Fall of Saigon – Then and Now

On April 29, 1975 Hugh Van Es of United Press International at Gia Long Street took what became the iconic photograph of the U.S. evacuation of the Vietnamese city of Saigon,

Being in Saigon, and 44 years and one day later, I decided to hunt for this place. It’s not easy to find! First, the street has been re-named. Second, it’s not on any tour maps. Third, it’s almost entirely surrounded by modern shopping centers and high rise skyscrapers.  But after about two hours of exploring in the hot, humid, healthy Saigon sun I found it!

Here is the top of the building, right across the street from a modern indoor shopping mall:

And here is a blow-up so you can see the detail on the top.

Interestingly, I spotted a large number of American tourists walking in and out of the shopping mall, all of them unaware that they were standing underneath a true historical landmark. It’s a shame that the city of Saigon does not do more to recognize this location.

Is the slashed zero now dead?

Things change, and in the field of Information Science they change faster than most.  A delightful story of change is provided on the homepage of perhaps the world’s most famous computer scientist, Donald Knuth:

A note on email versus e-mail

Newly coined nonce words of English are often spelled with a hyphen, but the hyphen disappears when the words become widely used. For example, people used to write “non-zero” and “soft-ware” instead of “nonzero” and “software”; the same trend has occurred for hundreds of other words. Thus it’s high time for everybody to stop using the archaic spelling “e-mail”. Think of how many keystrokes you will save in your lifetime if you stop now! The form “email” has been well established in England for several years, so I am amazed to see Americans being overly conservative in this regard. (Of course, “email” has been a familiar word in France, Germany, and the Netherlands much longer than in England — but for an entirely different reason.)

I’d like to single out something similar, probably only known to those of us (like me!) whose history of Information Technology and computers pre-dated with the development of computer monitors: the first application I used was on a teletype machine at a laboratory at U.C. Berkeley.

Slashed O

When programmers started programming in the days even before punched cards, zero’s and one’s were so important  – and in those days, numbers were far more important and frequently used than letters. Therefore, programmers and also typesetters most frequently wrote “slashed o” instead of the letter O, in order to distinguish the uncommonly used letter from the very commonly used number.

If you look on Google you can find many examples of this, usually images of very old computer manuals, like this:


Slashed Zero

At some point after the introduction of high level computer languages, the letter O became more important than the number zero, so programmers use “slashed 0” instead of the number zero, in order to distinguish the uncommonly used number from the very commonly used letter.

Here is a good example of what that looks like:


0 = O: Leave it to the fonts, high resolution displays, and good eyes

Today, it seems rare to see the slashed zero anymore. The computer fonts used in many editors make it very difficult to distinguish between “oh” and “zero” – usually relying on highlighting the entire word or variable when the programmers application developers get it wrong.

I don’t know when the slashed zero fell out of use, but it would be nice if some language scholars have studied and document this before it disappears from human memory.

FYI, most programmers application developers I know not only do not use this convention, but also have never heard of it – so it goes to show you how quickly things change and the past is forgotten!



A very impressive view of the unimpressive

In case you wondered, a panoramic shot of the Duomo central square in Milan.

What’s so impressive about it is that this snap is taken from the center of the direction outward. So the truly impressive, spectacular view is behind the camera and not visible.


On the left is a piece of the famous Galeria shopping mall – the first Galeria after which all the others were designed.

Great tip for tourists in Saigon!

In my last post I showed the Ben Thanh tourist market, which by the way has a floor layout that looks like this and raises all kinds of interesting questions in my mind about how you rent space here, how the rental agreements look, how much the vendors pay per square foot, and the like:

But be that as it may, a business partner of mine who lives here gave me a great tip: if you are looking for souvenirs, then the best place is the Post Office. In addition to it being an historical landmark itself, it has government operated shops where you can find all the souvenirs offered in Saigon, but at a tremendous cost savings.

I could be wrong, but as far as I know this Post Office was designed by the same architect that created the Eiffel Tower.


More mountain marvels

Continuing the series, this snap of the Austrian Alps shows something that people unfamiliar with high mountains are unaware of.  Certain plants can only grow at specific altitudes. So for example, you’ll see the termination of a green strip – at altitudes higher than this, that particular species of plant just can’t grow:

The mysterious street transformers of Saigon

If you’ve been to Saigon, then you know how it is. The city is filled with hundreds and hundreds – if not thousands – of above-the-ground transformers that look like this:

Now, I am not an electrician, so I could be wrong, but it looks as though these units are converting three phase electricity to two phase electricity, as this close up shows:

What are these transformers here for?  What do they do?  Are there indeed underground three-phase electrical cables – which in and of itself would be an amazing thing?

For me this is still just a mystery to be cleared up one day!

