30 September 2008

Dwain and Henry – A guide to the current financial crisis.

Henry is a very rich banker from New York who votes republican so that he can get richer. Dwain is a dude from Ohio, he has a limited grasp on geography. He has heard of someplace called Europe, although he can't point to it on the map or tell you what the capital city is called. Dwain also votes republican but he is not sure why, somebody told him it was the patriotic thing to do and he knows he’s defiantley a patriot. Dwain is on welfare, he his 5 children by 4 mothers, a big pickup and a bad hair do.

Henry is smart, very smart. One day he was trying to dream up ways of getting even richer and he came up with a cunning plan. Since nobody else would lend Dwain any money to buy a house, he figured that he could and then he could charge Dwain extra interest, especially if payments were deferred for a few years. Now Dwain doesn’t really have much of a long perspective, he plans for the end of the week when he’ll drink a few beers and maybe the up coming holiday when he’ll go and shot stuff with his buddies. So when Henry says “have $500000 get a nice house and pay it back in a couple of years", he just thinks – cool, so long as it has a big garage!

Is Henry worried that Dwain won’t be able to make the repayments? Nope, this the smart bit. He packages up the debt, with lots of others like it, hides the downside and sells it on to the Northern Cock Bank in England as a high return investment. He is out of trouble and has made loads of money out of both Dwain and Northern Cock. Northern Cock are also happy because lots of investors in other banks in England are saying, wow look at Northern Cock, they are getting better returns than us, I want some of that. So lots of other banks buy similar packages from Henry and his buddies.

And what about the people who are supposed to regulate all this? Well Mr George and his mate Alan believe that this things are better left to sort themselves out and anyway, Henry votes republican and donates to George's birthday party - so he must be a good guy. George is a bit simple and can only concentrate on one thing at a time and he is far to busy funneling tax payers money to his mate Cheney, via lots of dodgy dealings in Iraq.

So everything goes unchecked until one day when Dwain has to decide between a very expensive repayment on his home loan or a new pick-up and he thinks to himself "damn those alloy wheels look fine". So he defers on the debt, Northern Cock goes belly up and the whole World comes crashing down.

As for Henry – he doesn't care because he is hanging out in his beach house in Gran Camen, drinking a cocktail and spending his inordinately huge bonus.

27 September 2008

Crossing the road - Scandinavian style

Stunning video on the BBC website of two Swedish girls on the M6 in Britian who, despite the best efforts of the Police kept hurling themselves into the road and getting run over.

It all seems pretty baffling at first, esepecially to the viewers back in blighty. What on earth where they thinking?

However the explanation is already here, buried deep in the compost of karmasotra.

They are Scandinavian sacred cows and as such, they know that they have an absolute, cosmically derived, right to step in to the traffic and it will not harm them. Just like the pedestrians who jump onto the crossings in Bergen and Oslo, they know that are immune to moving traffic.

This is proven by the fact that despite one of them being hit by a truck and another being hit three times by cars, they are both now fine!

Long Way Down

Our favorite whinging thespians get another 5 million quid to go on a bike tour and feel sorry for themselves. Then they write a book to cash in even more...

This one was actually much better than the last (longway round). If one were cynical (perish the thought) you might suggest that their agents have said "look boys, most people would kill to have the opportunity to ride around the world so your continued moaning and self pity doesn't come across as "honesty" it just makes you look stupid and a bit pathetic".

Well whatever the reason they spend a lot of the book telling us how lucky they are and saying how much they are enjoying themselves - regardless of whether they are riding through a hellish sandstorm in Libya or squabbling about their itinerary. So in that sense its a significant improvement on the last one.

The good bits -
Taken at face value, its a boys own adventure of travelling through Europe and Africa on BMWs. As such it is infinately better TV entertainment than the inane cretins on Big Smoother, shit soaps or Gorden fuckin Ramsey and it also makes for a good read
They are pretty good at describing the countries they pass through and giving a feeling for it all.
They charity stuff is genuinely moving and they are doing an excellent job of raising awareness.

The annoying bits -
They keep talking about how its just the two of them on this great adventure - we all know that Claudio the camera is there the whole time, he must get pretty pissed off with them both.
The pay little heed to the real adventures they meet along the way, people without a massive budget and no support crew doing exactly the same journey.
Ewan Macgregor’s wife
If they wanted to start at the top of Europe why didn't they go Nord Kapp?

Anyway better than expected and worth a couple of hours to read... I think it will be interesting when Claudio or even Russ Makin publish their version of the trips - now that would be worth reading.

25 September 2008


A brief thought experiment:
  • A recent study conducted by Aberdeen University found that the average Scotsman walks about 900 miles a year
  • Another study by the Scottish Medical Association found that Scotsmen drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year.
  • This means, on average, Scotsmen get about 41 mpg (miles per gallon). 41 mpg is 6.9 liters per 100 km for all you metric europeans.

Pretty efficient, especially when you consider the they will operate on all sorts of really cheap shitte (e.g. buckfast).

Interesting, but it gets better
  • There are approximately 8760 hours in a year
  • Therefore the average speed of a Scotsman is 900/8760 = 0.1 mph
Kinda slow...

Now according to the BBC, the slowest mammal on Earth is the three toed sloth which does....

You guessed it... 0.1 mph

From that I think we can safely conclude that

Scotsman are sloths wrapped in tartan travel blankets, but they are cheaper to run than a Ford Focus

Thanks to Dan for the initial data

24 September 2008

A warning to all you drinkers out there...

As Aris said when he sent it around - would this really stop you drinking?

