Saturday, July 30, 2011

trying to explain baseball

As a companion piece to yesterday's post trying to explain football, today is a brief bit on baseball. Unlike American football, baseball is at least popular in some other countries so it is not asked about as often. For instance, I have never had to explain to a Venezuelan why baseball is played in the U.S. However, it does receive its fair share of complaints from non-Americans who find fault with the game, especially its pace. However, in contrast to American football, those complaints are very similar to the same ones that non-fans from America also have about baseball.

American football is of course not something for everyone in the U.S. However, even domestic non-fans understand the sport's place in American culture and can at least comprehend why the sport is so popular because they end up surrounded by signs of the sport's obvious popularity. This is an insight foreigners rarely have and explaining football's popularity is much more difficult because it is hard to easily explain how football is able to hold great cultural significance to someone who has not lived in that culture. Contrast this with baseball which, despite being America's pastime, has ceded the number one spot of professional sports to its beefy football brother. In doing so, it also draws less fascination from foreigners who rarely ask why baseball is poplar in the U.S. Well, at least the ones I talk with. Instead, they ask why is the sport so slow and they instantly get their answer on why it is not the dominant sport in the U.S. The "too slow" refrain is all too common, but also not fair. Again, Jack comes through with a theory on why many dislike baseball based on a lack of understanding of the finer points of the sport.

I have yet to get a really good opportunity to explain baseball to a non-fan here. It doesn't come up as a topic as often as American football, but perhaps I can win someone over.

In a note related to yesterday's pool party, I met one of the two Peace Corps Volunteers in Balkanabat. She lives with the family of one of our employees. There are only 29 PCVs in Turkmenistan and that number is gradually going down.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

trying to justify american football

Living overseas, I sometimes find myself trying to explain to people why American football is so popular in the U.S. It usually goes with the corollary of explaining why international football (aka: soccer) is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world.

Thank goodness, my friend Jack has addressed part of this question before. Others have also answered, but none of them are as cool, so we'll disregard their comments. But seriously, my stock answer has focused on explaining how football is part of American culture through its existence as a youth sport and into high school and then into college. Athletics in American high schools has some similarities with youth sports in other parts of the world. However, sports in American colleges and universities is very different than collegiate athletics in the rest of the world. And with football being this monolithic presence on many large university campuses, it holds a well-entrenched place in the typical week of many college students and plenty of non-students. I have met many people who were huge fans of the state school's football team just because they lived in the same state.

History partly explains why American football is popular here but not many other places. The sport developed into its more or less modern form here so it has incumbency status. With history and culture being what they are, and now combined with business being what it is, football is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be supplanted by another sport, especially not soccer for commercial dominance in the U.S. The interesting question to ask is if soccer would be as popular in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world if football had never existed? I am not convinced it would be. There's a certain joy within the American spirit that seems to relish being different than the rest of the world. This is a much deeper social question about American society, but at its core is the concept of American exceptionalism.

Anyway, there's another pool party tonight and I'm sure this will come up again like it always does. Yes, a pool party. And yes, it is a difficult life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

breaking bad and meth

Breaking Bad is another one of the programs that airs on the crime channel that we get here. Compared to my overtly negative feelings for The Sopranos, I have a much more positive disposition to Breaking Bad. I rarely expect television to be realistic and Breaking Bad is hardly the most plausible program out there. Early on, it was tangentially related to science enough to be interesting to me. Now, it has really captured the desperation and fear that drive the decisions that the protagonist makes.

I am also intrigued by the show for two other reasons. The first is the awful Pontiac Aztek, arguably the ugliest mass-produced car in recent history, driven by the main character. I think it's fantastic as a vehicle for him because it's nearly universal ugliness and appearance of being down-trodden so thoroughly reflected our lead in the beginning of the show. He has grown, but the car has stayed the same, partly because it is necessary for him to maintain a certain appearance. And while I love how ugly the car is and how terrible its commercials were back in the day, it is evidently a decent automobile in the eyes of some.

