Google googled me!

The cool thing about the business social networking site LinkedIn is that you can see who has tried to look you up – well, at least you can see their company name. I recently stopped at a nuclear reactor in France – one day later someone from the Gendarmerie Nationale looked me up – coincidence?

(And by the way, if they did, think of the technology involved: scanning my vehicle, optical character recognition of the license plate, database lookup to find the owner, running the owner through searches like this – I hope they are using RPA, since it seems a very good candidate for robotic process automation. And if they are not – S’il vous plaît appelez-moi, et je suis heureux de prendre rendez-vous pour un conseil en technologie! )

Anyway, after “googling” many people myself I felt quite honoured and privileged to be the subject of their scrutiny,

Believe it or not – it’s been a bit over a decade – but if memory serves me right I once spoke with the present head of Google (Sundar Pichai) on the phone, naturally back before he was so famous. I wrote down his name in my notebook – but sadly I can’t find the notebook anymore to confirm.

When memories trigger the senses

My Aunt recently posted a very old advertisement of an American variety store called Woolworth’s. Apparently, she thought they were all out of business – and in America, they are. But not in Germany, as this snap shows:

The key point here is a different one. The advertisement for Woolworth’s – as indeed this real store – immediately triggers a flood of memories involving sights and smells. And not just for me: when I shared this photo with my family, they also mentioned this effect.

There is something about the old “Woolworths” that is hard to put into words. You would walk into one of these stores and be hit by the smells of their inside cafeteria — “back in the day” it was common for any large store to have a cafeteria – but also the sights and sounds.

If you want to learn more about photography, check this out!

Just finished the most difficult but also the most rewarding course I’ve taken in a long time: Photography foundations: composition.

Regarding the why – I really enjoy photography, but I have no formal training. I see something I like, and I take a picture with my little point-and-shoot. I’m not interested in lenses and apertures and f-stops and all that. So for a long time I looked for a course that would focus on content, not on technique. This course is it!

Regarding the how – it is a self-learning course available from the LinkedIn platform. You have to pay for a subscription, but then you have access to many hundreds of online courses.

Here are the learning objectives:

  • Looking versus seeing
  • Understanding when and why to use black and white
  • Analyzing lines
  • Arranging the elements into lines and shapes
  • Working with perspective and symmetry
  • Changing focal length, camera position, and depth
  • Dividing rectangular frames into thirds
  • Weighting the corners in square pictures
  • Composing photographs of people
  • Composing landscape photos
  • Working with light: direction, texture, and negative space
  • How to shoot color
  • Guiding the viewer’s eye

Here’s the contents of this course:

  • Understanding composition
  • Seeing
  • Composition fundamentals
  • Geometry
  • Shooting best practices
  • Balance revisited
  • Light
  • Workshop: finding light
  • Color
  • Guiding the viewer
  • Workshop: foreground and background
  • Layers
  • Post-production
  • Workshop: exhibition

It’s a rather long course (5 hours and 29 minutes) – I spread it out over several weeks because there is literally too much material to digest. I’d study a chapter and learn something, then spend a few days thinking about it and trying things out with my camera.

Final thought: these are one of those courses that I’ll probably come back to again and again – and that’s a nice feature about LinkedIn, after you take a course it is still available and you can go back and watch the videos as often as you like!

 

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 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!

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:

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!

The Essence of Software Engineering – or, why agile is not enough

Sadly, too much literature about agile Ways of Working (WoW) is all about agile Ways of Working – and it stops there.

For Grossly Oversimplified (GO) Impossible Utopia (IU) situations, that works.

But in my own experience, for the real world complexity, agile Ways of Working are only the beginning.

Much, much more is needed for success. As put in the following article: Successful software development teams need to strike a balance between quickly delivering working software systems, satisfying their stakeholders, addressing their risks, and improving their ways of working.

There’s an interesting framework that may help; this is really very interesting and pragmatic stuff:

Don’t let this fool you, however. When I first looked at it, it immediately reminded me of maturity models, such as CMMI. In a maturity model, you can stop at the level that makes sense for you, or even have mixtures of maturity in different areas.

