Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blog Roll Maintenance

It was time to review my blog roll. Several of them had gone off line and I found I was regularly reading several more that were not on the list. So, welcome Breda, the gun totin' librarian and Marko who wrangles munchkins in Upper Cryogenica and provide some guidance to the Lost Goat. Say goodbye to Kaboom - FTA for making you stop your blog. And also to Boomer, who loved large caliber handguns.

And if anyone can tell me how to get an invitation to the Cranky Lit Prof's blog, I'd appreciate it.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Holiday planning is important when you have a large extended family. Who spends what days where for what meals is important. Annual visits are mentally logged and not forgotten so you must have a system. One of our systems is that the three grandsons have a sleep over on the eve of Christmas eve. We do their presents then. Everyone has a good time and the boys have an extended Christmas. (Christmas Eve is an all hands on deck family gathering and Christmas Day is with their own family and a visit to the other grandparents.)

It so happens that that day is also Festivus. Middle grandson "D" asked, "What is Festivus? And don't just tell me Seinfeld!" so we had to google the origin of Festivus and its associated rituals. There was a Festivus Miracle in that none of the boys had anything to say about each other at the Airing of Grievances. Unhappily, we had no Festivus Pole and the room was too small for Feats of Strength.

And so a new Christmas tradition is born.

Friday, December 17, 2010

12 Yats of Christmas

Merry Christmas from New Orleans

Thank you Benny Grunch and The Bunch!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Changes in Latitude

Today I left the ice box known as Ohio. When I went to the car this morning, the temperature was 7 F. Several people had started their cars and left them to warm up unattended. I guess they weren't too worried about car thieves in sub freezing weather and, besides, they were probably rentals.

This trip was a good reminder of why I like the South. You don't need to keep ice scrapers in your car. You don't need two sets of tires (snow tires and summer tires). You don't freeze your fingers and toes trying to clean the windshields. If you fall on your ass its probably because you drank too much and not the ice underfoot.

Arriving in Houston it was a balmy 75 F.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Ice Box

Temperature this AM was 9 degrees! I had forgotten the joys of scraping ice off of windshields in single digit temperatures. Nose mucous freezing. I drove for miles before the engine heated up enough to register on the dashboard gauge. Thank Allah for the heated seats in my rental "People's Wagon".

Saw the aftermath of a spin out on the way to the office. The car was backwards into a snow bank. Police were in attendance.

This afternoon, I noted that there had been enough melt to coat the roads in a thin film of water. With a temperature of 23 F, there will be patches of Black Ice tonight.

Into the Ice Box

Yesterday I flew up to Ohio to attend a meeting. Temperatures here are in the mid-teens, and that's during the day. The rental car was a block of ice. Its so cold that the snow squeaks when you walk in it. The local businesses don't seem to understand that they should clear their parking lots and sidewalks - they are covered in packed snow and ice. Tire ruts freeze into ice ridges. This is prime condition for "slip and fall" lawsuits. I bet the insurance companies are having fits.

I can't wait to get back South.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Opt Out

It happened early this morning as I was going through security to catch the coffee run to Houston. The TSA agent motioned for me to go through the full body scanner. I immediately, and without thinking about it, said, "No, I'm opting out." This did not make the TSA agent happy as he hollered for a "male assist" and told me to stand to the side. Unfortunately, that placed me right in the path of folks coming through the magnetic detector. (There was no obvious out of the way place to stand and he seemed to be aggravated that I was moving around to try to get out of the way of other passengers) After standing there for a few minutes, I asked where his partner was. I was told they would get someone as soon as someone was free. I suggested that perhaps the TSA's plan was to make those who opt out wait in public view until we decided it was easier to go through their machine. This really upset him and he stated that he would no longer talk to me. That sounded good to me as he wasn't saying anything worth hearing anyway.

And shortly the pat down agent arrived. I must say he was very polite and professional, describing exactly what he was going to do and he did it quickly and professionally. But I noticed that after the pat down, he wiped his gloves with a patch and put it through the bomb sniffer.

Now, what do you think would have happened had I been at the shooting range before going to the airport?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Nook, I Haz It!

My birthday present arrived and it was the new "Nook" eReader. Color, backlit, with web browser. I was the coolest kid on the airplane this week.

Head Count

The axman of the KSA beheaded two murderers last month. The year to date total is 24.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living History

Our Navy neice asked if she could invite a friend to the family dinner and we, of course, agreed. Her friend was a single mother, Naval NCO and had been our neice's recruiter. She had no family in the area - it was just her and her pre-teen daughter. When you have as many people coming for Thanksgiving as we do, two more hardly make a dent.

It turned out that this woman had a unique history. Back in 1975 she was one of the babies flown out of Vietnam in Operation Babylift.

You never know when you will meet someone that was part of history. Take the time to meet new people and listen and you might be surprised.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Words of Wisdom

My college age nephew talks about cats and dogs:

"I like cats more because they just do what they want to do and don't shit on the floor"

Seems like a good philosophy for life as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA Rant

If you believe, like I do, that the TSA has outgrown its charter and is turning into little more than a organized group of thugs who believe that travellers have no rights, or have given up those rights by the simple act of purchasing an airline ticket, then you are excused from reading this. But if you believe the TSA is performing a necessary service, then please read on.

First, I refer you to the Milgram Experiment. The Milgram Experiment was first done in 1961 to test the willingness of subjects to follow instructions from an authority figure. The testimony of Adolf Eichmann provided the basic idea for the experiment. Briefly, test subjects were told to administer an electric shock to another person for every wrong answer they gave during a quiz. The severity of the shocks would escalate with each wrong answer. What they found was that normal people were more than willing to administer the shock, without questioning the morality the action, as long as someone in authority told them to do so.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was carried out in 1971. Test subjects were divided into two groups - prisoners and guards. The guards were given authority over the prisoners and allowed to use psychological methods to control them. The guards became so abusive that the experiment had to be stopped after only 6 of its originally planned 14 day duration.

Go read about these and subsequent experiments of a similar nature. Then think about the recent stories regarding the TSA. Then think about Germany in the 1920s. Then you may understand why some of us resist the TSA.

Some people are advocating a national "opt out" day to force the TSA into pat downs and slow down their system. I have another suggestion: Use TSA's own web site to submit complaints about your treatment or the security system in general. Copy your congress critter, too. If enough people send in complaints, it will overwhelm their system.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Landrieu Party

Clay, having recovered from taking the PE Exam, blogs about how all the major political offices in Louisiana are either held by a Republican or a Landrieu.
And I see Mary is taking yet another trip to the Netherlands - for the third time. Why, you ask? Well, she needs to study how the Dutch build levees and protect their coast.

The answer is easy, Mary. They expropriate large strips of land and build levee systems in depth. That means that the levee is wide and made up of several areas that give redundancy to the protection it provides. You will never be able to build similar structures in Louisiana because people will resist having their land taken from them - and that water front access is oh so valuable.

Stay home, Mary. There is nothing new for you to learn in the Netherlands.

And I note that part of Clay's exam preparation involved a study of the practical application of mid 20th century marine steam propulsion systems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Rant

Kiddies - This is how it's supposed to work:

You dress up in a costume and ring my door bell. I open the door. You yell, "Trick or Treat". I reach into my basket of goodies and give you a treat. You then say, "Thank You" and go terrorize the next house.

You DO NOT demand that I give you specific things from my basket of treats. I give you whatever random treat I happen to touch. However, if you ask politely for a specific item, I will endeavor to meet your request with a smile. For the rest of your life, you will wonder why doors keep getting shut in your face. It will be because you never learned to be polite as a child and were brought up thinking you were entitled to certain things just because you exist.

Adults - The gathering at my house is a family gathering that includes children of all ages. We do not live on Bourbon Street nor is it an adults only party. We do not appreciate the fact that you arrive, as a guest of the family, dressed as a Hooker Cop. The fact that you had your offspring dressed in prison jumpsuits was just plain weird. Rest assured, you will be a topic of conversation at least until Thanksgiving.

