Monday, January 31, 2011

Today I Was a Windshield

This morning the travel gods smiled upon me.

Arrived at Continental counter to find no line. Breezed through security and didn't get selected for the scanner. My bag dropped onto the carousel just as I walked up to it. Got on the bus to the rental car center and realized I forget to reserve a car. Called Hertz while I was on the bus and 5 minutes later a car was waiting for me.

I wish I knew what I had done to deserve this. If I knew, I'd keep doing it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Da Project

PE has shifted from offshore oil and gas to green energy. I am now working for a company that plans to build numerous biodiesel plants in Brazil. I am currently the Lead Project Engineer for the design and construction of a demonstration plant that is going to take palm oil waste and turn it into diesel. It does that by turning the woody stuff into gas and then running that through some fancy catalysts to rearrange the molecules and make liquid hydrocarbons.

I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry. I just need to put the iron together. In the middle of the Amazon rain forest. In less than one year because some politician made a commitment during a speech and now we have to deliver on that promise.

It turns out that the project is a sort of Mobil Oil Alumni Association. Most of my colleagues are old friends from the days before the Exxon/Mobil merger. That’s probably because the COO is one and he knows where the talent is. (Hint: none of us are under 55)

It’s been a learning experience, but it helps to keep the mind agile.

And for those of you who think they might be able to make a career out of green energy, here’s something to think about:

This plant is designed to make about 50 barrels per day of hydrocarbon products from palm tree waste. Not all of that is diesel. Some is naptha and some more is wax. In order to do this, we will need to burn about 3 times that amount in #2 diesel fuel to power the generators that make the electricity we need to run the plant. Do the math.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Heard Around the Office

"You can put a saddle on a pig, but it's still not a race horse" - Engineering Manager describing engineering firms work product.

"It's no wonder they lost the war" - Me after reviewing design from Austrian engineering firm.

"You need the Da Vinci code to understand their system" - comment regarding same Austrian engineering firms instrumentation design

"Are you going to jump off the cliff just because everyone else has?" - Me to process engineer after he stated he was just copying the Austrian design.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review - The Sentry

Joe Pike fans, rejoice. Joe is back. Elvis Cole's partner and sidekick is back with another book where he is the main character. In typical Joe fashion, he inserts himself into an ad baculum dispute between a restaurant owner and some gang bangers. And, of course, he makes a connection with the owner's niece. He gives her his number and tells her to call if she has any more trouble. And you know that's gotta happen.

She makes the damsel in distress call but then disappears. Joe searches for the pair and finds that all is not what it seemed.

In classic Robert Crais style, this book is hard to put down. And he always sprinkles a little Louisiana into his books as well. I think this is one of his best novels. I recommend it.

Green Energy

PE is now working in the green energy arena so the following news should worry me. It doesn't. There will always be work for people who know how to build things. But I bet Obama didn't mention this news from Reuters, dated Jan 14, 2011, in his SOTU address:

The bad news about the layoffs at cellulosic biofuel maker Range Fuels just got worse. The financially-strapped company plans to shut down its plant in Georgia after making just one batch of ethanol, according to a post by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The story quoted Bud Klepper, who’s not only Range Fuels’ technical advisor but also the original founder of the company that became Range Fuels (previously called Kergy). Klepper told the publication that Range Fuels is laying off most of its employees at its plant near Soperton, Ga, after it makes a single batch of ethanol, and the company will shut down the plant while it tackles technical problems and raises more money.

We guess that when the company told us earlier this week that it expected to start producing ethanol this week, it really meant it would produce just a single batch, followed by throwing in the towel on the plant and workers. That’s kind of like saying I’m going to start writing my novel this week, and then typing the title and calling it a day.

Range Fuels company spokesman Patrick Wright told us earlier this week that the company was letting go “a handful of people in Colorado and Georgia,” but he declined to disclose the number or reasons. Wright also said the company plans to meet a 2011 production goal set by the U.S. Environmental Agency.

Range Fuels, which is backed by investors including Khosla Ventures, has gotten quite a bit of public money to get its first commercial plant up and running. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company a grant of $76 million in 2007 to finance the Georgia plant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a loan guarantee of $80 million, and that allowed the company to secure an $80 million bond in 2010 to fund the plant’s construction as well.

In between, the company raised a private B round of over $100 million from investors including Khosla, Passport Capital, BlueMountain, Leaf Clean Energy Company and Pacific Capital Group (with participation by the California Employee Retirement System).

Range Fuels is one of five companies that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has projected will be able to contribute to a total of 6.6 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2011. A 2007 law required that the EPA set mandates for different types of fuels that can be blended into gasoline and diesel. Those mandates are supposed to lead the country to produce 36 billion gallons in 2022. Lawmakers nurtured ambitious goals to wean the country off the use of fossil fuels for transportation.

However, meeting those goals has proven clearly proven to be extremely difficult, mainly because many biofuel companies with promising technologies ran into technical problems or were unable to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build a commercial plant. Or both.

Congress initially set 100 million gallons as the 2010 target for cellulosic biofuel, but the EPA cut that to 6.5 million gallons. It appears that the industry might have produced less than 1 million gallons last year, reported ClimateWire on Tuesday, citing an estimate by a government analyst.

The EPA expects Range Fuels to produce 100,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 2.9 million gallons of methanol at its Georgia plant in 2011. Although methanol doesn’t meet the current definition of cellulosic biofuel, the EPA said it’s considering changing that. The agency already counted Range Fuels’ projected methanol production in its 2011 goal.

Range Fuels began producing methanol last summer. At the time, Aldous said the plant had “less than 10 million gallons” of annual production capacity, but the plan was to expand it to 60 million gallons. Construction was to start this summer.

Aldous told the Colorado newspaper the Daily Camera this week that the recession and what he called a “public apathy toward green fuels” have hampered the company’s progress. The newspaper also said there was a “problem with the feed system at its plant.”

Aside from Range Fuels, the other four producers that could contribute to the 2011 pool are DuPont Danisco, Fiberight, KL Energy and KiOR.

Notice how much of a return you got on your tax dollars. And how the non existent production is already factored into the Yankee Guvment projections. And then notice how they kept reducing their requirements and expectations!

I think I'll talk to my current employer about making a scavenging run at the plant. They might have some good parts I can use.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Civil War History

On this day 150 years ago the Louisiana legislature passed the following ordinance by a vote of 113 to 17:

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance passed by us in convention on the 22d day of November, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of the said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States under the name of "The United States of America" is hereby dissolved.

We do further declare and ordain, That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government; and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.

We do further declare and ordain, That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or any act of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.

Adopted in convention at Baton Rouge this 26th day of January, 1861.

There has been little official recognition of this historical event. But it is important to note that we are starting the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Follow PE's friend Rico as he attends reenactments throughout the country.

Monday, January 24, 2011

TSA Threepeat and Opt Out No. 4

Business was slow today for the early flight so there was little competition for the TSA Sun Tan Booth so they tagged me again. (Its the lull between the Holidays and Mardi Gras) And I again Opted Out. They don't skip a beat any more when I opt out. The agent manning the magnetometer, the same one who had frisked me last week, said hello and I reminded him that I had told him that I would be back. So, I was frisked again and in 60 seconds I was on my way.

I have to report that I have had no incidents of "inappropriate" frisking. Maybe the guys in NOLa are doing it wrong.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Opt Out No. 3 and Baggage Rants

Monday morning, 5:00 AM, no coffee yet and tagged yet again for a session in the TSA sun tan booth. Nope. Not me. And they call for a "male assist". (Does anyone know why they call a pat down an "assist"? They aren't in any way helping or "assisting" me. In fact, they are infringing my constitutional rights. If someone can tell me, I would like to know the etymology of the phrase.)

Anyway, I'm used to the routine and tell the agent that I'll see him again next week.

And here's another conundrum......Why do people who are either too short or too weak to put their carry on luggage in the overhead bin insist on bringing it into the cabin? Do they naturally assume that some kind traveller will put their bag up for them? Why impose yourself on other people that way? Sure, you save $25 in baggage fees but you aren't sharing that savings with the person who just hefted your bag into the overhead. Acknowledge your limitations and check the d**n bag.

And a final rant......a carry on bag that is stuffed with more s**t than a Christmas goose and won't fit in the overhead bin is, by definition, NOT a carry on bag.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Movie Critique - Get Low

I like Robert Duvall. I like any movie he has been in. He has been acting since 1956 and you can find him anywhere. But his latest movie, Get Low, is one of his best. He plays a hermit that decides to have a "funeral party" that he can attend while he is still alive. As the plot unrolls, you find that he is a much more complex person than you first thought and he had a deep reason for his self imposed exile. His funeral party is the way he has chosen to seek redemption for his past.

Some reviews claim that this movie is a comedy. It is definitely NOT a comedy but a drama with some humerous moments.

If you're a Bill Murray fan, he does a fine job of portraying the greedy funeral director who hopes to make big bucks off of the party. The key roles are rounded out with Lucas Black who always seems to be cast as the county bumpkin and Sissy Spacek playing an old love interest to Duvall's character.

According the IMDB, the movie cost $7,500,000 to make and has grossed a little under $10 mil - not a box office hit. It has been nominated for a couple of low level awards but not any big ones. In short, this is a movie that has missed box office acclaim but is well worth seeing. Check your cable company to see if it's playing or get the DVD when it comes out.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


On Nov 7, 1938, a Polish Jew, Hershel Grynszpan, shot German diplomat and Nazi Party SA member Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. Vom Rath died from his wounds two days later, which also happened to be the 15th anniversary of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, a high holy day in the Nazi Party calendar.

Goebbels, with Hitler’s approval, made an inflammatory anti-Jewish speech at the Munich beer hall that night which resulted in mob violence and Krystalnacht, which is often cited as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Any conclusion you draw between this bit of history and the rants of the far left over the Tucson shootings are your own.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Opt Out No. 2

They tagged me again this AM for the virtual strip search. And again I opted out. When the agent came to do the pat down, he asked me what had alarmed in the screener. I told him that nothing had alarmed, I had opted out. He asked me why. I told him I felt it was a violation of my right to protection from unreasonable search. He shrugged and tried to tell me that you really couldn't see anything anyway. I explained that I wasn't concerned about them "seeing things", but that I saw it as a violation of my constitutional rights.

This agent was nice guy. He even admitted that some agent's badge goes to their heads. I thanked him for his courtesy and told him I might see him next Monday onmy weekly commute to Houston.

He was a good conversationalist. I'm sure he realized very quickly that I was a weekly commuter to Houston and not likely to try to hijack the plane. The TSA would do better using guys like him to do verbal screenings the way they do in Israel.

And today I read that Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) feels that congress critters deserve special treatment at the airport.

“We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else,” he said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, we are held to a higher standard in so many other areas, and I think we need to take a hard look at exactly how the TSA interact with members of Congress.”

It smacks of just more elitism from our congress critters. The PE says give 'em all an enhanced pat down and see how they like it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


A couple of Christmas gifts:

I will hold one until the other happens and then I will enjoy both.
Royal Lochnagar is a small distillery with about 10 employees. It has been in existence since 1845 and is next to Balmoral Castle.
Tasting notes will have to wait until 2013.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

High Praise

Oldest grandson, J, gave me this sweatshirt for Christmas. I consider it the highest praise that one could receive.