Thursday, March 31, 2011


We had some rough weather around New Orleans the other night. 100 mph winds and hail. My niece was studying with a friend when they heard the radio give a tornado alert. Her friend thought they should hunker down in an interior room. My niece replied, "We've got a Physics test tomorrow. That's much more important than death."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Project Update and Engineering Win

Most engineers know that there are 7 stages to a project. I summarize them here:

Phase 1: Uncritical Acceptance
Phase 2: Wild enthusiasm
Phase 3: Dejected disillusionment
Phase 4: Total confusion
Phase 5: Search for the guilty
Phase 6: Punishment of the innocent
Phase 7: Promotion of nonparticipants

We are currently in Phase 3 and rapidly heading into Phase 4. Management has come aground upon the shoals of reality and are realizing that cost and schedule estimates developed with fairy dust by magic unicorns do not stand up to reality when you have start putting the iron together. They are grasping at straws and asking us to investigate kneejerk cost saving scenarios, thereby taking us away from the task at hand and further delaying the project.

On the positive side, I did have an engineering win recently.

My niece asked for my help with her senior physics project, which was building a bridge of specific dimensions and weight out of balsa wood. We penned out a simple truss design and built it. The short story is that not only did she get a "100" for her project, it was the most efficient of the class carrying a load of about 30 lbs while weighing in at just under 15 ounces.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Automobile Adventures

There was a local car club show this past weekend and my son wanted to take a couple of his cars to display. He asked me to drive his 1966 Sunbeam Tiger. (Grandson J had spent a fair amount of time cleaning, polishing and getting it ready.)

I arrived at the appointed time and J and I headed out with my son following. We were just commenting on how well the car was running when, about 11 miles from home, it died. We pushed it into a Taco Bell parking lot and proceeded to troubleshoot the problem. We decided that the aftermarket electric fuel pump had given up the ghost. We couldn't find any blown fuses so we figured this would require a new pump, which we did not have.

We called for a tow and sat down to wait. While we were sitting there, we had our own impromptu car show as people pulled of the highway to ogle the Sunbeam.

The tow truck came and I volunteered to escort the Sunbeam home while they went on to the car show in the other car.

The day wasn't a total loss. While they didn't get any trophies for the car, they did win second place for the best hard luck story.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Belated St. Patty's Day Post

I have been able to trace my ancestry back to the 1700's when two brothers arrived in what is now the Great State of Maine from County Cork, Ireland. My ancestor had the unlikely name of Moses and hundreds of my namesakes trace their lineage back to him. He was supposedly a doctor trained at Trinity College in Dublin, but I've had some people search the records there(yes, they go back that far) and they find no record of him. Some say he was most likely a herbalist.

Although I haven't tried to find the headstone, he is supposed to buried in Cushing, Maine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Louisiana Concealed Carry

Louisiana Concealed Carry Permit holders take note. My permit is due for renewal and I just contacted the State Police to see if they were going to mail a packet to me. I was told that they had a problem with their system and automatic mailings were not going out. They would, however, be happy to send me a package for my renewal.

If your concealed carry is due to expire, contact the LSP Concealed Handgun Permit Office at the contact number at their website and request a package.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Right Main Bearing is Shot

Went to the doctor yesterday to see about a persistent pain in my right knee. After an xray he delivered the news - the cartilage in my knee was worn away and I was bone-on-bone on the left side. The options are (1) do nothing until the pain gets too bad, (2) get a shot of viscous fluid that acts as a cushion for the knee, or (3) a partial knee replacement.

Got to get out the spreadsheets, develop a decision tree and possibly a SWOT analysis.