Also, we do not run a baby sitting service. My wife and I have other guests to entertain. Please supervise your own children. See to it that they get some food, something to drink and then enjoy a trick or treat through the neighborhood. If you were going to ignore them, why did you bring them?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Head Count

Two rapists and one murderer were separated from their heads last month in Saudi Arabia. Year to date total is 22. No records will be set this year.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Lesson

I've been frequenting a Japanese restaurant in Houston. I usually sit at the sushi bar and talk to the sushi chef. It gives me a chance to practice my Japanese. In our conversations I found that he comes from Osaka. I explained that I lived in Hiroshima for 2 years. He has been a sushi chef for 30 years. When I expressed awe at this accomplishment and commented that he must be a sushi master he said, "No. I am not master. I am still studying. If I call myself a master, then I will stop learning and I still have much to learn."

I thought he had a good philosophy. Endeavor to never stop learning as long as you live.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Movie Plot

A young man is caught up in a war when a larger country invades their smaller neighbor. He finds he has a talent for the military life and becomes an officer. He eventually runs a team of guerrillas that inflict so much damage on the enemy that a price is put on his head. He also earns the equivalent of the Medal of Honor. But he becomes disillusioned when the politicians make a truce which ends the war with a loss of territory. In order to keep fighting, he joins the army of the country who was a co-belligerent with him against his former enemy. When the war ends and he is repatriated, he is tried for treason for violating the terms of the treaty and sentenced to 6 years.

After several years in jail, he is pardoned by the President. He then leaves his home country for the protection of a neutral neighboring country where he meets a woman and tries to make a living as a lumber jack. It turns out to be a dull life so he catches a boat for South America where some old army friends help him get to America. He jumps ship in America and is allowed to stay with the help of “Wild Bill” Donovan. He enlists in the US Army under the Lodge Act in order to earn citizenship. He is starting over as a private but soon moves up the ranks and becomes an officer. He joins the Special Forces and takes part in several secret missions before being sent to Vietnam. He becomes MIA in Vietnam after a helicopter crash in Laos. It is only years later that his remains are recovered and identified to be interred in Arlington.

Sound like a good movie plot? Well, it’s the capsule biography of Larry Thorne who was born in Finland as Lauri Torni. He fought in the Winter War and the Continuation War where the Russians put a price on his head and he earned the Mannerheim Cross for his exploits. After Finland signed a treaty with Russia, He joined the Waffen SS to keep fighting the Russians (The SS had a special group made up of Scandinavian volunteers). After the end of WW II, Finland tried him for treason and he was sent to jail. After being released, he made his way to the US and joined the army, basically starting all over again as a pfc before going to OCS and joining the Special Forces.

He was the basis for the character Sven Kornie in the book, The Green Berets. He was assigned to MACV-SOG in Vietnam and died in a helicopter crash in Laos on 18 October 1965. His body was recovered in 2003. He is buried in Arlington and his name is on the wall. Go and pay homage to a unique individual.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

9mm Therapy

It has been a while since I've been on the shooting range. Luckily, there is no shortage of ranges in Houston. So, after work, I went to the nearest indoor range for a little eye-hand coordination practice.

I selected a 9mm Glock 26 from the rental display, bought two boxes of ammo and three targets and went to the range where I was the sole occupant. I set the targets at 9 yards and went to work.

The results from shooting the first box revealed an occasional flinch but mostly a trigger control issue. Things improved on the second box. On aimed slow fire, I put 17 out of 25 in the 10 ring. And all shots were within the 8 ring. In rapid fire, I put 5 out of 25 in the 10 ring and another 16 in the 9 and 8 ring. Its a good way to relieve office induced stress.

Next time, I'll use the snubbie on double action.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Southern Manners

Today I got back to the hotel and went down to the exercise room. I set the TV on Fox News and got on the treadmill. After a while, a 20 something blonde entered the room, immediately grabbed the remote and changed the channel.


It's common courtesy to ASK before changing the channel in almost every fitness center I have been in. I spent the next 10 minutes plotting my revenge.

I finished, grabbed a towel and glass of water. I then asked blondie where she was from.

"California", she replied.

"That explains it ", I responded.

"What do you mean?", she queried.

"A Southern person would have asked permission before changing the TV whereas people from the northeast and California, do not".

She was so enamored with herself, she didn't see it coming.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Winter Wolf

Chuck Pfarrer is making a film about the Finnish Winter War.

This should be an interesting production by a former SEAL with some Hollywood credentials. But I wish they would take some of the Finnish made movies, dub them in English and format them for the US market.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Meat Lovers Paradise

Last night I went to a Brazilian steak house, or Churrascaria. It's name was Tradicao. If you love charbroiled meat, go to a churrascaria. It's one price and the waiters bring out skewers of meat for as long as you can eat. Go hungry!

Top Secret Rosies

I tutor my niece in senior physics. A few weeks ago I wanted to show her the practical application of physics. I knew that during WW II there were hundreds of "human calculators" turning out ballistics tables for bombs and artillery shells and I was looking for a sample to show here how the Equations of Motion were used. And then I got an email from the WW II Museum. It seems someone has made a documentary about the women mathematicians who sat behind mechanical calculators for hours churning out ballistics tables. I can't embed the trailer, but you can find it here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Houston's Mahatma Ghandi District

My hotel is near Houston's Indian district and I was craving Indian food. I went to a little strip mall place called Mezban. It advertised Indian and Pakistani food so I knew it would have spice. A buffet was set up and it was clear that this is where the locals ate. I had pakoras, butter chicken, karahi gosht and topped it off with some kheer. Pakoras are fried onions. Butter chicken is white meat simmered in a coconut curry. Karahi gosht is lamb in a spicy curry of tomato and onion base. Kheer is a rice pudding with a hint of rose water. Knife and fork are optional. They bring naan bread which is used to scoop up the meat and curry mixture.

Tomorrow we havea long meeting to kick off the engineering on this biofuel project, but for now, I am content.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Science vs. Engineering

My current project uses some proprietary technology that could be a game changer for the gas-to-liquids business. The developers and our Chem Engineers can talk for hours about the processes taking place within their "black box", endlessly discussing the chemical minutia involved. But, somebody has to take this thing and put it in a real world environment and actually produce a saleable product.

I quickly realized that the folks in Ohio had not thought about those issues. What are the foundation requirements, what are the allowable loads on the flanges, what is the thermal growth, what utilities do I need to support it, how do we do an Emergency Shutdown......Answers to these questions are needed before it can go commercial and I'll be working on those along with the issues of doing construction in a Brazilian jungle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On The Road Again

I've started a new assignment in Houston working for a company developing biomass to biodiesel plants. It's been a crazy few days getting up to speed with a new technology and all that goes along with that. Today I walked into the office and was asked to attend a meeting in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday. So I made a few quick reservations and am now typing this in Ohio.

As an interesting side light, I went to the hotel lobby this AM for breakfast and there was one other guy there. We got to talking and it turns out that he was a survivor off the "Deepwater Horizon". He was in Houston for medical checkups. So we killed the time talking about the disaster and the oilfield in general. A Vietnam Vet, the rig sinking was worse than Vietnam in his mind. He made it clear that he was finished with the oil industry. At 62 he was hoping for a nice settlement and a retirement from Transocean and he would go back to central Louisiana and go hunting. He put a human face on the disaster for me.

By the way, Bush International in Houston is preparing for body scanners. You now have to remove belts and wallets before going through security. The idea is to get you ready for the scanner prep but they don't tell this in time to prepare for it but yell at you as you are stacking your stuff on the xray belt. If I thought the effort was a stick in the eye to a terrorist, I would do it without flinching, but I suspect the terrorists are laughing at our silly attempts to thwart them. And I hate to see power in the hands of an uneducated martinet. Screw the TSA!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Head Count

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed one rapist and one murderer in September raising the count to 19 for the year.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Low Tech is the Best Tech

Have you ever wondered how you can run your car on wood?

