Archive for the 'Switzerland' Category

Jun 01 2007

The Magic Mountain

Published by under Switzerland,Travel,Weird

The saga of Tuberculosis Andy — the guy who flew to Europe to get married but carried along with him a case of untreatable TB then snuck back into the country in a rent-a-car and disclosed that his dad works at the Center for Disease Control (where he works with TB, imagine that) — makes me hark to that unreadable doorstep of an existential novel, The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, where the hero/protagonist, Hans Castorp, wastes away in a Swiss sanitarium from ennui and consumption, going nowhere fast.
Hans was nowhere nearly as mobile, and indeed, was happy to sit around with a thermometer in his mouth. This flurry of news has the makings of a great thriller: border crossings, virulent untreatable diseases, government agencies. Mann wouldn’t know what to do with the plot.

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Feb 09 2007

Switzerland bans some GPS devices for speed camera warnings – Engadget

Switzerland bans some GPS devices for speed camera warnings – Engadget

Loyal reader Brian M. sends along this Engadget tidbit for the “Weird” “Swiss” tag. Nothing that happens in that bizarre country will ever surprise me. Still, I miss the place.

“On January 10th a law went into effect banning the use of a navigation device to warn of speed surveillance locations, and police now have the authority to stop drivers using their GPS units for such a purpose, confiscate and destroy the device and fine the driver — we hate to see what they do to people who read books and feel emotion. As far as we can tell, it’s not actually illegal to own such a device, just illegal to use it for such a nefarious purpose, but at the same time Swiss government has issued a list of “illegal” navigation systems for retailers to remove from their shelves, including devices from TomTom, Garmin, Mio, Navman, Medion, Route66, Packard Bell, Sony and ViaMichelin.”

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Dec 19 2006

The tyranny of testing

No one appreciates being typecast, but it’s part of the program to get tested, ranked, and labeled with some convenient label. The one that has irritated me for the past ten years — ever since the new HR lady at Forbes thought it would be a good idea — was the Myers-Briggs type indicator test. This was a topic of some casual conversations at McKinsey, where everyone is an utter over-achiever and accustomed to accumulating the kind of labels mere mortals gasp at: Rhodes Scholar, Baker Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa, even a Nobel prize winner or two.

The idea of identifying myself in a conversation as a ENTP is depressing and reduces me to a four-letter acronym, which, to some, is as revealing as saying I’m a Taurus and about as relevant.

Anyway, I digress. What got me on this screed was a recent radio show on Open Source, Christopher Lydon’s sometimes awesome evening NPR show, on the last art of cursive handwriting. My cursive simple sucks, wasted in the third grade at Perley Elementary School in Georgetown, Massachusetts when I completely failed the Palmer Method, was diagnosed as being a “false left-handed person” and then told to write with my right.

That didn’t work and hence I embarked on a lifetime as a writer thanks to my father giving me a typewriter at the age of nine so people could understand my written utterances.

Lydon’s guests included some calligraphy freaks, one of whom mentioned the European practice of using a handwriting analyst to examine a job candidate’s writing sample and deliver a report on that candidate’s applicability for the job. I ran into this practice when I worked in Zurich and got to know a fairly prominent head hunter for the banking industry. He thought it was second nature to request a writing sample and send it off for analysis — it made as much sense to me as asking an astrologer to cook up a horoscope and about as accurate. Granted, I can see a handwriting expert taking the stand to identify if a signature was genuine, but to predict behavior? If I had passed the Palmer Method, and wrote a perfect, controlled cursive script, then in theory I would be about as transparent as a human version of Courier 12.
The Wikipedia confirms my suspicion that handwriting analysis — aka Graphology — is about as relevant to predicting an individiual’s performance as the Myers-Briggs, only creepier.

My wife, who is expert in forging my signature, says she only has to rapidly write the words “Del Chunk” to achieve a reasonable facsimile.

