Tuesday, December 29, 2009

selling a dog, not literally

Aside form my only half-joking comment in the previous post about selling tanker stocks, I have been mulling over what I should do with a serious dog of a stock that has not taken part in the general market recovery. (Note: I have doubts about a serious economic recovery actually occurring soon and actually have doubts how much further the market recovery will go.) While I probably should not have waited so long to try and figure this out, I have decided to sit and wait and just hold the stock for now. While that is hardly the sexiest decision, it's probably the best one I can make. Looking at the general valuation, it probably isn't going any lower, the dividend is better than any savings or checking account interest rate from a bank I can easily access, and my tax exposure is probably low.

That last point is the most important. I'm not entirely sure how my taxes are going to work out this year, since I am living abroad and have mixed income from the first couple months in the States. Nonetheless, whatever deduction I might get from a sale this year is probably not worthwhile given my expected marginal tax rate because of what I made in the US and what I expect taxes to be here. Hence my non-sale.

Monday, December 28, 2009

rare earth shortage, tanker over-supply

I had seen articles like this in the past, highlighting the need to develop more diverse sources of materials, but the New York TImes, recently ran an article on the environmental toll that rare earth element mining is taking on China. This isn't just about the Chinese developing a Soviet-style environmental record but also about how dependent we (and everyone else) is on these elements from China. For what it's worth, there is a company in California that plans to reopen a mine for several of the minerals, presumably with an eye for the environment.

In an interesting development, many tankers are going to be coming back on the market after having stored crude for traders looking to make a profit off futures contracts. Two comments One: Just picturing what it means to buy a whole tanker's worth of crude, wait several months, then deliver it, seems like some sick perversion of the capitalist system. Two: sell tanker stocks.

top gear hilarity

I recently rediscovered the awesomeness that is Top Gear, a British television show that is ostensibly about car reviews, though the hosts manage to have almost too much fun for their own good. Frankly, I'm not really sure how I ever discovered the show in the first place, but it was 3-4 (maybe 5?) years ago. Anyway, I stumbled across a video of their "sensible" car review of the new Ford Fiesta. Of course, they did some not-so-sensible things with the Fiesta like escape from "baddies" at the mall. You'll just have to watch the video, but if you're impatient, skip to about the 3:40 mark. They generally do reviews of more, um, exotic vehicles like the Bugatti Veyron racing a Eurofighter Typhoon.

I also got a kick out of their USA muscle car road test which is a "factual" documentary, or lat least that's what they told the highway patrol officers when they were pulled over.

new york

I will be landing in New York this Thursday, as in 3 days from now, and will be Stateside (more or less) until I leave on the afternoon of January 10th. I say more or less because from January 2-7, I will not be in New York, but instead cougar hunting elsewhere (more or less). So, I guess I'm around New York on the 1st, 8th, 9th, and brunch on the 10th for what it's worth.

it's like they read yesterday's entry

Check out this headline. It's like they read the last two sentences of the second to last paragraph of yesterday's entry.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

natural gas storage

Disclaimer: Just to be clear about this, everything I say here in this post (and others about the industry) is based on publicly available information and my own opinions about the future of how the economy and business will evolve. Nothing I say related to the business is based on any particular special knowledge that I have from my employment within the industry. Why? Well, I would say the answer should be obvious, but it's actually quite simple: I do not have any special knowledge about the business.

As regular readers (all 3 of you) may know, the natural gas storage report for the underground gas storage in the United States comes out every Thursday. Once again, the most recent report (though that links to the generic page so if you're looking at this entry more than a couple days later form this posting date, you will be looking at a different chart than the one I am talking about) shows a significant draw down in storage levels in the past two weeks. Finally.

Prior to the decrease in storage levels, the chart had peaked on the week of Nov 27, which was two (or more) weeks later than the peak in the past five years. In absolute terms, the weekly draw down is larger than it has ever been in the last two years (and possibly ever for this time of the year, though I haven't looked at all the numbers). The recent cold weather has played a significant part with this and the continuing storms will drive consumption and pull inventory levels even lower, possibly back to levels more in line with the five-year average. However, if it gets too cold and forces entire shut downs of areas, then people tend to use less gas because entire buildings and schools and offices get closed and who needs to heat an empty building? (Answer: Highly anecdotal personal experience tells me Venezuelans would do that. Really, who else runs their AC at 18 C in the summer and their heat at 26 C in the winter?)

In percentage terms, the number is more or less in line with the drawn downs from the last two years. This is due to the record-high levels of storage than have been accumulated since the Spring. Since late-May, storage levels have been at seasonal highs mostly due to lower industrial demand as a result of the weak economy. The result has been storage levels that are 10-15% higher than the were a year ago.

What does all this mean to the business I'm in, though not directly in since I am not actually there in the States at the moment? It is certainly no secret that the rig count in North America have dropped by more than 50% from their peak levels. While the count has stabilized and it looks like we are now off the bottom by a little bit, the recovery for the industry is likely to be mild at best for another year. For starters, the US economy is still weak, unemployment is systemically high, and current production methods are becoming more efficient. There is also a small, but mildly significant backlog of wells that are either not yet producing or have been shut-in to keep production from out-stripping demand. Those wells will be the first to come online when additional production is required, instead of drilling more wells. The second main factor is liquified natural gas (LNG). Medium and long-term projects that were started several years ago are starting to come online and the North American gas market is "structurally oversupplied" (about halfway down the page).

Duurrr, so what does this really mean for you? Well, it means lower prices for natural gas should stay lower. Though by lower prices, I mean if you are a power plant or commercial user of natural gas. As you can see from the graph in the upper-right of this page, prices are down from their peaks of last year (and they also spiked in 2005/6). Residential consumers will see slightly lower prices, though that can change very quickly. Have fun with that.

clever billboard and a non-musician

For anyone who has seen the movie American Psycho (no, not the train wreck of a sequel that got made), you should appreciate this billboard for the film. If you have a stern stomach, you might consider reading the book, but be warned that it's much more graphic than the movie.

Unrelated, tell me who in this group may have too broadly interpreted that What is Music? program from NOVA back in Mr. Miller's class. (Oh yeah, I just dropped a band class reference!)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

episodic television - comedies

Sitcoms are usually not boring. They usually just suck in a painfully unfunny way. A lot. Most are derivative and play off overly rehashed plot points and jokes based on the same cliched stereotypes that are actually quite offensive if you really drill down and think about what they tend to suggest. And laugh tracks do not help the situation. There have been some exceptions like Arrested Development but such shows often have a short shelf life because they are too clever for most people to truly appreciate which is a further sad commentary on the state of the quality of television.

episodic television - dramas

Most dramatic episodic television is boring. Or at least it becomes boring with enough episodes. Most dramas follow an incredibly formulaic plot. I think Law & Order is a great example. The first half of the show is with the cops, then the second half is with the lawyers. Yeah yeah, sometimes they go back to the cops for more evidence before finishing with the law-talking guys, but the recipe is still the same. Cops then lawyers. Even the spin-offs with Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent are quite formulaic. All the CSI varieties suffer dearly from this same problem and I'm not just talking about Horatio's sunglasses fetish. Crime happens, look for evidence, analyze evidence, arrest one to three wrong suspects, find more evidence, let crime scene investigators do interrogations (wtf?), analyze more evidence, make a breakthrough, catch bad guy, episode ends, assume shaky forensic work holds up in court. Enhance it!

The other problem with the CSI universe is the social impact that has led to the CSI effect. (I cannot call it a cultural impact, because that would imply the show has any sort of real culture.) Perhaps this line from Superbad sums it up best:

When I first joined the force I assumed there was semen on everything. I thought there was a semen database that had every bad guy's semen in it. There isn't. That doesn't exist. It'd be nice. Like the crime scene today. If the man had ejaculated and then hit you in the face we would have a real good shot at catching him.

Edit: I realize that I used a rather ridiculous quote, but it was a pretty ridiculous movie. The point, of course, is that we are not constantly shedding the large quantities of skin, hair, or fluids all over everything all the time like they frequently depict in CSI.

Reasonably quality shows like House M.D. are predictable in their own right: Patient is sick, the team struggles to diagnose without more symptoms, House is a jerk and mocks their terrible theories, they try treatment anyway, more symptoms occur, they try other treatment(s), patient nearly dies, House is a jerk again, they stabilize patient, running out of time, someone (usually Wilson) says something random that gives House the answer, House cures patient, House is still a jerk. Don't get me wrong, I still like the show, but the arc of any individual episode is predictable. The hook of most good shows is the overall story lines and character development. That's why I liked the short-lived Life and the still-airing Burn Notice. The similarity of these three previously-mentioned shows is that still do retain a reasonable amount of serial-ness to them and almost every episode can stand alone if necessary. Each week, House has to cure the patient, Life has to catch the crook (it's a cop show), and Burn Notice needs to help fix someone's problem.

