Saturday, December 30, 2006

tons of snow, sort of

It looks like I came back just in time. Albuquerque has been pounded with snow since I arrived. That same storm is largely responsible for why I had such a fun drive a couple days ago.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

already back to work

Well, that was a long first day back at work. A fun, snow-filled, icy-road drive that was far more harrowing than I ever want to have again.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

back in farmington

Back in Farmington. Uh, woo hoo?

Never enough time to see everyone. I suppose I could, but it is, as always, a matter of priorities. The reality is that there are a handful of people who are really important to me that I want to see. And a select one or so that I want to see as much as possible.

Wile I was home, and during previous times, people often ask me what exactly it is that I do. I think I will slowly start to work on a tutorial of sorts that will help answer many of the most common questions I receive.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Have you ever met someone with a college degree and just wanted to scream incredulously, "They gave you a degree?" Don't be polite, of course you have. That's what keeps me up at night, even more than the deficit does. There are all these morons with college degrees. Their very existence lessens the value of my own degree.

The whole thing almost makes me think that I need more degrees so I won't be mistaken for these yahoos. But of course, pointless spite isn't much of a reason to spend up to five more years in school. But then again…

Oh, of course not. When I stop to count, it is rather interesting to see how many people I know getting advanced degrees, especially the number getting PhDs. Just an observation.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

social networking

That was a pleasant family dinner. Seriously, it was a lot of fun.

In a small show of support, I will now shamelessly link to IBM and Facebook since I have family that works there. My great concern with social networking sites is that the few that rise to prominence often fade quickly. Friendster anyone? Read this article from May and then read this other article from October. So here's to Facebook, and MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Xanga, and many more.

While we're on this subject, I need some help remembering the name of a networking service that was marginally popular with college students when I was in college. I believe it started on the east coast and schools were ranked by percentage of students using the service and a lot of it was done through AIM. Any ideas?

Friday, December 22, 2006


Thoughts from a mall or two.

I dislike going to malls. There's something not right about them. It's probably the smell. Next time you're in one, pay close attention to the many odors your olfactory organs are assaulted with. And why aren't these high school kids in school? Not to mention how badly dressed they are. Eh, I suppose I've always been 35 on the inside.

The Copeland Sports store was having a going out of business sale. The store was pretty gutted, but I found some shoes for the right price. For some reason, there was a little kiosk by the registers where you could apply for a job with Copeland.

What the hell is skurban? If it's not in Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary, it must not be real.

Monday, December 18, 2006

but my car still works

It is only with grudging acceptance that I recognize the fact that I will one day be forced to get a new (or at least new to me) car. As advanced as my car was when it was new, the last 20 years have seen inevitable improvements in automotive technology. By 1986 standards, it was a very sophisticated automobile. By today's standards, it's not exactly winning over hearts and minds. The myriad little creature comforts that no longer work don't really help either. Really now, I don't have a problem with no AC, but apparently other people do. And so what if the passenger window doesn't roll down. I don't sit on that side of the car.

The great reluctance I have with one day abandoning my car is that it's the only car I've spent a great deal of time driving. I have driven this car since I got my license way back in the last century. I know this car, at least I know it well enough. I'm comfortable with all the various fluid level checks, recommended tire pressures, changing a flat tire, braking response, steering feel, etc. All pretty basic things everyone should really know about their cars. More importantly, I know what's wrong, or likely to be wrong, with my car. Its tendency to run hot, the slow oil and transmission leaks and the slightly faster power steering leak, which rear light bulb doesn't turn on sometimes, which fuses go where, etc. Picking up the basics on any new car is easy enough. Getting used to the idiosyncrasies of a car takes time and I already have such a good rapport with mine.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Back. I forgot how nice the color green can be.

airport security equals the awesome

Blogging from the airport courtesy of free wireless internet at Albuquerque Sunport International. That's right Phoenix Sky Harbor, you ain't got nothing on this.

It's about 0500 and I'm sitting in majestic terminal B of the airport. I had the less than noteworthy (except here!) distinction of being the first person to check-in to my flight, not counting anyone checking in at home. I sort of bypassed the one couple standing in line since they didn't seem to realize that the self-check-in kiosks were intended to be used and not just looked at. I guess they thought that the absence of any staff meant that they couldn't check-in. Little did they know that the act of checking-in causes the employees to scurry out like ants, very large ants.