Do you want to know if a small wind turbine makes sense for powering your home?

Are you looking for understandable explanations of eco-friendly technologies and if they make economic sense?

Are you interested in the history of technology?

Then take a look at the new addition to my links, Low Tech Magazine. A story about real world testing of small wind turbines caught my attention. From there I found an article about the wood gas powered automobile so prevalent during WW II. From then on I was hooked. The articles are relevant and understandable to the non engineer - and some of them shoot holes in some popular "green" theories.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Am New Orleans

Tail Count and Righteous Fur

The latest statistics are in for the 2009-2010 nutria hunting season. The state pays trappers a $5 bounty per nutria tail as a means of controlling their population (the nutria, not the trappers) and to protect wetlands from their voracious appetites. A total of 445,963 nutria tails were turned in for a net payout of $2.2 million. This season, there were 306 registered trappers, which was up from 262 for the previous season. The poor economy seems to be driving the increased interest in nutria trapping as resourceful Cajuns look for alternative ways earn a living from the land. Over 40% of those trappers turned in 800 or more tails. That makes a nice little side income.

I have blogged about this invasive species before and have provided recipes for cooking them. There is now a site where you can buy clothing made from their fur - and you can do it guilt free because you will be helping the wetlands and employing a trapper.

There's an opportunity here. Most of the nutria carcasses are left in the swamp. If someone could generate a market for their meat and fur, nutria processing could become a growth business. Of course, if they became too popular, folks might want to start breeding them and that's how this whole problem got started.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eid and 9/11

In an ironic planetary confluence between the Islamic and Gregorian Calendars, the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, occurs on September 10.

Eid Mubarak y'all, but boisterous celebrations will be seen as desecrating the memory of those lost on 9/11/01.

I suggest everyone go read Col. Jeff Cooper's guide to self defense and plan to be at Yellow alert status, and ready to go to Orange, through the weekend. You also might want to avoid flying, being in tall buildings, visiting national monuments and riding subway trains this weekend. And oh yeah - carry 'em if you got 'em.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finnish War Movies


Release Date: January 1999
Director: Olli Saarela

This movie takes place during the Continuation War between Russia and Finland. A young officer is taking his unit behind the lines on a recon mission. Just before he leaves, he has a chance encounter with his fiance who is a Lotta providing aid to the Finnish soldiers. He later finds out that her convoy was ambushed and she is missing. As you can guess, this has an effect on his behavior while on the patrol.

The stars are the husband and wife team of Peter Franzen and Irina Bjorklund. They usually appear in movies together and recently are spending more time in Hollywood making films for the US market. Ambush won a total of 11 awards in the northern Europe film festival circuit, including Best Film plus six other "bests" from Jussi, the Finnish equivalent of the Academy Awards.

The movie is based on a true story. There is one scene where a soldier everyone thought was killed later turns up alive. It is used to symbolize the indominatable spirit of the Finnish people. Like most Finnish war movies, this film has some excellent battle scenes.

This movie is available in the US in DVD format.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Head Count

The KSA did not behead anybody last month! The count to date stands at 17.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

VJ Day Plus 65

I attended a lunch time lecture at the WW II Museum today about the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri and I learned the following facts and trivia:

The USS Missouri was chosen out of respect for President Truman as Missouri was his home state and his daughter christened the ship.

The ceremony was decreed by MacArthur to start promptly at 9:00 AM, Sept. 2. The uniform of the day was khakis and not dress whites. (MacArthur said we fought them in khakis, they could surrender to us in khakis) There was a little confusion over proper protocol for having two 5 stars (MacArthur and Nimitz) on board at the same time. It was decided that their flags would fly at equal heights and be broken out as each one boarded the Missouri.

The ceremony lasted less than 30 minutes.

Everything about the ceremony was designed to intimidate the Japanese. For example, the OD wore a side arm. He chose 8 side boys that were all over 6 feet tall.

The flag on the bulkhead behind the group was the same flag that flew on Commodore Matthew Perry's ship in 1854 when he sailed into Tokyo Bay and "opened" Japan to foreign trade. (The other flags flown that day were brand new and had probably just been picked up in Guam by attendees in transit. Nope, not flown on the Arizona on Pearl Harbor Day.)

The pens used by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and Chief of Staff Gen Umezu were given to Jonathan Wainwright and Arthur Percival who had surrendered the Philippines and Singapore, respectively, and had just been released from POW camp.

One pen went to MacArthur's wife.

The parchment the agreement was printed on came from Manila.

The first table that was set up to hold the book of surrender documents was too small. At the last minute, they had to bring a table down from the galley and throw a table cloth over it. The table cloth had coffee stains on it but were hidden when the documents were placed on the table.

The ship's antiaircraft guns were loaded and ready for action. There was still a level of distrust about the Japanese.

After the ceremony there was a 450 plan flyover.

The Missouri's crew made up cards that were given as "certificates of attendance" to the ceremony. They were only given to those on board at the time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Joads in a Jaguar, My Katrina Story

The week before Katrina hit I had oral surgery and was under the influence of some very nice pain killers. Therefore, I was oblivious to the weather reports in the week leading up to the storm. The afternoon of Friday, August 26, we were all blissfully going about our business secure in the knowledge that Hurricane Katrina was heading for the Florida Panhandle. Later that day the track took a drastic change to the west and it looked like it was headed for New Orleans. A period of denial set in and we waited to see if the track would change. (Our weather talking heads seemed to give us some hope that it would) By Saturday morning, it was clear that the track would not change and that we finally going to get our worst scenario hurricane. By now the storm was already inside my personal evacuation demarcation line. (The local phased evacuation plan required 72 hours to be put in effect. They now only had 50) I went to the bank, picked up clothes at the cleaners, put gas in the cars and hurriedly threw wood on the windows. Our daughter-in-law had made reservations in Houston but they were for Sunday. I called American Express and had reservations made for Saturday as well. My wife grabbed some favorite family photos. We then took her mother and one of our nieces (Mike's daughter - he is on the parish council and had to stay behind), packed them in my wife's Jaguar and headed to Houston feeling sure that we would enjoy a short holiday before returning home as we have done several times before.

We arrived in Houston at 9:00 PM Saturday and met up our son, his family and his in-laws. We spent Sunday watching a storm track that showed no intention of changing. I was up early on Monday morning and doing the math (If a hurricane is heading 360 degrees and it is 130 mile SE of your location, how close will it come?) in the hope that it would stay far enough east for us to miss the worst of the wind. By mid morning, we know that it hit Buras in full Category 4 strength. As there was nothing else to do, we took a family trip to the Houston Space Center, which our oldest grandson J loved.

On Tuesday, August 31, the first news reports are coming in from Biloxi and it was bad, real bad. Worse than Camille! However it looks like New Orleans did OK, until a levee broke and flooded the city. We take a trip to Old Town Spring to get our mind off of things. Brother-in-law Mike calls and tells us that our house only had minor roof damage and that Belle Chasse was dry. But now we hear about looting in the city. Mike tells us that Plaquemines Parish is locked down and no one is getting in - especially looters. It was this day that my wife took grandson J out to get some popcorn in the Embassy Suites lobby and our son had a breakdown when he couldn't find J in our hotel room and thinks he is lost - an indication of how much stress we all are under.

By Wednesday, the news crews are in New Orleans and showing the flooding, the looting and the misery at the Superdome. We move to Lake Charles as the casino wants our son to work out of the casino there and they are willing to provide rooms. It is surreal to be in a brand new casino hotel knowing that on the other side of the state a major disaster has occurred.