Hmm, the structure of that last sentence reminds me of a line from The Simpsons:
Homer: I think the government has better things to do than to read my mail.
(cut to agents reading letters from a bag called 'Simpson Mail')
FBI Agent: Most people write letters to movie stars. This Simpson guy writes to movies. "Dear Die Hard. You rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. P.S: Do you know Mad Max?"

The value in the standalone format is that it makes the shows make easier to syndicate later in their life cycles. Syndication is a big deal for producers and distributors. It gives shows additional lives and a long revenue tail. This is why shows like Lost and 24 or so hard to get made. For all the critical success and pretty strong commercial success those shows have had, their non-traditional formats will make future syndication more difficult than a typical show. 24 may be too serial (especially its first couple seasons) and Lost is probably not serial enough. It's also why a casual viewer like myself cannot get into shows like that. Who has time to watch a show every single week? I suppose people with boring jobs. Oh, you say to get a DVR? Not worth the value to me, though it may have something to do with not owning a television. Get a television? Never!


The super Tesco is closed today? It's one of the biggest shopping days of the year. I'm just in the wrong country.

spam comments

Spam comments have been recently deleted. If you were an actual person, oh well, your comments sucked.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


If you had a pending invitation request for me on LinkedIn, there is a good chance I recently accepted it. Apparently, they never expire.

snow is all gone

Last weekend, it snowed and then got very cold. All in all, probably not even 10 cm (4 in for you Imperial folks) fell Friday and Saturday. By Sunday morning, the snow had ceased and the temperature was falling. By Monday, when I started the car, it registered 1.5 °C in the garage. (I get to park in the garage underneath my apartment building, which is a big bonus on weeks like this one.) After a few minutes of driving on the way to work, it was reading -12.5 °C. And today, it's bounced all the way back to 14 °C at the same time in the morning. Combined with yesterday's rain, there's basically no snow left. White Christmas is gone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

sometimes you just need to laugh (and laugh and laugh)

Courtesy of reddit.com, I ended up laughing at this picture for about 30 straight seconds. And this other one is pretty good too. (It's supposed to be a website with a flash game for children.)

Edit: Yes, I really did laugh for 30 seconds. It was a long hearty laugh, that tailed off, then became hearty again, then tailed off again, then became hearty one last time, before tailing off with a professional amount of giggling. It was great. Laughter like that is a very good feeling.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

yesterday, it was september

I don't know what happened. Well, I do know what happened. I woke up today and while I know in a chronological sense that this is December, it seems like it should still be September in so many ways. I'm not really yearning to go back in time and fix anything fromt he last three months, but it has been three months of relaitvely poor productivity, difficulty staying focused, and lots of medium-term projects put on hold.

We're making it through each day, but it certainly feels like some bigger items are slipping by.

if you don't like cats...

If you like fish and don't like cats, then maybe this is the shirt for you. Mostly if you don't like cats.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Of people. Our people are always in motion. I'm not sure how the next year will play out for us here in the business, but it has been a month of transitions so far and we'll see what this means going forward.

north of where i'm used to

I have never lived for an extended period of time this far north. I certianly will not pretend that Hungary (southern Hungary in fact!) is particularly far north, but it's much further north than California (Bay Area), New Mexico, or South Texas. Actually, with each prior move, I had gone further south. But now, I'm much further north, especially compared to South Texas. However, this is certainly no Aberdeen or Stavanger, two bastions of the North Sea where this industry could certainly take me. The sun is already setting before 1600 and I'm not really itching for a place where I can watch the sunset at 1500.

Monday, December 07, 2009

more fog

It's been even foggier lately. More fog = all kinds of awesome. And dangerous driving conditions, which are not awesome.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

those are terrible movies

A - Those are all terrible movies. Or so I'm told. None of them are on this giant subway map of the greatest movies of all time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

facebook - slowly

I logged into Facebook for the first time in more than a month. I approved some friend requests. I continued to ignore others. While I haven't outright rejected any requests, I have left many in a state of limbo while I try to decide if I a) was ever their friend and b) was enough of a friend to want to maintain some distant voyeuristic link with them. For people who want to keep tabs on me, that's what this blog is for (assuming people know of its existence which is largely unpublicized except for that one skywriting message). There is also a general correlation with me looking at Facebook and how often I check my gmail and how often I blog. Basically, I have now reached the point where I might go more than a week without checking gmail (and not on vacation), which in a previous existence may have seemed impossible, but such is my lifestyle now.

Friend approval is serious and I dislike that some people flippantly stack up friends like firewood (for those of you who actually know what that's like). I don't want to have 1000 friends. Frankly, the number of people who I consider myself 'close' to in any sense of the word is probably around a dozen. The number I can strike up a familial conversation with is much larger and encompasses the concept of people who could be 'friends' in Facebook, but it's not really the same thing either.

Perhaps what I am really saying is if I haven't approved your friend request, it's not personal, sort of, though I suppose it's not business either, so perhaps it is personal. Nonetheless, I assume you're not losing sleep over it which in turn is helping me not lose sleep over it either. Though frankly, I have more important things to not lose sleep over than Facebook friends.

because the speed of sound isn't enough

The real question is, why shouldn't a 1000 mph car exist? Thrust is equivalent to 180 F1 cars. Epic success, assuming it stays on the ground.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I spent about half of last week in Budapest. (Yes, with a semi-functional computer before it crapped out entirely when I got back to Szeged.) There was an SPE conference on Thursday and we made a good showing there with a couple presentations. It wasn't anything too fancy or high-level, just some stuff that feels somewhat routine to us, though admittedly it's a bit unconventional for most places.

Ideally, design and preparation are so strong and robust that good execution is almost an afterthought, but that's not even close to true. There's a huge gap between what's on paper and how execution in the field actually goes down and much of that owes to the vagaries of how the field simply is, a bit of lost in translation, and the desire for people in the field to take the path of least resistance which rarely equals to strictly proper way to setup and perform the job.

That is for another time and place. Budapest is where we are. Or at least, where we were. It was good. Had a couple good interesting meals with colleagues/managers. Evidently, some people never grow up.


It's been quite foggy here since last week. When I was in Budapest on Thursday, it rolled in heavy enough to cancel some flights and cut visbility down to about 100m. Nice. Reminded me a bit of the Bay Area.

crushing, people say that right?

If you recall, I mentioned a song called Fireflies by Owl City a couple weeks back. Now, Marie Digby has done an acoustic cover of it.

I like Marie Digby. Good singer, songwriter, good look, seemingly normal (though she may possess an artsy liberal streak that I might not mesh with my center-right-ness in person), and she's one of my people. I may even be semi-obsessed with her, though I'm really too busy to have a proper obsession about anyone. Which is somewhat strange (the semi-obsession, the the lack of time thing) since I normally reserve unjustified attraction for redheads for which I admit I am a total sucker for. I don't know why, though I have some theories, but self-analysis only goes so far. And analysis from others is usually worthless.


At work, I've been more or less without a fully functional computer for the last two weeks. Since getting dragged down by viruses and then limping about two weeks ago, the IT guys went with the nuclear option of re-imaging my computer a week ago. That basically consists of pulling the hard drive so they can copy the files to another hard drive, then reinstalling everything. But for IT, "everything" is only the base system. It meant another full day after I got it of reinstalling programs I use daily at work, redoing settings, etc. And then, the video card (maybe, but it still is not displaying properly when hooked to separate monitor) crapped out two days ago. Tragically, the weekend means the outsourced IT guys don't work and there's no explicit spare computer at the base so I'm stealing time on other peoples' laptops getting some limited form of work done. But now I have none of my old and even recent e-mails which I need to respond to and anything that didn't get pushed to the server is trapped in the machine.

Perhaps that is the single best advantage about the Macbook I have for personal use. Though Safari's desire to crash a couple times a week is a bit annoying, it's relative immunity to most viruses means less fussing about with regular scans.

out of season

Out of season blueberries are such a bitter disappointment.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

halloween - not the same here

Halloween here is not exactly like it is in the States. In fact, the costumed, candied tomfoolery that is American Halloween is essentially nonexistent. Tomorrow is of course (is it obvious?) All Saints day, and is on a Sunday so perhaps there will be a bit more church-y things afoot, but I suspect I will remain uninformed.

A secondary effect of this is that there are already Christmas themed items in the stores. And there are no Thanksgivings displays either.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

daylight saving time

Damn you daylight saving (there is no second s!) time! Now it's dark at 1700. And it's only October. Yes, it happens in Europe a week earlier than in the States.

