Scraping the bottom of the barrel

As you can see, not an artistic snap, not an interesting subject, and no crazy stories to tell.

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

I thought this might turn out interesting and artistic, but it most certainly did not.

I chopped it up into small pieces, added it to some carbonara sauce, and let it cook at very low temperature for about 30 minutes. The broccoli imparted a really nice flavor to the sauce.

Downtown train

Downtown cargo train, that is. It is quite an usual sight, but in fact cargo trains regularly plow through the center of the Swiss city of Zürich, as their are a few breweries and older industries that are still in business, even though the metropolitan city encroached around them.

This particular train has a locomotive in the rear, and the person in front is communicating with the train driver via a remote box:

Winterthur Moonrise

I took this breathtaking snap just as the Moon was rising over Winterthur:

I’m sure the more normal types of photographers that use Adobe PhotoShop and spend lots of time enhancing their images could really make this one look great – but I post exclusively images that I capture on my little point-and-shoot camera, with no special effects or re-touching at all.

DevOps via Containers and Kubernetes

Sorry to disappoint, but this snap has nothing whatsoever to do with DevOps or Kubernetes – but it does involve containers!

Given that shipping containers can be had for less than USD 3000, how cool is this?!?  And, why don’t we see more of this???

Since taking this snap I’ve realized how interesting shipping  containers are. In fact, there is one author who has claimed that the development of the shipping container was one of the top 50 inventions that has revolutionized mankind.

Sadly, I don’t presently know much about these containers – but I intend to learn. In forthcoming blog entries I intend to explore this topic much more deeply.

The incredible, amazing storks of Winterthur

Although most people think of Alsace when they think of storks, in fact southern Germany but also northern Switzerland has some.

Here is the Swiss village of Wiesendangen, and on top of the tower you can see a little platform for a stork:

No stork there at the moment – just a few weeks ago I spotted huge flocks of them on their yearly migration. Some of them migrate to northern Africa where they over-winter, others migrate to Spain. Some, however, seem to not migrate at all – and it is not uncommon to find a few still in Europe during the winter.

It’s not in Lyon at all!

This is the world famous Gare de Lyon – but it is not located in the French city of Lyon, but rather Paris:

With around 90 Mio PAX per year, it’s the third busiest railway station in France!

Update on 17. October 2019: Interestingly, I just learned that the city of Lyon itself is the third largest city in France. This is quite some coincidence: the namesake of the third largest railway station in France is the third largest city in France!  How cool is that?!

The amazing drawbridges of New York

Interestingly, there are around 30 drawbridges that connect Manhattan to one of the other New York boroughs.

This is what they call an elevated drawbridge, because the center piece elevates. I am not sure which one this is – and I haven’t been bothered to look it up!

And this one is called a swing bridge – although if you ask me, rotating bridge is a more apt name:

My time in Драгалевци – living side-by-side with the Russian mafia

For a while I lived among the Russian mafia in a very usual neighborhood at the southern edge of the capital city of Sofia in the wonderful country of Bulgaria. The neighborhood was called Драгалевци, or Dragalevtsi.

Here is a view from Dragalevtsi looking towards downtown Sofia:

And here is another view looking down towards Sofia:

By the way, those are the Balkan Mountains off to the distance in the north.

But what does this have to do with the Russian mafia, you might ask?

Well, Bulgaria – next to Turkey – which itself is next to the Middle East – is not only infamous as Europe’s most corrupt country, but in fact infamous because it’s a major gateway into Europe for  illegal things like drugs, and a major gateway out of Europe for illegal things like smuggled women.

Of course, no self-respecting Russian mafioso would spend too much time in any of the hotels in Sofia, so they all lived in massive chalets they built in the neighborhood of Dragalevtsi. This made Dragalevtsi into something of the Beverly Hills of Sofia. I don’t think any of them lived here full-time – mainly, I assume, they stayed here during business trips.

Anyway, here is a snap of one of these chalets taken from my apartment:

I always thought it would be wonderful to count a few powerful Russian mafioso’s among my friends, so since I was living next to them, I did everything I could to meet them!

Sadly, with little success.

The Russian mafia are people like anyone else, and from time to time I’d see one of them shopping in the posh local Dragalevtsi supermarket, called Супермаркет МАКС, or “Supermarket MAX.” Whereas normal supermarkets in Sofia catered to the Bulgarian locals, who on average earned around EUR 250 / month – in fact this supermarket specialized in caviar and Cuban cigars and many other things that normal Bulgarians could not afford.

The mafia were easy to spot: in the parking lot I’d see a large, armored Rolls-Royce – engine running – with the driver wearing white gloves. More often then not my mobile phone would stop working – I think they carried mobile phone jammers in their cars. And standing next to them in the supermarket would be two enormous Russian bodyguards, with the obligatory black leather trenchcoats.

I tried. And I tried and I tried and I tried. And sadly, there was only a single time I could start a conversation with one of these guys. In fact, he came up to me, and in surprisingly good English he remarked that I looked like a foreigner – I told him I worked for Hewlett-Packard as an IT guy. I was hoping he would invite me over for a cigar and brandy.

But sadly, he just shrugged and walked away.

(Interesting aside: on the weekends I’d usually rent a car from Herz, then go exploring the Bulgarian countryside. The fellow at Herz told me that the rental cars will never be stolen, because of the Herz label on the back: the rental car companies all have contracts with the mafia. But, he told me, should the car be stolen, under no circumstances should I call the police. Instead he gave me a private telephone number, and he told me the car would be returned in less than 24 hours! It was a very interesting time for me – the Bulgarians are incredible, great, passionate people. But I also have more great experiences involving corruption than I could ever tell!)

The Niesen Supervolcano

For me this is no once-in-a-lifetime breathtaking shot – it was what I saw nearly every morning when I lived in the Berner Oberland:

What I never understood then and still don‘t understand now is where these unique colors come from. These purples were the standard morning colors.

Most scientists agree that when the Mount Niesen supervolcano (shown to the right) erupts again, all life in Europe will be eliminated. As with the Yellowstone supervolcano in the U.S., fortunately no eruptions are predicted anytime soon.

Padre Island National Seashore

Looking south on a cool summer’s day:

A beach is a beach is a beach? Not so. Padre Island National Seashore is the largest undeveloped, untouched barrier island, not just in the United States but in the world!  It’s long enough and isolated enough that, after even a modest drive, you are truly on your own: no mobile telephone services, and indeed no other human beings for 30+ miles in any direction.

Mixed feelings in Texas

I have very much mixed feelings about this blog post.  Sadly, Texas is the state where the largest proportion of residents have diabetes – at least count, over 60% of all Texas have diabetes. This leads to mobility problems and, ultimately for many suffers, huge numbers of people with amputated feet.

But in contrast to other countries or even other states, Texas stores do their best to enable their customers who are mobility limited.

This is no unusual sight at the entrance of any store in Texas, be it do-it-yourself store or supermarket or any other large store: a fleet of battery operated buggies:

And this is no unusual sight in any supermarket:

So you can see: it is a real tragedy that so much of the population suffer from health problems – but it is a real blessing that commercial enterprises have done their best to enable their mobility limited customers.

Stay in your vehicle in Texas

I can’t think of any other state than Texas that offers so many commercial opportunities via the drive-thru channel.

Here is a drive thru bank. You stay in your car, and real people (called bank tellers) pass money to you via pneumatic tubes:

America is highly segregated into areas that reflect the financial class of the residents. So here is a similar shot at a much fancier bank in a much more affluent neighborhood:

Need to hand in your cowboy boots for a good cleaning or a bit of repair, handy if you can stay in your three-axel, 6 wheel, 300 HP pickup truck to do it:

And last but not least, it does make a lot of sense that – particularly if you are sick – you stay in your automobile while you get your medication from the pharmacy:

Sadly, I don‘t have a snap to show, but some states have quite impressive drive thru liquor and beer stores. In Pennsylvania it was illegal to buy individual cans of beer – a case or 24 cans or bottles was the minimum size you could buy – so you‘d drive your car into what looked like a garage, where someone would load the beer into your car. Never seen one of these in Texas, however.

Keeping your hands clean in Texas

Not just in Texas, but this is increasingly a common sight in many places in the United States:

In Texas we might say something like: This ain’t worth a hill of beans.  The overwhelming majority of easily transmissible infections are URI’s, or upper respiratory infections – and the overwhelming majority of them are caused by viruses, not bacteria, that are not affected by topical alcohol.

When bad things become good things – 3

Continuing the series, it is interesting to find examples where things themselves do not change after decades or even centuries, but how these things are perceived changes. Usually, the trend is in the negative direction: a mobile phone is better than a rotary dial telephone. But sometimes the trend is in the positive direction.

And that‘s when bad things become good things.

For a long time throughout history, parts of Switzerland had a very challenging, difficult life for the residents – as anyone who has read the novel Heidi or seen the movie knows.  Cheese was predominantly a staple that allowed people to survive over winter – and I am quite confident they‘d rather spend the winter eating other things, if only they could.

Nothing about the cheese itself has changed, but now that Switzerland has become affluent, the cheese made high in the Swiss Alps (Alpkäse) has become trendy, as this poster for a „cheese tasting“ shows.

 

Florentine Cobblestones

Or rather, cobblestones in what has become known as the Florentine (or Belgium) pattern:

No strange sight to anyone living in Germany, France, or Switzerland – but I‘ve often wondered why people would take time to do this?  I have not been able to find any documentation – but my own personal guess, based on other things I‘ve read when studying this, is that a non linear pattern like this holds up especially well against regular linear traffic, such as would be caused by horses and carriages.

I took this snap in the amazing city of St. Gallen in Eastern Switzerland.

Refining in Texas

The United States is the largest producer of oil in the world, and Texas is the largest producer of oil in the United States.

So if Texas produces a lot of oil, it makes sense that it would have a lot of refineries – and it does.

Interestingly, refineries in Texas are often huge polluters. The refinery operators often have excellent contacts with the local politicians, so it is very common to read about things like an accidental release of toxic gases that occurs once per month like clockwork.

Anyway, here is one huge refinery near Floresville, Texas:

Normally I do no post-processing of my snaps except for cropping, but in this case Google helped me to assemble multiple shots into a single panorama.