Project Day 2

As Alexey said, today started with "Same time, same place, same salad" as we convened for breakfast around 9:00. After the ususal cucumbers and tomatoes, we had some different pastry/donut things, which I think were strawberry, they were tasty. Followed by the usual yogurt, bread, and cheese, and then we were served some omelets. I dislike eggs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, so there was no way I was even touching the omelet, so I excused myself and went back to my room. I was hoping to avoid eggs, as I expressed to several co-workers before I left, and was relieved to find that they were rarely served. Guess I got unlucky. :) Around 10, we made our way to the main building of the institute, where we discovered the elevator with the broken LCD was now listed as being out of order. We got in the other elevator in that lobby, and headed for the 7th floor to find Pitr, who had the keys to the classroom we're working on. He wasn't in his office, so we waited around for about 20 minutes, and were walking to the elevator to leave when he appeared in it.

We joined him, and then found out that this too is another elevator that doesn't serve the fourth floor. I realized later in the day that some of the elevators are marked in the lobby, to designate which floors they do serve, but not all of them, and they aren't marked on the other floors, so if you're moving between floors, you're on your own. I mentioned to one of the students helping us that this was confusing, and he agreed, saying that most students gave up and used the stairs. This may be a clever ploy on the part of the administration to keep the elevators for themselves, I surmised, and I filed it away for later use at UNI. I could use a private elevator...

So, after hiking down from the fifth floor, we started back to work on our project. As Chuck began systematically cleaning up the hurried initial setup we did yesterday, I got to work configuring my AirPort Express. I brought it with me from the US for exactly this situation. The network we have the video conferencing unit connected to will only allow two machines on it at once, so I just removed my laptop, and configure the AirPort express to act as a NAT/DHCP device, which let Chuck and I use the network with both of our laptops all day long, wirelessly. It worked great, and the AE is even rated for 240V Russian power, perfect for traveling.

Chuck got everything organized, and connected, and we initiated a test call to St. Petersburg, to the unit that was installed there in January. It worked, but we were still having a video issue on our end. We had it narrowed down to either our NTSC-to-PAL converter, or the PAL TV we were connected to. We didn't have another converter, and the new TV for the permanent installation isn't arriving until tomorrow (at the earliest), so we asked the Russians if they could dig up another TV for us to test with, rather than the old unit we were given.

At first, they said no. This was a bit frustrating, as you'd think there'd be more than one TV in a school of this size, so we explained the situation, and that if it turned out we had a bad NTSC-PAL converter, we needed to know now, so that the St. Petersburg-bound delegation coming from UNI on Friday could bring one with them from the states. They then agreed to help us, and set off in search of another TV.

We were glad, and did some more testing. I dialed into our video bridge at UNI, since no one is at work around 4:00 a.m., and just looped our own video back to us to see if we had any connection issues. I also started running some, uh, "throughput tests" with my laptop on the network, retrieving last week's episode of Survivor, and The Daily Show from the night of the debates. I figured the TV networks were going to have a helluva time coming after me since I was originating from a Russian IP address.

Eventually Pitr returned with some Pepsi, or, as the bottles read here, NENCN, with the last N backwards. He also brought us some Russian chocolate bars, which were good. They're milk chocolate, but aerated, full of air bubbles, so even though the piece you break off is big, it's not solid chocolate, so it's very light on the tongue. Chuck and I loaded up on caffeine and sugar as we waited for a TV to arrive.

Somewhere around this time, I developed a spontaneous nosebleed while using my laptop, and realized I had also managed to bleed a bit on my nice white Apple-logoed Polo shirt. As I attempted to hold my nose shut, I convinced Chuck to dig around in my coat for the toilet paper (that all Russian visitors should carry) so that I could stem the flow of blood. I think my nose was just dried out from the air in the Institute, and being exposed to this much smoke certainly isn't helping matters. After the bleeding stopped, I got Yuri to show me the way to the bathroom. The one on our floor was locked, apparently because it doesn't work, so he led me up a floor to the worst bathroom I have seen in my life. Yuri said "Sorry, it's really dirty" before I went in. Let me say this: I'd rather use any gas station toilet in the states than this room, it's that bad. Fortunately, I just wanted to wash the blood off my hands, so I used the sink (which only dispensed ice-cold water, much like the bathrooms in Sabin hall at UNI) to wash the blood off my hands, and then speculated that anything my blood was carrying could only clean up that bathroom, but my white blood cells were sure to die a quick death.

I quickly retreated from the bathroom, and promised myself that I'd not return under any circumstances requiring me to expose my sensitive areas to those conditions.