Friday, October 23, 2009

feels like the weekend

It feels like a Saturday in the office right now. Of the non-locals, everyone who would normally be in the office is out for various reasons (sick, vacation, training, field) and the people who are here are usually here on the weekends. And for the locals, today is the 1956 Uprising Memorial Day to commemorate the attempt to overthrow the Soviet-backed Stalinist government. It did not go well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

things learned in VIX - shit happens, and it's usually avoidable

I want things to go well, much like most other people. Perhaps the guy sitting in the basement twirling his mustache has other plans, but I'm going to assume that most people are on board for success. For now, let's ignore all the big, thorny complex ethical/morality issues and confine this to items immediately associated with work, where there is usually a very well-defined objective and everyone is on location working towards that objective. (In theory, there is always clearly stated objective, though some clients are maddeningly vague about what they want and evaluation criteria are often rather subjective.) If they are not interested in achieving the objective, then they probably would not be there in the first place.

Nonetheless, shit happens. More accurately put, undesirable and unplanned-for outcomes are sometimes reached. The worst part is that these outcomes are almost always preventable (and arguably they are always preventable). Put yet another way, if the desired outcome is success, then the undesired outcome is some level of failure.

If you had a direct role in the planning and/or execution of some activity where aforementioned unplanned-for outcomes occur, there is probably something you could have done to alter the course of events back towards their preferred outcome. Now, it does not mean that you screwed up, though you might have made critical mistakes or even worse, been willfully negligent or broken internal standards. It might have been something you were required to do, or supposed to do, or expected to do, or implicitly assumed to do but did not do. (Those are moving downward in the should-have-done scale of things.) It even could have been something that is not your direct/indirect responsibility or something that no one expects you to do on an even implicit level. Nonetheless, you probably could have done something. That something may have taken a great deal of foresight, and is possibly only apparent in hindsight, but outcomes could have been different. And they were expected to have been different, regardless of whether or not you should have done something different.

Perhaps not a fair criticism to find oneself under, but this is not about fairness. This is about failure. In my brief experience, there are very few events beyond our control, or at least beyond the scope of the standards and procedures that we are supposed to follow. Things that are actually beyond our control:
* Weather, especially the type that is fast moving and rapidly changing. We can work around it or stop the job entirely, but that's about the extent of control we have.
* Sudden, catastrophic equipment failure, assuming equipment has passed all the required checks within the required time frame.

Catastrophic equipment failure is a nightmare. A client once told me I should smile more on location. No, not from what I have seen, and seen fail, knowing how quickly a seemingly smooth job can turn into an ugly, unmitigated disaster. Maybe you could have done something different. Maybe not. Maybe it'll haunt you on every other job, adding yet another item to the list of things you try to check before and during a job. Always in motion, always pacing, always looking, looking for that weak link that stands between you and an aggravatingly long incident review and multiple post-job conference calls.

But sometimes, people fail you. People you count on, who represent, not you, but in theory the same thing you represent. But it cuts both ways, because you might fail someone else.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I was out last night with some colleagues including a pair from our regional office in Bucharest who were in town to help with an internal audit/reconciliation thing. There were seven of us at the table. And six packs of cigarettes on said table. Sigh.

can't touch vader

Damn right skippy.

Update: The real question is where is the video of someone dressed as Vader doing the Single Ladies dance.

Monday, October 05, 2009


I'm having trouble being productive at work. It feels like a combination of the usual suspects: general fatigue mixed with some frustration with the nature of the universe (or maybe just the nature of business here in Hungary and the social dynamics at the base) and all interlaced with several semi-long-term items from the past that keep lingering and I cannot quite shake them.

Mysteries (aka: problems) fascinate me. I'm not good at letting go of them and I can be obsessive at times so my attention often lingers and my thoughts turn on things from the past that I have no control over. Things that I should leave well alone and move on from, but the mystery or frustration persists. Or worst of all, anything that didn't go well is scrutinized, often with far fewer answers than I find satisfactory.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

joni mitchell - california

I'm hooked on this recording of California by Joni Mitchell. Perhaps just a little before my time, but so great.

For something more recent, try Fireflies by Owl City.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the cleveland show

Did anyone else think the pilot episode of The Cleveland Show was just awful?

Monday, September 28, 2009

cleaning, why carpet is awesome

As someone who doesn't make much of a mess and doesn't spill food (anymore) outside of the kitchen, I miss having carpeted floors in the rest of the apartment. I have tile and some faux hardwood floors in the living room and bedrooms. This is regrettable because carpet is excellent at hiding dust. But here, I see it piling up along the edges of the hallway, in the corners and breeding a fluffy army under my bed. Where, oh where does it come from? It just seems to ooze through the floors. And I refuse to mop. While I will wipe down the floors with a wet rag or sponge that works well for it, I refuse to mop. Mopping s not cleaning. It's just pushing wet dirt around. Evidently, the Swiffer has yet to break into the Hungarian market.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

time goes by

That's what it does. No stopping it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

another project in another country

Some things are just very satisfying to get done. Two weeks ago, I received a relatively panicked call from a more-or-less boss that some work that they had made a sales pitch on three months ago came together. We were awarded the work. That's good news (usually). The panic was because the job was in 10 days and the location that was supposed to cover the work was too busy to accommodate the work. And all the well programs we had were in Polish. Good times to be had by all.

But we're professionals (most of the time) and classy people (maybe?) and pulled a program together, got the testing done, loaded, hauled, delivered, and were generally awesome (except for the support we had to get from the original district which I am immensely unhappy with).

Good times had by all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

buying a house

No, not me. But I have friends who are strongly considering buying a house. A house! This is the great step into adulthood that requires (or should at least require) true fiscal responsibility. People can get married. People can even have kids. But neither of those correlates well to fiscal responsibility. They should, but not always. Regrettably, not most of the time from what I have seen.

I realize home buying did not correlate very well to fiscal responsibility for the last several years. But this minor economic correction and slight decrease in home prices should smooth everything out. Ideally, we have ushered in a new era of fiscal responsibility, though there are some examples lurking of total idiocy. Really? A crane operator and a hair stylist bought a $750K home in this climate? WTF? Even when you run the numbers under an optimistic scenario like assuming they put 20% down, it's still a ridiculous monthly payment. And factor in insurance, taxes, regular home repairs and you just want to slap everyone involved from the couple who 'bought' the home, to the person who wrote the mortgage, to the person who approved it and even CNN for putting such apparent recklessness on their website and implicitly offering it up as some achievable goal. You're all idiots. Or worse. End rant.

Back to my friends, I suppose the worst thing about them purchasing a home is how un-adult I often feel. Sure, I'm working in a foreign country managing all sorts of, um, things, but I'm not buying a house. A house? Damn. Good luck. Don't be fooled by new paint.

Monday, September 21, 2009

fresh paint

We had some high level managers come through for a visit a couple days ago. So, we painted, you know, because paint solves all problems. Why is this done? Everywhere I have been, people do this. Can management not see through a fresh coat of paint? I suspect they can. I suspect they did (or at least considered doing) the exact same thing when they were at a location.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

i know that person

Read this article about the unrest in Gabon earlier this month related to the elections they had there. About halfway through the article, there is a reference to an injured SLB employee. I know that person. And it really bums me out. So, if you want to know, they have my emergency contact information. They have your names and numbers in case anything happens. Only the worst kinds of news travel fast.

Monday, August 31, 2009

bailout profits? believably stupid

I wish this was more unbelievable, but it's not. Instead, this is just laughably moronic, but I have grown to accept that most forms of general/mainstream/old media have a poor understanding of, well, almost everything. Of course, Ritholtz nails it like always. If I was delusional enough to only count gains and not losses, I'd be broke many times over. And I would have paid more taxes!

Let's make this simple. The US government has not now, and never will 'profit' from the numerous bailouts doled out in the last year-and-a-half. No clever bookkeeping can ever change that. However, we could always have the government file for Chapter 11. That would be a strange loop for the ages.


You got your sweep. And in grand fashion too. I suppose it wasn't too much to ask for.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

VIX = Victoria, TX and other TLAs

Three letter acronyms (TLAs) abound at work. And at airports. At work, I often refer to places by their location codes. Hence, my first district becomes FNM (Farmington, NM) and last location VIX (Victoria, TX). Curiously enough, the airport code for Farmington is slightly different (FMN) as a result of the different way that the airport code and the work location code are generated. (For Victoria, the airport was VCT.)

Now, I'm in SGD (Szeged), which is in the CEU (Continental Europe) area, which is in the EAF (Europe/Africa - sort of) uber-area. Before, in the States, I was in USL (US Land), and the sub region of USW (US West) when in New Mexico, which sounds suspiciously like an airline or possibly a phone company from 20 years ago.

The TLAs aren't limited to just geography. Business divisions, segments, service lines, etc are almost all referred to by some TLA. You might be able to guess what some of them are, especially the ones with three letters in their full names.

As for airports, I almost always write airport codes when writing myself notes about my travel scheduel or for any other reason I might want to refer to an airport, or even a city. Can you name the cities that these airport codes belong to without looking them up?

Hint: I have been to all these airports in the last 2.5 years. I suppose that hint is only useful if you know where I have been in the last 2.5 years.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I finally went go-karting with some colleagues at a going-away party for one of our engineers. Lots and lots of fun. I have blisters on both hands from my death-grip on the steering wheel and a sore back. But I posted the fastest individual lap time of any of my colleagues so I guess I've got that to hang my hat on. The best part: we didn't sign any liability waivers. Non-litigious society is great.