Norwegian Girls are blonde – it’s scientifically proven

A couple of years ago I agreed to do the “skål for damen” (literally toast for the ladies) at the faculty Christmas party. I said yes to this without really knowing what I was letting myself in for, so when I started asked people for advice they just looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern. The more constructive ones suggested that it was a bit of a minefield, you had to be funny, but not offensive. Not offensive but not patronising. Not patronising but not pathetic. I was starting to worry. Now it was obvious why I got the task, nobody else was dumb enough to volunteer. I worked this over and hit upon a plan. I am a scientist, this is a University, I’ll hide behind some research…

So I emailed all the guys I knew and asked them to return 5 adjectives that came to mind when they heard the phrase “Norwegian Girl”. I then collated the results and subdivided them into 3 groups: guys who had never been to Norway or maybe just visited once; ex-pats who lived in Norway and, Norwegians. The results were very interesting and formed the basis for the speech where I introduce the concept and then returned the results by group:

Foreigners (mainly Brits) who had never lived in Norway
Blonde! Was the most common adjective, followed by beautiful, sexy, pretty, sporty etc , coupled with available, free and promiscuous. The overall perception was universally positive, an image of beautiful, liberal mind, Valkerie maidens.

Expats living in Norway
For this group blonde was once again top of the list! They also agreed that these women were pretty, beautiful, sexy and so forth but a few negative terms crept in. Some used phrases like strong-minded and independent (arguable not negative traits) while others resorted to the more definatly negetive stroppy, stubborn, bitchy etc. The promiscuity of the group was also brought in to question by some respondents, who presumably had more experience on the matter than their overseas cousins and replied with cold, cock-teasing and frigid.

Norwegian Men
Blonde was once again the number one response. This is odd because, while it is true for eastern Norway, on the west coast the Scandinavian gene pool has long be diluted by the dark eyes and dark hair of the Iberic sailors and traders of the middle ages, to the extent that only about half the population is now actually blonde. But regardless of the facts, Blonde was their observation. They also agreed, broadly speaking that Norwegain girls are pretty and beautiful but beyond that they split into two very clear groups. The first group were the patriotic Norwegian males who unashamedly believed their women were the best in the world – strong, athletic, independent, sexy, intelligent etc. The second group came with some unexpected responses and extremely negetive phrases including shallow, manipulative, bitchy, frigid, childish etc. That was a bit shocking, especially since I know these people!

So the conclusion of the research was
1. All Norwegians girls are blonde!
2. Everyone thinks they are beautiful
3. They look better from a distance, the further away the group, the less negetive the response
4. They have a strong independent streak which is valued differently by different groups. Some (expats) see it as a negative trait – stroppy, while others (Norwegian males) see it as a positive thing. This is probably because they have been beaten into thinking that way by strong women ;-)
4. Some Norwegian men are very bitter
5. If Norwegian girls want to be fully appreciated they should move to England

And that was the basis for the talk and I made it out of the hall alive and in one piece so maybe they are not that scary after all…

22 September 2008

Laser scanning in Cantabria - techno music and techno wank

Headed south to Bilbao for a couple of days field with Simon and Toby ze german. The plan was to test Toby’s hyperspectral laser scanner on some fault related dolomites which are well exposed in Cantabria. This fieldwork can only be done in bright sunshine – yes that is correct we have managed to find work that can only be undertaken when its nice a sunny – it’s a tough life.

This project is the pinnacle of “Technowank”. We scan the outcrop with a laser scanner to produce a 3D realization of the cliff sections. Then we scan it again with a hyperspectral scanner which maps the spectral absorption of the long infer-red light bands and allows you to remotely map the distribution of minerals in the cliff section. Basically you point it at a cliff and after whirring and beeping for a few minutes it tells you all about the geology.

Only minor point is that it isn’t exactly pocket sized. No longer can a geologist go to the field with a notebook, hammer and compass. Now you need 5 large pelicases, 3 tripods, 2 lap tops and a generator. When we arrived at Bilbao airport the car hire guy upgraded us from a Citreon Zafera to a “Dodge Avenger”, for not apparent reason othe than we looked like the sort of people who should be driving something called an Avenger. The car is as butch and crap as the name suggests. We then went back and tried to explain it wasn’t big enough (as in boot space) so the guy upgraded us again, this time to a 3 series BWM, which might be great for impressing Essex girls and wankers at the golf club but once again doesn’t have much of a boot. So after much pleading we managed to get downgraded back to the people carrier which had enough space for all the kit.

Toby has seen the outcrops before but I hadn’t. I was very pleased to be shown a disused quarry with some very impressive cut faces, ideal for the scanning. The quarry itself had been turned into an open air theater and had some very funky acoustics and a small visitor center by the entrance. From the quarry we went to get the generator which was booked, only to find the shop owner had gone on holiday. After a couple of hours we tracked down another but I was slightly concerned that the locals might be upset by the noise we were going to make in their quarry.

Next day we drove back up the mountain to the quarry. The valley was full of cloud but as we climbed above it the views were fantastic. We hide the jeni around the back and did some excellent scans from the rim of the quarry where the funky acoustic completely hid the sound. Then we scanned from behind the visitor center using the batteries. All day car and even coach loads of people went into the ticket hut but very few people came into the quarry. It was all rather Dr Who.

As said the scanner needs bright sunlight so once the side diappeared behind the mountain we went off to reccy some other outcrops. We visited a small village called Matienzo which I realized that I had been in back in 1991 with Mark H and Kev B when we biked around northern Spain. Mark had spent several summers there caving and was keen to visit again so we had camped the night. Now 17 years later I was back and was delighted to see that it was still full of shouting mad old basque guys playing noisy card games in the bar.

That night we went for food in Loredo and there was a fiesta going on, lots of fireworks and a great medieval procession through the town. The Spanish love this sort of thing and its great to watch, even when you see a crusader Knight on his mobile phone or a damsel dragging on her cigarette – all very authentic . We got back to out hotel to find out that the hard core techno part of the fiesta was in the square just outside and went on til 5am – oh joy!