The second reason is far less hilarious. One of the central themes of the show is the production and sale of crystal meth. It is therefore very suitable for the show to be set in New Mexico, a place I lived for three years. When I first moved there is when I really first become aware of what meth was and what it did to people. There was various drug-awareness training at work, but the most compelling thing was a big billboard at the edge of town showing a picture of someone with meth mouth. (Note: not a pleasant picture, but far tamer than what was on the billboard.) Compared to most other states, use of meth in New Mexico is very prevalent. And its use in the oilfield is also distressingly common in the western states. Farmington is hardly ground zero for crystal meth, but in hindsight, it is now very clear that one guy in particular at work was using. Some days he was fantastic at work. Other days, he barely went through the motions and was prone to very unusually timed stretches of fatigue. I never really keyed into it at the time since a lot of people were a little 'off' compared to what I had grown up with, but I later learned he had all sorts of problems and meth was one of them. If you must know, he eventually got fired.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

six weeks in - trees

There are trees planted all over the city. This is a desert, but it's not as arid as New Mexico. It seems like the relative proximity to the Caspian Sea helps keep the air from getting too dry. While low on rain, this city is able to sustain the many trees planted here.

I asked around about the trees. It seems that the most popular tree in town was mostly planted starting back in the 1950s when research was done into what type of tree could successfully grow in this climate and type of soil. I cannot identify the trees in question and have been meaning to get some photos of them. I want to see the leafsnap app make its way to the Android platform so I can do some sleuthing around town. Of course, I can't geo-locate anything since that won't work here, but I can always take pictures and then compare once I get back home. (3G is not exactly a real thing here.) The trees also produce a green fruit, about the size of a fist, but I have been told it is not edible. I have decided not to challenge that assertion.

Oddly enough, there are also pine trees planted here. There are many planted in the camp area of the base, and I have seen some around town. There is no way there are native to this area. Well, evidently none of the trees are native to the area, but the pines stand out quite obviously. The same person who told me the first tree started to be planted int he 50's also told me they are now planting a larger variety of trees to see what else can take to the soil here.

This being a desert, where does all the water in the town come from? I keep asking people and no one seems to know. I find that odd. And it bothers me enough that I will keep asking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

earnings and new CEO

Last Friday, Q2 earnings were reported. The company is not bankrupt. As always, Seeking Alpha has a transcript and you can also download a mp3 recording of the call from the company's public website. I would link to it, but then I'd be doing all the work.

The day before the earnings release, a public announcement was made about the, next CEO, who is the current COO. As executive succession goes, this was incredibly expected. This has been clearly telegraphed for more than a year starting with when he was made COO in the first place, which was a position that did not exist prior to his appointment. And then he started to participate in the quarterly earnings conference calls. And the investor conference. And then was nominated to the board of directors. And it was known the current CEO would retire before the end of the year. So, not shocking.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Meetings. Best I can tell, I have not posted on this topic before which seems odd since it is such an obsession of mine. Perhaps it is only a recent one born from wiling away much of each day when I was in Gabon in meetings. We had a meeting the other day on a personnel and time-sheet thing that was as exciting as it sounds. The real end result of that event was a not-quite-soapbox moment for me at dinner explaining why it was an ineffective use of everyone's time. I am oddly passionate about this subject and know the many shapes a meeting will try to take whether it be a traditional meeting, morning meeting, status report, conference call, online web conference, training courses, and all manner of presentations. Yes, presentations are a type of meeting. It pretends not to be, but it is.

Nothing here will be shocking or ground-breaking. It is entirely possible I heard much of this during some training material I was once forced to sit through, through I do not remember so that goes to show how effective the material might have been. Regardless, just to have a chance at an effective meeting, these things should be noted:
* Purpose/Objective - Like anything else done in business, a meeting must have a purpose. It should be something that the initiator or leader of the event can state in a clear and concise manner. No purpose means no reason for a meeting. All subsequent points can be easily connected back to this first point.
* Pre/post-work - Meetings are infinitely more productive if participants are told what to have ready prior to the meeting. And then the long-term effectiveness is greatly enhanced by post-meeting work and follow-up.
* Time - The shorter the better. Anything over an hour is rarely effective and really 30 minutes is all most people can handle in a single sitting.
* Energy/Enthusiasm - Especially true for traditional presentations, but any meeting leader or presenter needs to be enthusiastic. If you're not enthusiastic, then your audience and other attendees will instantly ask themselves why should they care if you yourself are just going through the motions?

I have given a lot of feedback to people who need to make internal (and to a lesser extent external) presentations. This has mostly been for younger engineers and supervisors presenting internally for projects and promotion related things. The first thing I always challenge people on is making everything they say contribute to the objective of their presentation. Don't waste words, don't lose your audience, don't lose focus. What is the purpose and how will you accomplish that objective?

Friday, July 22, 2011

people not dumber, just faster

As I mused on how awful I thought The Sopranos program was a couple days ago, I revealed a frustration and concern that people might be just worse overall these days compared to prior generations. Again, this is just a concern that I can easily acknowledge is not well founded. What we have today, and increasingly so with each passing day, is speed. We can communicate faster today than ever before and that allows all of us, including those blissfully unaware of the Dunning-Kruger effect to blog, tweet, and 'like' their way into apparent relevance.

These platforms reveal what existed all along, which is that 10% of the people are less intelligent than 90% of the people. The internet does not portend an awakening of the era of ignorance. The ignorance has always been there, but it had previously lacked such free and accessible vehicles of dissemination. For example, let's talk about weekends.

This month started on a Friday and is also 31 days long, which means the last day of the month will be a Sunday. This makes for five Friday-to-Sunday weekends that will occur this month. If you recall, there was a thing that went around the internet last October marveling at how such an occurrence of five Friday-to-Sunday weekends in a single month was incredibly rare and had not happened for several hundred years. That is of course blindingly stupid since there are only 14 different calendars that could ever occur so to suggest that one of them had not happened for several hundred years is moronic. (A year can start on one of seven days and there are also leap year versions so any given year must come from one of those 14 calendars.) Nonetheless, many people believed this and posted it and forwarded it and were generally removed from my list of friends if they were so cognitively challenged. The great irony is that January 2010 also possessed the five Fri-to-Sun weekend property just nine months prior to the October idiocy fest. As platforms for spreading misinformation are more easily accessed, we see that many people will believe novel and interesting sounding "truths" regardless of their accuracy.

Despite this obvious downside to the internet's easy connectivity, the system makes me hopeful. Used properly, it possesses the powerful ability to spread knowledge, advance real truth, and give people access to information that would otherwise never reach them. It is also a place where nuance can exist in all its glory. The shades of gray that make up almost everything worth knowing can exist in true 64-bit rendering instead of a paltry 256 color scheme. The great risk is that this frontier of neutrality that the internet possesses will be taken away. We must continue to promote the openness and suffer the fools that come with it because that is a far superior trade to limiting what we can share and learn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

half right

That half right bit I mentioned two days ago reminds me of one of the best lines I have ever managed to say while working. Back when I was in New Mexico, hardly the black mecca of America and especially not in Farmington, I was supervising a job and everyone else on my crew happened to be black. That also happened to be every single black person who worked at that base for us at the time including one guy who would not normally be with my sub-segment. Plus, I had a loan-out engineer trainee from Angola with me that day. Towards the end of the job, I was watching returns and standing next to a rig hand who, totally unsolicited, remarked, "So you're just about the only white boy on this crew, huh?" I replied, "Well, you've got that half right" and could barely keep a straight face. Context matters.

Edit: Apparently, I blogged about this before. Well, this post stays anyway because it's funny and relevant to the recent discussion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

five weeks in - origins II - Turkmen people

Turkmen people are very diverse in their appearance. And despite my own appearance, it is not where I am from. As I remarked yesterday, while many have made the expected comment that I could possibly pass for Kazakh, a few have remarked that I could be Turkmen, or at least I could until I open my mouth. If I, or any of my doppelgangers, might be Turkmen but are obviously not, then where are Turkmen people from?

As always, the internet has the answer in the form of Wikipedia’s handy entry on Turkmen people. Seriously, give that page a read and I’ll share my own observations. The concept of being Turkmen, like many nationalities is more than simple (or very complex) ethnography. It is also strongly driven by the cultural history of the people of the region. I have been asking my colleagues as much as I can about where in the country there are from, what they speak in that region (Russian or Turkmen or other) and their own take on what it means to be Turkmen.

Early on, I managed to have a good chat with one of our engineers about Turkmenistan and the people and the borders and the culture. Like many nations, the borders are a mix of sensible geographic boundaries and seemingly arbitrary straight lines. Bordering Iran and Afghanistan does not exactly make this the geopolitical place to be. However, my colleague informed me that Turkmenistan had generally good relations with its neighbors, though he expressed concern about the stability of Afghanistan and how that might impact people near the border. He mentioned that it was common for some villages in the southeastern part of the country to be all or nearly all Afghani people who just happen to live on the Turkmen side of the border. He also remarked that there were villages in Iran of mostly Turkmen people. He then said that these respective people had been there many, many generations and that it was not an issue with where they lived, but that it sometimes seemed like the borders were made wrong. There is a similar issue of blurred borders in the northeast where much of the border with Uzbekistan is along or near a major river. One of our other engineers is from that region and prefers speaking Russian or Uzbek over Turkmen. People live where they live.

With these blurred borders, it’s not much of a surprise that people in Turkmenistan look so diverse. There is a certain look of what I might say a proto-typical Turkmen man should look like, but much like a typical American, that doesn’t mean much. Some people here have that Turkmen look with dark hair, dark eyes, slightly olive skin tone but not much, and let’s say a bit shorter than the average American. But really now, that’s not descriptive at all and so just look at a picture of the current President who I would say has a strong Turkmen look. Plenty of people here appear to be of Russian descent (though that is arguably a loaded term given how diverse Russian is). But if you imagine a Russian from the European side, of the country with fairer hair and skin, then yes, many people here have some element of that appearance. Others here definitely show shades of Persian ancestry and others yet possess a very East Asian appearance. It’s very much an intersection of different cultures that occurred here in Central Asia and everything in between.

Part of it is also a matter of how people identify and associate themselves. As I indicated, one of our engineers feels more Uzbek and speaks Russian back home. Another engineer from a port city on the Caspian said both her parents are Russian and came here for work, but she was born here. She speaks Russian at home, schools were taught in Russian, but she identifies as Turkmen because this is her home, even though she said her Turkmen listening comprehension is only ok, and her Turkmen speaking is poor. I found that especially interesting because it is a natural bias of mine to assume people have an affinity towards their ancestry. Even though the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, a part of me forgets that immigration occurs to other countries as well and people adopt other places as their new homes. Turkmenistan is that new home for some people and an old home for many more.

five weeks in - origins I - a matter of context

Where are you from?

It is a standard question asked to and amongst the expatriate employees here (and other locations I have worked). My standard answer is simply, "The U.S." which usually leads to the follow-up question of which state I am from. Lately, my answer to that last one has been getting a lot of Schwarzenegger comments and then I must explain that he is no longer the Governator. It also gets a lot of other follow-up questions since I am, well, me. And me being me, aside from being awesome, is also puzzling or at least interesting to some people until they ask a few more questions.

Perhaps it's the concept that people from the US are supposed to look like some sort of "typical" American, as if there were such a thing. I suppose there is a theoretical median American or average American, but with the variety that exists from one person to the next, the concept of "typical" does not really hold much use. Nonetheless, my accent has outed me as an American very quickly to many of my better-traveled colleagues. Some have even said they knew I was from California the moment I spoke. One Polish-American guy here, who was born and raised in Poland and went to high school and university in the U.S. told me I had a "very strong" California accent. Of course, I jokingly countered that that means I have no accent and that I speak standard television and news broadcaster English. A different guy told me I spoke just like a Malaysian guy he used to work with. Or, more accurately, that guy had an American accent. And, since many people in Malaysian are ethnic Chinese, he thought I might have been from there as well. That's one more for the list of places I could be from!

As for being ethnic Chinese, well, that's half right. Whether people can figure that out is highly context dependent. As I rather expected, many people here have remarked that I look Kazakh and a few have said possibly even Turkmen, but that latter one is rather interesting and I promise to come back to that. Here, there are a handful of Kazakh expats plus it is next door so the idea that someone might be Kazakh is very reasonable. In the U.S., I have never been, and would never expect to be, asked if I was Kazakh. Instead, what people might assume or guess about my ancestry often depends on who I am with.

Context matters. Let’s say I’m with a group of white people. In that context, I do not appear to be white, or at least not entirely so. Amongst a group of Asian people, the same basic thing occurs. With that contrast, most people who have been around plenty of Asian people will know I’m not entirely Asian either. However, it is interesting to note that in the context of being around all Asian people, I have been told both things. Some people have thought I was entirely white and others have thought I was entirely Asian. So in addition to context, personal experience also matters. Where am I? What am I wearing? What am I doing? What am I saying? People will seek to reach a conclusion with the information available even if they do not mean to reach a particularly firm one. Your mind wants to conclude something so it can use that as a starting point for something else.

