Those amazing Swiss bunkers

If you’ve ever been to the Berner Oberland in Switzerland then you know how it is. The Swiss built a tremendous number of fortifications deep within the country of Switzerland, far from any borders, so that if the Germans attacked from the north, they could retreat to the center and – in a sort of scorched earth policy – destroy bridges and roads to prevent German egress into the center.

Here is an incredible sight for anyone driving into Interlaken:

Including a close-up of one of the bunkers, including the picnic bench which I think adds a nice, homey touch:

World’s dumbest bridge with a canal over my head!

As artistic a snap as I thought I could take of the arguably the world’s or at least France’s bridge with the dumbest name (Pont Vieux, which translates to Old Bridge), but, in this case, with the world famous French Canal du Midi about 5 meters above my head in the southern French village of Béziers,

Yes, that is a canal over my head (or in engineering terms, an aquaduct for boats) that traverses the River Orb.

France underwent an explosion of canal building in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and there are many spectacular examples of canals that traverse rivers or other obstructions.

Winterthur church

As artistic a photo as I thought I could take of the Stadtkirche Winterthur, dating back to the thirteenth century (the church, not my photo),

Just for the sake of transparency, I squared up the image a bit using the SKRWT app on my iPad.

It reminds me of Ansel Adams in two ways: not only is it a black and white snap of a church, but I captured it while just waiting around outside before my dentist’s appointment (my dentist asked his patients not to arrive early for their appointments, due to Covid). Ansel Adams was known to take a little point-and-shoot Polaroid camera everywhere he went – and although I don’t put myself in his category, just about all the snaps he took on that little Polaroid are now hanging in museums.

Where Switzerland meets Germany

Well, this place isn’t anywhere close to where the border of Switzerland touches the border of Germany. But it is in the north central Swiss town of Schaffhausen, which is the largest village and natural embarkation and debarkation point for train travellers arriving from or travelling to Germany.

And you can see that in this magnificent train station, with the “Schweizerische Bundesbahnen” on the left, and the “Deutsche Bahn” on the right.

To me it is also a powerful reminder of the two very different cultures: literally translated Schweizerische Bundesbahnen means Swiss Federal Railroads – a collection of different companies united equally into a larger framework – and the Deutsche Bahn, just one company.

Béziers building

Nothing special or historic or anything of that nature. I just liked how the building looked in the sunlight:

There are a number of southern French cities layed out similar to this one, with a large rectangle in the center, often used for a market, then tiny one lane roads on each side where traffic is unidirectional.

Old bridge over the River Orb

Hold on to your hat: the name of this bridge in French (and I am not making this up) is Pont Vieux. This is translated as Old Bridge. It’s either the world’s most dumbest name (implying the locals could not think of anything better) or the world’s most artistic name (using a humble self-explanatory moniker for a magnificent thing).

Anyway, dumb or artistic, it spans the River Orb in the South French city of Béziers,

This is a view of the bridge from high above, at the Cathédral Saint-Nazaire:

Michelin test facility in the sunlight

It’s been on my bucket list for a few years to take a photograph of this ancient tire test facility of the Michelin tire company, in Clermont-Ferrand. So you can imagine my happiness when I headed out to it with my camera in hand and was rewarded with wonderful sunlight at a perfect angle.

This snap has not been retouched in any way.

Now . . . this is the part when I then have a little think. I’ve seen some YouTube videos that show the insides of this place, essentially little buggies running back and forth up the hill 24×7. As a physicist myself I can’t really fathom why a test facility like this would be needed, because even with vacuum tubes it should be possible to build control circuitry that would mimic the loads on real tires. But . . . there you have it!

Clermont-Ferrand – 1

Here is the Auvergne city of Clermont-Ferrand, looking down from about halfway up the famous Puy de Dome volcano that sits just outside the city.

That black spot in the center is the city’s cathedral – and it’s black because Clermont-Ferrand is located right smack dab in the middle of a volcanic park, so all the stone is a rich black lava-based stone.

Instant venison

Well, I don’t know if the word instant is the right word, but you can buy pre-cooked venison in a venison sauce, so you just need to heat it up.  A single package is quite expensive as CHF 20, but I was able to divide it up into three separate meals:

I really like the way this snap turned out. I know there are professional food artists that make money by photographing food – and they have all sorts of tricks such as spraying them with fine mists of different chemicals to get that ideal, mouth-watering sheen. Here I did nothing of the sort – just pointed and shooted.

Turkish tea

First things first, this is Turkish tea, as it is drunk, on the left. It is always served in a tulip-shaped tea glass, but nobody seem to know the history of this tradition.

The tea shown on the left is obtained by partially filling the glass with a small portion of a very, very strong amount of the tea that has been steeping for at least 30 minutes:

But how do you steep tea for so long and still keep it warm?  Here is the secret, my new Bosch Turkish tea cooker:


And here you can see it in action. The top glass kettle is made to hold a large portion of tea and let it steep for a long time at temperature, because it sits directly over a heated amount of hot, pure water below, that is then used for diluting the tea to the desired strength in the tulip-shaped tea glass:

GUEST BLOG: The Dangerous Summer -or- Matador scrutinizes the Rhine Rider in Nimes

Continuing the series,

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

“Manuelito stood there waiting for the bike to charge as had all of the bulls in his career and all the bulls before that when he was young and he twitched the cape hoping to see some action so the crowd wouldn’t think him a coward since crowds judge matadors not only on their courage but on the courage of the bull but the bike had no courage and wouldn’t charge him and the crowd left one by one which is the worst insult to a matador until there was only Manuelito standing alone in the square and he knew he could have killed the bike had it but charged but it didn’t and he thought perhaps another day and another bike or another bull and I can redeem my honor.”

A snippet from the famous book by Ernest Hemingway:

This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

The dark and secret world of Facilities Management

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to consolidate. And because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

The dark and secret underworld of Facilities Management

I’ve worn a few different hats in my life: cook in a restaurant, forklift truck driver, landscape gardener, and professional house painter to name just a few of the most important ones. So it is not only fun but a privilege when life gives me the chance to establish working relationships with people in varied trades.

And it is even more fun and rewarding when I got to learn a new trade myself, in this case the honorable trade of Building Facilities Management.

And as you will read below, the world of Building Facilities Management has a very pleasant public face, but deep down inside it is really a dark, secret underworld, inhabited by god-like people that can accomplish anything – if you treat us with dignity and respect.

The outside view: the helpfulness gene

Paul Cottingham, one of the finest IT leaders I’ve ever known says time and again that IT hardware people (not the software guys) are all endowed with the helpfulness gene: they’ll go to any lengths to help other people, even at the cost of great self-sacrifice. And if you see the tremendous number of over-time hours they work – and how egregiously they underestimate IT project efforts (sadly incorrect, “it never helps to bring in external help” is their mantra).

And when I put on the Facilities Manager hat and joined this mysterious underworld, I learned quickly that Facilities Managers are endowed with this gene as well.

Because at the end of the day what gives us pride is to see the people working in and visiting our building. Are the desks comfortable? Are the meetings super-productive because the rooms are equipped with exactly the right flipcharts and whiteboards and speakerphones and wide screen televisions and coat racks and wastebaskets? Is the building filled with pleasant look plants that are also easy-to-care for, and are they watered and healthy? Walls clean? Carpets smelling fresh? Nice little mats to wipe your wet shoes on?

And think about what that requires, all those things and much more: flip chart pens and white board pens and someone having made sure there are the right telephone and LAN and power cables right where they need to be. Containers to water the plants.

So – how do we facilities managers make this look so simple?

Facilities Managers are like gods

It’s not wrong to think of us Facilities Managers as gods – hopefully benevolent gods, but gods nevertheless. Because your comfort, your tools, and your very productivity at work is in our hands.

The pride of our trade means we strive to do our best to provide all employees a good level of comfort, no matter how they treat us in return. But for those employees who treat us with dignity and respect, (which sadly is all too few people who do that) we aim to exceed your needs.

The question is, how exactly are we able to do this?

And the answer is, we don’t work alone.

A dark and secret underworld

At the risk of great personal harm, I will now officially spill the secret: Facilities Management is a dark underworld comprised of Facilities Managers – but not just those in your company, but those in all companies!  Our work knows no barriers. If I work for Company X and I have an old desk, and you work for Company Y and need a desk, you just give me a call and it’s done. Because in a few months time I may need a flipchart stand that you have but don’t need. Inter-company exchanges go on like this all the time.

Think about it: the Facilities Manager is likely to inherit many basements if not whole warehouses of old things: desks and shelves and coat racks and lockers. Sure, the new stuff probably has inventory labels, and those labels have numbers, and those numbers are in some spreadsheet in the finance department. But more than likely all that old stuff has been depreciated and written off and forgotten long ago.

I can’t mention any names – although there are many.

I can’t mention any examples – although there are many more.

I can only say that, during my brief time as Facilities Manager I got to meet some really terrific, passionate people who make up this dark and secret underworld. And with their help – and they with mine – we were able to make the people in our buildings content. And for those who treated us kindly, and with honor and respect, we were always able to exceed their expectations.