Next day we drove up the mountain to another stunning cloud inversion. Scanned again inside the quarry while coach loads of people arrived in the visitor center. Over come by curiosity I went into the center, paid 5 Euros which seemed a bit steep for a small shed and went in. I figured, I don’t know what is going to happen but this many people can’t be wrong. And they were not, it was actually the entrance to some very impressive show caves! Another mystery solved. Toby said that he had spent ten days here before with a group of geologists from Statoil and a Belgian University and they hadn’t realized there was any caves! Yes really.

At this point we realized that nobody cared if we ran the generator in the quarry as that was not why they all drove up the mountain. So we were able to scan through the day. We got some excellent results until the scanner packed up at, just as the sun was going down.

Back to Lerado for food and there was a big display of fire eating, juggling, theatricals and most bizarrely bag pipe music, to wrap up the fiesta. I have never seen bag pipes in Spain before but maybe there is some sort of historic NW Atlantic link between the Celts and the Basques? Whatever the reason the old medieval town was a great setting to watch and the crowd, from little kids, right through to very old folk seemed to love it. This aspect of Spain is just fantastic, as is sitting outside eating and drinking in a t-shirt in late September.

Was dreading going back to the hotel and another night of very load music, and sure enough when we got back it was all going off on the stage. Then just as I climbed into bed and started to pull the pillow over my head it all stopped. Thank you, thank you thank you!

Monday we got the scanner going again and I headed by to Bergen, leaving the boys with another 5 days fieldwork. Shit journey back courtesy of the Luftwaffe via some small sheds in the middle of Germany, after delays got back at 12.30 sans luggage.

Back to reality. The up coming week is gonna be hell, Bergen tonight, London tomorrow night, back to Bergen and then Stavanger at the end of the week. Bring on the weekend!

21 September 2008

Techno isn’t dead

Fantastic news. It has recently been reported that Euro-techno was extinct. I am delighted to be able to tell you that it has been sighted (well heard at least)in North West Spain. The sighting can be confirmed by my colleagues Simon and Toby.

Hard core euro-techno of the 200bpm and shouting DJ “Scooter are you readdddddy?” variety was believed to have died out shortly after the turn of the century, replaced by thrashy, out of tune, floppy haired indy guiter music. It is with great reflief that I can report that the electronic beats were not exterminated, simply displaced south, from the industrial heartlands of northern Europe to the rolling green hills and medieval towns of the Basque homeland where they are alive, well and very much kicking.

We made this discovery by accident. After a pretty full day in the field we headed to a nice sea front restaurant, then the bar and then bed by midnight. Perilously oblivious to the fact that across the square from our hotel was a stage. At about half past midnight the DJ fired himself, his sound system and his crowd of 50 glow torch waving skin heads into a frenzy which continued at breath-taking volume and ferocity until about 5am. Just what you need to set you up for another long day of field work.

20 September 2008

Hurrican Ike - full report from our Houston correspondent

Had a great e-mail from Roy Fitz. telling what it was like to be in Houston while Hurrican Ike was giving it a pounding. The entire mail is below - Cheers Roy.
Hurricane Ike

They shut the office on Thursday morning. By that time there was already a mandatory evacuation order for Galveston and the Bolivar Penninsula, though they still thought the storm would hit south of here and we would see more of the rain than the wind. We had two days to get ready, but most of the work was done after the early warnings had meant that our drill was pretty slick. The roads were pretty quiet, as most people decided to stay (even in the mandatory evac areas they reckon at least 50% stayed put).

It seemed like ages for the strom to arrive. Got the kids to camp out down stairs in the internal hall, and though the wind was getting up by 11 there was no rain.

The electricity went out around three - when the eye was over Houston. The double glazing kept the noise down to a low roar, but looking out the tree's were blowing about like crazy.

Went back to sleep and woke to the rain/wind around 7.00. Everything outside was green, as so many leaves and small branches had came down. Across our property only a couple of biggest branches came down. However, when I walked out to the main road some real big oaks had come crashing down, one tree also had all of its upper limbs twisted off.

After everyone got up we went for a wander - more trees were down but remarkably only one had hit a house (so our neighbourhood got off lightly). Everyone sounded pretty relieved. As more info came in on the radio it sounded that the damage was bad down at the bay and along the coast. Downtown had taken plenty of abuse with lots of windows in the skyscrapers smashed up. The radio was dominated by emergency annoucements and people with home remedies.

The water went off at around 12 - and was expected to be out for 36-48hrs - then after that you would have to boil everything as they reckoned it would be contaminated. We went out that evening for a drive - a couple of places still had power and were open but the queues were massive. Luckily having a pot burner on the barbie and planty of stoves.

By this time it was a good idea to get out of dodge - so we drove up to Austin to stay with Murray - kids now treating whole thing as a holiday. I came back on Monday evening - local area pandamonium - some shops on the main arteries had power but rather than park cars and walk all the bozos were still trying to use the drive thrus.

Power was off so not a lot could be done. However, the temp had dropped as a cold front came thru and the weather was almost chilly. Ened up getting up at 4 the next moring to start tidying up - broke the curfew by dredging the pool. Spent the whole of Tuesday cleaning up. First reports coming in of how whole communities had been erased (Crystal Beach, Gilcrist etc) - since no one knew who had evac'd they don't have a clue how many are missing - go on the NOAA site for some great shots of the coast after the storm - see how ravinement works (for the geos!).

Water pressure ramped back up and the power came on yesterday evening - lynda and the kids home then. Camping out in your own house was pretty weird but very 18th century - would have been better if all the pricks hadn't been running generators in the neighborhood.

Came to work today and heard all sorts of war stories. Lynda called at 9.30 to say the power was off - some tubes cutting trees had brought one down on the line…..

Some neighborhoods are not expecting power for another 3 weeks. Petrol is scare and all people are looking for is ice!

Needless to say the pricks are sitting up all night with there guns hoping that someone will try and steal there generator!!

19 September 2008

Back to Spain and running from the police...

After a fairly full on week in the office I have come back to northern Spain for 4 days of field work. In Cantabria with Simon and Toby looking at dolomites with our new hyper spectral scanner.

Will post more when I am not so knackered in the meantime here is a story from a few years back...

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! I look down at the speedo and it registers just over the ton, not so fast but considering I am in a 30mph zone and I just got all four wheels in the air as I passed a cop car lurking in the shadows … FUCK!

A quick glance in the mirror shows a burst of activity in the otherwise darkened astra. Huh, this guy must have been asleep or pretty close to it. It is after midnight and this is the middle of bum fuck nowhere, Mid Wales. I am probably the first car he has seen for an hour – and now I am going to make is evening, probably his month, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!

Heading from Liverpool to Pembrokeshire, it’s a four an a half to five hour journey but I am late and I have no intention of spending that long on it. There is a beer and a bed waiting for me at the other end and I have had a very long week. Its late at night, the roads are empty, it’s a clear dry evening and I grew up driving on these roads. I was driving on roads like this before I had a license, I love these roads. The car is not the best, nothing special but its fairly new and quick enough. Four an half hours, fuck that I’m gonna get there are fast as I can.

That was until I went through that tiny village, crested the brow of the hill and saw the police car hiding in the blackened out pub car park. Sneaky bastard! But there isn’t much point hiding out if you are going to fall asleep on the job.

I look in the mirror, the village and the pub car park are in the distance, far back and disappearing fast. No sign of Mr Plod yet. I contemplate what to do, my heart is racing. Maybe he won’t come, maybe he can’t be arsed. Hope, pray!

I look back again and while I stare into the mirror I see the tell tale blue flashers come on. FUCK! But they are a long way back and my mind is racing. I wouldn’t normally take a chase, especially in a car like this! Maybe on the bike but not in a VW Passat. No, I am pretty law abiding, 3 points and a fine is better than a ban and a jail term. Three points is part of the deal, you drive fast, they give you some points and its on you way. Everyone knows that’s the way it works and as for the fine, its just another tax. You go fast and from time to time they tax you. That’s life.

So my mind is racing, if I stop immediately will that make me look good, on the ball? A nice guy? Maybe play the doctor card? If I don’t stop it will definatly piss him off. But then again, at those speeds he's gonna roger me whatever and why should I pull over before he catches up with me? He must be at least 3 miles behind me, fuck it I can only see him occasionally, and that because I am looking. Bollocks to it, I’ll stop when he catches me up – if he catches me up.

This spurs me on, I switch off the music and concentrate. Push a bit harder, breaking later and a bit heavier into the bends, faster and more aggressive out of them, drawing on my past, watching the signs, following the line of the hedge in the distance, studying the road surface, feel the wheels, just on the breakout point in the corners, screeching ever so slightly. Concentrate, drive fast but smooth, nothing too jerky, stay in control, the last thing you want is to end up in the hedge. I look in the mirror at the end of the long straight, yep he is still coming. He must be thrashing the arse off the astra – ha ha ha! This is actually fun. I’ll stop when he catches me up – if he catches me up.

This goes on and on. Progressively I notice he is falling further and further back! Wanker! These are his roads, this is his patch, he should be better than this. My heart is still racing – I am waiting for the chopper to appear. Do they have one in this part of the world? Does it fly at night? If so then I am fucked. Has he been on the radio, will his mate be waiting up ahead? I know that in these rural parts there are very few coppers on duty, but you can never be sure.

Occasionally I look down smaller side roads. I consider trying to pull off and kill the lights, let him pass. But its risky. I don’t know the roads and if I do that and get caught I’ll never be able to say Sorry officer I didn’t see you behind me, was concentrating on driving

Anyway I am making ground on him, my driving is smooth a fluid, sometimes it just comes together and this is one of those times, hit every bend on the racing line, tyres stick to the dry tarmac and flooring it in the straights, hitting 120, 130. Its only a diesal passat but it rises to the challenge.

After 15 minutes of high octane adventure I approach the outskirst of Cardigan, a small town. I hit a roundabout with 4 exits and take the one to Pembroke Dock. I slow right down and relax. There is no way he will know which way I have come, in fact this is probably the least obvious of the choices – fuck me I got away with it. Drive slow, don’t want to attract any attention, at least to the other side of town.

I arrive in Narberth 20 minutes later. My boss asks me how the drive was. I tell him I did it in 3 hours, he doesn’t believe me till I show me the petrol receipt from Liverpool with the time showing 9:56, its now ten to one. That is 177 miles in less than three hours on some very shitty roads. He laughs, buys me a beer at the camp site bar and calls me an idiot! I don’t tell him I had some help along the way because its his car!

17 September 2008

Ghost Rider by Neil Peart

Just finished Neil Peart's book Ghostrider.

Peart is the drummer and lyricist with Rush and in the mid 90's his life was pretty much perfect, international rock star, great house by a lake, place in the Caribean, nice family etc. Then suddenly, it all went to shit and he lost is daughter in a car crash and then, 9 months later, his wife to cancer.

So, to deal with the pain he got on to his trusty GS1150 and rode and then rode some more. And he just kept riding, all around North America, from Canada, up to Alaska, down the west coast, through the Rockies down into Baja and across to the rest of Mexico. This book deals with his travels and the healing process he went through.

As a motorcycle travelog it is pretty good, although he comes across as a bit of a wimp at times he covers some long miles and is a good observer of the countryside he passes through. He fell in love with some of my favorite places in the western US, Moab, Canyonlands etc and his writing on Baja is pretty inspiring.

But the book is not just a a story about a bloke on a BM and much of the story is written as letters and extracts from letters to friends, especially his pal Brutus who has just been busted with a lorry load of dope - opps! To be honest I found these pretty tedious to read and actually quite repetitive, I caught myself sighing and having to force myself on when I turned a page and saw another "dear Brutus" sub heading.

The other place at which the book failed for me was at the end. He basically just stops riding and then in an epilog we are told that he feel in love again, got married, started back with the band and basically got himself sorted. It would have been great to follow that journey through, that is the real uplift to the story and it felt, at least to me like he just got bored of writing and did the last 2 years in 5 pages.

So I am really split on this one. Part of my enjoyed the book and would say it was essential reading if you love western North America, bikes and have any interest in Rush, other part of me feels its drawn out, indulgent and only half a story.

I guess you need to make up your own mind, I am just about to embark on Long Way Down, which if it is anything like its predessor will involve huge vats of self indulgant whinning and self pity from a couple of thespian tossers who only have a 5 million quid budget and 20 person support crew to ease the sufferring they endure when they miss their families while completing another once in life time, epic, trip.

Why do I feel compelled to ride books about people on bikes. I blame it on Jupiters Travels - the orginal and by far and away still the best.

16 September 2008

Ten things I love about living in Norway...

Just in case anyone thinks that all I do is moan all the time, in no particular order...

1. Relaxed pace of life, fantastic work life balance
2. Wide open space and a sparse population. The scenery is absolutely stunning and there are not that many people cluttering it up.
3. Great opportunities for out door activities – climbing, kayaking, boarding, walking, etc.
4. There are very low crime rates
5. There is a good welfare state and everyone is taken care of irrespective of whether they are unfortunate or just lazy.
6. The people are genuinely open and have a complete lack of cynicism.
7. There is a total lack of “scallies” i.e. people who want to rip you off, fight with you, stab you, trash your stuff etc.
8. You can get by in English
9. There are very few poor people and very few super rich, everyone has a high standard of living
10.Norway is a lesson to the world on how a nation should deal with its oil wealth

Great news at a bad time

Today we announced that we had farmed-in to 10% of a 1.6 Billion barrel prospect, offshore India. To non-oil industry people this means that we have acquired 10% of somebody else’s prospect in exchange for technical services and knowledge. This has taken over a year of work and some difficult negotiations. There are only 3 or 4 companies who have ever managed to do a deal like this in India before and they are all very large (eg Shell and Statoil). The Indians are “interesting” to negotiate with and the deal has been 1 week away from getting signed for about 9 months. One friend commented that it was akin to “swimming in treacle” and if it had been left to me would never have happened at all. But now it is signed and it is a massive credit to all the guys that have worked on it, especially those that have been so patient. Success in this block will make us the second biggest Norwegian oil company after Statoilhydro - which would be nice!

The only problem was that we announced the deal on the day that the World stock market went to hell in a handcart! Shares were tumbling as fast as the analysts and investment bankers who were throwing themselves off the roofs of down town Oslo and London. Bummer, so while our share price should have gone up 50% and more it only went up 2%.

So much for early retirement!

12 September 2008


Last night we watched a DVD called sharkwaters which is an awesome documentary addressing the threat poised to the global shark population by shark finning. 100 million sharks are killed every year so that stupid, shallow people can eat shark fin soup. In the last 50 years the global population of sharks has declined by 90% (yes ninety!)

Very few people seem to care because sharks are always portrayed as being evil and dangerous. The reality is that sharks kill about 5 people per year. Elephants, tigers and even coke machines kill over a 100 people per year... But everyone hates sharks.

Sharks have been around since the Ordovician (450 million years). They are the top predator in the ocean and as such control the entire ecosystem. The oceans in turn control the global levels of O2 and CO2, and therefore climate. We are a few bowls of soup away from trashing all that!

It's an amazing documentary, really well made, beautiful cinematography and very emotive.
Buy it, watch it and get informed.


11 September 2008

20 tell-tale signs that you have lived in Norway for too long...

1. You only buy your own drink at the bar even when you are with a group of friends.
2. You always prepare to catch the closing door if following closely behind somebody.
3. You start believe that if it wasn't for Norway's efforts the world would collapse.
4. You think 90km/h on an open highway in summer is too fast
5. You use "Mmmm" as conversation filler.
6. You actually believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
7. You know the difference between Blue and Red ski wax... and you own both
8. You never pass through an airport without buying your full duty free allowance
9. It's acceptable to eat lunch at 11.00 and dinner at 15.00.
10. It's no longer seems excessive to spend £100 on drinks one night.
11. You find yourself more interested in the alcohol content than in the grape of the wine.
12. You can't remember when to say "please" and "excuse me".
13. You wear sandals with socks.
14. It feels natural to wear sport clothes and backpack in the cinema (as well as everywhere else.)
15. You own two sets of wheels for your car (summer and winter)
16. Your front door step is beginning to resemble a shoe shop
17. You think brown cheese, jam and a pancake is a great combination
18. You wear jeans and a t-shirt to work and a suit and tie to go out in the evening
19. You eat rice pudding as a main course
20. The first thing you do on entering a bank/post office/pharmacy etc. is look for the queue number machine.

and 21. - you are reading this list, nodding and smiling...

10 September 2008

Whale meat again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

I love living in Norway and I respect virtually all aspects of the culture, even though some of them are a bit odd. However there is one thing which really gets my goat! That is the belief that it is ok to massacre and eat whales. Despite global opinion and scientific evidence, the most rational and reasonable people will often argue the issue very aggressively with you, it’s just so sad and tedious when such outdated cultures and traditions are so ingrained.

Arguments normally follows one or several of the following lines

1. It's part of the culture.
So fuckin what? It was part of white American culture to keep slaves in the 1800’s – that doesn’t make it ok; it's part of certain modern cultures to genitally mutilate and circumcise women – it doesn’t make it acceptable. Culture is a bullshit excuse for brutality.

2. Certain whales, such as Minkes are not endangered.
This statement puts the people who make it at odds with the entire scientific community. That includes CITES, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and the IUCN ( the International Union for Conservation of Nature) who place Minkes on their red list. Furthermore the wankers who go out hunting have repeatedly failed to catch their self imposed quotes – maybe there are not as many whales out there as they would have us believe.

3. If you eat cows then why shouldn’t you eat whales, it's just another animal ?
Well first up, I don’t eat cows, or any form of meat, but secondly there is a significant difference between eating a cow that was bred to be eaten and an endangered, intelligent, communal mammal that is fully aware of it's circumstance.

4. It tastes good.
How totally pathetic is that? Lots of things taste good but that doesn’t make it ok to eat them. Maybe people taste good but that isn’t a justification for cannibalism!

5. It’s an essential part of the economy for certain communities.
Bullshit – this is Norway, the richest country in the world. These communities are heavily subsidised by the extremely wealthy government whether they massacre marine mammals or not. In fact there is far more money to be made from tourism than whaling. Intelligent, perceptive and aware people from all over the World pay lots of money to go whale watching. That is a far more effective and humane revenue stream than some pathetic tosser with a grenade tipped harpoon trying to make up for his own very small penis by killing things. These arseholes were stupid enough to slaughter whales in front of a boat load of whale watching tourists last year.

6. It's humane.
How exactly is firing a grenade tipped harpoon into an intelligent mammal and then hauling it through the sea with a crane humane?

7. It’s brave and heroic.
Err no. A group of Eskimos in seal skin kayaks hearding a whale into an ice pool then killing it with hand thrown spears so their family can survive the winter, that could be described as heroic, its certainly very brave. Some fat, mustached, high-school drop-out, standing on the bridge of a huge steel ship with a harpoon cannon is not brave. It's just pathetic. Get a proper job and make a proper contribution to society.

8. The global moratorium on whaling is wrong, so we’ll just ignore it.
Yes and various other leaders have made their own minds up about what is acceptable and ignored global opinion (Hitler, Stalin, Pol-Pot, Milosovich etc). Were they right?

Basically these people are sad, pathetic dinosaurs, who can’t come to terms with a changing World. They want the advantages that a rich industrialised society brings but can’t face up to the responsibility.

There is no excuse,

There is no justification,

Its just wrong


09 September 2008

This week I shall mainly be in places starting with S...

Headed from Spain to the frozen north and Svalbard, stopping briefly in Bergen for a curry with Katharine and her mum. Was up in the arctic for a final exam for Lotta, one of my PhD students. Lotta was based in Svalbard and worked on the Tertiary coals using outcrop and coal company data. I was fairly peripheral to her project but its great work and very interesting rocks. Arrived sunday afternoon and meet up with my old friends Sarah and her husband David. Sarah was one of the examiners for the thesis and they had used the exam as a chance to visit the far north. As it was a desert they took their own rain with them (just in case) and by the time I arrived it was 4 degrees and drizzling. So we sat in the bar and had a drink, then Lotta and a few others arrived so we stayed in the bar and had food and then drank some more. We were also joined for the meal by Lotta's other supervisor, from London Gary and his wife Davina.

It was so good to catch up with Lotta, Sarah and David that we had a good evening regardless... Next day (monday) was the exam which went extremely well. Lotta did a great job of presenting her thesis and defending her work. Then we had a meal and then a party at which we drank some more. UNIS is a great place and has a really nice atmosphere. Then it was back to Sotra Anyway well done to Lotta!

07 September 2008

Life on the road...

Up at 6 am to drive over the mountains from Ainsa to Toulouse. Shitty weather, pouring rain and very foggy. Not nice driving conditions with a hang over and only 5 hours sleep. Get to Toulouse, drive 5 times around the airport looking for avis and then drop the cars. The rain is a good thing because they can’t see how scratched and dirty they are. Fly back to Norway, get in at 5pm, home, shower change, repack and head into town for a curry with Katharine, her mum and a few friends. Bed at 1am, up again at 5.30 to head back to the airport for a flight to Svalbard – rock n roll!

06 September 2008

Rest of the week in Spain

The week in Spain with the students was good, the weather was kind to us. The students were a good bunch and worked hard. They had one big evening really in the week and then just worked and behaved for the rest of the week, at least up until the second to last night.

I left them in the Pizza restaurant at about midnight. From there they managed to find the disco and most of them made it back by 3am. I was then woken up by lots of noise in the streets at about 5.30, I lay in bed listening to the shouting and I at first thought it was the students, then I heard some Spanish, and then some Norwegian, what was going on?

It was all very loud. I looked out and there was a couple of our guys, exteremly trashed with some Spanish girls. That was fine but why do they have to shout? I had told them to be quite in the hotel – that was the one rule that they have to obey. I considered getting up and bollocking them but I couldn’t be arsed, so I just lay there thinking, fuck this, I don’t need this stress. Its not the work, or the lack of sleep, it’s the hassle of feeling bad about these idiots waking the whole street and all the other hotel guests. I just thought why am I bothering with all this?

Next morning I thought it through in my mind – they had been told not to make noise in the hotel and they were not in the hotel. They had worked pretty hard and deserved to let off a bit of steam. It was not like I have never been out partying on a field trip and its pretty cool that they have hooked up with some locals. And what’s more it’s not my problem, they are adults! Its my fucked up British reserve that makes me disproportionally angry when people are loud and inconsiderate in the street at night. In Bergen (or Oslo or where ever) on almost any night of the week and especially at the weekends drunk people shout at each other at 3am and nobody seems to be bothered, its just a fact of living in town, so why does it make me angry?

After breakfast, down at the classroom they all looked fresh as daisies. Even the two guys and the girl who had been out until 6am didn’t look that bad – god I want to be 22 all over again. So I mellowed a bit and I read them the riot act just for good measure. They look genuinely shocked and a bit hurt. We headed to the field and they all put in a good days work.

Then last night we went for a big meal, in the square and everyone was on good form. They are a really nice bunch of people and I happy to have run this course with them.

04 September 2008

Looking for the Wizard, Part 3

(Gareth requested more photos of himself - hows that?)

From Laverton and our brief brush with “civilization” we headed back into the Bush, stopping to take photos by signs that said outback highway and Alice Springs 1600km. The first few 10s km were on a graded road. Big, wide, fast and not a whole lot of fun to ride on. We knocked off about 30 km and found a spot to camp. Next day we dispatched another chunk of graded road before things got more interesting. Justin proposed we took a road that he had seen on the map but never tried. We found it and got on to it. The track was a vast improvement on the large highway we had just left. After about 20 km of riding the track split. The main route bent around to the right while the route straight on seemed far less travelled. We parked the bikes and waited for the Cruisers with the maps and GPS.

The map told us to go straight ahead, and the main drag to the right wasn’t marked. The riding got even better as the track degraded quickly, it soon had lots of bushes growing up through it and fallen trees across the way. There were no other vehicle tracks, just camel and emu footprints. The track deteriorated further until we got to some low scrub and could not find it at all. Ben was “using the force” to trace the remnants of route but eventually even he lost his powers. We waited for Obi Wan Justin with his magic map. They arrived and we split up. While the bikes zigzgagged back and for through the bush looking for tracks Justin went ahead in the cruiser with the “moving map”. We regrouped again and Ben and Justin headed off again, Garth and I refueled the bikes and with our usual ineptitude and I ended up with an eye full of petrol, which hurt like hell.

Ben and Justin returned with word of the way, so we headed into a clump of bushes. Almost immediately, Gareth’s bike broke down, some would suggest sabotage, others dirty fuel but me, I prefer to think of it as karmic justice for my eye! Either may it was 4 pm so we opted to camp while we fixed it. Gareth and Ben pulled the carbs apart while we made camp and they soon had it going again, but since the fire was roaring we opted to stay put for the night. We camped and Ben the animal slayer slept on a small lizard, just so he could be extra comfy.

Next morning we set off bush whacking with absolutely no sign of a trail. The next 3 km took about 2 hours but we were at least heading in the right direction. Eventually we picked up the remnants of the track again and were underway. It was great riding, trying to spot the track and making good time through the trees. As the track improved once more so did our speed. After a couple of hours, whilst canning it, trying to catch the boys I glanced down and spotted a termite mound just at my right foot. Next thing I knew I was flying through the air and loosing contact with the bike. I landed on my shoulder and the bike landed in a heap 10 m way. Ow and Fuck! Fortunately, apart from a dirt sandwich all was ok and I climbed back on board and gingerly headed back along the track. I found the guys waiting and exploded in a continuous stream of gibberish while I spewed out my tale. Gareth noticed that the front of the Alpinstar boot I had borrowed from Rich was smashed to pieces. That could have been my shin! Scary, but they pointed out that that is what the gear is for and it had obviously done its job – rather well.

Eventually we were back on graded roads. Jen and Justin had been on the Anne Biddel highway several years back and had been keen to retrace their steps. Unfortunately someone had come along with a grader and what had been a cool bush track was now a wide graded road. We even meet a car coming the other way! That evening we camped at Pulpit rock, an odd shaped granite monolith, looking more like it belonged in Utah’s monument valley than the outback. We hiked up to the top and Jen found a strange “snake tail” sticking out of a crack. It was black and looked very odd. A later inspection revealed that it was actually the tail of two lizards that had buried themselves deep in to a fissure and were pretty sleepy with the cold. They certainly weren’t doing a very job of hiding, but nobody could quite pluck up the courage to pull them out for a better look.

That night we listened to a recording of an interview with Len Biddel. Biddel was the surveyor who armed with a landrover and a bulldozer had put in many of the tracks and routes we were following. That was back in the 1950’s when the interior of Aus was basically still blank on the map and various western governemnst were keen to have wide open place to play with their nuclear toys. Whatever the political reasons beyond it all, Biddel was clearly quite a character and extremely dry and funny. No matter how remote it all seemed to us, it must have been a different world to those guys. They were out there for months at a time and totally self sufficient.
Next day we decided that however cool Len Biddel was, we needed to get off his track. We stopped for water at a shack in a nature reserve and then headed out. That afternoon saw us tick another confluence point (124E/28S). This one was much closer to the road and we dispatched it in two hours. This time there was no obnoxious orange bollard but we knew that this close to a recently improved road meant that it was probably already visited (which it was).
More good riding following some old and massively washed out tracks. Incredible ravines and drops in the road and alternating between hard packed clay, loose sand and very loose gravel. There was more terrain here than in the previous week and we were having fun as the bikes came into their own. One time as we waited for the cars to catch up, Ben suggested that he could improve the set up on my bike, I was keen for anything that we get rid of the pain in my bike from stooping over while standing on the pegs.

That night we found a good camp site as we maneuvered the cars, Justin staked a tyre on the trailer – apparently just to make Jen feel better about her efforts. Once again the tyre was fixed in less than two 2 minutes – these guys are good.

Next day the scenery improved even more, beautiful glades and nice sandy tracks. At morning tea Ben changed the set up on my bike and as soon as we got going I promptly fell off – twice. In fairness to him I am sure it had more to do with my riding than what he did to the bike, but we blamed him anyway. The riding was on very loose sand that had recently been carved up by a mining company drilling bore holes. Gareth the sand master was in his element while I was trying to keep up – and failing.

We then stopped at a water hole by some low granite hills. While the others went for a walk I started practicing my jumps. Ben was quick to give me some useful tips and it was getting better, but it was only really ever going to have one outcome. The inevitable came after about 20 minutes, following the “keep the power on through the jump” piece of advice and I came down at an angle, ending up on my arse. It was a good day for the gravity monster and a bad day for me! Good job the bike is so tough.

