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Surfing in Moscow

Kevin Roebuck
Director, Digital Experience

Before there was such a thing as blogging, my friend mike piech who was our first systems engineer in Moscow used to send email dispatches back to sunlabs and our small international team to share what a 'day in the life' was like in 1992 as we opened up our first office in Russia. This was one of my favorites. Enjoy.

Surfing in Moscow

12:30am : I finally get around to going to bed.  Bam, oblivion.

3:45am : ZZZZZZZZZZZhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewww.  I am abruptly ripped
out of a dream about flying Stuka dive bombers in WWII to the
disheartening sound of several mosquitos buzzing around my head.
Until two months ago I had been under the delusion that mosquitos only
infested places like Laos and New Jersey, but no, they are quite happy
as a definitive characteristic of the Moscow summertime.  After
several minutes of desperate swatting I try to ignore the swarm around
my head and return to the other world.  Of course the sun is up now
(darkness lasts from 11:30 to about 3:30) so it isn't easy...

6:30am : The @$%@#$%&#%\^ alarm clock goes off.  Mosquito damage is
minimal.  I glance around at my bedroom, which could belong to Anna
Karenina but is mine for the moment.  (After looking at 40 apartments
I am still fairly convinced I got the best I could for the going rate
of $1700 a month).  I fall into the bathroom and then comes the moment
of truth: Will there be hot water?  

YES!!!  I revel in 20 of likely the most pleasant minutes of the day.
I gulp through currency-supermarket Corn Flakes and coffee to the
comforting sounds of the BBC.  I induldge a quick glance at the Moscow
Times to see how far the ruble fell yesterday.

8:00am : I stuff a wad of multicolored multisized rubles and my
forty-cent monthly metro pass into my pockets and slink through my
bazooka-proof steel door.  The key to this thing seems more
appropriate for an aircraft hangar, but maybe it will come in handy as
a tire iron some day.

The elevator works, and I take an aromatic but uneventful ride down to
the lobby.  My mailbox is bashed in again, but I haven't told anyone
my address anyway...

I step into the flow of the morning foot commute, and a few minutes
later drop in to the local bread joint.  Alas, no bread for me
today--not that there's no bread, it's just that a loaf costs 40
rubles, the smallest bill I have is a 1000 ruble note (the current
exchange rate is 1100 rubles to the dollar), and the cashier refuses
to give me change.

I head for the metro through a park rimmed with tsarist buildings.
The pond has its usual coterie of hopeful fishers (it's called chistye
prudi--"clean pond"--needless to say, it ain't very chisty) and the
benches are monopolized by overnighters swilling glasses of vodka to
clear the morning fuzz.  The park commute has a pretty solid cross
section: ministry types with polyester suits and too-short ties;
tea-ladies with high heels, short skirts, tons of makeup, and hair
died blonde; drunks; soon-to-be-drunks; mafiosi from Georgia and
Armenia with white trench coats and sunglasses (more often seen
driving Mercedes S-class sedans than walking the the park); the
proverbial babushki carrying lots of bags (of what I don't know);
punk-wannabes in motorcycle jackets; and a host of miscellaneous
nondescript people.

8:15am : Entering the metro is sort of like diving into a vat of butter
(ie it's a little stuffy in the summer).  After the long hike through
stone tunnels and decent via an infinite escalator, stepping onto the
train (the wait for which is never longer than two minutes at this
hour) is almost a relief.  However, lack of deoderant and good dental
care result in a rather natural odor to the minimal air in the car.

8:45am : I emerge from the metro at yugozapadanaya ("southwest") at the
edge of civilization.  This metro station has become a de-facto
farmer's market, with several tens of Caucasian mafiosi selling Dole
pineapples and bananas for a week's average Russian salary each.  This
is probably the most cosmopolitan street in an otherwise homogeneous
Moscow--mainly because here is the one university which accepts most
of the exchange students from the socialist third world.

Bordering one side of the metro entrance is the typical row of steel
shacks known as kiosks.  So far they haven't figured out competition
or specialization, so most of them sell the same array of cigarettes,
soda, beer, cookies, socks, x-rated magazines, and whatever else came
in on the last truck from Western Europe.

There is a bus that runs along this street, but like most busses in
Moscow, the schedule is erratic and they are crowded beyond
description.  So I walk the last fifteen minutes of my commute.