On an unrelated note, I am soliciting theories on why my washing machine takes 2+ hours to do a load of laundry.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

stepped into a bit of busy-ness

If I saw you a week ago in the charming Upper Midwest and I made allusions to being in the middle of something important at work, that was a half-truth. It was more like several somethings. The good news: Some of those several things are completed with excellent field execution. Actual results are pending evaluation of a couple of the items, but it's out of our hands now. The less-good news: Contracts and other legal-ish aspects of what we do are tiring to deal with. They have a certain ability to suck the good cheer from any day. The legal hoops we jump through with some of our registered legal entities and subsidiaries would be quite amusing if it didn't make getting a piece of paper signed so difficult. We want to do it. The client wants us to do it. We're ready to go. They need us there soon. We need signatures!

At least we got that last main job for that big (remember: really big) client finished. Operationally excellent, but marred by some bad employee attitude during clean-up. I do so enjoy getting sternly spoken to by a client representative about one of our employees. So close and yet so far. Hopefully (yes, I know, not an actual plan), we can get through the last couple minor jobs left on that site without screwing the pooch any further.

Monday, August 10, 2009

e-mail, how i didn't really miss you

Maybe I should have sorted some of these before I left town. Trying to do certain types of work for the first time and getting contracts in place is very time consuming. Rewarding and fruitful? Yes. But lots of running around. Or typing around.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

leaving minneapolis

Good times. Pink tie has been worn. With flip flops.

Despite the fast pace of the weekend, today was a nice relaxing day. It almost felt like a vacation for a few hours. And yesterday was just a really, really good day.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

will be in minneapolis

For reasons that I will say are directly related to why I was in New Orleans three weeks ago, I will be in Minneapolis this weekend. Or I could just say that it's for my brother's wedding. See some of you soon. Pink tie has been acquired.

Friday, July 31, 2009

damn you facebook!

I'm in. Facebook has sucked me in. Let's see how disciplined I can be. I'm not your 'friend' if I haven't actually spoken with you in the last year. Hey, I'll make it the last three years and e-mails count just to expand the realm beyond about 18 people.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Jack, Ivy - Congratulations.
Jack - Consider New Orleans for the bachelor party.

Monday, July 27, 2009

things learned in VIX - not a people person (yet)

I am not a people person. This goes far beyond the whole eye contact thing too. Perhaps more accurately, I should say that I am not a salesman.

I can be a people person in a sense. If I enjoy something, believe in it, and/or am enthusiastic, then sure, I like speaking to people about whatever it is and trying to teach them about it or convince them how great it is. And I like to believe that I can be fairly convincing. (Yes yes, people like passion, are drawn to it, love a captivating speaker.) However, for the most part, people kind of bother me. I know, what a terrible thing to say, especially for someone who ostensibly works for a service company.

Frankly, I find most people boring and predictable. I have trouble listening to people because I usually know what they are going to say or cna at least figure it out when they are half-way through and then need to fidget through the rest of their speech. Suffice to say, my listening skills need a lot of work.

The good news? I understand the need to be polite and professional. I certainly want to be treated professionally so I try to do likewise and while I do not always succeed, I think I know when I'm being a jerk, though it's usually too late to stop the jerkiness from emanating from my lips. Patience. So under-valued by me for so long.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

that was an interesting weekend

That was certainly an interesting weekend. A lot of good experiences. And who says you cannot wear black sneakers, white socks, pleated dark slacks, and a bright yellow t-shirt on an airplane? I was styling in a major way.

New Orleans has a good feel to it. There were some touristy aspects, but it's a very real, somewhat gritty city. And needs to be moved 50 feet higher.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

no comment

A quality example of no one taking responsibility for what is obviously some sort of mistake.

more flying anecdotes

Dysfunctional boarding seems to be a Continental Europe problem. My Delta flight today went something like this: board business class, then total free for all.

And, for the first time that I can remember, some (but not all - this is important) of the passengers applauded when we landed at JFK. Why? I suppose general gratitude but it was not a turbulent or unusual flight. The clapping seemed to be mostly coming from Hungarians.

JFK probably wishes it could have a do over with the way it is laid out.

We landed early so our gate was occupied so they had us disembark on the tarmac onto "people movers." When they said that, I thought, how amusing it would be to have those horizontal escalators going all the way across the tarmac. Then I thought, why not just call them buses. Ah, they had their reasons. When I saw these vehicles, they were definitely not buses.

I am sitting right next to a help desk where most of the people coming need to pick-up unaccompanied minors. People get very tense about this. Listen, you (apparently) only get to send one person to pick up the child or children. It does not matter how many minors you need to get, only one person can go. That's it. Don't yell at the JetBlue lady. You can take it up with TSA because those are their rules.

Monday, July 13, 2009

the cementing rush

There is a certain sort of thrill that goes with every cement job we do. Admittedly, it's a somewhat nervous and constantly pacing thrill wrought from the many ways which I know (and have unfortunately seen) a job go badly. But on every job that I am on, there is a definite rush of sorts during the job that is overtaken by mild relief when we finish. (While I no longer work in a direct field position, I still have reasons to be in the field, mostly for audits and/or some degree of technical supervision.)

I suppose this is perhaps somewhat hard for non-industry people to understand. It might even be hard for non-cementers to understand. During a cement job, the clock is ticking. Now, you have tests that give you a decent idea of when that clock will run out and when that cement will no longer be pumpable. It may take longer than you expect, but it could be shorter, which is why there's always some planned buffer time. But once you start mixing and pumping, there's no turning back. Either finish successfully or reap very serious consequences. Most serious consequences involve at least a 12 hour delay, but that could easily surpass several days depending on the circumstances of the failure. Either way, no one is happy and hopefully, you're in a position for a do over.

Most operations allow for some degree of stopping, sometimes even an indefinitely long stop. Cementing not so much. Depending on what you're pumping, it's very risky to stop for more than a couple minutes and anything more than 30 minutes spells near-certain failure. All this means that it has to be done right, in one continuous go, and it better be right the first time. Hence the rush.

On a recent job, we skirted that not-so-fine line between total disaster and not total disaster. We worked through multiple 'issues' is what I'm going to call them that resulted in a couple unplanned changes to the execution of the job. Yes, that's suitably vague. Suffice to say, the end result was good, but I won't pretend that how we got there was very pretty. At one point, I was standing on top of one of our units (which is a normal place to be) during one of these issues and I stopped to look at something and I could feel my heart just pounding away. A combination of focus, thrill, nerves, and terror were coursing through me. No second chances, no stopping for long, this needs to get done now. It's the cementing rush.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

fly swatting machine

We have a slight fly problem at work. I have a fly swatter. My problem is solved. Now I just need to decide what to do with my fly collection.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Apparently, I'm on Facebook. I guess I did sign up a while back and then I didn't do anything else. So if you've recently (or three months ago) requested me to be your friend, then congratulations, you found me. I haven't rejected your friendship. I just haven't fully entered into the Facebook experience. And have doubts that I ever will. But Twitter!

From the regrettably cancelled series Life:
Crews: She's 22 years old. Aren't they all on MySpace, YourSpace, FaceBook, FacePlace?
Reese: How do you know about that?
Crews: Everybody knows about that. Don't you want a whole bunch of new friends. Don't you want them all to know where you are all the time?

Monday, July 06, 2009


It better be a tasty cake. I promise to comment politely about how nice the design is.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

some things learned in VIX - a start

I have been struggling with this post for several months. Before I even left Victoria, I was trying to reflect back on the very strange, far too fast, and somewhat disappointing experience of my time in Texas and capture the essence of what I learned. So many things not done. So many mistakes made. So much growing up thrust upon me.

But I don’t really know what to say. I was the 'Engineer-In-Charge' and yes, I really was in charge of the location. It was a management experience with a very steep learning curve that I am still climbing. I dealt with people quitting, lay-offs, hiring, closure, retirees and a couple cases that pretty well rocked my world early on there. One guy was let go for what was technically work abandonment. Another was so strange, that I’m not sure how to properly characterize it here. As always, I need to be vague, but I did learn a bit about the law during the process.

After those first two 'atypical events' everything else seemed tame in comparison. Even the terminations of a pair of people for very different reasons, but ultimately both related to some type of failure on their part. Yes, that's suitably vague and probably misleading.

Employee discipline is a very strange thing to me. During my time, I only formally wrote up two people. I should have written up more. And I definitely should have had more formal sit-downs with people. No official letter (sort of), but an official warning. I'm not really of the disciplinarian mold which may strike some people as odd, but it's largely ineffective with me so I mostly view it as ineffective on others, even though I know I am a poor example of a typical person.

