May 5, 2000: Go Live Day!

Cinco de Mayo!

Today was a huge day for Andy and I.  When we first came to Pittsburgh in March our schedule for getting the Waste Watcher project up and running and “live” was May 1st.  That day was insanely ambitious and it was not realistic at all for the project to move that quickly.  But we did all that we could.  May 1st was Monday.  Today is Friday.
Since March 20th we have been working around the clock on this project.  Everything that we have done has been eating, sleeping and breathing this project.  Sixteen hour days, seven days a week has been almost constant.  We have been going completely crazy – barely taking time out to eat and neither of us has so much as seen a single television show, movie or anything else since we were here (except for that first weekend with my parents.)

We did not manage to “flip the switch” on the Waste Watcher as we had hoping on the first but we did flip it today and the first “production” data started flowing into the Waste Watcher system this morning.  The project is far from done but just getting to this phase and already replacing the paper processes at the first hospital location is a really big deal.  Today is a major celebratory day.

The new machines that are being used for the production tracking stations are Compaq iPaq Celeron 533 black and silver small form factor units with 64MB.  These are the first machines that we have worked with that run Windows 2000 Professional.  We had originally chosen these machines because of their low air-flow and forward looking design.  But quickly we discovered that RS232 serial communications was a critical piece of the system and that these units, needing USB to Serial adapters, were overly complex and error prone.

March 22, 2000: Working in Shadyside

Today is our first real day of doing work in Pittsburgh.  We don’t have much time to “settle into a groove”.  We are going from “zero to one hundred” practically overnight.  Today we got set up with an office in the bowels of UPMC Shadyside from which we will be working for the next several months.

We don’t have Internet access from the hospitals but we do have phone lines in the office that will allow us to dial up to our AOL account to get Internet access.  This makes doing our work extremely cumbersome.  But that is just the beginning.

We are equipped with a limited amount of physical computing equipment while in Pittsburgh.  We have two Compaq Proliant 800 servers (each a Pentium III 500) that are being used for all development and we have two Hewlett-Packard Brio desktops (Celeron 433, 64MB, Windows NT 4 Workstation) that we have to use for all of our non-server work.  This wouldn’t be bad but we have only two monitors which leaves us in a pretty tight situation.  Andy will be stuck carrying a monitor back and forth from the apartment to the office many times over the next several months.

My parents left in the morning to head back home. For dinner Andy and I drove downtown and walked around for a little while to learn where we were and what Pittsburgh had to offer. We stopped at a small pizza shop near the confluence of the rivers to eat our first real meal of the project in Pittsburgh.

March 21, 2000: Settling in to Shadyside

This morning Andy and my job is to move into the Amberson Apartments on the Carnegie-Mellon campus in Shadyside, Pennsylvania. My parents came down to Pittsburgh to help us with the move-in process. We got a two bedroom, one bath apartment on the seventh floor (seventh floor facing the circle and ninth facing Amberson) of the apartment building at the top of the circle on Bayard. It wasn’t a great apartment but it was serviceable.

I took the northern bedroom that had a view of UPMC Shadyside Hospital and Andy took the southern bedroom which had the views of the Bayard Circle. We had almost nothing to move in. It was very sad. Our only piece of actual furniture was an old, broken computer office chair from my parents’ house. Our kitchen was stocked with a single, old pot and one old, large (but very dull) knife that we used to still things with in the pot. Our only flatware was two Styrofoam cereal bowls and all we had to eat with were some disposable plastic forks and spoons that we probably got from a fast food restaurant on the way down.

Neither of us bothered to bring down beds and we both slept on blankets on the floor. It was a rather ascetic existence but it did serve to help us focus on work rather than on leisure.

We spent most of the day taking care of getting into the apartment, getting what we needed set up and dealing with the parking situation.

As of today we have no telephone which is a bit of a problem. I have had a Rochester mobile phone through Frontier since 1992. Many of you may remember: (716) 737-3461. Back when Rochester and Buffalo shared the 716 area code. But when I moved to Pittsburgh Frontier was unable to transfer my phone to that region to allow us to make affordable calls. Even though Frontier had already been bought out by Bell Atlantic they hadn’t figured out how to transfer phones between regions yet and that left us with a problem. So that is a top priority.

My parents took Andy and I out to dinner down on Walnut to a Thai restaurant there.  Tomorrow will be another busy day so no one wanted to stay out late.

Just to make it clear: our apartment has no radio, no television, no telephone line, no Internet access.  This is early 2000 – high speed Internet access is a rarity and almost no one has that yet.  Dial up is the only real option at this point and we can’t get that here at this time.  Nicklin Associates provided us with an AOL Dial Up account to use when we were in a location that had a telephone line but that does not include our apartment!

Good thing that we at least have books.

March 20, 2000: Waste Watcher Goes to Pittsburgh

Today is the big day.  One month ago today Andy and I packed up and left Rochester to come to Ithaca to begin “phase one” of our Waste Watcher project adventure.  Today begins the second phase.  The 1992 Buick Regal GS was loaded to the hilt with sleeping bags, blankets, two Compaq Proliant 800 Servers, two HP Brio Celeron 433 desktops, some Symbol barcode scanners and enough clothes to get us through.  Andy and I barely fit into the front seats of the mid-sized sedan so weighted down it was with every last thing that we could fit into it.  Moving in nothing but a car is very tough work indeed.

Andy and I set off rather late at night hoping that it would only take four hours to get down to Pittsburgh where we were to be living for the next indefinite amount of time.  I remember leaving Ithaca and getting down on to Interstate 86 and traveling west thinking what an incredibly boring drive it was.