Thursday, September 1: Our 27th anniversary. We went shopping for some extra clothes as it is now clear that we could be gone for a few weeks instead of days. Bro-in-law Mike stopped on his way to Houston where he was going to escort a supply truck of relief supplies back to our town. New Orleans is stopping and diverting any supply truck that does not have an escort for themselves. Neighboring parishes get nothing unless they protect it. More reports of looting and shooting at rescue workers. We talk to my wife's sister, who is locked down at the West Jefferson Medical Center. They need a cordon of National Guard with armored vehicles to protect them from looters. Sheriff Harry Lee has blockaded the Greater New Orleans bridge to prevent looters, and everybody else, from coming over the river from Orleans Parish. His action will probably drive a wedge between inter-parish cooperation for years to come but will draw praise from residents of Jefferson Parish.

Friday, September 2: The casino wants to move us to some corporate apartments as they want the hotel rooms for Labor Day weekend. The apartment was a mess but we clean it up, go shopping and prepare to settle in for several weeks. But by Saturday, the CEO reneges on the apartment offer and wants our son back in Harvey to help clean up the casino there which is housing the electrical crews who are living in the parking lot. At lunch we have a spat with my wife's mother. We are going to Morgan City where our daughter-in-law's parents are using a relatives' empty house. My wifes's mother was told she will have to ride with stuff on her lap as the Jag was not designed to carry the amount of stuff we have. (The hotel gave us blankets, sheets and pillows and we have to take them with us to Morgan City.) She was not happy about being crammed in the car and the discussion escalated from there. At least the fights on this trip are inter-family and not with the in-law grandparents as in past evacuations.

(OK.... why, you ask, are you in the Jaguar with 4 people and their baggage and not the Durango? The answer is that we can afford to get another Durango but not a Jaguar. Therefore, the Jag was our primary evacuation vehicle.)

We are packed so tight in the Jag that passengers have to get into the vehicle and then I pack soft goods - pillows and blankets, etc. - around them. No need for seat belts - it's like riding in a big marshmallow. In order to deter any attempted car jackings, I have two hand guns within reach in the car. Both of them locked and loaded.

We are in Morgan City for Labor Day. The word is that there are car jackings still going on there so I always pack a gun when running errands. (In Louisiana, a car is considered an extension of your house and you are allowed to have a gun in your house)

Now that we are established with a kitchen and grocery stores, my wife does a little cooking. Our first home cooked meal in many days was crawfish etouffe. Another notable occurrence happened on September 7 when D, the middle grandson, lost his second tooth. And, yes, the tooth fairy can find you where ever you go.

The remainder of the week is spent waiting for Plaquemines Parish to open up again, which finally happened on September 11. The baggage was shifted to our son's car. He had returned for the weekend with his second vehicle and the Jag was stuffed with an ice chest and other groceries. Still tight but at least we could leave the pillows behind. Power was on at our house by Monday, September 12 and I was back in the office on the 14th.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Riding the Tube

On the Senate subway to the Capital Building.......

Soup Line

I told the boys they will need practice in standing in soup lines, given our current administration. Luckily, the Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC has a place for them to get practical experience.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan starts today.

And just to make sure that you are all sufficiently warned, Gulf News in Dubai has been publishing warnings about eating and drinking in public during daylight. You can get one month in Dubai jail for commiting such an offense to Allah (PBOH). Such is life in the progressive, western friendly Emirates.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Arcin' and Sparkin'

Yesterday my wife called me while I was driving home. It seems there was an electrical problem and power lines were arcing and sparking in the back yard. I arrived home to find that a limb from my back yard neighbor's pecan tree had shorted out on the 8 kV feed. In addition, it had burned the lines feeding my house. The limb was hanging and on fire.

I made a call to Entergy and punched the "3" option to signify an electrical emergency. After all, they had a line shorting out on a tree. The tree and ground around it could have been energized. I immediately told the operator that this was an emergency involving live power lines in a residential area. I might as well have been talking to my hand. They had to go through their entire list of questions before telling me that they would report my "outage" and that someone would be there within an hour or so. "NO", I told him, "this is an emergency - you need to get someone here ASAP. There are live wires arcing and sparking." No use, the operator could have cared less. As far as he was concerned, this was an outage that required no unusual measures.

In the meantime, my other neighbor had called the local fire station. They, of course, could do nothing with live wires about. A deputy showed up and went around the neighborhood to warn folks to stay inside until the problem was fixed. Since we didn't have any power, my wife and I decided to go out to eat. When we returned about 2 hours later, the repair crew was on site and had finished half of the splice required to fix the wires - and trimmed the tree. I don't know whether they had responded to my call or if our fire department had brought them out.

The lesson, our public utilities hire idiots to work the phones so if you see something dangerous happening, just run the other way!

Head Count

As of the end of July, 2010, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has beheaded 17 people. But don't feel too badly. They were either murderers or rapists.

The Kingdom is way down from last year. By this time last year they had separated 46 heads from their torsos.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Image of Hero Destroyed

I just read that Oliver Stone has a project to turn "The Deep Blue Good-by" into a movie titled "Travis McGee". It will feature Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role.

Never did I ever picture the famous salvage consultant as looking like Leonardo DiCaprio. That has got to be some of the worst casting ever. I will give it a pass. Not only do I think Oliver Stone is a socialist a'hole but I don't want to destroy my mental image of Travis McGee.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Moratorium and Well Emergency Response:A Conundrum

Now that they seem to have the blowout under control and close to being killed, it would be a good time to take a look back at the technology used at the well, the government's contention of that the oil industry was not capable of responding to a blowout in deep water and how the moratorium may affect future response capability.

The ROVs: BP was able to muster some 14 deep water work ROVs and have them working 24/7 at a depth of 5000 feet. They were used to perform some heavy and complicated tasks. We watched as they moved heavy shears into place to cut the riser. They used a diamond saw to try to cut the flange. They positioned various caps on top of the leaks. They removed the bolts from the flange on the BOP and installed and bolted on a new flange. Then they guided the new cap into position. This may have been the first time this work was done at 5000 feet, but the operators knew how to drive their machines and water depth to them was irrelevant.

The relief wells: BP was able to muster two deep water drilling rigs and all the pipe, mud, cement and other materials necessary two drill relief wells - within days of the blowout. That was an astonishing accomplishment and one that was never recognized.

In addition, there was a fleet of specialized vessels that was mobilized to fight the spill or try to kill the well. There is no doubt that the industry has learned what works and what does not. Already you see a consortium of companies agreeing to pool resources to build equipment that could be used to help contain a future blowout.

And that brings us to the moratorium conundrum.

The only reason these resources were available was because the Gulf of Mexico was a center for deep water exploration. Had it not been such a center, there would have been few vessels, material or personnel available. Now, with the moratorium, the deep water capable rigs, and their support vessels and personnel, will be leaving the Gulf of Mexico. The effect will that the industry will less able to respond to a future incident. The machines, men and material necessary won't be nearby or readily obtainable. The moratorium, instead of protecting the Gulf of Mexico, will have the end result of increasing the risk of deep water drilling here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Another Dubai Jail Story

The Times Picayune had this news about a local man who had been held in a Dubai jail for 4 years.

It started with vague threats and harassment, Lionel Lombard Jr. says. Then he noticed he was being followed. At night, as he walked around the small lake in his neighborhood, men would jump out of bushes to scare him. Things began to escalate when he was refused entry to the United Arab Emirates community where he was living and working. Lombard challenged the denial, only to see the harassment intensify.

That was only the beginning of a four-year battle for freedom that the New Orleanian living in
Dubai outlined in a lawsuit he filed in California this month against the owner of the property he used to call home.

Lombard, a public relations consultant, complained about the way his landlord, Emaar Properties, would go to keep him silent.

What began as intimidation culminated in what he claims were bogus criminal charges resulting in two years of imprisonment and torture.

In an e-mail message to the Reuters news agency, Emaar said simply: "The allegations are baseless and the company does not wish to comment."

Lombard said his troubles started when he was falsely accused of making a suggestive hand gesture to a woman. He was jailed for three months. When a friend bailed him out, the friend was told Lombard was not an American. Lombard said he was frequently mocked because of his race: "You are not an American, you are black," people said.

