Brian Ruppert

Brian Ruppert
architect, engineer Northwest Airlines
St. Paul, MN
CTN workshop alum

Tottered on: 7 February 2008
Temperature: 29 F
Ceiling: gray
Ground: snowy
Wind: Calm

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TT with HD: Brian Ruppert

[Ed. note: HD and BR met roughly a decade ago. They subsequently completed a Community Television Network workshop together and have kept in some kind of loose touch over the years. The CTN bear sitting atop the teeter totter was the prize awarded to workshop participants by CTN back in the late 90's.]

HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!

BR: Well, thank you!

HD: Well, speaking of Bill Clinton--who you just mentioned, who was the commencement speaker last year--have you been tracking the commencement news out of Ann Arbor?

BR: I haven't, no.

HD: As a recent, well, not really that recent, but as a U of M graduate?!

BR: Um, no.

HD: No?! Well, they are renovating the stadium, you know.

BR: I saw that!

HD: And I guess at some point someone realized that in the stadium reconstruction plan, they failed to factor commencement into the equation.

BR: [laugh] Oops!

HD: So, they determined fairly quickly that it was just going to be impossible. The construction, I think, started the day after the last game, almost instantly. Their first option was to--actually, let me just ask you, since you don't know, or you haven't followed this news story: If you were a U of M administrator and you discovered that the Big House was not going to be available for commencement, what would your solution be?

BR: I'd think about Crisler Arena right next door. Either that, or I would try to find a way to have the commencement in the stadium.

HD: But if the stadium were just not an option, and Crisler were not an option due to the surrounding construction or whatever--the stadium is right next to Crisler so ... [Ed. note: HD is just speculating in a hypothetical way. Crisler has continued to host basketball games for the 2007-08 season.]

BR: Okay, I didn't know, I assumed that was accessible. I don't know! Pioneer High School?

HD: [laugh] Wow! Well, you know, I don't think that occurred to anyone, although I think the bleachers there would probably only hold a few thousand ...

BR: ... probably not enough.

HD: I think they need to accommodate like 25,000--that's the number I read. I was surprised by the size of that number. I thought it was probably close to 100,000 that they typically had. Anyway, their original plan was to hold it over at EMU in their stadium.

BR: Oh! [laugh] [laugh]

HD: It didn't go over all that well.

BR: No, I imagine it didn't!

HD: So after much upheaval and brou-ha-ha, they've decided that they will do their very best to actually hold it on the University of Michigan campus and not over at EMU. And the two leading locations right now are the Diag and and Elbel Field.

BR: I'm trying to remember, which one is Elbel Field? Is that down in the same area in that sports complex there?

HD: Yeah, it's the north edge of that athletic campus. It's where the band practices.

BR: Right, okay. No, I didn't hear about that! [laugh]

HD: How could you had not have heard!? Doesn't that kind of stuff go out into the University of Michigan alumni network?

BR: It might. Usually, when I get messages from them, I assume they're asking for money, I just delete them.

HD: [laugh] So what exactly brings you through Ann Arbor today? I mean, what I'm going to write in the intro is that you came all the way from Minneapolis just to ride the teeter totter.

BR: [laugh]

HD: But I'm just curious what the real reason is.

BR: Part of my region for work is I cover Detroit. So I was here meeting with the Airport Authority today. Then tonight I'm on my way to Flint for part of my MBA program. My residency is this weekend.

HD: And when you say your 'residency'?

BR: It's about a two-day, all-day barrage of class time. We give presentations, we get lectures. It's a condensed, two eight-hour days of nonstop instruction.

HD: So how many of these residencies do you have per semester?

BR: Two.

HD: So this is kind of like a huge event. You can't be absent.

BR: Yeah. It's pretty much a requirement. [laugh] For a 12-week term we do two residencies. It's about at the one-third points: three weeks in we have a residency and then six weeks later we have a residency.

HD: So this is the first one for this term?

BR: The second one for this term.