This is just a start. Hopefully, it won't take me five more months to capture the rest of what is still rolling around my head about my time in Victoria.

turkish coffee is really dark coffee

Apparently, Turkish coffee is really dark, thick coffee. And apparently, every summer, many Turkish people leave Germany for the summer crossing through Serbia on their way home. So many cars. So long at the border.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

rental car history

For no particular reason, a breif recap of all the rental cars I can remember driving:
Ford Focus
Chrysler Sebring
Ford Fiesta
Chrysler PT Cruiser
E-series Ford - This was a U-Haul van that got an epic 8 mpg during my trip.
Toyota Prius
Sabaru Outback
Nissan Altima
Dodage Dakota
Chevy Cobalt

And some of the vehicles I have driven at work:
Ford Crown Victoria
Chevy 1500
VW Passat
Skoda Octavio
Nissan Pathfinder

part of why gas is more expensive

This is part of the reason gas prices are going up. (You will have to change the scale to go back to March 1 on your own. The chart is keeping the date range from the link for some reason.)

The good news is that natural gas priceshave been staying down.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

social security = epic fail (if < 40)

Social security will be bankrupt in a couple dozen years. (Pretend to look surprised.) We've visited this topic before, but I actually enjoy beating dead horses. It's a good core workout when done properly.

I am most amused by the gall of this quote:

Besides, while workers in their 20s and 30s may not get a full return on their payments, they do benefit from older workers' and retirees' innovations, says Bernard Wasow, senior fellow and economist at the Century Foundation. "The premise that there shouldn't be any transfer between generations doesn't make much sense. All the inventions, improvements, and technology that my generation generates will be passed on to my kids," he says.

What? So previous generations enjoy the innovations of previous generations and get social security but my generation only gets one of those things? What do innovations created predominantly by people when they are working have to do with paying money to people who are retired? Nice attempt at connecting the ideas, but that sleight of hand is a bunch of crap. Besides, I'm not exactly enamored with the recent crop of financial innovations that were cooked up recently. I guess the 'transfer between generations' he references is about the massive amount of debt that we've managed to accumulate.

My social security program goes something like this:
* Pay money into the system.
* Expect nothing from the system. Ever.
* Save a lot.
* Save some more.
* Buy guns and ammo.
* Retire?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

some oil and gas videos

Here are some videos that might help add some color as to what happens at a drilling rig and other aspects of the oil and gas exploration process.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

polyhedral dice

For no particular reason, I've been thinking about polyhedral dice. Perhaps I was reminiscing about my D&D days. Wait, I never played Dungeons & Dragons. But we did have Wizards & Warriors.

Friday, June 05, 2009

a touch more financial commentary

One more link for the collection from a couple days ago:
* How many bankers is too many? Apparently, however many there were about 9 months ago. Now, if only the lawyer bubble would burst.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Congratulations on the decision to be partners and not man and wife. This gives you more options in case either of you ever opts for gender reassignment surgery. For the record, you will get a blender from me. Also, you do talk too loud, but it's part of your charm.

general financial commentary

If you are not reading The Big Picture by Barry Ritholtz (and friends), I must recommend it. Over and over and over. As you can tell by my highly monetized site, the only compensation I get is that you will be slightly closer to understanding the realities of the financial world.

Several links form the site:
* Great commentary on how the the bailouts hurt smaller banks that were well run, conservative (like they should be), made prudent loans, and had both the interests of themselves and their clients in mind.
* The lifestyle many people should have been pursuing when they were chasing McMansions and SUVs.
* A bit of unintentional comedy, but maybe we should be worried about how much longer it will still be true for.
* This links diurectly to a .pdf. A great breakdown of why things will get worse, possibly much worse before theyt get better.
* Corporate profits are getting squeezed. Well, duh. This reminds me of the latest SLB earnings conference call when the issue came up about the better-than-expected margins and the timing of cost cutting measures. Disciplined cost cutting is not the path to economic growth. It is simply a stop gap measure to protect margins and maintain slightly better financial health. And it is not repeatable.

haw and excursions

I saw a Ford Excursion today. In Szeged. Not exactly the typical European car.

And this next bit is for the taller half of CC-squared: I found haw-based candy in the grocery store today! Not the round flakes, but some chewy pieces about the size of a postage stamp, but more rectangular. I had to buy some even though I was just there for bread. And juice. And noodles. And soy sauce.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

sustainability - practical challenges

A couple weeks ago, I asked "How do we make that transition and change the mindset on quality of life that is not synonymous with material wealth?"

The short answer is that I do not know. The longer answer focuses on why this question is important in the first place. I touched on some of those points in that post a couple weeks back. The economy is built on growth. We can grow through efficiency and we can grow through numbers. Efficiency leads to per capita gains. Numbers come from population growth. We will always be able to extract more efficiency from a system, but it becomes increasingly harder to. I'm not going to say that there is some definite limit that we get ever closer to. It's more like a log curve that keeps going up but more slowly over time.

As I sit here and mull this point over, I cannot help but realize that the economy as we generally regard it in its semi-free form is dead. And not just dead because the bailout lunacy has killed it. But dead because it is not conducive to long-term sustainability. Given the significant vested interest, and a very disproportionate one at that, that people who are generally in power have in the status quo, the transition away from the economic system we know and love (or hate at this moment) will be long, painful, and frought with a great deal of waste. Has that process already started, perhaps been pushed along by this current crisis? Possibly, but probably not in any significant way. The expected long-term growth in the economy allows that transition process to pushed out. Immigration patterns for the United States will allow this debate to be delayed by 30-50 years. But we need to take a good look at Japan and Western Europe for how they handle economic life without population growth.

Sustainability. Yes, that's what this is supposed to be about. We need to address the point eventually, even if it isn't in our lifetimes. Think about everything you do in a typical day. Actually, think about the things you do in an atypical day, because those days are often the most resource intense. Things like travel, make large purchases, build/demolish something, etc. Now consider everything you consume during those days. Food, energy, water, air, money (not a real resource but somewhat part of the discussion), time, napkins, light bulbs, skin lotion, flatpack furniture, windshield wiper fluid, etc. Where did they all come from? What were they made of and where did those thigns come from? How did they get consumed? Where will they come from tomorrow? (Note: 'The 24 hr Wal-Mart' is not an acceptable answer to that last question.)

Energy is the big sticking point. It should be pretty apparent that many types of raw energy materials are not easily replaced. Like most items extracted from the ground, more can be discovered, we can get more efficiency from our systems, but ultimately, oil and gas products are a one and done affair. (Why yes, I do work in that industry. And that's as far as that point will be addressed right now.) Unlike metals and other mined products, we cannot recycle oil and gas. The long-term outlook for energy should be crystal clear. All energy will need to come from sources that are renewable or are mispronounced as nucular. In the very long-term outlook, the nuclear option runs out as well. The long-term application for non-renewable energy sources will have to end up in very niche applications with limited usage and need. (The mined goods side is still an area of concern. However, given sufficient energy supplies and transmutation technology, we can sweep those concerns under the magic technology rug.)

The renewable energy requirement means everything we get needs to come from the sun in some way shape or form. Solar is obvious. Wind is moderately obvious. Hydroelectric is obvious if wind is obvious. Geothermal is less obvious, but we need the sun for that to occur, but not because it is bright, but because it is heavy. Plant-based oil extraction should follow from solar pretty easily. The problem with many of these sources is that they are not very portable. This is why oil has been such a great transportation fuel: excellent energy density and easy to handle. The transition away from petroleum based transport fuels will eventually be one of the biggest challenges. It will essentially require the car to shift from almost every currnet model (you too Prius) to some Volt-like vehicles. However, this doesn't address our long-haul transport needs like ships, trains, and trucks.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to get people to buy-in before a catastrophic crisis occurs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

fell off the wagon

Wow, two weeks? I guess I sort of fell off the wagon there. At least I only mean that metaphorically, and not really in the traditional sense though I did partake in some drinking as a polite guest to some very entertaining Serbian hosts. In my defense, I've been on the road a significant portion of the last two weeks, though all day trips and really long days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

airline for pets

Further signs that the world is coming to an end. I wonder if pet owners realize how loud it is inside a Beechcraft 1900.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

america's place

We as Americans need to ask ourselves some very simple questions that have very complex answers. Unfortunately, with our modern media-stunted attention spans squirm painfully when asked questions that do not have straighforward answers like "yes" and "no" or "Let's get 'em".

What is the role of government?
What oversight should the government have on businesses and individuals?
What responsibility should the government have towards businesses and individuals?
Are we prepared to accept short and medium-term sacrifice for long-term success?

The last question is critically important. This is gut check time for us. The United States has enjoyed a special place in the world for a long time. Whether or not we're aware of it, we have been slowly relinquishing our hold on that special-ness for many years. Our financial security is increasingly tenuous with many good and unasked questions about the long-term financing of the nation that need to be addressed. Our physical security is also in doubt given many policy decisions that have been made over the years that have come to do long-term damage to our standing. In both ways, we have gone for the short-term fix at a price that has ultimately been very expensive in the long-term.