Option 1 is low cost but not a permanent solution. Option 2 is medium cost, office procedure but temporary. Option 3 is high cost, long recovery but permanent.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Update

Here's a report from Rico's dad at Scripps:

Not to worry. It's arrival coincided with low tide in San Diego (about 10 minutes ago if NOAA got it right) so would be hard to notice. The only serious tsunami damage ever in California occurred from a Chilean and an Alaskan quake, both in the last century, and was limited to one coastal city (Crescent City) near the Oregon border. There is a unique bathymetry here which allows the excitation of oscillatory shelf waves which are shore parallel and are pumped by the tsunami (a classical induced harmonic motion). Southern California, fortunately, does not resonate so we just see a slow rise and fall that is difficult to detect because it is so gradual. Our wave buoys, which measure vertical accelerations, cannot detect the tsunami waves in deep water (order 15 minute periods -- so accelerations are two orders of magnitude less than wind waves). However, we have one pressure sensor left from the old days on the end of Scripps Pier and we have developed special software to filter out tides and wind waves and can record tsunamis as small as a couple of inches. I was very impressed by NOAA's tsunami model. They make a prediction for our gage and for the previous tsunami they hit the arrival time within a few minutes and the height was right on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Tale of Le Cheval Rouge

I was feeling nostalgic the other day and decided to do a little research on a vessel that had figured prominently in my early days in the oil field.

Mobil Oil used to own a tug boat named Le Cheval Rouge (The Red Horse - get it?). It pulled a construction barge that was used for a variety of construction projects in the shallow Gulf of Mexico. If you were an engineer with Mobil back in the early 80's, you became very familiar with them. When the industry slowed down in the mid 80's, it was just too expensive to keep them on the payroll so they were sold off. I wanted to find out what had become of her so I did an internet search and found out that the tug was now up in Alaska. I sent out a request to the Mobil retiree's list to see what folks remembered about her. Here are some of the responses I got back:

"The Cheval Rouge was built in 1979 or 1980 if I remember correctly and Jimmy, George and Santo went in a 14' boat and stole it out of the fab yard the day after the christening because the IRS seized the yard that afternoon and Ed (the Marine Superintendent) said he was not going to pay for it twice and he wanted it NOW!"

So, the IRS had impounded the shipyard for back taxes but our marine superintendent sent out a midnight search and recovery mission to get her. Back then, it was expected that managers would take action - not call a meeting to study the situation. The oil field was fun back in those days.

She was difficult to acquire and was just as difficult to get rid of. Here is the memoir from the guy who sold her.

"How did the Le Cheval Rouge end up in Alaska? Well, I sold the tug and the barge to a company in Seattle when Mobil decided it was no longer an asset.

Way back in those days decisions were made without the need of year long studies and 27 person committees with 17 teams reporting to the committee to determine if something was losing money. Seems the work was slow and the Le Cheval Rouge and her barges were just not being used enough to justify the maintenance. So, I was asked to do what I did best - make a deal. I advertised the Le Cheval Rouge and her barges for sale by sealed bid in some major Gulf Coast newspapers and the Wall Street Journal. After many phone calls and other dubious dealings with the locals in the general Gulf area who wanted to buy the tug under the table and avoid the sealed bid process, the successful sealed bidder was a company in Seattle. The gentleman was very interested and in a hurry to come down to Morgan City and sail the tug, with the barge in tow, through the Panama Canal and up the west coast to Seattle.

Sure enough, his money came in and he showed up in person to claim the prize. Unfortunately, he was in way too big of a hurry to sail away and managed to ground the tug and, after trying to free the craft with far too much torque on the drive, bent one of the propeller shafts. This put the Le Cheval Rouge in a shipyard for repair for about three months (and another hundred thou or so of this guys money). Well, the guy aggravated me for about two of those three months complaining that we sold him a defective vessel. Needless to say, in the end he had my sympathy, but I had his money. (Actually, even with the shaft repair he really got a great deal.)

Finally, the tug was "ship-shape" and waterproof, and off he went to Seattle. You would think this was the end of the story - but no. A couple of weeks later, about 2:00 AM I get a phone call at home from this guy all hot and bothered because the Coast Guard was now giving him a bad time. Seems that he was stopped for an inspection and the transfer papers were
not quite right and the Coast Guard was thinking this guy had a "hot" boat. The Coast Guard had some particular one page form that had to be filled out and signed by 6 angles, two saints and endorsed by the Virgin Mary and none of us even knew this form existed. At 8:00 AM that same morning I was on a flight to Seattle to straighten out this mess. A long story about a little Coast Guard fellow who either had a little bit of power go to his head or just didn't like my buyer. Anyway, after having the buyer's banker meet me at the airport and several trips to the Seattle docks and the bank, we had this "Act of God" signed, sealed and delivered - Oh, I didn't mention that I had to stop at the company president's house on the way to the airport at 6:00 AM that morning to get him to sign this silly form - he really loved that
one. (One of my dirt book photo Op's - Charlie in his "PJ's," but that's another story.)

