Today I headed down to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority to do research for a class project on Pittsburgh's historical environmental impact. My part of the project is to handle water consumption data, and if you know anything about Pittsburgh's water, you would know that this is not easy to come by. Pittsburgh didn't have a city-wide sewage treatment plant until 1958, wasn't filtering its water until 1907, and there are still many days when you shouldn't go anywhere near one of the surrounding rivers.
Needless to say, it was pretty cool to do some actual digging through archives that aren't anywhere else (trust me, I tried all of the local libraries and historical centers to find this stuff and had to go straight to the source). I got information from all the way back to 1884, and while I still have to sort through all of the pictures that I took (luckily I brought my camera along because these reports were in no condition to be stuffed in a photocopier), I think I have everything I need to finally fulfill my obligation to the class. It's been so hard every week to have to report that I'm still looking for the information. I've spent mornings digging through newspaper clippings from 1903, hours trying to navigate the USGS site, and I don't know how long emailing local water specialists.
While the guys at the plant were a little creepy (OK, way creepy and were making inappropriate comments but were mostly friendly so I just got away as quickly as I could), I felt much more comfortable in my detective role as a History, Ethics, and Public Policy major than I ever did as a Civil Engineer. I just love it when I get a feeling that I made the right decision by changing my major (even though I have to stick around an extra semester and pay another semester's worth of ridiculous tuition).
What's the nerdiest thing you've done recently?