What are we doing right now on the foreign policy front? We're fighting a war (or two depending on how you look at it) that is unwinnable by its very definition. It doesn't really make sense to wage war on a tactic but by golly, we sure are trying. (Well, except for that sideshow in Iraq, we sure are trying. Wait, we pulled troops from the first theater before securing it and now have to send more back in to re-secure the area? Damn our short attention spans.) To truly win this 'war on terror' it would come at the price of freedom as we know it. I would argue we also never won the war on drugs for the same reason. Either way, the best we can really do is hope for a stalemate and to avoid losing which might be loosely defined as a significant attack on American soil.

Now that I live and work in Europe, I have met many Europeans. (Shocking, I know.) And many of them hold a very low opinion of the United States, generally the government of the U.S. and more specifically the last administration. Most of them believe that the war in Iraq is about oil, and more than I would have expected believe that 9/11 was either staged or allowed to happen despite the ability to stop it. Admittedly, one of them also thinks that we faked the moon landing so maybe Europe is in worse shape than America. Either way, we squandered our 9/11 goodwill by losing focus six years ago when the message changed from fighting Al-Qaeda to looking for WMDs in Iraq.

What are we doing on the home front? Our economy did essentially nothing in the last six years. No jobs, no infrastructure, no substance. Businesses need to understand what they are doing. Banks need to be banks. Insurance companies need to be insurance companies. These are old, conservatively run enterprises. They are not places for exotic financial instruments. Exotic financial services belong elsewhere, for people who are smart, know what they are doing, are not recklessly leveraged, and are willing to accept total losses and not expect a bailout. Hey, I'll take jsut the last two points and might even settle for just the final point. Let's be very clear about something. Financial companies do not create anything. They can improve processes and efficiency, but they extract gains from the inefficency of others. They don't actually make anything of substance.

Beware the economy that runs increasingly on services, not on manufacturing. Beware the incentives laid out to those in power that reward short-term gain instead of long-term solvency. Is the problem that we have reach an economy of scale that is now big enough for the monied to thoroughly insulate themselves from reality? Or are they able to cash out quick and leave in their wake a trail of bad decisions? It doesn't really matter since they were allowed to make poor decisions with little to no consequence in the first place.

We got soft. We lack the political/economic/social will to say hard, horrible things to people, including ourselves. The truths we need to face must hurt, otherwise we will not change. But we need to make sure they really hurt because we have become numb to any sort of shock with our constant need for iPhone-fueled 24/7 diversions and entertainment. This decline can be stopped, but it will take time and we cannot wait until it is too late. We need to restore in ourselves the understanding that actions have consequences, that the long-term is the only term we can care about, and that we choose our destiny.

This is gut-check time in America.

wedding books?!?

You got wedding books? Hahahahaha. You really missed the boat by not getting married on a bus.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

the past cycle

I feel like the past economic cycle was a shadow cycle. From 2003 till now, we have basically gone nowhere. Well, we dug the debt hole a little (or a lot) deeper. We went through an economic 'upturn' that created remarkably few jobs, saw flat to down real wage growth, and was sustianed on a very temporary basis by the unsustainable rise in home prices and corresponding removal of equity from said homes. (You should ask yourself who owns your mortgage. If you own your home free and clear, then you shoudl ask who owns your neighbors mortgage because only about one in three homeowners are mortgage free.) Are we in a better position than we were six years ago? Do you feel like America has properly positioned itself for long-term success?

I realize it's a loaded time to ask such questions with companies hemorrhaging jobs, at least one iconic car manufacturer on the verge of disappearing as we know it, and financial companies that are amazingly 'profitable', but that's only because they took your money under threat of jail. (Hey, it's your tax dollars and if you want to know what happens when you don't pay them, you should ask Wesley Snipes. This is why you do NOT always bet on black. Oh yes, I did just work in a Passenger 57 reference.)

Yes, it's all down right now, but we can choose how long this lasts, but that choice may decide how soon we find ourselves down again.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

PDVSA = train wreck

This can't be good for our receivables situation.

I have had the chance to know a handful of Venezuelans whie working here. By in large, they never want to go back to Venezuela.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

growth and sustainability - tip of the iceberg

The driver of economic growth is, well, it's growth. Our modern economic system is built on the idea of long-term growth. But what happens when growth is no longer possible? What kind of transition will it be, how messy will the process be, how long will it last before there is a true change? How long will money as we know it last?

A very simple type of growth is population growth. Right now, the population of the world is still growing. We arguably already have more than enough people on the planet, especially if the goal is for everyone to reach an Americna standard of living and a subsequent American level or per capita resource consumption. What happens when population in a country or region or eventually the entire world begins to plateau and possibly decline. We have an economic system predicated on continuous growth. The health of people's financial investments is linked to corporate performance which is in turn linked to how much those companies can grow. It's not exactly a Ponzi scheme, but what happens when the next level is smaller than the one before it?

The demogrpahics of Japan present an interesting example on aging and ultimately decreasing population base. Will it lead to a financial stagnation of sorts when it occurs elsewhere? Western Europe should serve up some interesting examples in the next few decades as well.

We can certainly move to the next level of growth: efficiency. If you cannot push the top line higher, then you need to push the cost line lower and/or the productivity per unit higher. However, there's only so much efficiency that can be wrung from any system. And the danger of an efficient system comes from the damage wrought by any significant disruption. At a certain point, the efficiency game has played itself out because further gains come with risks that are deemed too high. (Or they come anyway, the risks are too high, leverage is up, and any small waver causes the system to break. Sound familiar?)

The other issue is that the system, this economic machine is ultimately made up of discrete elements. They're called people. And people do not feel like statistics when they think about themselves. From a macro-level, we're all anonymous blips in the system. But here, on the street, with people, this is about individuals trying to carve out a life for themselves. At some point, it's not about growth for people, but about quality of life. Now, we've pitched in America for a long time that quality of life is synonymous with growth because money is supposed to buy happiness. More money means more goods, services, conspicuous consumption, ringtones, plastic crap, more, more, more! But this thinking is short-sighted and the end game is an ugly battle for scarce resources, including some we take for granted. Quality of life must take on a very different meaning than conspicuous consumption if we wish to have resources that will last into the next century.

How do we make that transition and change the mindset on quality of life that is not synonymous with material wealth? We could go French and start working 35 hours a week and pretend we don't care what the rest of the world thinks of us. Alas, America doesn't have that option. The last 60 years of foreign policy prevent us from having our cake and eating it too. The price we pay for being so big and so dominant for so long is that we made a lot of enemies, though some missteps along the way added to the total. In the face of that challenge, we must pursue an agenda that considers sustainability a high priority.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Q1 earnings release

Like clockwork, since, well, it is on a schedule, the company's first quarter earnings were released last week. You can download the conference call from here on the investor page. As always, it was chock full of interesting tidbits though the Q&A is of course the fun part.

The main focus was how low and how long, meaning how much lower will the industry slide and how long will it last before any recovery. That answer is really two answers because the industry is in two basic pieces: North America and everywhere else. The North American market, especially land activity is dominated by natural gas drilling. And natural gas drilling is suffering very badly (links to a .pdf file). (You will also note on the top right chart that Canada is strongly seasonal which is a result of a slow down in the spring because many regions become inaccessible after the spring thaw.) Another handy base link is here which has some interesting interactive maps. Anyway, North America = lots of pain, recovery maybe next year. I have some general comments about the overall economic situation and how it impacts North America for another day. The rest of the world is relatively better, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement of health, and Russia is behaving similarly to the North American market for the time being.

There were also several questions about the seismic arm of the company since any down turn usually leads to an even larger down turn in exploration. The view seems to be that the situation will be less than glamorous, but steady enough to maintain acceptable cash flow from that segment.

The overall financial results were apparently better than expected and the stock jumped last Friday when these earnings were released. However, I found that strange since there was really no fundamental change in the outlook since the Q4 call three months ago. The results were helped by very strong fiscal discipline and some advance planning that led to an advantage based on timing that will not be repeated. To me, it was an excellent example that many so-called financial professionals are actually idiots.

Friday, May 01, 2009

labor day, sort of

Today is May Day or International Worker's Day which is basically the European equivalent of Labor Day in the United States but with some suspiciously Communist undertones. (Sorry Andrew, I haven't found any Soviet-era 'schwag' as you called it, though there is a museum on Soviet history in Hungary one town over from here. I have driven by it but never been inside.) Europe seems to be a fan of getting Friday instead of Monday off from work. However, when they get a day off from work, they're really serious about not working. In the States, every three-day weekend and even some borderline holidays like Columbus Day are an excuse for retail stores to have sales and bring in shoppers. Not here. Today is a day when you're hard-pressed to find an open store anywhere. Even the super-Tesco is closed. But good old McDonald's was open and doing seemingly brisk business.

