Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm not a scientist, I'm a trial lawyer!

If this guy was my defense attorney, I'd hang myself in my cell and save everyone the trouble. It's actually a little disturbing that he's allowed to "debate the science" without any background in physics, chemistry, or any background as an arson investigator or fire scientist.

Wikipedia has a concise, but detailed rundown of the whole affair.


Oil Patch News and Notes - 30 Oct 2009

Saudi's drop WTI Contract When you hear, "the oil prices went up $3 a barrel today...", what they're describing is a standardized contract that other oil prices are based off. WTI is a light, sweet crude from Western Texas that's to be delivered to Cushing, OK in units of at least 1,000 barrels. Sour (sulfur containing) crude trades at a discount, while sweeter, lighter crude closer to market trades at a premium, but WTI has been for 20+ years THE global index for crude prices. Well, WTI production has been declining, Cushing, OK is no longer the center of gravity for the refining world (the Gulf Coast is), and more crudes in the world are heavier and sourer. Saudi Aramco and decided to drop the WTI contract index. The new index will be based off a basket of crudes from several offshore platforms off the coast of Louisiana delivered to Gulf Coast refineries. To put it another way, the price of crude from an artificial island off the Louisiana coast determines the price of Saudi crude on the other side of the world. One of the major constituents of the new blend is Mars' crude oil.

State: Life on mars

Great old article about Mars. St. Petersburg Times' science writer checks in offshore. Don't miss the 3D seismic image three quarters through the article. You can see how the salt dome has trapped hydrocarbons beneath it and how we're able to extract it.

North Dakota passes La. as 4th largest oil-producing state | News for New Orleans, Louisiana | Top Stories | News and Weather for New Orleans |

Louisiana no longer 4th largest oil producing state.

RIGZONE - BW Pioneer FPSO on Track for GOM Operations in 2010

Lots more details on what will soon to be the first FPSO in the Gulf. AFRAmax, double hull, oil tanker of relatively new (1992) construction.

Tanker collision off Texas spills fuel into Gulf | Reuters

One of the concerns I've had about the new FPSO is about all those lighterning operations where tankers saddle up alongside each other to offload crude. I've never heard of a spill, until now. It's interesting that the tanker that caused the spill was a Russian-built vessel. I'd like to see what the Board of Inquiry says the cause was.


New Trend: Flammable Tap Water » INFRASTRUCTURIST

Natural Gas gets into aquifer from poor seal around well casing. Used to be more common than you think. This is one of the reasons why New York has taken such an interest about what chemicals are used in Hydrofracking (PDF).


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to make people take the stairs

A group of Volkswagen engineers was tasked with figuring out how to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Here's what they came up with:

Quote of the Day - 27 October 2009

Storm threat to New Orleans out of our control, says general | World news | The Guardian

"If you ask can I protect the city, the answer is no. Can I reduce the risk? Yes. "We can develop better early warning systems, better evacuation plans, better levees to hold back most of the water, but we cannot stop levees being overtopped and the city flooded." He declined to say whether this meant the city should be abandoned altogether and relocated inland. "That is outside my brief," he said.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Economic News of Note - 17 Oct 2009

Birth-Rate Study: In Recession, Fewer Women Having Kids - TIME

Another casualty of the recession: Birthrates. US Birthrate down more than 2%.

Apple joins Chamber of Commerce exodus over climate change scepticism | Environment |

As fluffy as this may sound, this is a portent of bigger battles between companies that have historically benefited from externalized costs and those that seek a more accurate reflection of the true production costs.

AIG's Benmosche: The tone deaf CEO - Oct. 6, 2009

AIG head is the most tone-deaf CEO out there. Ends with an interesting quote: "He called us idiots, he called us corrupt," said Sherman, the California lawmaker. "I do have to thank this guy for his insults. He caused us to wake up from being completely asleep." He had a hell of deal going (US taxpayers funding his business), but he's so goddamned greedy, he's screwing it up. He just can't help himself.

Rolfe Winkler » Blog Archive » TARP deadbeats | Blogs |

US Taxpayers getting screwed by the bailouts. CITIGROUP amongst the deadbeat bailout recipients. Any talk of the US taxpayer 'making money on this deal' is total bull.


