Sunday, January 30, 2011

cannot defragment

I have a file which I cannot defragment. It is a large Outlook data file that stubbornly refuses to defrag even though I have about three times the free space on that disk as the file size. The other issue I have with the file is that in Outlook, it says it is a certain size, but when looking at it in a folder, it is twice that size. I believe there is excess space in the file, but I have already compacted the file several times and seem to have reached a limit. Based on similar archive files, I am inclined to believe the size in Outlook is accurate, not the window size.

Any pointers for how to further compact my file and also why it will not move during defrag? I think if I can get it smaller, then it might just move. Or not.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

the wire - completed

I have finished watching The Wire. It is a shame that it only aired for five seasons, but considering that it almost didn't get past the first season, I'll savor what was made that much more. In a way, The Wire is about an American city, specifically Baltimore and the different systems that make up that city. As a summary, that may be vaguely adequate, but as a description of the excellence in programming that is The Wire, it is wholly inadequate.

The Wire really is the greatest television show ever made. Perhaps I should qualify that and call it the most realistic fictional show ever made and frankly, it's more realistic than much of the so-called "reality TV" genre as well. Season 5 started to jump the shark a bit with the device that was used to motivate much of the season, but I'll cut the producers some slack. For the most part, the show did not cop-out and deliver overly happy endings and resolutions to the characters. It simply concluded, but didn't presume to answer all questions riased and most definitely did not resolve all stories. Nor could it since it went so much for realism and real life does not end with a snappy one liner before the commercial break. Real life just is, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes nothing in particular.

Now, it is time to watch all the episodes that have audio commentary. Then, I plan to watch them with French audio and English subtitles.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the winds of change ... or rainy season

It seems that the winds of change in the office are blowing again. Or perhaps they are the winds of the resurgent rainy season which has taken a brief respite between the "mild" and "heavy" portions of its existence.

Such winds in the office will not likely move me, but others have already moved about and been replaced and still more will go out as we adjust to the current business climate.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2010 Q4 earnings

Fourth quarter earnings were released on Friday. All the usual tables and documents are up for anyone interested. Of course, there was the analyst conference call and the the .mp3 from the call is not yet available, but it will be eventually from this investor page in a few days. For anyone in a hurry, but who missed the call, a transcript is available from our good friends Seeking Alpha.

"make it in 3D"

That was a reference to a pie chart that nearly caused me to lose it in the office. This occurred several months back at and I'm now reflecting on it since I stumbled across this link I had tabbed for my favorite places for choosing a good chart. Plus, my rage has since cooled off as well.

One of the engineers was doing a run-through of a presentation for a project he had worked on and in the course of his presentation had used a pie chart to display some data. Perhaps a pie chart was not the optimal way to portray the data, but it was passable. He had to present to others later on and we (myself, other manager types) were there to give him feedback. During the feedback, one of the others said that the pie chart should be in 3D because it would look better. What? And then someone agreed with that sentiment. WTF? I was so shocked, I almost didn't interject, but eventually asked, "How would a 3D pie chart look better?" Think on that for a minute while I wander through an aside.

I think I need to explain that I strongly dislike fancy graphics, animations, and otherwise nonsense effects in presentations, especially internal presentations like this one was designed to be. Information on the slides should be clear and concise and the presenter should use his or her voice and hand gestures and presence to convey the rest of the information. You need to accept the fact that your audience will stare at your slides and read everything on them even if you're still on the first line. Thus, information conveyed on the slide itself should be tightly controlled and well explained through the verbal aspect of the presentation. Walls of text on a slide are awful, so is a needlessly complicated graphic. Your audience will spend more time on each of those things trying to ferret out the information instead of listening to your spoken words. Aside over.

The answer to my question is that a 3D pie chart would not look better. All it would do is give the circle some depth and make it like a very squat cylinder seen almost end-on. If anything, such a visual effect would slightly distort the shape of the pie pieces. No additional information will be conveyed by giving depth to the pie chart, therefore it is unnecessary. Sadly, this person kept insisting on the sexing up of the presentation for the sake of management that would see it. I argued that they would care much more about the presenter's enthusiasm and passion than a stupid 3D pie chart.

