Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Project Truck Update: Back to Work Edition

It's been a while since I've done an update on the truck. Weather and injuries have gotten in the way. I actually used the truck as my primary means of transportation for a while while my ankle was injured (the only vehicle either of us owned that wasn't a stick shift).
Susie wants to drive patches
Dogs love pickup trucks

A few weeks ago, drove the truck home. The truck felt a little weird. I wasn't sure what it was. When I get back to the garage, I check out the truck and lo and behold, it tried to kill me again. The turn signal harness wrapped around the steering column, Half of the exhaust was held on by only 1 bolt, and one of the main engine mount bolts was sitting neatly on top of the frame rail.
Wiring wrapped around steering column
Turn signal wiring harness wrapped around steering column
One bolt holding the exhaust on
Missing bolt and hanging exhaust

I've now learned that those bolts need to be torqued after a little while because the heat and cold expansion/contraction loosens them. Oops. Cut the (inoperable) wiring away that day and put the truck up. Waited on the weather for a couple of weekends.

Big beastie

Went back, got the torque wrench out, set it to the highest setting (80 ft-lbs) and torqued the shit out of a replacement bolt. The shiny bolt on the right in the middle of all the rust in this photo is the new one.

While Patches was parked on the street, the primered hood started showing some rust. We were always intending to get back to cleaning up the hood, but primer isn't a great oxygen barrier and the hood started to rust underneath the paint. To prevent things from getting worse, we stripped it down, repainted the primer and topcoated it.

Me cleaning up after sanding

New paint

The white will be the undercoat for the final red topcoat. The white helps the red stand out nice and bright.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Be careful about who comes down the chimney:

10 Things about Christmas:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Overview of Engineering Jobs

A lot of people don't really know what engineers do, so I like to post little things here and there to explain things.

In order to become an engineer, you have to first get a degree in engineering (Bachelor's) and then you choose who to go to work for. There's basically 3 broad areas: Corporations, Consultants, and Government.

By corporations, I mean working for someone who directly makes something, like Dow, Shell, Exxon, etc. The corporations tend to be the highest paying. Depending on the discipline, starting salaries might be as high as $75K/year. If you want to play politics, there's plenty of room for advancement. The downside: it's serious Dilbert-land. Everything posted by Scott Adams actually does happen. Don't think it's just satire.

I work for an engineering consultant. There are several broad areas: service companies (like, say, Schlumberger), Architecture & Engineering {A&E} firms (like Fluor), and smaller, individual or family owned operations (where I work). The variation is large, but consultants tend to pay about 10% less for doing the same work as the corporations, all things considered. The bright side is that you tend to get shifted around to different projects and gain good experience. One thing to note: your options with consultants are limited without a P.E. Jacobs has just announced that they won't do any new hires unless they have a P.E. Another bright side of a consultant is you don't have to play politics. You do your job and if they don't like it, they can find someone else; there's less pressure to give the answer that's "desired" versus what the numbers say it should be. Consultants also tend to get very few holidays (because if the client is open, you have to be).

The government could be the Corps, MMS, etc. The government tend to pay about 25% less than a corporation. Recently, MMS has hemorrhaged petroleum engineers who took private jobs paying double their government salaries. On the bright side, you get lots of holidays, very secure employment, and probably the best retirement package of any of the groups. Being the government, Dilbert-land comes into play again, big time.

Also to note: there are quite a few one-man-band operations out there. A good P.E. with ample contacts can make quite a living for themselves. I know of a few major projects that were put together with phone calls. One person will get a contract, then call up a friend, who calls up a friend, and before you know it, you have a roomful of engineers in each specialty needed and they're all working together successfully.

This is a mixture of my experience and impressions, so if anyone has any experiences, please feel free to chime in.

NOTE: Some edits for spelling.

Mayoral Campaign: Hot/Not

A few notes on the race:


* James Perry - Continues racking up great debate performances. If the rest of the campaign gets its act together and he raises money, look out.

* Mitch Landrieu - Everyone else implodes while he treads water. Victory by default? He just better not rest on his laurels.


