“The Lugano Lesson”

Continuing the series . . .

A strange thing happened to me just before Easter, as I was relaxing in the southern Swiss city of Lugano: a stranger came up to me (judging by his accent I think he was from Israel), and invited me to a coffee and a cigar at a street café across from the lake.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my more unusual friends is a man I only know as Mr. Tradecraft. For reasons that are probably self-evident I seem now be known in certain circles as The Postmeister. Well, if my friend just chuckled and said he won’t complain, so neither will I.

And I’ve probably also mentioned that my father is an computer science professor in Texas. For the record, my father has never had a business that takes him to Eastern Europe, has never entered certain ex-Soviet countries, and has never combined his knowledge of “confidential logistics” with the fluent Ukrainian he learned growing up in the ethnic Cleveland neighborhoods. Enough said.

After one of his most recent trips to a wartorn country that may possibly now be in the news – which of course never happened – my father told an interesting background story of seeing this mysterious Postmeister with the associate of a more well-known personality, Gabriel Allon.


Gabriel’s private cell rang, heavily encrypted so he could talk to his most trusted staff.  He saw Eli’s avatar come up on the screen.  “Eli!  Did you find them?  Did you spot the kids?  I’m certain that the Big Czar keeps them hidden in Lugano.”

“Of course.  For me — easy”, Eli replied, and both knew that few people on the planet could evade Eli Lavon for long.  “But we have a complication, Gabriel”.

“Tell me,” answered  Gabriel, prepared for the worst.

“Remember the guy you pointed out to me when we were undercover in Besançon, your pal Tradecraft’s mail drop guy?  The Postmeister guy? He’s tracking them, too.  I have no idea why.   I didn’t think Tradecraft had any interests there.  But it does concern me.  Things have been edgy since Big Czar’s people got to Viktor with the toxic powder in Mayfair.”

Gabriel hissed through his teeth.  “Damn.  We don’t need complications at this point.  I’m still not done with the Big Czar since Viktor’s murder, and I don’t need anyone else in the way. I figured the kids would be covered by at least 5 Spetsnatz.  Maybe they’ll pick him up on their radar”.Undercover Surveillance, Los Angeles, CA | Counter Surveillance Downey, Long Beach, Cerritos

Eli tried to calm him.  “Settle down.  The T-Man doesn’t do kidnapping, he’s more of a locator, and there must be a reason for this.   My guess – someone has hired him to track and it’s not a one-man task so he’s got at least one of his gang helping out.   By the way, I covered the Postmeister for a bit to see if he was being tracked at the same time, but he was clean.  He seemed to aware of the 5 hulks, but not of me.   So — he’s either a natural or the T-Man trained him well.  I don’t think he made me personally – but few people ever have.”

“He keeps bumping into me”, said Gabriel, “and I don’t like it.  I don’t like this guy Ken”.

“Settle down, Chief.  You still haven’t told me why finding them is so important.  I know it’s not to do harm.”

“Just cards to play, Eli”, answered Gabriel, “of course we don’t hurt families, but sometimes it can make a big gun nervous to know that we know.  And sometimes it’s all of the edge that we need.”

“Maybe I should approach this Ken guy and play cards on the table”, said Eli, “he’d know that I know who he’s following and that I can follow him anytime I choose to – and have.  What do you think?”

“Let me think on it”, said Gabriel. “Tradecraft saved my life on Corsica, so I know he’s not an enemy.”  Gabriel wrinkled his forehead in thought, and then spoke back: “Go ahead, Eli.  Get up a close, let him see you, and tell him you need to talk.  Let me know what happens.”

Switzerland, Ticino, Lake Lugano, Lugano, Piazza della Riforma, cafe, Stock Photo, Picture And Rights Managed Image. Pic. JAI-CH04057 | agefotostockGabriel poured some wine and started going through his email.  He had 5 other ops going on, and this one was un-official, just to do a one-up on the Big Czar.

One hour later the cell phone went off and Eli’s avatar popped up. Gabriel picked it up and said “Talk to me”.