At this rate we'll all be wearing Power Balance wristbands.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

temporary roommate

I've had a temporary roommate since Tuesday. He was sort of one of my bosses during my brief time in Congo and he's still based there in a slightly different role which has him on a trip here in Port Gentil. Anyway, after his first day here, I took him to the hotel where he supposedly had a booking. Well, maybe not. The front desk said there was no booking and wanted cash up front for the room. Piss on that, so I said that I had an extra room at my place, but no pillows so if he was ok with that, then that's where he could stay. And that one night became several more. There's no compelling reason to move him out. I have my own room. He has his. We both go to and from the same place each day so it's not like this represents some odd inconvenience. Yes, I like my privacy, but I'm a "team player" and we're saving money so it's still a win for us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the secret == not caring

I think I'm finally back into the swing of things at work. There are some items beyond my control that are rather frustrating and could be taking up a lot of my time, but I learned a secret that helps me a great deal, though only when I actually pay attention to the secret. The secret is to stop worrying (read: caring?). I cannot help myself some of the time, but acknowledging that I'm essentially powerless to affect certain things goes a long way towards ignoring things with which I used to have unhealthy and unproductive obsessions with.

Things will be what they are. We'll plan around them as well as possible and then stop worrying. Either the plans will work or they will not. But stress and obsession and worry will not change what happens. This could be something downhole in a well, something being shipped or in transit, something at the mercy of the government customs agent, etc. Either way, short of (useful) super-human powers, there is nothing to be gained from a nerve-wracking obsessions over these items. We will plan and then we will wait. Perhaps we will refine the plan while we wait, but it will be a refinement born of interest in excellency rather than a fear of failure. Surely there will be failures beyond our control. Or rather, beyond our control now, but we cannot go back in time to change decisions made months ago with effects which have rippled their way to today. We will take note of their impact and keep it in mind (or better yet, written down) for the next time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deepwater Horizon / Macondo - final report

For those interested in a succinct 398 page report on the BP Gulf oil spill or Deepwater Horizon incident or Macondo blowout or as they have dubbed the report: Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, it can now be downloaded from the website of the national commission that investigated the incident.

Monday, January 17, 2011

not going to tunisia

In light of what the e-mail called the "ongoing security issues" in Tunisia, it seems my training course has been moved from Tunis to Paris. While that's a bit of a disappointment as I had been told Tunis is a nice city to visit, it was a rather expected development based on the events of the last few days. It was all but inevitable after a company-wide travel ban to Tunisia was announced early this morning. Not surprisingly, all expatriate families and non-essential expatriate staff are being evacuated from the country. The good news is that all company employees have been accounted for.

Friday, January 14, 2011

new guy and getting it

There's a basic concept of "getting it" that I think most people have an inkling of, but have a hard time clearly expressing. It's the idea that someone understands the basic mechanics of what is going on in the environment around them and how to participate in said environment. At work it means understanding what the business does, how you contribute, and generally what in the world you're supposed to be doing.

My experiences, at first glance, make me think most new employees just don't get it. I've seen my fair share of new engineers, supervisors, operators, etc and it doesn't give me a warm, fuzzy feeling for the future of the world that so many people are apparently idiots. But, this is merely at the first glance. As I have partially learned a skill known as 'patience', my older and slightly wiser self has realized that a very basic idea: New people are new and need guidance.

Hardly shocking, isn't it? However, in a work environment like mine which is rather scripted in the beginning, this needs to be clear. New people need that script. They need to know what safety training they need to complete on their own or should be given by others, they need to know what technical and operational modules to complete, when to come in, when to go home, where to stand, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Our new guy arrived right as I was going on vacation last month. Suffice to say, my return found that he had not been properly mentored in my absence and this made me sad. (I have a running joke with someone here who I need to get reports from. When I don't receive them in a timely manner, I tell him that it makes me sad to not receive the XYZ report.) Actually, it made me frustrated and angry, both with the new employee and the people who he had been entrusted to learn from. For now, I have pocketed my anger because, while it stirs the heart and takes names and kicks ass, it does not actually get the task at hand done. That task is mentoring. This new guy is new. He needs to be shown where he can find resources and how to use them.

When he first came to me two weeks ago, I was appalled by the lack of progress on his part which I thought reflected on his poor initiative, work ethic, or both. Yes, I'm confident he could have done more, but this was a greater failing on the part of our team, including myself to not ensure he had a capable mentor while I was away. Now that he's on his feet, he's got a couple more weeks to turn things around and demonstrate that he is going to make it. Soon enough, he'll sink or swim.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

asimov on ignorance

Growing up, I read a lot of science fiction, especially by Isaac Asimov. I'm not sure how that came to be exactly, but after a couple years of lots of Hardy Boys mysteries, I migrated over to science fiction, eminently enjoying Foundation Series in particular. I ended up reading a great deal of his non-fiction, whether it be science literature or general commentary and editorials. Asimov had an easily accessible writing style that made for quick reading. In fact, one of his commentary pieces was about that very subject and why his novels were "page-turners" for so many.