When he was released, he had lost his job and had been blacklisted from being able to find a new job, he said. He was also banned from leaving the country. Then he was evicted and denied access to his house, he alleges in the lawsuit.

When he went to the U.S. Embassy to seek assistance, his home was ransacked. The locks were changed. He relocated to neighboring
Abu Dhabi.

For the next year and a half, Lombard attempted to move on. He began to promote a new fashion label. ""I put it behind me and moved forward," he said. "That's how I am."

In May 2008, he went to meet with a potential investor. At the meeting, members of the Emirati Criminal Investigative Department approached him and told him he was wanted in Dubai.He was taken to the police station, where he was arrested in relation to a "financial dispute."

his lawsuit says he was shackled at the hands and the ankles for six days. During that time, he was harassed constantly and kept from sleeping, he alleges.

He remained behind bars for 20 months, according to the suit.

The U.S Embassy had a difficult time determining what the charges against him were. When Lombard tried to obtain a jail certificate, he describes being "savagely beaten by six policemen."

Dubai Deputy Police Chief Khamis al-Mazeina told Reuters the allegations about Lombard's treatment were untrue.
"We strongly deny those accusations. Dubai police does not torture anybody .... This is all a figment of his imagination and entirely baseless."

On Feb. 3, 2010, all charges were dropped and Lombard was allowed to return home to New Orleans. The exact chain of events and parties involved in his release remain a mystery.

By filing a lawsuit and writing a book about his experiences, Lombard said he hopes to bring attention not only to the mistreatment by Emaar of its employees, but also to the practice of holding foreigners without evidence.

"It goes beyond greed," he said. "Everyone knows what is going on but turns a blind eye. I refuse to turn a blind eye. I stood up to them even though a lot of people said, 'You will get yourself killed.'"

Some people may think this story is far fetched. As someone who has lived in Dubai for an extended period of time, I find it perfectly credible. One of the first things you learn in Dubai is that it is against the law to say anything negative about the Sheikh or his family. I know that sounds outrageous but it is true. The second thing you learn is that the Sheikh owns everything in Dubai. He is, after all, the Sheikh. Therefore, if you say something negative about any institution in Dubai, you are saying it about the Sheikh and you are breaking the law.

The news is full of people who have been jailed in Dubai for infractions we in the west find ridiculous - making out on the beach, giving someone the finger, drinking too much or having cold medicine in your baggage. And there are also stories about businessmen who unknowingly found themselves on the wrong side of a financial transaction.

The bottom line is that the laws there are much different and your status as an American is meaningless. And Dubai, for all their public relations, is not the free and open society they appear to be.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Commuting

In the mid 90s, I made several visits to an oil and gas production platform in Cook Inlet, Alaska. My employer owned a majority stake in the facility but did not operate it. Our operating partner had undertaken a major revamp of the facility in order to make it possible to drill into a newly discovered portion of the reservoir and increase production. They had done a poor job of cost estimating and cost control and had no idea what the final costs would be. I was sent there to review the project and try to determine what our share of the final costs would be. Every morning, I would report to the heliport and climb into a neoprene survival suit for the helicopter flight to the platform. The process would be repeated in the evening.

About that same time, our CEO was starting an initiative to revise salaries for his engineers. Some brilliant business school savant had convinced him that oil and gas engineers were overpaid and we should be paid on a par with our counterparts in manufacturing - companies like HP or TI.

Every time I crawled into that damn suit, I said a silent curse to him. I wanted to tell him that when a Hewlett Packard engineer's transportation fails on his way to the office, he calls AAA and gets a tow truck. When my transportation fails, I take a swim in freezing water - and that's why we deserve more money!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Executive Order 13366

The president signed a new Executive Order yesterday. The news about it got buried in the congressional wranglings concerning extending jobless benefits and the news of the cap on the oil spill. However, this order could have a profound affect on you if you make your living from the sea. It says in part:

This order adopts the recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, except where otherwise provided in this order, and directs executive agencies to implement those recommendations under the guidance of a National Ocean Council. Based on those recommendations, this order establishes a national policy to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.

This order also provides for the development of coastal and marine spatial plans that build upon and improve existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional decision making and planning processes. These regional plans will enable a more integrated, comprehensive, ecosystem-based, flexible, and proactive approach to planning and managing sustainable multiple uses across sectors and improve the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.

Go read the whole thing here.

Note the term "coastal and marine spatial plan". This means that the ocean will be divided in to zones, that operate much like onshore zoning ordinances. In other words, certain activities will only be allowed in specific areas zoned for that activity. Then look at the term "ecosystem-based". This means that the use of that zone will be determined by its ecology and not national need or the economy. And when it says "build upon and improve existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional decision making and planning processes", I take that to mean that it will override these existing procedures.

For comparison, the old MMS used the concept of "multiple use". That is, no single activity could pre-empt any other activity. Under this concept, oil development activities had to take place using facilities that were compatible with other uses. For example, seafloor structures had to be built to allow trawls to pass over them without snagging. Under this new order, trawling could be limited to only certain areas. And if they determine that the ecology of that area demands it (i.e., low shrimp populations or benthic organisms), trawling could be prevented entirely. Note the sentence "ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems". This defines the main objective of the new ocean policy and it has nothing to do with extracting minerals, farming the sea or using the ocean for recreation.

The National Ocean Council formed under this Executive Order will have the ability to limit where you fish, where you can explore for oil, where you can site wind farms or any other activity, commercial or recreational, that takes place upon the water.

A big piece of freedom has been taken away from you and you don't even know about it because the media failed to cover it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I was driving to the office the other morning when I realized that my daily commute was rather unique. I cross the Mississippi River on the Crescent City Connection,the 5th most travelled travelled bridge in the country. After I park, I have a short walk to the New Orleans Street Car, the oldest public transportation system in the country and a national historical landmark. That got me to thinking about other commutes I have taken.

I once had a temporary assignment that caused me take the ferry across the Mississippi River just south of English Turn. I would usually be on the ferry right at sunrise. With the city obscured by the bend in the river, all you could see of the opposite shore was trees. It was easy to imagine how the area might have looked to Bienville.

In London, I would catch the tube from Paddington Station to Kensington High Street. I would then transfer to a bus to complete my trip to Hammersmith. The best part was the return trip where my bus leg was usually on one of the historic Routemasters. There was something magical about riding that old bus during the Christmas season when London has its street light displays in evidence.

In Hiroshima, my main transportation was a motorcycle. I would drive a route that had me taking a left turn off the famous T bridge aiming point, travelling past the A Bomb Dome and Peace Park and on to Mitsubishi's shipyard.

In Lagos, we would all board a company bus. A chase car with armed guards would follow us. We would make a short drive to a boat dock where we caught a boat for a run down the river to Snake Island, where we were renting office space. The river was the safest route as you could avoid any hijackings that occur on the roads. Sights along the way might include the odd dead body.

In Dubai, my commute took me on the Sheik Zayed Road and past such landmarks as Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope, and Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world and Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world. But the traffic was the fastest and most dangerous I have driven in.

In Paris, I would catch the RER from the stop near the Eiffel Tower and ride it to Versailles. (Not the palace but across the river from it).

And occasionally I would have to commute by helicopter to an offshore platform.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

No Cajuns Wanted!

British Petroleum announced today that they will no longer hire Cajuns to help in the cleanup.

Thibodeaux, Boudreaux, and Fontenot were told to clean as many brown pelicans as they could....

So far, Thibodeaux has cleaned and gutted over 56 birds while Boudreaux made the roux and Fontenot cooked the rice.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Seven Sins

The Hayride has an excellent summary of how the US government has shown its incompetence with respect to the BP oil spill. I'll summarize them here but it is really worth the read.

The Jones Act - The Obama administration has used the Jones Act as an excuse for not using foreign flag vessels to aid with the cleanup. The fact is that the Jones Act does not apply outside of 6 miles offshore and he could easily waive the act, like Bush did for Katrina.

