Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Marriott and Sheraton Hotels

Back in July, my co-chair Laurie and I visited Raleigh for a number of business meetings with various staff members from the convention center and the hotels. On that trip, we stayed in the Raleigh Marriott City Center Hotel. If you're looking to stay close to the action over at the Raleigh Convention Center, either the Marriott or the very-nearby Sheraton Raleigh Hotel are right onsite. The Marriott is directly across the street from the convention center, and you can get back and forth either by walking across the street or taking an escalator to an underground "connector," which resembles an underground skyway. The Sheraton is close as well; it sits diagonally across the street from the northeast corner of the convention center. Walking to it is nearly as quick as walking from the Marriott, and if the weather gets bad its underground garage connects to the Marriott's parking garage, which in turn connects to the underground "connector" walkway to the convention center. So Sheraton guests can also get to the convention center without going outside if they wish. Both hotels provide free wireless internet access, have nice exercise rooms, and are really comfortable places to stay. We thought the Marriott was great when we stayed there; similarly, we toured the rooms at the Sheraton, and would have been just as happy there. Both are great choices.

One of the many neat things about these two hotels is that there is an outdoor plaza adjoining them with a number of gourmet-style fast food restaurants. While both hotels have restaurants inside them that are quite good, you've also got the opportunity to grab something tasty yet fast. The restaurants in the plaza include Jimmy John's subs, Crema, ZPizza, and Shish-Kabob. Laurie and I tried ZPizza back in July, and really liked it. If you're looking to eat and run, these restaurants appear to be great options.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caffé Luna

During our program meeting back in October, we took the group for dinner to an Italian restaurant named Caffé Luna. Caffé Luna is located about 3 blocks north and 2 blocks east of the convention center, and might be described (by my standards) as slightly fancy but reasonably priced. We all thought that the food was phenomenal. I ordered the "Shrimp Fra Diavolo," which was a shrimp and pasta dish in a spicy tomato sauce. Remarkably, I could even taste the sauce through the head cold I had been suffering through all week. The staff was friendly and helpful; they offered suggestions and advice to anyone who asked. The desserts they served were really yummy too. We ate there on a Thursday night, and had no problems at all getting in; but in general, it was our experience that many of the restaurants in Raleigh get really busy on weekend evenings. If you want to do a sit-down dinner with a group on Friday or Saturday night, make reservations. There are many wonderful choices in the area -- and we're happy to recommend Caffé Luna as one of them!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Clarion Hotel Stay

SIGCSE 2012 has three conference hotels: the Raleigh Marriot City Center Hotel, the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, and the Clarion Raleigh Hotel State Capital. The Marriott and the Sheraton are directly across the street from the Raleigh Convention Center, and both offer the sort of upscale hotel experience you would associate with those hotel names. The Clarion is a great discount option for those who are looking to save some money, and is accessible via a 15 minute walk or short free bus ride from the convention center.

For SIGCSE program meetings, the committee typically sleeps and meets in the "flagship" conference hotel. This is in order to provide quick and easy access to the meeting facilities and staff, so the committee can work efficiently on getting the event put together. Raleigh threw us for a loop this time around. It appears that this is a really popular convention site, and both the Sheraton and the Marriott were completely sold out for the week in which we'd promised we'd make decisions on accepted papers, panels, special sessions, and workshops! Luckily, the Clarion had space for us to sleep and to have our meeting. This actually worked out really well -- we can now report in detail about our experience staying at the "discount" hotel option.

The Clarion is a fine place to stay, and we really enjoyed it. The building is tall, narrow, and round, and has a restaurant at the top that overlooks the city. It offers by far the best view from any of the hotels, in fact. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and we can confirm that the walk to the convention center is easy and pleasant. Furthermore, the stop for the R-line (which is the free bus loop around downtown) is just on the far end of the parking lot across the street from the Clarion. There are also a number of nice restaurants and bars close by.

Internet access is included for free: each room supplies wired access via an included ethernet cable, and the ground floor lobby and top floor restaurant/bar offer wireless access. We'll manage expectations here: we found the bandwidth to be acceptable, but not great. The Clarion tells us that they hope (but do not guarantee) to have a new system in place by the time we arrive. We've described our crowd and our computer usage to them, so they know we're coming! Incidentally, the staff at the Clarion was fantastic to work with, and they listened to and responded to our needs.

The Clarion offered a buffet breakfast (cost not included in the room), which we found to be quite nice. They made omelets to order, and had available french toast, sausage, bacon, biscuits, cold cereal, fruit, and pastries. For the picky among us, they did also offer a menu with other choices, which were also very yummy.

For those of you who like the experience of staying really close to the convention center and getting the "upscale" hotel experience, you'll definitely want to check out the Marriott or the Sheraton. If you're looking to save some dough and do a bit of walking, the Clarion is a fine alternative.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Pit

While we were in town for the PC meeting, we wanted to make sure to eat some local favorites. What is Raleigh known for? Barbecue. A local favorite located only blocks from the convention center is The Pit, which is perhaps described as a gourmet barbecue restaurant.

Our server easily identified our group for the out-of-towners that we were, and shared with us some of the details about the food. Eastern North Carolina barbecue differs from that served in other locations by its more considerable use of vinegar. The sauces and flavorings used on the food were lighter in color than I'd expect from a typical jar of BBQ sauce, and they definitely had a sharper taste to them. The other distinction is that some of the menu items were "chopped" into smaller sized bits than you'd expect from a typical Texas "pulled pork," for example. We loved the food, and thought it was terrific.

One of our committee members (Tracy Camp, program co-chair extraordinaire) is a vegetarian, and kept us honest in making sure she was able to eat as well. The Pit has a barbecued tofu dish that is incredibly good. Tracy asked many of us to taste her food, saying "are you sure this isn't chicken?" I'm happy to confirm that yes, it was indeed tofu, and we highly recommend the dish to anyone.

The Pit is located one block north and three blocks west of the convention center, at 328 W. Davie St. It gets really busy: visit the website and make a reservation for lunch or dinner.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brainy Transportation

Greetings from the SIGCSE 2012 committee.

We're all looking forward to seeing you in Raleigh! We've just returned from our program committee meeting in Raleigh, where we got together to decide what paper, panel, special session, and workshop proposals will appear in the final program. It was also an opportunity for us to learn more about the event site, and so we hope to share with you some of the excitement that we've had.

If you're traveling alone between the airport and downtown Raleigh, Super Shuttle is probably your most economical option. If you have a larger party, however, you can take a cab and split the cost. There are many taxi companies in Raleigh; we chose to try Trivia Taxi in traveling back to the airport from the hotel. During a Trivia Taxi ride, you get asked six trivia questions. If you get at least five of them right, you get a free ride!

The experience was an absolute blast, and we'd recommend it to anyone. The four of us in the cab were allowed to discuss and consider answers, but one of us had to be designated as the "final answerer." Trivia queen and symposium co-chair Laurie Smith King enthusiastically took on that role.

The questions started off fairly easy, and we whipped through them in due course. The difficulty was suddenly ratcheted up when this team of four computer scientists was asked "How many different ways are there to make change from a $1 bill?" On the short ride to the airport, the pressure was fierce. Multiple approaches were discussed, scraps of paper scrawled on, and at least one family member was called via cell phone, but we didn't have the time to whip out a laptop and code up a simulation.

Embarrassingly, we paid for the ride. But it was the best cab ride we had ever paid for.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The CFP for SIGCSE 2012 is now on our Web site.

Don't forgot about SIGCSE 2011! We'll see you in Dallas in March!