Belfort building

As artistic a snap as I thought I could take of a building in the French village of Belfort, in the region known as Bourgogne-Franche-Comté,

Yes, if Bourgogne sounds familiar then it probably is: it’s the original French word that is translated as Burgundy, and it’s where the French wine of the same name comes. Belfort itself is an interesting place with many historical sights and an often-flipped past; at times it belonged to Germany.

The screws at Landquart – 2

Continuing the series, just across the outlet mall in Landquart there is a pumping station that is open to the air but protected by a fence:

Interestingly, there is a small creek just behind this installation, but the screws go down much, much lower (probably a good 15 m) lower than the level of the river:

Things like this really confuse me. It smelled a bit like sewage, so I assume it was somehow for dealing with sewage water. But only one of the huge screws was turning, and in fact the tiniest one.  Does it receive a higher volume in the rain? Does it pump more than just sewer water? Sadly, these things are never documented anywhere that the public can easily read about them!

The stores at Landquart – 1

About an hour south of Zürich there is something usual. Very unusual. Well, very unusual for Switzerland, at any rate: an outlet mall! As a rule, Switzerland doesn’t have many of them; I know of one other in the very south of Switzerland, near Italy. And I know of two in Germany and one in France – but they are much less common than in the US.

And here’s what it looks like when you park your car:

Winterthur Building Statue

Not sure what this is – it doesn’t look old – but there are a number of them scattered throughout the north central Swiss city of Winterthur – and I find it a bit frustrating that they have these things with no plaques or explanations!

Anyway, I liked this snap, in this light, because I thought that all the colors were somehow related. I don’t know anything about colors, but I understand there are collections of them that are related.

Schwabentor at Schaffhausen – unstretched

I used Microsoft Lens to unstretch this gate, a surviving artifact of the walled city of Schaffhausen – or, in the Alemanic language, Schaffhuuse:


Seeing this up close, it makes me wonder why the skin tones of some of the people in the painting are dark?  This might not seem interesting, but only about 300 m from this tower is the famous Schaffhausen Moor-fountain that portrays an Arab.

Could it be that Schaffhausen has a history involving the Arabs?  It would not surprise me, since Schaffhause is easily reached from the south of France via a long series of rivers.

It’s a mystery I have to come back and clear up some day!

Arles Barber

Barbershop poles are interesting things. They have them in the US, of course. Germany doesn’t seem to have them – at least, I’ve never seen one in Germany. They are quite common in Switzerland.

And you can find them in France, but not everywhere.

I took this snap in Arles:


Of course it is probably more at home here in Europe, originally deriving from a sign used for shops that had doctors and leaches and were willing to bleed you with them.

But that begs the question: what else do we see in our daily lives and take for granted, but that we would have also seen hundreds of years ago?  Probably if we could travel back in time there are more than a few things that we would instantly recognize.

Swiss house

I took this snap in the Canton of Schwyz, but it is a common sight anywhere in the German speaking region of Switzerland:

In the western part of Switzerland, also called Romandie, the architecture tends to be more similar to what might be called a French style, with buildings mostly made from stone.

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!