George Thaller: A life, told in anecdotes
Born on November 5, a Wednesday: Guy Fawkes day in the UK. Also born on a 5th of November were Hans Sachs and Rudolf Augstein. Hans Sachs is the cobbler poet, a craftsman in Nürnberg. Rudolf Augstein is – of course – the founding editor of the SPIEGEL, still the leading political magazine in Germany.
Has a child born under these stars a choice in life?
Childhood: A little town in Germany – it wasn’t Bonn
On the first day of school, my poor mother had more or less carry me to the classroom. Giving up the meadows, the creek and the woods in exchange for hours in class was not a bright prospect.
On the other hand, there was an opportunity to pay back. In such a small town with less than a hundred people, there were traditionally three authorities: The mayor, the vicar and the teacher. My grandfather had the only store in town. The teacher had one weakness: he liked to smoke cigars, and his wife wasn’t generous with money. So he bought his cigars on credit. When the teacher was in the shop – and a curious farmer as well – I would ask: „Are the cigars from the last order already paid, grandfather?“
The farmer looked puzzled, the teacher seemed surprised, and my grandfather looked in the book. The teacher paid his debt.
Moving into the city
The move from a little town in the countryside to Nürnberg, a city of half a million people, was an even greater shock to me. Learning English in high school wasn’t particularly difficult, but boring. Hunting the fox? I had my doubts. Had the British nothing better to do?
Anyway, a just sat there and listened. Until the day when the teacher offered 50 Pfennig for answering the next question. All of a sudden, I was interested and raised my hand. The rest of the class was amused.
The years in Berlin
I studied in Berlin when the city still was divided by a wall. During the third semester, I discovered a computer in the basement, a ZUSE Z25. Pretty soon I was hooked.
Heinrich Rötscher, one of the teachers, had a problem. He constructed specialised slight rules for air conditioning applications on the side. For these calculations, he needed the Colebrook equation. Unfortunately, this equation could only be solved by trial and error. A perfectly fitting task for a computer.
First trials with a few numbers showed that the program in ALGOL 60 would run for two weeks on the ZUSE 25. Though I was a tutor at the time, they would not give me the computer for that amount of time. The solution: Assembler.
Jobs and career
Working as a craftsman didn‘t really appeal to me, so I found my way to an oil refinery in Ingolstadt, half way between Nürnberg and Munich. At the time, refineries had to make money. The board soon named me the person to save energy (Energiesparkommisar).
I found a way to save money and proposed it to the board of directors on a postcard. A piece of software, less than one page long. The pay back: Three to four month.
In 1979, these managers of VW in Wolfsburg had money to spend. Heinz Nixdorf did not want to sell, so they acquired TRIUMPH ADLER in Nürnberg. At the time, they produced typewriters.
Computers were the way to go. My task was to test the operating system and the software. Years later, I wrote a book about this experience. I was rather successful: I found the errors in the software before our customers could find them.
TA wasn’t really up to the competition from the US and Asia. So I joined Diehl’s ammunition division. In 1984, they just had won a competition with partners from the US, the UK and France. Software development was in Florida. I happily took the next flight.
While smart ammunition means software at its core, and we indeed would hit the target, the fall of the Berlin wall changed it all: I moved on to write trade books, to give lectures and work as an auditor in connection with ISO 9001.
You can’t fight history, can you?