Sunday, April 17, 2011

Project Truck Update: a Patch for Patches

The weather was great this weekend and no festivals, so I went over and got a little done on Patches.

There have been a few holes in the floor of the cab from the get go.
I'd like to have these taken care of before I'm leaning on them replacing the wiring harness. After removing the gas tank, I first tried grinding the holes out and then welding in metal.
That didn't work out too well. I just burned straight through the sheet metal. I then cut out a square patch of rotten metal, cut a replacement from the thickest sheet metal I had on hand (which was STILL thinner than what they used building Patches) and welded it up strong enough for Paul Prudhomme to jump on.
Patch fitted
1st day complete
ground down

Friday, April 15, 2011

From the mailbag...

Errol Williams by Noladishu
Errol Williams, a photo by Noladishu on Flickr.

Only in New Orleans does the guy who comes up with you tax bill ask you to a $500/plate dinner.

More background here.

Notes on the 2011 Tulane Engineering Forum

I got a chance to attend the 2011 Tulane Engineering Forum and the forum continues to grow. This year drew over 600 engineers. The day before I went, one of my coworkers teased me that going to an engineering conference hosted by Tulane was like going to an easter egg hunt hosted by the Ayatollah in Tehran*.

One of the things I've really come to like about the TEF's are that I'll pick up on some really nice phrases/wordplays/sayings. Some of my favorites from this year:
* "Worry Budget"
* "Assumed-Away" (dealing with risk)
* "Science as a contact sport" (engineering as well, sometimes)
* "Compartmentalized engineers" (missing out on the big picture)
* "Dynamic Regulation" (constantly in-flux regulatory rules that are poison for projects that take 10 years to develop) {Another quote from the same guy, "[MMS] served our industry well for a number of years"}
* "Everyone supports it, until you put your finger on a map" (coastal restoration)
* "Engineering meets public health meets Indiana Jones" (Engineers Without Borders)
* And my favorite of the year: "Unavoidable uncertainty in complex systems" (talking about scientists dealing with the public on complex topics)

This year's theme was the Macondo blowout. I attended the Morning Plenary Session (which included a dispersant expert from XOM, a ChemE professor from LSU, an MBA from Tulane, and the head of research for ULL), but ended up attending mostly coastal restoration and infrastructure lectures. My personal favorite lecture of the day was given by Dr. Allisha Renfro who pinch-hit for a presenter who was out. She did a science and engineering postmortem on 3 coastal projects: MR-GO**, the West Bay Diversion, and the Myrtle Grove Pulsed Sediment Diversion (which was held up as a model for future projects).

* Maybe he read this article?

** Even if you ignore all the "secondary" effects (levee failures, wetlands loss, etc.), MR-GO was a MASSIVE failure on its primary objective: serve commerce. Taxpayers ended up subsidizing MR-GO (from its opening in 1968 to its closure recently) by $20,000/vessel, clearly a massive failure in its primary objective (lower transportation costs). There was also plenty of science, engineering, and economic expertise that warned against the project before it was ever begun, but the powers that be pressed on anyways.

Last year's forum notes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lawyers try to make a fool out of an engineer, get Pi on face

Today brought the return of the USCG/BOEMRE Hearings on the loss of the Deepwater Horizon. For an example of what they're going for, check out the Ocean Ranger Report or the Cullen Report [PDF] from the Piper Alpha disaster. Unfortunately, this BOEMRE/USCG investigation, instead of being a technical probing of a failure has become a legal sparing match. I want to focus on one little incident from today's testimony.

Throughout the whole inquiry, the lawyers for the various parties have totally flubbed even minor technical details. There's one BP lawyer in particular who looks like he's never had a single math course beyond Prob Stat 101 that was required for his undergrad degree. Today, there was an exchange between the lead project manager and lead investigator for the DNV BOP report and several of the lawyers. The Times-Pic reported about various "uncertainties" about the massive DNV Report (Volume 1, PDF). I've gone through both volumes and the report stands up pretty strong. There might be a little detail here and there that could be better, but nothing compared to the concerns these lawyers are broaching.

The lawyers then began attacking the credibility of the lead project manager. They asked him if, before the Deepwater Horizon incident, if the lead project manager had ever seen a BOP firsthand. The lead project manager replied no, and the lawyers seized on this as evidence of "government incompetence." What shocked me most of all is the "Times-Picayune Staff" decided to feature this drivel as their "comment of the day" including the claim that Det Norske Veritas, which certifies various marine equipment (including BOP's), knows nothing about BOP's:

To hire an engineering firm that has never "seen or heard of" a BOP to conduct a forenic [sic] investigation on this equipment is rediculous. [sic]

Commenter "edjn50," from Folsom, LA, is obviously a product of Louisiana's woefully underfunded education system.

Do a little Googling and you'll learn that Neil Thompson, the project manager, has extensive experience in several fields and a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from Vanderbilt. The lead PM and investigator are just the head of a large team, which includes experts in Finite Element Analysis and BOP's.

We'll see how well the DNV report holds up, but these lawyers are obviously trying to do whatever they can to limit their company's legal exposure. The worst incident of the day came from that same idiot BP lawyer who questioned Dr. Thompson on what elastic deformation was. The idiot BP lawyer claimed that "nobody in the oil industry has ever heard of elastic deformation." Fucking dunce! I'm in the oil biz and I learned about it in my sophomore-level Materials Science course. It's on page 117 of my textbook. I can only sympathize with that poor engineer trying to teach bloody English majors mechanical engineering while under oath. Flummoxing your opponent with your total ignorance might be an effective legal strategy, but is no way to run an investigation of an engineering disaster.

Idealized Plastic and Elastic Deformation regions in metals, from Wikipedia

UPDATE- Also, one more thing worthy of interest: Chron article about new BP emails. Note Sims was the only BP engineer who actually had a P.E.

UPDATE 2- Godfrey [Annoying BP lawyer] suggested that nobody in the industry had ever seen such "elastic buckling" of a drill pipe before. But Thompson said it's a commonly understood concept of physics. Note that drill string is called a string precisely because of the elastic nature of the elongated sections when joined together. They hang like a string from the derrick. The elasticity is what allows for directional drilling, for example.

UPDATE 3- Rigzone weighs in on the "unqualified opinion." More english-major foot-in-mouth.

Also: more Gulf of Mexico concerns. Petrobras, which had an interesting kablewey 10 years ago, has some problems on the first FPSO in the Gulf. Note that I've been concerned in the past at how it would handle a hurricane.

UPDATE 4- Transcripts posted. One of the investigators worked on the King's Cross investigation. Very impressive. BP's rebuttal witness, despite some 40 years of BOP operational experience, flubbed some basic materials science questions. Not very impressive.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tulane plowing millions into football?

Cowen Pledges Greater Football Funding - The Hullabaloo. Excellent Article.

This is a curious little announcement. I've asked around and what the administration is thinking is they've done research. Their surveys indicate that there's a strong correlation between football programs and alumni donations. Good foobtall programs have a high rate of alumni donorship, while bad football programs generally correlate with poor alumni donorship. That's what I've heard from a couple of different sources on the administration's thinking. The overall plan is to pump up the football program (which loses a couple million dollars a year) so that it at least stands on its own feet and the halo effect of a better football team would pump up alumni donations. At least, that's the plan.

I'll add a few bits of history. Tulane was a founding member of the SEC. They left because "the board thought they could make more money as an independent, like Notre Dame."

Tulane also had Sugar Bowl Stadium (seating 80,000+), which they tore down and shifted over to the Superdome. That one is actually fairly understandable at the time. They didn't have the money to do the extensive renovations the stadium needed and there was this big, shiny new stadium downtown. Unfortunately, the Superdome is the absolute worst venue possible for a small football program. 20,000 fans (a good Tulane attendance figure) are lost in the cavernous, freezing cold stadium. Note that Cowen mentions a fund-raising drive of $60 million to build an Uptown stadium. From what I'm told, it would be ~30,000 seats and be situated one of three locations: wedged into the practice field area (behind Riley Center; tight, but possible), Audubon Park, or Uptown Square, which Tulane acquired about 6 or 7 years ago. We'll see how the neighbors react if they get the money lined up and want to start construction.

I know that Cowen isn't exactly on my Christmas card list, but take a look at the track record. When Cowen arrived at campus we had a Bowden-led football team with offensive genius of Rich Rodriguez calling a potent offense, the oldest degree granting college for women (Newcomb), engineering programs so old, they dated to founding of ABET (in addition to other, smaller academic programs eliminated in the Renewal Plan), and the Princeton Review ranked Tulane #31 overall. Now, we're ranked #51 (Tulane has griped and moaned about using Katrina-tainted data for dropping it out of the top 50 {well, what about the other 19 spots...}) and we're the only top 50 {51} school without an ABET-accredited program in Computer Science (go ahead and look it up for yourself). Even LSU has (finally) gotten their CS program accredited!

I really want Tulane to do well, but we'll have to see where things are headed. I just can't help wondering if this is really the best way to spend this money.

Here's Cowen's email:

Good Morning:

It has been about six years since Katrina almost destroyed New Orleans and Tulane University. Since that time, Tulane has not only survived but has reimagined itself and become stronger academically and financially. This recovery has not been easy, but the Tulane community was determined to move forward. We have made substantial progress in achieving our academic and financial goals, which have been the primary focus of our efforts since August 29, 2005.

We are now in the stage of our renewal where we can and should continue to focus on the development and success of Tulane Athletics. Next year we will once again field 16 sports teams, fulfilling the NCAA's requirement for competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics.

We have made major commitments to our baseball, basketball and volleyball programs, with a new practice and training facility currently under construction for the latter programs and beautiful Greer Field at Turchin Stadium for our baseball team. These improvements were consistent with the university's recovering finances after Katrina and were made with our academic priorities always in mind. We are proud of what has been accomplished in athletics given all the unprecedented challenges we faced. But the task is not yet complete. Our next goal, which will be the most difficult one to accomplish, is to build a consistently successful football program.

Our vision for football is a program that opens every campaign with the talent and resources to win our division and conference and participate in post-season games - as opposed to one that has periodic winning seasons, which has been the experience at Tulane for the last five or six decades. We will not achieve this overnight, but we must begin the journey for success right now with clear and unambiguous progress made every year, starting with this coming season.

An overview of the evolving plan to accomplish this goal is outlined in The Playbook. In the months ahead we will refine our plans as we marshal the resources necessary to achieve our goals. We will build a successful football program while adhering to Tulane's philosophy of enrolling student-athletes who desire a first-rate education. Our student-athletes are committing their collegiate careers to achieve at high levels, on and off the field, and our coaches will dedicate every bit of their talent and experience to help them in their quest.

For us to be successful, it will require a true team effort -- an effort comparable to what we did after Katrina when many naysayers around the country counted us out. The journey now begins; we hope you will join us.

Have a great weekend,

UPDATE- Changed capacity figure for Sugar Bowl Stadium.