Amazing Neuenkirch – 1

Although there are probably other countrie in Germany that have more, nevertheless Switzerland has its fair share. Here is a snap of the medeival walled village of Neuenkirch, just a few miles from where I live:

This is what it looks like when you peer through one of the gates to the village, and here is a plaque that shows the gate was built about a generation before Christopher Columbus ever set out for America:

The might castle Kyburz through the trees

I see this view every morning on my daily 15 km Nordic Walk through the forests of north central Switzerland,

It harkens back to a time when life was influenced strongly by famous family dynasty, such as the Hapsburgs, Kyburzs, and others. These families may have faded into history, but we are every much as bit influenced and controlled by other famous family dynasties today, such as the Kochs and Waltons.

In a city of fountains, this one stands apart

If you’ve been to Zurich then you know how it is. Every streetcorner has a fountain, and the fountains are old, and they have clean, fresh water, and you can drink it. The people stop and the children play, and the Carabinieri toss their cigarettes into the street and move on. The worst thing is the smell.

Wait – stop – that’s what Hemingway would say.

I would say that of all the water fountains in Zurich this has to be the most unusual:

It even has a little plaque so that you can read about it’s history:

Dead standing tree

What kind of a tree this was – I don’t know.

Why did it die – I don’t know.

Who made the decision not to chop it down – I don’t know.

But I do know this was an artistic a snap as I thought I could take of a dead standing tree in a grassy clearing of a forest where I take my daily Nordic Walk.

“The Corsica Encounter”

Continuing the series . . .

I’ve mentioned before that one of my more unusual friends is a man I only know as Mr. Tradecraft.

And I’ve probably also mentioned that my father is an active professor in Texas.

For the record, my father has never had a business that takes him across the world, he’s never made money trading and selling certain difficult-to-track items to people in small African countries with less-than-stable governments. And those items (if they were to exist, which certainly they don’t) would certainly never be items that, shall we say, might have certain unpleasant consequences for some people. Enough said.

After one of his most recent trips to Corsica – which of course never happened – my father told an interesting background story of seeing friend Mr. Tradecraft with another and more well-known personality, Gabriel Allon.

Gabriel wasn’t enjoying the night ferry ride to Corsica.   The weather was chilly and rainy, the sea choppy, which meant staying in the lounge.  Cautious out of habit, he wasn’t concerned about the other passengers.  There was not much traffic to Corsica in this weather.  But he was concerned about how Don Orsati would meet with his proposal.

There was one unusual passenger that troubled Gabriel.  Medium height but wide, he was wearing a fedora hat that was pulled down over his eyes.  Yet Gabriel had the feeling he was watching him.  But every time Gabriel glanced his way, he was engrossed in a copy of Le Monde.

The ferry horn sounded, he felt the deck shift as it slowed. Gabriel closed his case and buttoned the coat around his neck, leaving him free to go for his Beretta if needed.  Just habit, as Don Orsati generally kept the peace in Corsica for his guests.

He stepped onto the dock, and headed off in the direction of the small hotel, ignoring the waiting taxi.  The walk wasn’t far and his appointment with the Don was in the morning; he planned on supper and on a good night’s rest.

Out of habit, he glanced over his shoulder and noticed that fedora-topped stranger moving the same way.  Just as he turned left onto the darkened plaza, he caught movement out of his eye and saw the flash of a knife.  No time for the Beretta, he threw up the case as protection, and saw a dark clad figure attempting another stroke.  The knife flashed again, and Gabriel battered at him with the case.  But another shadow appeared, there was a grunt, and the knife wielder fell. Gabriel stepped back and there was the fedora man, with his foot on the head of the would-be assassin.  He looked at Gabriel – “You’re getting slow, Mr. Allon.  After all, we are in a red zone”.

