12 April 2014

This is me in a hardhat.

Me wearing an IBM hardhat.

This has more to do with computing than you might think.

Nice Hat

I am cleaning out my office, in a commitment to minimalism. A lot of my strive for minimalism was brought about by cloud-based service; if I can't do it in Emacs Org Mode and put it in GitHub or do it in a Google doc, I don't want to do it; if I can, all of that is in the cloud and my very expensive, but very nice, MacBook Air is just a cloud access device. All of that is a different blog post. I am cleaning out my office. I found this hardhat that I've been keeping for years. I put it on to wear to get rid of it when I ran into one of my excellent co-workers, Delisa, and she asked why I had a hardhat.

The story of the hardhat

In the olden days of of the mid-1990s I worked at CAEN (oh, wait, I also work there now) as the only student employee of the only full-time employee (Paul McClay) who was reponsible for the high-performance computing environment. Paul went back to school to study Information, and I became the only full-time employee (at which point I hired the excellent rebshol (Becky Hollenbeck), but the excellence of rebshol and U-M Engineering students in general is also another blog post).

High-performance Computing systems have always placed extraordinay demands on the data centers in which they are housed. Even in the mid-1990s. However, U-M were building a new building, the Integrated Technology Information Center (ITIC), with a very nice modern data center. And we had a big computer that needed a nice modern data center, a 32-node IBM SP2 (yes, at the time that was big). As with all things, it was critical and urgent that we move this computer out of its current data center. So we moved it into ITIC. Along with it, my office moved, making me the first denizen of the building.

Hey, when does the hardhat come in? Is this just a story of the move of some ancient computer?

The building wasn't done. The data center was done, some offices were done, but the building wasn't. I wasn't allowed in to my office or to work on the computer because it was a construction site with no Certificate of Occupancy. The computer needed a lot of work. I needed to get to it.

After some negotiation about a scrawny kid who was clearly not a construction worker, I was allowed to go to my office, but only if I wore a hardhat to and from. I felt quite like a bad-ass doing that. I wasn't, but that's beside the point. I had a hardhat. Wicked.

A few months later the building was done, a bunch of other people moved in, and I didn't need to wear a hardhat to work any longer. Things were more boring.

Getting rid of the hardhat

This is the true story I told to Delisa, who then said I couldn't get rid of the hat, because it was a good prop for a good story.

I'm hoping that this documentation will be enough so that she will see her way clear to give me permission to retire the hat.

Minimalism vs. Memories.

This is why people keep things: fear of forgetting. A white piece of plastic will bring those interesting old days to mind every time I see it. I'm still young enough to be confident there are more interesting days coming, so I'm OK with moving on, but only OK, not certain. That is why minimalism is scary.

Some postscript notes

ITIC had its name changed before it was completed to the University of Michigan Media Union (UMMU), because it is a place that was supposed to bring together all sorts of media. Some years later, Dr. James Duderstadt (go Nuclear Engineers!!) and his wife Anne made a donation to the University which changed the name of that building to the Duderstadt Center. Many people now call it The Dude. And almost two decades and many jobs later, I do not need to wear a hardhat to work, although some days it seems like I should.v


Delisa agreed that I've met my duty to memory, and could get rid of the hat:

From: Delisa
Date: Sun, Apr 13, 2014 at 2:36 PM
Subject: Re: now can I get rid of the hat?
To: Andrew Caird

Awesome! I think it is now safe to get rid of the hat. :-)