* John Georges - Shorter Georges: "I am not a crook." He's illustrated that he's secretive and suspicious, or he's an idiot and can't even control his own campaign. Loki tracks the connections. Note to old farts: these internet thingies are easily tracked. The harder you try to cover your tracks, the worse you'll look. Georges' response is FAR, FAR worse than anything in the video.:

* Ed Murray - I liked his first commercial, but his new one says it doesn't matter whose fault the levee failures are and his debate performances are as awful as can be.

* Leslie Jacobs - Out of the race. I'll be interested to know whose signs replace hers:
Leslie Jacobs sign

* Troy Henry - Troy Henry's campaign went out and put up tons and tons of signs. Unfortunately, they didn't quite know the rules and lots of them were quickly torn down. One egregious example came from the old Shell station at Lee Circle:
John Georges sign
The signs were torn down and the irate owner replaced them with Georges signs that were twice as large. Note to the Enron alumni: learn the rules.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bobby and Mitch

Lost in all the news that Mitch Landrieu announced his intention to run was one little point on who will benefit the most: Bobby Jindal.

It should be clear to anyone that Bobby Jindal has national ambitions. If he's going to run, he needs a robustly rebuilt New Orleans. He can't allow it to haunt him on the campaign trail ("Why should you be president if the biggest city in your state is still drained of people - look at the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette and..."). Bobby Jindal also seem to be one of those rare Republicans from up north that get how important New Orleans is to the state economy.

No matter how the race turns out, Jindal won't have to worry about Mitch running against him in 2011 (he'll either have his hands full or he'll be politically dead from the loss). He'll also have an easy path for appointing his chosen successor as governor into the lt. governor's chair*.

Jindal should do whatever he can to support Mitch's bid. It would show off his "bipartisan" credentials, which the national press fawn over and he can also be "tough on corruption" {"dragonslaying"} by helping clear out Nagin, who is intergalactically despised.

A Jindal-Mitch alliance would be yet another example of strange bedfellows in Louisiana politics, but it makes a lot of sense for Jindal. If conservatives could think actual strategy, instead of absurd "triple bank shots", they wouldn't shoot themselves in the foot with this infantile shit.

* Sidenote: who might that be? Timmy Teeple? Anyone got any ideas?

Frac You

Hydraulic Fracturing has been in the news quite a bit lately.

Not quite.

Hydrofracing or fracing (rhymes with hacking) is a technique to complete a well that allows the well to flow much more than it would otherwise be able to. This Oil Drum tech talk give a good run through of perforating and fracing a well.

Fracing goes back to at least the early 80's. Everyone knew that more cracks = more flow, but the trick was how to achieve that. Early efforts resulted in additional cracks, but those early methods suffered from quick closure of the cracks. Later, companies added sand to prop the cracks open. That sand is called a "proppant" for its ability to keep the crack propped open. Most of the sand is dropped near the casing, so a small amount of polymer is added to "slicken" the water to allow the sand to slip further into the crack. This water is sometimes called "Banana Water."

Anyway, through much trial and error, fracing eventually evolved to be a highly reliable, repeatable, cost effective way to enhance your oil recovery. Schlumberger and Halliburton made boatloads of money off fracing. Fracing has been a key to unlocking vast deposits of shale gas in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and New York. US natural gas reserves have grown significantly, thanks to the additions of shale gas deposits (collapsing natural gas prices in the process). New Orleanians should be very happy to see the "fuel adjustment charge" on their Entergy bills quite small lately.

So, fracing must be wonderful, right? Technology comes up with new sources of energy? Not quite. There have been a few problems with hydrofracing, especially in New York. You see, New York doesn't have much experience regulating oil companies and monitoring drilling activities. In Texas, the Railroad Commission (which also happens to have been the inspiration for OPEC) looks over every single drilling activity in the state and keeps close tabs on what's happening. Every single barrel of oil taken out and every chemical put into the ground must be accounted for.

In New York, state agencies are playing catch up. I've heard that until very recently, you didn't even have to report what your production rates were and there will be no audits until they can hire more personnel. This is important because the state gets a royalty for ever cubic foot of gas produced or barrel of oil produced. The companies are on the honor system to report (or at least were until recently).

