MonthDecember 2007


You may have heard something of Super Mario Galaxy. It’s the true successor to the last classic Mario platformer, Super Mario 64 (let’s not bring up the aberration that was Super Mario Sunshine). Anyway… I picked it up on the internets a couple of weeks before the release and have playing it in basically all of my free time since then, which has been limited. The game is basically perfect–the controls are sublime, the difficulty ramp finely tuned to gently hone your skills from rank n00b to the point that you are capable of accomplishing outrageous shit like this:


Or this (in both cases the goal is to get 100 purple coins–you die, you start over. No second chances!


Every level you finish nets you a star, the currency of success in the game. Your star count is what it’s all about, and once you’ve got 60 stars, you’re welcome to go kick Bowser’s ass and save Princess Peach (again, yes!). You get a nice movie and the credits roll. But as any fan knows, this isn’t the half of it. There are 60 more stars, some of them diabolically hard to finish (as in the video above). So great! You buckle down, play through the last 60, now you’ve got 120! Must be done, right? No! You’ve just unlocked Luigi, who starts back at the beginning of the game with 0 stars, and you get to do it all over again.

It takes a special kind of person to play a game they just beat (twice) all over again, and I am that kind. Actually, Luigi is subtly different from Mario. He slides around when you try to stop him, which makes most things harder, but he’s also skinny, so he floats further when jumping and flys farther as a bee. He still can’t get the chicks that Mario is landing though, poor guy. So anyway, I write you this now, having just finished 120 stars with Luigi, thus unlocking GRAND FINALE GALAXY where I got to meet all my old friends and recall the joy and sadness and screaming frustration of all 242 stars, and that’s a wrap!

Oh, and… I also finished my last class of my life, and graded final exams for 6 hours, and generally polished of the last annoying tasks of the semester. In a few hours we’ll get on a plane headed for some serious holiday relaxation and shit. And it couldn’t come soon enough.

last class ever

This semester I’ve got just one class I’m taking on solid modeling. The class is fun, and while not a blow off is not as difficult as your average graduate CS course. I’ve got a final project I’m working on, which I was having a lot of trouble getting revved up for until I realized that it was my last assignment for my last class, ever. One the one hand, this is cause for celebration–no more homework assignments, ever. No more exams, ever. But, then I think about who I am. For almost a decade I’ve been living on a steady diet of college coursework. There’s clearly a few crossed wires up there that have somehow convinced me that working harder than I did at my full time job for drastically less pay was a good idea, and that part of me sheds a tear. In case you’re interested, he’s a picture of a prototype result of my project, which is basically to fill space with a 3D cloth made of knots (I call it SpaceKnit, with bumpy capitalization for added irony):

space knit knot lattice I’m not sure why this is useful, but heck, at least I can make pictures.

A corollary to my class coming to an end is that my duties as a TA are winding down. I sort of busted my ass being a TA, partly because I was new at it and partly because it was so obvious how to suck less than most TAs do–spend time on it! My last discussion section was on Tuesday, and it included a moment that made the entire semester worth it. As I was closing up, it occurred to someone that there would be no more discussions, which triggered a flurry of thanks, which included statements such as:

  • You bathe!
  • You sure do speak English well!
  • You’re explanations are so clear! (see above)
  • You’re the best GSI ever! (GSI = graduate student instructor; I guess TA is too demeaning here in grand Cali)

Up until this point I had suspected (but hadn’t been sure) that the TAs at Berkeley were just as bad in general as the ones at UT. And you can’t really blame them: they’re TAing because their advisor can’t or doesn’t want to support them with grant money, they are taking classes themselves and trying to get research done in there somewhere. Still, I’m glad they force every grad student to do it at least once. It’s scary to imagine people taking teaching jobs with their shiny new Ph.D.s having never faced a room of glazed-eyed undergrads.
Disclaimer: please do not confuse my task this semester (aiding the transfer of knowledge to interested, well-mannered humans) to the task of teaching “pre-college” individuals. That task includes as a subpart everything I had to do this semester, as well as the job of herdsman, psychologist, self-defense artist, animal trainer, among many others. And get this: it pays only slightly better. I’m sure glad no one I know would think about taking such a thing on.

School’s out for winter. School’s out forever.

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