7 responses so far

Dec 05 2006

Lunch over IP: The natural history of the @ sign

Lunch over IP: The natural history of the @ sign

Reading Bruno Giussani is a delight. This history of the “@” or “at” sign is a keeper. Bruno is my favorite Swiss blogger and info theory blogger out there.

“The precise birth date of e-mail is unknown, but technology historians set it somewhere in late 1971, when a then 30-year old American computer engineer, Ray Tomlinson, did what he unassuming calls “a quick hack”. He successfully sent the first electronic message from a computer to an account (his own account, in fact) on another computer.”

One response so far

Sep 07 2006

‘Goat-free roads made me speed’

BBC NEWS | Americas | ‘Goat-free roads made me speed’
In the Swiss Weirdness category:

“A Swiss man caught speeding on a Canadian highway has blamed his actions on the absence of goats on the roads.”

One response so far

Mar 02 2006

Lunch over IP: On the relative length of languages

Lunch over IP: On the relative length of languages

Bruno Giussani on the relative length of languages when translated. He points to an online translation forum that carried this nugget:

  • Spanish document: 25%-30% longer than the English source.
  • Finnish document: about 30% shorter than the English source.
  • Russian document: about 30% shorter than the English source (same for Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian)
  • From German into Finnish the character count decreases by 10% and the word count by 40%.
  • From German into Russian: about one-third more.
  • From German into English: about one-third shorter.
  • From Georgian into English: about 45-50% more.
  • From English into Estonian: about 30% fewer words.
  • French is 15-25% longer than English.

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Feb 19 2006

Embarassing Days on the Job

Three years ago I worked for an entrepreneur from Liechtenstein who was the chairman of an international charity devoted to preventing drug abuse by children. He hosted the annual trustees meeting at his Italian villa on Lake Lugano — right on the border between Italy and Switzerland — and invited me to attend so I could present the organization’s annual report.
Porto Ceresio
The trustees were a pretty powerful group of people — the President of Colombia, an ex-Formula One race car driver, a McKinsey director, Nino Cerutti (the men’s fashion designer), and assorted European royals, including the head of the charity, the Queen of Sweden.Having never met royalty, I fretted beforehand about the proper form of address one used when greeting a queen. Your Majesty? Your Royal Highness?Anyway, the meeting was held, a nice lunch was enjoyed, and by-and-by the Queen had to leave to fly out of Milan back to Stockholm. Everyone lined up in the hallway of the villa to say good-bye — a reverse receiving line — and I took my place next to Nino Cerutti, who had correctly identified my suit as being one of his, pointing out that it was off-the-rack (I didn’t have the heart to tell him I stole it for $200 from Filene’s Basement).
Her Majesty, Queen Silvia of SwedenThe Queen’s bodyguards went outside to check out the security situation as she made her way down the line of guests and said her goodbyes. As the security guys passed in front of me I took a step back to get out of the way. The Queen was three people away, two people away, said goodbye to Nino Cerutti and air-kissed him on the cheeks three times, then took my hand in both of her’s, looked me in the eyes, and told me what a pleasure it had been to meet me.

I got ready to say, “Thank you, your Highness” but I noticed something was very wrong with my back. Right below my right shoulder blade. Wrong and getting wronger.

I had backed into a candle on an iron sconce and set myself ablaze.

I let go of the Queen’s hand, and started to disrobe. Quickly. The smell of burning wool filled the hallway.

“Are you alright?” asked the Queen as I threw my coat on the floor and stomped out the flames. Nino Cerutti slapped out the flames on my burning shirt. “Quite alright,” I managed to say. The woman to my right, the daughter of the President of Colombia, was horrified. Out of sympathy, or nerves, she started crying. The Queen consoled her and I took the opportunity to put the suit coat back on before my boss could see my thermonuclear lapse in etiquette.

“I think you need a new suit,” Mr. Cerutti said.

Nino Cerutti

“Hook me up, Nino,” I replied. He never did, even though it was a Nino Cerutti suit.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my back to the wall. I still have pieces of the coat in the garage, serving as a bike chain degreaser as a reminder of my brush with royalty.

3 responses so far