The shale gas deposits in New York also seem to be in relatively close proximity to aquifers that quench the thirst of state. Also, there' s been concern about the panoply of chemicals used [PDF] to enhance the fracing method. While Louisiana has been quick to adjust, New York hasn't and it's led to calls to ban gas drilling in New York.

We'll see how this shakes out. Check out the Oil Drum for in-depth, accurate coverage of what happens with Shale Gas.

UPDATE- One more link I forgot to add: Exxon is so concerned about federal anti-frac laws that they put in a clause to nullify their merger with XTO if it goes through.

Engineer Porn

World's most powerful diesel engine. Just under 110,000 horsepower. It powers container ships through the oceans. My favorite photo:

It takes a second to realize those are people walking around next to the crankshaft.

More great engine engineering here: Best Engineered Cars of 24 Hours of Lemons.

10 Stories that Changed Our Lives

So, there's a bunch of end of decade lists out there. One I came across has Katrina at #10. Personally, I would have put it a bit higher (like, say #1, but that's just me). And then I noticed what #9 was: Brett Favre...

Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!
Brett Favre!

Brett Favre!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snoozing on Politics Until...

I wanted to post a few of campaign commercials for the mayor's race and comment and then this happened. Mitch is now the front runner and, frankly, I think he has my vote right off the bat. It's a ballsy move. He'll either be a phoenix rising from the ashes or this will absolutely destroy his political career. So much for the overly cautious "reluctant warrior." Be sure to read DuBos' writeup.

Anyway, I'm going to post the campaign commercials anyway. I'm posting them in the order I've come across the candidates.

Ed Murray

James Perry

Leslie Jacobs

John Georges

Troy Henry
Video Here. Embedding disabled.

Some notes:
* Murray was the first out of the gate. He needed to be. Liked the first ad, but haven't heard from him since.
* James Perry had a slam-dunk during a debate, but had some issues with his campaign video. I think it balanced out in his favor by a lot.
* Leslie Jacobs got creamed in the same debate Perry aced (not just the Youth Studies Center question). She comes in with the best credentials (on paper), but even before Mitch entered, she was flailing.
* Georges: Yawn.
* Troy Henry: Big ad buy during the Redskins game. As Dambala points out, he's Nagin's man.
* Couhig: I'm still hoping Nagin will endorse Couhig as a belated (and totally unwished-for) favor for his influential endorsement. Nagin's endorsement is the kiss of death (just ask Bobby Jindal). Between Nagin and Mitch, I think it's actually become a fun race, if for no other reason than to watch Couhig flail in agony and misery. If you think I'm being mean to him, remember that I actually donated money to him. Boy, was that a mistake.

UPDATE- 1 more:


Sunday, December 6, 2009


In 2005, the Saints had a very unusual (and very blasphemous) ad campaign. My favorite of the commercials was a black guy through the decades with all the Saints stickers on his car. Through the years, the stickers change ("No Mora Excuses" was one of them). The car changes and the stickers pile up. Eventually, he scrapes off all stickers off his latest ride and replaces it with the final sticker. This is the only video I can find of that season's ad campaign:

Internet recipes

Candice and I cook a lot. If you were born and raised in New Orleans, you love good food and you like to cook, whether you're a man or a woman. Sometimes, no matter what cookbooks you have, you have to scour the internet for additional ideas and here are some that worked out well. Both recipes also made a lot, but cut down nicely. I tend to be the food photographer, so here are a few photogenic things that I've whipped up in the kitchen from recipes found on the internet.

Paprika Home Fries
Home Fries with Paprika
Recipe from All Recipes
This is a nice one to fix while you're doing lots of things at once, because it'll stop you from moving around the fries in the pan too much. The keys to this dish are Hungarian Sweet Paprika and adding the butter to the potato in stages. The potatoes can absorb almost infinite quantities of butter if you add it all at once and then you'll burn the fries.