Two weeks ago, when I was at a well site, my non-Turkmen and non-Russian speaking self was clearly not local to others on location. However, my origins were apparently up for debate amongst non-colleagues (as my colleagues have already asked me these questions). After the job was done, I was speaking with an older Serbian guy who had worked all over, but had settled down and spent the last 14 years in Turkmenistan. He knew enough English to be understood and I knew how to smile and nod in agreement. We talked about where I was from and my stock replies about the U.S. and California were of little help to the apparent debate amongst the people on location. He asked further and as soon as I said my mother is Chinese, it was a big “ah-ha!” moment for him and he seemed quite jubilant as he had told everyone else that he was convinced I was half something Asian. Regrettably, there are no cash prizes for guessing correctly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

sopranos - dreck

We get a few channels through the satellite here and one of them is the Fox Crime channel and one of the programs shown on that channel is The Sopranos. I understand that it was a commercial and critical success and ground-breaking for its time, but frankly, I think it is awful.

Is it because its time was ten years ago and it now feels dated and the content is not as groundbreaking? No, I think not. There are elements that are obviously dated and perhaps it is not as edgy when compared to modern premium cable fare, but I have no real qualms with the style and cinematography. When I was watching The Wire earlier this year, another critical success from roughly the same era, it also felt contemporary enough despite obviously dated surveillance methods. The Sopranos must suffer from a different issue.

Is it my bias against that overwrought, stereotypical accent? Like many U.S. regional accents, it causes my blue-blooded self to look down on all who speak it with the disdain only someone with Gold Medallion flyer status can be allowed to possess. Or not. In reality, I suppose the accents are somewhat believable and are apparently authentic. I do have a cognitive bias against that Jersey accent, but after a couple episodes, I was able to look past it and now it's just present instead of pushing itself to the forefront of my attention.

Is the problem with the characters themselves? I think this is much more likely. Dramatic television is built around compelling characters that you care about. If you care about the character and what might happen to him/her, then you will keep watching to find out if their atypical and fictional-television worthy life keeps moving along. A simple enough concept that is of course difficult to successfully execute. In The Sopranos, I just cannot muster up any feeling of caring about the characters. They all strike me as interminable whiners. My first thought after a scene between Tony Soprano and his psychiatrist (who I hope meets an untimely demise in the show's storyline) is that Tony reminds me of Holden Caulfield. I haven't even read The Catcher in the Rye since high school and could barely tell you much about the plot or themes of the novel, but listening to Tony talk to his psychiatrist instantly reminded me of Holden and his complaints about all the "phony" people. Tony Soprano is Holden Caulfield? That is a question for a college student in desperate need for a mid-semester paper to explore, but it captures the core of my problem with the show.

Perhaps the entire program was successful, not only for its authenticity and groundbreaking-ness, but also because it featured a cast of whiners that audience members could instantly relate with. Shows are often at least partly successful during their respective eras by embracing some reasonably popular sentiment of said era. (It has to be popular enough for the show to keep enough viewers to justify keeping the show on the air.) In this case, the sentiment was whining. The Sopranos gave my generation and the one before mine a dramatic show full of people like ourselves! And knowing that the show was as popular as it was only makes that more aggravating since I know lots of people thought this was good and relate-able.

I'm not sure when it happened, or perhaps it happens to many people around my age, but there's a sense that people have become worse. Just generally worse at everything. Did we undergo a cultural shift in the late 90s and early 2000s that allowed for The Sopranos to be embraced by so many? A shift towards the "not my fault" culture? This is my biggest problem with the show and watching Tony Soprano prattle on to his psychiatrist, because it mirrors where I feel like we as a country have stumbled so badly. In reality, the country is not as bad off as I probably think it is, but it will not get better if "not my fault" grows larger.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

copy all the things!

A copy, or duplicate, is pretty standard in the business world. One for you, one for me. Triplicate is hardly something to bat an eye at because all sorts of third party actors, often government agencies, might want/need a copy. Here, we have gone not one, but two steps further to the realm of the quintuplicate. We care not for your environmental outcry or desires for a paperless office. We are bold visionaries imagining an office that contains nothing but load-bearing paper stacked to support the roof above our heads!

