Monday, December 28, 2009

Airline Security - My Take

I do a fair amount of travelling as part of my job. I've been in and out of foreign airports (including Lagos) and my name (not ME) was once on the no fly list. (It was fun to watch the expressions of the gate agent when checking me in. Some would go white in the face until they verified that I wasn't the guy on the list) I think I can speak with some experience about the recent airline security issue.

Think back to 9/11. The hijackers gained access to a major airport by first passing through security at a small regional airport. When they got to Boston, they were considered to be secure and no further screenings were done.

This guy passed through security in Lagos - an airport whose security is notoriously poor (there used to be warnings about security there at all of the other airports in the world). Once he got to Amsterdam, he was passed on through to his connecting flight.

Do you see the similarities here? The problem exists when passengers transiting between flights in a secure area of the airport ARE ASSUMED TO HAVE BEEN PROPERLY SCREENED!

I have made connections all over the world, and while there is usually a x-ray machine, the screening is not nearly as thorough as the initial screening I received at my departure point. Therefore, if the screening at the departure point is poorly done, the chances are good that someone could pass any further screening.

FWIW, my recommendations are that all passengers transiting from airports with known poor security should receive extra screening before boarding their connecting flight. Airlines should allow more time for connecting flights to allow for the extra time in security screening.

That makes more sense than restricting my access to urinary facilities prior to landing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Travels of Red Dog

Hi! My name is Red Dog. Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa take me along when they travel. Grandpa took me to Korea with him.

I like Korea but the hotel was weird. Lots of mirrors on the wall. Grandpa said it was a place for Monkey Business. Here's a picture of me sending an email to Grandma.














I really liked the bath tub, although it was too small for Grandpa. Here's a picture of me enjoying a bath in the jacuzzi. After a nice hot bath, I like to enjoy the vibrating bed.





























I like Korean food, too but there are somethings that I will NOT eat!










On the way home, our flight was cancelled and we had to spend the night in Tokyo. While Grandpa was handling the problems, I was meditating at the Zen sand garden.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Freedom Bird FAIL

I left Seoul for Tokyo and the cross Pacific hop. The notice board said "New Date"next to my flight connection. I thought it was a Japanese mis-translation for "New Gate", but I was wrong. The plane was not there due to mechanical problems in Houston and we then stood in line at the connection desk waiting for the airline to make new reservations. After about 2 hours I button holed a supervisor to ask what was going on and could they make a general announcement. I was told that the flight would leave tomorrow and that they would put us up in a hotel for the night. OK, but since we have to enter Japan no, could you pass out the entry forms for us to fill out while we wait? Three hours later, I finally get to the hotel. In short, the whole episode was poorly handled by people who are supposed to be the most organized in the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Freedom Bird

My mal-adjusted internal clock woke me up in the wee hours of the AM. But as I am catching the Freedom Bird at noon, and want to sleep on the plane, I stayed up reading and web surfing. How I managed to stay awake for 2 days of meetings, most of which dealt with structural engineering esoterica, in a hot and cramped meeting room, is beyond me. And why they had us sit through two presentations, one on architectural concepts and another on landscape design, both given in Korean without translation, is also beyond me.

The meetings reminded me of my past experience with Korean engineering firms. They are great at analysis but short on concept. If you give them a basic design, they can analyze it until their calculator burns up, but if you give them a blank sheet of paper and ask for fresh ideas, they get that panicky deer in the headlights look. The architectural concepts were basically copies of another design. Variations on a theme, if you will. (they are designing a flood gate, and as it is 3 football fields long, they want it to look pretty)

I have to prepare some documents on the mechanical lift systems for them over Christmas and then return in mid-January for a follow up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm Heeeere!

I have arrived at my hotel in Seoul. There's a reason that western businessmen frequent the popular chains. The hotel room is small. There is no closet, only a couple of hooks and some hangers on the wall. Everything is in Korean so I needed a tutorial to be able turn on the lights. The room is hot but as it's winter, the air con is turned off. I can fit in the tub if I hug my knees. The TV is all Korean. I haven't trried to make an international phone call yet. That is next.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Travel Plans

I usually make my own travel reservations. Just tell me where I need to be and when I need to be there and I will make the arrangements. That way, I know it has been done, I have all the confirmation numbers and if something is wrong, I have only myself to blame.

But the client for this Korea trip wants us to stay at a hotel nearby the office in Anyang-Si, a small city abutting Seoul. Unfortunately, there are no international hotels in the area. The first hotel they tried did not have room so they booked us into the second choice. I went to their website to look them up. It appears to be some sort of a Love Hotel. The interior decor is waaaay over the top. The decorations are garish red and gold, the rooms all have Jacuzzis and large screen TVs. I doubt that the staff speaks much English and I didn't see a business center or executive lounge anywhere in their information. Check them out here.

There is a meeting this afternoon about the trip. I'll let you know if I am successful in changing the arrangements.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ROK Bound

I received a panicked phone call last Wednesday while I was driving home.

"We have a client that wants someone in Korea next week. Can you go? He needs to know tonight!"

Well, of course I can go. That's what we troubleshooters do. It took them several days to iron out the contract terms but approval was given yesterday. So, this weekend, I am on the big bird for the trip to Korea, Republic of. Purpose of the trip is to attend a kick off meeting for the design of probably the worlds largest lift gate for flood prevention. The turnaround is quick. I will probably spend more time in the air than I will in the meeting.

The beginning of this week was taken up with Hazard Identification meetings on my other project. The client is replacing 5 motor drives with the same units that Cajun is having so much fun with. The biggest hazard? Working on, and around, cables carrying 4160 V as they swap out individual drives while the others are running. Discussions were very detailed and filled with stuff only an electrical type would love. Boredom ensued. Sleep was fought but I used the time to read up on the Korean gig.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pelosi's Stamp Act

Nancy Pelosi supports a global transaction fee, first proposed by Gordon Brown (the wanker!), that would add a 0.25% tax to securities transactions. Want to cash in some of your 401K? Pay a tax. Want to buy some stock? Pay a tax.

Go look up HR 4191.

It seems she forgot the Stamp Act of 1765 and the near riots that caused. It also led to the American Revolution. I wonder how Nancy would look in Tar and Feathers?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Finland!

On this day in 1917, Finland declared its independence from Russia and the Czar. About one month later, the country erupted into a 5 month civil war between the Whites and the Reds. 37,000 died in the conflict.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Engineer Shooters Wanted

I opened my email this morning to find this notice from ASME's International Petroleum Technology Institute. Its a fund raising event for scholarships and such and sounds as if there will be a lot of shooty fun. So if you are going to be in the Houston area around 22 Jan, you might want to put together a team and go shoot.

Ya gotta love the oil field!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sounds Heard In The Sea

There is a very cool web site out there dealing with Sounds Heard In The Sea.

When I was in Grad School, I had to take 2 semesters of underwater acoustics. The first semester was OK but the second semester we learned how to use mathematical algorithms to steer a sound beam. I got so sick of Chebyshev Polynomials I almost gagged. But this web site is a great introduction and has sound samples. Enjoy

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mary's Price

Harry Reid: “Mary, would you vote for the bill for $300 million?”
Mary Landrieu: “Well, I’d certainly have to think about it, Harry.”
Harry Reid: “Would you vote for the bill for $100 million?”
May Landrieu: “Harry, certainly not, what kind of Senator do you think I am?”
Harry Reid: “We’ve already established that. We are merely negotiating the price.”

(Apologies to George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill, who are both credited with this dialog.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shooting Skeet

video

I received this note in response to the video:

"In my Alabama National Guard days I trained as a gunner on M-42 tanks. Target practice was shooting at metal sleeves pulled by remote controlled aircraft. We had a ball. One day there were 30 tanks lined up on the firing line but only one battery (5 tanks) firing at a time. Range control knew those farm boys in my battery were good so didn't give us permission to fire until the other batteries had two firing sessions each. None of them touched the target. When they finally gave our battery fire permission the first tank took out the target sleeve immediately after it came in range. One of the other 4 tank crews being pissed at not getting even one shot took out the plane. It crashed into the woods starting a fire and we had to fight fire the rest of the day. The next day we didn't get to fire at all for punishment for taking out the drone."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Glenfiddich is Gaelic for Valley of the Deer. It is a Highland Single Malt where the distillery, located NW of Aberdeen, has been in business since 1886. The 18 year old version is aged in Spanish Oloroso and American Oak.

Color: bronze, coppery
Nose: estery
Palate: intense, somewhat abrasive initially
Body: silky, light texture
Finish: short and drying

I like Glenfiddich. It is easy to find. Most restaurants will carry it thinking they are showing customers that they have some unique scotches in their bar. But the 18 year old is probably a good example of older isn't necessarily better when it comes to scotch. I have had some 10 and 12 year olds that I prefer to their older brothers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ObamaCare Preview

The recent recommendations concerning mammograms by the US Preventative Services Task Force (who??) is sending shock waves through the population. What you have just seen is a preview of health care under Obama, Pelosi and Reid.

The USPSTF was formed in 1984 to "evaluate the benefits of individual services based on age, gender, and risk factors for disease; make recommendations about which preventive services should be incorporated routinely into primary medical care and for which populations; and identify a research agenda for clinical preventive care." What this means is that they will make recommendations for which medical tests should be done for disease prevention. (note the age, gender, and risk caveat)

This is the death panel you were warned about that Obama said didn't exist.

Why do they want to reduce the number of mammograms? Because, regardless of what Obama said about preventative medicine being less expensive, the cost of all those mammograms is more than the cost of treating cancer for a few. It's a financial decision, folks, and you are the lab rats.

If the health care bill is passed, government insurance will not pay for tests that are not recommended by the USPSTF. In order to keep within cost parameters, private insurance will follow suit. And what you have is a de facto death panel deciding what medical test you can take given your age, gender and risk factors. Want a test? Either fight with the system or pay for it yourself on the black market.

Follow the link above to learn more about the USPSTF, and then write your Senator and Congresscritter. You can download ALL their recommendations and read about the study that led to their decision on mammograms. (hint: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama and the Bow

Obama's bow to the Emperor of Japan is getting a lot of play. Most folks seem to think that its a simple gaffe and of no consequence. But what they don't realize is that all of the President's actions (or non actions) have consequences.

The bow in Japan is a formal greeting and has many rules. Generally, those of lesser rank bow lower and longer to those of higher rank. The bow becomes more than a greeting but also is a marker for your place in the social structure of the organization. Equals may give shallow bows to each other , or even head nods. Someone apologizing for something will give a low bow, bending from the waist almost 90 degrees, or even kneel on the floor with his head touching the floor. Obama's bow was a bow of apology. And you can bet that other nations saw it and took note.

If you want to read the ultimate treatise on how Asia thinks, read "How Communists Negotiate", by Adm Turner Joy. He faced the NKs for two years at Panmunjom. Even the smallest thing can have significance. You can bet that the ChiComs saw his bow and realized that he was weak , subservient and that they would hold the upper hand in any discussions.

Now you have to ask yourself, is it smart to go into talks with China with the perception that you are weak?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Finnish War Movies

Tali - Ihantala 1944
Directors: Ake Lindman and Sakari Kirjavainen
Release Date: December 2007

This movie is based on one of the final battles of the Continuation War of Russia against Finland. It was the largest battle ever fought in the Nordic countries and guaranteed Finlands survival as an independent country. It can be found in 11 parts on You Tube, with subtitles. The link is here.

The battle took place concurrently with the Normandy invasion when Russia attacked down the Karelian isthmus to the city of Viipori. The Finns asked for help for Germany and they provided a few troops and supplies. The Russians demanded unconditional surrender from the Finns. They refused - and eventually gained a defensive victory. In the meantime, Germany had demanded that Finland fight on in order to guarantee continued support. (they needed Finland to keep some of the Russian army busy) President Ryti agreed personally, knowing that he would soon resign and be replaced by Mannerheim, who then disavowed the agreement and made a separate agreement with Russia in July, 1944 when the Russians pulled their troops back to fight Germany.

(The tightrope that Ryti and Mannerheim walked with Germany during WW II is a lesson in diplomacy and makes for interesting reading)

This movie is interesting for its use of German vehicles, notably, STUG assault guns. It was nominated for a best picture and three other Jussi Awards.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Light, Red Light

Recently, several red light cameras have been installed in the area. The police claim that their purpose is to prevent accidents and save lives, but most folks suspect the real reason is to generate revenue. A recent news article supports that premise.

CBS news in Los Angeles made a study of accidents at intersections where red light cameras were installed. The police claim a 34% reduction in accidents. But unlike the police statistics, which just counted accidents from people running red lights, CBS included ALL accidents, including rear end collisions when a driver tried to stop to avoid the camera generated ticket.

In analyzing the accidents at 32 intersections and comparing a period of 6 months before cameras to the 6 months after camera installation, they found that accidents actually increased at 20 of those intersections. For 3 intersections, the number of accidents remained the same. It was only 9 intersections that showed a decrease. In fact, at three intersections, the number of accidents tripled during the study period.

If you are going to LA soon, you might want to avoid the intersections on this map.

By the way, the cameras generated $4 million for the city. Most contracts for red light cameras involve a third party contractor who installs and maintains the cameras for a cut of the action. What is unknown is how much the contractor made from the cameras.

I wonder how long it will be before someone tries to use the argument that the cameras were the cause of his accident and injuries, especially if he was rear ended by the car behind? Morris Bart, are you paying attention?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ocean Policy

It probably escaped everyones notice that President Obama issued a memorandum to form the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force back in June. This policy making group is lead by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (and one of his czars)

Well, the Task Force has issued an interim report and 68 of our congressmen are at odds with it claiming it leans too far in environmental policy and not enough in economic policy, especially recovery of hydrocarbons.

A copy of the letter this bi-partisan group sent to the task force can be found here.

A link to the web page for the task force, including a link to sent in public comments, is here.

I encourage you to read the report and offer comments. At least take a moment and scan the list of commenters and see if you agree with what they say. Be warned, this task force is the group that will set ocean policy in this administration, and developing offshore mineral resources is not a priority for them.

While you are pondering that, bear in mind that the MMS, who oversees oil development in the federal OCS, and collects royalties from the oil companies, is the second largest source of money to the federal government after the IRS. That's oil money!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Road Trip!

Made a road trip to Houston this past weekend to attend the retirement dinner for a colleague from the Flying Red Pony Oil Company, now the Tiger Horse Oil Company. Its a lot more fun going to retirement dinners than funerals and I've done a few of those this year, too. It was good to see guys I haven't seen in a while and do a little catch up over a free steak dinner.

There may be some more of them in my future as well. You see, the company announced a change in the discount factor they use to calculate a retirees retirement benefit and it wasn't to the positive. Guys close to retirement found that their retirement benefit, and most of them take it in a lump sum, would be severely affected. The company processed ten times more retirement packages than normal after that announcement.

After we had a few laughs remembering his career, he spoke about his first jobs out of college and how the oil industry back then had a tendency to throw people into the deep end and see if they could swim. He told about being given charge of projects that were probably over his head and of ordering up offshore platform design and construction with a phone call. He talked about putting together a production facility from surplus parts because time was of the essence. All of us in the room had similar experiences - we had to meld an engineering education with field experience gained on the job to obtain a successful result - but we somehow managed to muddle through. But the drive to "get things done" never left us. Nowadays, the world is run by "processes" and regulations. There is a process and a procedure and a regulation for everything, and it is long and laborious. That is why, when someone needs something to happen, they call guys like me and my ex co-workers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finnish War Movies

Talvisota (The Winter War), 1989
Director: Pekka Parikka

I stumbled upon Finnish war movies when doing a little research on the Winter War. This was the first movie I “discovered”. I found it on YouTube where you can watch it in 10 minute increments. The link is here.

This movie is the story of two brothers who go to fight the Russians during the Winter War. Russia, taking advantage of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, decided to expand their territory. After capturing Eastern Poland and the Baltic States, they invaded the Finnish Karelian Isthmus in November of 1939. Finland, having only recently obtained independence, fought to keep them out although they were outnumbered almost 3 to 1.

The movie focuses on Karelia and depicts what is mostly trench warfare between poorly equipped soldiers. (The slashing strikes with ski troops took place further north in Finland.) This is where the Molotov Cocktail was perfected as it was the only means the Finns had of stopping Russian armor. Though lacking the glamour of ski troops, the movie captures a realistic representation of trench warfare in winter. The filming logistics must have been difficult as they filmed on location during the winter. There are also plenty of pyrotechnics to satisfy those who like explosions. The only concession to special effects was that the airplanes were all models.

Subtitled in English, the movie captures the cynical humor that is typical of the Finns. In one scene, a soldier running to shelter during a particularly fierce shelling is asked by another what he is doing out in such “bad weather”. And throughout the movie, the soldiers refer to Russians as “the neighbors”, giving the impression that the war is nothing more than a simple disagreement between two farmers or a social event.

The movie won 7 Finnish film awards in 1990 including Best Director, Best Music Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. After the move was released, the director, Pekka Parikka, was invited to work in Hollywood. He stayed there for two years but could not find a script he liked. (He turned down “The Firm”) He died in 1997.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Urban Archeology

Today I did some urban archeology. Unfortunately, the buildings had only been abandoned a little longer than 4 years. A group of us made a field trip to look at some buildings that are going to be demolished. It will be our job to write the specifications for the demolition work and to do so, we had to get some ground truth. This meant a sweaty couple of hours walking around in buildings that were trashed by Katrina and have not been all that water tight for the last four years. Its just one of the things that they never told you about in engineering school.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Senate Roll Call Vote 305

The Senate is discussing Dept of Defense appropriations. Sen McCain wanted to add the following amendment last Thursday:

Sec. __. (a) Testimony Before Congress on Meeting United States Objectives on Afghanistan and Pakistan.--The officials specified subsection (b) shall each be made available, by not later than November 15, 2009, to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of Congress regarding recommendations for additional forces and resources required to achieve the objectives of United States policy with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan stated pursuant to section 1117(a) of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 (Public Law 111-32; 123 Stat. 1907).
(b) Officials.--The officials specified in this subsection are the following:
(1) The Commander of the United States Central Command.
(2) The Commander of the United States European Command and Supreme Allied Command, Europe.
(3) The Commander of United States Forces-Afghanistan.
(4) The United States Ambassador to Afghanistan


Hmmmm, seems like this might have forced POTUS to state an objective for his plans for Afghanistan. Can't have that! The vote was as you might guess, right down party lines, 40 - 59, 1 not voting, the Nays have it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Green Schemes

I had a couple of things come across my desk recently. They were electrical power generation ideas developed by entrepreneur - inventors who were seeking some engineering assistance or wanted us to incorporate them into a facility. The business development guy kicked them down to me for comment.

Let me start by saying one thing:

You Cannot Disobey the First Law of Thermodynamics.

The First Law states, very simply, that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed.

Yes, I may be a Luddite in that I refuse to recognize the genius of your invention/machine/idea and stick with the old ways but I have never been mislead by the First Law and I won't ignore now on the pain of going to Engineering Hell. And your case isn't helped when you quote power generating capacities that don't make sense and are in units that don't exist. And how much sense does it make to capture the kinetic energy in the pressure from a natural gas well by expanding it in a mechanical device when there are oodles more energy available if you just burn the stuff?

And a video of your machine just chugging along with no load on it and no voice over describing how it works and what is happening just does not do it for me. You should try selling it to the Shark Tank or the Dragons Den.

And for that reason, I'm out!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Senate Roll Call Vote 295

There was a vote in the Senate yesterday that has gone unnoticed but may have a big effect on your life. David Vitter introduced an amendment to HR 2996, the funding bill for the Dept of Interior, Environment and other agencies that would prohibit the Climate Change Czar, Carol Browner, from directing any activities of the agencies funded by the act. To me, that seems reasonable. Carol Browner has not been approved by any Senate confirmation process so why should she have any power to direct federal agencies? Well, in a partisan vote, Senator Vitter's amendment was tabled. The voting record is here. Carol Browner's resume, along with the resumes of her fellow czars, can be found here.

Folks, this is why you will wake up one day and find that everything has changed and you won't know how it happened. You will not hear about this vote on the news but it could have grave consequences for the country, the economy and your life. Your freedoms will be taken from you in pieces so small that you will never know it happened. They will be taken in obscure votes such as this one until what you thought was your government is no longer there. If you trust our president to give power to people that evade a vetting and approval process, then you are probably OK with this situation. I am not!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Winter War (Talvisota)





This documentary describes the little known war between Russia and Finland in the winter of 1939 called "The Winter War" or, in Finnish, "Talvisota". Its an interesting period of history. It shows how the Russian were out fought by a much smaller, but much more dedicated army in winter conditions. The Russian's poor showing in this war helped to convince Hitler to attack Russia.


Its personally interesting to me because my grandparents on my mother's side emmigrated from Finland back in 1901. That was a period when Russia was trying to take over the newly independent country which caused a wave of people to leave. Mother always hated the Russians and she didn't like it when I was traveling over there.


I hope you enjoy this video. The battle scenes come from a 1989 Finnish movie titled "Talvisota".

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monkey Wrench Firmly Inserted

I was called in recently to review plans for a cooling system for a large variable frequency drive. Sparkys (Electrical Engineers to the lay man) have been working on this for months, both here and across the pond in Deutschland. The cooling system uses de-ionized water which is pumped around the circuits and out to a fin fan cooler located outside the building. It will be located offshore Louisiana. After a short review, I asked the question:

"How do you prevent the cooling water from freezing in the winter?"

Dead silence. Deer in the Headlights looks all around. It never occurred to the ohhh so detail oriented Germans that the air temperature in the GOM can get below freezing, but it can. And the design basis required low temperature operation as well. Sparkys are now scrambling to retrofit a fix.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Liar? and Eating Politicians

Two curmudgeons from Downeast Maine were surveying the landscape when one turned to the other and said, "What d'ya think of that new man down your way? Would you call him an honest man or a liah?"

"Well, I woudn't go so far as to call him a liah, but when he want his cows to come in from pastyah, he's got to get someone else to call 'em!"

(adapted from "Bert and I")


Two crocodiles were sitting at the side of the swamp near the lake. The smaller croc turned to the bigger one and said, "I can't understand how you can be so much bigger than me. We're the same age; we were the same size as kids. I just don't get it."

"Well," said the big croc, "what have you been eating?"

"Politicians, same as you," replied the small croc. "Hmm. Well, where do you catch them?"

"Down the other side of the swamp near the parking lot by the capitol."

"Same here. Hmm. How do you catch them?"

"Well, I crawl up under one of their Lexus cars and wait for one to unlock the car door. Then I jump out, grab them by the leg, shake the shit out of them and eat 'em!"

"Ah!" says the big crocodile, "I think I see your problem. You're not getting any real nourishment. See, by the time you finish shaking the shit out of a politician, there's nothing left but an asshole and a briefcase."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ACORN = STUPID

The Senate today voted to eliminate funding for ACORN from the appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. An organization as stupid as ACORN has demonstrated that it is too stupid to handle large amounts of money. They are so stupid that even our representatives in Washington recognized ACORN's stupidity.

Think about it - a guy dressed like a bad caricature of a pimp walks into your office and starts asking advice on how to get a government loan to open a house of prostitution and you take him seriously???? So seriously, in fact, that you offer advice on how to skirt the rules on what is obviously an illegal activity. And this happens not once, not twice, but THREE times that we know of? That is the very definition of stupid! On an institutional scale.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

That Was Then.....

Sen. Obama on March 16, 2006

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America's debt problem.

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies.

Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is "trillion" with a "T." That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President's budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion

....................................

Our debt also matters internationally.

My friend, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, likes to remind us that it took 42 Presidents 224 years to run up only $1 trillion of foreign-held debt. This administration did more than that in just 5 years. Now, there is nothing wrong with borrowing from foreign countries. But we must remember that the more we depend on foreign nations to lend us money, the more our economic security is tied to the whims of foreign leaders whose interests might not be aligned with ours.

Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that "the buck stops here." Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit.

Now he needs the Senate to vote to increase the federal debt limit beyond $12.1 trillion. Ohhhh, the irony!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Les Petit Garcons

Oldest grandson's culinary skills are improving. When I came home the other day, he was in the kitchen with my wife and her mother and they were cooking up a storm. The three of them spanned 4 generations and some 70 years but they found common ground in the kitchen. He has become a very good scratch baker. His younger brothers are usually eager to sample the fruits of his labor whether it be red velvet cake, muffins or chocolate chip cookies. The next project is a series of pies: apple, pumpkin and cherry. With scratch made pie crust.

Middle grandson is scary smart. According to his standardized tests last year, he reads at above a high school senior level. He's 9! I believe he has a photographic memory. If he sees something once, he has it forever. He is now reading a Ronald Reagan biography.

Youngest grandson is dealing with some kindergarten angst. His girlfriend refuses to marry him until he is eight. I commiserate as only another man can in such a situation.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Miscellaneous History Stuff

On this day in 1899, a Stanley Steamer reached the summit of Mount Washington (elevation 6,288 feet) in New Hampshire. Those who know physics will understand the basic problem: the boiling temperature of water is lower at the higher altitude resulting is a less power from the steam boiler. The auto road has not been improved since those days.

In 1888, Jack the Ripper claims his first victim.

1997: Princess Diana dies in Paris. If you are a numerologist, her car crashed against the 13 pillar in tunnel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Law is Merely a Suggestion

One of the things that drives me crazy about liberals is their penchant for changing the rules when they realize that they may be on the losing side of the law. The latest example of that is Ted Kennedy.

As Ted feels the cold, clammy hand of the reaper on his throat, he wants to change the Massachusetts succession laws that define how his replacement will be selected. The law requires that an election be held with 5 months after the office becomes vacant. This isn't good enough for Ted. He has written a letter asking that the law be changed so that the Governor can name an immediate, although temporary, replacement. You see, his favorite subject, health care, may be in jeopardy if he dies and cannot vote from the grave.

But lets back up a few years. Back in 2004, the law was that the Governor could name a replacement to a vacant Senate seat. But the Governor then was Mit Romney, a Republican. And the Senate seat belonged to John Kerry. The Democratic state legislature therefore changed the law to allow for an election and prevent Mit from appointing a replacement. Little did they know that the law might come back to bite them.

So, if Ted kicks the bucket, there will be no one to fill his seat until an election is held, and his favorite political issue may go to the grave with him. Irony is sweet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blue Dog or Scared Puppy

I've been waiting for my congresscritter, Charlie Melancon, to announce a town hall meeting. Joseph Cao has had one and has scheduled several more. Senator David Vitter is also scheduling meetings. But I have yet to hear anything from Charlie. I called his DC office today and they told me that he probably would not have any. I told them I was extremely disappointed in him. (and he calls himself a Blue Dog)

I then called my other Senator, Mary Landrieu. I was told she was going to have one later in the month. Probably just in time to go back to Washington.

Color me disappointed, but not surprised.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve

Glenlivet is a Speyside scotch and one of the oldest distilleries dating from 1824. This scotch is aged in French Oak casks. It does make a difference.

Color: gold
Nose: citrus, fruit
Palate: gentle, smooth
Body: light
Finish: smooth, soothing

This is a great scotch for the beginner as it has absolutely no trace of harshness.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hiroshima History

It is a little known fact that American POWs were in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. While the numbers vary, 12 seems to be the count that most agree with. They were from the air crews of the bombers "Lonesome Lady" and "Taloa", two planes that were on a bombing mission to Kure on July 28. The pilot of the "Lonesome Lady", T.C. Cartwright, was sent to Tokyo for interrogation on August 1, leaving his crew behind. He didn't tell his story until the 70's. A short version can be found here. There is also a book written by a Japanese historian that confirms the story. A link to a book review is here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Little Rhody Weekend

My wife and I went up to Newport, RI for a wedding this past weekend. I also got the chance to re-connect with some cousins that I don't see very often so, all around, it was a good weekend, if a little hectic at times.

Some observations along the way:

The reception was held at a private beach club. The wait staff was mostly young people from Eastern Europe - Poland, to be specific. Now, with unemployment running at over 9%, do we still need to import Eastern Europeans for service jobs?

We flew Southwest Airlines. It's been years since I've flown with them. The 737s on all four legs of our trip were full. Not almost full - FULL. No more seats available. In a recession! Clearly, they are doing something right. In a casual conversation with a seat mate. he told us that he commuted from DC to home on weekends with Southwest because they were cheaper than that government run institution known as AMTRAK.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Be Kind to Dogs

Sabra has a post about an Iraqi dog that was saved by a US serviceman.

It reminded me of the shipyard in Astrakhan, Russia where I worked back in 1999. The yard was over run with dogs. They had been sorta adopted by the shipyard workers but they received no veterinary care and little food. These Russian shipyard dogs led a hard life. Very little food and lots of disease. They were the most miserable looking things I have ever seen. And, like loose dogs everywhere, they bred more of their kind.

The puppies were cute as could be and would visit our construction trailers often. Some of the guys made it a policy not to feed them. "Give them food and they'll just keep coming around", they would say. But I thought about how my favorite niece would feel if her Uncle PE ignored these little critters.

Besides, the breakfast bag the hotel gave us was usually some sort of mystery meat on a bun. Most of the time it was tongue. (There's nothing so tasty as a tongue sandwich for breakfast) So I would open the window, whistle a couple of times and share my breakfast with the puppies.

It is my belief that people that abuse animals are reincarnated as dogs in a Russian shipyard.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Death of the US Oil and Gas Industry IV

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementing HR 2454, otherwise known as the 2009 Clean Energy and Security Bill, or Cap and Trade to you and me, will cost an additional $846,000,000,000 (that's 846 Billion dollars) in new taxes. Seems I remember the Big "O" saying something about reducing taxes but maybe I was dreaming. This bill is out of committee so its probably a good time to write your Congresscritter about it. More news here.

And the Washington Post, hardly a conservative rag, has something to say about it here. Did you know that it would allow the feds to dictate building codes? Thinking about building a new house soon?

And there's more bad news about the federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing that I wrote about earlier. The American Petroleum Institute estimates that if it is passed, it will reduce domestic production by more than 20%. Wasn't there campaign talk about energy being a matter of national security? How is decreasing domestic production going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Saudi Spin

Sometimes the news takes on a different spin when reported by other countries. For example, the Saudi press put a special spin on the meeting between Big "O" and King Abdullah. In their reporting, the King issued an "ultimatum" to Obama concerning the Palestinians. He said that that issue was also the "magic key" to all other problems in the region. The Saudi press reported that "King Abdullah told President Obama that the United States was not taking part seriously enough in solutions proposed to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict"

That's a little different from what the MSM reported back to the USA. Of course, they were under a few restrictions on their reporting that Obama and Hillary agreed to ahead of time.

To read the story, go here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Death of the US Oil and Gas Industry III

Obama's 2010 budget contains changes to the tax code that are targeted at domestic oil and gas companies. They are not beneficial to the industry. The net effect will be that oil companies will change the way they analyse a prospect and marginal wells will be cut from the program. Net result will be a decrease in domestic production, more reliance on foreign oil and a loss of good paying jobs. Of course, the Big "O" will tell you that production and jobs will be replaced with green energy - a technology that we have yet to develop because the economics of it can't compete with oil and gas. There will be no "bridge" or gradual movement from hydrocarbons to green energy. We will be forced into it by changing a few simple tax laws.

The public will not even know that these tax laws changed because they are buried deep in the 2010 budget. Go here for more details.

Friday, June 5, 2009

History, Rewritten Again

In BHO's speech from Cairo the other day he stated that a Muslim nation was the first to recognize the US in the Treaty of Tripoli.

What he neglected to say was that the treaty was made because the US had to make protection payments to the Barbary pirates to prevent them from hijacking our ships. (We didn't have a navy at the time so we were forced to pay tribute to the Muslims.) The treaty went south when the Pasha of Tripoli demanded an increase in payments to Jefferson (Thomas, not Dollar Bill). This led to the First Barbary War in 1801 and the inclusion of that "shores of Tripoli" line in the Marine Hymn.

The lesson of that bit of history is that appeasement didn't work. It didn't work for John Adams and it won't work for BHO.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Head, errr, Tail Count



The final count is in. Over 334,000 nutria have been harvested in this years hunt. The Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries pays $5 per tail. The story is here.

Seems like they could combine this hunting program with the food stamp program. That's a lot of tasty nutria meat, and several nice fur coats.

Death of the US Oil and Gas Industry II

As I said earlier, the industry will be killed by a bunch of legislative verbiage that never reaches the public's attention. Here's another example.

They want to regulate fracturing of wells. Wells are fractured in order to open passages for the flow of oil. It is done by pumping fluid, usually a clear drilling fluid with acid, into the well until the rock fractures. It is a highly technical process and is best regulated by those who are familiar with the local geology - not congresscritters in DC. Most of these wells are drilled far below the level that water wells are drilled to and these strata are protected behind casing.

The increased cost of compliance will force companies to abandon wells early or call some wells as non-commercial that could be producing.

Folks, unless you read the Federal Register every day, you will have no idea what is happening until it is too late.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Death of the US Oil and Gas Industry

Ten years from now, when you are paying $10 for a gallon gasoline and there is no domestic production, you will look around and wonder, “What happened to the US oil industry?” The House Committee on Natural Resources is drafting a bill that will start us on the process of killing the domestic oil and gas industry. The public wont even know it is happening because the cause of its demise will be buried in legislative verbiage. A good summary of the situation can be found here.

Here is my take on a couple of the issues.

Merging the BLM and MMS - They are two separate organizations that have unique requirements. Offshore oil and gas, which the MMS regulates, requires specific knowledge of a technology that doesn’t exist for onshore wells. There is no economy of scale to be gained by merging them. Merging them is a bad idea. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Shortening the lease period to 5 years – This totally ignores the hurdles that companies have to jump in order to start drilling or construction of a production facility. It is possible to take 5 years just to get the permits required. Offshore leases are even worse given the fact that often the technology to drill in deep water may not exist when the lease is purchased. The technology and procedures have to be developed at a tremendous expense. I think companies will just stop buying leases if they are restricted to a 5 year lease term.

No discharge offshore – The offshore industry has been subjected to ever tightening environmental regulations. Numerous studies have been done, at industry expense, to measure the effects of the discharge of produced water on marine life. There have not been any findings showing that these discharges have a deleterious effect on benthic organisms. The EPA monitors this issue very closely. Going to zero discharge will increase the cost of development to the point where a marginal lease will not be economic.

Production Incentive Fee – It sounds like this is a fee (spell that TAX) imposed late in a field’s life to encourage production. The problem is that there may not be any production to encourage. That’s why they call it DEPLETED. As production from a field decreases, it reaches what is called the “economic limit”. This is when it costs more to produce it that it is worth. A well that reaches this status will be shut in. When that happens depends upon the price of oil, of course. Sometimes, a major company will sell nearly depleted fields to smaller producers who may have lower lifting costs. But when its dead, its dead, and no amount of incentive fee will bring it back to life. To believe that oil companies operate otherwise is to buy into the Big Oil Conspiracy Theory.

Oil companies want to reduce risk. One of the risks they measure is the risk of changing regulations. If they think the rules are going to change, or become more onerous, they will go elsewhere. The good intentions of the Obamabots will surely send oil companies overseas and kill domestic production.

Why would they want to do that? I suspect they are doing this to force us to renewable energy. If they take away domestic oil and gas production, we will have no choice but to rely upon wind, wave and solar sources for our energy. It will cost too much to drive a large car, so we will have to buy the tin cans built by Government Motors. If I sound paranoid, maybe I am, but am I paranoid enough?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Charbroiled Oysters and Stuffed Jalapenos








Favorite Niece had her 16th birthday recently so her dad had a family and friends cookout. Besides the usual crawfish, shrimp and oysters, he made his famous charbroiled oysters. Here’s a picture of several of them “in progress”. Below that is the finished version.




The stuffed jalapenos were a new addition to his repertoire.




Grow your own jalapenos
Pick a bunch and de-seed them (this is the dangerous part)
Slit them and stuff with cream cheese and a thin strip of sausage
Wrap in bacon and use a toothpick to hold in place
Put them on the grill until the bacon is done.

Deanston 17 Year Old

Deanston is a Highlands whiskey. The distillery is fairly new having been built from a converted cotton mill in 1966. Their first whiskey was sold in 1971.

Color: golden amber
Nose: sweet, clean
Palate: mild, oakey
Body: thin, slightly mouth coating
Finish: short, clean

And a thanks to Mostly Cajun who reminded the world that Friar John Cor is recorded as receiving malt in order to make whisky for the king on 1 June, 1494. The king would have been Henry VII. His son, Henry VIII would have been three years old.

The Burning Snowball



The DOE has discovered natural gas hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico. See the story here.

Gas hydrates are suspected to hold immense volumes of natural gas. For the layman, they are a unique form of ice that can form above freezing temperatures when gas and water are mixed under the right conditions. They have been a bain to production facilities where they can plug pipelines and valves when gas is cooled by the Joule-Thompson Effect. PE got an expense paid trip to Dubai a few years ago to push a fast track project designed to inject hydrate inhibitor into a gas pipeline in Qatar. Hydrates had shut in a major LNG plant there. Yup, ice formed in a pipeline in the desert.

If you watch Ice Road Truckers, you know that one of the drill rigs they supported was looking for hydrate formations in the Canadian arctic.

Hydrates are thought to be an important source of energy for the future.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Death Ray Unleashed

To the woman in front of me at the local Quizno's yesterday.....

I didn't complain when you took your time deciding what you wanted. After all, the menu is a little confusing. But when you made a cell phone call to take someone else's order, and they didn't know what they wanted, and you started to read the menu to them.......I unleashed the Stare of Death. That was why you felt that warm spot on the back of your head.

Venn Diagrams



Venn diagrams have stymied students for years. They show logical relations between sets of things. This is an example of one (taken from danmeth.com) that shows the relationships of Beach Boys songs featuring girls, cars and surf. It is now easy to see how they combined the three elements into individual songs.

I actually worked with the grand-nephew of John Venn. We were in Dubai working on the same project. Imagine my surprise when I found that he was related to a mathematical icon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

More Junk Science from Obama

Steven Chu, Obama’s Energy Secretary has stated that if we paint our roofs and roads white, we will offset the effects of automobiles on global warming by 11 years. Can the Nobel Committee make him give his prize back?

First we have the idea of some geo-engineering experiment to block the sun's rays and now we have the proposal to paint everything white. These suggestions show a clear lack of understanding of basic thermodynamics, especially radiation heat transfer. And these guys are shaping our energy policy.

The earth has a property called “albedo”. Albedo is a measure of the reflectivity of an object. On a macro scale, the albedo of the earth is determined by the fact that our rock is covered 71% by water. The amount of surface area of the earth covered by roofs and roads is miniscule. Painting your roof white will not change the albedo of the earth. It will change the albedo of your house, but that may not be desireable, especially if you live in northen climes.

The earth is heated by the suns rays. These rays are in the UV and visible spectrum. They pass easily through the earth’s atmosphere and heat the ground/ocean. We know that hot objects give off radiation and some of that heat is radiated back into space, but that radiation is in the infrared range of the spectrum and these rays don’t penetrate the earth’s atmosphere all that well so most of the heat remains trapped under the blanket of air that makes up our atmosphere.

Think of your car on a summer day. I don’t care if your car is white or black, the sun's rays come through the windows and heat up the interior. The heat stays tapped inside the car because the hot car seat cannot radiate its excess heat back through the glass.

You can go paint your roof white if you want to. It might reduce your air conditioning bill by a few dollars. Me, I won’t waste the paint.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Confederate Memorial Day

A group of academics sent a letter to President Obama requesting that he not, as had been the tradition since Woodrow Wilson, send a wreath to the Confederate Soldiers Memorial on Memorial Day. Somehow, they decided that Confederate Soldiers were not deserving of a memorial. That got me to thinking about the men who made up Bobby Lee’s Army.

The Confederate soldiers were not slave owners. That should be obvious to the casual observer who looks at old photos. They were poor farmers themselves. They had little hope of ever attaining a status in life where they could afford slaves. Therefore, they had no dog in the fight to preserve slavery. They must have taken up arms for other reasons.

A major difference between the mindset of people today and the average person during the Civil War was the idea of loyalty to your State versus the Country. The Civil War changed that focus from loyalty to your State to loyalty to Country, but before the war, a person’s loyalty was to his state. Hence, Robert E Lee opted to defend the State of Virginia rather than accept a high position in the Union Army.

Most of the leaders of the Confederacy had relatives that had fought in the Revolutionary War. Independence was not a remote concept to them. They had family that had fought for it. Robert E Lee’s father was Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the revolution. Jefferson Davis’ father fought in the war in Georgia. They grew up with living proof of the concept that if you do not agree with your government, it is your right, and even duty, to change it.

And that brings us to the real reason that the Confederate soldier fought. It wasn’t a fight over slavery. Slavery by itself couldn’t make a bunch of poor Southern farmers take up arms against the government. The reason for the Civil War was an issue over states rights and who had the right to tell a state what it could and could not do. And that just happened to be the issue of slavery.

The Confederate soldier believed that their state had sovereign rights. When faced with a federal government they felt was usurping their right to self determination, they followed the lessons of their fathers and decided that a change in government was necessary. In their mind, they were fighting for their freedom. Therefore, they were fighting for the same ideals that made America a land of freedom and liberty. They deserve recognition as much as any soldier-patriot and the movement to disavow them is wrong.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thoughts for Memorial Day

I’ve built a network of contacts over my career and the internet is useful in keeping in touch with them. Here is an email I received from a friend of mine who received it from someone we both worked with who was a POW in Vietnam. The article is written by Leo Thorsness, another POW. Its topic is timely, and educational

Memorial Day – Torture Thoughts ©
By POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col (USAF Ret) Leo Thorsness
Author of Surviving Hell – A POW’s Journey

Think Memorial Day and veterans usually come to mind. Think Veterans and
our national debate about torture comes to mind.

Of the 350 “old timer” Vietnam POWs, the majority were severely tortured by
the North Vietnamese. Ironically the Department of Defense did not
formally study torture after the POWs were released in 1973. We provided
our military an actual “torture database library” but to this day, the
Pentagon has never tapped the resource to help clarify national debate
about “what is torture.”

I and many other Vietnam POWs were tortured severely – some were tortured to death. Several POWs wrote books after our release in 1973 describing the torture in detail. Mike McGrath’s book had extensive drawings vividly depicting types of torture the North Vietnamese used.

When I wrote “Surviving Hell” in 2008, initially I did not include torture
knowing that others had earlier described it. My book editors encouraged me
to add it; if our younger population reads only current books, they may
perceive that the treatment at Abu Grab and Gitmo was real torture. I
added my experience being tortured so that readers will know that there is
abuse and humiliation, and there is torture.

If someone surveyed the surviving Vietnam POWs, we would likely not agree
on one definition of torture. In fact, we wouldn’t agree if “waterboarding” is torture. For example, John McCain, Bud Day and I were recently together. Bud is one of the toughest and most tortured Vietnam POWs. John thinks waterboarding is torture; Bud and I believe it is harsh treatment, but not torture. Other POWs would have varying opinions. I don’t claim to be right; we just disagree. But as someone who has been severely tortured over an extended time, my first hand view on torture is this:

Torture, when used by an expert, can produce useful, truthful information.
I base that on my experience. I believe that during torture, there is a
narrow “window of truth” as pain (often multiple kinds) is increased.
Beyond that point, if torture increases, the person breaks, or dies if he
continues to resist.

Everyone has a different physical and mental threshold of pain that he can
tolerate. If the interrogator is well trained he can identify when that
point is reached – the point when if slightly more pain is inflicted, a
person no longer can “hold out,” just giving (following the Geneva
Convention) name, rank, serial number and date of birth. At that precise
point, a very narrow torture “window of truth” exists. At that moment a
person may give useful or truthful information to stop the pain. As
slightly more pain is applied, the person “loses it” and will say anything
he thinks will stop the torture – any lie, any story, and any random words
or sounds

This torture “window of truth” is theory to some. Having been there, it is
fact to me. While in torture I had the sickening feeling deep within my
soul that maybe I would tell the truth as that horrendous pain increased.
It is unpleasant, but I can still dredge up the memory of that window of
truth feeling as the pain level intensified.

Our world is not completely good or evil. To publically proclaim we will
never use any form of enhanced interrogations causes our friends to think
we are naïve and eases our enemies’ recruitment of radical terrorists to
plot attacks on innocent kids, men and women – or any infidel. If I were
to catch a “mad bomber” running away from an explosive I would not hesitate
a second to use “enhanced interrogation,” including water bordering, if it
would save lives of innocent people. Our naïveté does not impress radical
terrorists like those who slit the throat of Daniel Pearl in 2002 simply
because he was Jewish, and broadcast the sight and sound of his dying
gurgling. Publicizing our enhanced interrogation techniques only emboldens
those who will hurt us.

Notes From the DMZ, circa 2004

Given the recent nuclear weapons test from the NKs, this email I wrote to friends from Korea seemed appropriate.......

Korea may be the last country that appreciates the USA. They still remember 1950 and the fact that 37,000 Americans guard the border with North Korea and that a state of war still exists between the two countries. Therefore, I was intrigued to discover that regular tours are offered to the DMZ.

The Barbed Wire Highway

The DMZ is less than 1 hours drive from Seoul. Highway 23 runs parallel with the Han River until it meets the Imjin River near the border. Since the rivers are an easy infiltration route, and infiltrators have been caught several times, the left side of the 6 lane highway is protected with 2 chain link fences that are topped with some serious razor wire. Every 5 feet or so, a smoke grenade can be seen hanging in the razor wire, I suppose to give warning should the wire be disturbed but it also must get exciting if a car jumps the guardrail. (I am astounded that military pyrotechnics are so easily accessible. If this was the US, they would be stolen and used for all sorts of mischief.) If you look to the right, everything is normal. But to the left it looks like the Maine State Prison. Then you notice that the median has sandbagged fighting positions and coils of razor wire ready to pull across the road.

The Cold War and Tourism

We arrive at Imjin-gak where we board another bus for transport through the civilian control line. At Imjin-gak, you can see Freedom Bridge which is where prisoner exchanges took place. Now, messages are written on ribbons and tied to the fence. Its a little surrealistic to be this close to North Korea and watch several thousand people gather to run a 10K foot race that was scheduled for the Sunday I was there. As our bus approaches the checkpoint, the driver points out some points of architectural interest. A block of concrete is positioned on an overpass and is rigged with explosives to drop and block the road. From this point, only tourists and farmers are allowed to go any closer. Our passports are checked against a list of names submitted earlier and we are allowed to proceed. The farmers till ancestral land that had the bad luck to be located near the DMZ. They must leave by nightfall. And the rice they produce is sold under the brand of DMZ rice. I guess it's a patriotic thing to eat it.

Now things are getting serious. Signs along the edge of the road advertise the presence of land mines. This is not a place to go "behind a tree" as Dad used to say.

Our first stop is the 3rd infiltration tunnel. It was built by North Korea in the late 70s and was the third of 4 tunnels discovered when a defector spilled the beans. (or maybe kimchee) The idea was provide a route under the mine fields in preparation for an invasion. We sit in a small electric car and travel 230 feet underground. We exit the train and walk in a slightly stooped manner (at least for me) to a point under the DMZ about 500 feet from the North Korean line. A concrete plug and a television surveillance camera now guard against the North. The walls of this tunnel are pink granite and it would make a Maine quarryman weep. It had to be hard digging. And it is engineered well, too. It slopes slightly back to the North so that water does not give it away on the South side.

After exiting this hole in the ground, we tour the small museum where we learn about the history of the border, but more space is given over to the ecological anomaly that is the DMZ. Since the area has had no human intervention in 50 years, it has become a de-facto nature preserve. It is now worthy of scientific investigation - if you could get in.

We next go to the Dora Observation Post (I don't know how they name these things) There is an observation point on every hill as well as large lighted signs that are used for propaganda. This particular post has an auditorium with a wall of glass that faces North Korea. Off to the right is Panmunjon. Also over there is Freedom Village, a small community of volunteers that live in sight of the enemy in exchange for a tax free existence. They are in a long standing war of the flagpoles with the North. The North is currently ahead with the tallest flagpole in the world. We hear music and are told it is North Korean propaganda being broadcast to the South.

But the story we keep hearing repeated is the fact that Korea has a 2-1/2 mile wide nature preserve running across their country. They would much prefer people remember that about the DMZ than its other history.

There is no doubt that South Korea is ready to re-unite. Our last stop is the Dora-san station - the last stop on the Korean rail system. President Bush (the second) helped to dedicate it in 2002. The North is slowly building their half as agreed, but South Korea is ready with a brand new station and a brand new customs and immigration building to process the hoped for future influx of North Koreans. They even designed Highway 23 to be expanded to 8 lanes if needed. So, it was with a strange mix of tension and hope that I left this last of the armed borders in the world.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Carpentry Skills Improve

My wife and I have been remodeling a rental property we own. Saturday I was replacing several interior doors. The 30 year old luan veneer hollow core doors had just had it and needed to be replaced.

As I was chiseling out the recess for the hinge, I realized that the chisel I was using had belonged to my father. He was the last one who had sharpened the thing. His hands had honed it to a edge so fine that it peeled off slices of wood in thin and crisp curls. I guess I could have used a router, but I have little need for one and don't own one. And I wasn't going to get one just for a few hinge recesses. Besides, there is something satisfying about shaving out a hinge recess and having it fit just right.

Dad believed in sharp tools. He came from an era when tools were meant to be used, sharpened back to razor edge, and used again. Tools don't grow old. They may break. They may even wear out. But they are always useful. I see old tools in antique shops and I think, "Gee, I've got one of those and I still use it from time to time". When I finish with these doors, I'll get out the stone Dad bought for me years ago and put the edge back on the chisel. Dad would want it that way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Math Whiz

My niece and god daughter came by last night for help with her math before exams. She is a sophomore taking a junior level algebra course. Quadratic equations, no less. She really didn't need that much help. She knew the stuff. I provided a little guidance and a boost to her self confidence. Her classmates call her the Human Calculator and go to her for help. She likes math and she's not a geek. Damn, she makes me proud and gives me hope for the future.

Obama Care

Lets say you take your car in for some preventative maintenance. They give you two choices. You can do a relatively inexpensive and simple test or you can do a partial tear down and look inside. If you do the simple test, no tear down is necessary, but if they find something, they will have to do the tear down anyway. If you opt for the tear down, they can fix what needs to be fixed, if there is anything wrong, but the cost is maybe 10 time more than the simple test - and there may not be anything wrong! As far as you can tell, there is nothing wrong - you are just scheduled to have a preventative maintenance check. Which option do you choose?

Well, if you are under Medicare, you don't get a choice. They have decided not to allow virtual colonoscopies. Read the story here.

Just another example of how Obama will look after you.

Liberal Conspiracy Theories

During the presidential debates last year, Obama kept referring to the eeevil oil companies sitting on non-producing leases and how he wanted to tax them for their non-action. His statement made absolutely no sense to me then based on my 20+ years experience with offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico. It also made no sense from an economic standpoint for the oil companies. But repetition breeds belief and it became accepted that oil companies were screwing us by sitting on leases.

An oil company pays big money for the privilege to gamble that there is oil down there. They don't want to see that investment wasted and usually need the cash flow it can generate. It's just too valuable to sit on as long as the price of oil is reasonable. Also, the Mineral Management Service gives companies a fixed period of time to "use it or lose it". If there is no activity on a lease, they will take it back. I have seen managers jump through hoops to prevent that from happening as it is a black mark on their records to have to return a potential asset. Of course, there are those leases that are deemed "dry" and are allowed to revert to the government.

In fact, Obama put in 122 million dollars in revenue in his budget for from fees collected for non-producing leases. But now we know that for all the talk about non-producing leases, the government has no clear definition of what constitutes a non-producing lease. Secretary of Interior Salazar told the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that the DOI had no clear definition of a non-producing lease.

The story is here.

So, if there is no clear definition of a non-producing lease, how can Obama claim there are hundreds of them costing the taxpayer dearly and how can he propose to tax them????

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More Unintended Consequences

The London Times is carrying a story about compact fluorescent bulbs and mercury poisoning in China. You should know by now (and if you don't, you've had Rectal-Cranium Disorder) that fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. If you break one, you have to take special caution when cleaning it up. You can't toss them in the trash. They have to go in the hazardous waste pile. But now we know that the Chinese that work in the factories that make these things are being poisoned by the mercury they contain. So, as you pat yourself on the back for being soooo environmentally aware, know that a poor Chinaman is suffering for you.

The link to the article is here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rig Count, Jobs and the Economy


The graph to the left is the drilling rig count for the US including the offshore Gulf of Mexico. Since the beginning of 2009, it has been falling like a rock. It is 50% of what it was one year ago. Why should I care, you ask? Well, those are jobs evaporating. And not just roughneck jobs on the rig but construction jobs for all the producing facilities that won't be built. And trucking jobs for the material that won't be shipped. And engineering jobs for the guys that design the production facilities. And steel mill jobs for the well casing, line pipe and plate steel that won't be made.
Why is it dropping? Besides the price of oil, think US Government and taxes. BHO has promised to completely change the tax structure for the oil industry. The uncertainty of what the final tax law is going to look like has the industry concerned. And concerned businessmen don't make investments. Sure, the tax issues of the oil industry is pretty boring stuff, but the oil industry runs on economics, and taxes are a big chunk of the calculation. Pay attention to the new tax plans. They will have more of an effect on you than you think.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Energy from Ocean Waves


This is a lecture by a friend of mine. If you are interested in using ocean waves for power generation, you will find it well worth the investment in time. At the least, you will be able to discuss the issue from a position of science rather than emotion.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swine Flu and Obama's Health Plan

I'm sure this is what we all expected to happen when the Swine Flu was announced. And it also illustrates how Obama's new health care plan would respond to a pandemic.

Yeah, That'll Help

The news is saying that Obama plans to cut 17 billion dollars from his 3.4 trillion dollar budget. Well, that sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it's a flea on the tail of the total budget.

It amounts to 1/2 of 1%.

That's 0.5% or 0.005 in decimal form.

It would be like a family that earns $50,000 cutting out $250 from their budget.

Don't get fooled by the all the zeros. It's chump change to the government!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Road Trip and Louisiana Sauna

Made a trip to the field today. Went to a natural gas storage operation a little west of the picturesque town of Krotz Springs. Three hours of windshield time - each way. I'm fixing up some problems (by others) from the original installation. It's not a complicated project but its required by environmental regulations so folks get real anxious. Besides, the client is always happy to see his engineer on site. I also believe that I should show the people who work for me that I am willing to do the same things I ask them to do. So I held the dumb end of the tape while my designer took field measurements. A few hours of walking around the plant in Louisiana humidity was as good as being in a Finnish Sauna. At almost 6 decades, I'm probably getting too old that stuff. But, it was a break from the office and I got to visit my favorite Mexican restaurant, Ninfas, for lunch.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Unintended Consequences

My wife used to own a franchise for a national temporary employment agency. She closed it at the beginning of this year because of the lousy economy and lack of business in the "affected area". But she still keeps in touch with her friends in the business and she heard the other day that company headquarters had cancelled the health insurance plan for their temporary employees.

One of the items in Obama's new budget plan (the one that nobody read) was that health care providers would have to pay 65% of the cost of the COBRA for a laid off employee thereby reducing the employee's cost to 35%. (Previously the employee paid up to 102% of the cost). The idea was to make health care affordable for laid off employees. Unfortunately, the end result seems to be that now nobody will have health insurance benefits.

So, Obama institutes a plan to make health care more affordable to laid off employees but ends up having health insurance cancelled for all employees.

Was this the change you expected?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu - History Repeats?

If you are younger than 50, you probably don't recall the Swine Flu epidemic of 1976. For an excellent review of this government lead fiasco, go here.

The short story is that one soldier at Fort Dix died of Swine Flu after a forced 5 mile hike. The CDC found evidence that other soldiers had been infected but recovered. There was great concern about a pandemic which lead to the President's science advisers recommending a nation wide inoculation program. But there were side effects to the serum and 25 people died as a direct result of the program.

To put things in perspective, in America, approximate 36,000 people die each year from "normal" influenza and there about 200,000 people hospitalized.

Given that our President's current science advisor is a global warming alarmist, I would advise that you follow any recommendations coming out of the White House at your own risk and with extreme caution.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Usquaebach

The purist in me prefers single malts but I have to admit that the art of the blend can be interesting. The blender has to keep his mix consistent between distillery runs which has to be a challenge. For that reason, I tried, and liked, Usquaebach.

The distillery was started in 1768 and is now owned by the American company Stone Flagon Whiskey LLC. It is a located in the Western Highlands. Usquaebach means "water of life", which is true of all good whiskeys.

Here are my tasting notes.

Usquaebach Reserve

Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Clean
Palate: Clean, Delicate, Fresh
Body: Medium Soft, Mouth Coating
Finish: Short, Clean,Tingling

Robert Burns said in 1791, "wi Usquaebae we'll face the devil." I don't know if I'd go that far, but this is truly a good whiskey.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nutria


Nutria (Myocastor Coypus) is a large aquatic rodent that is one of those grand economic experiments gone wrong. They were imported to the US back in the 1930s to be raised for fur. When fur prices dropped, the farmers usually just released them to the wild, where they flourished. They are known to be destroyers of the marsh with their ravenous appetites for herbaceous material. The late Sheriff Harry Lee declared war on nutria whose burrows were undermining the drainage canal banks in his parish. The SWAT team sharpshooters were sent out with .22 rifles to shoot the little buggers. The shooters found that nutria were wily and difficult targets. They quickly learned that any noise could be a death dealing deputy and ran for their burrows.

The best solution is to introduce the orange toothed critters to the human food chain but their unappealing appearance and classification as a rodent is off putting to many people. However, a Cajun will eat just about anything. If you get the urge to try nutria, here’s a heart healthy recipe for them.

Heart-Healthy Crockpot Nutria
2 hind saddle portions of nutria meat
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 tomato, cut into big wedges
2 potatoes, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
8 Brussels sprouts
½ cup white wine
1 cup water
2 tsp chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup demi-glace (optional)
Layer onion, tomato, potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts in crockpot. Season nutria with salt, pepper and garlic, and place nutria over vegetables. Add wine and water, set crockpot on low and let cook until meat is tender, about 6 hours. Garnish with vegetables and demi-glace. Serves 4.