Just what were those Buddhists thinking?

There is a wonderful Buddhist template in Vietnam, in the city of My Tho just next to the Mekong Delta, and in the next few blog entries I’ll share some snaps.

But this one caught my attention, just as you walk into the temple you are greeted with this wonderful sign:

Now, not being a Buddhist myself I’m afraid I don’t understand the significance of this. I always thought Buddhists aspired to something more transcendental, rather than just birth-to-grave.

Old Timer Tram – is that really what it’s called?

The big cities in Switzerland like Zürich and Bern keep a small number of their old, antiquated street cars in good functioning order, then from time to time put them into limited use.

This is a snap of the “Old Timer” tram in Basel – and it raises a very good question:

Is there no phrase in German – or in the more advanced, evolved language of Basel (know as Alemannic) – besides “Old Timer?”

Stork poop

OK, sounds gross, but it’s one of those questions you gotta ask!

Alsace and Southern Germany are filled with storks, as this snap of a village in Alsace shows:

But it makes you wonder: do storks poop into and onto their nests (as do many birds, such as pigeons), or do they keep their nests clean and make sure their body waste goes over the side, as this snap would seem to suggest:

The amazing SUPER MOON – one month later

Continuing the series, I was lucky enough to accidentally capture not only the first full moon of 2019 over Saigon (called the Wolf Moon) – but in fact, it was a super moon.

Well, one month later there was another super moon, as you’ll see in the snap below. But . . . let me put this into perspective for you. I took this snap in the early afternoon, and in normal circumstances it would be so faint as to be invisible in the sky.  Being a super moon, this was was nearly blinding!

How does anything start?

A guest blog, by Paul Cottingham

“Write me a guest blog,” Ken said. “Me?” I said. “Yes,” Ken said. “OK,” I said. What a fool, I think to myself, not Ken, ME! I agree to something I have not done in years – WRITE! Well, strictly not true, I write most weekends just not in this fashion but I will explain this one day. I am 51-year-old father of two, married to Carole for 25 years, I work in IT and I live in a small city in Yorkshire, England called York and from the age of 14 I wanted to be a rock star, well, sort of. I suppose what I want in life is the same as most others: I want to be happy in what I do and hopefully make other people happy also and if I can use a modicum of my talents to make people happy then it’s job done.

Let me explain. Back in 1979 I was friendly with two local kids and we discovered we liked the same music. We had moved into post-punk era of Joy Division, Durutti Column, Marine Girls and – some may disagree as they were in the punk era but for me as they extended life beyond punk – The Clash. Kicking around the neighbourhood one long summer day in the school holidays, Iain the elder of the trio suggested we should form a band. No hesitation from Pete and myself – we both spluttered out, brilliant! We had no clue how to play, no clue what instruments we would play, no clue how we would perform this task of forming a band. We just knew this was what we should do. Iain had a Clash poster above his bed and they were photographed for their first album with the three of them stood in an alley looking cool into the camera. Sold! That’s us, we are cool, we can be in a band, we can do it! Now all we had to do was go figure out how we could rule the world with our smouldering coolness and amazing music.

Hold on though, we looked at each other and paused. It was a little bit like that moment in The Graduate and a part of a scene that folks often do not notice right at the end of the movie, when Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman and Elaine, played by Katharine Ross, leap on to the bus and all the passengers look back at the couple whom have just run from the wedding in an act of spontaneous euphoric love. They too stop and look at each other, pretty much like we were right now, and realise the gravity of their actions, what have we done? Well, maybe not quite as dramatic and romantic as that but nonetheless to a 14-year-old kid whose only goal in life was to look cool and play a little football or soccer as our brothers from across the pond would say and have Sandra Pearson as my girlfriend this was a big deal and we are not backing down now.

It is 1979, Summer, three bored kids with 5 weeks of school holidays ahead of them, on the cusp of being the best band in the world, with no instruments, no talent (that we know of), no record deal but heaps of enthusiasm and smouldering coolness. What could possibly go wrong?

. . . to be continued.

Paul Cottingham is one of those amazing senior IT leaders you run into all too infrequently: he has an innate sense for true leadership, and out of an interest in the well-being of his team he won’t stop until he has everyone fully motivated and pulling together. Paul is an accomplished musician who’s original compositions and multi-instrument production work is regularly aired on international radio programs such as the BBC. You can find links to his music here: (add link).


Not top secret – but very few people have seen this or ever will

This is the highly restricted “operations” building at Zürich airport (ZRH), where pilots brief their crews and certain nameless government protection organizations carry out certain unmentionable tasks

As part of my job at Swissport I was involved in a complicated IT transformation project that impacted the IT infrastructure at the airport – so I would come here regularly for meetings.