Four fried chickens and a Coke

I’m in Chicago to put signs on doors. No, really.

IBM is setting up a swanky new customer briefing center, where major customers are given custom presentations, attend hands-on technical demonstrations, and are shown proof-of-concept systems. Outside each room will be a video screen. The plan is for each screen to show the room number and name, the title of whatever event is happening at that moment (or starting soon), the times of the event, and the name and e-mail address of the IBM contact responsible for the event. There may also be a need to put custom logos, screenshots, clip art or animation on the screens.

There are turnkey systems for doing this sort of thing, but they cost a ton of money and are a pain to administer. So, we’re building one in-house. Or more specifically, I’m building the software, a colleague is installing the (Linux based) hardware. Each room will be driven from a central Domino database, which can be managed by any authorized user, and is integrated with the system used to book meeting rooms. The screens will show a web page, implemented in XHTML and CSS, and displayed using an embedded version of Firefox (I hope, or else I’ll have to do some extra work to downgrade the web design). The page will simply refresh every N minutes.

The hardware only arrived on Friday, so everything was booked at the last minute. I picked the closest hotel to IBM that had broadband. It turned out to be the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown Chicago, on the north edge of the theater district. The current IBM office building is a short bleary-eyed zombie-like morning walk away, and there’s a Starbucks across the street from the obvious route, so that works well.

Also just down the street is the Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist. Until now, the only Christian Scientist church I had seen was the one in Boston, labeled First Church of Christ Scientist. I had thought that that was just the full brand name of the church, like the First National Bank. It hadn’t occurred to me that they actually number the things. Thank goodness Starbucks didn’t take that approach, or they’d have problems fitting wide enough signs on the stores.

This evening I walked to the original Pizzeria Uno. Just down the street someone had started an independent pizza restaurant called Pizzeria Due, with a very similar logo. I thought this was pretty amusing, and would have eaten there, but there was a queue almost as long as the one in front of Uno.

I’m sure I heard something about Chicago having a tough economy; yet someone is clearly doing well, as downtown is infested with condo developments. Many local businesses have recently shut down, and often have “Coming soon: more condos!” signs on the windows. A condo here starts at $200,000 or so.

Further evidence of selective richness: I saw a shiny silver Lambourghini downtown. I think it was a Countach. I love the design of the Countach, and the name—it turns out it’s the Italian equivalent of “Holy crap!”. The car got that name because when people living near the Lambourghini plant saw the test car being driven, they tended to say something like “Countach!”. A security guard was standing looking at the car. I’m not sure whether he was a guard from a nearby store taking a break, or whether it’s possible that someone is rich enough to hire a guard to stand and watch his car.

There’s also an enormous Apple Store. It’s just like one of the stores in the original Grand Theft Auto—the one where there’s a special stunt jump that involves driving through the plate glass windows and up the glass staircase.

If you like Art Deco, Chicago is the city for you. It’s everywhere. The hotel is in a historic building, and has some beautiful metal elevator doors on the ground floor. It also has an authentic deco mailbox set into the wall; or rather, something which used to be a mailbox. It doesn’t have a slot any more.