This is not that! As you’ll notice, here’s it’s all about degree of operationalization.

ANNIVERSARY: A digital machete thins out the digital jungle!

I honestly, positively cannot believe it – today marks the 20th anniversary of an article that appeared that described my work at the Max-Planck-Institute in Stuttgart!

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have made me proud, usually challenges I tackled that worked out well.

But this is one of those whirlwind cases that start out as something innocent and simple but then explode into something you could never, ever possibly predict! In this case, a little software application for my “office buddy” to visualize his scientific data that was subsequently downloaded and used by thousands of scientists!

I have documented the full story about ScanRead and DataScan.

The dark and secret world of Facilities Management – 5

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.

The dark and secret underworld of Facilities Management

I’ve worn a few different hats in my life: cook in a restaurant, forklift truck driver, landscape gardener, and professional house painter to name just a few of the most important ones. So it is not only fun but a privilege when life gives me the chance to establish working relationships with people in varied trades.

And it is even more fun and rewarding when I got to learn a new trade myself, in this case the honorable trade of Building Facilities Management.

And as you will read below, the world of Building Facilities Management has a very pleasant public face, but deep down inside it is really a dark, secret underworld, inhabited by god-like people that can accomplish anything – if you treat us with dignity and respect.

The outside view: the helpfulness gene

Paul Cottingham, one of the finest IT leaders I’ve ever known says time and again that IT hardware people (not the software guys) are all endowed with the helpfulness gene: they’ll go to any lengths to help other people, even at the cost of great self-sacrifice. And if you see the tremendous number of over-time hours they work – and how egregiously they underestimate IT project efforts (sadly incorrect, “it never helps to bring in external help” is their mantra).

And when I put on the Facilities Manager hat and joined this mysterious underworld, I learned quickly that Facilities Managers are endowed with this gene as well.

Because at the end of the day what gives us pride is to see the people working in and visiting our building. Are the desks comfortable? Are the meetings super-productive because the rooms are equipped with exactly the right flipcharts and whiteboards and speakerphones and wide screen televisions and coat racks and wastebaskets? Is the building filled with pleasant look plants that are also easy-to-care for, and are they watered and healthy? Walls clean? Carpets smelling fresh? Nice little mats to wipe your wet shoes on?

And think about what that requires, all those things and much more: flip chart pens and white board pens and someone having made sure there are the right telephone and LAN and power cables right where they need to be. Containers to water the plants.

So – how do we facilities managers make this look so simple?

Facilities Managers are like gods

It’s not wrong to think of us Facilities Managers as gods – hopefully benevolent gods, but gods nevertheless. Because your comfort, your tools, and your very productivity at work is in our hands.

The pride of our trade means we strive to do our best to provide all employees a good level of comfort, no matter how they treat us in return. But for those employees who treat us with dignity and respect, (which sadly is all too few people who do that) we aim to exceed your needs.

The question is, how exactly are we able to do this?

And the answer is, we don’t work alone.

A dark and secret underworld

At the risk of great personal harm, I will now officially spill the secret: Facilities Management is a dark underworld comprised of Facilities Managers – but not just those in your company, but those in all companies!  Our work knows no barriers. If I work for Company X and I have an old desk, and you work for Company Y and need a desk, you just give me a call and it’s done. Because in a few months time I may need a flipchart stand that you have but don’t need. Inter-company exchanges go on like this all the time.

Think about it: the Facilities Manager is likely to inherit many basements if not whole warehouses of old things: desks and shelves and coat racks and lockers. Sure, the new stuff probably has inventory labels, and those labels have numbers, and those numbers are in some spreadsheet in the finance department. But more than likely all that old stuff has been depreciated and written off and forgotten long ago.

I can’t mention any names – although there are many.

I can’t mention any examples – although there are many more.

I can only say that, during my brief time as Facilities Manager I got to meet some really terrific, passionate people who make up this dark and secret underworld. And with their help – and they with mine – we were able to make the people in our buildings content. And for those who treated us kindly, and with honor and respect, we were always able to exceed their expectations.

