Thursday, November 27, 2008

more back-dated posts

Alright, I'm working on a slew of back-dated posts that I meant to get to, but circumstances (read: life) got in the way. But I'm back, and once again, with a vengeance. Links:

Holiday travel

Home for Thanksgiving!

Oman, got my letter

Bailouts, a follow up

holiday travel

I'm blogging from the Austin airport. I've never flown on or around Thanksgiving. It's not too bad, but there was definitely a good surge of people here earlier. I'm only still on the ground because my flight was delayed and amazingly enough, it didn't have to do with holiday crowds or the ridiculous fog that covers Texas from at least Victoria to Austin. Sick flight crew, a substitute lags by two hours in order for them to get sufficient rest as per FAA rules. Kind of like DOT rules, but probably much more strict and more easily enforced.

Anyway, the Austin airport parking lot needs some serious work, but at least the airport was easy to find, despite the fog. Once again, I did my somewhat strange, drive-during-the-middle-of-the-night-for-an-early-flight-at-an-airport-that-is-a-couple-hours-away-thing. If you're unfamiliar with what this consists of, let's say I have a 0700 flight so I'd like to target getting here by 0530. No, am I likely going to get up at 0200, leave by 0300 and make that 2.5 hour drive? No, so what I like to do is leave at 2200-2300 the night before and sleep in the airport parking lot for a couple hours. I'm usually more awake while driving and will almost certainly not oversleep in the awesomeness that is my Fusion. The fundamental basis for this strategy is that I am a night person (which is a good thing considering what I do at work) and not an early morning person. This trip was somewhat muddled by my desperate, but successful attempt to fully vacate my apartment over the last two days while still spending the daylight hours at work. Once again, I can claim to have successfully moved everything I own by myself. This time into a storage facility in Victoria. It's a long story, perhaps to be shared later.

Amusingly enough, I am using my work laptop (so I can check e-mails at the same time) and have yet to use my MacBook for much other than music and DVDs so far. But it is making the trip home with me so I'll play around with it a bit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

home for thanksgiving!

I know this is late breaking, but I will be home for Thanksgiving. I'm flying back to the Bay Area Thursday morning and leave around midday Monday. Cell number still from the 505.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

oman, got my letter

I have received my official letter to go to Oman last week. I have sent the requested materials in to start the visa paperwork, but do not know when I will be there, in Victoria, on more vacation (I either need to use up my accrued time or cash it out), or possibly bouncing between districts that are nearby to help out. I will almost certianly not be home on or around Christmas as originally planned.

Monday, November 24, 2008

bailouts, a follow-up

I was glad to see that my last post on bailouts engendered (what a great word) so much response. This is my attempt to address the comments made.

The economy is going to suck wind for a while. How long that while is depends on, well, everything, but a key factor is how much toxic waste is left in the financial system and how that will impact, well, everything else.

As for whether I will feel the same way in 25 years? I'd like to hope that my life will never depend too deeply on the status quo. In many ways, it does not and will not need to for at least the next couple of years. I'm highly mobile, live well beneath my means, and have little to nothing to absolutely demand my presence in a particular place. This gives me a healthy cushion, but it still sits upon a presumption that the basic infrastructure of society will function when I need to access it. In that sense, almost everyone is intimately dependent on the status quo. I don't have a water well, generator and some hunting rifles for the day that the system goes catatonic. I need groceries to be available at the store, my apartment to allow me to live there, and electricity is really, really nice.

Can the automakers survive? Yes. And I was very happy to see them sent packing from D.C. being told that they needed a business plan (who'd have thunk it!) before a $25 billion loan (read: donation) would be extended to them. I was also deeply amused that the Executive administration criticized Congress's rebuke of the automakers. If only we had asked Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, and Washington Mutual for business plans. We could have saved all that money and actually done something useful with it instead of funding spa trips for people who aren't me.

I'm not fully up on what Citi is getting, but I did decide to abuse the system and take advantage of a dead-cat bounce on Monday in the markets.