Thus, I am a sucker for a good Asimov quote and I wish I could find out when he first penned this one:
"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

So relevant and, perhaps most frustratingly, it has likely been relevant for a very long time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

power balance ... for idiots

I have seen several of the expats (but no co-workers, yet) in Port Gentil wearing these wristbands. I could never get a good look at them, but eventually came to learn that there are from Power Balance. Screw it, just read the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry. Seriously, go there now and then come back.

Hahahahaha. Holographic technology? Energy field? Ah hahahahahaha. But see, that's not the best part. It's how I came to learn about what those bands are because I stumbled upon an article which then led me to Power Balance's Australian website where they have to admit that their bands do nothing:
We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

Now I know an easy way to identify at least some of the retards I work around.

Monday, January 10, 2011

reluctance, or getting back to work

Last week was one of those 'blah' weeks for me. While I was out of town, one of my work-friends transferred out of Gabon and a couple others also went on vacation and have yet to return. All sorts of little things have not been clicking together.

The housing situation is not one where details will be forthcoming, but it is best summed up like this: They asked me to move so I did like a good team player, but the new place is substantially worse than the old place. I have told those who need to be told and frankly, expect little progress to be made. (For example, when the power was out, why, oh why was the washing machine left in the middle of the living room by the work crew who was installing it so I could walk into it in the dark.)

The vehicle situation is ok, but management is diddling around and not making and decision. This isn't about my vehicle, which I have, but about other vehicles and new safety equipment requirements and exemptions while we transition and blah blah blah. I don't buy into what some people seem to do which is lie and/or hide the truth. Just be honest with people. Either they can accept the truth or not. If vehicle privileges are being rescinded, then be straight about it and not avoid the issue.

The reluctance to take action is also on me as well. With the whole blah-ness to the week, it's been difficult to focus and actually feel like working. I've got about six medium-term and significant items on my plate and I've had a hard time really moving forward with them. They range across all aspects of my job in terms of management: people, clients, equipment, etc. I have been chunking them into little pieces but the heart is just is not there. Perhaps it's the frustration with the lack of general progress on many things here or perhaps it is the effort expended on basics (house, food, water) that limits effectiveness, but either way I can tell that I am not as productive as I am capable of being.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

the wire - halfway through

I bought the complete series for The Wire on DVD. It was one of the few physical possessions that I obtained in the U.S. for myself that made the trek back to Gabon. (Contrast to Season 3 of Burn Notice which I ripped to my personal laptop and left the DVDs behind in the States.) Prior to this purchase, I had seen Season 1 and agreed with those who had recommended it that it is one of the best television shows ever made. It has a slow-cooked feel as it gradually unfolds, moving the story forward inch by inch, layering in the detail and keeping so many characters involved. It's almost designed to be a mini-series, at least Season 1 is, and perhaps subsequent seasons can be viewed as mini-series sequels. And yet it unfolds and takes you in one episode at a time like chapters of a novel. It's the type of television that can only exist on cable, and perhaps only on HBO where entire shows and seasons can be mapped and filmed prior to airing.

I am only about halfway through season 3, so it is also the halfway mark of the series as a whole. I have decided to stop listening to the commentary tracks from already-viewed episodes as it seems they are dropping in more spoilers than I care for, which is understandable, though they are series-level spoilers, not simply episode- or season-level spoilers. I'd like to savor each episode and season and eventually the series as a whole for for its craftsmanship, but I also want to burn through the entire series as quickly as possible to find out what happens. There will be subsequent viewings, then commentary tracks, then a half-assed plan to listen to French audio with English sub-titles. (Hey, whatever gets me to learn.)

In a sense, this is a cop show, as they play a central role in Season 1, and are still hold a plurality of screen time in subsequent seasons. However, the show in the eyes of the creator is about the American city, specifically Baltimore, but really any city and its machinations will do as each season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of city life (or so Wikipedia tells me since I haven't seen any of Seasons 4 and 5). The police serve as an excellent central figure since they are involved with investigating the seedy under-belly of each facet of the city seen in each season. The characters feel as real as can be, with their various wants and desires along with their flaws. There may be protagonists and antagonists in this show, but there are certainly no white knights or heroes. The quality of the acting is also superb, perhaps aided by the casting of non-big name actors, which lends them the anonymity needed to convince the audience they are the character and not merely an actor playing a character. The actor portraying the character Bubbles, the crack-addicted CI, is so into this role that he looks like he developed a crack habit for the role.

This is quality television consolidated into it's truest form, a 13.3" laptop screen. This will be fun.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I have been watching both The Wire and The Shield, two ostensibly cop-based shows, though the producers of The Wire would rather you perceive it as a show about the American city. This is neither here nor there and we can debate the merits of each show later. The only similarity I care to discuss now is "Five-O". This is what criminals, typically drug dealers, in both shows call out when the police are coming. Curious about the etymology of the phrase, I sought out the googles for answers.

