Project Day 1

This morning, after a restless night, I hit the snooze button on my cell phone/alarm clock a few times, before getting out of bed. (I completely forgot to get a travel alarm clock, but the cell phone I'm using has one built in.) I showered and headed down to the dining room for breakfast. I was the first to arrive, and picked at yet another plate of cucumbers and tomatoes, snacked on another waffle-donut, and ate some bread and cheese. Alexey and Chuck sauntered in shortly, and we were presented with a plate of something white and doughy with little bits of meat in it. They looked like of like swirled star shaped pasta, sort of like ravioli. Chuck and I eyed the dish suspiciously, and Alexey wouldn't tell us what it was, he just kept telling us to try it. I'd like to say that we did, but we didn't. We're wimps.

So far, I've learned that in Russia that meat is usually bad, so any weird looking dish with meat in it is probably not going to be good, but I've only been here a couple of days. I've speculated that this may be due to lean years in the past with low-quality beef, that had to be cooked excessively to be safe. [Update: Al correctly identified the mystery food as Khinkali, which looks tasty from the ingredients, I should have tried it]

I gulped down my strawberry yogurt, and never did get a beverage, since the cook kept trying to foist coffee on me before Alexey arrived. Have you ever tried to pantomime orange juice? I don't think it's possible, so the woman kept trying to give me coffee and tea over and over, until I finally convinced her to just wait until Alexey arrived, since I hadn't brought my phrasebook to breakfast with me. Unfortunately, she never came back, which is part of the reason I didn't attempt the white meat-ravioli thing, I had nothing to wash it down with if it was horrible. Yes, I am a cuisine wimp.

I managed to get the first Presidential debate downloaded last night, and was attempting to play it for Alexey and Chuck this morning over breakfast, but a grumpy older guy apparently didn't like us, and cranked up the game show he was watching on the TV to an absolutely ridiculous volume, putting an end to our fun. It was pretty clear he didn't like what we were doing. :)

After breakfast, we wandered over to the "Main Building" of the Institute, and poor Alexey promptly got chastised by Olga, the administrator in charge of us here. Apparently we weren't supposed to go there by ourselves, but rather wait in the dorms for someone to come get us. Oops, none of us caught on to that, but we got there none-the-less.

So, we arrived, and got to meet some of the IT staff from the Institute, and then Chuck & I had to give our presentations. Chuck gave his on new Internet software, internet usage and trends. I gave mine on Weblogs and RSS. I'm not sure who our audience was, they watched politely, and asked no questions. The head IT guy asked several though, and they were good insightful questions, not just polite ones since no one else was asking.

Olga Salenko did a great job translating for us, I have to remember to give her one of my gifts from America before I leave as a thank-you.

We then went down to a bar/restaurant that's sort of on-campus. There we had cucumbers and tomatoes (yes, again) followed by some chicken soup, which was okay, though I don't like soup. Then we had some of the toughest meat-thing I've ever eaten, along with french fries, which were pretty edible, though Russian ketchup tastes different, sweeter than American, though just fine. The meat, I'm not sure if it was beef or lamb, tasted okay, but I literally spilled the kidney beans twice while trying to cut it, and I had no steak-knife. My piece was okay, as far as unidentified meat goes, but Chuck's was mostly gristle.

After lunch, we went back to the dormitory and changed into jeans to start work on the video conferencing project. We lugged the 69-pound white case across the court yard into the main building, along with our laptops, and secondary case o' cables. We took turns carrying the heavy case (henceforth referred to as the Luggage, with a nod to Terry Pratchett), got into the elevator, and then got promptly lost. The elevators in the Institute are amusing, because they have weight sensors, and they shriek loudly when overloaded, so people get on, then get off when the machine gripes at them. I should also mention that the average Russian elevator is the size of a non-walk-in closet, so you're up close and personal with your fellow riders.

We got in a brand new elevator, but the LCD panel wasn't working, so we kept getting off on the wrong floors, and couldn't find our room. We wanted to be on the ninth floor, but we wound up on the third floor, wandered around, cussing out whoever numbered these rooms, only to find out later we were on the third floor, after toting the Luggage the length of the entire floor looking for room numbers that didn't exist.