Great discussion of what's driving the collapse of the dollar. There's no doubt that Obama's spending is causing international concern about the dollar. But just as important is the new status quo of "too big to fail" for the financial sector and what that means for various aspects of Federal Reserve policy. The implicit government guarantee of a few GSEs was an important factor in the financial crisis. There's now an explicit government guarantee of every large financial institution on Wall Street. Almost two years after the Bear Stearns debacle, there are still no plans by the government to unwind or repudiate that guarantee. He also makes a very good point that the current trend may have overplayed itself, at least in the short term.

The Lost Generation - BusinessWeek

Huge unemployment rates for recent graduates. The market you graduate in makes a huge difference in your career. This could be one consequence of the Recession that lasts and lasts. I'm very glad I graduated when I did. Many friends of mine are not so lucky.

China buys the world - Start your engines (8) - FORTUNE

China's global shopping list. The Rio Tinto escapades were particularly interesting.

No shame in walking away from mortgage - The Big Money-

Walking away from mortgages is a legitimate tactic, or so the article argues. The system was designed to prevent debt slavery and to encourage banks to be careful about who they lend to.

Quiet Atlantic hurricane season a boon for insurers | U.S. | Reuters

Insurance companies rake in huge profits on quiet hurricane season, thanks to El Nino.

Ruling could undo thousands of foreclosures -

Thousands of foreclosures potentially overturned because of lost paperwork. Was the paperwork lost, or was it destroyed to hide a trail of criminal malfeasance by mortgage brokers?

Emphasis on Growth Is Called Misguided - The New York Times

Poking holes in G.D.P. as a measure of economic health of a country

Utility Snubbed by Banks Shows States Pay Too Much (Update2) -

Government entities get screwed when borrowing money. AAA government debt more expensive than AA- private debt. Utah (AAA rated) was charged 0.11% more on $500 million in bonds than Wal-Mart (AA2/AA). This is a huge disparity and I have no idea why it isn't covered more. Investing in government bonds is about the safest thing you can do and the returns are, in relation to the risk, surprisingly good, but never spectacular. Is there a reason for the institutional bias?

Europe Richer Than America -

EU now richer than NAFTA. Europe, as a whole, has been hit less by the Recession than the US. _____________________

$Bill, Meet Debt Slavery

The founding fathers were very concerned about debt and it's role in society. They did start the national debt, which stimulated the economy, but they also included authorized Congress to set up Bankruptcy Courts in the very first article of the Constitution. On the flipside, Thomas Paine rallied in favor of the Estate Tax as a way of preventing a permanent oligarchy/underclass in this country. Bankruptcy also made the banks much more cautious about who they made loans to.

There was a lot of give an take on issues relating to that over the centuries, but the balance started to change in the late 90's. Congress passed a bill to make bankruptcies much tougher. Bill Clinton vetoed that bill after Hillary implored him to because of the devastating effects on single parents.

Later on, under the guise of preventing fraud, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act and George W. Bush signed it into law. Left-leaning Democrats complained it was a step on the road to Debt Slavery. One of the crooked Democrats that voted for it was none other than William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson. How many of his constituents got screwed over by that Bankruptcy Bill, especially after Katrina with (truly) underwater mortgages?

William Jefferson loved debt slavery right from the start:

About the same time, Jefferson launched one of his earliest ventures, in the rent-to-own appliance business. that was, like others that would follow, a joint project with several siblings, in this case brothers Mose and Bennie and sister Betty, a former School Board member who is now a city assessor. Through Jefferson Interests, a company they founded, the group acquired four REMCO stores starting in the early 1980s, after Jefferson had joined the Legislature.

Some called the business predatory. In 1986, Rudy Lombard, one of Jefferson's opponents in his second bid for mayor, noted in debates that some public-housing tenants in Algiers late on payments had complained of being "harassed and intimidated" by REMCO officials.

Lombard also ripped Jefferson for sponsoring a bill that would have allowed theft charges to be filed against renters who did not return appliances on time. Jefferson denied sponsoring such a bill at first, but the next day he conceded he had when reporters confronted him with the evidence.

You'd be hard pressed to find a Democrat who worked harder against the interests of his constituency than $Bill.

Open today's paper. On page A-2, William Jefferson is now getting a dose of his own medicine. He's being nailed under the Bankruptcy Bill he voted for. I'm sure he got lots of campaign contributions for doing it at the time, but now he's fucked. Good for him. Poetic justice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When to take the P.E. Exam?