Gabriel was at a loss, but the stranger spoke: “Even under the Don’s protection you may be in a red zone.  This imbecile just assumed you were an easy target. He’ll be out for a bit.  I’ll call the Don from the hotel for a clean-up.   He doesn’t like competition. Don’t look so surprised.  Go check in to your room and buy me a drink in the café.  After all, I did just save your life.”    Then he moved past Gabriel toward the hotel.

By the time Gabriel entered the lobby, the stranger was gone.  He checked in, left his case in the room, checked the Beretta once more and headed for the small café.

The stranger was already there, with a bottle of the island red wine.  He stood and offered his hand.  “Much less excitement in here, Mr. Allon”.

“How is it”, asked Gabriel, “that you know my name and I have no idea who you are”.

“That, Mr. Allon”, said the stranger, “is how I stay alive in a dangerous business. By the way, the Don was extremely upset about what happened, so I don’t know what will happen to your would-be attacker.  Nothing pleasant, I expect.   But be more cautious making your travel arrangements.   You’re too well known.”

Gabriel looked perplexed.  He asked – first in German, then in French, then in Arabic – if his host would identify himself.  The stranger said “it’s not necessary” in all 3 dialects.  In German, he said “I’ve worked in many countries”, and in French “and used different names in each”.  Finally in Arabic: “I find that names are too easily remembered, or written down.  For that same reason I avoid cameras.”

Switching back to English, Gabriel said “you know I’ve worked with the Brits and the Americans. From your accent, you’re one or the other.”

“Perhaps – or some other – there are so many” said the stranger.  “Permanent allegiance doesn’t work well in Intelligence work.  One gets caught in politics.  And no matter your allegiance, you must work off the grid, have a dozen passports, and no idiot control officer.  So I sell the one commodity I have the most of – my Tradecraft.

You see, Mr. Allon, the intelligence world is too full of gadgetry now.  It makes agents lazy, encourages putting untrained agents out in the street, where they get killed.  They have the gadgets – what they don’t have is Tradecraft.  Even your nation, small as it is, relies heavily on electronics.  So — I know your name, you don’t know mine.”

“But now I’m in your debt”, said Gabriel, “and a debt paid must be paid to someone.”

The stranger smiled: “Then call me Mr. Tradecraft.  It’s the one commodity left in the Intelligence world that doesn’t use batteries – and a dying art.  Even you, and your friend Eli, are probably the only real intelligence operatives in the. . . .  Sorry, slip of the tongue.”

The stranger refilled their glasses.  “You see, the whole alphabet of acronyms — CIA, MI5, FBI, NSA – rely on gadgetry.  But some tasks – as you well know – require a human being going somewhere and getting something.  So, given that our art is dying, there is a market for an aging operative who stills know how.”

“So”, said Gabriel, “you work for anyone?”

“No, Mr. Allon, I am picky about clients and their tasks.  I don’t like communists, jihadists, or oligarchs.   I don’t pretend to work on the side of the angels, but I avoid the devil.  People who have used my services – they know how to call for me.”

“I’m surprised”, said Gabriel, “that we have never met before – or that I have never heard of you.”

The stranger laughed.  “Come now, Mr. Allon.  When you hear of me – when I don’t want you to – I’ll retire.  Organizations of politicians don’t admit use of contractors.  That implies their own ineptness.   But we have met before – only indirectly.  Your pals at MI6 and CIA give you information.  They identified Tariq and they identified the Sphinx to you.  Did you question where they got it?  Do you actually think THEY obtained it on their own?   Ponder this — if they could obtain it on their own, why call you to bail them out?  I find out things for them, and they have friends like you to do the exercises. And I leave no tracks where I’ve been.  Tradecraft, you see.  We all win.”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed a bit.  Tariq and the Sphinx were closely held information.  “And yet here you are, on the island of the king of the assassins”.

