A week in Pittsburgh -- 07/21/00

Oh, okay, so it wasn't a full week, just Sunday through Friday...

I had been a bit concerned about the weather on Sunday as the weather forecast for the Pittsburgh area indicated possible thunderstorms, but the flight was ontime and uneventful (other than some slight turbulence). I wasn't able to get an aisle seat but I did manage to get an exit row seat which meant having room to stretch out my legs. On the cab ride from the airport to town the weather seemed to change every two minutes from sunny to threatening and then back to sunny. As the taxi neared my hotel I began to notice a number of teenaged girls on the sidewalks and then we turned the corner and attempted to pull into the looping driveway area in front of the Marriott...

The entire area in front of the hotel was filled with teenyboppers... excited screaming camera-toting teenaged girls... jumping up and down and squealing and yelling...

My driver had to keep laying on the horn to get them to move out of the way so he could pull into the driveway. Carrying suitcase and laptop case I struggled to get through the crowd and into the hotel lobby. There were dozens of teenagers in the lobby, being held back into one half of the lobby by a line of hotel security people and some huge bodyguards. What, I wondered, was going on?

N-Sync! I was told... N-Sync was performing in Pittsburgh that night and they were staying at the City Center Marriott. I must confess that I don't think I have ever heard any of their songs (at least not knowingly) but I do know that they are one of the two big pop groups labeled "boy bands" (but don't ask me the name of the other one... is it "Backstreet Boyz"... or is that a rap group?) I guess they're one of those phoney groups, put together by promoters to make records and such, more of a brand than a band (like The Monkeys were created for the tv show) but that didn't seem to bother the girls. Anyway, while I was waiting to check in, one of them might have come through the lobby... a kind of smallish pale white guy with a floppy hat hiding most of his face... but the girls in the lobby went crazy as he came past and when he went outside the crowd outside began to scream even louder.

I was mostly impressed by the size of their security guys. The last time I was surrounded by so many guys that size was back around 1987 (or so... the year of the football strike)... I was in New Jersey (business trip) and it seems I was staying at the same hotel that many of the N.Y.Giants replacement players were staying at... Riding in an elevator with a half dozen professional football players... made me feel very small. And to think that these guys only got to play for the Giants because the real players were on strike! The N-Sync security guys looked like they could have been NFL players if only they could have been a few steps faster in the fifty yard dash or had just a little bit better success ratio in catching passes.

You may ask how I can be so out of it regarding these boy bands when I have an 18 yr old daughter -- that's easy: she loathes groups like N-Sync; her taste runs more to groups like the Deftones, Our Lady Peace, Foo Fighters, etc.

My reason for being in Pittsburgh was to co-teach a course for the Great Big Computer company I work for... This course covers some different technologies than I had been teaching about for the past few years (as I briefly mentioned in a previous entry)... When I was in France back in May I got the chance to teach the first day of the course. This week I did that and covered some additional material (on servlets and java server pages and web security issues and technologies). My colleague who has been serving as my mentor in the process covered the remaining topics (dealing with things like Enterprise Java Beans and work load management)... next time I guess I will teach the entire class. Anyway, I thought I did a better job on Monday than I did the first time. I was fairly well pleased with Monday morning... and I was surprised at Tuesday afternoon, I think that went much better than I had anticipated.

My laptop has been very flakey this week. Tuesday night I checked email, etc. from my hotel room and it was fine, but when I woke up Wednesday morning, started a pot of coffee (love those in room drip coffee machines!) and booted up my laptop, the cursor did not want to cooperate... it just headed up to the upper lefthand corner of the screen and mostly just stayed there (I say "mostly" because sometimes it disappeared and sometimes if flew about the screen in a very jerky fashion.) So I shut it down and brought it back up... only to get an 8611 error (whatever that might be) and a diagnostic process screen. That screen gave me two choices: run diagnostics or shutdown. Okay, so I ran the diagnostics and, about twenty minutes later, was informed that everything was fine except my "system board" which had an error. Turned it over to service staff here who gave it back to me a couple hours later and said it was fixed. Wednesday night I get back to my hotel, boot it up... and I come to the same diagnostic screen... run the diagnostics... get a clean bill of health... but the damned thing won't let me do anything! It does show me an icon of an open door now... and when I click on it the system reboots... and comes right back to the diagnostic screen. Then I get an idea... I unplug the power supply and reboot (on battery power) and it comes right up, no diagnostic screen... but when I start the dialing process to reach the Internet, the cursor gets flakey again. I reboot again, bringing it up still on battery power. Clean start, dial out and get connected and the cursor behaves itself (mostly... once in a while it tries to scoot off on its own)... and after a half an hour I plug in the power supply and it continues to run okay. Thursday it continued to behave. Beats me...

I mentioned how much I like being able to brew coffee in the room... Sunday evening I wanted to have some coffee to drink while I prepared for my Monday lectures. Usually there's a package of regular and a package of decaf next to the machines. My room had two packs of decaf. So I brought them down to the front desk and asked to trade them for real stuff. Told them that yes, I wanted a no smoking room but not a no caffein room. They didn't have any replacements at hand but soon someone arrived at my door with two packs of real coffee. So, one pot that evening and another one in the morning. When I got back to my room after work I found two more packs of decaf next to my coffee pot. Back down to the front desk. At least this time they did have more coffee right at hand. Since then my room has had the standard one regular and one decaf. (So I brought the decaf to work and swapped it for a regular from someone in the class who complained that he only drank decaf and the Hilton kept giving him regular!)

I didn't do much of anything besides work or prepare for work (or read email and various journals) for most of the week, but Thursday after work Hamid (my colleague) and I walked over to the Station Square area to take a river sightseeing cruise. Our classroom is on the ninth floor of the Westinghouse building, overlooking the river, and the Gateway Clipper Fleet docks are almost directly across the river from us. We tend to stay late at work as some students have extra questions or want to work on optional exercises... so it was past 6:30 when we left work and we just made it in time for the seven o'clock sightseeing cruise. The cruise took just short of an hour and was a relaxing boat ride on the rivers. It was a pleasant evening, still bright daylight, blue sky, and downtown Pittsburgh looks very nice from the river. We ate dinner in one of the restaurants at Station Square (and I had to make sure that I did a couple miles on the treadmill this morning to make up for some of it)...

I'm worried about what my scale at home will tell me after this week on the road without the running that I had been doing at home. Ah, but at least I am getting to go home... my flight out is at around four p.m. and we should land at Providence around 5:30.... I'm going home!


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