Off-Topic 001 : MechMania 2002 After-Report

22Oct02 (Monthenor): Well, now that that's settled, we --

Wait, what? A library of talking heads? For STICK FIGURES?? This once again illustrates (without an actual illustration. ZING!) the difference between CS and MIS majors. MIS majors do all this weird "planning" and "flowcharting" and "design" work, whereas CS people like to throw themselves at the problem and forge ahead with nothing but pure skill separating them from the unemployment line. Hell, sometimes we get so buried in the project as a whole that we don't have any actual working demo code until the instant it's due. So maybe my stick figures wouldn't be ANSI W3C XML compliant reusable doohickeys. I came to terms with that a long time ago, and I'm okay with it.

So here's part one of my super-long UIUC report, just so I can get the memories out into a more permanent form than my head and my scratch notebook.


If you've just visited our page, and are from the UIUC area, I'm willing to bet you found one of my little index cards. I left 8 of them, hidden in various degress of "hidden", in your fair metropolises. I don't believe anybody will be so crazy as to collect them all, but be assured that yes, there are actually eight of them, and yes, they are numbered for easy collectibility. There are 2 Monthenors, 1 Morgion, 2 Bodies, 2 Carls, and 1 Wai in places I visited over the weekend. I think at least one person saw one of them, since its position had shifted a little the next time I checked on it. You should probably get to them before the pencil fades.


1530: Lexicon has graciously offered his car for the trip, so it's him, me, Nekkid, and Alphi in a four-door of some sort. It's all new and rounded and stuff, but it magically has plenty of trunk space and leg room for all. I actually managed to pack light for this trip: usually I shove stuff in my big-assed duffel, but I know I'm not going to be changing clothes or showering much this trip. Everything fit in my regular backpack, a plastic bag of car goodies, and a snack pack on loan from the parents. I also managed to not forget anything important, which has resulted in more throwaway combs and shampoos than I care to mention.

We stop to top off Lexicon's tank and check out his swank digs. So then we're on the road, armed with MapQuest directions to the Motel 6 in Urbana and a pile of CDs. Time is passed with bands I've never heard of (but should have) and witty coder banter. Spirits are high but we have a healthy dose of skepticism about the UIUC conference. Last year sucked so hard that we have less than half the complement going this year.

Note to self: find Lovage/Dan the Automator/"Nathaniel Merriweather's Music to Make Love to Old Ladies By"

1600-0300: The trip passes uneventfully until just past Rockford. Here the UIUC gods attempt to turn us around, just like every year. Out of nowhere, we suddenly get heavy doses of fog/rain/snow. By this point it's about 0130 and we just want to freaking get there already. Even the shitty motel (see below) is better than the car in this foggy hell.

0300: We reach the Motel 6 and discover it's actually a "Best Comfort Inn". Motel 6 just can't be bothered to give any money to this franchise, apparently. We're fortunate and have a full set of pillows. The check-in process is longer than need be because we have a double room with four people, and making the Indian man at the counter understand that we want four card keys is a long and painful odyssey through Relative Vocabulary Size.

0330: We finally get settled in and grab about 7 precious hours of sleep. The morning shower is a heinous mockery of showers had prostate problems (can't point up, no pressure) until Lexicon went in and fixed it. I didn't ask questions. Thus begins our Friday, which for everyone else was actually about halfway through Friday.

-- 18Oct02 MEANDERING --

Began leaving GM ads HERE

1200: If there's one thing we agreed upon at the outset of the trip, it's that the job fair would most likely suck. We weren't disappointed. Actually, we were, but at least we were right. I'm glad I didn't take the time to print out any resumes this year. So after Nekkid talks to the NSA, and giving up on the Microsoft line (they had elastic hairy balls), we strike out across Urbana-Champaign.

1300ish: Miko's for lunch. Lexicon had spotted this on our way to campus, and we all jumped at the chance to have real sushi in a real city. It was damn fine stuff, even if we didn't sit at the actual sushi bar. I made a complete gaijin ass of myself, stabbing sushi with a fork, but chopsticks weren't working out for me. At least I made sure the chef wasn't watching me. It was strangely filling for such little pieces of seafood.

