctly, earning me a place in the team!

The scores were:

NAME SCORE RANK
Neil Ongkingco 6 2
Ernest Baello III 0 -
Aldwin John M. Salido 1 -
Jemmuel del Carmen 4 6
Leo Crisologo 3 -
Jose Carlo Tubadeza 3 -
Oliver Ang 5 3
Mario Carreon 5 4
Sacha Chua 5 5
Jerome Punzalan 9 1
J. Lagon 4 6

Short story: SMOKED

"All right, kiddo, cough it up."

She shook her head, mouth clamped shut.

Exasperated, he pinched her nose.

When she gasped for breath, he grabbed the saliva-coated cigarette. "This is bad for you." He was about to chuck it into the trashcan when nicotine pangs hit. Wiping it on his sleeve, he lit it up.

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