More amazing than I thought

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about the amazing Thyssen Krupp Test Tower, under construction in Southern Germany. It was slated to become one of Germany’s highest skyscrapers, and inside it housed many shafts so that Thyssen Krupp, a maker of high tech elevators, could test their products.

Well, the tower is now complete:

For a small fee, you can ride an UNBELIEVABLE all glass elevator that whips you to the top in just a few seconds, and your body will feel no acceleration at all.  At the top is an observation deck – and even on this overcast day, it provided a stunning high altitude look over the Southern Germany landscape including Germany’s famous Black Forest:

When viewed from the ground, it is hard to believe this building has the needed lateral stability, but apparently the main structure is anchored very deep below the ground:

Moleturm

At the ferry port of the lakeside town of Friedrichshafen sits a well-known observation platform, the Moleturm:

You have to climb many, many steps to get to the top, and yet I’ve never seen it not filled with people.  Perhaps my cultural prejudices are too deep, but I have a feeling an observation platform like this in most American cities wouldn’t attract that kind of attention.

First night shot

A cloud-obscured full moon over the city of Winterthur.

This is my first night photograph taken with my new Canon G9X Mark 2.  I used the out-of-the-box “auto” mode, and I don’t think it’s bad – but I’m still eager to explore the effects I can get when I manually adjust the settings.

Covered pedestrian bridge in Alsace

Do you like to see people or do you like to see beautiful things?

The reason for this question has to do with the difference between North and South Europe.

In South Europe, you will see neighborhoods filled with people, sitting outside, talking, playing various bowling games or cards.  But you aren’t likely to see neighborhoods filled with modern embellishments paid for by the residents.

But in North Europe, particularly in the French Region of Alsace, you will see NO ONE.  Not a single person! But what you will see in these empty neighborhoods are some beautiful ornaments, such as this covered wooden pedestrian bridge that I photographed somewhere in Alsace:

A little known history of IT offshoring – Part 2

Part II – The Challenge

By Chuck Ritley & Ken Ritley


KEN: Of course, today the ERP concept is an old one – it’s the bread and butter of companies like SAP, and you can get degrees at colleges that teach this stuff.  Now let’s get to your challenge specifically – what was your pain point?

I was supervising the coding of a large enterprise control software package. Somewhat later the industry term became known as ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning. We competed with IBM head-on, a tough crowd. This concept included all the functions a company needed from materials to accounting to shipment.  A few dealers who had made this their specialty sold the software, and so there had to be some margin for customization.

Our pain point – time, time, time. We knew IBM was almost ready for market. The design had many new features, and the market was much different than today. The first company to break into a market could easily wind up owning it.  So our management needed to finish our product and start selling it before IBM or we’d be playing catch-up.  And bear in mind, we were a mini-computer company, competing against the giant of the mainframes.

KEN: Today there are many possibilities to solve the time-pressure problem. Hiring good IT people is not that big a challenge – and if you are really under time pressure, there is a huge market of freelancers and even companies willing to take over coding on a fixed price basis.  How was it different for you?

Our programming team consisted of 8 “programmers” – today known as developers or software engineers. Based on our workload, that wasn’t enough. Now bear this in mind: it was a proprietary world. COBOL was standard only for mainframes, so it you wanted a competent programmer, you needed to find one with expertise in another language and train him or her in your proprietary language. Freelancing was just beginning, and pickings were slim.

There weren’t any degrees in IT as yet, and most programmers got their start by attending schools from one of the manufacturers.  IBM and Honeywell, in those days, had large training programs.  Most programmers available for hire had spent time doing mainframe coding for customers of one of those two giants.  And they might not have coded in the areas we were developing.

As matter of fact, I was recruited to Silicon Valley because there had been a shortage of good programmers and I had both IBM and Honeywell experience. So there were good programmers available.  But not overnight.

KEN: It’s certainly much different today. So what made you think of recruiting an international workforce?

