The long road to Berkeley

I got my GSI assignment on July 20th. I will be TA'ing EE 43: Introductory Electronics Laboratory. I'm pretty happy about this assignment, it was one of the higher choices on my list (at least I know I'll already fully understand the material), and even better, the course is managed by a professor who called me personally when I was accepted to Berkeley, and who let me tour his lab when I visited. He works a lot with mechatronics, and the intro lab actually has a robotics/mechatronics semester project as part of its syllabus. He has several ME's in his lab, and one of his main projects is creating a life-size robotic fly. I don't yet know what I'll eventually be researching, but if I decide to do something like that, this guy seems to be pretty cool to work with. Unfortunately, I still don't know what classes I'm supposed to take or anything like that. When I asked several questions to the EECS advising office a couple weeks ago, almost all of the answers said "wait until August." Well, it's August, and I still don't know what's going on.
It turned out that my original room assignment wouldn't be vacated in time for my move-in, so was switched to the adjacent apartment. I requested the contact info for my future roommates. I was only sent three names, so I don't know if we'll have an empty room, or if my reassigned room is only a 4-person. In any case, I'm paying the 5-person rate, so that's what really matters. The thing that's annoying is that I received a bill for my apartment already even though I'm not going to be there for half of the month. It's also due on the 15th, so that means I'll have to mail in the payment. At least they're also paying me for all of August despite the fact that I don't need to be there until the 23rd.
And now the most important part of this entry. Stefanie and I are driving to Berkeley on the 13th. Stefanie will be driving down on the 12th and we'll leave on the 13th with the plan of arriving at Berkeley by the 16th. Stefanie is flying back on the 18th to Greensboro where Cas will pick her up and take her to Tech, after which she'll eventually make it down to Durham to move in herself. In any case, this is going to be a long trip, so I'm asking for suggestions regarding it.
We are driving approximately 12 hour days for the first three days and another 4 on the last day. We had originally planned to stop in Little Rock, AR, Albuquerque, NM, and Bakersfield, CA. This is before we found out that there's an alternate route that would take approximately the same amount of time to traverse. With the other route, we'd stop in St. Louis, MO, Cheyenne, WY, and Reno, NV. Right now I'm liking the north route better. Here are the pros of each:

North Route
  • Scenery should be nicer
  • Cooler temperatures
  • Safer cities (both Little Rock and Albuquerque are in the top 25 least safe cities in the nation)
  • Reno, like Las Vegas, has nice cheap hotels and food. The hotel/casino I'm looking at staying at is only $25/night.
  • Avoid Arizona
  • Avoid I-5
South Route
  • I was able to get a free night at Super 8 in Albuquerque by finding a cheaper price for the hotel (on than their own website. The last I checked, they didn't fix the price, so if you need to stay in Albuquerque...
  • I could stop by Chupperson's and only go off course by about an hour.
  • Possibly less steep terrain
  • Simpler route (the large majority of the trip is spent on a single interstate)
  • This was the original plan, so we're slightly more familiar with it
I've outlined the two routes below. If there's any reason we should take one over the other, please let me know. i.e. if there are any locations we're passing by that we should stop at, etc.

Collapse )

As for the trip itself, we've been trying to come up with things to keep us occupied. So far, I've got:
  • Star Wars Radio Dramas
  • Hitchhiker's Guide radio drama and books on tape
  • All of the Bud Light Real Men of Genius ads
  • Weird Al CDs
  • audio from the Daily Show
If anybody has more suggestions, please let me know.

Independence Day and Duke

Summary here.
A few things I'd like to mention:
  • Blacksburg fireworks are actually quite good, especially if you're almost directly under them.
  • Regarding Durham, NC: Whoever designed this city needs to be drug out into the street and shot, as Garfield would say.
  • According to Burger King, tender is apparently the opposite of spicy.
  • Duke's chapel and forest is cool... don't know about the rest of the place... e.g. charging $2/hour for visitor parking...
  • Stefanie's future apartment is amazing. I'd be happy if mine turns out to be half as nice.

Apartment in Berkeley!