So are bailouts disastrous? No, not really. They need to be well thought out loans that a responsible bank might make if they had the size and scope to absorb a loss, which is always a possibility even with the most prudent loans.

As for the idea of Big Oil bailing out the automakers, I'm not sure how to respond with anything but incredulity. Oil and gas companies are in the oil and gas business. They aren't in the wind or solar business unless by choice. And they certainly aren't in the car business. Should Intel bail out every poorly run computer maker? And now that the price of oil has tumbled, I'm waiting for Congress to call the oil and gas industry executives back and thank them for bringing the prices down as was desired at the Congressional hearings on the subject earlier this year. What? International oil and gas companies don't control the price of oil at will? Oh, we had no idea since we're just elected officials and only listen to the shrillest people in the room.

The price of oil will climb back. Current prices are unsustainable and the length of time they stay this low will depend on how much demand destruction has occurred / will occur due to the recession we are in (yes, it already started) and if commodity prices that affect drilling, completion, and production costs come down accordingly. Right now, those costs to the industry still exist so the current price is not economically viable. If it stays too low, too long, people pack up shop and then when demand eventually increases, the ability to meet that new demand doesn't exist, there's a surge in price and we do this all over again, but hopefully without reckless financial lending going on at the same time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

bailouts = disaster

Read this first.

Ok, long, protracted recessions are bad, yes? The goal must be long-term health, not short-term job preservation. Job preservation is not job creation either. Our actions cannot be a pathetic attempt to forestall disaster until [insert political motivation here]. Let's not act surprised that AIG has circled around for more money. The thirteenth largest company (by revenue) in this country is not too big to fail. And neither is the fourth largest.

No company is too big to fail. The only entity for which failure would be catastrophic is the United States government. And if we keep throwing good money after bad, then that time is only getting closer and closer. I cannot even say we are mortgaging the future away. We already did that years ago. We're mortgaging away magic money, just printing it from thin air as if it grew on trees when everyone knows that it's made from cotton (and some linen).

At this point, it is imperative that a major automaker, possibly two, fail and cease operations. Chrysler first (you deserve this Bob Nardelli for whom I have an irrational dislike of) due to their weak product line. GM is the next option. Yes, this would be disastrous for their employees and their many parts suppliers. But these are not healthy companies. A bailout now won't change their underfunded pensions, overburdened medical plans, moronic unions, wretchedly bad management, and obscenely massive retiree obligations. (One of the morals of the story is to never take the pension option, always go with the 401(k). Your money will always be yours, I hope. Pension money is not really yours.) No, a merger won't help. Hey, let's combine two debt-laden companies and magically we'll get what? A well capitalized, fiscally responsible entity with visionary management that isn't obsessed with revivalist pony cars? (I have to admit, the new Camaro is pretty sweet but I would never buy one and that's about all that matters.) No. We end up with a bigger mess where managers on both sides responsible for their previous failures are deeply entrenched with golden parachutes.

(For these reasons, I was rather upset that America West bought US Airways in 2005. It would have helped the entire industry to see a major airline go out of business. At least airlines have gotten on board with fee-based schemes, which, while not great for travelers now, is probably best for everyone in the long run.)

Back to the regular programming. If you believe a merger would benefit the auto industry, then perhaps I can sell you a bundle of sub-prime mortgages. See, when you pool a bunch of high-risk mortgages together, you end up with a financial instrument that is low risk, right? Uh, not exactly. That only works in a magical world where prices never go down. You cannot statistically manipulate risk to zero. Risk can be reduced through changes in procedure, process, and control, not magic.