1400?: Back to campus to wander around. The tech building (DCL) has nice outdoors smoke nooks that we take advantage of to chat some more. We look through the tech library (a different library from last year) and attempt to find a way to check our email. No go. But they had like reams of Dobb's Journal, acres of ACM papers, more CS texts than NDSU has made me weep with the sheer bookness of it all. It was also quiet. The NDSU library is pretty damn noisy, since we have to use all manner of square footage for classrooms. This building was pure library, and hella quiet. I haven't heard a library that quiet since I was a kid in St. Paul. Even the lounge areas with easy chairs (!) and coffee tables (!) were eerily silent. It's like people were learning or something.

~1500: Our campus self-tour is ditched in favor of Green St.

1545: Green St. has some cool shiite, most of which we saw last year. After walking its length and back, we decide to hit that bar that looks like got burned out. We find that it is indeed closed, but for something involving a liquor license. Maybe. Anyway, just across the street one of us spots Evotea, an "Internet Cafe". Lexicon pictures a trendy coffee spot to sip and check our email. We come in to find a bewildering (to me) selection of frosty/brewed beverages, snacky treats, a big screen TV playing DBZ (Garlic Jr., ugh), and some wooden stairs off to the side. After staring at the menu and finding nothing of interest (or, rather, too many things of interest), we check out the upstairs.

I pause for internal reflection.

I had seen the gaming posters and stuff out of the corner of my eye, sure. However, having spent the latter half of my life in crummy hick towns, I was not prepared for an Internet gaming cafe to suddenly appear in front of me. The upstairs was literally coated in identical computers like some sort of sugary humming coating. This, verily, was A Place To Check Our Email. The pricing was also very reasonable: $5/hr for nonmembers, and $2/hr for a $5 membership. Since we were only staying an hour, we opted for nonmembership, but DAMN if it wasn't some of the best games I've had in a while. Everybody was on a CounterStrike server, having a fine old deathmatch. I spent a glorious hour dealing out death and having it dealt unto my person. On the way out, Alphi grabbed a chocolate-coffee thing. We all had a taste and agreed that it was mighty fine drinkage, even myself who detests all forms of coffee/latte/mocha/'ccino. It also came with little jellied things in the bottom (from whence the drink derives its name) that tasted slightly of coffee, slightly of chocolate, but were mostly of a consistency between JellO and Gummi Bear. In short, WHEN I go back to UIUC next year, I WILL be visiting Evotea.

1700: Free pasta dinner at the YMCA. Pretty decent spaghetti and breadsticks for bulk cafeteria food, and we got to play a couple chess matches because we hate people and don't like to talk to them.

1900: We barely make the Mechmania presentation because I am, in fact, a chess-bastard. And when I say "we barely make the presentation", what I mean is "we barely make it there in time to find out about the hour delay". Typical. I should have gone for stalemate.

1930: Curiousity wins out over anti-socialism (capitalism?) and I go watch the last half of ACM's dog and pony show. This annual "Sounds and Lights" stuff is just a melange of ACM animation/film stuff, but like they say, the melange must flow. I remember one in particular that was pretty damn cool, a parody of Fight Club called Code Club...dunno if it's downloadable anywhere but it should be. I will treat you with one beautiful exchange from the midpoint of the short:

Tyler-Analogue: And the shit that came outta this girl's mouth, I ain't NEVER heard before!
Marla-Analogue and Tyler-Analogue look sated and are laying in a living room with junk food containers scattered about.
Marla-Analoge: When I play Mario, I like to be Luigi.

That's comedy platinum, baby!

2000: Mechmania presentation finally starts. We are shown an ACTUAL IN-GAME SCREENSHOT of our game in action, which is (wait for it...) Global Thermonuclear War, as seen in the fine documentary film WarGames. Our enthusiasm reaches its peak as we head to the local Shnuck's grocery store for booze and snacks. A concept which the Puritan reactionaries in this state would do well to emulate.

2200: The hell? Scott Bakula...with a moustache? I think we have a team name!! Actually, we retained "The Dirty Bits" as our team name, but our political faction was "The Moustachioed Bakulas".

Friday's update will detail the coding portion of our adventure, which by then will probably be a fuzzy dream. Also, there might be a comic. I hear we do that around these parts.