It wasn’t long before we needed to stop off in Friendship, New York to locate a restroom which we did at the local grocery store.  It was probably eight in evening or a little later at this point.

It took around six hours or just a little less before we reached Pittsburgh.  This was only my second time as an adult or in my memory coming into the city and my first time driving and it was Andy’s first time in Pittsburgh.  The nighttime view of the city as you enter on Internet 279 will always stick in my memory.  One moment you are driving through steep hills and residential neighbourhoods clinging to steeply tilted ground all seemingly in a very rural or mildly suburban setting and then, suddenly, a looming city of steel and glass swings into view directly ahead of you and impossibly close.

The northern approach to Pittsburgh must be one of the most impressive entrances to any city in the United States.  It is absolutely breathtaking.  It made it all that much more exciting as this would be my first time living in a city of any considerable size.  Ithaca being extremely tiny and Rochester feeling like it isn’t even a city at all (especially when you live outside of it in Greece.)  But in Pittsburgh we were to be living in a tall apartment building well inside the city limits in one of the center boroughs and it was to be very exciting.

Of course the southern approach to Pittsburgh, entering the city through the mountainside via the Fort Pitt Tunnel is one of the most impressive city entrances anywhere as well.  Pittsburgh is blessed with amazing vistas in a very tiny amount of geographic space.

We headed over to the AmeriSuites where we spent the night.  Tomorrow was the “moving in” day.

February 21, 2000: Living in Ithaca

Today is my first full day of living in Ithaca, New York for the first time.  I have always loved Ithaca ever since Nate and I first came here on a church camping trip back around 1989.  We had camped at a boy scout camp on the west side of Cayuga Lake with our youth group from Brick Presbyterian Church.  We had gone into the city and got caught during a tornado up on the Cornell University campus and had to take shelter in the vet school until it passed and had gotten a tour from our youth group leaders who had both graduated from the school.  I remember being in a small 1980s Dodge Omni driven by Earl Hobbs.  Some kids opened the side windows and all kinds of debris just threw straight through the car.  It was crazy.

I came to Ithaca several times from 1994 until 2000 without having lived here.  Nathan Parker moved here in the fall of 1994 to attend school at Ithaca College.  I was able to visit fairly often during those first few years because our school schedules were so drastically different.  I had talked about moving to Ithaca for some time but hadn’t had a strategy to do so until this new project started and I no longer had to live in any particular location when not working on site at the client facility.  So Ithaca it was and a momentous decision it was in many ways.

Today we tried to get the apartment into some sort of order although there was little to be done.  In addition to all of my furniture I also had a giant Compaq Proliant 5000 quad Pentium server which took up all kinds of space and would move from apartment to apartment with me until many years later it was taken off of my hands by John Stephens (the Surfing IT Wizard.)  It was the prize piece of my collection at the time though.  In 2000, owning a real enterprise class Compaq Proliant was no small thing and it was quite an impressive line item on my youthful resume.  Even though I had started my IT career in June, 1994 – six years before – and had been the Director of Information Services for Nicklin Associates now since June, 1999 I was still building up my resume and laying the groundwork for my career and every little bit helped.

Additionally I had several desktop machines that I kept as “learning” machines – mostly running Caldera OpenLinux or Windows NT 4.  This list included by 1995 Digital Starion Pentium 75 computer that I bought to take with me to my second year at GMI (now Kettering University), a PentiumPro 200 Compaq DeskPro that we loving called “Oscar” and ran Windows NT 4 Server, three old Intel 486 machines (all Compaq DeskPros) that all ran Linux and a Gateway 2000 Intel 386 desktop that attempted to run Linux but did so very poorly.  I also, of course, had my Compaq Presario Pentium II 350 128MB which was my primary desktop that ran Windows 98.  I had received that computer and my main colour inkjet printer from Paul Binderman for whom I had done some consulting and he paid me by giving me the computer.  It was a fair deal at the time.  We were both very happy.

So there were many computers in the apartment and no Internet connection other than our AltaVista dial-up connection that was “free” dial-up Internet access that displayed ads to pay for itself.  I had my two paprika coloured leather Natuzzi couches which by this time had already become a bit famous amongst all of our friends. Nate had the big “Emily” couch so named because it came from Emily’s house in Perry.  We had my stereo which, at the time, consisted of a Rotel pre-amp and processor, two Marantz MA-500 monoblock amplifiers, an Adcom line controller and a pair of massive Paradigm Studio Reference 80 speakers.  Nate also had his own stereo system which included a pair of B&W 250 mini-shelf speakers and an Adcom integrated amplifier.  We both had laserdisc players as well.  My laserdisc collection took up no small amount of space either with about 350 titles amassed by this time.  (The collection was roughly at its peak here.)

Nate put his old television/VCR combo unit into his “master” bedroom and we put my Sony Trinitron into the living room.  The apartment had a nice deck too that we stored some stuff on.  We had NO space at all.

I remember very clearly how awful the shower was there.  It had some sort of “high efficiency” shower head that totally atomized the water and created a very dry feeling mist that shot out at you when you attempted to shower.  The mist had so much forced that it swirled as it came out but no actual water ever hit you.  It was very annoying.  I have never seen its like again.

The apartment, I also remember,  was an absolute cleanliness disaster.  Nate’s cousin Mandy had moved out from it some weeks or months before (his cousin Becky had lived there before Mandy did) but food that she had cooked (pasta) was still sitting on the rangetop and the fridge still had her old food in it.  We ate what we could and over several weeks the place improved slightly.

The main pastime was watching the extensive laserdisc collection.  Nate owned a few of his own but having my 350 titles there was a big deal.  People came over all of the time to watch them.