I've been an EIT/EI (term varies by state) for about three and a half years now. I'm almost ready to take the P.E. Exam. In legal terms, the main thing that separates a Professional Engineer is the ability to stamp and certify drawings. It means the P.E. is taking full responsibility for the design.

In order to become a P.E. you need to graduate with a Bachelor's of Science* in Engineering from an ABET-accredited university. You'll generally have about 100 credit hours worth of math, science, and engineering out of 120-ish total for your diploma.

Then, you take the Fundamental of Engineering exam (FE Exam). I took and passed the FE a few weeks before I graduated in Spring 2006. The FE is only given twice a year, so as long as your school certifies that you're going to graduate on time, you're allowed to take it the semester you graduate. Tulane, despite having many graduates in Biomedical Engineering who don't have a full load of thermodynamics, hasn't had a student fail the FE in over 30 years. That's partially because it's graded on a state-by-state curve (thank you, LSU students, for anchoring down the scores!).

Once you pass the FE Exam, you become a EIT/EI. Engineer In Training (EIT) is a more common term, but Louisiana uses Engineer Intern (EI).

You then gain experience while working under a licensed Professional Engineer for usually 4-5 years. I've been very fortunate in that I work for a firm that's got the best reputation in town for over 50 years and I've had the opportunity to work in several different industries (mining, oil & gas, commercial, etc.) under several different P.E.'s and gain some great experience.

I was originally planning on taking it as soon as possible, but I'm pretty much settled into taking it in October of 2010. I've recently learned, however, that Louisiana technically only requires 3 years, 9 months of experience, due to the exam being scheduled only twice per year (April/October) and once per year for less common exams (nuclear, industrial, etc.). I could, if I chose to, take it in April of 2010, about 6 months from now. Unfortunately, that April date is very close to another busy day for me. I'd also have only 6 months to study for it (a full year studying about 10-20 hours a week to prepare is recommended).

I've asked around and from what I can tell, Mechanical Engineering and Civil/Structural are the two most difficult subjects. Mechanical Engineering is extremely broad; I like to describe it as 'everything that moves.' The three main subjects on the Mechanical P.E. exam are Thermo/fluids, Machine design, and HVAC/Refrigeration. If the exam were just on fluids, I could probably take it in my sleep, but I've done virtually no HVAC work. It takes learning a huge amount of material to pass.

Anyway, that's what I'm considering now. I'm probably going to take it in October 2010, like I was planning. The only consideration I might have is I might want to study as much as I can and just take a stab at it in the spring. If I pass, I pass and if I fail, I know what to study. It's $255 to take the test, plus $100 to LAPELS, so I'm not sure I want to take it just for kicks.

* There are other ways to become a P.E., but I'll stick with the most common route. This is how 90+% of new P.E.'s go. See NCEES for more.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

An Answer to "Where have all the Hueys gone?"

Originally uploaded by skooksie
In these days of "Corporate Communism", how come nobody is standing up against the Wall Street Welfare Queens? It's political red meat, but hardly anybody at all is kicking them where it hurts.

I'd say there are about two exceptions: Ron Paul (R-TX) and Alan Grayson (D-FL). Ron Paul has been at it for a while. Alan Grayson won a red district and has recently made the news for "Democrat with Balls"-style.

Paul and Grayson have teamed up on an "audit the Fed" bill. Some of the testimony has been very impressive:

Even some conservatives are giving him credit.

Other Republicans are scared stiff of a Democrat that actually stands up for what he believes in. Grayson is being attacked with unsourced allegations of antisemitism (in Florida? Please).

My favorite fighting words of Grayson: Republicans want to ban bacon!

Take the time to listen to some of his speeches and judge for yourself.

*Title Reference and stolen photo. More Huey, please.

UPDATE- One More:


Alan Grayson quotes Huey Long.

UPDATE 3- Yet more. Reublicans running scared...

Notes on the Nobel Committee

So, Obama has won the Nobel prize. Here are a couple of reactions I'd like to highlight:

I tried to get Oprah an Olympics and all they gave me was this lously meaningless medal. Warmongering, pro-torture, U.S. President inexplicably awarded a prize for "Peace"

It's the last thing he really needs.

It's a joke.