The Packgen Blowoff - A manufacturer in Maine decided to start building oil boom on speculation knowing that there would be a demand for it. The government has ignored the 15 miles of boom they have stored in their warehouse even as Bobby Jindal was pleading for more boom.

Skimmers Staying Put - 2000 skimmers are available in the US but only 400 are actually being used to fight the spill. NBC news had film of workers using shop vacs to try to suck up oil in the marsh. Maybe Home Depot should be running the cleanup.

The Vacuum Barge Affair - When Louisiana decided to rig up some vacuum trucks on barges and use them to suck up oil, the USCG pulled them all back into port until they bought more fire extinguishers and life vests.

Sand Berms - The permitting process slowed the construction of berms designed to keep oil out of the most sensitive marshes. When dredging was finally allowed to proceed, a single individual stopped it again because of where the dredge material was taken from. Almost a week was lost to relocate the dredge suction.

Lack of Fire Boom - Burning has always been a key part of the federal response plan to a major oil spill, but when fireproof oil boom was needed, there was none available.

15 ppm - The EPA requires that water discharged overboard have no more than 15 parts per million of oil and grease. The Dutch oil spill vessels can suck up a tremendous amount of oil and water. They then separate the oil from the water and pump the water overboard. The problem is that the oil content of the discharge water is more than 15 ppm. Hence, the system was not approved by the EPA. Am I the only one who sees the irony in this decision? Why hasn't the president waived this requirement by executive order?

I'd like to add the fiasco concerning dispersants to this list. After the USCG approved the use of dispersants, the EPA called for a halt to their use until toxicity issues were resolved. They were basically ignored and the use of dispersants continued. The dispersants being used have been around for years. It makes one wonder why their toxic effects have not been studied.

When you take all of these issues together, you begin to wonder if the government is just that incompetent or if there is a conspiracy to NOT clean up the oil spill for nefarious political purposes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Engineer Speak

Something to break the oil spill angst.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Dalwhinnie is a highland scotch. The distillery was founded in 1897. The name Dalwhinnie means "Meeting Place". The site of the distillery was a meeting place of cattle drive routes through the mountains. It has the distinction of being the highest distillery.

Color: light amber
Nose: clean
Palate: smooth
Body: silky, light texture
Finish: warming

Dalwhinnie is a smooth scotch. It is an excellent scotch to begin ones exploration of spirits as it will not abuse the taste buds.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Drilling Moratorium - An Economic Nightmare

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association has prepared a summary of the impact of the 6 month drilling moratorium to the State of Louisiana. I have condensed their summary here.

Since the announcement by the MMS, the GOM rig count has decreased to 23 rigs from 46 last week.

Roughly 33% of nation’s domestically produced oil and 10% of the nation's natural gas comes from the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, 80% of the Gulf’s oil, and 45% of its natural gas comes from operations in more than 1000 feet of water – the deepwater (2009 data).

Note that the moratorium applies to all wells in water depths greater than 500'. Therefore, it will apply to wells that are not typically considered to be deep water wells.

The moratorium means roughly 33 floating drilling rigs – typically leased for hundreds of thousands of dollars per day – will be idled for six months or longer. In all probability, these rigs will find work outside of the US and will not be available for domestic drilling at the end of the moratorium.

Each drilling rig employs 180 to 280 people working in rotating shifts. In addition, each drilling job supports 4 other jobs. Therefore, 800 to 1400 jobs per idle rig are at risk. That's a loss of 25,400 to 46,200 jobs!

Wages for those jobs average $1,804/weekly. The potential for lost wages is huge, over $5 to $10 million for 1 month – per rig! Wages lost could be over $165 to $330 million/month for all 33 rigs.

The number of wells and oil companies impacted are:

Shell (7)
Chevron (4)
Anadarko (3)
Marathon (2)
Noble Energy (2)
Eni US Operating Co. (2)
ATP Oil & Gas (2)
Statoil (2)
ExxonMobil (1)
Petrobras America (1)
BHP (1)
BP (1)
Kerr McGee (1)
Murphy (1)
LLOG (1)
Newfield (1)
Hess (1)

The number of successful wells drilled is the leading indicator of economic demand for the offshore industry. A successful well will trigger the start of engineering studies to determine the best type of structure for development of the field. This will lead to fabrication and installation of the massive structures required to produce oil and gas in deep water. These are high technology, high skills and high paying jobs. The drilling moratorium will drive a stake into the heart of the domestic offshore industry.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BP Update - More FAIL

It's Sunday, June 6, Day 48 since the blowout.

BP has set the revised tophat on the well after failing to cut the riser with the wire saw. They had to revert to the shear which left a jagged cut which they could not seal with the original LMRP cap. The tophat is on the well but video shows most of the oil flowing out of the bottom of the cap. This was predictable. The well bore is 20" in diameter and they wanted to force all that oil through 6-5/8" drill pipe which has an internal diameter of 3-1/2". Overall, I think they took a step backwards. They increased flow from the well but are not capturing more oil with the cap.

Tar balls are washing up in P'cola. Destin is next.

In other news, James Carville saw Thad Allen and Tony Hayward having dinner together the other night in the French Quarter. Tony has a lot of courage to eat at a public restaurant in New Orleans. I can only guess at the "extras" that the wait staff added to his meal.

Monday, May 31, 2010

IQ Test

A friend of mine sent me a puzzle that only people with an IQ over 120 are supposed to be able to solve. It took me about 10 minutes with a paper and pencil. Middle Grandson, D, did it in 5 minutes - in his head. But then he cleaned up on 4th grade academic awards. Here's the test.

2 + 3 = 10
7 + 2 = 63
6 + 5 = 66
8 + 4 = 96

9 + 7 = ????

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Little Boats

We got to talking with our waiter Saturday night and found out that he had spent the last two days working on a friends boat on the cleanup. When I started asking questions I found out that it was a 24 foot boat and they were out 50 to 60 miles. The boat only had a single engine and basic electronic equipment. They had no Personal Protection Equipment and little training. What they were doing was towing absorbent boom through the slick. If BP were to charter a crew boat they would have a list of requirements a mile long. But they have no problem hiring ill equipped vessels to clean up the spill. I think that the people chartering out to BP are putting there lives in danger.

Our discussion emphasized the lousy job BP is doing on the cleanup. They are using cutting edge technology at the well site but we might as well be back in the Middle Ages on the beaches. We're using hay and pitchforks when we should be using skimmers, vacuum trucks and frac tanks.

Where is the technology developed at Ohmsett? That is an oil spill research facility that was supposed to help test spill recovery equipment. Where are the skimmers that were developed there? Why is it that oil booms don't work even in small waves when we have had a research facility that was supposed to improve oil booms?

And where are the local scientists from OSRADP? That is an APPLIED research group that has tested various ways to clean up oil in Louisiana's marsh? Where are they?

It appears that BP's vessel of opportunity program is a copy of Dunkirk and the small boats. If I was BP's Risk Manager, I couldn't sleep at night knowing that Private citizens are being placed at risk.

BP's Scorecard

Lets add up what's happened.

Big Dome - FAIL
Top Hat - Never Attempted
Siphon - Partial Success
Top Kill - FAIL
Top Kill with junk shot - FAIL

Beach Cleanup - MEGA FAIL!!!!

The next plan is to remove the riser and the Lower Marine Riser Package and stab a new LMRP on the stub. That means that oil will be flowing out of an 18" hole with no restriction while they try to stab the LMRP into an 18" target from 5000' feet away.

It also means that they have halted the second relief well because that is where they are getting the other LMRP.

Am I the only one who thinks this may not be a good idea??

