Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

catching up

There, I posted entries from my time in Greece and London. Go find them below. Go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

coming soon, maybe

Well, I finally have some time to post an entry. I'm back from Greece and England and can get the kind of access I need to update my website. I have updates from pretty much every day of my vacation that I will be posting retroactively. Now I just need the time to do it. I have most of them written while some are still in note form. However, I want to expand and link some of them to pictures so it'll be another couple of days for those blog entries to finally appear. As for an organized pictures section from the trip, that'll be even longer. My flight got in a little before 10pm on Monday and eight hours later I was on location looking at a rig. Suffice to say, I am very tired and still recovering. I was in the field again today so I'm pretty spent. But an update with all sorts of entries is coming soon. Soonish.

I would like to mention that it was wonderful to see my family in Greece and that my weekend in London was possibly the best weekend I have ever had.

Monday, November 21, 2005

London: departure

Good-bye to everything in London I so very much enjoy. I hope to be back.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

London: more frolicking

Another cold morning filled with reluctance to get out of bed. But we had omelets so that made it worthwhile. Oh, and there was the rest of the fun day.

We opted to go into the downtown-ish and rather tourist filled area of London. Well, or at least one of the many of those places. I can't even remember where we saw the ad, but we opted to go look at some chocolate shop on Bond St. I'm used to everything being open on any day of the week. (Except banks, they keep terrible hours.) But this is Sunday and this isn't the States, especially someplace in the States that doesn't have silly blue laws on the books. Thus, the chocolate shop in question, and many others on Bond St, was closed. We cut across to Oxford St and followed Oxford until we hit Hyde Park. We went for a leisurely (read: long) stroll through the park. It's very long in the East-West direction and we didn't cut the shortest path possible. But it was a walk for walking's sake. And those are best enjoyed with a companion.

Total side note. On the side of a lot of city buses, there are Greek tourism ads with the slogan: Live your myth. I only mention it because I was just there. And because it's so expectedly dorky.

The walk had an objective though. We were angling our way over to a particular theater to catch a particular movie. The park yielded some good photos. As always, you'll have to wait for those. And by good, I mean pictures of pigeons. It also yielded a very funny circumstance of a dog walking right up to a bench and peeing right where some man was sitting. He was fast enough, just barely, to get out of the way on time. That dog clearly had claims to that bench. Also, my attempts to buy a Fanta from a vendor in the park were thwarted when I was told the soda machine wasn't working. That almost killed my day, but I was eventually able to satisfy my bloodlust for a Fanta at dinner.

We watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (I really like linking to movies, mostly because it's so easy.) It was very good. It was the first of the series that I had actually seen straight through. There was some jumpiness to it, but that seems necessary when you only have 2.5 hours to tell a several hundred page story. The theater also had lots of leg room which was nice. It also started the actual movie at 4:59 when the show time was listed a 4:30. It would about 15 minutes of commercials before it even started on what I think was six or seven movie trailers. The commercials struck me as very odd. There were three different car commercials, and while I realize parents go with their children to a movie like this, the audience was still mostly children. Shouldn't those have been over at The Constant Gardener instead? There were also two public service ads. One was an incredibly dark ad about how unlicensed cabs endanger you to being raped. I'm really not sure if I would want a child of my own to see an ad like that.

I sated my Fanta need at dinner when we opted for some traditional fish and chips. I should say it was fish and a chips extravaganza. They certainly weren't skimping. I could've finished, but it would've been one of those instances where I sacrificed how I felt for the rest of the night for the pride of having eaten a whole lot of food of questionable value to my heart.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

London: frolicking

There's nothing quite like a cold house and a warm bed and no particular place to be at any particular time to make you want to stay in bed. But this is London and there's too much to see and do to spend all day in bed as attractive an option as that may seem to be.

After a fair bit of waffling and general indecisiveness last night, we decided on a show to see rather quickly this morning. We opted for the matinee showing of Epitaph For George Dillon at the Comedy Theater which was billing Joseph Fiennes as the title character. If you watch reasonably classy movies, you might know him as the title character from Shakespeare in Love. If you watch R-rated movies solely for nudity then you probably know him from Killing Me Softly.