I'll point out that there's a big divide between the hard science-based Nobels and the awarding of the "soft" category (economics, politics) awards. Albert Einstein never won a Nobel prize for relativity. The science panel wasn't sure the theory was valid, so they awarded it to Einstein for his work on the photoelectric effect.

The "soft" awards tend to go for "trendy" subjects. Probably the worst overall call was giving the guys behind Long Term Capital Management a Nobel Prize in economics (they almost took down the entire global marketplace not long after). As many on the right have pointed out, giving the award to the likes of Yassir Arafat didn't exactly help out the award's prestige. To their credit, there was a brief time that it looked like the Oslo Accords could be the equivalent to the Camp David Accords. Not long after that, though, Arafat was back to blowing up school buses.

Many on the left screamed when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. "Irony is dead," was the quote. Christopher Hitchens has demolished anything that was left of his legacy (other than horrible, pointless bloodshed).

We'll see how this award turns out in a few years.

UPDATE- More to ponder:

Why Obama's Nobel Prize is Good for America. By Bill O'Reilly.

Why the Nobel Peace Prize Should Go to Nuclear Weapons

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pelican State Oil

Matthew Simmons is an author and energy investor who happens to give some pretty good presentations. I noticed a new one that had some very important fact I'd like to highlight.

Here's the Presentation [PDF]. It was put together for Acadiana Business Magazine and is all about the Louisiana's oil industry.

As I've pointed out before, there's a huge amount of infrastructure off the Louisiana coast. At least $100 billion dollars in offshore infrastructure. Simmons points out that offshore is the most important "Parish" in the state. The heart of Gulf of Mexico Oil production is in South Louisiana. All of the major support bases and logistical centers, as well as the pipelines and a good chunk of the refineries are in Louisiana.

There are a couple of slides I'll steal that I think are important because they illustrate a point far better than I can in words:

Production Scorecard, From Matthew Simmons

One of the realities of offshore fields is their incredibly short lifespans. They are incredibly prolific for a couple of years and then the pressure gives out and the field depletes. Cognac peaked at 72,000 barrels/day 5 years after first oil. 10 years after that it was 17,000 barrels/day. Today, it's roughly 2,000 barrels/day. Since words don't really describe it as well as pictures, here's a few more slides I'll highlight:

NOTE: Curves from Simmons & Co.

What do the curves all have in common? Quick peaking fields with harsh declines (>10%/year sometimes, 4-6%/year is industry average). Because of that, 90% of the production comes from less than 10% of the fields. There are a lot of platforms out there that are only kept around because their abandonment costs are so high [not entirely true; a lot have extended leases on life thanks to subsea fields or pipeline stations for deeper fields]. Trace amounts of pollutants are one concern (see the Brent Spar for an idea of what I'm talking about), but I think the bigger issue is the hazard to marine traffic. The Gulf of Mexico has two of the biggest ports in the world (NOLA and Houston). Some of these platforms are only a couple thousand feet of major shipping lanes, which is like threading the needle for the really big, really unmaneuverable oil tankers and cargo vessels. There have been some minor collisions and some major near misses, but so far there's been no major accidents.

Another of his points I don't totally agree with: Louisiana's oil infrastructure is very old, which is true, but it tends to be pretty well cared for and Katrina was, in some respects, a blessing in that a lot of old equipment got replaced and upgraded. Rust isn't as big a deal as it could be. He raises the specter of having to rebuild or expand the LOOP. I've heard of the latter, but I've never heard of anyone saying the LOOP was rusting away.

One of the major subjective assertions he makes, that I happen to agree with, is that the demographics of the Louisiana oil industry, in terms of the aging workforce, might be the WORST IN THE ENTIRE GLOBAL OIL INDUSTRY. There's some young engineers that have been hired since the 2000-era boom and some old guys who survived the cutbacks in the 1980's, and almost nobody in the middle. Not a day goes by without more older engineers going into retirement. A company can keep a stable headcount, if you're lucky, but you'll never be able to keep the experience and talent level the same. The oil industry is paying a price for firing so many workers at the end of the oil bust. The business people thought the Gulf was a "Dead Sea" and these workers would no longer be needed. Oops.

Louisiana's oil industry has had several obituaries written for it, but it's not dead yet. When things are said and done, Louisiana will still be playing a major role in bringing energy to the nation, no matter what form that may come in.