Frankly, the international market had puzzled me for some time.  We had distributors in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, France, India, and Japan.   What amazed me was that everything we published by way of technical documentation was in English.  The OS, tied directly to the CPU, had the usual English-like commands: edit, erase, format, etc.   The coding language was similar to an abbreviated version of BASIC, rather than the assembler-style used by mainframes.

What impressed me was that each non-English speaking distributor had to have an English speaker on staff.   From time to time, each would send techs to the US, always someone fluent in English, and we would train them.  They would go home and translate everything from OS and programming manuals to the electronic logic diagrams into the native language.  No small task.

But, at the time, the US was the only source of minicomputers on the planet.  IBM didn’t compete at that level.  For example, in Australia and NZ, we were the largest computer supplier.  So distributors who took this route could open new markets at the turnkey level. To support this, we had a programmer and field engineer who worked odd hours to support the time differences and they could provide answers via telex.  (No internet as yet.)

I was most impressed by the staff of our Indian distributors, who were a large multi-product electronics house.  Because English was common, they created their own software with our programming language.  Not surprisingly, some utility software, such as database systems, had market value in the US.

 

Final coming next: Part III – The Solution

IT Offshoring – It began differently than you might think!

IT outsourcing – offshoring – nearshoring – global delivery?  They’re familiar terms today – in fact, they are buzzwords.  Once they meant only cost-saving, but now these term more often refer to technical excellence.

When I first went to Bangalore in the early 2000’s to manage a global delivery facility for Hewlett Packard, I was amazed. I had traveled India before as a tourist, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bangalore.  What I found was a metropolis of IT.  That was 14 years ago.  Today, depending on what source you read, Bangalore is the center of 41% of all engineering research and development (ER&D) and 39% of all global in-house centers (GIC) in India.  In human terms, it has 530,000 trained technical people.  And that’s just the one city.  Directly or indirectly, India employs about 3 million people in direct IT support, and another 7 million in indirect support.

That’s more than 50% of all global outsourcing.

So – when did this begin?  How did it start?  Where did it start?  Why?  Like Henry Ford’s garage it had simple beginnings.  And in 30 years it has become a mammoth industry.

I first waded into this water in 2005.  But my Dad, now a semi-retired systems designer and professor of computer sciences, remembers start-up days back in the 1970’s and 1980’s – literally decades before many people think “offshore” began.  Together we assembled some memories of those first days that we’ll be publishing in a series of upcoming blogs. I think you’ll find it both enlightening and fun.  It’s like looking back at Mr. Ford’s first assembly line.

 

The “offshore” model, with my team in Bangalore:

 

And the “nearshore” model, with my team in Bulgaria:

 

The story begins here on my Dad’s blog, with the link here:  A little known history of IT offshoring – Part I

Mysore Cow

You can try if you want, but you just can’t take a bad photograph of a good cow!

This is a cow that I came across in a village just outside of Mysore, in Southern India:

Interestingly, I never stopped to think about it until now, but I really don’t know about how the rope shown above goes laterally through the nostrils of the cow.  I guess it’s a bit embarassing to admit I don’t know how this is done – but it also shows that I live a life where something is strange to me that is, in fact, quite ordinary to the overwhelming majority of people on earth.

Touch me and go to jail

This is one of the gates (I believe it is called the Colmar gate) that leads to the medieval walled city of Neuf-Brisach in Alsace:

And if you look closely enough on the wall underneath the ladder, you’ll find a pretty rare sight in Europe, a mantis that I caught hanging upside down on (but to be honest, mantises that hang rightside up are just as rare!)

This is a protected species in Germany.  I am not sure what would happen in France if you bothered this little fellow. But if you found him in Germany (just about 5 km away is the border) you’d be violating a rather serious law to protect endangered wildlife, and the police would not hesitate to arrest you.

It did what it was supposed to do

As just about any history buff knows, just prior to World War II France set up a series of underground military bunkers on their eastern border, to prevent an invasion of the Germans.