This creates problems at work. See, the other exciting thing about Europe is that big trucks, mostly tractor/trailer or what they call 'combination' units cannot drive without a special exemption on holidays like today. Actually, they cannot drive from 10pm yesterday until 10pm today. We cannot get the special exemption (or perhaps do not want to pay for it - I'm not really sure which) so this slightly handcuffs field operations. But see, we're sort of used to this because that same 10pm to 10pm driving ban also exists for Sunday. Starting 10pm on Saturday night, that same 24 hour restriction occurs every single week. The general reasoning is to keep big trucks off the roads while people are going about their May Day festivities. In the States, the highways are a bit more robust, but out here in Central/Eastern Europe, the roads are generally not so big. And rules and regulations are generally more geared toward social, not corporate interests than in the States.

As a side note, the term 'schwag' is a great word. Apparently, it's a slang term for low grade marijuana which is somewhat unfortunate since it clearly should be a term that pirates and only pirates are allowed to use. Why? It just makes sense, at least in my mind.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

haha and jaja

We have this chat program at work that's ostensibly for work. Of course, it helps facilitate getting in touch with certian people in other parts of the world or maybe just other parts of the office. However, there's always room for some humor and when I want to indicate amusement, I'll usually type 'haha' mostly because I have an irrational disliek of 'lol'. However, the Latin Americans at the office type 'jaja' which seemed strange at first but of course makes perfect sense.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

taxes! and visas (not credit cards)

Don't worry, I paid them months ago. Well, I got a refund months ago and it was glorious. I used it to help stimulate the American economy by saving it and then moving out of the country. The fact that April 15th came and went was so essentially meaningless to me. In other news, I'm finally on my new cost center for work so now I technically work here even though I've had a visa for more than a month.

Speaking of visas, I had a moderately amusing experience at the border of another country last week which will remain nameless to protect something, perhaps our top secret business plans. I was with my manager who is not from a European country. I, being the intrepid and beloved American, was allowed easy entry into this country where I do not need a visa (where I actually went over a month ago on an initial client visit). My visa-less manager was not so fortunate and so we turned around, went back to the Hungarian border controls, and dropped him off. (Don't worry, transportation for him to get back to Szeged was arranged. It's not like I left him there all day.) In all fairness, he didn't think he needed a visa for two basic reasons. The first is that he was pretty sure he didn't need one based on past experience. The second was that he called our travel agency just to make sure and they said he didn't need a visa. But times change. Well, they changed on Janauary 1, 2009 when his country and/or this country decided that a visa was now required for people from his country to enter into that country.

This actually reminds me of the multiple visas in the passport of one of our engineer trainees. He's from Turkey and has five different pages in his passport given up to visa pages. And they're not even close to being in chronological order. I'm not sure what it is about people who get to put stuff in passports, but there must be some enormous practical joke where they deliberately use stamps with barely any ink and never put them in order. Or if it is in order, they've skipped several pages.

because we all need resource infoporn

See here for a ginormous chart of the world's remaining metal resources, courtesy of the fine folk at The Big Picture and one of the commenters posted this link about water supplies. Now, take all this with a really big grain of salt as the chart makes no reference to improved/increased recycling rates, better recovery technology, alternate materials, etc. According to some, we should have hit peak oil years ago, but technological advancements keep staving that off. That and economic downturns.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

dissed on Twitter

I cannot believe I got dissed on Twitter. By my own brother no less. But I suppose it's better than getting dissed by some moron who thinks pranking people is high art.

As for my own feelings on Twitter, I think this amusing video sums them up quite well. The best lines come early on:
"What are you doing"
"I'm twittering. Didn't you get my tweets? I just twotted (or twoted?) all over the place."
"What's twitter?"
"The latest social networking, micro-bloggy thingy."
"Not interested."
"Damnit Derek! You are young, hip, tech-savvy twenty-something and I will not let you turn into my father."

That and the very final line of the video. Well, I guess it's actually the second to last line if you count an exasperated sigh as a line. Epic.

I am somewhat amused because my father is arguably more tech-savvy than myself. He of the ebay account and more computers assembled than I will likely ever own. (I'm hoping the computers I own last a long time.) Of course, I have this blog that goes off into the intertubes so I cannot be too critical of Twitter, which is just blogging on a small scale.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

driving up slopes

Still needs work. I had a moderately terrifying experience trying to get out of a parking garage in Budapest a couple days ago. From now on, only above-ground parking for me!

Friday, April 10, 2009

slick floors and shopping carts

The big Tesco in town where I exchange currency for goods and services has slick floors and shopping carts which makes for an entertaining combination. I think I subconciously go only on days where I am wearing my brown shoes which have very little traction. This makes for a lot of running and sliding around the store with the shopping cart, like the overgrown kid that I am.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

my feet are enormous, maybe

I recently purchased a new pair of sneakers. For those of you who never noticed, and I'd be surprised if you did, my footwear of choice is size 12 (US) adidas running/cross-training sneakers. I like their fit, especially the width of adidas shoes which are generally wider than Nike models. A size 12 in the US is 11.5 in the UK and 46 2/3 in Europe. (Handy link) They do not sell fractional numbers here so it's either a 46 or a 47. Or just a 46. I was in a sporting goods store which had a good selection of shoes and found some shoes I liked in size 46 and didn't find any 47s so I tried what them on and they fit well enough. I looked around at other shoes and other boxes and didn't see any larger than a 46. Maybe people here have generally smaller feet or maybe the larger sizes are kept in the back. I'm not sure, but I have been looking at more peoples' shoes.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

implicit right turns and non-fat milk, or lack thereof

Evidently, I have been making some right turns that are not strictly legal. I haven't been turning on red lights or not yielding to traffic. I had a green light to go straight, so I assumed it was perfectly fine to also turn right. No, not true. There was no sign or marker that indicated a right turn was illegal. Apparently, the standard is that you can only turn right at an intersection with a stop light when you have a green signal light that points to the right. There are no implicit right turns allowed.

I have been slowly figuring out where everything is kept in the Tesco I shop at for my needed food stuffs. One thing I have not found is non-fat milk. Of course, the standard in the States is 2%, 1% and 0% and you can find all three in most grocery stores and even some convenience stores. Here, it seems to be a choice between 1.5%, 2.8% and the very enticing 3.5%. As someone who grew up drinking 0% and finds 1% to be distinctly creamy tasting, it is a little strange. I will keep looking for 0% but I do not expect to find any.

They also sell this milk that is good for six months and is not refrigerated. Now, I'm not sure if it needs to be refirgerated after you open it or it will still keep for six months after you open it, but the date on the carton is six months from now. Why someone needs milk like this and why it is the dominant form of milk sold is not clear to me. Perhaps milk drinking is less common here or refrigerators are just really small. I haven't gone into random peoples' homes to find out.

Monday, April 06, 2009

my washing machine has no instructions

My washing machine has no instructions. I'm sure it came with some. The first tenant in this apartment may have even recieved those instructions. But alas, I do no thave them. And even if I did, I'm not so sure they would be in English. However, thanks to the awesome power of the internet, I have found a copy of the instruction manual for the Zanussi ZWF 185W washing machine. In Russian.

All is not lost. Thanks again to the awesome power of the internet, I have managed to translate the critical parts of the manual, you know, about the warranty and so forth. Or what each of the little pictures on the control dial mean. And I didn't do too badly. I sort of guessed at 'cotton' (with a range of temperature choices) and 'delicates', though I didn't guess 'synthetics' proeprly. I'm not so sure the translation that gave me 'fur' is correct as the picture looks like a bundle of yarn so I think it might mean yarn or knit items. The 'gargling' seems to be a rinse-only cycle and the 'squeezing' looks like a spin-only cycle based on the little spiral picture. Though I'm less certain because 'discharge' follows next and who knows what happens if I try that setting. I suppose I could just try it, but that's a bit daring for my tastes.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

the blog, the location

In case it wasn't clear, I am no longer living in the States. I am now living in Hungary after accepting a transfer for work.

Unrelated to that, I've got some pretty strange commenters on this blog. Though I am pretty sure I know who they are. More specifically, I'm pretty sure who the one person with many pseudonyms is. Also, the spell checker in Blogger seems to think that because I appear to be blogging from Hungary, I must want a Hungarian spell check run. Not exactly. I'm trying to figure out how to change that setting along with a couple other items I'm not so thrilled with.

Friday, April 03, 2009

these windows are pretty good too

A couple days ago, I raved about the ATMs here. I'm also digging the windows that we've got in the office. While the building is sort of old, the windows are moderately new with double-paned glass. Their best feature is their dual-opening mechanism. You can turn the handle to the side and swing the window open like a door or turn the handle all the way up and the window tips open like a garbage chute. Yes, I know these windows have been around for a while. But I have never spent any significant time around windows like this. Remember, this is about me.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I grew up driving an automatic transmission vehicle. In the States, every vehicle I ever drove for work was also an automatic. That included many different pick-ups along with the awesomeness that was the Ford Crown Victoria. Here, automatics are not so common. After some chagrinning practice in the yard, I have been driving around for the last couple weeks in a manual transmission vehicle. I kind of put it off since I was still living in the hotel and my predecessor was still here so I didn't have a regular vehicle anyway so I just sort of side-stepped the matter. But, now that it's just me, living by myself in this apartment, I need to drive. Last week, it was a Skoda Octavio. This week, and in the future, a VW Passat. (Both are diesel station wagons. It's very hip, especially the pale blue color.) I'm getting better, though I suppose I really couldn't get worse than my first day in the yard. Apparently the key is being smooth and steady off the clutch. Hollywood has lied to me once again. Dan you Transporter movies!

I'd say there are two basic metrics to concern myself with. The first is the first gear success percentage. Coming off of a dead stop, how often am I successfully getting into first gear without stalling the vehicle. The Skoda was very sensitive in this respect, more so than most vehicles according to my colleagues. This number is steadily rising, though every once in a while I lose focus. Hopefully, driving the Passat full time will allow me to smooth out my technique. The second metric is smooth shift percentage, meaning how often am I moving from gear to gear with little to no jerkiness, basically an indicator of two things: my smoothness coming off the clutch and my ability to match the RPMs with some reasonable accuracy.

Starting from a dead stop while facing uphill is still a work in progress. Thankfully, this half of the country is pretty flat.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

these ATMs are awesome

The standard ATM in the States only doles out $20 bills. It's adequate, but sometimes you just need small bills. Small, non-sequential, unmarked bills. Because throwing rolls of pennies onto the stage upsets some people. But at least a $20 is small enough that you're hard-pressed to find an establishment that doesn't take a $20 or would even hesitate to take one. My first few times using an ATM here (no transaction fees!), I took out 50,000 HUF and it came in five 10,000 HUF bills. Each bill is about $45 and many places seem to struggle to make change for such bills and/or balk at taking them. I noticed the ATMs listed 25,000 HUF as one of the default options so I figured hey, it does bills other than 10K so let's see if I can get five 5,000 HUF bills. Um, no. I get one 5,000 bill and one 20,000 HUF bill. I shared this tale of woe with one of my colleagues and he clued me in an a secret. You can get 1,000 HUF bills out of an ATM and you can get them by requesting something like 19,000 HUF from the ATM and you end up with one 10K, one 5K, and 4 1K bills. Success!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the monkey on my back...

Is gone.

Since I arrived here, there has been one job for one client that has been principally under my purview. One big job for one big client that had a lot of people on our side very concerned. Add to that a fair bit of design drama, four major redesigns, no less than six internal conference calls, four pre-job wellsite visits, and a man on the client side who reports to their CEO saying that they considered this a very critical job and you have a recipe for way more e-mails and cooks in the kitchen than strictly necessary.

And now it's done. The cement is in the ground, the right amount is back to surface, the post-job testing looks good and life goes on. You never really know the true quality of a cement job for several years as its main purpose is what we call zonal isolation which should in theory last for the life of the well which is something usually measured in decades. But we've done what we can and we'll get some more information on how well we've done in the coming weeks but at this point we cannot do anything that will change what is downhole.

Now, I can finally move in.

Friday, March 13, 2009

said to his girlfriend

A couple weeks ago, my predecessor was talking on the phone with his girlfriend about going to the gym the next morning and this is what he said:

I have to go out with a client who wants to drink so I don't think I can get up at 6:30 tomorrow.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

AIG = screw job to taxpayers

Why oh why is this happening? I really like the first two comments on that post too.

formatting issues

I'm not sure why, but I'm having formatting issues when I move a text file of mine that I draft entries in between my Windows work laptop and my personal MacBook laptop. Also, the spell checker in this program is flagging nearly every word, possibly under the belief that the IP address it is seeing indicates my language preference. Oh well.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

why aren't we angrier?

Why aren't we angrier? As I read and understand more about the economy, the factors that led us here, the difficulties that are being faced, and the actions that have been taken thus far to remedy the situation, I have to wonder why people aren't outraged by the voluminous amounts of theft and idiocy going on. This is in-the-streets-with-torches-and-pitchforks territory that we're in. But instead, we're so muted, so mopey about the whole situation. I know I've been going to The Big Picture well a lot lately, but it's well written and cuts through the usual crap of most business news outlets. Just read this scathing piece on AIG's situation. Why are we helping them?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I have always disliked incurring what I feel are unnecessary expenses for my employers. They have invested a great deal in me and they pay me for working here. Given that, I generally dislike overly schmoozy lunches with clients. I understand the point of client interaction and wining and dining, but it's not something I enjoy, but simply something I have learned to fake my way through. (I'll explain that in another post.) How nice lunch is or how many beers (or blended coffee drinks) I have with someone has zero impact on what happens in the field. Either we do a good job in the field or we do not. Lunch, dinner, and socializing have nothing to do with it. And yet, it does. (As a side note, in order to look semi-normal at many of these functions, I have probably had as much alcohol in the last month as I did in the prior five years. That probably says more about how little I drink during my own time, then any Bacchanalian partying that goes on here.)

The boozy behavior of excess is one of the root causes of why we're seeing these oh so minor economic problems at the moment. I had a lunch with a client that took three hours. That's three hours of me doing no 'real' work. Sure, we swapped stories and talked shop, but nothing specific. Now, service was slow and I'll never recommend going to that restaurant again, but three hours is an almost soul-crushing amount of time to spend at lunch. I guess that's what you get for eating at a Mexican restaurant called Gringos in Hungary.

The problem is the disconnect between what people do and what really matters. I was reading an excellent post that had some good comments in it from The Big Picture/. The post was on the disparity between how some financial advisors (or whatever ridiculous titles they give themselves) perform versus how they get paid.

It makes you wonder why you'd pay anyone to manage your money.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

blending in

In the context of one of my recent posts, I would have thought that, given my racial background, I would not generally look like anyone's doppelganger. Except at Berkeley where there's a club for us and there were four of us in my graduating class of my major.

Many years ago, my family was at a large family reunion that someone on my dad's side of the family had put together. I remember feeling out of place. Admittedly, I often felt out of place when I was younger since I was fairly shy and generally liked staying in my protective bubble of familiarity. But I remember thinking that the people at the reunion, all of whom I was presumably related to in some way, didn't look like my mother, brother or me. It wasn't an issue of belonging, but simply a mental acknowledgement that this was one of the most relatively homogeneous gatherings that I had ever been to. Back then, my youthful mind did not use such words.

Several years after that, while on vacation in Thailand, my family was at a birthday celebration for my mother's father. I remember thinking that the people there, again, all of whom I was presumably related to, didn't look like my father, brother or me. It was again a relatively homogenous group and I was not fully part of that homogeneity.

These were interesting experiences in the context of my youthful dandelion wine days. While suburbia is not generally a paragon of diversity, people in the neighborhood and at school were different enough. Growing up, the area was predominantly white with enough Asian, mostly Chinese, families that I was more or less never around all of one group of people. People were people and they were from wherever they were. And while I fit in, I never really blended in.

This is what I have come to realize. I can be accepted and integrate myself in a large number of places, but I will never be from those places and I will never be one of those people. There are probably few places where I will ever blend in and that is a good thing to me.

It is also one of the things I like about working here. I have had the chance to meet and work with people from all over the world. On my recent trip, amongst a group of four engineers, they spoke Spanish to one another though it was only the first language for two of them (and I was not in Spain). One of the other two was Dutch and the other was French-Italian. Amongst so many polyglot colleagues, I do feel a bit embarrassed that I have not shed my one tragically American characteristic of only speaking one language. In my new district, where at least 14 nationalities are represented, I am the only native English speaker so people ask me about pronunciation and grammar since business is conducted in English: the international second language of the world.

I will eventually fit in here, but I will never blend in. And while this is a great chance to pick up a second language, I'm not sure if Hungarian is a good language to start with given its limited utility in the rest of the world and the apparent fact that every other word is fifteen letters long. And while no one at the base is German, for various business and regional reasons, I've probably got not terrible odds of learning a bit.

At lunch last week with one of my colleagues here, she (who is Polish) remarked that I wasn't a typical American. I told her that I hoped to never be a typical American, especially in the parlance of what most non-Americans think of when they think of a 'typical American'. This is a jumping off point for a whole bevy of interesting ideas dealing with America's role and perceived place in the world. And that is for another day.

Friday, February 27, 2009

housing - further to fall

Housing is local. However, at a national level, median prices will continue to fall. By historical standards, it is still too expensive. (In that post, I'm amused by tangent some of the commenters went on about peak oil.) With mounting layoffs and unsold home inventory levels that are still above average, I don't see any way that prices move any direction but down. It's pretty easy to envision another 10-15% drop in prices and 25% in selected markets.