Quiller in German – or, are those Germans impolite and stiff, or soft-spoken and friendly?

The Quiller Memorandum is a film from 1966, starring George Segal and based on a espionage novel of the same name. Many people such as Quentin Tarrentino himself consider it the finest film in the spy genre. I fully agree.

There are two great things about the film.

First, my favorite scene takes place coincidentally at exactly the street and corner where I stayed on my first trip to Berlin!  The shop in the center background is today a Müller Drogerie.

Second, there is an interesting scene involving the German language. Since I am not a native speaker, it has long confused me. In this scene, the American spy Quiller – until now denying that he spoke German – suddenly confronts his followers and speaks to them in very fluent German, even involving some local Berlinerisms that have confused me, such as sometimes exchanging dative and accusative pronouns. Even today when I visit Berlin and talk to real Berliners it can trip me up.

However, the same movie dubbed into German uses the German language throughout – and the bit where Quiller suddenly starts speaking German is overdubbed with an entirely different set of words. I’ve always found this fascinating: although the language in both cases is spoken German, my American ears find the American version to be much less polite.

You be the judge!

The scene begins as Quiller decides to confront someone who is clandestinely following him.

Who American version German version
Quiller Are you following me? Ich frage Sie, ob Sie mir folgen! Sagen Sie mal, beschatten Sie mich? Ich habe Sie gefragt, ob Sie mich beschatten!
Short guy Ich? Nein. Ich? Nein.
Quiller Warum folgen Sie mir? Warum gehen Sie mir dann hinterher?
Short guy Ich folge Sie gar nicht. Sie müssen sich irren. Aber ich gehe dann nicht hinterher. Sie haben sich geirrt.
Quiller Wohin gehen Sie dann? So, wo gehen Sie denn dann hin?
Short guy Ich bin mit einem Bekannten verabretet. Bitte entschuldigen Sie mir Sie machen mir Spass. Ich bin mit einem Bekannten verabredet. Lassen Sie mich los!
Quiller Wo bitte? Ja, und wo sind Sie verabredet?

Just as Quiller steps up his pressure, they are joined by another clandestine colleague of the follower,


Who American version German version
Fat guy Dieter? Was ist denn los? Dieter? Was ist denn los?
Short guy Der Herr behauptet, dass ich ihn folge Ach, der bildet sich ich gehe ihn hinterher.
Fat guy Wer Du? Warum? Wer, Du? Warum denn?
Short guy Ich weiss es nicht Möchte ich auch gerne wissen.
Fat guy Sagen Sie mal, wie kommen Sie darauf? Wie kommen Sie darauf? Ist hier irgendwas?


The final discourse is interesting for two reasons. First, I find the German version to be a bit more diplomatic and polite than the American version – at least to my non-native ears it sounds this way.

But . . . here is where the nuances of the German language come in!  When Quiller says “Perhaps you have not been following me” then he is looking at the entire group, not just the original follower, thus sneakily and cleverly changing the case of the formal pronoun Sie from first person formal to second person formal!


Who American version German version
Quiller, looking at everyone Vielleicht habe ich mich geirrt? Vielleicht sind Sie mir nicht gefolgt? Wenn das so ist, werde ich gehen! Ach schön. Vielleicht habe ich mich geirrt, es kann auch ja sein. Vielleicht sind Sie mir wirklich nicht hinterher gegangen? Entschuldigen Sie! Dann darf ich wohl jetzt.
Quiller, looking at the short guy Sie sind mir im Weg! Sie stehen mir leider nur etwas im Wege.

In other words – and this is only known to people who can speak German! – Quiller was telegraphing to the entire group of three people that he knew he was being followed!

“The Truck”

This is a snap of my 1990 Ford Ranger pickup truck, that didn’t actually need a name because I thought “The Truck” was name enough. It was the second vehicle that ever entered my personal fleet, way back in 1991, following a 1981 Chevy Chevette that was a terrific first car for me but I had to junk due to rust and general decay.