Friday, July 15, 2011

china on the ground

Following-up on my, previous post about being in the field last week, I saw something else that I did not mention before: Chinese rigs. Perhaps it was a bit distant, but in my photo from last time there is a rig in the distance just left of center. That is a fairly new rig, Chinese-made, and essentially a copy of another rig builder's design. That particular rig is not operated by a Chinese company, but they are here. Not far from that spot, there were workover rigs operating that were flying Chinese flags. That in itself was a bit odd, especially here where I would have thought it would be frowned upon, because while many rigs fly a flag, it is almost always a flag of the logo of the company drilling or the flag of the country the rig is in.

In Gabon, it was Sinopec. Here, it is CNPC. The Chinese operators are drilling in Turkmenistan and pretty much anywhere else they can, especially less reputable locales under various levels of embargo scrutiny. Many have expounded on this issue of China's attempt to secure resources before so I will not belabor the point. And it is not exclusive to oil and gas either. It is interesting to see this resource play occurring right in front of me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

four weeks in - the desert

No man's land. That is the rough translation for the name of the field I had the fine pleasure of visiting last week. Barsa field is a very large and very old field here. I snapped a few more photos, but this one captures most of the essence of the area. We happened to be in a low area of the field with sand dunes forming our horizon in every direction. The photo is from one of those dunes looking back into the low area, but the field extends much further beyond the horizon so the photo captures most of what you might see. If you were hoping for a cavalcade of flora and fauna then I would recommend against planning a trip here. However, there were camels, but their publicist did not allow photos taken of them.

There is something deeply fascinating about working in the desert. For me, it is the contrast between the seemingly endless monotony of the landscape and unforgiving environment mixed with the oases of industry that our work brings. A compressor station here, a rig there, and a pipeline into the horizon surrounded by the continuous and slowly shifting sand dunes. Being in what feels like the middle of nowhere, we can somehow bring highly specialized equipment together in a coordinated enough fashion that we actually accomplish something productive.

Perhaps I have never quite gotten over the seeming absurdity of oil and gas production. We're putting holes into the ground, miles deep at times, that are no more than a foot across by the bottom, and this is effective? This? This is a process that works? Apparently. And we do it over and over again. Sometimes, just for a moment, I marvel that this is even cost-effective at all when considering the time, resources, and specialized equipment that are required to drill just a single well. Like anything else done on a large scale (and this is large-scale when you think about activity in a global sense) it is quite interesting that the extraction of oil does not cost more than it already does. And doing all this in the desert where supply chains are stretched and water is limited only adds to the sense of absurdity.

Something else I have never quite gotten over or perhaps even figured out is when I mentally step back and ask myself "How did I end up in the middle of a Turkmen desert?" That's also part of what makes it so exciting. Being back in the field reminds me of how much fun it was when I first started and the sense of adventure that the newness always brought. Now, it's more newness and more adventure and still fun.

This area, and the other one I have seen, is littered with abandoned equipment totally unlike anything I have ever seen in this business. There were old rigs that had been laid over (either by man or nature) and left to decay into the sand. Pipes of all sorts were strewn about the landscape. Sand-filled industrial equipment half-buried by the winds was plentiful. I cannot help but wonder about the value of the metal and the availability of recycling. Everywhere else I have been, scrap metal is always worth taking in for recycling, but if there is no plant that can process the metal here, then it will just sit in the desert until it disintegrates into millions of rusty flakes. Fluids are likewise abandoned here with the absorbent sand masking how much is put onto the ground. There are signs that oil, drilling fluids, produced water, and all manner of other fluids have been put upon the ground and left to manage their own gradual dispersion.

What will the environmental legacy be? I am not sure and this is a far cry from US and European regulations on spills and disposals. The desert, for all its apparent emptiness, holds many resources and many stories.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

pool, and a teaser

As expected, this has been a week of a scrambling and it isn't quite over either. However, I have been making the time to relax in the pool they have at the camp. Nothing quite like floating in water and looking up at the stars. If your google-fu is strong enough, you should be able to find the base and spot the poor inside of it. Next Tuesday's weekly installment will be the story of this scenic picture and what I was doing there. Can you feel the suspense?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

spell my name with an S

No one can tell me if it should be "Balkanabat" with a "t" or "Balkanabad" with a "d". I have seen it both ways online, on maps, and even at work, where depending on the business system being used, the spelling is different.

