Urban Mysteries – 1

There are a number of urban mysteries for me.

One mystery is why they paint tall structures with red and white.

This is a snap I took of a transmission tower in Alsace in France:

And this is a snap I took of a nuclear cooling tower in New York:

 

The mystery is why different countries use exactly the same approach?  Is this an international ISO standard?

Transitory Things – 1

This morning I was impressed when I caught a glimpse of the traffic gates closing due to an oncoming tram. And it caused me to start wondering: are there many “transitory things” that I can capture, as they fleetingly move between one stable state and the next?  Just like these barricades – no longer up, but not yet down.

I’ll keep thinking about this, and if I find some more examples, I’ll show them in my blog.

Transmission Tower

Nothing special about this one – it just struck me that this high tension transmission tower was standing over the streetlight like the Giant might stand over Jack:

I’m not an expert in this stuff, but it struck me that the cables are in pairs – rather than in bundles of threes. Does this mean that this is ordinary two-phase AC power, rather than the more common three phase that you’d expect to be transmitted on a overhead power line? Or, is each phase carried on a separate tier of the structure?

Hydroelectric Roundabout – 1

This is a hydropower generating station located on the Rhine River in France, just across the border from Switzerland:

It makes a pretty picture, but what impressed me even more was this Rond Pont (roundabout) that I spotted very near to the power station:

Spread out over the Rond Pont are all the mechanical components used to turn the flow of water into electricity.

Innovation in Ashes

I spotted this very innovative cigarette dispenser in the French department of Haut-Rhin:

Supposedly, you discard your cigarette butt according to which sports team you support.  But if you stop and think a bit: do you drop your butt below the team you favor, to show your support – or do you drop your butt at the team you least favor, thereby giving them your butt (so to speak)?

When you stop to think about it, there is really a big assumption built in!

Incredibly amazing Frick

I could not believe my eyes when I went to Frick and saw – for the first time in Switzerland – and probably for only the third or fourth time in all of Europe – a real, American style strip mall!

And not only that, but it even had an Asian restaurant to boot!

Unbelievably, while I was taking this picture a vintage Cadillac rolled up next to me, the driver got out and started to make some repairs under the hood.

You can’t get more American than that!

Unbelievably disappointing Frick

First things first, I want to be crystal clear so nobody is confused. This is not a real dinosaur:

The dinosaurs all died out a long time ago. This is just a big model of a dinosaur.

OK, having got that out of the way, now to “Frick the Disappointing.” Before you get to Frick, you pass all sorts of signs on the Autobahn that say Dinosaur discovery place and Dinosaur museum – and you get curious and decide to go visit this strange place called Frick. As you turn off the Autobahn, a big friendly dinosaur is there to greet you – and now you really start to get excited!  This is going to be really something special, you think to yourself!

And then, suddenly, all at once, when you drive into downtown Frick – nothing. Nada. Zilch.  No little dinos lining the streets.  No “Dino Kebabs” for sale in the Turkish kepab  shops.  Even if you want to get to the dinosaur museum it is a huge challenge: you can’t see the sign until you pass it.

As part of my sense of civic duty, I want to make a Frick-Tip:  Turn Frick into something exciting. Get a few more dinos lining the streets.  Have the kebap places sell “Dino Kebaps.”  Open a souvenir shop selling “Dino Frick” T-Shirts and little plastic dinosaurs.  Here is a good example.

Terrifying, intimidating, threatening cat: Luchs in Winterthur

OK, this one really was terrifying, intimidating, and threatening!

About three weeks ago I was on the early morning train to Zurich, just as the sun was rising. Between Winterthur and Kempthal I spotted what looked like a scrawny deer at the edge of the forest. When my eyes focused on it, I immediately realized it was no deer, but instead I thought mountain lion. But as I studied the animal as the train slowly moved by, I could see it was like no mountain lion I’ve seen: very long legs, stubby “half-tail,” relatively tiny head, and big spots.  Sadly, I could not reach my camera in time, but this is what it looked like:

To be honest, the cat I spotted had much bigger spots, and fewer of them, than this one. Later in the day I did a bit of surfing on the Internet, and I learned there is an animal called a Lynx (in German: Luchs), and I also learned they have been seen close to where I live.

WARNING: This is not even remotely like a tiny pussycat or even a large tomcat. The animal I saw was as large as a cougar or mountain lion. In my judgement, it would have no problem to kill a man.  But since there seem to be so many in Switzerland, and so few encounters with people, thankfully it is hopefully very shy.

Terrifying, intimidating, threatening stork

Ok, maybe it is not so terrifying, intimidating, and threatening, but nevertheless a stork walking around a highway rest area in Eastern France is really something to see.

You can try all you want to tempt this fellow with potato chips, but unless you have a bag of fresh frogs or live mice, you’ll hardly be able to get his attention.

I am not sure why, but I find storks quite interesting, and you can find a number of examples of them on my blog in different countries.

(Trivia: scientists have recently learned that these European storks learn their flying skills from their social group.  If a baby stork is taught by an expert flyer, then each winter he/she will travel to and overwinter in North Africa. But if a baby stork learns from a stork with lessor flying skills, he/she will overwinter in Spain. Apparently – and this is the amazing bit – if a scientist attaches an accelerometer to a stork to measure their flight, then in the first 10 seconds of flight the scientists can recognize to which category of flyer the stork belongs: African super-flyer or more relaxing Spanish-flyer.  I am not sure if the scientists understand which storks are happier.)

The Real Galleria

Most all Americans have heard about shopping malls called The Galleria.  I don’t know a large city in the U.S. that doesn’t have one. But what hardly any Americans know is that this concept dates back to an original Galleria, in the north Italian city of Milano.  If you go there, you will not just be impressed – if you are an American and not accustomed to sights like this, there is a danger your eyeballs might explode:

Officially it’s known as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and it is actually quite a recent building, dating back to around 1867. Inside, its filled with very high priced boutiques. But the real tourist attraction is a tile inlay of the Bull of Turin in the middle of the mall, shown here:

It is widely believed that if you spin around the bull with your heel three times, you’ll receive good luck.

 

 

IT – Does anything ever change?

Around 20 years ago, when struggling to decide if I should shift from a career as a research physicist to a career in IT, I was impressed with the idea that IT changed faster than physics – so I expected a more dynamic, exciting field. What little did I know!

In 1973 my father was editor of the world’s first IT magazine, and he wrote an article entitled “To rollout successful systems, first debug the people problem.”  I’m still trying to find a copy to post. It was all about management of change when introducing new IT systems, and the article is 100% valid today.

A few years later in 1975 an IBM engineer, Fred Brooks, wrote a fabulous book entitled “The Mythical Man Month” containing his wisdom and advice for software engineering projects:

After nearly 45 years, hardly any of the most important core principles has changed. The author himself writes in his newest addition:

In preparing my update, I was struck by how few of the propositions have been critiqued, proven, or disproven by ongoing software research and experience.

So I guess IT has the best of both worlds: new technologies are cool (I was impressed how my Apple MacBook actually logged into my FitBit scale – not the other way around!), new methodologies are exciting (even Agile is now ancient!), but just like in physics, the core principles don’t change.

 

Bodensee Skink

This little fellow is not an unusual sight in Southern Germany; I took this snap in the tiny hamlet of Hegne next to the village of Allensbach:

There are some people who would refer to this little guy incorrectly as a Blindschleich, or blind worm – but you can see from his fine peeper’s that he’s anything but blind.

Thirty Years’ War

At least I suspect it is, painted here on the inside of a small wooden hut for hikers nestled deep within the Schwabian Alb:

The Thirty Years’ War (Dreissigjähriger Krieg, in German) lasted from 1618 to 1648.  If you look closely at the coats of arms, you’ll see Baden on the left, and Württemberg on the right:

But to be honest, this is just a semi-educated guess.  If you have any better info, do let me know!

Germany’s highest bridge

This is it, from a close-up viewpoint:

And this is it, from an artistic viewpoint:

And this is it, from a viewpoint where you can really appreciate how tall it is:

 

Finished in 1979, this is the Kochertalbrücke (Kocher Valley Bridge),  and at 178 m (or 574 feet) it was, until 2004, the highest bridge in Europe. Remember that the Golden Gate Bridge, in comparison, is only  220 feet, so this bridge is just over double the height.

If you like photographs of bridges, you’ll find a number of them that I’ve tried to capture in my blog.

What I find totally amazing about this bridge is the complete silence underneath it.  The traffic deck is so high in the air, none of the sounds of the passing vehicles can be heard from the ground.

High tech Hainan watertower

Thomas Friedman wrote, if you haven’t visited a megacity in the last year, then you really haven’t seen it.

Hainan, an island off the southern coast of China is certainly not a megacity. Nevertheless, the exceptionally high tech nature of Chinese cities slaps you in the face when you step outside the airport and see this watertower, sporting a huge and bright digital display:

Milan Tram

Nothing special, no interesting story behind it, no mind-boggling trivia. Just wanted to show off one of my favorite snaps that I took when my Dad and I were visiting Milan in Italy: