Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Goodbye Lima

We're in Lima to continue the handover with the
guy that's replacing me in my current job. We came
a day early to try and do some tourist stuff, but to go
and see machu pichu really takes at least 3 days which means
we'll have to be satisfied with seeing it on the national geographic

We did go see the magic fountain park here which is pretty nice.
It would be more fun if it was hot, but the weather here is pretty
cold due to the humboldt current coming up from antartica, so it is
cold like New Orleans is in the winter, humid and cold. That feels a lot
worse than the dryer cold you feel in Bogota, and it is certainly too
cold to frolic in fountains.

The main fountains are pretty nice, one is the tallest in the world
apparently, and they do dancing air powered fountains like the bellagio
in vegas. The different thing they do is a light show with lasers and
a projection on the mist from the fountains that is pretty cool.

We could do that at the office, show up with a mist machine and a projector
at the client's office and project emotional presentations about drilling
on the mist. Give them a quick "sorry about the mess" and scoot out with
an emotion driven sale.

We're staying on the coast in Miraflores
which has some nice views. The people at
the Marriott were super nice after we moved
here from Los Delfines. (supposedly a nice
hotel but really just expensive with dolphins.
they gave us a crappy smelly room, then when
we tried to leave early they wanted to charge us
half a day.) Here's some negative googlejuice:
Los Delfines Lima suck, los delfines Lima suck.

View from
the Marriott
looking down the
coast to the

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dancing with Death

Bob the On-Screen Scientist recently wrote some stories about brushes with
that he's had. I'm not as good a writer as he is, but I have had a
few near misses that if they had gone slightly differently I could have been
squished, broken or splattered.

The most recent was a near car wreck we had on I-10 back in 2004,
and it was one of the first things I blogged about. If it hadn't been for
the company's defensive driving training that is manic about looking in
the mirror when braking, we would have been the white part of a tractor-
trailor oreo.

I've had some near misses working on oil rigs over 15 years. It is much safer
working on the rigs today, when I started in 1991 there was still a macho attitude
that we had to do dangerous things rather than ask the roughnecks that worked
up in the derrick to do them for us. Now safety programs amongst the rig crews
enforce pussification for them as well, and something that is clearly dangerous
can be called dangerous.

For our equipment to work we need several sensors installed on the rig floor
and up in the derrick. Since one of the sensors costs around $2k and can be
destroyed by over-torqueing, it was company policy that we had to ride up on
air hoists to install them (nothing was more important than safety, except $2000).
The rig hands go up in the derrick on a daily basis, but I typically went up in the
derrick every two or three months, which meant that I was never really good at
it and in the few dozen times I did it I was scared every time.

One time around 1995 I was sent out with an Indian trainee. I did what was
normal for my position, I asked the trainee to go up in the derrick and install
the sensor, but he said [indian accent on] "oh no, that would be very dangerous and
I don't want to do it" [IA off]. I was stuck in the intermediate position of not wanting
to call him a pussy to get him to do it, but not wanting go up in the derrick. Finally
I said "fine, I'll do it", and stomped off to put on a riding harness.

One way to get up in the derrick is a ladder that goes up to the monkeyboard where
the derrickman works to rack drillpipe. The other way to go up in the derrick is a riding
harness, which is a belt with a small wooden chair to sit on, or the safer versions with
a belt and loops around the thighs and shoulders connected to a wire rope via a big
d-ring. The cable is picked up and lowered by a small air hoist on the rig floor, and it
runs over a sheave in the derrick. The highly trained operator is whichever roughneck
is not busy doing something else, usually the newest guy.

On that particular rig, the standpipe where I had to install the sensor was outside the
derrick, so I would have to go up 90 ft or so, climb out to the outside of the derrick then
be lowered down to the place to install the sensor. So I had the brilliant idea that instead
of carrying the connector cable with me, they could lower me down to the rig floor, I'd pick
up just the end I needed and quickly zoom back up to the top. done.

Everything went ok until I climbed outside the derrick and was lowered down. The cable
hooked on something, so even though more cable was paying out, I was sitting still while
a loop of cable was quickly growing in front of my eyes. I was screaming "whoa" and waving
my arms, then I tried "fucking whoa" and the roughneck stopped the airhoist. I could see
the loop was at least 10 feet of loose cable, and I had enough time to wonder if the leg loops
would hold me when I fell or if I would fall hard enough to squirt out like a watermelon seed
from my restraints, then fall the other 60 feet to the rig floor. Whatever was holding the cable
up stopped holding it, and the loop of cable was free. I started to fall and I could hear a high pitched girly scream coming from somewhere that ended with a "woomph" when I hit the
end of the cable. I swung around for a second then the roughneck started to lower me again.
Still alive!

Now I had to face my stupid idea. The outside of the derrick isn't vertical it's sloping outward
to it's base. I thought I could push off and sort of rappel down, but falling had pulled up the
harness so that I really couldn't push with my legs. So I basically crawled down the face
of the derrick, like an inept spiderman, almost hanging up a couple more times.

I got down and was exhausted. My Indian trainee said [indian accent on] "Joe, that
was very harrowing". [IA off]

Friday, May 16, 2008

Crazy Atoms

One of the advantages of shifting back into fucked up career mode
is that I have more time to read weblogs. Since lately I'm spending
a lot more time waiting while a slow-ass scroll bar inches across the
screen, rather than proactively functionalizing a team enhancing
flowchart, I can surf around the web and read whatever crap that
doesn't flash up a nsfw picture.

One of the funniest is MadAtoms, which appears to be made up of
struggling actors and writers, and almost every post can cause a
cappuchino out the nose moment. [best post: I Would Do Anything for Love
…But No Way In Hell Can I Do That

Another good weblog that is pretty much nsfw is hobo-stripper.
When I was single I spent almost all my money on strippers, the rest
I wasted. So a weblog about a stripper/hobo/goddess is always interesting to me.

I found and lost a website where an artist is drawing cartoons describing peoples
dreams that readers submit. I spent several moments googling it, and I can't find it
so now I'm wondering if I dreamt it. I wasted an hour earlier in the week while I down
loaded some software reading a couple of years of comics drawn based on peoples
dreams, and it was fantastically accurate. All the dreams I've had this trip are
too weird to post in public, so I think I won't send any of my dreams when I find that
link again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Solar power

Rand Simberg has an interesting article on solar power
being generated by a new technique by a company called
Sunrgi. I have some doubts, here's what i commented:

my bet is that the sunrgi system is vaporware.

I took a solar installation class about 7 years ago and someone in the class asked why concentrators weren't used to focus sunlight on the pv panels. The instructor said that the thermal characteristic of solar cells gives higher resistance at higher temperatures, and you really want to do everything you can during the design phase to keep the array cool.
I think this would be a low efficiency pv with some solar thermal mixed in. Since they specifically mention their cooling system extends cell life, they are probably (rightly) worried that the higher temp will degrade the cells. The economics of pv depends on the panels lasting 30 years, if you have to disassemble an array with a bunch of lenses on top every 5 years and replace the modules, it's not going to be cheap. [pv cost/hr = (equipment + installation)/ (# of hours the system will work) + maintenance] (it works like an oil well, you spend $20k to build a system, it give you 5 hours of full power per day for 30 years]. eg, for a 2KW pv that cost $20k over 30 years = $.18/kWh.

of course I hope their product is perfect and I can stick a 4 kw plant in my backyard in 5 years for $30k.


The main problems with PV are still the same ones that it has always
had, it is really expensive to generate a lot of electricity and it's really expensive to store electricity. If you want 500 watts available 24 hours you can do that
for $10000, but if you want 4000 watts available 24 hours, then you
need to cover a lot of space with pv, and store it somewhere. As the
batteries scale up, things get expensive. It's too expensive to run A/C with PV.

The best way to do solar power is look at the loads first, use gas for
thermal loads, use fluorescents for lighting and get rid of thief loads
like instant on tv's and vcrs. Turn off everything at the power strip
when not in use. Now that you've improved things by 5%, tackle the
real problem, which is Air conditioning. If you live in the mountains
or in the northeast, you're done, size the panels for your reduced electric
load and use a line-tie system. If you're in the southeast, look at a
groundcoupled heatpump, or go back to the ceiling fans on the front
porch technique.

What is really going to drive this revolution is extremely high power costs.
People aren't like oil companies that see an 8% return as good deal, people
want instant certain payback, and that will only happen when pv is cheaper
than oil with a repayment cost in just a couple of years, not 22. Plug in hybrids
will be another driver, when people can use a huge battery pack and charge it
from the roof, that'll make things change.

If the price of oil can stay high for another 5 years, then the US will be radically
different at the end of that time power-wise. The more likely outcome will be
that the economy will continue to slow, we'll stop buying plastic chinese crap, then
they'll slow down, and the price of oil will head back to 12 dollars, resetting the
system again at 1980.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

In Italy only the pizza can hear you scream

I'm in Italy, and if everything goes ok we'll move over here
in a month or so. If everything doesn't go ok I'll finally get a chance
to demonstrate my entrepreneurial skills cleaning windshields on highway
59 in sugarland. My previous assignment is ending, and I don't think I'll get
any tropies for the job I did, not even a participation trophy. Oh well.

It's always funny how the jobs that you really work at aren't the ones
where you're recognized as doing a lot of work. It's possible to skate
through a whole year, but really nail one presentation where a boss that
matters is there and suddenly you're a genius, or you work dog hard traveling
all over the world doing shit that's not part of your job, and suddenly you're
happy to stay on doing the job of dishwasher.

The sadness of having to kill my dog, and being away from my family and
the last job ending on such a low note has built up all week. Now I'm holed
up in my hotel room drinking kieffer brau, which was the cheapest beer that
the grocery store sold and faced with the realization that I bought a six pack
of beer when a suitcase was called for.

Oh woe betide the country that doesn't sell oversized easy to carry boxes with 18, 24 or 36 beers! They shalt not dwell in drunkland nor pass out with the tv at full volume,
sleeping until the cleaning lady knocks to see if the crazy gringo croaked.
(and that's just after 3 beers, just think what crap I'll write when I'm wound up.
my mouse needs a breathalyser for later)

The food here in Ravenna seems to alternate between fantastic and pizza.
Since I keep screwing up and not arriving from work before everything closes,
pizza seems to be the only option every night. It's good pizza, it's just I seem
to be eating an awful lot of it. I did have some super fantastic gnoche and
insalata de pollo in the plaza di popolo earlier in the week, but I tried to repeat
that today and they had already closed at 2:30 pm. doh!

It is nice to be someplace that is extremely secure and I can just wander around
half lost. If you wander around half lost in bogota you are asking to be taken
for a paseo millionario. Here everyone is so old, I'm pretty confident I could take
them using breadsticks as weapons.

Here is a typical Ravenna street
scene, where I am one of the few
pedestrians and everyone else
has a bike. Apparently there are
free bikes for use here, but I don't
know if those are just random bikes
in racks or specific racks, and I don't
know enough italian to ask.

I don't want some old guy with a
breadstick chasing after me as
I ride off on his bike, so I'm sticking
with walking so far.