What about the banks? Take back the bailout money already given out, force companies into bankruptcy, force certain (read: lots) of key managers into jail, impose corporal punishment and public floggings, and generally take names and kick ass. Capitalism is supposed to reward risk-takers who are successful, not the unsuccessful ones who happen to be well-connected. If we want to go (more) socialist, then this country needs to have a gut check moment and decide what direction it wishes to go.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

shamelessly pointless post

In response to baseless accusations about the frequency of my posting, I bring you a shamelessly pointless post. You know who you are. While I was tempted to stamp "First!" on your guestbook, I thought better of it. But thank goodness the registry is empty or else I'd have to find a way to get you something from Oman. Sand perhaps?

I also demand photos, the more unbearably saccharine sweet, the better. And while it's probably too late to change the venue, I really think you should consider the Crowne Plaza by the airport. It works on so many levels that it boggles the mind!

the past week

So, I think most of my regular readers know what's generally been going on here at work. My situation is still not finalized. Such matters as visa and other paperwork are still pending. I'm keeping busy wrapping up as many loose ends as possible here. Unfortuntely, I suspect that there will be far more than desired still sitting open when I need to leave.

wedding at an airport

I rarely remember my dreams, but I had an interesting one last night that's given me a great idea. In my dream, I was at an airport attending a gala. It was quite distinctly a gala, not a soiree or a party or a dinner, but a gala. I was dressed to the nines and needed to get to the airline ticket counter first because I needed to reschedule my flight since the gala was going to end later than originally planned. Somehow, I couldn't find the counter and instead ended up at the entrance for the room where the gala was being held. Oddly enough, no one could direct me to the ticket counter so I proceeded to run around the airport in a desperate attempt to find the counter. I eventually found it and that's when my dream ended. I woke up and my hamstrings were really tight.

The dream gave me the great idea of having a wedding at an airport. This would work best for a West Coast wedding if you expected many of the guests to fly to the wedding from time zones to the east. That way they could leave early, arrive by midday Pacific time, have a pleasant time, then catch a red-eye back and land early the next morning back in their home towns. If they wanted to stay in town, either before or after the wedding, they could grab a free airport shuttle to a nearby hotel. This would also allow for reckless drinking without the corresponding reckless driving and cut down on car rentals.

You may be asking, then why not have the wedding at one of those nearby hotels? Sigh, because that's not what my dream was like! Don't you realize that once I'm stuck on an idea, it's hard for me to shake it? The wedding on a party bus idea lasted for a couple years. Nothing says fun like open bar and motion sickness. Besides, children could entertain themselves riding around the luggage carousels and people could bring some glamour back to flying by wearing their formal clothes on their flights.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

muscat, oman, oh man

I'm moving to Oman. Many of my regular readers already know this via other forms of communication. Forty-eight hours ago, I thought I was going to be in Bossier City in two weeks. Now, Muscat, Oman as long as the paperwork comes together. Does anyone want my car?

Friday, November 07, 2008


Damn, that was way worse than what I had to do in January. The only thing that made it more palatable this time around was the experience of having done it already. Brian, the axe man, that's me. Aside from the general carnage of it all, I'm very happy that management worked with me to place as many people as possible into other positions. Less than I had hoped, but many more than I expected.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

turn downs

I generally hate having to turn down clients for work. We take pride in what we do and take pride in doing it well and a big part of doing a job well is doing it at the time and place a client wants it at. Obviously, any job we cannot cover (for either lack of time, people, or equipment) we will not get the revenue from. We're supposed to chase work, that's what we do and frankly, that's what we like to do. Sometimes we could do a job, but we turn it down for any number of reasons. Or perhaps a very small number of reasons.

Credit is one of those reasons. We work for a lot of independents around here and some of them have little to no established credit. Others have some, but need to be politely reminded to eventually pay the bills.

Safety matters too. A client operation that is known to have the potential to be unacceptably dangerous is not where we want any of people to be.

Another one is if the risk-reward balance is unfavorable. A couple weeks ago, we turned down a job that was, for a variety of reasons, not worth pursuing. It was the classic example of looking at the risk reward levels and realizing that sometimes you have to say no. Push back and say no and don't even say sorry. If sales can't make it worthwhile, then we don't need to jump through hoops to cover the work. Please don't promise high-risk work to clients at exorbitantly low prices without consulting the field district that you expect to do the job. It's just not going to happen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I bought a Mac. Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid.

I've been very curious about the new Macbooks that were said to be coming out and intrigued by the various rumors about them, particularly the ones that suggested there would be lower price points. If you're not a gamer or programmer, what does anyone really need their home computer for? Internet and DVDs and some word processing, maybe some personal finance? (Yes Scott, you compose music, but you're not most people either.) But I was underwhelmed by the new Macbooks. Down right disappointed. Price points were not really lower. Instead, they had a revolutionary manufacturing process to dazzle us with and some sophisticated graphics chips. Admittedly it's pretty cool to make a frame out of a single slab of aluminum (or is it aluminium?) but how strong do I really need a laptop to be. My work laptop did just fine for three years in the field. My home machine is now four years old and guess what, it sits on my desk most of the time. So while increased torsional rigidity is theoretically cool, it's practically expensive.

Nonetheless, I've been looking for a change of pace and four years is a lot of life to wring out of a 25GB hard drive these days. Maybe this Mac can change my life, revolutionize the way I view the world, interact with it, and increase my chances of winning the lottery. Or perhaps it will be novel and unique and a new challenge to figure out.

While a Mac would be totally useless at work, it is certainly a brand that has a lot of home user features that I would enjoy. But as I indicated above, I was not wowed by the new Macbooks. Instead, I have opted for a previous generation machine at a pleasant discount. Ironically enough, I am not typing this on my black 13" Macbook. Let's all admit that the white ones look stupid and I didn't pay a premium for this one. And yet, I can see a new day dawning already. That means I really need to go to bed earlier. Damn you daylight savings.

At least I don't own an iPod. Yet.

Monday, November 03, 2008

vote! so i don't have to

Remember everyone: vote early and vote often.

Don't forget the statistical significance of your vote. You just might tip the election. Especially if you're registered in California like most of you reading this. Though if you are voting in California, I suppose you could decide the future of high speed rail in the state!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

being lied to

Being lied to. Sucks.

A couple weeks ago, I was really upset about something I had to do at work (unrelated to the topic from yesterday). It was something I didn't think was the right thing to do even if it was the procedurally correct thing to do. Now, I have more information and I realize that I may have been lied to straight to my face. And now I don't feel so bad about what I was required to do.

It reminded me of something else at work that happened a few months ago. I was lied to by a superior of some kind. I asked a question that I already knew the answer to, not to be a smart ass, but I wanted to know if I would be told the truth. I wasn't. And the lie I was told cast what happened with a client to make it look like my district and I screwed up. It would've been so easy for him to just tell the truth given the overall circumstances. There was a very good way for him to frame this problem to the client as an isolated incident with our district and not with any other district. But that's not what he did. He just lied to me. The worst part might be that we're still dealing with the fallout from the original incident.

That pretty much destroyed my faith in this person's words. Admittedly, I shut down my dealings with him to a bare minimum. Definitely not the most professional thing to do, but I doubt I'll ever quite be a consummate professional.

I can deal with the truth. Just don't lie to me. I will find out eventually and then where will we be, where will you be, where will I be, and most importantly, where will I be when I find out?

four years


Saturday, November 01, 2008


I pre-wrote or at least drafted a series of entries about two weeks ago when my last few appeared. There was this plan to get a lot of ideas out onto the intertubes for no particular reason. Just a chance to get a lot of the clutter out of my mind and organize some rather disparate thoughts into something, anything. And then I sort of got rocked with some work information and have had a rough run around since then, mostly spending my time trying to do some damage control, deal cutting, and favor making/taking even though I don't have any markers to call in. Now I have lots of other ideas cluttering the mental bowling lanes but I can't really discuss it right now. I'll be able to say more about this specific topic in about a week. Maybe. And even then I'll be vague and dodgy.