Edit: The "d" or "t" issue is a common one. There are many names that could end with either letter including the given names of many people. I've seen plenty of people with names spelled both ways.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

three weeks in - base and camp

This is not a typical desert when it comes to the temperature cycle. New Mexico was classic high desert. Hot during the day and cold at night. Temperatures would easily drop 15 degC, sometimes over 20 degC from day to night. Here, it stays warm during the night with very little cooling after the sun goes down. A couple nights ago, it was even warmer a few hours after sunset than it was a couple hours earlier. I am not sure what causes this heat retention but rest assured that I have assigned top people on my payroll to find out. There have also been a few nights worth of windstorms that kick up in the evening and blow all night long. Those seem to lead to hazy sandstorms and reduced visibility, but I can't seem to connect why. Being back in a desert makes me realize how much I disliked the constant humidity of Gabon. Everything there had a sticky feel that I never enjoyed, especially my clothes against my skin.

Also about Gabon, I sometimes referred to the grouping of housing units that were being built for international employees as a "housing compound" which apparently made it sound sinister and well-fortified. I can assure you that it was neither of those things. I'm not even sure how it could be viewed as sinister unless one counts apathetic craftsmanship as a sinister plot designed to undermine the efficient use of interior space and long-term structural stability. As for fortifications, the gate guard would probably wave through anyone who looked like they were pretending to deliver something and people freely walked through the area. However, it was safe place so it wasn't something that concerned me.

Here, I will try not to say compound. Instead I will say "base" and "camp". The "base" is the overall work area including the offices and workshops and storage areas. Of course, now I am wondering if using the word base makes this place sound semi-fortified. Site security is appropriate given the generally safe security situation. This is a small, quiet city and we are on the outskirts by the railroad tracks. There's not much here of immediate value to people either so gate security to keep wanderers out is about all we need. The "camp" is the portion of the base where the expatriate employees live. And again, you might conjure up images of tents and camp fires and perhaps banjos. If you did, you are miserably wrong. If you're clever enough with your google-fu, you can probably find this place on Google Maps and figure out which portion of the overall base that the camp represents. In fact, someone listed this base on foursquare. The mayor has checked in twice!

In addition to the frogs I have mentioned before, there are also cats! I have not put together detailed profiles on each of them, but I have seen at least four different ones, made obvious by them being four different colors. Well, someone could be getting their jollies by painting the same cat a different color each day, but that doesn't seem like a local custom.

This will be an interesting week at work for reasons I will be frustratingly vague about, but it's a variation of the classic temporarily short-handed problem. Suffice to say, I will probably be skimping on the blogging during the week and expect pieces of a light and frivolous nature, or at least more so than normal. Ideas and notes are constantly making their way into drafts, but I may not have time to fully form them for the next week.

Monday, July 04, 2011

fiddling with the layout

I'll be fiddling with the layout for a little bit. Trying to change a couple items. Feedback welcome, though implementation may be an issue.

Edit: To be clear, this is of course all template stuff provided by blogger. I am only looking to make a few tweaks and must pretend to muck around in the html to find the code I want to add/remove.

not a holiday

In news that should surprise no one except my twitter alter ego, the 4th of July is not a public holiday here and they do not seem likely to blow up a tiny piece of their country to celebrate its independence. Instead, I get to work from this nice list of public holidays in Turkmenistan to know when the people here are most likely to be partying. Melon Day looks quite tasty, but it seems I will miss it by a few days as I will have rotated back Stateside just a couple days prior.

Friday, July 01, 2011

small validation

I just found out a bit of validating news. While I was in Gabon, we had a new trainee arrive who I was skeptical of from the start. I don't know who exactly recruited him, but I had a bad feeling about him almost immediately based on his whole bearing. He wasn't a bad person, but he was clearly a bad fit for the company. It's hard to explain succinctly but he just seemed too weak to make it through the field. Perhaps that sounds a bit arrogant to use a word like "weak" but it does take a certain amount of mental and physical fortitude to be in the field and I just did not see it in him. And lo and behold, I was told he quit as soon as he came back from his first field rotation.

I learned, largely through mistakes I made when I worked in Texas, about trusting my instinct about people when it comes to recruiting and hiring. It's a judgement call and my judgement has improved with time. I have been here long enough to see a lot of people come and go at work and plenty have washed-out along the way. People will sometimes surprise you, but hiring is ultimately a statistical process. Good fits do better and succeed and grow and stay. Bad fits do poorly and usually quit and it's best not to take fliers on bad fits. You're better off with no one at all than someone who doesn't end up working out.