Monday, August 30, 2010

port gentil vs pointe-noire

I realize I've never written about Port Gentil (POG) as a city. This is mostly in relation to my time in Pointe-Noire (PNR). Port Gentil is a much smaller city, only about 80,000 people total compared to PNR's three-quarter of a million. On average, it's wealthier city, has better infrastructure, and even has working stoplights! It's far from perfect of course as everything other than our clients' demands, moves at a less-than-urgent pace, the city seems filled with half-completed construction, and the government acts like it has little better to do than, well, I'm not sure what it does here. Mostly, I try to not get involved. Except for customs. I need my stuff.

The small size of Port Gentil also limits what's available to do. I'd say there are less than five places I'd go out to at night and only about 15 restaurants I'd care to eat at on any regular basis. I constantly run into co-workers, clients, or people I recognize from other service companies at the store, at the club, and generally when I'm out and about. Keep in mind, out and about means either eating dinner or going to a bar/club afterward. The local Barnes & Noble has yet to install couches to sit in to allow for hanging around. Actually, it's yet to open. Or be planned. Hmmm.

what plane is that?

What plane is that that's taking off right now?

smith integration

The Smith integration (very briefly mentioned in the last post) is going to be interesting to observe as an insider. Speaking generally about large scale mergers, I'm starting to see the difficulty of getting sizable groups to merge. Make no mistake, this is a large merger, with a combined workforce of about 100,000 this is no mere purchase of a niche company. With the merger officially closed last Friday, they've been busy rolling out good stuff like FAQs, ethics policies, HSE policies, identity guidelines, business guidelines.

It's very apparent where certain types of cost savings can be realized. Obviously, support functions can be consolidated and there's some overlap of business lines, though that's rather limited. The real gains in the short-to-medium term is using SLB's global reach to take Smith businesses to new places and vice versa. Additionally, SLB has much to learn from Wilson's (a Smith business) best-in-class supply chain organization, which I can definitely attest to being a significant area of improvement which CEO Gould already admitted to when the merger was first announced. (I would link to that but my bandwidth is already rather limited at the moment). In the longer term, the real value is going to come from the technology gains yielded, mostly in the drilling division.

It's also apparent how expensive a merger is with the type of re-branding that needs to take place, re-training in critical business functions, integration of IT, personnel, legal, etc departments, and the inevitable human toll it takes as some people walk away and others get let go. Some of these will be phased in over years, possibly many many years. Case in point, when Dowell became part of Schlumberger (a very long time ago), it's only been in the last few years that the old orange equipment has been either phased out of service or painted blue.

It seems like the integration is off to a good start. This is being taken very seriously by upper management and dedicated teams are working to pull this all together. I'll do what I can. Like no longer slashing the tires of Smith vehicles and restraining my juvenille vandalism to our core competitors. Or, I'll be friendly and welcoming with Smith people I meet. That works too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Well, I managed to successfully sneak off to the beach yesterday. I was only called three times in the course of about two hours while I was there. Not too shabby. The sand is soft and in some places squeaks when you walk on it. In others near the top of the water line, you can sink about 4 inches in when you walk though it.

Too bad it's almost always overcast here. Perhaps that will change when the dry season ends. There are clouds most afternoons that, anywhere else I have lived, portend coming rain. Here, it just stays cloudy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

colonial legacies

As a very brief follow-up to that article I linked to yesterday, I want to remark on what I see as the continued effects of French colonialism in Gabon and Congo (and presumably other former French colonies). It's hardly coincidental that the largest oil and gas companies operating in the area are French. Total has a significant presence along with several other French companies like Addax (sort of French) and Maurel & Prom. There's even a French military base near the airport here in Port Gentil.

Edit: Removed ridiculous final sentence.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

gabon's 50th anniversary

This coming Tuesday, August 17, 2010, Gabon will celebrate the 50th anniversary of it's independence from France. I will be noting the celebration with the realization that it has been declared a holiday Monday through Thursday and as such, customs will remain closed and continue to make me miserable. In reality, I'm sure people will generally be having a good time and carousing in the streets with parades and exhibitions and so forth and spreading good cheer. However, at least one guy seems to think it's a bit of a hollow celebration with the legacy of French colonialism never having gone away.


For those of you who do not subscribe to the usually interesting and often salient newsletter from John Mauldin, it also makes an appearance at my favorite mostly financial blog. This week's topic on the Gulf oil spill has some interesting tidbits in it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

rainy season will come

Rainy season is on the way. While it may not be here in full force for another couple months, there are increasingly frequent 'misty' nights. Perhaps most telling is the cleaning of drainage ditches all over the city. Alongside most of the bigger streets (and plenty of smaller ones) are ditches a couple feet deep, maybe even up to a full meter and about two feet wide. They are covered by one foot by two feet pieces of concrete that are about four inches thick and are shaped like very bold 'I's where the vertical line is nearly as wide as the horizontal lines. Basically, there are sections missing out of their long sides that allow for both water to flow into the ditch and to give a place where they can be grabbed to lift them out. In theory, they rest on a lip such that the top of the blocks are flush with the surrounding road. Sometimes, the ditches are covered by metal grating, but that seems much less common.

Starting a few weeks ago, road crews have been pulling off the concrete blocks and cleaning out the ditches. Every 50 or so feet along the side of the road is a big pile of mostly dirt (lots of dust blows around in the dry season), along with some plant matter, and human-made refuse. Last week, road crews came along and started to pick up the dirt piles so they're mostly gone now. Just an observation about city works and what I expect to be an interesting (for me) rainy season.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

that song i kept hearing

I can't believe how long it took my to find out what this song was called. I heard it so often in Hungary at clubs and even in Congo and here in Gabon but never knew this name until about a week ago. While hardly a priority matter, it gnawed at me and now I can sleep in slightly more peace. Stereo Love by Edward Maya, I have you now!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

fb spam

Has anyone else been getting suspiciously spammy looking friend requests from young women? Again?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

cinematic train wreck

Well, I just watched a Steven Seagal movie (as nothing he makes should ever be called a film), that was of course bad. However, there was no ordinary bad. This was slow-motion train wreck, epic disaster, terribly bad to such a level that I had an obligation to watch, to carry this torch of warning for all others to never dare watch Out for a Kill, which is itself a ridiculously ludicrous name for this thing. I think the 'best' User Review nicely summarizes the movie's, um, qualities quite succinctly.

Edit: Yes, watch total dreck on the telly is what I do on Saturday nights. It's a very exciting town.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

always been here

I think this bit of dialogue from The Shining sums up my feelings about working in Port Gentil:
Jack Torrance: You WERE the caretaker here, Mr. Grady.
Delbert Grady: No sir, YOU are the caretaker. You've always been the caretaker. I ought to know: I've always been here.