So, I'm on a late evening flight back to New Orleans that same day, official copies of the United Nations Treaties and the Warsaw Pact in my grubby little hands, and I think, well, finally I have this albatross off my neck. Ho, Ho, Ho - for three years after that sale, one I knew had been now properly processed on every government and legal form know to man and woman, I periodically got phone calls from irate Coast Guard officers threatening Mobil with fines and imprisonment for various safety and other types of violations committed by the Le Cheval Rouge - which for some strange reason continued to be registered as owned by Mobil. The very first call told me the vessel had been moved from Seattle to some awful sounding place in Alaska without Coast Guard approval ?? Approval? That's a new one on me, but that was the complaint. So, I was always aware that the final resting place (at least as far as I know) of the Le Cheval Rouge was somewhere in Alaska. I have heard a rumor by way of Moscow, that the tug is now the back up boat for the Deadliest Catch on the History Channel.

I even once got a call from the FCC with a complaint that someone on the Le Cheval Rouge had used foul language over the marine radio. Imagine that - a sailor using foul language. So, I knew the whereabouts of the Le Cheval Rouge for many years."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Louisiana Humor

An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years. He had a large pond in the back. It was properly shaped for swimming, so he fixed it up nice with picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some orange, and lime trees.

One evening the old farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he hadn't been there for a while, and look it over. He grabbed a five-gallon bucket to bring back some fruit. As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with glee. As he came closer, he saw it was a bunch of young women from the local college skinny-dipping in his pond. He said "hi" so as not to scare them and make them aware of his presence and they all swam over to the deep end.

One of the women shouted to him, "We're not coming out of this pond until after you leave."

The old man frowned, 'I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim naked or make you get out of the pond naked....'

Holding the bucket up he said, 'I'm here to feed the alligator.'

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ode to Winter in Massachussetts

For my nephew at U Mass, Boston....

It's winter in MASSACHUSETTS
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At twenty-five below.

When the snow's up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.

Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around
I could never leave MASSACHUSETTS
'Cause I'm frozen to the ground!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Head Count

Saudi Arabia executed 1 murderer in February. The year to date number of executions in the KSA stands at 2. Dubai has joined the count by executing one murderer as well - a rare event for the tiny Emirate.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Engineering Gobbledegook

Read in recent specifications.....

"The screw holes of flanges shall be asynchronous and symmetrically opposed with regard to the equipment orthogonal shafts."

"Butt welds shall not have salience above the internal surface of the tank."

"During valve manipulation be careful that any valve accessory or paint be damage.
All manipulations have to be done carefully and low speed and be sure that any
accident or damage can be to anyone or to the valve."

"The lift is being fixed. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable."
-sign in a Bucharest hotel lobby

San Fransisco Smells

I was amused to read about the problem San Fransisco is having with its sewage system. Several years, ago the tree huggers there started giving rebates to anyone who would install a low flow toilet - one that uses less water to flush. Evidently the program was a huge success. The program "saved" 20 million gallons of water.

The program had unfortunate consequences, however. With less water flowing in the sewers, the transport of fecal material was impaired. Lower water volume means lower water velocity in the pipes which means less turbulence and that allows solid particles to drop out of the flow stream. The "stuff" builds up in the pipes and just sits there instead of going to the neighborhood sewage treatment plant.

And the citizens are beginning to smell the consequences of their environmental efforts. Now the city is going to spend $100 million to upgrade treatment plants and another $14 million on bleach to disinfect the pipes.

Good job, San Fransisco. Too bad you really didn't know your "stuff"!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Encouraging Economic Indicators

I have noticed an uptick in the number of cold calls I receive from people trying to recruit me for various engineering positions. This is a positive indicator that companies are willing to invest in the design required to build facilities. I also got a call from a friend who is looking to fill a number of positions and wanted me to recommend some folks. Of course, many of these jobs are for overseas positions which also says something about how the current administration is affecting US business.