 

Washing clothes in Switzerland

Washing machines in Germany and Switzerland are smaller and more energy efficient than those in the U.S. A normal washing cycle can take as long as 90 minutes, and a deep cleaning can take up to 3 hours!

Here is the room in my apartment building where the washing machines are kept:

The spin cycle of the better machines can reach over 2000 revolutions per second – this is an amount that is so high, in many cases the more delicate clothes cannot handle the stress and they are damaged. Needless to say, after spinning at these high speeds the clothes are effectively dry when they leave the machine.

Here is the little box where you add the detergent and, if you use it, the softening agent:

In my building, the machines were in use nearly 24×7 – and we have 8 washing machines and 8 dryers!  Well, it turns out the machines were not being used by the residents, but rather the friends of residents – whole families even!

So recently they installed a charging mechanism.  You can charge up a little chip here:

Then to activate a washing machine or a dryer, you hold the chip up to this device mounted next to the machine you want to use:

The costs are almost negligible – I think CHF 0.50 to wash clothes and to dry them. But . . . since the charging mechanism was installed, now the machines are only used by people in the building. Generally speaking, there are always at least 2-3 machines available whenever I want to use one!

Drying clothes in Switzerland

Switzerland is very similar to Germany in many regards. In one regard, the washing machines and drying machines are often kept in the basement of apartment buildings.

In my case, the apartment company furnishes the machines for the use of the residents.

Here is the room with the drying machines:

In America, the drying machines blast hot air through the clothes, and the warm humid air is vented directly to the outside. It’s tough on the clothes, and it requires the machines be placed in close proximity to an outside wall.

Here, normal air is blasted through the tumbling clothes. As it exits the machine it passes through a condensation chamber, and the water is condensed out of the air. Better on the clothes, and it means you can position the drying machine anywhere you like.

Here is a snap from the back that shows the water tubes that drain the condensation chambers into the water drainage in the building:

Amazing how time flies

It‘s fair to say I stopped being an employed, practicing physicist in the year 2000, when I left the Max-Plack-Institute for Metals Research and joined Hewlett Packard Consulting & Integration.

According to Google Scholar I have published 45 „things“ that Google records in their list, most of them scientific papers but a few of them other things, such as proceedings of scientific conferences.

Nowadays, even more important than the number of articles that a scientist publishes is often the „citation index“ – or, the number of times another scientist has cited their work.  According to Google Scholar, here‘s what my citation index looks like over time:

The graph shows how many papers written by other scientists cited my work.

If you ask me, it‘s pretty incredible. Even though I have been publishing papers since the mid-1990‘s, and even though I stopped doing scientific research in the year 2000 – it seems the peak of my citations only occurred some years afterwards. There are lots of reasons for that – you have to pick things apart at the level of individual papers and collaborators – but I find it interesting nonetheless: if true more broadly, it means that scientists are not famous for what they do right now, but for what their work will lead to in a few years‘ time!

Those amazing Ritley’s: the world’s first panoramic photograph!

Continuing the series, I am always surprised when I encounter someone who has not heard the name Ritley.

OK, maybe I am an exception – I have not yet made my mark. But . . .

Hardly a man, woman or child anywhere on the face of the planet has not heard of their stunning accomplishments. They are a family steeped in the tradition of excellence, whose capacity for profound intellectual thought is exceeded only by their talent to affect meaningful changes (which often border on the revolutionary) to the fundamental problems of global significance they selflessly tackle.

This snap is not just any snap. Now hanging in the world famous Smithsonian Institution (Record Number SIA Acc. 11-006 [MAH-3002]), in its very own case in its very own room, it is in fact what most historians universally agree is the world’s first selfie, taken during the 1990’s by Ken Ritley, using a real camera with real film, while visiting the Experimental Aircraft Association meeting in Osh-Kosh, Wisconsin:

And with this Ritley contribution, many decades ago, the panoramic photograph was born.

If you happen to one day make it to Washington DC, and if you have a bit of spare time to visit the Smithsonian Institution, just ask any docent to point you to the Ritley Room – a tiny room to be sure, but the only room in the entire museum to house just one artefact, the world’s first panoramic photograph!

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:

 

Testing Tweets

Those amazing Ritley’s: the world’s first selfie

Continuing the series, I am always surprised when I encounter someone who has not heard the name Ritley.

OK, maybe I am an exception – I have not yet made my mark. But . . .

Hardly a man, woman or child anywhere on the face of the planet has not heard of their stunning accomplishments. They are a family steeped in the tradition of excellence, whose capacity for profound intellectual thought is exceeded only by their talent to affect meaningful changes (which often border on the revolutionary) to the fundamental problems of global significance they selflessly tackle.

This snap is not just any snap. Now hanging in the world famous Smithsonian Institution (Record Number SIA Acc. 11-006 [MAH-3002]), in its very own case in its very own room, it is in fact what most historians universally agree is the world’s first selfie, taken during the 1970’s by Arlene Ritley, using a real camera with real film:

As a very small boy I remember seeing this snap for the first time and simply being amazed – turning the camera to take a snap of the person doing the snapping. “This is amazing and unbelievable!” I think I said.

And Mrs. Ritley turned to me with a warm smile, then she slowly raised her head and looked deep into the distance, saying to me – and I remember it well –  “Oh, glorious day upon us!” It seems Ritleys are always using expressions like that. “Remember this moment, my dear child, for I am calling this revolutionary technique a selfie, and I am hereby giving it freely to the world – just like generations of Ritleys have done – for the betterment of all mankind.”

And with this Ritley contribution, many decades ago, the selfie was born.

If you happen to one day make it to Washington DC, and if you have a bit of spare time to visit the Smithsonian Institution, just ask any docent to point you to the Ritley Room – a tiny room to be sure, but the only room in the entire museum to house just one artefact, the world’s first selfie!

Those amazing Ritley’s: the historical context

I am always surprised when I encounter someone who has not heard the name Ritley.

The Ritleys.

OK, maybe I am an exception – I have not yet made my mark. But . . .

Hardly a man, woman or child anywhere on the face of the planet has not heard of their stunning accomplishments. They are a family steeped in the tradition of excellence, whose capacity for profound intellectual thought is exceeded only by their talent to affect meaningful changes (which often border on the revolutionary) to the fundamental problems of global significance they selflessly tackle.

For more than half of recorded history, the Ritleys have distinguished themselves by their extraordinary and selfless contributions to the welfare of mankind. This tradition was begun in southern Europe nearly fourteen centuries ago, by the inspired Roman emperor Licinius Ritleyus Magnus, who directed the finest scholars of that era to prepare a manuscript (the Constabular Codex) which could serve as constitution for a revolutionary new form of government, democracy. This Constabular Codex was borrowed and translated from Latin and used nearly vebatim in 1215 by King John of England, where it thereafter became more widely known as the Magna Carta. It is said to form the cornerstone of liberty and the chief defense against arbitrary and unjust rule.

The Magna Carta, an important document that transformed the European approach to government is almost an perfect transcription of the somewhat older Constabular Codex, written by the great Roman emperor Ritleyus Magnus.

Politics, natural philosophy, art, medicine . . . Each subsequent generation of Ritleys has pushed this legacy of excellence to an even more stunning degree. From the philosophical contributions of St. Ritley of Aquinas in 1428 (who, blind and deaf in his later years, communicated his thoughts to his next-door-neighbor Thomas, who wrote them down),

Shown with pen in hand, St. Thomas of Aquinas profited by transcribing the brilliant ideas from his next door neighbor, the much more famous St. Ritley of Aquinas

to the engineering accomplishments of Ewan MacRitley and his revolutionary device for sheering sheep in the Scottish Highlands (the sheep were skewered laterally through their midsection and spun at high speed, as upon a lathe) —

The very clean results obtained by shearing a sheep using the technique developed by Ewan MacRitley, by skewering the sheep then rotating them at high speed on a lathe. Unfortunately, certain physio-mechanical problems involving sheep and skewer are irreversible and have yet to be overcome.

there is no one alive in the world today who has not been touched, time and again, by the profound legacy this family has left to mankind.

And today, the tradition continues!

In subsequent blog posts I will share some revolutionary ideas that the modern generation of Ritleys has brought forth to the world.

The unbelievable Swiss blue clock mystery continues

Continuing the series, just a few days ago I saw something.

This something was so incredible, so awful, so mind-boggingly complex that it very nearly made my brain explode!

Indeed, after seeing what I saw – and not being able to un-see it – I was forced to dismount my motorcycle and spend several long minutes in a hyper-catatonic state, until my brainwaves recovered.

And what did I see, you may ask?

Out in the middle of the Swiss countryside – so deep and far away from civilization that tourists would not even think of coming here (and indeed, most likely none of them would survive long, especially if they encountered any of the tough, unforgiving Swiss locals) – I saw a tiny village, almost microscopic in size, and in the middle of the village a tiny church.

But that is not what made my brain explore.

What made my brain explode was this: a big blue clock!

Now, gentle reader, most likely you are scratching your head and wondering why my brain exploded when, in all probability, yours did not.

I will tell you.

This is not the first example of a big blue clock in Switzerland. This is not the second example of a big blue clock in Switzerland. This is an example of many, many, many big blue clocks that adorn Swiss churches!  Here is an example from a few kilometers from where I live:

And here is an example from the “old town” part of the city of Winterthur:

This is not happenstance. This is not a coincidence. This is not luck – or chance – or a following moon. There must be a reason that so many Swiss churches are adorned with exactly the same blue clock face . . . and one day, I will find out!

Cold fusion: A LESSON from Kelvin Lynn, and a STORY

Recently, my friend and mentor Kelvin Lynn for over 30 years passed away. In so many professional and personal ways I would not be who I am today without the strong positive influence of Kelvin. He mainly taught me it’s never about the subject or how you approach it, whatever that subject might be – it’s about the people you encounter on your journey and how you treat them. Recently, one of his other mentees Marc Weber – now a world renowned  physics professor in Washington – recounted some early stories of our first years with Kelvin. What follows below is one of those stories, namely, my own.


In 1989 I was a young 24-year-old aspiring physicist who wanted to change his specialty, and Kelvin spared no efforts to help me out, to help me find a new grad school, and invited me to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, in New York, to work for him as a lab technician until things got settled. The first task he assigned to me: help him research „cold fusion,“ a phenomenon recently reported by two chemists in Utah, in which they claimed nuclear fusion (like in the sun) could be created with a little battery and an electrochemical cell.  I always guessed it was this combination of the Utah connection together with the promise of a Nobel prize that drove Kelvin‘s special passion to tackle this topic. But I don‘t think Kelvin worked on anything without passion – and for a brief while, this was at the top of his passion list.

First, an important lesson he taught me in the beginning. Like 99.9% of the physics community, I believed cold fusion was pseudo-science: a made-up lie or an egregious goof, not worth anyone‘s time to study further. Kelvin corrected me at once, and in a stern way to let me know how serious this was: not only did he say public opinion must not influence us in any way, but he told me our job as serious experimental scientists was exactly to investigate phenomena and, if they did not exist, absolutely prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Reproducibility was crucial in the process.

Those were two major lessons I’ve carried with me ever since.

But then, a funny story for anyone who knew how fast Kelvin could think and react. As part of our experiment we built a huge water bath the size of a large bathtub, and we filled it with electrochemical cells like they use for electric plating of metals. This was supposedly how cold fusion could be triggered, with a battery, inside of these cells. All the electrical power meant that our bathtub full of water was at a very warm and comfortable 70 – 80 degrees F, just like an aquarium. So as a creative-but-still-quite-juvenile 24-year-old I thought: wouldn‘t it be cool to add a few goldfish?  They would not disturb our experiment in any way, but our laboratory would be nicer with some pretty fish swimming around in the bathtub.

Here is a picture of me, in our Cold Fusion laboratory, holding one of our most precious cold fusion electrochemical cells. I had the priviledge of helping a real glassblower create this piece, which took nearly one full day.

So I went to the pet store together with another student, Peter Dull, to buy a few goldfish. (Peter also thought it would be a fun idea.)