Eli was chuckling on the other end.  “Well – – – the Postmeister had an espresso and cigar with me.   Surprised the hell out of him, as he didn’t know I was tracking him.  We agreed that the Spetsnaz were clumsy.  When I told him who I was and who I worked for, he followed me to a café down by the lakeside.  Interesting guy, he knows you’ve figured out the mail drop, but wouldn’t say any more about Tradecraft.  Clammed up.  But, anyhow, Tradecraft’s not involved in this.   It’s a practice run.”

“What in the hell are you talking about, Eli?  Practice run – bull crap”.

“No.  I’m serious, Gabriel.  Tradecraft told him once he had some natural skills and the best way to develop them was to use it.  Of course, getting caught was a gamebreaker.  So when he has a free week-end, he picks a possible ‘target’ – someone who might be guarded, and find them and then tracks them.  Keeps a log. I guess the T-Man checks the logs for mistakes. This is not the first one he’s done, and not gotten caught yet.  But I did suggest that this one was important, and we’d appreciate him backing off.  He agreed and we parted friends. I think he’ll know that I can pick him up anytime I want so he’ll honor that.”

“Well, I find it hard to believe that this Ken guy – he’s getting on my nerves – can do this whenever he pleases.  Perhaps more brag than results?”

“Well”, said Eli, “he did mention that he saw you meeting with Paul of French Special Branch in Strasbourg last month, quite by accident, and decided to follow you.  Said you had 4 French watchers who were not very good.  You’ll recall I couldn’t go with you.  He suggested that I pass on to you that the café Paul picked is not one of Strasbourg’s best, and that if you’d gone another block you’d have found Pont des Vosges Brasserie, better food at lower prices.  He hopes your meeting went well.”

 


Chuck Ritley is an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area, and the orchestrator of the Uncle Eddy persona.

Here are the links to my father’s other blogs on my website.

 

 

 

Bubble architecture in Domodossala – 7

The bubbles!  The bubbles!  Oh, the stories about bubbles that I could regale you with!

But this post is not about bubbles, but rather bubble architecture. And more specifically, Italian bubble architecture.

I’ve said that France is the all time master at turning beautiful historical buildings into hideous monstrosities by encasing parts of them – or sometimes all of them – in giant glass bubbles.  There are very few exceptions where they get this mix right.

The Italians, it seems, have learned from the French mistakes and are creating their own beautiful bubble architectures, such as this one that I spotted in Domodossala:

For me the absolute nicest touch of the bubble is its base, which is a very smooth segue between the existing concrete paving blocks and the bubble itself.

Well, done, Italy!

Horse-o-dossala

Domodossala is a small kind of a village in Northern Italy, more specifically in the Piedmont region, just across the border from Switzerland. It’s famous for its marble production, where huge slabs of marble are carved out of the local mountainsides. Although to be honest, “just across the border from Switzerland” is misleading. There are the massive Swiss Alps sitting between the tiny Italian village of Domodossala and the next closest Swiss village of Brig – so unless you are prepared to get on a train and travel in a tunnel so long it would blow your mind (as well as your eardrums, from the Venturi force), then actually Domodossala and Switzerland are not so close.

Anyway, here is some street art in the Northern Italian village of Domodossala. Since it looks like a horse, I am calling is a horse-o-dossala:

Reflections of a Valley Guy — Part 7 “The Hollywood adventure continues”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

I was riding high on heady fumes of stardom.  Then came another pinnacle opportunity. From 1965 through 1970, comic actor Don Adams starred in a James-Bond-send-up TV series named Get Smart.  He played an inept spy and the series had a big cult following.

Universal, to capitalize, decided to produce “The Return of Maxwell Smart”.    And they asked me for a full blown computer lab and would I come down and help the set designers plan it out?   My boss thought it was great, told me to take whatever I needed from inventory, and I left for Burbank with 4 field engineers and visions of getting my own Oscar.