Did they work?  Many people say: they did what they were supposed to do! The Germans successfully invaded France, but by driving around the Maginot Line and coming down from the north, through Belgium.

Just about all these bunkers are still in existence, and some of them are now museums that you can visit:

They look rather boring from up on top, just a few gun turrets sticking out of the ground:

But underground, some of them are truly massive, as this sketch shows:

Great inventions – 1

When you travel around to enough countries, you’ll often find that one country has an invention or system that is so stunningly good, you immediately wonder why other places don’t adopt it.

For me, the traffic light system in France is one of these incredible inventions.

The traffic lights in France have the usual red/yellow/green lights mounted high on a post, just as you’ll find in just about every country. But in addition, there are little red and green lights mounted lower on the pole, just at the eyeball height of drivers, as you can see here:

It means when you are stopped at a light, you don’t need to strain your neck or lean forward – you can keep your body in the driving posture and just look straight ahead at these little lights.

BRILLIANT!

Dijon Mystery Houses

The French village of Dijon, nestled in the Bourgogne region of France, is not only famous for its mustard, but it’s a fantastic and large medieval city, filled with buildings dating back many centuries.

But it’s also the source of a real mystery for me.  If you walk around this huge town and admire the architecture, you’ll find that it is almost exclusively buildings made of stone.  But from time to time you’ll see something like this:

Or this

Which are wood “half-timbered” or Fachwerk houses.

Although these types of buildings are the de facto standard in Eastern France, Germany, and Northern Switzerland – why are are few of them here?  And why are they interspersed so spartanly in what are otherwise stone buildings?

It’s one of the many mysteries on my list that I hope to clarify someday!

Medieval village of knives

Deep within France, just inside a French national volcanic park, is the medieval village of Thiers:

Manufaccturing more than 90% of all cutlery sold in France, the artisans have made this village not just the knife capital of France, but truly the knife capital of the world:

The village is home to literally dozens upon dozens upon dozens of shops run by knifemakers.  The shop shown above sells custom handmade knives made by a family whose been living here and doing this for six generations!

So it was really exciting and unique for me to practice my French and purchase a pocketknife here, with handles made of Brazilian rosewood:

Interestingly, the inhabitants of this village are something of a language enclave, speaking a language (Auvergnat) derived from Langue d’Oc, one time quite important but now mostly extinct in France.

Jaw dropping experience

Humans aren’t really so diverse as we might think.

Myers and Briggs created a test to classify people based on their personality. The idea being, that there are just a few types of different personalities. There are plenty of free online versions of the test: you spend a few minutes, answer a few questions, and your personality can be classified into one of several types:

Usually when I manage a team, I ask some of my key team members and high achievers to take this test – and, as happened with me, usually people fall off their chair when they read the detailed description of their personality type and see just how accurate it is, as this example shows.

Why do I find this so useful as a management tool?  I really don’t want or need to know about what Myers-Briggs category people fit into – for me, there are just too many categories to make this a useful management tool. But I find when people read their own self-assessment, it provides them a lot of insight into their own personality, which in turn can help them develop in the team.  In German we call this the difference between Selbstbild und Fremdbild.

Black Church

Probably not what you are thinking when you read the title.

Here is a snap of the famous Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Clarement-Ferrand, in the city of the same name, in France:

What’s absolutely amazing about this cathedral is its color.  Claremont-Ferrand sits in an area of France filled with volcanoes, and the cathedral is build with black lava stone.

It’s a pretty impressive sight!

Even more interesting than the church are the people, many of whom do not speak French, but rather a descendant of the old and nearly extinct Lang d’Oc language.

Srirangapatna – The Logan’s Run of South India

As a small child I was impressed by the scene in the 1976 movie Logan’s Run, when Logan and Jenny escape the hermetically sealed dome only to find that Washington DC – originally the bustling capital of America – has reverted to a quiet, peaceful, animal-filled natural area.