It seems the answers are unclear. Some seem to think it is a reference to the 5.0 badge on police model Crown Victorias that first appeared int he early 1980s while others favor a link to the old television show Hawaii Five-O which aired from 1968 to 1980. For the non-existent segment of my reading population who are elderly crack dealers, what say ye? TV show or Crown Vic?

Friday, January 07, 2011

and things are the same

Perhaps I spoke (or wrote) too soon last weekend about being back to work and things being somewhat ok. They are still ok, but the pace of progress was been interminably slow this week and some of that is even on me. I have most certainly dragged through the week as I both physically adjust my internal clock and mentally adjust my focus to the many tasks at hand. True to form, the customs department has turned this past week into an extra set of holidays even though the are officially open. This makes me want to stab myself in the leg with a rusty spoon.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

lightning and darkness

I was driving home from work yesterday and was slowing down at the first traffic light along my route when there was a flash of lightning that lit up the sky and gave a brief, ghostly light to everything on the streets. Earlier flashes had timed in at around 1.5 to 2 miles away and this seemed to be in a similar place. For a brief moment, I could see everything in my field of vision and then it was dark again. And then I realized it was too dark. The power had gone out. To everything. It was pitch black except for the headlights of other vehicles. It was actually a bit of a dicey ride since I'm still not used to the route home to the new apartment and had to cautiously approach my turn. Plus, all the traffic lights were dead so that didn't help the situation. The power came back shortly after I made it home. Then went out again a few minutes later. This cycle would repeat about three more times before I said screw it and gave up on cooking and just went to bed.

"long" days

I had grown rather accustomed to the nearly equal length days that occur here both during the "summer" and "winter" months. Then, last month, I went back home to my distinctly Northern Hemispherical point of origin and my time there straddled the winter solstice. Days were short and it was an odd feel for my first couple days back. It's only an hour or so where this feeling really sets in since it's not that far north, but it was rather peculiar. Certainly not sinister or foreboding, but just one of the more subtle indicators that I had traveled some significant distance. I'm back here in sometimes-rainy Gabon and with daylight at 18:00, it's like a mental psyche-out that makes me think I should keep working. Actually, I'm writing this from work, but this is justifiable since it's now 19:00 and only some sad, lonely e-mails are waiting for me.

I went through a similar seasonal phase last year in Hungary, which is the furthest north I have ever lived. During the summer, the long days led to longer work days, but dusk would last late enough to still get in many good walks around town. But during the winter, the short days were cold (and it was an unusually cold winter that year) and gave one a feeling that we should all be at home, sipping some hot green tea while sitting on the couch which I had turned into my bed. Alas, many days were spent in the office sipping that tea from my most excellent mug. At least the office was warm and the chair was comfortable.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

stock slide

My home page on the browser of my work computer is set to the internal company website. This is both mundane and practical. Said page has many of the links I use during a normal day to reach whatever business systems I need to do my job. It is also (not surprisingly) different than the company's public website, but they do share one feature, which is the display of the company's stock price. I glanced at it today near the end of my work day (so midday-ish in the NYSE world) and noticed the stock had slid a solid 3-4% which seemed quite odd. This piqued my curiosity and led me to look at news and announcements and nothing seemed all that significant. By the end of the trading day, the trading volume had reached a 4-week high, which was admittedly somewhat low given the low holiday-affected volumes of December, but still interesting. Now, the stock has recovered mildly, but still down about 3% for the day and I really have no clue as to why.

Next day edit: It seems we're issuing some bonds today for quite a hefty sum. Maybe some knew about this in advance or maybe it's just a coincidence.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

and we're back to work

I haven't been one for celebrating holidays too enthusiastically for many years now. Perhaps the days all feel too arbitrary or work is too constant to make any day feel particularly special, but I'd rather work on holidays since it's quieter around the office anyway. Plus, around here, there's no real point to being in my apartment.

Reasonable management of my e-mails while away along with my day stuck in Paris two days ago has led to a pretty manageable situation upon my return. Even my office was painted so that's pretty swell. Of course, it was bad enough that employees were complaining about it for me but my argument was that the damaged section was behind me so I never had to look at it and thus did not care. It's sort of why I don't really care about what the taillights look like on a car I am driving or why I wait longer than I should between haircuts and shaves. I don't have to look, so I don't really care. Anyway, what I do care about (or at least pretend to care about), is that some things I expected to be done while I was away did not get done. Some very basic epic failness perhaps, but we're always beholden to the least competent person in the chain.