GerbilMechs 110: Lights Out

26Oct2004 (Monthenor): What's up, kids? I have returned from UIUC for the fifth consecutive year. Lots to do and talk about, plus I'm still catching up on things I've missed, so let's get to it.

Things To Do in Urbana When You're Dead Tired


0700: We leave on time, and a couple hours earlier than other years. Combined with the fact that we put all 12 attendees in one 15-passenger van to save money, it should mean a smoother trip than previous years.

1130: Twin Cities, right on time.

1630: Madison, also on time. At this point I took over the driving duties for final approach into Urbana. This turned out to be a bad idea, as I immediately wasted a good ten minutes trying to get a dinner consensus out of people. With no restaurant receiving even a plurality of votes, I pulled into a mall and parked diametrically opposite the food court. After dinner I took a wrong turn while trying to get onto the interstate (due to poor signage, I swear) and blew another five minutes turning around.

I tried to redeem myself over the next hour or so, but outside of Janesville WI there was some horrible one-lane construction going on. We were never quite parked enough to start watching WarGames in the van, but we certainly weren't moving all that fast.

2130: Our arrival, at long last. I count any UIUC arrival before 10PM a "win".

2230: Drunk! Schnuck's, our UIUC booze and more store, had my very favorite choice of wine-like beverage on sale for six dollars. Beer was tempting, but could not defeat the candy wine.


1030: Awake, and once again hangovers cannot touch me.

We checked in at the conference inside the brand-new Seibel Center. There was much anticipation for the new digs because it cost $80 million to put together -- about 10 NDSU buildings. And it was solely for Computer Science. While it avoided the "catwalk bolted onto smaller building" look of the old building, it also lacked any sort of charm. It was just...generic. There were outdoor terraces, as before, and the labs were serviceable, but because it was so new the few flaws stood out. Flaws like using ass-rending metal benches instead of even the hardened gym-mat cushions from the old building. Flaws like stocking each bathroom stall with four rolls of the weakest toilet paper I've ever seen, when two rolls of decent quality would probably work better. Flaws like putting up a huge video wall and then hanging a plasma screen monitor right next to it, whose sole purpose is to show a single piece of art at a time. I guess they saved so much money on the toilet paper they can waste it on plasma screens.

Really, I shouldn't be bitching. The building is nice enough. Good thing, too, because this year's conference had probalby the strongest lineup of speakers I've seen yet. There was a guy from Tweak Films that demoed some of the CG work they did on Return of the King and The Day After Tomorrow. They also had a Wikipedia founder, someone from Seti@home, a tag-team from Volition and Relic discussing how licensed games are starting to not suck, Bruce Sterling, who is apparently a big deal (to Bruce Sterling), and the pretty cool creator of Pretty Good Privacy encryption. There was also the Senior Director of Security for Microsoft products giving an un-titled talk on Sunday, which in my imagination involved ninety minutes of profuse apologies and a dunk tank.

2030: Of course, there's only one reason I come to UIUC. Mechmania, bitches! This year, the tenth year of the contest, we had something pretty damn awesome to play I'll describe on Saturday.