This trek through the amazing ugliness of socialist non-architecture is
generally uneventful, the sheer enormity of the surrounding bedroom
buildings which used to make me gasp in horror now blending into grey
oblivion.  I haven't quite figured out what the socialists had in mind
with their vision of paradise, but at any rate this part of town (as
all of the outer parts of Moscow) makes Sunnyvale seem like New
Orleans.

At some point I look up, and in the distance looms "Park Place," the
humble abode of Sun Microsystems.  Floating in the sea of Soviet
nothingness, this building seems rather like a Mediterranean-inspired
spaceship, or maybe what the Parthenon would have been if Pininfarina
had anything to do with it.  I really think they should put palm trees
around it.

9:00am : The day begins.  All the phones are ringing.  (We don't have a
switchboard or real phones yet because all the parts are in Albania or
Madagascar or somewhere.)  Somehow in the last 12 hours since I was
here the printer stopped working.  But we got the documentation for
SunLink PPP emailed from California--a good thing, since we are
leaving in 15 minutes to test this software at the Zil plant.  We
can't print out the proposal for Zil to submit to the Big Development
Bank for aid money, but we have something...

9:15am :  Bob leaves for Zil with our driver and the ss1+ for modem
testing.

9:20am :  I give up on the printer and leave for Zil.  4000 rubles for
the taxi, and it seems like he takes a detour through Kiev.

10:20am : I arrive at Zil, to be lambasted by Gospodin Ravin about
respect and being on time, international relations, etc.

12:00pm :  after some hacking, a brief power outage, and a lunch of
beef, cucumbers, and potatoes in the Zil stolovaya, I demonstrate PPP
cranked all the way to 19.2 accross Zil's modems and ancient dedicated
phone lines.  The next step is to get all this stuff back to the
office.  I fared a little better than Jerry, who went out into the
street and hired a bread truck for 10,000 rubles the last time he
needed to move equipment.  After a mere hour of getting papers and
signatures and stamps, we succeed in leaving Zil in a limosine
graciously offered by our factory friends.

1:00pm : The phones are still ringing.  IR in London says the phone
parts are on their way.  Lots of distributors and VARs want to know
why blah-de-blah isn't on the new pricelist, what the hell
blah-de-bloo on the new pricelist \*is\*, and why is the new pricelist
so incomprehensible anyway?  "I don't have a configuration guide!"
Etc.

Lots of phone calls.  The Bank proposal we finished yesterday was
submitted successfully.  Itinerary for next week's seminar at the
Ministry for Pseudo Scientific Exploration of Various Metals with Zeta
Bonds.   There are now five different orders, three of unknown
content, stuck in customs, waiting for somebody to drive to the
airport and extract them for several thousands of dollars of storage
fees and duties.  Somebody wants a loaner machine, but since all of
our machines are loaned out three times over, we can't help.

I need to set up some demos.  Lots of poking around on ftp machines,
newswin, etc.  Documentation--never enoough!  Up until the office
opened we had this great excuse that we had no access to anything.
Now that 64 kbit SWAN link pumps postscript here all day.

I'm still waiting on email help on my questions about connecting to
IBM mainframes.  What a nightmare!  I'm gradually poking out SE
contacts around the world to help with various problems like this.
The network is not only the computer, it's also the SE.

5:00pm :  Where the hell did the last four hours go?  Piva time!  Good
beer is one of the few things not hard to find in Moscow.  A few
nanosecond respite.

More email.  More phone calls.  Appointments.  Gotta travel next week
to Kiev.  Tomorrow at nine at another ministry to install more
software on their loaner.  A call to Tanya.  We need a treat:  dinner
tonight at McDonalds (funny how everything's relative; I never ate
this kind of food in the States, and now it's a special night out).

8:00pm : I finally manage to leave.  Another 50 minutes on the Metro.
Another glance at the Moscow Times:  shootout yesterday at one of the
big auto salon's; apparently they didn't make their protection payment
on time.

9:00pm:  MiccyDeeski's.  An unbelievable experience: lots of Mercedes
parked out front; somebody holds the door, smiles, and says good
evening as you walk in; you're served within two minutes.  Here are
the movers and shakers; this is the hip place to be seen.  Suits.
Cellular phones.  Somebody again holds the door and wishes a pleasant
evening as you leave.  Blow off the gypsies while crossing Pushkin
square.

11:30pm:  home.  The hot water's been turned off (here we go...).  Read
Calvin and Hobbes in my crumpled copy of the Herald Tribune.  Bam.
Oblivion...

Spahseeba bolshoi Mike. We sure had fun.


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