We got in the elevator and tried again, hoping to reach the proper floor. After two more incorrect guesses (they aren't marked near the elevator), and a lot more elevator buzzing, we found the room number we were supposed to go to, only to learn that our final destination actually was the fourth floor, the ninth floor just held the office of the IT staff. A young guy named Yuri grabbed the Luggage from me, and we got in another elevator, which, I-shit-you-not, doesn't even stop on the fourth floor, so we had to get out on the fifth floor, and walk down a flight of stairs to reach the fourth floor. There's a button for the fourth floor in the elevator, it just won't go there. Also, Yuri is strong as an ox, I've got at least 60 pounds on him, and he carried that case like it only weighed 20 pounds.

We finally reached the classroom we were here to wire, walked in, and I immediately realized that it was nothing like the CAD renderings we were e-mailed. Chuck and Alexey were an elevator car behind, so the IT people explained to me that the "repair-men" hadn't actually gotten to modifying the room yet, and since classes were being taught in there this semester, it wouldn't be ready until January. I slowly realized that the project, as we'd planned it, just ceased to exist. Chuck and I were anticipating setting up a video-classroom, and until that minute, we'd been led to believe that's what we were doing. No one ever mentioned that the classroom wasn't ready for us, and it would have been nice to find that out, oh, say, before we traveled to the other side of the planet with the Luggage.

Chuck and Alexey arrived, as I was letting this all sink in, and I quickly filled them in on these surprising new developments. We muttered some cuss words under our breath, then tried to figure out what to do. It turns out that the equipment the Russians are providing, a projector, TV, and VCR aren't going to arrive until Wednesday at the earliest. This was bad news, without at least a TV or Projector, we can't get any video out of the Polycom unit we came here to hook up. When we told our hosts, they did come back with a grungy computer and a PAL TV. That at least gave us something to shoot for, so we busted open the Luggage, and got to work. The computer was familiar to me, it had the same case as the old Soyo box I built for my grandparents, though I'm not very good in Russian Windows 2000 yet...

We got the Polycom hooked up to the TV, and then tried to get the Polycom connected to the network. There was only one network cable to the room, and we needed to hard-code the IP address for this network segment. One problem, the Polycom had a password set on that configuration page that Chuck and I didn't know, and I needed to reach someone in America to learn it. I tried to get our hosts to hook up my PowerBook to the network, as it was around 7:30 a.m. Central time in the US, and I could track some people down now. They were working on getting their computer online instead, and kept ignoring me, as I grew increasingly impatient. Their computer didn't have the software I needed to instant-message with the US, nor was I going to be entering my e-mail user name and password into a strange Russian computer. After a while, and a few phone calls back to their NOC, they got the Windows 2000 box online, and I then copied their IP address onto my laptop, and plugged it into the network instead. I tracked down Rick, the guy with the password, and got the Polycom configured. I was a bit belligerent here, since I work with networks all day long, and knew what I wanted to do. Being fatigued doesn't help keep me calm either...

We next attempted to connect back to the US, which is difficult to coordinate with only one network connection, as I had to alert UNI that I was going to test, then unplug the laptop, plug in the Polycom unit, and attempt to make it work while incommunicado with them. After a half hour of this, we got our hosts to cough up a network switch, so I could get both machines online at once, where I immediately realized that I couldn't ping the Polycom, so it wasn't really on the network, and this is where our problem was. I did some more swapping, and eventually discovered that they'd given us a bad network cable, so I used one I'd brought with me, which worked fine.

Chuck fixed an annoying video glitch which was plaguing our connection to the TV, and we got some conferences going with UNI. The speed was good, and everything worked pretty well, but we're getting some random network disconnects of both my laptop and the video unit, at the same time.

We ran out of time in the day to work on it anymore, so called it quits, and headed back to the on-campus bar thing to eat. This time we got a salad of mushrooms and caesar dressing, followed by chicken and mushrooms in a white sauce, with some rice. One of the cook/waitresses asked me if there was something wrong with my food, because I wasn't eating much. I explained (via Alexey) that there was nothing wrong, I just don't like mushrooms, at all. (Yes, I'm picky). I ate all the chicken and rice though.

After dinner, we rested briefly in our rooms, then headed here to TGI Friday's for the nightly internet ritual. Now to drown my sorrows in a chocolate milk shake, and prepare for tomorrows hurdles...