Anyway, a day later and before Kelvin could find out about the fish, the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory decided to personally visit our laboratory and experiment together with a group of BNL‘s highest ranked Senior Scientists. This was the first time Kelvin learned about or saw the fish.  The Director was shocked to see goldfish in a physics laboratory – as I recall, the Director screamed more than a few obscenities! The other Senior Scientists were similarly shocked. But Kelvin did not miss a beat! In a very calm voice he corrected the Director: cold fusion had the potential to be so dangerous to human life that we felt obligated to add the goldfish, to act as our canaries-in-the-mine in case any hazardous radiation was released!  Of course, neutrons were expected as a key signature from cold fusion (just like regular fusion).

Under pressure, Kelvin could sell anything, to anyone, at any time. So it was no surprise the Director and the Senior Scientists believed this – well, mostly –  and the talk quickly changed to more serious subjects.

By the way, Peter Dull was one of many, many of Kelvin‘s students went on to have a stunning international career. Now a medical doctor, Peter worked for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and was in charge of managing the SARS virus outbreak some years ago. And today Peter works directly for Bill Gates, in charge of all immunization research for the Gates Foundation. I never believed Kelvin picked superstars for his team – I am living proof of that. Rather, a few years working closely with Kelvin could turn some people like Peter and many, many others into superstars.

Kelvin Lynn paid forward the gift from one of his early teachers who noticed the spark of scientific curiosity in a kid running wild in the hills of South Dakota.

Epilogue: The goldfish became even more famous. Turning belly-up due to cold fusion would show their lighter color side. So a simple photo-detector would suffice rather than expensive neutron detectors. Well, as Nature will have it, the fish perished rapidly. It turns out, however, they did not succumb to neutron radiation but got entangled in the propeller of the water circulation system to keep the tank temperature homogeneous.

 

 

Strange Things – 1

Every once in a while I encounter something strange and can’t identify it or its purpose – despite a bit of online investigation.

Here’s a good example. I took this snap just outside of the medieval walled village of Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue region of southern France:

No writing on it. Facing away from the parked cars – or else I’d naively think it is some type of electric charging station. The oval bit in the middle looks to be a cover with a hinge, but there is no obvious way to open it. Even Google Images could not help me out.

Tasks I hate to do

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

Everyone has something they hate to do around the house.  So those particular tasks are often put off until the need arises, or the funds are available to hire someone to do them.

My husband would rather have a root canal then do the dusting.  I, on the other hand like to dust.  And if I may say so, I do a great job with a dust cloth and a can or bottle of spray wax.  Proper way to dust is the one chore in my family that has been handed down from one generation to the next.

But to get back to the topic “tasks I hate to do”.  I have two tasks I absolutely hate to do and that is

  • Clean the oven
  • Clean the refrigerator

AH you say.  Only two tasks you hate to do.  Yes only two as I have, over the years, delegated more of these “hate to do” tasks to others in my family.

Cleaning the oven

Cleaning the oven is easy to do now if you own a self cleaning oven.

Not so easy to do if you do not have a self cleaning oven.  What I did years ago when stoves had to be cleaned by hand, was wipe up spills with a damp paper towel.  Then when my oven could no longer pass a sanitation inspection, for example my mother or mother-in-law were coming for an extended visit; I had no choice but to

SELL THE HOUSE

I actually did this twice during my early years.

Cleaning the refrigerator

Cleaning the refrigerator is a little more complicated and one I absolutely hate to do.

Take all the food out a shelf at a time.  Wash – Dry – Put the food back where it was, throwing out expired and unused bottles and jars.  Shelf, by shelf, by shelf.  That’s only the refrigerator.  You can’t forget the freezer.  But I found a way to get the task done.

A POWER OUTAGE!

One that lasted for a day and a half.  All the food went bad and had to be removed.  While my husband bagged up the food I cleaned and sanitized the entire refrigerator, in and out.  When I was finished my refrigerator sparkled like a diamond.  Power outages happen more frequently now with Global Warming.  When and if this happens again, you’ll know where I am and what I’m doing.

The moral of this story is . . .

     . . . delegate tasks you hate to do to someone else, then

     . . . find a creative and out of the box way to do the few tasks you hate.

 


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.