“Of course”, said the stranger, “it’s cheap at the price.  I don’t do assassinations, it doesn’t fit my mold.  But the Don – to ply his trade – is an expert at finding people.  Since I work alone, I use him to locate those who have information I need.  In fact, I get a good rate since I don’t require blood proof. ”

The stranger stood and stretched.  “Well, this has been quite nice, but I have an early appointment with the Don.  I hope your own business goes well.  Stay alert. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  And he reached over to shake Gabriel’s hand, turned and was gone.

Gabriel finished his wine, and then headed for his room.  If this man was what he said he was, he might or might not be an ally, but he didn’t seem eager to leave an address.  He fell asleep wondering why the stranger shared some thoughts.

The next morning, he washed, packed, and went downstairs to have coffee, pay his bill, and wait for Don Orsati’s driver.  As the clerk riffled through bills, Gabriel turned the guest register around, to see what name he was using.  His own name was the only one there.   Gabriel knew that Don Orsati would never talk about his other clients – might even be hostile.  And Gabriel remembered Mr. Tradecraft’s words:  “I leave no tracks where I’ve been”.


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:

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 Sold Pork Chops”

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




The mighty Sequoia trees of Switzerland

Switzerland, and to a lesser extent southern Germany, is dotted with majestic California Giant Sequoai trees, many of them hundreds of years old.

I took this snap on the eastern shore of Lake Zürich, where this tree was planted next to a church:

Interestingly, due to global climate change these trees in California are all endangered, but it could be the climate of Switzerland might provide something of a sanctuary for them.

The mind boggling hunting shacks of Germany and Switzerland

This is an artistic a snap as I thought I could take of a lone hunting shack at the edge of a farmer’s field in north central Switzerland:

Oh, the fun you will have sitting warming in this shack, covered by a thick wool blanket, waiting patiently for some animal to thoughtlessly walk into the crosshairs of the telescopic sight on your rifle.

I prefer fishing.

What I’m not quite sure about is why these shacks are so predominant in Germany and Switzerland, yet in other countries are much rarer or impossible to find.

One of my favorite projects – 4

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.

Ongoing third parties – coffee and drinks

The building we rented had three cafeterias: a large one with a full size refrigerator and a sink and enough place for seven or eight tables; a medium with with a full size refrigerator and a sink and enough space for three tables; and a small one with a half-size refrigerator and a sink and standing-room only.

This means we had a few luxury items to buy: plates and bowls and forks and knives and even miscellaneous things like bottle openers.

And we had a few necessary items to buy: fire extinguishers, first aid kits. It was also on my list to buy a portable, automatic heart defibrillator – but I never got around to it.

Being no expert in this area I really learned a lot from the professionals, especially my colleague Pascal who was a real facilities manager. We decided to explore having coffee, drinks, and even water delivered by an company specialized in this. (Yes, even water, because you get a water dispenser that must be kept current with plastic cups, a filter, plus a bottle to provide carbonated water on demand.)

The coffee service – which we later expanded to include vending machines – was an interesting learning experience for me. Essentially, you sign the contract and all the hardware and service is provided to you by the company. Additionally, someone from the company comes into the building daily to clean the machines and refill them if necessary. You pay the company on a pay-per-consumption basis. It is, quite literally, a plug-and-play service that even from my facilities management perspective could not have been easier.

Maybe pride goes before a fall, but nevertheless when I returned to the building several years later for a going-away celebration I could not help being a bit proud of what the cafeteria was stocked with, as this snap shows:


Extreme danger in the Schwabian Biosphere Reserve

The Schwabian Biosphere Reserve is an amazing, amazing place of nature, where you can talk long walks and enjoy the trees and the flowers and the birds.

And occasionally have a panic attack, such as coming across something that looks like this:

The hidden sign catches your attention, so you move a bit closer and see this:

In German the text reads: Lebensgefahr! Absolutes Betretungsverbot. . . which is roughly translated as “Life threatening danger! Tresspassing is absolutely forbidden! This complete area is forbidden due to its previous use with munitions.”