Well, we cobbled up a lab, the studio prop guys added flashing lights, I wrote a bunch of nonsense programs, and the 4 FE’s sat around in case something burned out, and had their pictures taken with minor movie stars.  Oh, the glamour of Hollywood.  The movie plot line had Agent Smart use the computer to stop an evil genius from exploding a bomb that would leave everyone in the U.S. stark naked.

I knew this was the end of my Hollywood career, so I asked my boss:  “When the movie comes out at our local theater, why don’t we rent the whole theater for one night and take the whole company, their families and make a party out of it?”  (Ideas like this are the difference between me and Bill Gates.)  My boss thought it was great, and started negotiating.

But Hollywood dreams shatter. Just as the movie was ready for release, Universal changed the title.  Instead of “The Return of Maxwell Smart”, they named it “The Nude Bomb”. NOT a good follow-up to “E.T”.  The movie was a bomb, and the company wanted some distance.  No opening night theater party, no more movies for Chuck, only 3 confused lawyers trying to get our name removed from the credits.

 

Show biz!  There’s nothing like it.


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

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Frys.com Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 6: “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 7: “The Hollywood adventures continue”

 

 

Cernay chinmey

Continuing the series, I’m definitely coming back here because this snap was taken just outside of a HUGE industrial park that was deserted – sort of a ghost factory. It was all open to the public, so it’s on my bucket list to head back and just poke around.  According to a small plaque here, this chimney was part of a textile factory – and I assume that the streams running down from the Vosges Mountains in the background were the reason for its location (water power):

Reflections of a Valley Guy — Part 6 “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

While I enjoy movies, I’ve never been interested in the goings-on in Hollywood.   To me, it was a crowded place to pass through to get to the Burbank Airport on my way home to The Valley.  That changed – for a while – in 1980.   At that time, computer terminals were downright ugly – just square boxes with keyboards.  But the company I worked for paid a Swedish design firm (I think they also did the 1979 Saab) to come up with a streamlined, injection molded terminal.  Same electronics – fancy look.

Six months after the intro, I got a call from a guy who said he was the prop master at Universal Studios.  He had seen one of our terminals, liked the look, and could I help him get one in a movie?  Sounded like great publicity, so I flew to Burbank and drove out to Universal.  It turns out that prop masters for major studios are big-time executives, with golf carts, managing everything from jet planes to spears.  But he made me welcome.

The movie that needed a computer was “Captain America”.  No, not the one you saw in 2014, with CGI and wide screen explosions.  This was the 1980 version.  No CGI, much smaller explosions.  The plot:  Captain A, who rides a nuclear-powered Harley, must save Phoenix from a nuclear bomb, but he needs a computer to figure things out.  That’s where we came in.

So I shipped a couple of computers and some terminals South and showed up at the studio for shooting the computer scenes.  The studio techs had built panels of flashing light, since our computers had none.  And I cobbled up some nonsense programs to make things jump on the screen.  But it was tough to keep a straight face while showing a guy in a red, white, and blue jump suit how to tap the keys.

We appeared for only 6 minutes in what was not a very good movie.  But, Universal fell in love with the design of the terminals, and I got offers to bring more equipment down for appearances in “The Rockford Files”, with James Garner, and “Mrs. Columbo” (the wife of the Peter Falk detective, who sadly only lasted for 4 or 5 episodes, but was computer literate.)

But the apex was this:  we provided the computer terminals for “ET”, while the studio did their own flashing lights.  (Next time you see a re-run, watch the credits closely.  We come up just before the caterers.)

And no, I never even saw Steven what-his-name.  And I had no idea it would become a classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Frys.com Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 6: “Hollywood discovers the Valley”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 7: “The Hollywood adventures continue”

 

Cernay Church

Cernay in the eastern French part of Alsace known as Haut-Rhine is an interesting village for two reasons. First, apparently the German SS used this village as an “indoctrination” center during the second world war; and second, because the Thur river flows through it, and there was a river of the exact same name flowing through Winterthur when I lived there. (Note: it flowed through Winterthur before I moved there, and it probably still flows there today.)

Anyway, here’s the church: