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:


Unbelievable bridge in Southern Germany

I’ve driven across this bridge hundreds of times, but recently I stopped underneath to take some pictures.

This is the Neckar Viaduct up close:

And this is the Neckar Viaduct, somewhat further away:

What’s just amazing is that this viaduct has a height of 125 meters, or just over 400 feet.  In comparison, the more famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has a height of only 67 meters or around 200 feet. That means the Neckar Viaduct is almost twice as high as the Golden Gate Bridge!

A different face of Switzerland

Most non-Swiss people I know – including many who have made Switzerland their home – think of Switzerland as exclusively land of the rich.  And indeed, it tops the charts as one of the world’s most expensive countries.

But people often overlook the fact that not everyone in Switzerland is as affluent as your typical Zürich resident or Geneve resident. In particular, there are still many rural areas, often isolated in tiny villages and hamlets in the Swiss Alps, where the income and standard of living is somewhat less.

In order to help these regions, the Swiss grocery store Coop operates a collection of donation stations, where people can donate old clothes and shoes, like this one:

Additionally, they have a terrific website that gives full details about the various projects they support to improve the lives of many people in these remote mountain villages.

Where did Punjabi go?

I came across the following image, which (if true) is quite an interesting way to display the data:

I am no language expert, but it surprised me that I didn’t see Punjabi, which appears in most lists as part of the Top 10, such as the current list from Wikipedia:

Interestingly, I’d never heard of Lahnda before, and when I looked it up I learned it is a dialect of Punjabi.

The Mythical Man Month

I rarely do book reviews, but in this case I couldn’t help.

Back in 1975 I was 10 years old, and an IBM engineer, Fred Brooks, wrote a fabulous book entitled “The Mythical Man Month” containing his wisdom and advice for software engineering projects:

The title of the book comes from an important observation he made about software engineering: if you add more people to a late software project, you’re like to make it even later!  But in addition there fabulous observations about other topics, like prototyping, the different between software development for projects and software development for products, and the like.

It’s just amazing: 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.

The great pollen storms of Southern Germany

You’ve heard of the great sandstorms of the Sahara Desert.

You’ve heard of the great windstorms in Oklahoma.

And if you like science fiction, you’ve read about the great firestorms of the Tesla Trees in the Flame Forests of Hyperion.

Here, then, is a storm you’ve probably never heard about: the Great Pollen Storms of Southern Germany.  For just a few days each spring, when conditions in Germany are right, the wind can kick up enormous pollen storms:


The algae fountain with undrinkable water above a hidden WWII bunker hotel

How’s that for a blog title!

Here is an interesting fountain located in the Marktplatz in Stuttgart which, like most fountains in Germany but NO fountains in Switzerland, does not have drinkable water but which does, unlike most fountains in Germany, sports a jungle of algae:

But what a lot of people don’t know is that, deep under the Markplatz, there is a hotel, now closed, constructed from a World War II bunker.

The commercialization of culture

I haven’t blogged about it yet, but France has commercialized their regional cultural subgroups for years.  Shopping centers almost universally contain a store called “En Passant en Alsace” or “En Passant en Bourgogne” that sell the local products from regions such as Alsace and Bourgogne.  The huge supermarkets (known as Hypermarchés) have an aisle that, at various times, sell the products of a different region of France than where the Hypermarché is located.

Now it seems the Schwabians in Germany are getting in on the action!

Here is a snap of a “Schwabian vending machine” located at the Stuttgart main train station,

As you can see from the display, you can order Schwabian specialities such as Maultaschen and schwabian potato salad:

I’ll refrain here from any jokes (such as, in order to save money there are real Schwabians behind the wall dispensing the products instead of expensive machines).

Stuttgart 21

Stuttgart 21 is a long planned (10+ years), hotly debated (100+ police arrests and dozens of canisters of teargas, some of them used against elementary school students) improvement project to the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn), comprising 2 big pieces.

The first piece is a high speed rail line between Stuttgart and the very-large-but-still-too-far-for-easy-rail-commuting city of Ulm.  Here’s a snap of a railroad viaduct leading to a mountain tunnel, towering above the village of Wiesenstieg,

And the second piece is transforming the Stuttgart main train station (Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof) into a massive underground shopping center,

For the record, I originally opposed this project when I first learned about it in 1998, for one reason alone: compared to all the other public toilets at train stations, the public toilets at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof were and still are today atrocious. For a culture in Germany known for its tidiness (e.g. Kehrwoche), if you can’t trust them to operate a toilet correctly, how could you trust them for a project this big?