HD: And you are presenting something?

BR: Yeah, we've gotta a couple of case studies to present, facilitate discussion.

HD: And when you say 'we', you've been assigned a team of some kind?

BR: Yeah, two different groups. But they both happen actually to be on the Dell Computer Corporation, which is helpful.

HD: That's your case study, you're studying Dell?

BR: Yeah. For both classes, actually, I got an overlap. So I only had to research one company instead of two. So that actually worked up pretty well.

HD: So do you actually use Dell computers for your work?

BR: I do, yeah. I don't have any choice, that's what they buy me!

HD: Yeah, okay. And does it work out pretty well for you, the Dell?

BR: Sure!

HD: So what kind of software do you run as a corporate architect for Northwest Airlines? You're not doing all your stuff on something like Google SketchUp, are you?

BR: I use Google SketchUp a little bit, GoogleEarth.

HD: Do you really?!

BR: Yeah, I'm just learning how to use it, actually. I'm a big fan of it. I did some continuing education and wound up in a little seminar about how to use it, and it's a really fantastic tool. I just started using it a little bit. Otherwise, I use Auto CAD a lot, which is pretty standard building, drafting software. And then a myriad of the usual applications, including Excel ...

HD: ... so the standard Office kind of stuff.

BR: Yep.

HD: So you were just over at the new airport, or at least I think of it still as the new airport, the Northwest Terminal?

BR: Actually, I wasn't there. We were meeting with the Airport Authority which is in the old Smith Terminal.

HD: Oh, okay. Did you take a peek at the stuff they you designed as a part of the new Northwest Terminal, just to see how it was doing?

BR: I'm usually through the terminal about once every two weeks, so I'm always sort of keeping tabs on things. We've always got new stuff going on, stuff that we are changing, so there's always lots of stuff so look at.

HD: So you're always changing stuff? Have you actually had to rip out anything that you previously designed? Like rip out some of those seating layouts that you originally designed?

BR: No, but we do a lot of other things, like back office spaces, people want to reconfigure them. They have changes in personnel and they want to switch things around, if functions are different. Or we convert them from one use to another, that sort of thing.

HD: So it sounds like day-to-day it's not maybe as glamorous as I imagined it to be? Like actually designing the new reception area of the new airport?

BR: No, not so much. [laugh]

HD: Dang. So, did you notice after 9-11, any extra layer of review being applied to your work process, security-wise? Or does that take place out of your purview?

BR: It's kind of out of our purview. But it keeps getting more and more refined. Fundamentally, the TSA was thrown together pretty quickly after 9-11, so they really spent several years figuring out what they were going to do, and how to best do it. So now in a lot of cases they are getting a little bit more organized, and new terminals and that sort of thing are considered security sensitive. They're a little bit more paranoid about control of the documents and the drawings and making sure there not just floating out there. It creates a little bit more of a management headache to make sure that you are controlling all that sort of thing, but.

HD: But there's not something like sort of a 'security architect' who is on a part of every team whose specific responsibility is to make sure that everything makes sense from a security standpoint?

BR: There's consultants that specialize in that type of work. But the TSA is typically reviewing, and they have people in their organization who would do that sort of thing. They've got standards about how the checkpoints should be set up, and how the screening equipment should best be set up, and so they control that. And they also tend to, in a lot of cases, have a financial part of it, where they are providing equipment, and they are providing some money to help build the thing and pay for it. So they want to make sure that it's efficient for them, because they have to pay for the manpower to operate it. So they want to make sure that it works really well for them.

HD: So, you are living in Minneapolis now, right?

BR: St. Paul, but close enough. Just across the river.

HD: You know, Minneapolis and airports were in the news with--what was his name, Larry Craig?

BR: [laugh] [laugh]

HD: So I figured that was a bathroom stall, that's infrastructure inside an airport, that's something you have some expertise on, you have some expertise on bathrooms, in general, I know ...