So you can imagine how I felt when I first encountered Srirangapatna in Southern India.

It was once home to the Kingdom of Tipu Sultan, center of a vast dynasty across Southern India.  To be here then was to be at the seat of power, side to side with the movers and shakers of society, truly to be in the company of giants. Today it is little more than sleepy villages filled with farmers and shephards:

Alemanic rituals of Switzerland, Southern Germany and France

Switzerland, Southern Germany as well as the eastern Alsacian region of France are home to a more evolved form of the German language, called Alemanic. And this region is also filled with tiny medieval villages, some of them still having impressive city walls like Riquewihr in France:

Inside of the village you’ll often find public fountains, which until quite recently supplied the residents with drinking water:

But the most interesting bit are the yearly celebrations such as Faschtnacht, planned for months in advance by the locals and usually involving street festivals and parades:

Unbelievably, in many of these towns the specific characters in the parade and even the costumes themselves are hundreds of years old, each accompanied by elaborate stories and detailed historical myths.

Bodensee: the lake with two faces

The Bodensee, also known as Lake Constance in English, straddles the border between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – and it’s also Europe’s largest lake.

But what many people don’t see are its two distinct faces. In fact, I never recognized this either, until someone point it out to me.

By and large, Germany doesn’t have great lakes, so the Bodensee has developed into the place for many Germans to vacation and own second homes: ritzy and glamorous. Filled with fancy restaurants and hotels.

But for the Swiss, on the other side of the lake, the Bodensee is one of the more boring lakes, as far as Swiss lakes go: not surrounded by breathtaking Alps, no sculptured coastline to compare with Norway, relatively flat and boring.  So the Swiss side of the lake never developed in that same way.

Here are some scenes of the Bodensee, taken from the ferry landing at Meersburg:

Wine is produced along the German side of the lake:

And in the summer, you can usually find a huge Zeppelin flying around, since Friedrichshafen is the home to the company that invented the Zeppelin.

Indian apartment essentials

During the time I lived in India, my apartment was one of the best ones I ever had. Not because it was huge, had three balconies, and was regularly kept clean by a maid and a gentleman who ironed my shirts.  Also not because it overlooked a small park, during the day filled with brightly colored birds and in the evening with huge “flying foxes.” But because of the infrastructure.

Here in my bathroom you can see my “Geezer” – a tank on the wall that heats the water only just before you use it:

 

(I’m not sure if this is where the expression “You old geezer” comes from or not, but it still confuses me why this highly efficient system is not in more widespread use, particularly in the U.S. where the homes are very big.)

Here you can see my water filter, attached to the sink.  It had a canister containing carbon, and a second canister containing an UV light. Thanks to this set up, I think the water I drank in India was probably the best, cleanest water I’ve had in a long time. Because of the low flow rate, however, it meant that I would practice my own “water management” – and I kept my refrigerator stocked with water that I would bottle myself from this system, ready to be used in volume if I needed to:

Here you see my washing machine. There was no real need for an intense spin cycle, because the air was so dry, no matter how wet they were, my clothes would usually air dry within just a few hours:

And finally the best part, my stove, fed by a tank of gas underneath the counter:

Once you get used to cooking with a real flame, it is hard to go back to induction, infrared, or electric.

When the wind blows

I didn’t see any rocking cradles, but anyway I took this snap just a few meters from a spot called Bodega Head, on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean, near Bodega Bay, California:

What you can’t see here, but what I find amazing, is that this tree is leaning almost 90 degrees to shoreline.  If I simply turn around, this is what it looks like behind my back:

So even though you’d expect the wind would travel perpendicularly to the shoreline, in fact the local geography and hills somehow influence the wind to run south, parallel to the coast.

(By the way, I am no expert on trees, but I suspect this is a Cypress tree.  Cypress trees are amazing – and I hope to write a number of photo blogs (PHOGS) about them soon!)

Because it is so amazing, here is a close-up of the tree: