Thursday, June 13, 2019

TBT - Hiroshima

My first real job out of school was working for an offshore drilling contractor who was building a new drilling rig in Japan. I was hired to go to the shipyard and be one of the inspectors and owners reps. The rig was being built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard in Hiroshima.

I arrived there in early July, 1975 and settled in to my new surroundings. Therefore, I was in Hiroshima on the 30th anniversary of August 6, 1945. In Japan, they have the Obon festival which honors dead ancestors. In Hiroshima, they hold in on Aug 6.

Hiroshima means "Seven Islands". The city is literally made up if separate islands on a river delta. Peace Park is near the center of the city and one main branch of the river flows past it. The families would make paper lanterns which they lit with a candle and then floated them down the river. The sight of thousands of paper lanterns floating down stream was an astounding thing to see.

As I walked around, I noticed that I was the only foreigner, or gaijin, around. I didn't feel threatened although I did get a few dirty looks from some of the older folks. I also noticed that a policemen was always near by. I was never sure if he was there to watch me or protect me.

I lived there almost 2 years. When meeting people for the first time their question to me was "Iwakuni?" Iwakuni was the location of a Marine Air Base about 10 miles south. When I responded that I was an engineer at Mitsubishi they visibly relaxed. Towards the end of my expat stay the local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carps, hired a couple of American players. I was always being asked if I was "Hopkins". I could have had a lot of free drinks, but I didn't take advantage.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Chernobyl Pictures

One of my side bar people posted a link to this site. It is a collection of photographs taken inside the exclusion zone. Fascinating viewing for those who enjoy ghost towns. Go to Chernobyl Gallery.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

TBT - Russia (con't)

So we arrived in Yusno Sakhalinsk, the capital city of Sakhalin Island. Ithad been part of Japan prior to WW 2. We arrived at the hotel and checked into rooms that I describe as one step above camping and that cost $200/night. There were no credit cards in Russia, so we all carried about $9000 in cash in money belts to be able to pay for our visit. As long as we didn't carry  more than $10,000 we didn't have to declare it.

We all had jet lag so we headed out to explore the town. Before long we smelled a familiar odor......beer. We followed it to a brewery where some people were lined up with containers. Provide a container and they would fill it with beer. The brewery had a small room where we drank green beer and ate sausages.

Most of our time was taken up with visits to "schmooze" the local politicos and then revise our proposal to include whatever extra they wanted to include in the proposal. They wanted everything - roads, schools, medical facilities. They had rich western oil companies and they were determined to maximize what they could get. Such is the nature of  "scope creep".

We found out that the local facilities were dismal. We learned that medical care was minimal. One of the Corporate VPs, head of the medical department, broke a tooth when eating some mystery meat at the restaurant. He had to suffer until he got home. People were so poor, that military men would sell parts of the uniforms and insignia for dollars. Department store shelves were empty. All the result of 70 years of central planning. Russia was seen as a developed country but back then they were just emerging from the third world in reality.

One night, our project leader was invited to a night out with local businessmen and politicos. He didn't want to go alone so he volunteered me to go along. Turns out, it was a night at the sauna followed by vodka shots and sausage. It was a room full of middle aged men in togas doing shooters. But it's what one has to do to build relationships. We staggered back to the hotel.

Book Review - Midnight in Chernobyl

Watching the HBO series made me want to know more and this seemed to be one of the more recent summaries of the disaster. The author goes into tremendous detail about the accident and the response by the government. However, that detail does not result in a boring read. Indeed, you get an insight into the design and operation of nuclear reactors as well as a peek at the Soviet system prior to collapse. Highly recommended reading for those with a scientific bent and interest in the accident.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Head Count

Saudi Arabia beheaded two criminals last month bringing their year to date total to 107.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Swamp - Local Edition

I live in a parish with a population of about 23,000. About 20% of that population lives below the poverty level. There is only one road in or out of the parish. The route in has a 2 lane tunnel under the Gulf Intercoastal Water Way. The way out has a 2 lane lift bridge. Somehow, the Louisiana Dept of Transportation and Development (DOTD) decided we needed a high rise bridge to eliminate traffic delays when marine traffic caused the bridge to lift and to eliminate maintenance costs on the leaky tunnel.

They went through an extensive process to evaluate options and gather public input. We were told that budgets were tight, therefore, the DOTD was going to offer this project as a Public Private Partnership (P3) and that the private entity would recover their investment by charging tolls to cross the new bridge. But don't worry, tolls will be as low as possible for the minimum amount of time.

They pre qualified 3 bidders and sent out the RFP. Then, 2 of the potential bidders declined to bid leaving them with only a single bidder. The DOTD has determined that this single bid is viable and will proceed with that consortium of contractors.

There was a public meeting this week to introduce the toll amounts. We were told that tolls for residents would be $0.45 each way and that tolls would remain in effect for 30 years. Tolls would be increased by $0.01 per year plus being adjusted by the CPI. When the politicos heard the resistance from the public, they countered with the veiled threat that if we didn't want the bridge, there were plenty of other places that could use the money.

P3 contracts have a mixed history of success. Many P3 deals cost the public more than repaying a bond. Several examples can be found with a quick Google search. This the first one that Louisiana has done so I don't have much optimism about its success. I have had 40 years as a project manager in the oil industry, If I went to my management with only a single bid and 2 bidders who declined, I would be told in no uncertain terms to do it over.

 Unfortunately, it's too late to stop this piece of crap. BOHICA.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

TBT - Russia

I've been watching the new HBO show "Chernobyl" and it brought back some memories.

Back in 1990, the Russians had opened a bidding round on offshore leases off Sakhalin Island. I was working for Mobil Oil at the time and the company decided they needed to put in a proposal. They formed the proposal team in early July with the proposal due in September.

We scrambled and had the proposal done on time and Mobil decided we all needed to go to Sakhalin Island and meet with the heads of the government departments for our respective disciplines. Back then, there was no easy way to get to Russia.

Our route was to fly to Frankfurt and then connect to a Lufthansa flight to Moscow. After a night in Moscow, Mobil had arranged a special charter to take us from Moscow to Yusno-Sakhalinsk. We were told that the plane they had charted was the same aircraft they used to ferry their astronauts. The purser on the flight showed us a card that certified that he had served with the helicopter crews that dumped concrete on the reactor at Chernobyl, hence the memory jog.

We had to stop in Khabarovsk for fuel. As we taxied to the refueling point, we passed a long row of Tu-154s that were obviously being used for spare parts. When we got off the plane, we noticed that the tires were almost bald, and this was on one of their most important aircraft.

It was our first indication that the Russian military back before the fall of the USSR was not as strong as we were led to believe.