I finally got my lease yesterday! This is one less thing I'll have to worry about with regards to grad school. Like everything in California, it costs far more than my apartment in Blacksburg: $853/month/person. It's not anywhere near the cheapest I could have done, but I figure that it can't be too bad of a place if it's school-sponsored... it's hard to be sure the place is good when you live on the other side of the country. It's also a block from campus. The apartment is a 5 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment, and the really nice thing about it is that the cost already includes electricity, water, trash removal, basic cable, and high speed internet, as well as being fully furnished. They also cut $200/month from the bill in June and July if I choose to stay there... I don't have to decide that until February. I'll be living in the Ida Louise Jackson Graduate House Apartments found in block E6 on this map. EE is located in Cory Hall (B5) and CS is across the intersection in Soda Hall (A5), so that's a 10-15 minute walk across campus... not too different from Tech when I lived in Hillcrest. Hopefully they'll let me know who I'll be living with once everyone gets their leases and security deposits sent in.
Now, I need to figure out what to do about parking... the complex doesn't provide any, and even though it's technically located in the city of Berkeley, Jackson House Apartment residents are not eligible for them... The e-mail said "you won't need your car since you are so close to campus. When you do want to see the bay area, you may use your Class Pass, which entitles you to free AC transit bus rides within Alameda County." Well that's nice, but what if I want to leave the bay area? I'm going to be there for a while, so it would be nice to check out other locations on the west coast without having to find somebody with a car. It also looks like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) workers might be going on strike soon... wonderful. I started looking at student parking passes, and it looks like I can get a "student storage" pass for $30/month, which is a lot more than Tech, but not nearly as bad as a student resident pass. The problem is, I checked the parking maps and couldn't find any spots where that pass could be used, so I guess I'm going to have to call somebody about that one.
I also still don't know what classes I'll be taking or TA'ing... I hope I find that stuff out soon. I should also start looking into what research positions are available again.

K & K's wedding

I'm not going to write a lot about the wedding because I think it was covered well here. So, read that. The few random things I can add:
  • Florida is hot. It was 90F when we were there.
  • People from Florida are nice... on our 2 mile hike, almost everyone in their cars waiting to exit parking lots actually backed up to let us cross on the sidewalk.
  • It was good to see all the Hillcrest and other Tech people again... that will probably be the last time for a while (or ever?) since we've all graduated and I'm moving to California...
  • It was especially good to see Stefanie ^_^
  • Rick is the model usher
  • The minister symbolized the couple as two ropes tied together... then she added a third rope, which had us going for a minute, until she explained that it represented Jesus, so it was all good.
  • I'm really happy for Kevin and Kathryn, but it's a little weird thinking that they're married now... more on that in another post.
  • I question the security on the air force base... first they only checked the drivers' IDs, then they locked the gate we had originally come in.
  • Dancing was fun... I've only done that once since high school...
  • Buckeye balls taste better than buckyballs.
  • I'm glad I made it back home... after practically no sleep the last night, I was dozing at 80MPH (my flight was out of Greensboro, so there was a 2 hour drive back to Blacksburg).
Oh yeah, and here are the pictures I took. Unfortunately, the actual wedding ones came out blurry. There should be other pictures coming from some of the other people that were there, but I'm not sure when they'll be available.

Day 6: Epilogue

Not much happened on our last day in LA. We got up (too) early and took a cab (thereby taking nearly every mode of transportation except boat) to LAX. The flight back was uneventful except for the fact that there were a ton of small children on board who all started with ear-piercing screaming upon descent into Charlotte, likely due to the pressure build up in their ears. On the drive back, we stopped at a Chester's Chicken, which had a very odd food item: fried corn-on-the-cob!

The End.


It turns out that Drew forgot his DS flip-flops in Burbank. We hope they find their way to a good homeless person.

It was really cool to hang out with the guys from TMK... it was neat that we all got along as if we had known each other in real life despite having only talked with each other online (well a few random videos helped I'm sure). Everybody really seemed to fit their online personality and hanging out just seemed natural. I'm sorry all those others that were invited couldn't go... be ready for next year!