That afternoon we came into some more granite terrain. It was really beautiful, this old red granite, weathered into weird shapes in low outcrops. There was a grave dated 9-7-94 which was actually 1894! Ruter was one of the old explorers and a guide book suggested he either got sick and died or blew himself up! You would think it would have been easy to tell what the cause of death was!
From Ruter’s grave, Justin took us to another granite outcrop that was covered with carvings of the old explorers names. Really cool to see and a great view from the top. More good riding on gravel tracks before we rode past a water hole with dozens of camels. Jen got some great photos.

We pulled up to camp and that was the end of the riding. We opted to quit there and while we began to sort the gear Ben was off, like a small child who refused to come in from playing at the end of the day! Eventually we hauled him in, the bikes got loaded and we got stripped off the riding gear for the last time and put on some cleanish clothes. It was all rather emotionally.
The ridding was done but the fun was not all over just yet. We had a great day visiting the ghost town and excellent mining museum at Leonora before spending our last night under cover. Gareth was keen to show his Oz tent which we had carted around on the roof of the cruiser and he claimed he could erect in 30 seconds. The challenge was set. He actually managed it in 45, which was still pretty impressive and “the love nest” as our sleeping arrangement had become known moved under cover.
That night we had a final big meal, drank the last of the beer and turned in. The tent was amazingly warm and when I got up at 6am for a piss there was a lunar eclipse. Fantastic end to the trip.
Next day we drove back to Perth. The transition from the outback, through the gold fields, into the wheat belt and then over the coastal escarpment was really striking. It was a long drive but we made it back in time for tea.
Spent a couple of days in Perth, spent so time with Sue and the girls, did washing, cleaned the bikes, visited Ben at his boat building work shop – awesome hand built RIBS that do 58 knots; and had a final meal with the guys before heading back to Norway.
It was an amazing trip, saw some awesome scenery, learned to ride a dirt bike, got to camp in the middle of absolute nowhere and best of all got to meet some fantastic people. I have known Gareth for years but it was cool to actually spend a couple of weeks with him after so long. It was also brilliant to meet Ben and Jen and Justin. They made me feel really welcome I just hope they got to Norway someday so I can repay their hospitality and companionship.

02 September 2008

Snakker Du Norsk?

One of the good things about living in Norway as an ex-pat is that everyone, or almost everyone speaks some English and most people speak it extremely well. It makes life very easy, although things like letters from the council can still be pretty bewildering. Despite that you could easily spend your whole life here and get by without any of the lingo, still chuckling to yourself every time you see signs that says ”Fart” (speed).

When I first arrived I was keen and tried translating all my out going emails into Norwegian. That was until I sent one inviting people to a software launch and my translation read ”if you would like to come and join us to watch Roxar throw their new software into the sea...” the phrase I chose for launch (sjøsette) being specific to boats... The mail did the rounds of the Norwegain geo-community faster that a dose of clap in a mining camp and I became the laughing- stock.

Shortly after that I managed to pay 350 000 nok (£35 000 / $70 000) to the electricity company because my English keyboard put in a ”.” instead of a ”,” as the decimal and the internet banking system didn’t recognise it. I went on a course at the Uni but was away so much that I only got to half the lesson, pretty soon I had an offical looking letter in norwegian saying - well I don't know what it said so I asked a friend to translate it and he said
"you have been kicked off your Norwegian course for not attending enough!"
I said "oh really and they write to me in Norwegian to tell me that I failed my norwegian language course?"
"It would seem that way" he replied.

At the point I kind of unofficial put things on hold until I had time to do it properly. And that is the problem, there never seems to be time to do it properly so you muddle on and you get by. Before you know it you have been here six years and it's a bit embarrasing so you lie to shop keepers and taxi drivers and say you only arrived two months ago.

However beyond the embarrasment, the tolerance of the locals hides the problem. It’s tough to mix with people. While they are very friendly and very accommodating, if you are in the pub with a bunch of them, they will chat to you in English, but if left unsupervised will immediately lapse into Norsk. It means that you can’t go to the toilet because you know as soon as you come back you are out of the conversation! You become fantastically adapt at: a) not going to the toilet and, b) drifting off into your own private space as the World babbles around you in a sing-song white noise.

I have many Norwegian friends and they are fantastically forgiving of my pathetic attempts or even my lack of attempts at the language. The rest of the community as well. Can you ever imagine going into a shop in Manchester and just saying ”do you speak Norwegian? Or even French, or Spanish, and then just assuming that they will. It will never happen.

My concession is to try and speak clear and simple English, its any attempt to at least meet them half way, I have British friends who not only speak less Norwegian than me but also speak fast, garbled and parochial English – come on guys you know who you are… I also have a couple of British friends who have learnt the language fluently – a great effort this has generally involved two things: 1) a lot of time, effort and dedication and 2) a Norwegian woman! Since I have neither of these, I think I’ll stick to throwing my software into the sea and lying to taxi drivers about how long I have been here.

01 September 2008

Classy blonde girls on tour - Ainsa fieldtrip 2008

Spain field trip going well. The weather is warm and the rocks are behaving themselves. The students however...
The trip has the usual possi of blonde girls that get the locals excited where ever we go. These particular group is especially classy - events to date
1. A girl gets so trashed that she climbs into a random car which the poor unfortunate owner had neglected to lock. She voms everywhere and then sleeps in it for the night, waking up at sunrise to stumble home and leave the owner with a pleasent suprise for his morning drive to work.
2. Girl wakes up with the keys to the town hall - where did they come from, nobody knows.
3. Another girl pronouces that she has had diaoreha and may be pregnant because her birth control pills "slipped straight through". The next day she annouces to the whole group that everything is ok because she got her period! Hurray!
4. Meanwhile the guys are locked out of the hotel at 2 am and are clambering up the outside trying windows and terrifing the owners 80 year old mother

Its only day 3! I think I need danger money!
Maybe I am just getting too old for all this?

Have you ever had breakfast with a geologist Stan?

At last someone appreciates that we are actually pretty cool and not all a bunch of bearded wierdos in check-shirts, utility waist coats and birkenstocks

Waffles anyone?