In a more noteworthy occurrence, I went through one of those mass spectrometer dealies for the first time at the passenger security checkpoint. Absolutely terrible. Read about this guy's experience first, because there's nothing here about it and then continue. Done? Good. My experience wasn't quite so bad, but that was aided by being the first one through that particular security line. For starters, there was no signage or indication from a TSA employee that I needed to go through it. Hey, I don't know if it's for everyone or every nth passenger or only suspiciously ethnic passengers. Besides, the way around it wasn't cordoned off so I started walking past it. No can do. Gotta go through. I stand in, and the machine puffs air on me, pauses for a good 10-15 seconds (which is way too long to efficiently process passengers but I suppose efficiency isn't the goal) and then the red hand becomes a green walking man and the door opens. Not! The TSA guy walks up and tells me to stand back inside with no explanation given. Meanwhile, did I mention that my laptops, backpack, and wallet have rolled through the X-ray machine and are sitting unattended on the other side? No? Well, they were and that's the biggest problem. Theft of items from the end of the X-ray scan conveyer is certainly way down due to the requirement to have a boarding pass to go through security, but it can still happen, especially with an opportunistic little item like a wallet or watch. Take two with the puffs of air, red hand becomes green walking man, and doors open. Not! The doors didn't open so I stood there and looked at the TSA guy who just sort of stared back at me so I pushed the door open and walked through and then through the metal detector. What a joke. By the way, if they want this mass spec device, they might as well combine it or put it immediately before (not 10 feet before, but 1 foot before) the metal detector. That would make it one process instead of two awkward processes.

In other more or less equally negative news, on my way to the airport, I concluded that running the heat in my car speeds up the growth of the crack in my windshield. It is now much longer than it was before the start of my trip. When I realized how quickly it was growing, I turned off the heat in my car. That made for a very cold drive. I put gloves on to help my hands, but damn, I should've stopped to put on a second pair of socks. Who needs a new car? Being miserable builds character.

If you've pieced together my last post, you might have come to realize that I left Farmington before 2100 and arrived in Albuquerque a little bit after midnight. With a four hour travel time from ABQ to SFO with a layover in PHX, a 0900 arrival means a 0600 departure from here. Remember that I also gain an hour. Thus, we can say that I need to be here no later than 0500. Factor in a travel time of about three-and-a-half hours from Farmington to Albuquerque, plus a little safety margin and I need to leave Farmington by 0100. And this brings us back to the original, implied question, why would I leave Farmington at 2030?

The experience of working at all hours of the day and night in the field has taught me a lot about when I am most alert, how much sleep I need, and how much focus driving takes. Let's say I was to leave Farmington at 0100. There are two ways to do that. The first is to just stay up all the way to 0100 and then leave. This is bad. This puts me up all day, half the night, and then I have to drive the other half of the night. How many of you are in good condition to drive 185 miles after you've already been up for 16 hours? Me neither. I could do it, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. The second option is to go to bed early and ideally get four hours of sleep. Four is best from a circadian rhythm perspective. But let's not deceive ourselves. Am I really capable of going to bed at 2000, actually waking up at midnight, and then hitting the road? That's actually a worse-case scenario to me due to the potential for sleeping in and missing my flight. Very bad. And cost prohibitive. Besides, if I do get any sleep, it's likely to be very fitful and not much better than not sleeping. This takes us to what I did which was sleep in yesterday, leisurely run some errands, pack my bags, eat a light dinner, pack a snack and then hit the road at 2030. This put nearly my entire trip before midnight, a time when I know my alertness to be good. Not great, but generally good, especially if I slept in that morning. This plan also gives me a huge time buffer in case I run into car troubles. All in all, a much better option than leaving Farmington at 0100.

Of course, it would be fair to ask what I do from midnight to 0400 when the check-in counter opens. I sleep, or at least I try to sleep. Remember, car with no heat equals cold me. But when you're tired, you can sleep through a lot. I probably only got an hour of sleep, but since I don't need to drive anymore, it doesn't matter. I can sleep on the plane. One observation from sitting in the parking lot for all those hours is that the night security and parking attendants need something to do. Or fire half of them.

One last note, I was about 60 miles from Farmington, still catching the one hip-hop, pop, current young people music station, when on came this radio ad for investing advice. They were making the usual sales pitch about how not knowing certain things could be keeping you from reaching your financial goals and bladdady blah blah. And then they revealed who they were really targeting: "high net worth investors" was their phrase. By their definition, people with more than $500 thousand invested. By the way, the phrasing seemed to imply that home ownership did not constitute an investment. The obvious question is how many people in the Farmington area does this even apply to?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

vacation starts ... now!

Well, it looks like it's about time to hit the road. If it seems a bit early to head to the airport, think about where I am and where I need to be. If I'm going to fly out of Albuquerque and land at SFO around 0900 Pacific Time tomorrow morning it means I need to leave Farmington within an hour or two. And if it seems like I'm leaving way earlier than necessary, also consider when I would rather be driving.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

like, not love, but still like

Based on the comments I receive, I sometimes wonder if people who read this blog think that I don't like my job.

I don't love my job, but I also feel that that is a word people often use far too casually. Maybe if you had the same surname as I (as do half my readers) you would give it as much thought as I do. However, I do like my job, and I like it a great deal some days. Other days aren't so great and those sort of balance out the really good ones and leave me with a general liking.

In my current capacity and with my various responsibilities, I enjoy a nice mix of office and field time. I don't call my office time, desk time, since I spend a great deal of any day in the office on my feet or otherwise not at my desk. I don't get to pick and choose (for the most part) office versus field on any given day. After all, we're a service company on call 24/7 and we're at the operators' beck and call. If I'm needed in the field, then I need to be in the field. I don't accept from myself and I hate having to accept from others some days, the attitude of phoning it in and saying that you don't want to go to work for whatever reason. Sick, 'hurt', various family issues, drunk, or whatever excuse it may be. Some days, when I get that call, I really don't want to go to the field at first. The thing is, by the time I get to the yard and get ready and drive out to location, I'm usually in a good work mood. That's because, the preparation for a job is the hard part. If all the ducks are in a row before you start, then one we're actually performing the job, it runs so smoothly. Plus, being outside, regardless of what time it is or how hot or cold it is, feels good.

As for how hard I work, this is how I feel: if you're not willing to push yourself and find your limits then this really isn't the place for you. Quit the whining and go find another job. I have always felt that the recruiting process was very honest. The pitch was that being a Schlumberger field engineer would be hard and unpredictable and probably test a lot of your character. What I took from it was that every district was different and everyone's experience was different and that the best way to prepare myself was to let go of any expectations and preconceived notions I may have had. I haven't been astoundingly surprised by anything I've seen here, because I sort of expected that anything might happen or be normal, even if it was abnormal for me.

I have seen what is now several other field engineers quit (or get fired). In particular, the ones who stayed less than a year were all ill-suited for this job. You, and by you I mean me, just knew they weren't going to work out. With some of them, I couldn't help but wonder if they weren't listening to the recruiters or if we had a breakdown in the recruiting process. (Maybe there's one recruiter who sells them rainbows and sunshine instead of reality. I hope that's not the case, but if it is, I want to believe that there are tracking mechanisms in place and any recruiter who has an unusually high number of their recruits quit gets flagged and talked to.) The overwhelming characteristic of all the people I've seen not cut it here is that they were not prepared or not interested in working hard. If that's you, and you've stumbled upon this looking for information, then this really isn't the place for you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

cold and cars

Damn you cold weather! I now have a small crack in my windshield, almost certainly related to the need to defrost it every morning. However, I'm not quite sure how old my windshield even is. If it is as old as the car, then it's certainly had a good run. As for the rest of the car, it's holding together. Cold starts are sometimes a bit fleeting with the car dying about one or two seconds after starting. However, that's only happened on the three coldest mornings so far, though it almost did a couple other times. And while I'm certainly not used to windshield wiper fluid partially freezing, everything else seems to be stable or only leaking very slowly. My electrical bugaboos are mostly conquered and I'm rolling with mostly new tires.

My biggest automotive concerns are my rear suspension and something to do with the fuel and/or exhaust system. The exhaust smells a bit more gasoline-ish than I remember. That and my mileage sucks, but the mileage has done worse the last two winters that I've been here so that might not be strictly related. The suspension thing is a bit bothersome. There's a non-standard noise coming from the left rear. I got a good chance to look around there though when I picked up a flat tire on the left rear two months ago and nothing looked abnormal. I suspect it's actually two different noises and I'll have all the gory details for the one person who is reading this who might actually have some ideas when I see him in a few days. Despite the ills, I think the car will pull through the winter in fine enough form. It's just that I'm not so certain about next winter. The car's had a good run. I'm simply reluctant to give up a car that I've driven for over eight years. That and I'm a cheap bastard.

Speaking of good runs, I made nothing short of excellent time today on an errand for work. Covering 325 miles in seven hours may not sound that impressive, but trust me, it is.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

to clarify my last post

Our district Christmas party was last night. It went much better than last year's and since it was at the local casino, we didn't endanger the good standing our senior salesperson enjoys as a member of the local country club which is where we had it last year.

I need to clarify my last post. While writing it, I got tired and stopped early. Like almost any service business in any industry, we charge a healthy mark-up for products. One could potentially justify this mark-up because of the ways we combine and delivery our products to the customer or because of some of the proprietary chemicals involved, but that's not the point. We charge a mark-up and that is a fairly fixed margin for each individual product. Any given month consists of many jobs, so the aggregate product margin each month probably changes very little from month to month.

Our costs for what we call services are much less fixed. For example, we charge for something called ton mileage. That is basically how many tons of product we haul times the mileage from our yard to the location we are taking it to. We charge for each ton mile and typically the ton mileage on a job ranges from a couple hundred to several thousand. Thus, the bigger (meaning more cement) and further away a job is, the more ton mileage there is. But how much is it costing us to haul each ton of cement each mile? Obviously, that cost is highly variable. If a job takes one fully-loaded truck, then that would be more ton miles than if that same job took only half a truck's worth of cement. Either way, we still had to send one truck and incur associated costs like having someone drive that truck. Also, a location could be far away, but almost all the miles there could be on smooth, easy driving pavement. Compare that relatively fuel-efficient trip to one which involves mostly dirt miles on slower going roads that induce more wear and tear on the trucks. The point is that our cost basis for each ton mile is basically impossible to measure on a per job basis, though I imagine some very noticeable trends become apparent on a larger scale.

Overtime is also a service charge where our costs are not fixed. For the most part, our original price estimates for jobs do not include any overtime charges. Our pricing is such that the first x number of hours are included. On most jobs, if we don't have to wait on the client, we can be on and off location in x hours or fewer. If we have to sit on (or just off depending on space) location and wait and it takes more than x hours, then overtime starts getting added to the ticket. We don't charge overtime only on personnel. There are also overtime charges for all the equipment. Time we spend idle on one location is time we cannot spend doing another job on some other location. If the client wants to tie up our resources, both people and equipment, and have us wait for a rig to stop being dysfunctional then there is a substantial price to pay. If all we're doing is sitting and waiting on location then that costs us very little. There is the cost for the wage employees for every hour on location that they get to spend on the clock whether they're sleeping in a truck or working. There is the increased fuel consumption for all the hours the trucks spend idling and the associated wear on the truck engines to idle for several hours. (This ignores any lost opportunity costs which are actually relatively minor compared to other costs.) All told, those costs are quite insignificant compared to the overtime the client must pay for having us idle on location.

In the end, spending 20 hours on location is a recipe for great margins for us. Our fixed costs are essentially our product costs and those are balanced by our fixed product revenue and produce a stable margin. When we start to add overtime, our cost basis for that time is far less than the revenue we get in return. Thus, the greater the percentage that service charges constitute on a ticket, the better the margin. I hope this clears things up.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

service charges

It happened again. I went into work yesterday morning and the next thing I knew, I was coming in from the field this afternoon. Why oh why did that rig hand have to drop a wrench in the hole? That certainly slowed down the drilling on the last 150 feet of that surface hole. That's a process that should have only taken two to three hours, but instead took closer to 18 hours.

Our ticket (what we charge the customer) was originally about 50% products and 50% services. Products are things like cement and chemicals (and single use equipment like wiper plugs). Services are typically charges for equipment, transportation, mileage, time and that sort of stuff. To have us sit on location all evening (and night and the next morning) doesn't add a single cent to the product charges. Overtime is all service related charges. By the time we were done, that 50/50 split between products and services was 22/78. That's a lot of overtime.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

back in the Bay Area soon

It's official. I will be flying back to the Bay Area the morning of December 17. I'll leave again early on December 27. For fare reasons, I'm flying into SFO and out of SJC.