  • David: You weren't as bad as we thought ;-) thanks for driving us
  • Errol: Thanks for the room and your presence; sorry you couldn't make it for More Friends
  • Dennis: Thanks for driving us, too, and the TV
  • Matt McC.: Thank your parents for driving and thanks for representing TMK
  • Matt W.: You've got 31337 DDR skillz
  • Benjamin: Word.

Hopefully soon, I will better compile all of the pictures and video I took, as well as combine it with the other guys' media. When I get the chance, I'm also going to make some additions to the daily entries as I remember certain details of our trip, so you might want to go back and reread them (not now though, I have another trip I'm off to early in the morning-- Tampa, here I come!).

Day 5: E3 Day 3 and the Bat Cade

Good start

What started out as a great day, didn't turn out so well in the end, but it was still fun. We actually left early and beat most of the traffic. I was surprised since I figured we'd smack right into rush hour. We got to the convention center and decided to park in their parking decks, which were actually cheaper than the other places we parked. As it turns out, we were able to park in spot E3 at E3. We were also early enough to get breakfast from the media room. They had great danishes, but their coffee was far too hot to drink. I hope it didn't melt the trash bag.

The Zelda line

Even though we were there for E3's opening, there was already a huge line just to get into West Hall... and they all went directly to the Zelda line. We were a few minutes behind those people since we went to get breakfast. The result: we were at the end of the Zelda line. Now, we passed the 2 hour wait sign... then the 3 hour wait sign... then the end of the Nintendo area... all the way beyond the back of West Hall, around the 5 hour wait point. But we had to do it, it was the game of the show. Gamespot came to the end of the line to interview us, mostly Errol, perhaps not noticing our IGN badges. We played some DS games in line, then Drew, Errol, and I decided to go down to South Hall for a bit while the rest of the crew held the line.

Big bags

We stopped by Webzen because they had giant swag bags. When we got there, Webzen had a booth babe trying to rile the crowd up for their new game. We stayed to watch the trailer since they were handing out T-shirts. The game was abysmal, which skipping frames and character models that would suddenly appear several steps ahead or behind where they were. Also, they only handed out a few T-shirts and it was pretty ridiculous that they had to artificially get the crowd to cheer for them in the first place. Webzen is a Korean company, which may be best known for their upcoming MMORPG, Wiki, which rips off the Wind Waker style. Wiki wasn't playable though Webzen employees were found sneaking ads for it into people's bags. One of them asked us to give them the best bag at E3 award. I'll give them that.

Press only

Errol and I went around to use our press passes and collect press kits. We hit Namco, Capcom, Konami, and Sega. I also hit Sony, Microsoft, and Rockstar. Rockstar started to get a little ridiculous when they handed out hats, with people pushing so hard that the people with hats couldn't get out to give room to the others who hadn't gotten them yet. Namco had the coolest press kit which opened up like Pac-Man. Doing my job for The Bonk Compendium, I talked with Konami's representatives regarding their buyout of Hudson Soft. Their response? "What's the Hudson buyout? I've never heard of that." The man pulled over another rep and she had no idea either. Not good for Hudson... Many of the companies wanted a business card to trade for the press kits, so it was good that David had made them. When the Konami rep saw that my card said "The Mushroom Kingdom Associate Editor," he made a comment about how "only IGN could get away with something like that" and that he didn't "even want to know" what that meant. Microsoft and Sega had the lamest press kits: a simple card giving out their website address. After spending an hour in South Hall, we went back to the Zelda line.


While waiting in line, we tried out various DS demo downloads since there was nothing else to do. Around the 1.5 hours left mark, a girl came by showing off her DS that she had just gotten signed by Miyamoto. She found him in Starbucks, and didn't even want her DS signed, but he did it. Errol started to go find him and we piled all of our DSes with him to also have signed. The Gamespot guys saw us and started filming us again thinking there was some sort of DS give-a-way. We told them what was going on and the reporter follwed Errol for a bit. Unfortunately, Miyamoto was nowhere to be found by the time Errol got there (even though it was next door to South Hall). Word was that Miyamoto made some Mario-esque jumping motions and disappeared into the crowd, never to be seen again.

Ask, ask, and ask again

With about 30 minutes to go, we asked one of the Nintendo reps if we could skip the rest of the line since we were media. This was the third time we asked and we were told no, which was ridiculous. Later, we were told that we could have skipped the line. This was particularly important because they didn't have any of the Zelda T-shirts left by the time we actually did make it to the Zelda room. The big lesson from E3 is that you can pretty much get what you want if you just ask enough people because nobody really knows what's going on.


Finally we made it to the Zelda room. This area, made out to be like a cave and dungeon was much larger than it seemed from the outside and was full of blacklights, projections, and other decorations. The first room had a Zelda demo with the horseback riding and town areas playable. I played the horseback area, and it was a lot of fun. You could attack while riding on the horse and had a limited number of accelerations used to catch up to the leader of the enemies. I didn't have enough time to defeat him, unfortunately, since the demos were time limited. Connecting the first room with a hallway was an interactive pond that was projected onto the floor much like the Star Wars one in the convention center hallway. The hallway contained a physically active Stalfos Knight behind bars. The second room contained Link in Wolf form. The second room had the second Twilight Princess demo, with a dungeon and dungeon boss playable. These areas showed Link's interactions with monkeys. While the game is dark, there is still plenty of humor, with a monkey mooning the player at one point in the dungeon. I played the boss battle, where you had to use the Gale Boomerang to target a monkey flying by with a bomb and then the plant boss creature to direct the bomb into the boss. I couldn't get the controls down right away and was not able to complete this part before the time ran out.

Namco's Pac-Party

Out of the Zelda room, Drew and I hurried to the Namco booth to participate in the Pac-Man tournament they were having every half hour only to find out that we were supposed to pre-register. Since it was the last time slot of the day, we weren't able to play. The grand prize was a Pac-Man hat, which Errol especially wanted, but it was not to be. The tournament was actually held on new cell phone versions of Pac-Man. We went around to the other side of the Namco booth where a large group was gathering. Pac-Man was about to have his 25th anniversary party and the booth babes were out to promote it. After waiting for several minutes they started a countdown... we got tired of waiting and left. This was a bad decision since they shortly started throwing out free T-shirts, mousepads, and even games.


As we started, we also ended. I spent most of the rest of the time in Nintendo's booth trying to win Mario Kart DS and get the cool Mario Kart mini RC racer package. I always kept getting second. They would offer the prize to another place, usually 5th, but I never got that either. The booth babe said we could come back at the end when they'd give out the remaining prizes, but the prize nazis came in and disallowed that. We thought that the last day would have the least amount of people attending, but it was just the opposite. Even more people than the previous two days packed the convention center. At the end of the day, I went over to the Pokemon XD line to try for the remaining Pokemon plushes, and they almost didn't give those out either because they were afraid of a riot breaking out. In the end, they let people come through in single file and pick up a single Pokemon. They split up Plusle and Minun... you can't split up charges like that! Errol downloaded the Meteos demo and Matt W. downloaded the Electroplankton demo and took it home with them. We all met outside the IGN room again to get the TMK group photo. Then, we started off to the hotel.

Holy Arcade Batman

Getting turned around on the ridiculous streets of greater LA, we ended up on a road with a sign for "Bat Cade." Something with a name like that was too good to pass up. It turned out that the Bat Cade was more literal than we realized. It was the combination of an arcade and a batting cage. We went in and found a Super Mario Bros. Mushroom World pinball machine. We tried to play it a bit, but one of the ejection holes was set too tight, almost always shooting the ball over the flippers, making the game unplayable. Mario ate $1 of mine. There was a Japanese DDR machine there as well. Matt W. showed off his amazing DDR skills. He mentioned that it was good that we were with him, otherwise he would have played until he either could no longer walk, or threw up.

Last night in Burbank

Back at the hotel, we eventually decided that we wanted to go somewhere different to eat. After deliberating for several hours, we made no decision and by then everything was likely closed. Errol laid out an ultimatum that if we didn't make a decision by 9, he'd go downstairs and buy the hotel food. That's what ended up happening. We called Julia (Sapphira) and put her on speakerphone, talking randomly for over 2 hours. She thought we were crazy (and rightly so), her end of the conversation filled with "Yeeeaaaaahhhhh....." Because of Drew's and my early flight out, we went to bed relatively early, after packing and saying goodbye to everyone.