Roasted Radishes and Greens
Roasted Radishes and Greens
Recipe from Food and Wine
I love bitter greens. We've been picking up the boxes from the Hollygrove Market. It's a CSA-style setup, so you don't get to pick what you get and it takes a bit of creativity to use all that you are given. What the hell are you supposed to do with radishes? We were hunting and hunting around for how to use radishes (other than raw in salad). Candice found this one and I liked it. The bigger radishes were a little on the bitter side, which is fine by me, but Candice thought we could have cut the bitterness with sugar. The small ones were delicious, though. I suppose if you wanted, you could just use the ones that are about the size of your thumb and put the bigger ones in something else. They keys to the dish are SALT (breaks down the radishes and complements the bitterness nicely) and cooking the hell out of the greens once they're put into the pan. If you use the stalks of the greens, don't forget to chop the stalks into small pieces and put them in before the leaves, because they take a bit longer to cook.

UPDATE- Here's the green mashed potatoes before they went in the oven (none after- they were consumed too quickly):

Greens and Mashed Potatoes

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Let 'em have it!

Burnell Moliere (who stole from NOPS still getting city contracts? Yep, along with Pampy Barre. Nagin's response was a shrug. "Past corruption? No problem, Nagin says"

When did Nagin become the Special Man?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ashley had a word for guys like this*

Sparks fly over New Orleans health aid. Darrell Issa opened his big fat trap and unleashed this gem:

"Is everyone so poor in Louisiana that the state cannot do more for you? Are you going to be a permanent ward of the federal government? "

First off, nice job throwing your boy, Bobby Jindal, under the bus. Trying to kill off all opposition to Sarah in 2012? Second, Kucinich put him in his place: "Our country is falling apart, and what's happening in New Orleans is a signal condition of where America's priorities are totally fouled up."

Scott Cowen sent this email out to students, their parents, and alumni:

Good Morning:

Yesterday, City Council President Arnie Fielkow and I presented “Five Things You Should Know About New Orleans” to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. We wanted to send the national media a different kind of message regarding New Orleans.

Our main points were:

1. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina will result in New Orleans being a better and stronger city in the future.

Katrina exposed flaws – crumbling federally-built levees (Gee, maybe you should have kept Civil Engineering around to do something about those crubling levees), a government unprepared, poverty and other signs of a community that had failed its youth. But this tragedy also awakened citizens to the need for change.

2. As a result of Katrina, New Orleans can serve as a demonstration lab for disaster recovery and transformation. (You mean like this?)

We now know how to plan for and respond to emergencies. We know the value of public/private partnerships that are revolutionizing our school system and establishing community health centers to provide medical care for the uninsured. We know how to recover our economy and even how to deal with FEMA.

3. Our recovery is a superb example of civic activism and resiliency.

Citizens voted out a wasteful system of seven tax assessors and multiple parish levee boards. They demanded funding for an inspector general to root out corruption and they banded together to demand effective and accountable government.

4. New Orleans is an iconoclastic city, which has retained its distinctiveness and charm despite the challenges and hardships it has and does face.

There are now more restaurants in New Orleans than before Katrina. We ranked first in more categories in Travel + Leisure Magazine’s 2009 “America’s Favorite Cities” survey than any other city. We are a hotbed of entrepreneurship and the quintessential sports town – hosting the Super Bowl in 2013 and the men's and women’s NCAA Final Four basketball championships in 2012 and 2013. Not to mention our undefeated Saints.

5. New Orleans has the potential to become a model city for the 21st century.

Great things are in store for New Orleans. We have gotten a taste of positive change. We want more and we aspire to be a model for the country.

I was honored to share our city’s message on a national stage. I hope you, too, will share these five things with everyone you encounter, especially out-of-town friends and family. Together, we can make the story of New Orleans known far and wide.

Have a great weekend,

As a sidenote, maybe not this year, but don't be too surprised if Cowen throws his hat into the ring for mayor sometime soon.
* Title Reference

Cowen was also a favorite target of Ashley's

Thursday, December 3, 2009

News and Notes - 3 Dec 2009

Odds and ends to ponder while listening to Christmas music.