Friday, May 28, 2010

Root Causes

Important hearings about the BP blowout are going on in New Orleans this week. These are the fact finding hearings run by the Coast Guard and the MMS. They will search for the facts without the need for political sound bites for the sheeple back home. These hearings will form the basis for a rational, impartial evaluation of the causes of the blowout. (You already have my opinion)

Engineering design evolves over time. Failures, and an evaluation of them, is what improves engineering design. So, in some ways, the blowout is part of the evolution that improves offshore oil exploration. Engineers use a tool called Root Cause Analysis. The goal is to drill down (no pun intended) until the real cause of a failure is determined. The immediate cause may be the failure of a component or procedure, but by applying some Root Cause Analysis, the underlying reasons can be determined. It may be that a lack of maintenance caused the component to fail and that could be the ultimate root cause.

Reorganizing the MMS is simply a knee jerk reaction and is nothing more than a bunch of squirrels changing trees. When the hearings are over and the report prepared, there will be realistic recommendations that will improve the industry.

If you want to read more about the failures and the evolution of engineering design, read "To Engineering is Human, The Role of Failure in Successful Design" by Henry Petrosky.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Phases of a Project

Engineers often say there are 7 phases to a project. I list them below:

1. Uncritical Acceptance
2. Wild Enthusiasm
3. Dejected Disillusionment
4. Total Confusion
5. Search for the Guilty
6. Punishment of the Innocent
7. Promotion for the Non Participants

I leave it up to the reader to determine where BP and the Obama administration are on the project phase continuum.

Older heads claim there is an 8th phase. It is:

8. Slaughter of the Wounded by the Auditors

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Get-there-itis is a disease exhibited by Type A personality types. Its symptoms are impatience, a desire for action and a focus on goal achievement. It is also sometimes known as Go Fever, especially in the aerospace industry.

In my opinion, Get-there-itis was the root cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That is a personal opinion, based upon hearsay evidence but backed up by experience. When all the hearings are over and the reports written, I think they will find that the decisions of the BP representative on board the rig were the root cause of the blowout. Let me explain a little about the hierarchy on a drilling rig.

On a drilling rig, the Toolpusher is the top man for the rig owner. He is in charge of the entire rig and its personnel. However, there is one person who is higher than him and that is the "Company Man". The Company Man is the representative of the oil company that is hiring the rig. The oil company's engineers design the well and procedures to construct it and the Company Man puts them into action. In case of a dispute or question, he is the final decision maker. With modern communications, he can be in instant contact with the home office, but he is the man on site and his is the last word. A man does not rise to that position by being a shrinking violet or doubtful of his capabilities. You can bet that he will have a large ego as it takes one to be responsible for costs that rival the annual budget of a small country.

I think the BP's Company Man made a unilateral decision to circulate the mud out of the drilling riser and replace it with seawater in order to cut a couple of days off the drilling program for a rig that cost around $500,000 per day.

I make that judgement because I have observed similar behavior in my professional career. I was site engineer on a project when the project manager wanted to eliminate proof load tests on monorail lifting beams in order to save some time. Although it was counter to the specification, he wanted to eliminate it and wanted engineering to concur. I refused and told him that it was a business decision that could be made by project management but was not one that engineering would support.

In another case, a good friend of mine flew his airplane into the side of a mountain because he was in a hurry to get to his ski vacation and decided to fly through mountains in marginal weather. He killed himself, his wife and his niece, not the mention putting the lives of the recovery team at risk.

You have probably seen similar behavior. What about that guy that cut you off at the highway exit or blew past you at 90 mph. Clear cases of Get-there-itis.

So, it would not surprise me that the BP Company Man decided to take a unilateral action that ultimately caused the blowout. I cannot wait to hear his testimony to the investigating board

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Road Trip

My wife and I made a drive to Natchitoches, La this weekend. The event was an award ceremony for the oldest grandson. He was being recognized by the Duke University TIPS program for scoring a 20 or above on the ACT. And he's only in the 7th grade!

Before the ceremony, we went to Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen for lunch. This is the place for Natchitoches meat pies and other Southern Comfort Food like dirty rice, fried okra, red beans, chicken fried steak. Its unpretentious and family friendly.

Saturday night we went seeking Grayson's Barbecue in the village of Clarence, La. Although Grayson's is a shack in the middle of nowhere, people come from miles around to get some of the best barbecue in the state. I prefer the ribs and beef brisket. Don't come here expecting white tablecloths - or any tablecloth at all! The furnishingx are basic, the decorations are rustic but the smoke house does an excellent job.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oilfield History

The first saturation dives in open water were made in the Gulf of Mexico to clear debris from Hurricane Betsy. An eyewitness account of those days can be found on this link.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wascally Wabbit!

This is why rabbit hunting is not popular in Texas.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Residual Stress FAIL

The video shows what happens when one fails to take into account any residual stress that may exist in a system. The guy was lucky. All he got was a wild ride. Had the situation been different, he would have been a statistic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Atlantic Coast Oil Exploration - The Big Lie

Everyone seems to be happy that Obama has opened the Atlantic Coast to offshore drilling. They fail to realize that his action was just a smokescreen - one that is easy to see through once a few facts are known. The first thing to understand is that there has been no oil exploration activity off the east coast for 30 years. The early wells were either dry holes, or like the case of the Manteo well off North Carolina. The state blocked any drilling activity for so long that Mobil Oil successfully sued to have their lease payment returned.

The figure shown should help explain. This is a chart of the UTRR (Ultimate Technically Recoverable Reserves) estimated to be undiscovered in the US offshore as of 2003. This chart was prepared by the Minerals Management Service and is on their web site here. It is their best estimate as to how much oil and gas remain to be discovered. Note how much of the pie chart is in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Pacific versus the Atlantic.

Does allowing the oil industry to explore for these paltry amounts seem like Obama is serious about oil and gas development? The MMS has a good summary of the history of activity off the Atlantic coast. it can be found here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oil Field History

The birth of the offshore industry is commonly set as November 14, 1947 when Kerr-McGee completed the first successful offshore well in what is now Ship Shoal Block 32. The water depth there is only 15 feet but the location is outside of any protective islands or bays and is subject to the weather and waves from the Gulf of Mexico.

The drilling derrick and draw works were supported on a 38-foot by 71-foot wooden decked platform built on sixteen 24-inch pilings driven to a depth of 104 feet. A government surplus vessel was moored to the platform. It held electrical generators, drilling mud tanks, pumps, drill pipe and quarters for personnel; all the equipment, men and material needed to support the drilling operation. It also began the concept of housing crews offshore for several weeks at a time and then rotating them to shore while a replacement crew took their place. This first offshore well produced until 1984.

Do you remember the James Stewart movie Thunder Bay? This is the well that inspired that movie. Portions of it were filmed in Morgan City, Louisiana and on the actual platform.

The use of a government surplus vessel as a tender vessel was driven by frugality. If the well was not successful, they would be able to move the vessel to another location and they didn’t need a large fixed structure. That vessel was in existence as late as the '90s and has been called the “Grand Old Lady of the Gulf”. During her lifetime, she saw many changes in the Gulf of Mexico and has undergone several herself.

She was launched July 30, 1945 at the Boston Naval Shipyard as covered lighter YF-893. She was 260 feet long and 48 feet wide. Originally built as a utility craft to carry fuel, she was assigned to the Port of New Orleans. She was acquired by Kerr McGee in a surplus sale, converted to a drilling tender and renamed Frank Phillips in honor of the founder of the oil company that partnered with Kerr McGee in that first well.

In 1977, Norman Industries acquired her, renamed her the Pipeliner 8, and put her to use as a pipeline burial barge towing a machine that could bury subsea pipelines beneath the sea floor. She ran aground in 1979 near Freeport, Texas but by 1980, she had been repaired and had a new owner: Ingram Marine. In 1983, she began yet another career when she was converted to a center slot pipe lay barge. Ten foot sponsons added to give her more stability and she was renamed the Delta 1. As the Delta 1, she installed over 1,000,000 feet of pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, Global Industries acquired her in the 90’s. They were her final owners. They sold her for scrap in the late '90s.

