Thursday morning, I got up early so I could reach the Gare de Lyon in time to take the 7:25 Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) to Geneva. The TGV is the French high-speed train, taking only three hours to get to Geneva, compared to six hours on a normal train and four on a plane (by the time you get to and from airports).
I soon found myself on the Rue de Mont Blanc in Geneva with plenty of time to spare before my long-awaited audience with Dr. Pekka Tarjanne, Secretary-General of the ITU. The purpose of my meeting was two-fold: to keep the standards server alive and lobby for further changes. This was the only day of the month he would be able to see me, hence the special visit.
Calling on people like the Secretary-General is a funny kind of affair. You typically get only a few minutes, most of which is spent in pleasantries, and I don’t ever expect much to be decided. Yet, it is a vital step to take in an international bureaucracy like the ITU.
First, I went up to the 12th floor to see Tony Rutkowski. While he finished sending out some mail messages, I wandered around his office looking at the stacks of paper lying all over the place. Occasionally, I would see multiple copies of some interesting report and grab a copy.
Meanwhile, Tony had assembled his own stack of paper for me, including copies of the slickly produced “Friends of Bruno” newsletter. The newsletter was rife with references to the Digital Resource Institute and “Project Leader Malamud.” This institute thing was certainly taking on a life of its own. Even worse, I had been stuck with a title. The only title I usually get is “Mister” (and even that is somewhat rarely employed).
Finally, the time came for the meeting with Dr. Tarjanne. Tony ushered me up to the 14th floor. Now, I’ve been in some impressive offices before, but this one certainly took the cake.
The secretary’s office and adjacent waiting rooms could easily have rented as a SF 15,000 (U.S. $10,000) per month apartment. The main office had a beautiful view of Lake Geneva and the Alps. It was lined with Persian rugs and was big enough to fit all 400 attendees at an IETF meeting.
Dr. Tarjanne came striding over from the other side of the office. While he walked over, I did mental calculations trying to figure out how many miles per day he must put in simply greeting visitors at each meeting.
Dr. Tarjanne was trained as a Finnish physicist. Active in politics, he rose to become head of the liberal party in Finland. As a member of the coalition government, he secured the appointment as head of Telecom Finland, the Finnish Telco and he was able, through an adroit political sense, to parlay that into his position at the ITU.
After reviewing the progress of Bruno and the 21 Sons of Bruno servers, we talked about the steps that would be needed to realize a truly global network that included developing countries and had a solid, well-managed infrastructure. Perhaps the ITU could play a role in helping that come about?
Tony and I then paid a similar visit to the Deputy Secretary-General to brief him on our visit with the Secretary-General. Mr. Jipguep, a former high official in Cameroon and considered the dean of the African telecommunications community, appeared to support the Bruno experiment.
Returning to Tony’s office, we discussed who I should meet and brief on my return visit back to the ITU the next week. I suggested to Tony that he call across the street and extend an offer to have me brief them on the “experiment.”
He called Mike Smith, an Irishman who heads up the information systems area. Tony relayed my offer, and hung up.
About five minutes later, Mike Smith called back. Tony listened for a minute and hung up the phone laughing.
“Larry Eicher very much wants to talk to you,” he said, “I said you’d be delighted.” Eicher was Secretary-General of ISO. I laughed and asked if I should bring my bulletproof tie.
I left Tony to take care of an important personal matter. No visit to Switzerland is ever complete without a stop at the Mercure chocolate shop. Picking up a nice assortment of champagne truffles, bittersweet bars filled with 90-proof Cognac, and various other forms of adult candy, I resisted the temptation to buy the 4.5 kilogram bar of Toblerone.
With the chocolate safely mailed back to the U.S., I took the TGV back to Paris, arriving after midnight at my hotel in Montparnasse. I ordered a taxi for 6, set my alarm for 5, packed my things, and went to sleep.