Before the show we toured the National Gallery. I saw a few paintings that caught my eye. I liked a couple pieces by John Constable for the way the light came off of them. Perhaps some prints would make for a bit of decoration in my apartment, but I suspect the colors just wouldn't be the same.

The play was good. It was about an actor/playwright living which seemed to make the play self-consciously referential. Perhaps it made the audience a little self-conscious too if they spent time thinking about the dialogue. The protagonist started as someone who could've been a cynical me. By the end, he had changed, but not in what I would call a good way. At least, it's not a change I would want to make, but then again, perhaps I'll never be forced to compromise the way he had to.

After the play, we headed over to the Tate Modern for the principle purpose of looking at the Russian propaganda. I had seen it before, but being there this time made me wonder about what the corresponding propaganda from other countries looks like. In particular, as I looked at some from WWII, I wondered what it would look like side-by-side with what was produced by the United States. It would be interested to see how two at least temporary allies approached the task of rallying the people. Also, what would it look like next to German propaganda of the same era.

Friday, November 18, 2005

London: arrival

I left Greece this morning and am now on London. I have some observations about Greece before I get to what a great place London is. Greece has a big time stray animal problem. This isn't just in Athens either where cats were to be found all over the Acropolis. There are strays all over the country any place where there are enough human leftovers to live off of. There are also more gas stations that one would think the market could support. While going from town to town in Greece, gas stations would appear more frequently than expected. Also, you can't pump your own gas. There's something about places that don't let you pump your own gas that bothers me. I suppose it feels like artificial job creation. One last observation for now, though I may have more later, is that restaurants have a thing for floor to ceiling or at least very large glass windows. My first night in Athens we ate at a restaurant in a whole row of restaurants that all had floor to ceiling glass windows. While driving around on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we passed countless more restaurants with a similar love of windows.

A little bit more before I get to London. It's worth mentioning that I was almost reduced to watching Must Love Dogs on the plane. Yes, I didn't have to watch the in-flight movie but really now, how can I not. The problem with the movie, aside from it being a hopeless romantic comedy, was that they showed it on my flight from London to Athens. It's not supposed to be shown on the flight from Athens to London and yet there it was on the monitors along the ceiling of the aisle. Thank goodness a flight attendant realized the mistake and put in the correct movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I would've watched Must Love Dogs too if they had left it on. I feel like that's almost as bad as an alcoholic admitting to drinking the spilt beer found in ashtrays. But not quite.

About that greatness of London. It's great. I'm spending the weekend in London with Hermione before I ship myself back to Farmington on Monday. I landed here a little before 11 AM and cleared customs by 11:15. Very nice. I had my first chance to give Hermione a hug a little bit after noon. Great public transportation. Too bad the entire city is so expensive. Being back here of course reminds me of the week Andrew and I spent here earlier in the year. I could really see myself living in this city for some semi-extended period of time.

We had some lunch and went to the Imperial College of London because that's where Hermione has class. I wandered about during that time. While doing so, it dawned on me how close the college was to where my brother and I had stayed. I poked in and out of the nearby museums to sort of wander about. Neither the Natural History Museum nor the Science Museum held my interest for long. I spent some time in the V&A looking at the Casts and Courts section and the Chinese exhibits. I have pictures from my last trip from that museum so you should take a look at those if you want a sense of what I was looking at. I mostly wanted to marvel so of course I spent a wee bit of time pondering if that chandelier in the lobby would fit into my apartment. Maybe if it was on its side. I also simply wandered the streets a while and watched people skate about an ice rink that was set up near the Natural History Museum.

When Hermione got out of class, we headed over to the V&A and went to some exhibits I had not made my way to before. Here Scott, you can weep for these sad instruments. We also made our way through an exhibition of photography by Diane Arbus.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Greece: rest and rain

It was absolutely pouring today. I woke up to a huge clap of thunder. I didn't quite realize what it was at first, because I was still half asleep. It sounded like someone had dropped something somewhere within earshot. Eventually, my brain woke up and it was pretty clear that it was thunder. The rain kept us in for a good chunk of the day. It was going to be a rest day anyway so that was fine.

When the rain finally let up, we left for the Poseidon monument. On a clear day it's supposed to have incredible sunsets. However with rain clouds still lingering, it wasn't even worth 4 euros to go up to see it, especially when the ruins were going to look suspiciously like the ruins everywhere else.

After dinner, we young folks tried to go into the heart of Athens. In the end, we ended up still in downtown Glyfada after most of the stores had closed. It was a combination of a public holiday and the inability to read and comprehend the local language well enough to properly utilize public transportation. We also ended up doing a lot of walking in the end. I'll pretend that made it all worthwhile. I'll also pretend that it was a shame that my brother couldn't find an atrocious, orange fanny pack.

Tomorrow: London.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Greece: driving

Not a lot to say today. We made our way back to Athens from Kalambaka. We did spend two days distancing ourselves from Athens so we kind of had to get that distance back and it was rather time consuming.

I do have a driving observation to share. On a two-lane road where each direction has a shoulder, cars and trucks in both directions tend to drive half in the lane and half on the shoulder. What this does is create an artificial passing lane. It's really quite interesting.

Anyway, as we got near Athens, we became increasingly ensnared in the traffic morass that the city suffers from.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Greece: Meteora

More driving today. We went to some monasteries of note in a place called Meteora, which is near where we're staying in Kalambaka. The driving is very free form. It's like an interpretive dance at high speed. The parking is also rather creative too.

These monasteries are noteworthy because they sit on huge rock bluffs. I took a bunch of photos that I'll eventually post. (That means several weeks from now.) The only damper on the photos is that it was hazy again so the photos are not as spectacular as being there. The monasteries are functioning in that nuns and priests inhabit them. There are six main ones that open themselves to the public though there are several more in the area. All of them require that women wear a skirt to enter. They all have a rack of skirts in front for that purpose.

We had dinner a few blocks from our hotel and then we went for a walk. There's an interesting social phenomenon going on here. There are gaming clubs of sorts filled with men all over. But there's no corresponding place where women congregate. That lack of a corresponding place isn't surprising, but I find it odd that so many men go to these clubs and appear to have what looks like a very unentertaining time.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Greece: Delphi

Today we went to Delphi. Well, that was the principle point of the day. I'm enjoying my attempts to read the Greek alphabet on all the road signs. Most of the letters are pretty familiar. And they should for anyone who took math and physics in college. Fluid mechanics too. Lots of Greek letters in fluid mechanics. A few look unfamiliar, especially omicron. I think that's because it doesn't get much play in technical fields because it looks like a zero.

For instance, let's check out a couple photos. (Bear with me; these were taking from a moving car.) In this first one, you see the names of two cities: Larisa and Karditsa. It's pretty easy to see how these are spelled out in Greek. Larisa has that capital lambda followed by alpha, rho, iota, sigma, alpha. The rho, which resembles out 'p' and the sigma, which is like an 'o' with a tail are the big differences. The iota and alpha look a lot like our counterparts. With Karditsa, you have the capital kappa, then an alpha, rho, delta, iota, tau, sigma, alpha. In this other photo we see a lot of the same letters, but also a couple new ones. Note how our letter 'p', which looks like a rho, is of course represented by pi. Also, that thing that looks like a 'v' is really a nu to correspond to 'n'. In the bottom word, you get to see the lowercase lambda and a mu for 'm' which looks like a 'u' with extras. The puzzler is that last character, which looks more like a zeta than anything else. I'm still mulling it over.

There are little shrines all along the highway. I'm not quire sure what they signify, but they vary in condition from totally forgotten to rather elaborate. Any ideas? I'd take a photo so people can see but we haven't exactly been stopping in the middle of the road. (Editorial follow-up: I never managed to get a good photo of one of these.)

Delphi was interesting, but not very informative. In retrospect the Acropolis was nice in that it had descriptive plaques in front of things. Delphi had some labels, but no descriptive information. There was a stadium at the top of the old city that was a short, but solid hike to get to. In the end, the city was a bunch of stones. I'm told that there are lots of stones all over the country or so say my family who toured the Peloponnesian Peninsula last week.

We're spending the night in a town called Lamia. Not much to say, except that they have very poor city planning. That seems to be a problem that afflicts a lot of this country. We tried some local dessert products. One of them was this round gelatinous product with walnuts in the middle and sesame seeds on the outside. It tasted exactly like Cracker Jacks. Very odd.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Greece: Acropolis

Today we went to the Acropolis in the morning. We beat the crowds who were swarming over everything like ants by the time we left. The Acropolis is under a lot of restoration. I get the feeling that it's been under restoration for a while and will continue to be so for many more years, possibly forever. In the end, it was impressive, but at the same time, it was a pile of stones. There was a small museum on site with sculptures from the Acropolis. Again, it was nice, but not enthralling. The site offers, or at least I assume so, great views of the greater Athens area. It's hard to say since it was hazy, which appears to be a chronic condition of the city.

Perhaps I'm coming off a little bit unappreciative of the cultural and historical significance of the Acropolis (or any monument or preserved site). For me, places like the Acropolis will generally be nice, but not inspiring. I can appreciate a great deal and to a fairly high level without gushing over something. That's probably a part of my typically reserved nature. It takes a certain, highly indefinable something for a place to be inspiring to me. The scaffolding for the restoration work at the Acropolis greatly diminished the majesty of the structures. The crowds didn't help either.

Starting in Chicago and with me to Athens, there were many tourists who were part of a large tour group on my plane. According to these ridiculously silly things they all wear around their necks that holds their boarding passes and passports and name tags and all that jazz, the group is called Life and Teachings of Paul. I think it's one of those groups that retrace the steps of the apostle Paul. I mention this because I saw one guy that I definitely recognized from my flight at the Acropolis today. That is all.

After the Acropolis, we went to the National Archeological Museum. My goodness, that was a lot of sculpture. Lots and lots of sculpture. And some nice gold-work too. Anyway, it was thoroughly culturally enriching and all the other things it was supposed to be.

After lunch, we took Athens's tram/metro/subway to some street market. We wandered about for a while. It was reminiscent of the street market that my brother and I were at in Camden Locke in London. A lot of local flavor and amusing trinkets for purchase. We then had a snack at one of the 47 McDonald's restaurants that are in the country. My brother and I both tried the McBacon. It's a lot like a double cheeseburger with a slice of ham inside. I've come to realize that many places (by many, I mean England and Greece so far) call bacon what I call thin-sliced ham.

We had a late dinner that was a lot like dinner last night. Since I didn't describe dinner yesterday, I suppose I'll continue that trend. There's nothing all that gripping or unusual about dinner here. It's just a little different. Anyway, what I find more interesting is the different way that brands common in America are used and marketed here. For instance, both Dunkin' Donuts and Haagen Dazs have basically full fledged restaurants. However, they don't serve anything beyond their dessert fare. They simply have full indoor seating and lots of outdoor seating as well. It's as if going to those places is a destination that rivals going to a restaurant for dinner.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Greece: arrival

So this is Greece, specifically Athens, specifically a suburb called Glyfada. I can't say much about it since my flight landed in the evening and I haven't really seen anything except for where we ate dinner. I was a little taken aback by customs which looked briefly at me, scanned and then stamped my passport, and then let me through. No questions at all. No request for information on where I would be staying or what I was doing or how long I would be there. Welcome to Greece.

Since I have nothing on Greece yet, I'll enlighten you all with my sharp insights into travel. When people board airplanes, they behave very similarly to the way they do in self-serve food lines. They're impatient to reach their seat area or get near the food, but once they get there they start to take all the time in the world. In food lines, people have this odd habit of leaving their plate on their tray and trying to scoop food all the way over to it. It is much faster to simply hold your plate right above the serving container and just shovel the food on. (I think I've mentioned the food thing before but it can never be said too many times.) In the same vein, once people get to their seat, they decide to fuss with everything and try and get their bag just right either in the overhead bin or under the sat or both. Meanwhile, they're holding up all the people who need to get to seats that are further back. Is it so hard to just shove your bag into the overhead bin and then flop onto your seat, thereby getting out of the aisle so other people can get by. Once in your seat, you can at least half-stand and do all the fidgeting you need.

O'Hare decided to provide me with a little entertainment. While I waited in the gate area, I watched the ground crew load the plane. It's an interesting ballet of sorts to see the different trucks that need to pull up to the plane and all the non-descript boxes that they load. The best part was watching someone re-park some conveyer trucks right near the window. I think these trucks are primarily used to load and unload luggage from the plane. All they have is a conveyer belt that can be tipped up that runs the length of the truck. Anyway, this guy was trying to re-park some to make room for another one on the line where they are left. There was no need to have them more than a couple feet apart, but this guy apparently decided that if he didn't scrape them together while parking then they weren't close enough. And in the process of doing all the scraping he also managed to back up into another vehicle twice. O'Hare also provided me with this photo. Really now, who carries $4 in quarters? Besides me of course. Not that I bought a copy of Barron's or anything like that.

The flight from O'Hare to Heathrow was pretty good. British Airways travels in style and offered wine with dinner. I declined since I don't like wine, but the gesture seemed nice. I watched the movie Crash on the plane. While it may not be the best title for a plane movie, it has nothing to do with airplanes. At least it wasn't Alive.

The Heathrow airport is a very odd place. My plane landed in Terminal 4, which apparently suffers from a gate shortage. We got off the plane in the middle of the tarmac onto a bus that whisked us away to some nondescript entrance to the airport building structure where I followed signs for Terminal 1 until I came to another nondescript entrance where another bus was waiting that whisked me off to my terminal. At least the signage is good.

At no point did I leave the secure area (I think) but I still went through two more checkpoints. This probably has something to do with all the international flights that come through there and a certain lack of faith in the rigorousness of the airport security in some parts of the world. And I'll concede that the first checkpoint I went through may have been necessary because I can't say for sure where that bus dropped me off relative to other checkpoints. When it comes to going though those checkpoints, I've become fairly good at packing and unpacking my laptop and pockets and never getting dinged by anything like a belt or coins. I'm starting to get bothered by people who can't seem to figure it out and I try to pick the line with the fewest looking amateurs, but it's always a crapshoot in the end.

One last curio was that the Heathrow to Athens flight was not boarded in any order. I was waiting for them to announce their boarding instructions when people just started lining up and getting on the plane. Very odd, but more effective than I thought it would be.

Friday, November 11, 2005

last day

It's now dead time here at the training center. I'm waiting for my cab to come and take me to the airport. I'm leaving early, but I've received my little evaluation dealie and there's nothing left to do except say goodbye to my classmates. As always, the time passed quickly.

Now, I am mentally running through all the plans I have made for the next ten days and how much fun it should be. Of course my bags are packed and one of them is quite possibly on its way home, or so I hope. The Marriott people were helpful in helping me prep my suit bag for shipment back to my apartment. Hopefully it'll be somewhere in town when I get back.

I'll write blog entries while I am on vacation but I might not be able to post them all until I get back. However, I have realized that I can edit the time stamps on my mirrored blog so the dates will make sense instead of seeing seven entries all posted on the same day. So, until my return my plucky and curiously loyal readers, enjoy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

a suit

What kind of bran muffin has 21 grams of fat in it? One they feel is fit to give to us for breakfast. And so nears the end of a very unsatisfying breakfast situation at the Marriott.

I forgot to mention that yesterday was the first time I had ever worn a suit to work. It also was the first time I had worn a true suit beyond trying it on. Heck, it was the first time I had worn a tie to work since that first orientation week. There's no test on this, but it's quite a place to work when I can go a year between occasions where I should wear a tie.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

meat on a sword

Hurrah, the course is basically over. I've been pushing pretty hard the last several nights trying to wrap up a project. It's been fun and tomorrow looks like it'll be a lot of useful, interesting material. For the most part, it's been interesting material, but of uncertain value in terms of how immediately useful it would be back at my district. A lot of the material has been inter-disciplinary, which makes much of it new and thereby rather interesting. But, like I said, it won't be of immediate use back in Farmington, but it definitely helps with my understanding of the larger picture from a technical standpoint.

Anyway, today was the presentation of the projects so that big hump is done with and we had a class dinner at a Brazilian restaurant tonight. The place was called The Gaucho and served meat on a sword as advertised. The meat was ok, but not as good as a similar type of restaurant in Houston that one of the instructors has been to. For the most part, the more well done the meat was, the drier and less tender it was and there was too much of that. But at least there was a reasonable amount of variety as different waiters with different swords kept coming around. And it's hard to go wrong when you wrap fillet mignon with bacon.

I wonder if any studies have been done on how groups seat themselves at a dinner table. When we all entered the restaurant and were directed to our table, there was this awkward standing around as if people were waiting for some direction to be seated. I looked around quickly and sat down somewhere near the middle, but definitely not in the middle. As the dinner and conversation progressed, I realized that there is some strategy in where one sits from both a table access standpoint as well as a conversation access standpoint. There are twelve students in the course as well as the primary instructor and a couple guest instructors who were in town to watch the project presentations were also at the dinner. I was the first to pick a seat so I didn't get much say in where I was relative to others. However, I did sit in such a place that I was close enough to engage my end of the table in conversation, but yet far enough from that end that I could listen in to what the other end of the table was discussing. It helped that one of the guest instructors was sitting at the very end of my end of the table so that was someone with a good insight into the company. Basically, I was able to successfully engage my end of the table and still have a handle on the general tenor of the other major table conversations. For an information junkie like me who likes to know what's going on, that was great. So now I'm wondering if this is a good strategy for picking a seat in large group settings in the future. Basically, to sit about a third of the way down the table to have conversational access to most of it and be able to listen to basically all of it. The only thing I could refine is to let a couple others sit first and pick my particular side based at least partially on where others are sitting. However, I don't like having to wait for others to awkwardly sit down when I can just pick a seat first.

Over-analysis is so easy.

Friday, November 04, 2005

why talk about the weather?

Because I can. I will talk about the weather. It's very warm, considering that this is November. Some quick investigating reveals that it's been about 10 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It's balmy at 7 in the morning when we get on the bus and its still balmy at 9 at night after dinner. I think I can successfully correlate the warm weather with my presence here.

Two days ago marked one year working for Schlumberger. And there was much rejoicing. Yesterday, Chakib Sbiti, the Executive VP of Oilfield Services came to the training center for a roundtable. Well, that's what it was called. He's pretty high up on the depth chart, arguably third or fourth highest up, and you can even see what he's paid here since he is one of the top executives. He gave a short presentation and stressed some safety awareness, but most of the time was dedicated to him answering questions from those in attendance. Everyone who was there for a technical course was there. I asked a question, but it didn't get answered and there was really no time to clarify it since it was actually the last question. When I say that it did not get answered, I'm fairly certain it was misunderstood and not evaded. It wasn't a charged question like some of those that were asked that would be evaded. It was a broader business question as opposed to something about touchier personnel issues. And now I'm stewing about how I could've more succinctly and more clearly expressed my question. It was clear in my mind and afterwards most of my classmates knew what I was asking about. Basically, I could have used more words to ask it, but I didn't think he needed me to explain the background of a business issue to him because I felt that would've been mildly insulting. See, I really am stewing over this, but that's only because I'm reliving it.

To change topics, and to indirectly reveal how I write some of these entries out of order, fans of The Family Guy who actually read this (Scott?) might be amused to know that I finally saw the second fight between Peter and the giant chicken. Now we can thoroughly analyze it.

I haven't been taking many pictures. There's nothing to take pictures of. Part of that is because I haven't had much time to go out and enjoy the fine city of Tulsa. The other part is that this just strikes me as some bland American city with few things that are worth taking pictures of. Seriously, do you want to see what the fa├žade of the local Wal-Mart looks like? I hope not, because I'm not sure I want to know you if you do. And I'm still bothered by how flat it is.