Augusta Raurica and User Experience (UX)

User Experience – sometimes referred to as UX – is defined as encompassing all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with e.g. an IT system or, for example, a company, its services, and its products.  And although you might not think about it, museums can provide a wonderful insight into the field of UX.

I’ve recently blogged about a wonderful collection of Roman ruins scattered in the Swiss countryside, Augusta Raurica.

What’s really a nice touch is that many of the walking paths have markers that explain about the history of the site:

The displays are a combination of old ones dating back to just after World War II, and relatively new ones.

Now here comes the truly interesting part.  The older displays are written in both German and French, and they contain extremely dry, extremely boring historical facts, as this example shows.

The newer displays are written in German, French, and English – and they use a very simple type of writing, and they contain topics that are interesting to a wide variety of people, especially including younger audiences:

It makes you stop and think about who designed the original displays and why.  Were people many years ago more literate and interested in boring historical facts?  Or is there simply more attention paid today to the user experience?

Augusta Raurica and the descendants of Roman cows

Augusta Raurica is an incredible archaeological site that’s well worth a visit to anyone in the Basel area of northern Switzerland.  In a nutshell, Augusta Raurica is an ancient Roman town, together with a number of impressive roman artifacts – including even an amphitheater and coliseum – that was for the most part, amazingly, discovered after World War II.

Here are some cows grazing near a Roman temple:

Mühle Tiefenbrunnen

The Mühle Tiefenbrunnen dates back to 1889 and it is a common sight for visitors to the Tiefenbrunnen train station in Zürich,

It has its own webpage, but still I have not been able to find out what the overhead passage was for. Could have been used for filling train cars with beer – or perhaps transferring grains from train into the factory?

Bubble architecture in Sélestat

I’ve recently written about what I call “bubble architecture,” particularly in France, in which historical buildings are somehow encased in glass bubbles.  When done right, it can be magnificent. When done wrong, it can be atrocious, as this example shown here.

Recently I stumbled across this example in the Alsacian village of Sélestat,

Many European buildings are under historical protection, and this means that modern changes to correct building problems (such as doors not sealing properly and hence leading to wasted energy costs) are often forbidden.  Hence there is often a motive for encasing a building or a portal in glass.

When viewed as in this photograph, it doesn’t look that bad.  But when viewed from the human perspective in the middle of the town square, it looks absolutely hideous.

Garbage in Alsace

I’ve blogged about garbage in Texas, garbage in Germany, garbage in Switzerland – including the famous underground Swiss recycling cysterns! – and a recent trip to Alsace has given me to chance now to show how they handle garbage in Alsace, at least in the commune of Seléstat.

Voilà, because the French always say voilà before they point to something:

If you have a closer look at the machines / kiosks, they look like this, voilà:

In the Swiss system, anyone can dump their trash into the chute for free – but the trash needs to be packed into a plastic bag sold by the city (a roll of 15 bags of 35 L each costs around CHF 20), which means the residents are encumbered to buy special bags and pack their trash accordingly.

Here, the residents can use any bags of their choice – or no bags – but the chute can only be opened by someone with an RFID card. While I’ve never personally used the Alsacian Seléstat system, it does seem to be both more user friendly (it is a lot of hassle to buy the bags) and environmentally friendly (why use an extra plastic bag when you may not need one).

Hidden peanuts for people

In a recent blog post I wrote about “Hidden peanuts for elephants” – zookeepers that hide individual peanuts in the elephant enclosures in zoos, to keep the elephants amused and occupied as they – supposedly gleefully – search for little peanuts to eat.

I could not help but think the same thing was happening to humans when I stumbled across this interactive display at the Zurich International Airport (ZRH):

There are three buttons on the ground you can press with your feet. When you press them, this controls the video advertisement you see.

In the end, at least the elephants got something to eat.

Fuel mileage and culture

When I first moved to Europe nearly twenty years ago, I realized the smallest cultural differences could be the most telling.

For example, consider the topic of measuring the gasoline/petrol mileage of automobiles.

 

 

 

Americans measure their fuel mileage in miles per gallon.  It answers the question: how far can I go?

 

 

 

 

Europeans measure their fuel mileage in liters per 100 kilometers. It answers the question: what are my requirements?

Surely I am not the first one to recognize this?

Thomas Friedman may have missed the point

This is Thomas Friedman:

He’s famous to older people for being the first reporter to cover some atrocities in the Middle East. And his book From Beirut to Jerusalem is in my view required reading before anyone can have a conversation on Middle Eastern topics.

But today he more famous to the younger IT crowd for his book The World is Flat.

 

In that book, he makes the argument that the modern Intranet has flattened the world, permitting the development of truly global supply chains.

Because the subtitle of his book is “A brief history of the 21st century” he is not strictly wrong. But unfortunately, he never points out the far deeper, far older truth that truly global delivery in fact dates back thousands of years!

In their book Global Management in the 21st Century the authors begin by a humbling story that shows, at its core, nothing much has changed in over 5000 years:

“There is evidence of extensive trade between nations as early as 3000 BC.  Some 2000 years ago Herod build the port of Caesarea Maritima. This served as a major east-west trade route with Byzantium and Rome, which were as much as 60 days away by sail. The harbor handled local products like wine, flax, and grain, as well as exotic products like silk and spices, that were brought to the port from Asia by caravan. Imagine the management challenges associated with coordinating shipping schedules with the arrival of products from Asia and the purchase of local products.”

Still more anecdotes explain the challenges of global delivery and multi-cultural teams – efficiently and expertly solved, with a high degree of goal-orientation, but literally thousands of years ago!

So while Thomas made a good observation about the Internet and the flattening of the world, in fact so many of the global delivery challenges the IT community faces today are the same challenges humans faced thousands of years ago.  And the real question is perhaps not what as the Internet enabled, but rather . . . what has the modern nation-state approach led us to forget?

Jodhpur – the mystery has been cleared up!

In a recent blog post I talked about the “Mystery of Jodhpur“. Jodhpur is known as the Blue City because many of the buildings are painted blue. While for some people the mystery is why this is done – for me the real mystery is how this is achieved: who coordinates the work, approves the paint, and issues penalties if someone chooses a different color.

Well, thanks to Vineet, my friend and engineer from Tata Consulting Services, now visiting us in Switzerland to help with a data center migration, the mystery has been cleared up.  Because, Vineet is from Jodhpur, and he knows the rules quite well!

Here was the snap I showed of the fort:


And here is the snap I showed looking down on the Blue City, from the fort:

Vineet has told me the blue was never really a paint but in most cases a stain.  And he says that, as of today, there is no longer any rules or regulations that the buildings be painted blue.  This means, over time, the Blue City will surely disappear – but according to Vineet, this is likely to take a long, long time.

 

Global Management in the 21st Century

I almost never do book reviews in my blog.

But a business colleague recently asked me for what I thought was the best book on global management and delivery.

The good news: Mendenhall, Punnett and Ricks wrote a 719-page academic tome that is much broader, deeper, and insightful than any other book I’ve seen on the topic.

The bad news: it is out-of-print and almost impossible to obtain – and I will never part with my worn, dog-eared copy!

I do not believe you can ask a question or have an inquiry on any topic that is not addressed to a deep level of detail in this book.  It contains hundreds of references.

I can only whet your appetite with the Table of Contents:

I – Global Picture – Understanding the international management environment

1. Overview

2. Global mgmt in the context of politics

3. The cultural environment

4. International labor relations

5. The global ethical environment

II – International strategic management and operations

6. Global strategy overview

7. Foreign entry decision

8. Implementing foreign entry decisions

9. Adapting management to foreign environments

10. Managing operations globally

11. Organizing and control in global organizations

III – Executing international decisions through staffing and directing

12. Human resource selection

13. Training for international assignments

14. Managing the expatriate manager

15. Special issues for global firms: women and dual-career couples

16. Communication and negotiation in global management

17. Leadership and motivation in global context

Appendix A – Careers in international business

Appendix B – Experiential exercises

Appendix C – Case studies

Punjabi Pizza

I get a lot of questions from Westerners about the influence of Western food brands, like Pizza Hut, in India.

As you can imagine, in any cultural battle, India usually wins – and the western fast food chains all have food tailored to Indian tastes and cultural norms.

For a while, Pizza Hut had a delicious, spicy, chicked-topped pizza called their “Punjabi Pizza,” and you could see advertisements like this one:

It turns out, if you don’t know much about India, you can learn a lot from a pizza!

Here is a typical pizza menu – nothing unusual if you are familiar with India, but containing a few secrets if you’ve never been there:

First, you’ll see the different colors used to label the dishes.  GREEN is the universal color in India for a vegetarian dish, and RED is the universal color for a non-veg dish.

Second, you’lll often see a little green or red box containing a green or red dot – same meaning as above.

Finally, you’ll often be surprised because many food terms have different equivalents in Indian English.  Above you’ll see the word “capsicum” – which is nothing other than a Bell pepper.  Considering that India has around a BILLION people, and the U.S. has much less . . . I wonder how long it will be before they turn the tables and stop calling it Indian English, but rather just English?

Finally, I took this snap back in 2008 in Krakow, Poland, and it still confuses me today.

Back in 2008 there was hardly a sizeable Indian community in Europe much less Poland – was this really an advertisement for an Indian pizza? Maybe someone who can read Polish can let me know!

The Great Mystery of Fire Lake

Not too far from downtown Stuttgart, Germany, sits a very small park with a very small pond but a very huge cathedral:


What is NOT a mystery is what these things are: The pond is called the Feuersee (in German, “fire lake”) – and the cathedral is called the Johanneskirche.  The church was built in 1864, so it is relatively new – but you can still see some damage from bombing in World War II.  The pond was created somewhat earlier, in 1701. It was designed as a small reservoir for fighting fires, hence the name, Fire Lake.

What the MYSTERY is: how did this Fire Lake actually work?

In the middle of the pond you can see three intake pipes (one of them is shown in the photo above) – but where exactly did the water go?  How was it pumped out?  Was it transported to horse-drawn fire wagons, or was something more sophisticated in place?

Having living nearly 10 years in Germany, I’ve visited the Feuersee many times – but I’ve never seen any historical placques that describe how all this worked – or when/if they stopped using it.

Amazing Horse-Scavaging Birds of Provence

Well, even if nobody else thinks they are amazing, I do.

While driving around the south of France, include Provence and The Camargue, I spotted quite a number of horses grazing, and underneath them and surrounding them were whole flocks of strange white birds.

This pic has a somewhat bad quality: I took it while driving and (no kidding!) being followed by a police car!

But I think you get the idea:

I have no idea what kinds of birds these are – but I assume they eat any small insects that appear when the horse grazes.

Frustrating France

If you’ve ever driven around the south of France, you know how frustrating it can be. You’ll find spectacular villages and chateaus high on the French hills – but no easy way to get up to see them.

While driving on an Autoroute through the French Alps near Savoie I spotted this castle high on a high, and I decided enough was enough: I was going to drive up there!

It took over an hour to leave the Autoroute and, even with my GPS, find the right roads.  Here’s a view as I got closer:

Amazingly, when I finally reached the place, it was closed!  A sign on the wall said that it was now privately owned, and it was open to the public only a few days each month.

Still, the trip up here was not a waste of time, since I got a breathtaking view of the plains of Savoie, as the sun was just coming out and burning off the ground fog:

UNESCO fails to impress in Orange

If you’ve spent time reading my blog, you’ll see plenty of entries that show the incredible UNESCO monuments scattered around the world.  Well, at least in the French city of Orange, UNESCO fails to impress.

This is the Roman Theater from the outside:

And this is the Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the stage:


And this is Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the seats:

Any Roman ruin this large is impressive, to be sure.  And the fact that it dates back to 40 BC is also pretty spectacular. But . . .  compared with the usual magnitude of UNESCO sites, this one falls a bit short of many of the others.

What I thought was most impressive were not the well-worn stairs, eroded after centuries of use (and probably even more amazing when you think most people were either barefoot or wearing soft leather sandals):

No, what I thought was most amazing were the arabic, rather than Roman, numbers!

Warsaw

As seen from my hotel room, this is the famous “Palace of Culture and Science” in Warsaw, or rather, how it looked about a decade ago:

At least when I visited, it looked like the building was mostly empty.  And here’s the same building, that I captured from the street level:

The Amazing Plane Trees of Provence

This might look like any other tree-lined street, but it’s not!

These are no ordinary trees.  And this is no ordinary street lining.  I took this snap somewhere between Sénas and Salone-de-Provence.

These are plane trees planted carefully on both sides of the street, and in fact this street lining continues for well over 20 kilometers!  According to what I’ve read, Napoleon ordered the planting of zillions of these trees along the roadsides in France, to give shade to the army troops when they marched from town to town.

Valuable resource for IT project managers

I rarely use my blog to give reviews, but in this case I can’t resist. A long time colleague from our HP days and still a very good friend of mine, Mario Neumann, has used his passions for training, leadership, and project management to create some very valuable and very high quality resources: his website, his books, his podcasts, his trainings, and especially, his project management application.

Here’s a screenshot of his application:

And here’s a screenshot of his webpage, http://marioneumann.com/

(Yes, you can easily mistake him for Ray Mears!)

But where Mario really shines is in his trainings, which can integrate wide ranging topics such as psychology and human behavior, to present a truly unique approach to management.

Only bad news: because he focusses on the German market, most of his collaterals are only available in the German language. Hopefully that will one day change!

 

The Hague

I don’t know why exactly, but growing up in America I could not be more impressed when I heard news reports coming out of “The Hague.” I thought any city referred to as “The” must be a highly advanced, mysterious place populated by the world’s smartest and most savviest ambassadors and diplomats.

Sometimes the truth can be a little less captivating. The Hague is the American equivalent of Den Haag. And it is nothing more than a city in the Netherlands – albeit it one of Europe’s biggest cities.  But even today, to my American ears – any city with a “the” in front of it must truly be an amazing and important city!

Recently The Hague is in the news due to the International Court of Justice. I only visited The Hague for the first time a few years ago, and sadly the weather was so bad I took very few pictures. But a few pictures are worth printing, especially given the recent news stories coming out of the International Court of Justice:

And I thought the World Peace Flame was also quite interesting:

Apparently, in a highly symbolic act a number of other eternal flames were united to create this flame.

ASIDE: If you haven’t realized it already, there are a handful of places that start with “the,” depending of course on your language.  The country where I live, Switzerland, is a case in point: in the German language it is known as Die Schweiz.  Of course, it makes sense to add the definite article when talking about place with a noun e.g. The Czech Republic or The Dominican Republic or The Marshall Islands. But The Philippines and The Netherlands and a few others stand as noun-less examples!