BR: ... [laugh] There was about two weeks of my life where I couldn't go anywhere without someone making a quip about that.

HD: Oh yeah? So, you're pretty well sick to death of it, huh?

BR: Yeah, you know, it is what it is. I know which restroom they're talking about.

HD: You know the exact restroom?

BR: Oh yeah.

HD: The exact stall?

BR: Ah, no, but it's one big restroom, that is in the area they were describing, so I'm pretty sure I know which one it was.

HD: Has it affected your thinking, say, when it comes to when it comes to designing airport restrooms? Have you ever designed an airport bathroom?

BR: No! It certainly influenced my thinking when I'm sitting down at the restroom, to make sure that I'm not doing anything that would makes someone think something they shouldn't!

HD: [Ed. note: Thursday is trash day on Mulholland Ave. so people wheel their carts back to where they're stored.] What is that? Oh, that's the garbage cart, I was distracted momentarily. Where was I, oh, yeah, so, your expertise in bathrooms. I think of you in a lot of different ways, one of them is as a guy who knows how to put together a bathroom. Do you remember what year it was that you spent New Year's Eve setting your new toilet?

BR: [laugh] Oh, let's see ...

HD: ... I want to say '99 or 2000.

BR: I was just going to say, it's got to be '99 or 2000.

HD: Have you been back to visit that house where you did all that work?

BR: We've driven by it. The guy who bought it, he did some improvements, he put a master suite upstairs, enclosed the front porch ...

HD: ... he put a carport on the side, to, right?

BR: Yeah, he put a carport on it. He originally built this kind of aluminum, pre-fab shed thing that got a bunch of snow on it and it collapsed.

HD: Ooh!

BR: According to the neighbors, it laid there for about four months, and then finally got hauled away. But he did wind up putting a carport on it in the end.

HD: Well, speaking of aluminum, I remember that you built from scratch your shower enclosure out of aluminum tubing, that's another thing that I remember. I actually did some work with aluminum tubing recently, like this week even, and I thought if you the whole time I was working with it. Here was my problem. Let me see if I can describe it, and I would be interested in hearing what your solution would be. So I got some aluminum tubing, and I needed a way to attach, or screw, the end of it. It goes through a hole, and I needed to fasten it down so it would hold, so there would be, I dunno, longitudinal force along the tubing, or something? I mean, if there were threads on the outside of the aluminum tubing that I could screw a nut onto, that would have been perfect, but there's not.

BR: Right.

HD: I didn't have threads on the outside the aluminum tubing, so I had to figure something else out. So, what would your thought process be? I'll show you what I did, after we get off the teeter totter, and then you can laugh at it.

BR: Well, I would have probably tried to drill a hole right through it and put a pin in it. I mean, depending on how you needed to fasten it on the end.

HD: It's something I need to be able to un-screw and screw on a semi-regular basis.

BR: I dunno, you could still pin it.

HD: Well, you mean with--what you call it--like a clevis pin, or clovis pin? [Ed. note: they're called 'clevis' pins.]

BR: Yeah, something like that. Something with a metal, u-shaped clip on it.

HD: Hmm, okay. What if I wanted more, sort of, more tension. Because, you could push it through, right? And line it up so that your hole was drilled so it was exactly flush, and it would be pretty tight, but what if I wanted something even tighter?

BR: I don't know.

HD: Well, let me just tell you what I did.

BR: Okay! [laugh]

HD: I got some threaded rod, and I jammed it inside the tubing, and I stuffed the hole, before I jammed it in there, with marine epoxy. And I'm hoping it's going to hold.

BR: [laugh] That'd probably work.

HD: You think that will probably work?

BR: Yeah. Epoxy is good stuff.

HD: Yeah, it is. But what I'm worried about--I mean, I have it installed and it seems to work--but I'm worried about really torquing down on the nut, because I'm afraid that will cause the threaded rod to just pull out.

BR: Well, you could now go back and you could pin it. Drill a hole through both of them. Put pin through the center of it ...

HD: ... ooh! Yeah! So, you're saying, just basically, to pin the rod...

BR: ... pin the threaded rod inside the tube, so it's kind of a redundant design.

HD: Yeah, so it doesn't pull out. I guess, the one issue I'll have to attend to, is making sure that the pin is then flush on the surface of the tube. I'll have to file it down because the aluminum tube goes through a very tight hole in another piece of aluminum, it's a very tight fit.

BR: Ohh.

HD: No, I mean, it would work.

BR: Just as kind of a backup system.

HD: Let me consult my--wait, I don't need to consult my list, because the bear sitting on the post reminded me--have you just by chance run into any of the other people from that CTN workshop that we did together? [Ed. note: The T-shirt on the bear sitting atop the left totter support reads: "TV's unbearable without CTN!"]

BR: Oh, no, I don't remember any of those people!

HD: You know, the funny thing is, there is one woman I have run into repeatedly.

BR: [laugh] Does she remember you?

HD: Yeah!

BR: Well, you're a pretty memorable guy.

HD: [laugh] I ran into her at the Humane Society almost immediately after taking the workshop. I ran into her when I was stocking frozen food at Busch's, she was in the frozen food aisle, and said, Hey, you, didn't you used to work at the Humane Society? And this past year, I was at a fund-raiser for Peter Sparling Dance Company and she was there, and I said Hey, I know you!

Do you remember the video that we made at all? The content of it?

BR: No, not so well.

HD: Well, my follow-up was going to be, Do you still have a copy?

BR: That, that, uh, no!

HD: Because, we recently got rid of our VCR, and before we took it to the Recycle Center we had a conversation about, Well, we have some tapes lying around, can you think of anything that you would really like to be able to watch again? And it was like, Nah! Can't imagine! And then, I don't know, like a day after we dropped it off at the Recycle Center, I thought, Oh, that CTN video! That would have been nice to have archived in a different format before I did that.

BR: Oops.

HD: But anyway, maybe you don't remember this then, that a huge part of that video, was a stop-action animation of that bear, ...

BR: ... oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, I remember!

HD: yeah, he did a summersault! I can't believe you had forgotten, man! And, you know, in your holiday letter, when you reported that Nick had been doing these stop-action animation videos, I thought, I'm sure it's because Brian has been showing his stepson our master opus from the workshop, and that inspired him to do it. Would make a good story, wouldn't it?

BR: It would make a great story! [laugh] Nick's pretty much self-directed, so he found that interest himself.

HD: So, do you exercise any power of censorship over what he puts up on the internet? Or, what he downloads from the internet?

BR: His mother keeps a pretty close eye on him. She tracks his creative stuff. He has done a few pieces that would, to certain members of the Christian religious community would consider potentially offensive ...

MHD: ... Brian Ruppert!

BR: Hi! So, she encouraged him not to do that. Nothing really terrible, but seen with the wrong eyes, maybe a grandmother's eyes, might not be so soft and fuzzy. So she keeps an eye on that. And we generally try to keep an eye on what he's doing, and who he is communicating with. We made an effort to put his computer where it's kind of public right near to his mother's work space, so we can kind of keep one eye on him.

HD: You know, it's interesting that you say essentially it's--I mean, that's old school, physical proximity--I mean, whereas a lot of people just assume, Well, okay, the computer, it has to be in the kid's room, and so we have to use a software solution, we've got to install software that will allow us to track it remotely and automatically, so that we don't have to physically engage. So that's kind of cool, kind of retro.

BR: Well, you know, if somebody is really motivated, you can find a way around that sort of thing. And it's probably more trouble than it's worth. And we want to see him, and be engaged with him, and not have him hiding out somewhere where we never see him. Part of it is just to keep it social, and keep us engaged with what he is doing.

HD: So does he run a Dell Computer as well?

BR: No, he's a Macintosh guy.

HD: So do you have a Macintosh at home, for play stuff?

BR: We have two Macs. I got Gina a Mac three or four years ago and she loved it and then Nick inherited it for a year or so. Just recently we got him an upgraded Mac because the older one was too slow for the stuff you was doing.

HD: Yeah, for editing video I would think you'd really want something with some muscle.

BR: And Gina got her machine back, and all she does is word-processing and internet surfing and iTunes.

HD: So you don't have a Macintosh yourself at home?

BR: I don't. My laptop from work, I use all the time. It's a Dell as well. I really like the Mac a lot. Actually, now that with the dual Intel processor, you can run Windows applications in a separate partition on a Macintosh, next time, we might get rid of the PC.

HD: Well, you know, back to your MBA class, what are the names of the classes that you're taking, or are they even separate classes? Or is it just to one big program? You're in The Program?

BR: Well, they really could structure it just as one big program, but it is broken into terms and classes.

HD: So, the one that you are presenting on Dell for, well actually I guess that's both of them?

BR: Marketing Management--or maybe it's just Marketing--and Management of Information Systems are the two courses. It's a lot of reading and a lot of writing.

HD: Would you be able to identify, say, one thing that you have learned in this term where you thought, Wow, that is really amazing, I am so glad I signed up for this?

BR: Actually, in the Management of Information Systems, we had a couple of chapters that really explained how all the infrastructure for large company would be set up--servers and switches and how they all work together. I knew the words, but now it all kind of makes sense about how it's structured, why the IT group does stuff that they do, because ...

HD: ... and why they need a whole group and not just one guy?

BR: Yeah! One of the case studies was an example of an organization that was kind of hodge-podged together and there was one guy who knew all about it. I mean, there was an organization but the only guy who really knew, quit.

HD: But, with two weeks notice, I'm sure, right? [laugh]

BR: Well, yeah, at that point it was too late, I mean, they couldn't possibly transfer all the knowledge that guy had in his head. And then of course, you know, six or eight months later something happened and the thing collapsed ...

HD: ... things fell apart, yeah, okay. Well, listen, is there anything else you wanted to make sure we addressed while we are here on the teeter totter?

BR: I don't think so, thanks for having me!

HD: I am thrilled that you came by. Does your sister still live in town?

BR: No, she and Steve moved to Lake Orion.

HD: Is that still in Michigan?

BR: Yeah, it's up by Clarkston, northern Oakland County, north of Rochester.

HD: Wow, Clarkston! Is it actually in Clarkson?

BR: It's just east of Clarkston, it's like the next town over.

HD: I see. Because I had a woman from Clarkston on the teeter totter at the beginning of the year.

BR: Oh! Well, I went to high school in Clarkston. I grew up ...

HD: ... no way! Do to know about the Valerie Bertinelli connection?

BR: I think I did at one point. I don't remember the details of it now.

HD: Well, Wikipedia says she is a resident. A little follow-up checking from Debra who was the woman from Clarkston who rode--she was really surprised to learn that Valerie Bertinelli lived there--but I guess it turns out she used to live there, but doesn't anymore. Oh well.

BR: At the time, when I was in high school the big claim to fame was--what the heck was his name--there was a guy who was in the new Mouseketeers. Tony somebody.

HD: Huh, I'll look it up. [Ed. note: It was Tony Lucca, who today still earns a living in the music industry. His cover of a Daniel Johnston song called Devil Town was included in the 2007 season finale of the series, Friday Night Lights. HD watched that episode, unaware at the time there was any connection.]

BR: So he was down in Florida part of the time, and, you know, he was on television, so that made him a celebrity.

HD: So he was a part of your high school class?

BR: Yeah, well, I think he was one year younger than me. But he was a big deal.

HD: Do you know what happened to him?

BR: I have no idea.

HD: That experience as a Mouseketeer did not catapult him to fame and riches?

BR: It might have, maybe he is doing something somewhere and I just don't know.

HD: Well, listen, thanks coming over. Now I've got some stuff to show you that I am extremely proud of.