After a while, Yuri and Andrei came back with a 19" TV, and we were excited to test again. We got the TV connected to our units, via the Composite (RCA) jack, and turned it on. Then, we discovered that this TV is one of those type that requires the remote to switch to the AV jack from the RF antenna connection, and, you guessed it, the Russians had long since lost the remote. Okay, some frustration, and we tried all the buttons on the thing, and tuning all through the channel range, but no luck, no way to activate the AV jacks. I hate TV manufacturers that do this, they take an important button, like the one that selects inputs, and put it only on the remote. Worse yet, most of the universal remotes don't emulate that button either, so if you lose it, or it gets broken, you're screwed. There ought to be a law...

We explained the situation, and the Russians had already taken our previous test machine (which had flaky off-color blurry video, but had at least let us see) away to an undisclosed location, so they set off again to find yet another TV.

We decided to go to lunch at this point, and headed to the bar/restaurant that we're supposed to eat at on campus. To our surprise, we didn't get cucumber/tomato salad again we got a salad consisting of red and green bell peppers and some animal, which Chuck thinks may have been fish, and I thought may have been crab, but since there was no flavor to it, we ate it none-the-less, as the salad was fairly tasty.

Next came a soup, some clear broth filled with mushrooms (yuck), green olives (yum), black olives (yuck), paper-thin slices of what appeared to be hot dogs, a big glob of some white fatty substance, and some limp onions and other assorted produce. There was some other type of meat in the thing too, but I'm not sure what it was either. The entree turned out to be fish (which I really dislike) some kidney beans, and some potatoes with herbs. I gave the fish a pass, but ate all the beans and most of my potatoes before excusing myself to go change and wash my bloody shirt before the cook/waitress woman could glare at me for not eating her breaded fish patty.

I managed to get the blood all out, and also made quite a mess of my shower room, as I have literally no experience in laundering things by hand. I threw on an Iowa State t-shirt, and headed back to the classroom to meet Chuck and Alexey.

Eventually, Yuri and Andrei returned, looking quite haggard, with another 19" TV, complete with remote. I almost didn't have the heart to tell them what I realized as they walked through the door. This TV had the remote control, but didn't have any RCA jacks, and we certainly didn't have an RF converter.

Andrei looked somewhat crestfallen at this point, so we asked for our original little TV back, and he hauled this third TV out, and set off in search of our original unit. Around this time, Yuri appeared, with a Samsung projector unit, which had both S-Video and Composite jacks on it, much to our joy. He handed it to me, and Chuck and I began to hook it up, and I asked him where the power cable was. He said it'd be coming "in two minutes", I looked at the projector, and it took a proprietary connector that we didn't have.

After 15 minutes went by, I looked at the unit again, and realized it looked just like the one mounted to the ceiling of the room that we'd given our presentation in. I asked if it was, in fact, from that room, and was told that yes it was. I was surprised they'd gone to the trouble of climbing up and removing the projector, they were working quite hard to be helpful, so I asked where the power cable was. I was told that the power cable was installed inside the ceiling when the projector was mounted, and that it couldn't be removed, so they were trying to find another one.

After another 15 minutes, Yuri returned with a 2-prong cable, and began attempting to jam this square peg into a round hole, with absolutely no success. Chuck and I really didn't didn't want to see them fry a $3,000 projector for our sake, so we put a stop to this effort just as Yuri began casting about for a knife to hack on the cable with. I'll say this for them, these guys were resourceful.

Yuri and Andrei disappeared again, only to reappear a half hour later with big grins, carrying a computer monitor. I could see there were extra jacks on the back, but as I got closer, I recognized BNC connectors. Yup, this monitor did component video, but not composite video, as well as the standard VGA. They accepted this setback too, and left in search of another TV.

As this was going on, we had an audio-only conference with Rick, who'd come to work early back at UNI. He could see us too, we just couldn't see him until we at least got back the little TV with the flaky video. Around 3:00, our original TV returned, and Chuck discovered that he could stabilize the video with some creative wiggling of the cables, so we were pretty sure that it wasn't our PAL converter that's at fault, but rather the jack on the back of the TV.

We went back to our rooms to rest a bit before dinner, which was back at the same bar-like place on campus. Tonight's salad was cheese, tomatoes, and a meat which Chuck thinks was chicken in a mayonnaise-like sauce. After the salad came the main course, which was french fries, kidney beans, and a pork filet. The pork was quite good, especially with the spicy mustard Alexey introduced me to. There's something "off" about the french fries, though I haven't figured out what it is yet, maybe they way they're fried? A different oil? They're quite good though, no complaints. This was definitely the best meal we've had at this bar.

After dinner, Alexey headed off into the city, and Chuck and I retired to our rooms, where I did some reading of my Larry Niven book, before we agreed to meet at 8 to head over to Friday's, where I'm posting this entry now.

Now that you're caught up, I'm going to go see what's happening in the rest of the world...