Couple of interesting points:

1) I bought the truck used for USD $2000 from the owner of a local music store in Champaign, it had around 5000 miles on it. This was back in the days when nobody really knew what a pickup truck was or wanted one. In the ensuring 8 years the popularity of these trucks exploded, and I told the truck in 1998 for USD $5500. So after 8 years I actually made a tidy profit that more than paid for my repairs, insurance, and upkeep during those 8 years!

2) This was before I got shot at. While driving in Kentucky someone tried to shoot me with a 22-caliber rifle. Thankfully it missed me, but it left a nice little bullet hole directly next to the gas flap that you can see in the shot above.

3) All Ford Ranger trucks are known for their short engine lives, usually the engine dies at around 150’000 mi. In my case at very nearly 150’000 I had a head valve crack, which is an interesting story: I took the truck to a number of supposedly “good” repair garages, nearly all of them told me I had a cracked block.  Now, nobody is pulling the wool over my eyes – I know the difference between a cracked valve and a cracked block!  So . . . when you need a good repair in the US, where do you take your car? Easy: to the least affluent part of town.  Which I did. Repair job took around 6-7 hours, but I only paid around USD 500 for the repair.  Reason: people who live in the poorer areas don’t have a lot of money, so the garages in these places need to offer a top service at a low price in order to win any business.

When industry overgrows history

The town of Schlieren in Switzerland, just outside of Zürich, has to be one of the niftiest little towns I know. There is a very old area that has been overgrown with a slightly-less-old industrial area, and that has been overgrown with a modern industrial area. You have to really go on a weekend and drive around on the roads marked private, but if you do you see a lot of interesting sites like this, a very old church next to a slightly newer but also old industrial building, while all the while I am surrounded (off camera) by very modern industries:

Here’s a slightly different view from a different angle:

The power people’s personalities provide!

Continuing the series, the following link was sent to me by my good friend Ertan yesterday, and I found it too good to resist.

The power people’s personalities provide – gosh that sounds nice and a way to reap important benefits!

But in fact the title of the website sounds negative and an approach for solving a problem: How to deal with difficult people.

Be that as it may, this website gives a nice overview of different personality types, and you can click on the personality type and you’ll find useful advice about how to work with people with that type.

It’s nothing new, of course – I just don’t know when it begun. The earliest such approach in my recollection was a terrific book from 2001 by J. Hank Rainwater entitled “Herding Cats: A primer for programmers who lead programmers.” You can find a PDF version on the Internet if you look hard enough. Surprisingly, I discovered it at exactly the right time, when I was new in the role of IT project manager and struggling with my first real project.

And it was followed by a wonderful chapter in a book by Patrick Schmid entitled Turbo Turbo Projektmanagement: Mit einfachen Mittel schneller zum Projekterfolg.”

And this in turn was followed by a less complete but – without doubt – much more useful approach by my ex-colleague and good friend Mario Neumann in his book Projekt-Safari.

Thanks, Ertan, great catch!

1981 Chevy Chevette

Continuing the series, I’m trying now to document all the vehicles that are now or ever have been in my personal fleet, so with this publication of my 1981 Chevy Chevette that I bought used in 1988 for USD $1200, the list is almost complete. The photograph was taken one winter at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, just across the street from the nuclear waste dump – I hoped that extra little boost of radiation would help enhance my photograph:

This was before I started naming my vehicles, but it was a trusty workhorse for me for my jaunts around New York and the East Coast, from 1988 until I junked it in 1991.  Cars in New England don’t lead long lives, for obvious reasons that you can see here.

Alsacian sprinkler

OK, more formally known as a lateral move irrigation machine, these things are just amazing. They have an astonishing amount of electronics, including servo motors that move the wheels.

I took this snap in the winter, in Alsace. This seems to be a so-called two wheel model, since there are two wheels per assembly.

I tried to look up how much one of these babies cost (capital costs, not operating costs), and I was surprised to find a few things. First, the costs are usually reported per hectare or acre. Second, there is a huge range in the costs, from USD 300 per acre to USD 6’000 per acre, depending on the features and functionality.

Church mystery

Capt. Kirk once said, “I hate mysteries. They give me a belly-ache, and right now I’ve got a beaute.” Same with me.

Here’s the mystery. Why is a modern church located in Winterthur, Switzerland almost identical to an old church located in Bodega Bay, California?  You’ll notice the major design elements such as the pointed doorway, four windows, and even the proportions are nearly identical. Is this co-incidence?

Here’s the church at Bodega Bay, photographed by Ansel Adams,

And here is the church in Winterthur, photographed by me:

One of my favorite projects – 6 – Servant Leadership

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.

Servant Leadership

If there is a message in this blog post, I don’t want it to remain hidden: it’s all about Servant Leadership. A job needs doing, and you are responsible for getting it done. Sometimes the best approach is to step back, lay the ingredients for success, then rely on motivation and coaching to let things fall into place.

Park your prejudices!

I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs that I had the pleasure of driving this project together with Christian Neuenschwander, the IT Manager’s IT Manager. If you give Christian a paperclip and a battery, he can probably build a network router.

Anyway, while chatting about this challenge I asked Christian what he thought would be our biggest challenge in this whole program. He just laughed at me and said without skipping a beat: putting together the desks and equipping them with the needed IT and power cables.

This is where my prejudices kicked in. I’d never done a project of this type, but surely putting together the desks and stringing them up with cables would be the easy part?  But this is also where my charburned fingertips and painful, bitter experiences came in: I knew Christian – I trusted Christian- and even if what he told me sounded like pure rubbish to my ears – which it did – I still decided to trust him.

Glad I did – Christian was right!

The challenge

Thankfully, we did not need to install the desks ourselves. I think I ordered nearly 75 desks, and they were delivered by a big team. They looked like this when they came in:

(Sadly, we did not have the money for height adjustable desks. That really upset many people, but it would have required a larger investment than we had in our budget.)

The delivery team took a factory line approach, so the assembly work was very structured and organized:

Finally, after assembling all the desks in the right places, the crew departed and it looked like this:

These guys were smart smart smart: although I ordered everything at the same time, the desk chairs were not even delivered until the desks were set up.  Picking the chairs, by the way, was no easy task. If you don’t know about industrial office chairs, believe me, can be much more complicated than you think, the better models even having specific adjustments because men and women tend to sit a bit differently on them, or with special features such as coat hangers built into the back.

Here is one of many snaps I took at the chair store,

Now came what I realized was indeed the hard part, equipping all these 75 desks with the needed IT and electrical infrastructure!

The solution: Use the Mark Twain / Tom Sawyer design pattern – and turn an awful job into team-building fun!

Christian was brilliant. His solution was to hold a do-it-yourself party. Christian and I would arrive early and get everything ready – but each person was responsible to equip the infrastructure for their desk. And not only that, but according to a very strict set of guidelines and finally quality-control: Christian would personally inspect the work before signing it off.

Here’s what it looked at when the gang got into high gear. First, think about the logistics. We had 75 desks, 2 monitors for each desk – and a keyboard – and a mouse – and a docking station – and a power-strip – and the LAN cables – and a bit of plastic that keeps everything together – that is a tremendous number of monitors and boxes and cables:

There was no other approach than just to use some of the conference rooms as temporary dumps:

The beauty of Christian’s approach is that everyone got involved – everyone. Here is my good friend Ann Duffy, the Senior Vice President of IT Business Applications, who we were lucky enough to recruit away from another company to have her come join us. She had very nearly 100 top IT application managers and eight teams in her global organization, yet here she is, crawling under her own desk and plugging in the cables.

This work was a real team-builder!


Job well done

Finally, the reward. After a long, long day I think Christian and I ordered nearly 30 huge pizzas for our hard working crew! Oh, and let’s not forget the beer, I think we bought 15 huge cases of beer, and probably 20 huge containers of Coca-Cola:

A final thought: the psychology of Servant Leadership and just plain hard work

Anyone who knows me knows that I love hard work. I’ve had hard jobs throughout my life, from housepainter to cook to forklift truck driver, where you ache and you sweat and you go home with bandages on your arms and splinters in your fingers.

But not everyone does.

And as I expected, this challenging 12-hour event gave people a chance to show their colors. Don’t get me wrong: everyone contributed above and (far) beyond the call of duty. It was hard work – and Christian and I are thankful for how it worked out. In our extended team of 70 people there was not a single person who did not pull his or her own weight.

Many people came – and worked hard – and ate their pizza – and went home. Job well done!

But . . . like Christian and I there were other hard-work-masochists and true servant leaders that really came to the forefront and stood out, such as our talented Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations Susanne, without whose help it would have even been more challenging for Christian and I. By the way, this was just one pile of boxes. We had about 12 more piles just this size. 75 desks x 2 monitors + keyboards + mice + cables + docking stations = one heck of a mess of boxes!

(There were 3 more “superstars” that also helped out – and I will think back on this fondly – but I am quite sure they don’t want the publicity or for me to show their photos.)

It’s a universal truth I’ve witnessed since my days of painting apartments in 45 C = 105 deg F weather in the hot, un-airconditioned Illinois summer sun: you don’t need to look hard for servant leaders, in fact you don’t need to look for them at all. They just magically show up whenever they see someone struggling or what looks like to be a challenge that needs extra help. (BTW: I’ve “parked” this idea. Sometime, someday, somewhere, I will need to find some servant leaders . . . and by running a large collection of people through a very difficult challenge, I am quite sure the real servant leaders will naturally sink to the bottom – where servant leaders belong – best positioned to help everyone else!)

Here’s Pascal, who is a real Facilities Manager and showed me the ropes of the job and helped me out, we really owned a huge debt to Pascal. As I’ve said in my other blog, Facility Manager is a true trade and profession that doesn’t always get the respect it may deserve:

And here’s Susanne and Christian – and one of 13 piles of boxes. The boxes were easy compared to disposing of all the Styrofoam packing.

Yes, that’s a flat screen TV. We ordered 12 of them, one for each conference room, and two on portable trolleys. We installed the trolleys ourselves but needed professional carpenters and the right brackets for the 10 fixed units.

Swiss bloom

As artistic a snap as I thought I could take of some plants in a planter on a pier at the Vierwaldstättersee in Switzerland, in the town of Ingenbohl,

That’s a luxury 4-star hotel in the background, the Seehotel Waldstätterhof, and unless you are willing to plop down a cool CHF 400-500 per night don’t think about sleeping here.

Disciplined Agile – The Agile Team Lead

Continuing the series, the “Bible” for Disciplined Agile appears to be this book:

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my company has chosen to “go agile” – which is a good thing! But sadly not just at my company but throughout Switzerland – and frustratingly for me – many people continue to confuse agile with Scrum. Or worse, they deal with what I call GOs and IUs: Gross Oversimplifications and Impossible Utopias.

[ Interesting aside: in physics there is a handy phrase that we physicists pull out and use at times like this: assume you have a spherical cow undergoing simple harmonic motion….. Yes, sometimes an over-simplification can be useful as an instructive tool: a large cow may give more milk than a smaller one, and both are likely to produce milk on a daily schedule. But . . . this advice hardly a replacement for everything a dairy farmer needs for success. ]

In fact, I encounter many external consultants throughout Switzerland that claim unless you have a T-Shaped cross-functional team, you are not really doing agile. What utter nonsense!

Disciplined Agile sets things straight!

DA is neither a methodology nor a framework, but rather a big toolbox with the mantra “use what works.”

If you look in the drawer in the toolbox marked “Potential Roles and Responsibilities” this is what you’ll find:

These aren’t by any means required; in fact, the book states quite clearly these are potential roles.

Of all these potential roles, the description of the Agile Team Lead is what I find most impressive.  DA chooses specifically not to use the term Scrum Master – recognizing that there are many agile approaches (Lean, Kanban, to name a few) that do not have sprints or use the Scrum Methodology. Nevertheless, the job description for the Agile Team Lead will look familiar to anyone who’s learned about the Scrum Master’s role:

  • Guides the team through choosing their Agile Way of Work (WoW)
  • Facilitates close collaboration between all roles and functions
  • Ensures the team is fully functional and productive
  • Protects the team from interruptions and external influences
  • Facilitates decision making, but does not make decisions or mandate internal team activity

I’ll stop here . . . you get the idea!

Sunrise over the Alsacian refinery

As artistic a snap as I thought I could take of the sun rising above Germany’s Schwarzwald, shining down onto a refinery next to the Rhein River in Alsace,

Most times my photos are opportunistic – I see a sight I like and I take a snap. In this case I had the idea the sunrise might lead to a nice snap, so I arrived early with a thermos of hot tea, and waited for what I thought was the right moment.

It’s also at times like these when I think about what it must be like to own a multi-thousand-CHF digital camera with fancy lenses. If I had one, I am sure this shot could be 147 times better!

I don’t own one. I’ve got a little Canon point-and-shoot I bought for CHF 400 several years ago and is still top in its class today. I like the idea of having my camera with me – at all times – everywhere. I sacrifice quite a lot on photographic quality, but it is more than compensated by getting snaps of sights that I spontaneously see and appeal to me.

New England Clam Chowder – but far, far away from New England

It’s a big mystery that I want to clear up someday: why they sell metal cans of clams in the US, and the clams are chewy and firm; whereas in Europe you get little bottles of clams, and the clams are soft and squishy.  Different clams? Different ways to prepare them?

I guess the key point is you can’t really prepare a good bowl of clam chowder without chewy clams.  So, whenever I get back to the States, it is always a treat if I can bring back a can with me – or, in this case, my parents sent me a can in a package mailed to Switzerland.

Many people use a flour-based rue to add thickness to clam chowder, but I prefer to use the natural starch in potatos.

So, I started with some very firm mashed potatoes,

To be honest, if you want canned soup, there is probably no better spot on Earth than in the US to get it – even the smallest supermarket will have literally dozens of varieties – but . . . it is not very good.

If you want truly gourmet-level canned soup, then Germany is where you want to be.

I added this to thicken up some gourmet shrimp soup that I bought in Germany,

I then added both a tin of chewy clams from the US, plus two tins of crab meat from France. At least, at once point in its lifecycle it was crab meat – what comes out of the tin is more like a crab paste because it’s broken into so many tiny pieces:

I wanted a bit more liquid than I had, so I added some instant white asparagus soup,

Finally, I added about two pounds of frozen shrimp (not shown) and four large pieces of fresh salmon, two of which are shown here:

I cooked this at 60 C for about 20 minutes, the idea being to very gently cook the salmon, so that it stays moist and soft, not firm and chewy.

Herbwise, I added Thymian and a bit of black pepper, plus a very generous dose of Worcestershire sauce.

And this was the result, a truly delicious bowl of something very akin to New England Clam Chowder,

As usual when I cook, I made enough for around 7-8 meals.

Incredible, amazing, mind-blowing cable ferry

I’ve written about cable ferries before, such as the cable ferry on the Rhine.

My hobby is very dangerous in and of itself, visiting to the most secluded regions of France – regions so remote and backwards that it is rumored, the local inhabitants themselves (after centuries of in-breeding) often have no names.

The Gendarmarie cannot stop you – but if you ask their advice they caution strongly against it, pointing you back to the nearest McDonald’s restaurant.

But I like to throw caution to the wind, and despite the obvious dangers I set out to explore the delta where the Rhone River meets the Mediterranean Sea. Even today I’m one of the few Americans to have ever seen where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico – that place, too, is better avoided by most tourists.

When driving to reach the secluded southern French village of Sainte-Marie-sur-la-Mer, the first thing you run across is a river and this sign:

Then next thing that happens: you step out of your vehicle and – suddenly! frightfully! just as you open your car door!  – you are viciously attacked by two immense and deadly guard dogs:

Sharp fangs. Massive jaws to crush their prey. A growl that could scare Satan himself. It’s doubtful that these hounds of hell would allow many tourists to live.

If these vicious attack dogs do in fact let you live – and in my case thankfully they did – then you’ll come to realize that the road has ended, and there is no bridge to the other side. The river you see here is the Le Petit Rhone, an offshoot of a huge French river that transports the glacial water from Switzerland down through France and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Hmmmmm, you think to yourself. I am way over here. I want to be way over there.

That’s not just one but two “way overs.”

Hmmmmm, you think some more. Does my car float? No.

So you think some more. Hmmmmm. (That’s the sound of you thinking.)

But there is in fact a ferry, as you can see on the left side of the above snap. And slowly . . . in a matter of minutes . . . it dawns on you: Hey, I bet that ferry is no coincidence! Someone must have put that way over here so that I could travel way over there. My problem of two “way overs” is solved!

I had to wait for over an hour (it was lunch time, and the French are very serious about their lunches, very carefully timing them to include finishing the glass of wine and smoking a cigarette), but eventually the ferry was loaded up and started on its way over:

And here’s a snap just as it reached the shore:

The difference between this ferry and the one in the link I posted: that ferry is attached to a steel cable, and the steel cable provides the locomotive force that pulls the ferry across the Rhine. In this case there is also a steel cable as you can see in the snap above, but the ferry has a motor and the cable is used to guide the ferry.

How did the story end?

I left the vicious hounds of hell (that interestingly liked having their ears scratched), got into my car, drove onto the ferry, crossed the river, and headed towards my fate in Sainte-Marie-de-la-Mer, a place so remote that the locals (after centuries of in-breeding) have no names and do not tolerate tourists lightly.

Eiger Chopper 2

Continuing the series, I’ve had this Honda 125cc scooter in my personal fleet for a few years now:

After a very reliable conveyance of over 50K km, the Eiger Chopper could not pass the Swiss vehicle inspection without a significant investment, more than what I needed to buy the Eiger Chopper used.

Bern – the highly protected city

If you live in Switzerland then you know how it is. Luzern seems to be the “sacrificial city.” Tour guides, bus operators, and the like all route the tourists to the city of Luzern. It is a very touristy city.

But one of the real jewels in the crown of Switzerland is a closely guarded secret that not a lot of people outside Switzerland know about, Bern. And I’ve often thought, that is exactly how the locals like it, to keep the marauding hoards of tourists from spoiling the city.

Disciplined Agile

When I hear the term Disciplined Agile, I think of someone punishing Agile – and that makes me happy!

Agile needs a good punishing.

Reason: many companies in Switzerland are now investing strongly in agile (which is good) but like most agile advocates they teach and often attempt to set up Agile with GOs (Gross Oversimplifications) that only apply to IUs (Impossible Utopias).

Many companies in Switzerland also seem to suffer badly from the misconception that Agile = Scrum. This is entirely untrue, and it doesn’t help the situation. I’ve worked in classical waterfall projects that took ultra-agile approaches.

How does DA come in?

DA ist not a framework but rather a toolbox – toolboxes are always nice!

Yorkshire house

The English like their bricks. Good, solid, kiln-fired bricks.

In fact, not a lot of people know this, but there is a country-wide ordinance that says from any public space there must be at least one house or building that is visible that has been cladded with bricks. There is a very unusual trade (brickechequers, please note the British spelling); these are people employed by the government who visit the public places and fine any property owners, if their properties are visible from a public space but do not contain a minimum number of bricks.

Anyway, the north of England is no exception to the rule. (Digression: many scholars believe North England might even be the historical home of bricks, as even today the North Englander’s seem to enjoy putting things in on top of other things.)

I was given a wonderful guided tour through the northeastern English village of York and the territory known as Yorkshire, where I captured this incredible snap: