Monday, February 27, 2006

week 9: no post

No post today. I was caught out on a job for the whole day and then some. I'm also going to Las Vegas tomorrow and will not post again until the weekend.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

parking lot jerks

Do you like to cut across the empty sections of parking lots to save a little time as you enter and leave the parking lot because you have some sick aversion to right angle turns? If you do then I hate you. Look, you're not saving much time by doing that. Just go in the nice straight lines like you should before you cause an accident. Today, I almost hit someone who was doing that. Admittedly, I made sure I almost hit the person by not slowing down or swerving to avoid them. Now, that may sound bad, but I had the right of way and I knew I wouldn't actually hit the person. I was just trying to teach the person a lesson. That and it was a legitimate time to use my horn and more or less legitimate time to give someone the finger.

Here's what happened. I made a left turn at a stoplight into a parking lot of a shopping center. About 100 feet into the lot there is an intersection with stop signs for cross traffic, but not for cars moving in a straight line to or from the light. Since I didn't have a stop sign, I obviously didn't stop, but I was watching the person on the right who seemed to have a little trouble comprehending the right of way concept. At the same time, a car was cutting across the parking lot spaces and had clearly not accounted for my presence. I saw this person and knew that if I didn't slow down and assuming their continued their path, that I would miss them. Thus, I didn't slow down, but got about as close as I care to get to anyone.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

working links, for now

It looks like they (whoever they are) have republished the article I was linking to in my piece from Feb 21. Here is the article on personnel shortages. There was also another story about Brazil's state-owned Petrobas and how they are experiencing their own increased lifting costs due to high equipment and service costs caused by strong global demand for oilfield services.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

shortages, a little more

Yesterday's post definitely got away from me. Yes, I wanted to discuss shortages facing the oil and gas industry, in particular the shortage of people. But I didn't really want to discuss how to solve the problem, which I of course did very poorly. I wanted to cite more examples, albeit anecdotal ones about what I see here.

In the San Juan Basin, we are short-handed. Not just Schlumberger, but everyone. Practically every rig we cover is short-handed. A standard drilling rig crew around here is a driller and four or five hands. Some of the rigs have just two hands on every shift. The rumor, which I find fairly credible, is that the standard application for working as a rig hand lists a place for the name of your parole officer. Don't worry; we don't have such a line on our application since Schlumberger requires a background check going back seven years. Though I suppose you be on parole longer than that

The curious thing is that it's not often a matter of hiring people, but one of retention. For some reason, there's an odd oilfield machismo that seems to require experienced people to treat new people like crap. I suppose it is once again a matter of communication. And money, always the money.

Monday, February 20, 2006

week 8: shortages

Despite the recent rise in reserve stocks that have driven crude prices down in the last week, the oil and gas industry will likely be facing a relatively tight supply situation for the next couple years. The market's response to the supply disruption in Nigeria today is a perfect example of how sensitive the market is to any unexpected events. Many operators are attempting to increase production to capitalize on both the current high prices and the expected continuation of these prices. However, attempts to bring new production online are slowed by two factors: people and equipment.

The equipment issue is a short-term problem that can be resolved in about a year. The talked about shortage at the moment is with drilling rigs. However, as more rigs begin to operate, that will increase the need for other service equipment. For instance, there will be a strong need for high pressure pumping fracturing equipment to keep pace with the wells drilled so they can be brought online. Additionally, hydraulic fracturing is becoming more common as fields mature and stimulation is needed to maintain production levels. Nonetheless, equipment can be made, will last for several years, and does not need to cooperate to be used. The same cannot be said for people.

The personnel issue is striking at all levels of the industry. Simply put there are shortages of people from operators to engineers to managers. The need for experienced people is highlighted in this article, which draws special attention to how the situation has arisen partially due to the cyclical nature of the industry.

The problem with people is that they have needs, human needs. Like a desire to live in a particular place without being transferred to wherever there is a need for help. Or something against being put in storage while times are slow before being brought back into commission when business picks up. Can you believe that? A total lack of commitment to the team. Seriously, personnel issues cannot be resolved by manufacturing more equipment. In fact, they cannot simply be solved by paying people more either though people will put up with much more, how shall I put this, BS if they feel well compensated.

There is no easy way to address the personnel problems. New operators can be hired and trained, though communities that have seen the industry boom and bust many times before tend to distrust rapid expansion. Even new entry level engineers like me can be brought up to speed relatively quickly. It does take a certain disposition and native ability that is not all that common for college grads to have to adapt to the field life and deal with the many types of people to work with. The issue becomes experience. The next slow down, and it will come eventually (though it may not occur for several years), is the problem. It will force the termination of many field operations level people since there will be no need for them. (People in research are more insulated since there is still a need to innovate no matter what, but the field personnel are highly exposed to a slow down.) Then the business will pick up again and the cycle gets to repeat again and there is a lack of experienced personnel who have worked their way through the ranks to fill critical middle management positions that are invaluable to smooth on the ground operations.

I suppose this is true of many industries. The oil and gas industry, with its obvious public face and impact on something people buy continuously, seems to suffer from the problem more seriously though. Part of the solution is to standardize as many work processes and systems and technologies as possible. That way, the transfer of knowledge to new personnel can be done more quickly which is certainly something I see Schlumberger working on. As for keeping experienced knowledge workers and managers, that becomes a matter of finding challenges for them. For researchers and developers, the research can never stop so even in slow times the work will continue. For operations personnel and managers, field experience is too valuable to let go of easily so efforts need to be made to keep those people and that is often done through transfers to busier districts.

The industry will struggle its way through these personnel shortages in its own way and in its own time. It'll be interesting to see how it manages this time.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


I have a television, or at least something that can work as a television. For you three-and-a-half regular readers, you might recall my December 11 post of last year where I put out a request for information on something that could let me convert television signals to either DVI or D-sub (the common 15-pin monitor cable). There's no cable adapter since it requires a signal transformation but there are many receiver-type devices that perform such a function. However, most of them are rather costly, but I found a suitable device on the relative cheap. Now I might actually start to use my living room.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Ah, Valentine's Day. Never has a holiday so thoroughly succeeded at making so many people miserable. Except for me for I am continually entertained by the human theater that surrounds me. Hilarious.

On to more pressing matters, while I think I know what this means, it still makes for a strange thing to see on your condiment.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

expensive principles

The problem with principles and leading your own life and having integrity is that it's hard. In this context, hard is often synonymous with expensive.

One of the best examples of this is trying to be environmentally conscious. Going green is expensive and it goes for beyond the fact that the hybrid version of a car has a higher price than the conventional gasoline version. Everything you use and consume takes energy to produce and transport to a place where you can utilize it. What did you eat today? How was it grown? How much packaging was there for it? How did you prepare it? What are the alternatives?

The alternatives are few and as such, they suffer from the disadvantage of being more expensive. This is driven partly by the simple idea of economics of scale. It's also a matter of if the green(er) alternative was cheaper, then it would likely be a mainstream product already. And all last week, as you three regular readers know, I couldn't help but harp on the powerful effect that money has on the decisions people make.

If you don't act with some principle in mind, then whose principles are you tacitly supporting by patronizing their stores? Is it this one: Always Low Prices. Always. Above all else, that is the mantra and they do it well, perhaps distressingly well for many, but conveniently well for many more who enjoy the end result of that slogan.

Ask yourself, what is the price of your principles? And what is the cost?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

why 24/7 consumerism

In the same vein as my post two days ago on money, how is it that we have we become such rampant consumers? It goes beyond the culture of possession, the desire to own the shiniest grown-up toys. There's the entire 24/7 consumption aspect of our lives. The desire for continuous connectivity or, to put it better, continuous diversion is distracting people from things that actually matter.

Portable music, streaming video, e-mail enabled phones, games on your freaking cell phone. What kind of person are you that you must play games on your cell phone? Where are you such that that is the best thing that you could be doing with your time? Admittedly, these connectivity technologies make a handful of the people who use them more productive, people whose jobs depend on the latest information and rapid response. However, for the most part, we don't need them. But we use them anyway.

How did we get here? The subconscious desire to be good little Americans and shop till we drop and consume till we burst? The relentless onslaught of advertising? The industrial military complex's secret machinations?

All irrelevant. If you think a man behind a curtain is pulling some strings, tricking people into being consumers, then you are missing the point. It doesn't matter if you, me, everyone is being manipulated. What matters is how we let it happen. It happens because we let ourselves be understood by others better than we understand ourselves. Thus, we are left open to their manipulations because we no longer know ourselves well enough to control ourselves. It happens because most people are not leaders and never want to lead, not even their own lives.

What's even worse is that most people think they are controlling their own lives when they are really not. They don't see how almost every decision they make is either irrelevant or the end result of waiting until there are no other options. The result is a shallow happiness when times are good and a terrible unease when not. There's no joy from knowing that you're living a principled life, one beyond reproach and that does not need the validation of others.

We need to think. To seize control of our lives and choices and understanding of the world and ourselves.

Damn, maybe I should stop reading The Fountainhead.

Friday, February 10, 2006

strange, strange message

Ok, that was odd. Someone just left a very long, very peculiar message on my apartment answering machine. (I don't pick up my apartment phone unless I am expecting a call on it, which is never.) For starters, the guy started in Spanish for the first minute or so then switched to English for the second minute. (It really was about two minutes long too.) What little I could understand, he seemed to be saying that "real mozzarella cheese" was made with buffalo milk and not milk from cows. Who knew?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

perception of money

People obsess about money. However, the manner in which they discuss money depends on how much of it they have. Now, I'll admit that my experiences with participating or listening to discussions about money are somewhat limited, but I've heard more than a few stories.