At almost 60 years old, she must hold the record for the world’s longest active offshore construction vessel and she is certainly the only vessel that can lay claim to being there at the start of the offshore oil industry.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I received the census form the other day. I decided to follow the example of a friend of mine. He was a Canadian who moved here and is now a citizen. When the census worker came to his cabin 10 years ago (he lives in the NH woods) he told the worker, "Unlike you, I had to take a test to become a US citizen. And I learned that the only thing the Constitution requires is to enumerate the population. You cannot come into my house, you cannot ask me any other questions and you cannot stay on my property. You have enumerated and you may leave."

So, I filled out the space requesting the number of people living at that address. Just for fun, I gave them my phone number – in Roman Numerals. That is all the information I gave them.

And I found it strange that in a time when the country is supposed to be "post-racial", that there were so many questions about race and ethnicity. But there were none asking if the responder was a citizen! I have lived in several countries for extended periods of time and none of them would even think to include me in any population count and certainly not give me any social benefits. Seems to me that a question about resident status would be more important to the census.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes when executives go out in to the world, they are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. When a CEO decides to rub elbows with the "hands" offshore, a whole chain of events is put in motion. A special helicopter will be chartered. The platform will undergo a "beautification project" which takes the guys away from productive work (and adds cost). All "dirty" operations are postponed. The cost of all this adds up but the executive is not aware of it, or just doesn't care.

I once knew a construction supervisor, who when faced with a pending visit from the CEO, negotiated with the shipyard to spray a "cosmetic coat" of paint on the rig so that the color would be uniform and not the patchwork of shades that comes with paint sprayed on at different times. The problem was that they thinned the paint so much that it bubbled the paint below it causing a major do over.

It seems Obama suffers from a similar syndrome. When the President decides to go walkabout, he triggers road closures and all manner of local havoc. His vacation in Hawaii shut down the operation of several tourist flight sightseeing operations. They are now trying to recover their lost income from the government. The link is here.

And that's probably a few more votes he won't get in the next election.

Monday, March 1, 2010


There it is. This President thinks the American people don't care about "procedures within the Senate".

Monday, February 22, 2010

Capital One Gotcha

I received my statement the other day and found that my interest rate had doubled. WTF?! I called them to ask why and was informed that it had nothing to do with my credit standing, credit history or payments but that they had sent me a letter last February warning me of an increase and giving me the option to opt out and close the account while I paid it off at the old interest rate. But, this option was not available to me now, so sorry. Some poor phone guy in India got an earful and was called a criminal and usurer. Sorry, guy, but that what you get for associating with a criminal enterprise.

You see, the whole situation was set up to avoid the new credit laws which take effect today. They would have had to freeze existing accounts at the old interest rate and only new purchases could be charged the higher rate. So they snuck a form letter into their queue of junk mail and didn't send any other warning flags about the impending account change. To charge 19% when the Fed is at fractional interest rates should be criminal.

I will pay off Capital One ASAP and they can take a flying leap at the moon. And I guess I'm not the only one getting stuck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lombardi Gras?

The press began calling the Saints Superbowl Victory Parade last Tuesday "Lombardi Gras". I guess it was supposed to be a combination of the trophy name, The Lombardi Trophy, and Mardi Gras, which is today. But it doesn't make sense to me.

In French, adjectives usually come after the noun they modify. Hence, the translation for Mardi Gras is "Fat Tuesday", not "Tuesday Fat". Then, Lombardi Gras would mean "Fat Lombardi". But I don't think the intent was to imply that Vince Lombardi was overweight or that the trophy was greasy. I think the event should have been called "Mardi Lombardi". Not only does it rhyme, but it clearly indicates that the event happened on a Tuesday. Anybody else have any suggestions?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fantasy Fulfilment

There's a scene in "Exit to Eden" where Rosie O'Donnell first arrives at the resort and one of the staff asks her how he could fulfil her fantasy. "Go paint my house", was the response.

Well, if a painted house is a woman's fantasy, my wife and I worked on that fantasy this past weekend - yes, even on St. Valentine's day. If you've ever painted a house in South Louisiana you know that your window of opportunity is short. Wait too long in the season and it becomes unbearably hot. The planning started last summer with my wife picking out several color samples and then painting swatches on the back of the house to see what they looked like in various kinds of light. After several months of testing, she found a combination she was happy with. We (well, mostly she as she was painting while I was holding down the desk in the office) started in January but the cold weather due to Anthropomorphic Global Warming has slowed progress. However, we have enlisted the aid of niece and her guy friend and will catch up soon.

If you have a house painting fantasy, I'd like to recommend the new Behr paint that has the primer already in it. (This is a non paid endorsement) It goes on smooth and adheres well. It ain't cheap but it could save you a coat.

In the meantime, have a happy and safe Mardi Gras. You'll probably find me giving a coat of fresh paint to the shutters. Laissez le Bon Temps Roullez!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Super Bowl Parade

What other city could put together a victory parade that draws 800,000 fans in the matter of few days? What other quarterback would go to a local watering hole after the parade and do this?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Home Boy Does Good

When Peyton Manning was a little boy, he probably used to dream about throwing the winning touchdown for the Saints in the Superbowl. Well, Sunday night, he did!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cajun Joke

Did you hear about the Cajun who went to Hell?

The devil assigned him the usual punishment...put him in the mass pit where the heat was melting others. The devil came back sometime later surprised to find the Cajun just sitting around, not even misting, much less sweating. "How come you're not so much as sweating here where everyone else is screaming for relief from the heat?"

The Cajun laughed and said, "Man, I was raised in the bayous of Sout Looziana... Dis bout lak May in Lafayette to me!"

The devil decided to really put the Cajun through it. He put him in a sealed off cave in the pit with open blazes and four extra furnaces blasting. When he came back, days later, the Cajun was sitting pretty, had barely begun to bead up with sweat. The devil was outraged.. "How is this possible!? You should be melted to a shrieking puddle in these conditions!."

The Cajun laughed even harder than before. "Hey, man! I done tole you. I was raised in Sout Looziana. You tink dis is heat?! Dis bout lak August in Jennings !"

So the devil thought, 'Alright, a little reverse ought to do the trick.' He put the Cajun into a corner of hell where no heat ever reached. It was freezing and to add to the Cajun's misery, he added massive icebergs and blasting frozen air. When he returned, the Cajun was shivering, ice hung from every part of him but he was grinning like it was Christmas.

Exasperated, the devil asked "HOW!? How is it possible?! You're impervious to heat and here you sit in conditions you can't be used to...freezing cold and yet you're happier than if you were in heaven.. WHY?!"

The Cajun kept grinning and said, "Oh-boy looks lak hell's froze over - Dis means de Saints won da Super Bowl -

Friday, January 29, 2010

Teacup, Meet Tempest

NFL claims ownership of Who Dat

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Windshield or Bug?

When we pick up the grandsons from school the first question we ask them is whether they were the windshield or the bug that day.

Here's Dire Straits performing the song. You might be more familiar with the Mary Chapin Carpenter version.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Job Security

My Brother in Law, who is a university professor, sent me this story about his groundhog problem. Being liberal types, they eschiew the ballistic solution for the critter friendly trap.

I was talking with a university grounds keeper who cuts lawns in my neighborhood for extra money. As I was asking his advice, guess who pokes his head up and simply walks into the set trap? Now, we all know that a groundhog must be put some distance or it will simply come back. This groundkeeper gave me an address of a full time trapper in the next, semi-rural county. I called him up to get directions to his farm. It was like traveling to Deliverance—the movie, thru a winding, canyon road. When we get there, his young teen daughters were having target practice. So, we take the cage out of the trunk; and, let it go on his land. The trapper didn’t charge us. He then gives me a different set of directions from his farm to the main highway. As I go over the county ridge line road and into the next dale, there is this big expensive McMansion Subdivision. Now, a light bulb pops in my brain. I know why he takes groundhogs and skunks for free from the university. He lets them wander on his land and eventually they find a home under a porch or whatever at one of these expensive McMansions. As the ground keeper told me later at lunch, he then charges to trap them. He then sets them free, and has this thriving repeat business!