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The International Society for Computational Biology invites you to participate in an orienteering event on Saturday, August 3, at a riverside park in Edmonton. Orienteering is a map and compass sport which, in the variation we will undertake here, is an instantiation of the prize-collecting traveling salesman problem. Here's your chance to tackle an NP-complete problem with your feet! The cost for the event will be approximately $5 Canadian.

You can treat the event as a pleasant and leisurely stroll in the park, or as a fierce competition with your colleagues -- it is up to you.

BRING A COMPASS if you have one! While not absolutely necessary, it could help... And bring $5 in exact change if you can, that will help too.

For those of you who get hooked on orienteering, the local Edmonton orienteering club ( ) will be hosting another event at the end of the conference, on August 7.


Prior to August 3:

RSVP by sending email to  (this will help us get an estimate of the number of maps to make, and allow us to pre-distribute some materials). Walk-ons are welcome; however, you are not guaranteed a map unless you RSVP.

On the evening of August 3:

5:30pm - 5:45pm Gather at the Shaw Conference Centre to sign up and receive instructions.
5:50pm    Walk to the start location.
6:00pm    Maps will be handed out.
6:15pm   You'll have a fixed amount of time to collect as many points as you can by visiting control locations marked on the map.
7:00pm    Check in at the finish and walk back to the Conference Centre
Later in the conference    Medals awarded to the top finishers

To registrants for ISMB-02:

52 people have signed up to do this event so far, with a few more expressing interest!

Please address questions and comments to

In this message:

(1) What to bring with you on Saturday August 3, 2002
(2) FAQ (questions asked of me so far)

(1) What to bring with you on Saturday August 3, 2002

* A printout of the waiver form, signed.
* $5 Canadian
* a watch
* Closed-toe shoes. Running shoes or hiking shoes are ideal.
There are some steep paths you may choose to travel.

* A compass (do bring one if you can)
* A water bottle
* Appropriate gear for the weather on that day (e.g., raincoat)

(2) FAQ

Q: What time should I come?
A: Any time after 5:00, but definitely by 5:30, on Saturday August 3, 2002.

Q: Where?
A: Near the ISMB registration desk.

Q: Is it OK if I've never orienteered before?
A: Yes. Most people will not have orienteered before, and we'll provide instruction.

Q: What if it's raining?
A: We'll decide at 5:00 whether to proceed with the event or to call a rain date. We are likely to go ahead with the event anyway; bring a raincoat!

Q: Will we go alone or in teams?
A: Both are allowed. We prefer that you go in teams, so you will get extra points for going in groups of two or more.

Q: Do I have to go fast?
A: NO! You can go at your own speed. Walking is just fine.

Q: What if I get lost?
A: The "safety bearing" will be north to the river, and then along the river to the footbridge leading back to the Shaw conference center. Feel free to ask passers-by for help if you are lost.

Q: What is orienteering?
A: Orienteering is a map and compass sport. You are given a map with control locations marked on it with circles. Your task is to get from one control to another as quickly as possible. In the version we'll be playing, there is no prescribed order for visiting the locations. Thus, if you were to visit all the controls, you'd be faced with the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) of choosing the order of controls to minimize your travel time. However, you'll have a time limit beyond which severe penalties will be exacted, so you'll be solving a variant of the TSP which requires you to choose the subset of controls to visit that will maximize your score, as well as choosing your route between them. This is sometimes referred to as the Prize-Collecting Traveling Salesman Problem, and is a well-known NP-complete problem in its own right. Of course, it's further complicated for you in that you don't know ahead of time exactly how much time it will take you to get from one control to another, so you will have an estimation-revision problem to solve as you proceed.

Q: What are orienteering maps like?
A: Orienteering maps are special maps that are painstakingly created specifically for the sport. They have topographic lines to describe the shape of the land, and additional features: two-dimensional features such as what the vegetation is like (to tell the orienteer how hard it is to get through it), linear features such as paths and fences, and point features such as boulders and man-made objects.

Last update: March 26, 2001, maintained by Haiyan Zhang