Many people feel like they never make enough or have enough money. In a way, that's a good thing. The desire for more drives people to work and provides motivation for people to participate in a capitalistic economic system, which I have found to be fairly efficient all things considered. But in another way, it's a terrible thing to listen to people complain about their money problems without actually doing anything tangible to address them. (I suppose the same could be said of almost all problems.)

On the other hand, a much smaller number of people have, or feel they have, enough money (for their current station in life) and consequently view their money differently. It's as if there is some sort of point of inflection, like a change in perception of what money really is. If you don't have enough or don't think you do, it's this daily thing, this need to constantly scrounge for more to make ends meet. It's as if money is viewed as a possession continually to be parted with. It continually loses value in that situation. However, if you have enough or feel you do the value of money changes. To me, it appears to change positively, both from a sort of happiness standpoint as well as an economic standpoint. It becomes an asset to use to exchange for goods or services or other assets. It gains value in this case.

So how do you end up on one side or the other?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

children = burden?

I just called having children a burden in my last post. I stand by that claim though perhaps a better term would be 'very large opportunity cost'. Children are expensive. There's nothing really that complicated about the idea. Aside from the financial costs, there are the obvious time obligations and potential emotional burdens if for some reason you irrationally develop feelings for them. Hey, everyone makes mistakes. (Sarcasm much?)

By choosing (at some level) to have children, you accepted the obligations that such a decision requires. It's a very one-sided contract too and rightly so. You chose to have them. They didn't get much say in the matter. Thus, for 18 years you owe them. There is nothing that you can make them do, only that which you can persuade them to do. Remember, your children do not exist to make you happy or fulfill your unachieved goals or serve as a tax deduction. You exist to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to make themselves into independent and capable adults. That is the implied social contract you made with the world when you had them.

Despite all this apparent cynicism, I very much want to have children one day (though not anytime too soon). While children do not exist to make their parents happy, that does not mean that they cannot do so. It just means that it isn't the purpose of their existence. Be aware that the singular act of having a child should not make someone happy. The connection needs to be deeper than that (and I imagine that it usually is, but most people just don't realize it). For me, I expect raising children to be an aggravatingly enjoyable experience from which I will derive a great deal of happiness. That happiness will exist because I believe I will find the experience fulfilling in that it will help me be a better person. It will teach me about myself and others and in simple yet complex terms, the human condition. Thus, I will be happy because the process enabled me to learn a great deal. However, timing counts too. I am not currently suited to enjoy the potential benefits of having a child now, thus I can best reap the rewards when having children is a fairly deliberate decision.

Of course, I pretend to know all this when the whole child process is still several years out. I guess I'll see how close I was when I get there.

why get by

How do people put themselves in situations where they are forced to want to just get by? I asked that two days ago and I had an answer then and I still like the answer. The answer is that they put themselves in situations where they have obligations to more than themselves, typically to other people, that they cannot realistically break away from. The most obvious example of such a situation is someone who must take care of a child. (I say realistically because you can always get up and leave wherever you are, whatever you do, and whoever you're with, but there could be certain consequences, especially if you are legally responsible for the welfare of a child.) Other times, people attach themselves to significant others out of some emotional or physical need to be close to someone and then find themselves stuck in that relationship. More severe examples could be those severely addicted to drugs who perpetually seek to get by to the next fix.

Best I can tell, that child thing seems to really be a sticking point for a lot of people. Both emotionally and legally, it's difficult to abandon a child and move on with your life. You can't just 'get over' something that walks and talks or presumably will do so one day.

I do not suffer from that particular burden (and don't pretend that it isn't one). In fact, I am quite free of any obligation to those who are not me to up and leave whenever I feel like it. That's the advantage of being unassociated with a place or a job or a person to such a level that there is some heavy burden to leave it. And that's why I don't feel like I'm "getting by". I could leave this place, this job and go somewhere else tomorrow. I don't plan to, but I could because I am free and that freedom exists because I have made decision to ensure its existence. I would have no problem accepting the affects of a decision to go back to school or becoming a drifter and having to scrape by because I would only be subjecting myself to that standard of living. (Don't worry, I'm not going to become a drifter, but hobo has a nice ring to it.) No one else would be directly and adversely affected by such a choice. Thus, I wouldn't be "getting by" to make sure I could provide for others, stuck at job I might resent to ensure enough money comes through to pay the bills, feed the mouths, and buy new cheap plastic stuff. I would be getting by in a sense, but it would be freely chosen, not some forever resented life burden.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

a shield

I ended my last post with what is probably the most overtly negative thing that I've ever said about work. The hour thieving is not some widespread epidemic at work but there are a few who take more than just a few hours here and there. That's not even the problem; it's just a symptom of the overall quality of the work that they do when they are on the job. Thus, the hour thieving is an easy focal point for their fundamentally wretched ethic. In all fairness, there is a corollary for salaried employees and that's that they try to work as few hours as possible. Salaried does not equal awesome work ethic and commitment to one's job. It just means there's dramatically less incentive to work long hours for little extra compensation.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen if I'm here long enough. Will the Farmington funkiness infect me if I stay too long? Will I buy a four wheeler and a pick-up and pretend that this is pristine country? Will I find mediocrity acceptable? I think not. There's a quote from The Shawshank Redemption that I feel is rather apt: "I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place."

Let's not read too much into this though. Clearly this is not a prison and I'm not sure how quiet an air I have about me. But I'll admit I probably seemed snobby at first (or perhaps I still do to some) and I certainly don't talk like anyone else at work. As for my walk, it seems normal, though probably faster than average. But in the end, this place isn't me. It's something else, a place that won't change me unless I want it to.

Monday, February 06, 2006

week 6: getting by

Again, another revelation I always knew was true, but never realized how much so until I started working. The idea is very simple, but it brings up many related topics so I want to keep this short. Simply put, most people just want to get by in life.

An interesting result of that is related to what I mentioned on Friday. An accident involving a competitor happened two Fridays ago. We heard about it the next day. There was nothing in the newspaper about it until Tuesday. Word gets around to those in the business. A competitor is just another company to work for to most people. It isn't some rival to do better than. It's just a place where people who used to work here now work and vice versa. That's why we knew by the next day. Same goes for anything of note that happens to us. I'm sure all the major service companies in the basin would know by the next day. If you go high enough up then people care about such competition, but for the most part, there's a profound apathy for it. Oh, there's the expected trash talking about the competition but not much actual action to ensure said trash talking is justified. There's no will to win, just a will to not lose.

There is no imminent greatness to achieve or some great change to make to the world. There's another bill to pay, another mouth to feed, another possession to have. Achieve some semblance of financial security and apparent status for yourself and your family. Don't ask questions about why you're doing it and what it's all for. Just get by. Get your gold watch after 20 and pension after 30 then do as you're told and retire.

This has turned very cynical and is probably colored greatly by the nature of the work I have chosen and this weird place that is Farmington. However, as I attempt to extrapolate what I have seen here across as much of the country as possible (even considering just how strange it is here) I believe I am right to say that most people just want to get by. The Bay Area, probably where most people who read this are as most people I know are there, is a hyper-competitive anomaly that bears little resemblance to most of the nation.

That's all I have. Get by. It explains a few things about people. For instance, it explains why many people talk about money a lot. Or why principles are another thing that you have to pay for. But the questions it raises are more compelling. Who wants to do more than just get by and why? How do people put themselves in situations where they are forced to want to just get by? Is this the end result of lower and middle class consumerism? What happened to the supposedly natural instinct to compete? I want to address those in the near future.

I don't plan to follow-up last week's abrupt end anytime soon. I'm sure the more verbose could wax about agendas for hours on end. However, I want to point out that a large part of many peoples' agendas consists of getting by. And they want to get by with the least amount of resistance possible. Thus, the agenda becomes to do as little work as possible during the hours for which you are getting paid. Hear that sound? It's the giant vacuum of laziness sucking hours straight from the clock. This place cracks me up.

Friday, February 03, 2006

no perfect system

No matter what you do, there will always be things beyond your control. This accident happened last Friday and word of it reached our office by Saturday. You won't find details in the article but, from what people have said, it was a freak accident. However, how the accident came to pass underscores how important all the little things are because eventually they turn into something very big.

Some people like to say that life is random (and others don't). I like to say that life is statistical in nature. We can increase and decrease our odds of having various events happen to us, but we can never guarantee a 1 or 0. When it comes to safety in the field, we can take all the reasonable steps possible to prevent an accident and hope nothing unreasonable happens.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

fox pause?

Someone at work made a serious e-mail fox pause, or as the more refined might say, a faux pas. Someone out of one of the Denver offices sent an e-mail to everyone in the western United States that should have been sent to just the manager being addressed in it. The content of the e-mail was hardly confidential. It didn't deal with company technology or corporate strategy or any such thing. Instead, it contained some information about a manger's meeting and the perks that surrounded it. Hardly bringing down the house, but it definitely bothered some people at the district that these managers were getting some of these perks. And of course the content was misunderstood by some such that they believed the perks were better than they actually were. What isn't well understood is that some people get perks because they are good at what they do. If they didn't get them, then they would go somewhere else. That's how upper management works.

But the best part of the whole thing was the follow-up e-mail. Upon realizing their error, the sender than sent out the exact same e-mail but changed the header to say that the previous e-mail was a virus even though it did not have an attachment. Hilarious and very pathetic. You messed up, just admit it.