* Bernanke wants to axe Social Security? Now there's now way he'll get reconfirmed.

Brezenzinski claims US too corrupt to go around asking others, including Afghanistan, to clean up corruption. Ouch.

* 21 Darts [PDF]. All about the new reserves accounting rules in the oil industry. Very snarky. Call the new rules "the equivalent of the repeal of the hydrocarbon Glass-Steagall Act."

* Arming Goldman with Pistols against the public. A must read. So many things that'll drop your jaw. A sample: of Goldman and guns plays right into the way Wall- Streeters like to think of themselves. Even those who were bailed out believe they are tough, macho Clint Eastwoods of the financial frontier, protecting the fistful of dollars in one hand with the Glock in the other.

It's almost impossible for a "peasant" to get a gun permit or a CCW in New York, but if you're a rich Wall Street banker, go ahead! God forbid someone that might actually need one get a permit (like a cabbie), but some spoiled little Goldmanite who barely knows which end the bullets come out can have a permit to carry his Glock in Central Park to fend off the rabble. Also, a great moniker for Goldman: "Arrogant and Prescient."

* Boston Globe: Harvard ignored warnings about investments. Larry Summers lost billions of dollars at Harvard. Now, he's Obama's chief economic advisor. Lovely.

* Remember, Google, don't be evil.

* Food stamp use soars, stigma fades. Bush did one thing right: he worked very hard to eliminate the stigma of Food Stamps. It was renamed "nutritional aid," application was streamlined, and benefits were expanded. Good job, Mr. Bush.

* Terrorist bomb lab found in Ohio.

* From the editorial board of Scientific American: Climate Change Cover Up? You Better Believe It.

* Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, bitter over his ouster. There's a gem at the end: he wants to become a high school teacher now. He's used to dealing with gun-toting, steroid-addled, juvenile minds. He'll be perfect.


* Speaking of homework, here's Obama's speech on science education. My favorite quote: "We're going to show young people how cool science can be."

* Science witnesses the birth of a new species. A new species of Galapagos Finch emerges after decades of observation. Related: The Beak of the Finch. Great book.

* Drilling for Scotch. I wonder what that gusher would be like?

* WSJ: The Return of Tinkering. Honestly, this is one article that has made me very hopeful about the future. Well worth a read. Also: mechanical engineering graduates may soon top 20,000 per year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Limit Texas Driedel

Candice showed it to me. They have a website and a TWITTER FEED!

A post that combines the Hostilidays, Poker, and foolishness, all in one.

Iran Going for the Gold

Iran seizes Nobel Prize. You know, there's one other time when someone tried to steal a Nobel prize. The Nazi's desperately needed gold for the war effort and went hunting around the Neils Bohr Institute, but all they could find were jars of chemicals. An enterprising young physicist dissolved the gold medals in Aqua Regia. The gold was precipitated out and recast after the war. Note to the Iranians: you don't want to have lists of things in common with the Nazi's. Don't know about the Nazi's? Well, I'm sure David Duke would be happy to enlighten you:

David Duke and his brah Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hostilidays: Rusty Chevrolet

Adrastos started it off. Maitri and Leigh have followed in the war, so now unleash the artillery:

H/T Jalopnik.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thank you, Tracie Washington

Stacy Head running again. Thank you, Tracie Washington! She would have retired if it wasn't for the stunts that were pulled on her. They pissed her off big time. There's also a pending pay increase for the office (see, that's how politicians should go about pay raises). She defeated longtime $Bill crony Renee Gill Pratt. Pratfall was known for having the intellect of a tomato plant (check out some of these AZ posts for some damning quotes) and assumed $Bill would just make it happen for her without any work. Oops. She was booted out of office and will soon be in the Federal pokey.

We'll see who runs against Head and if Head can beat a real challenger.

Stacy Head skeptics can at least take comfort in a kickass punk song.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chalmatians and 9th Warders have their day in court

"In a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers' failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive flooding by Hurricane Katrina" from WDSU.

Here are a few notes and thoughts:

From the CS Monitor:
"The government's primary defense is that what we did, it did not cause this, and if it didn't cause it, there is no liability," Mark Davis, a professor at Tulane University Law School, told the Monitor this summer.

The LA Times talks about the monetary award a lot. It notes it will be years before appeals are exhausted, but the compensation could total billions. Note that this ruling would only apply to residents of Chalmette and the Lower 9th Ward. Also from the article:

He called upon the Obama administration and Congress to agree to a universal settlement -- something he said the Bush administration had pledged not to do.

O'Donnell said his team had filed a separate legal action that seeks to cover those thousands of victims in a class-action suit. He noted that the federal government had agreed to universal settlements in past cases in which it had erred, including after a 1976 failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho and the 2000 Cerro Grande fire in New Mexico, which started as a federal controlled burn.

I looked up the Teton Dam failure and found a few things that interested me, like, "On Saturday, June 5, 1976, at 7:30 a.m., a muddy leak appeared, suggesting sediment was in the water, but engineers did not believe there was a problem." Also, on the cause of the dam failure (emphasis mine):

Study of the dam's environment and structure placed blame on the collapse on the permeable Loess soil used in the core and on fissured (cracked) Rhyolite in the foundations of the dam that allowed water to seep under the dam. The permeable Loess was found to be cracked. It is postulated that the combination of these materials allowed water to seep through the dam and led to internal erosion, called piping, that eventually caused the dam's collapse.

From the American Society of Civil Engineers Report on the 2005 New Orleans Levee Failures:

Known soil stability problems played a big role in both with a very similar failure mechanism between the outfall canal failures and the Teton Dam failures. The best thing about the Teton Dam failure:
Today, Bureau of Reclamation engineers assess all Reclamation dams under strict criteria established by the Safety of Dams program. Each structure is periodically reviewed for resistance to seismic stability, internal faults and physical deterioration.

Gee, it would be a nice idea to try doing that for levees.

I still think this ruling will be overturned on "sovereignty immunity" grounds, but it's always nice to reinforce to the rest of the country that had the Corps simply designed and built the levees to spec, most of New Orleans' flooding would never have happened and we'd all be talking about how New Orleans 'dodged a bullet.' If you want to see a natural disaster, go to Buras, LA or Waveland, MS.

UPDATE- Harry Shearer weighs in. Oyster provides quotes from a judge with quite a lexicon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gill's Last Column

"For the mayor, another tequila sunrise". James Gill's last column.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Canoing Home

Joe Cao had to take a canoe home due to storm surge flooding. He pleads with the feds for Category 5 levees:

Note that Venetian Isles is outside the levee system in New Orleans East.

Don't forget to check out some of the latest updates from Matt McBride at Fix the Pumps.

UPDATE- Hmm. So much for the WWL embed.

UPDATE 2- It works!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Reading Assignments

For you while you're waiting on the afternoon Saints game:

An Administration Run Amok. By Clancy DuBos. Goes over the Meffert indictment and what it illustrates about Nagin's 'leadership abilities.'

After Friday’s 63-count corruption indictment against former city technology chief Greg Meffert — once Nagin’s top aide and close friend — it’s hard to distinguish our present mayor from his predecessor.

What Gets Measured Gets Done. By Brian Denzer. Talks about crime, accurate statistics, and successful reform. More on NOLA Stat here.

Blakely Redux. By James Gill. The politician-skewering maestro's first column in a while gets an above-the-fold-headline in the dead tree edition and a well deserving target. Although one contributor on the idiot page disagrees with Gill's assessment of Dr. Blakely.

Deadspin- Why Your Stadium Sucks: Yankee Stadium. Yuck the Fankees.

And two final ones: The Case for Inflation vs. The Case for Deflation. Which will have a greater effect on the economy: Barack Obama "printing money" or Wall Street's financial wizardry going kablooey?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"A Royal Dicksmack"

And I'm not just referring to what the Saints did to the Falcons last night.

Here's the video for full review and for handy lambasting at a later date.

Part I:

Part II:

WWL has a bit better rundown than the paper.

Title here. H/T AZ. He also has more details on Nagin's first choice for Recovery Czar, Greg Meffert's recent troubles and Nixonian responses. Meffert's arrogance is going to cost him big time.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Engineering Disasters: The Demise of the Ocean Ranger

The Ocean Ranger was, in its day, the largest Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit in the world. One toolpusher called the rig "unsinkable" (note to anyone offshore- if it floats, it can sink). The loss of the Ocean Ranger was one of the biggest disasters in the history of the oil industry.

The Ocean Ranger, owned by ODECO out of New Orleans, was under contract by a Mobil subsidiary off the coast of Newfoundland. A ferocious storm came up. After bracing for the storm, the men aboard thought they were safe, but a rogue wave smashed a porthole and flooded the ballast control panel. Between an under-trained crew and a serious design defect, the platform capsized in heavy seas that it should have been able to handle.

Some of the crew was washed into the water. Some got into lifeboats that were ripped to shreds as they were lowered. One boat, however, with approximately 20 souls made it down safely. A crewboat on standby at a nearby rig made a heroic effort to save the men in the water, but the frigid waters incapacitated the men in the water in seconds. ODECO deemed it too expensive to equip the rig with survival suits. The men on the crewboat, despite their best efforts, had neither the equipment or the training to rescue unconscious men from the heavy seas.

The one intact lifeboat was found by the M/V Seaforth Highlander. The crewboat lashed lines from the lifeboat and the men on board were just a couple of feet from safety, however the lifeboat depended on the men on board staying strapped into their seats for ballast. The lifeboat slowly capsized. All the men were washed into the water. The captain of the Seaforth Highlander described it as "watching a slow motion movie." All the men in the lifeboat were quickly overcome by hypothermia and drowned.

Every single crewman aboard the Ocean Ranger died. Only couple of dozen bodies were ever recovered, despite extensive search efforts.

The USCG Board of Inquiry [PDF] describes the incident in much, much more detail. I highly recommend it.

The USCG report comes up with a number of findings. A few I'll mention briefly:
* Insufficient training. Ballast Control crewmen only had basic, on the job training. They had no classroom training and didn't understand the working principals of the pumps. The ballast system also went into a "safe" mode in case of failure whereby all ballast compartments are sealed. It appears that the crew misunderstood a bypass system and unintentionally worsened flooding.
* The crew of the Ocean Ranger didn't call for help until it was deep into the storm. Once they did abandon ship, the Ocean Ranger actually stayed afloat for at least another hour. The crew died while the rig was still afloat.
* There was a critical design flaw that was completely missed by the designers and regulatory bodies: the chain lockers, storing the anchor chain, were open to the sea and un-sounded. The crew had no way of knowing if the chain lockers, an enormous void that could cause the rig to list or capsize if filled, had water in them. They had a 5' hole at the top for the chain to enter that had no way of closing off or sealing from the weather.

Inviting Disaster (thanks for the rec, PE) has a chapter on the Ocean Ranger. It closes with one interesting observation. The Ocean Ranger had drilled in the Baltimore Canyon off the East Coast. It drilled off the coast of Ireland. It drilled offshore Alaska. It had just begun drilling off Newfoundland. The largest, most advanced drilling rig of its day never once struck oil.


Couple notes to tack on the end:

* Here's an archive of Canadian news broadcasts about the sinking.

* Ocean Ranger had a sister ship. It was originally named Ocean Ranger II, but was renamed Ocean Odyssey while still in the shipyard. It suffered a well blowout that ended its oil drilling days. It now serves as a satellite launch platform as a part of the Sea Launch system. It's still operational, despite one rocket that blew up on launch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea."

UPDATE: More links to add.

Help! They Can't Find Any More Oil!

International oil and gas companies increased exploration spending by 21% in 2008 to $492 billion, but worldwide oil and gas reserves were .4% lower by year end. There was a 4.4 billion barrel decline in oil reserves. This isn't a singular event, either. Over the past three years reserves have been flat.

Related: | FT Energy Source | Finding new oil gets ever more expensive ...One significant finding of the study: in the US, reserve replacement costs more than doubled [in a single year].