27 March 2009

Rebranding - the Norwegian way

StatoilHydro is the largest oil company in the Nordic regions, it employs approximately 34000 people to explore for and produce oil. Of those people about 1000 are geologists and geophysicists who actually find the hydrocarbon and try to understand its distribution in the subsurface. A further 6 or 700 are reservoir engineers; they try to understand the flow of the fluid through the subsurface into the well bore. There are about 1200 facilities and “top side” engineers, who control what happens when it gets to the surface. That's a total of about 2000 technical people which begs the obvious question...

Who are the remaining 32000 people and what the fuck do they do all day?

Well I think I have the answer, they work in the branding department...

Statoil was formed in 1972 to look after Norway’s newly emerging oil interests and, as far as NOCs (National Oil Companies) go they have pretty much set the standard for how it should be done. Around the same time the government also facilitated the development of a second major, homegrown oil company Norsk Hydro. If you know anything about the oil business you will appreciate the irony of a oil company having “water” in its title, especially when they are not very good at exploration. Norsk Hydro have a much longer and somewhat checkered history, including some pretty hefty collaboration with the Nazi’s trying to make heavy water for the A’ bomb at Rjukan during the second world war. Fortunately, Kurt Douglas came along and put a stop to all that nonsense.

Just over two years ago Statoil and the oil part of Norsk Hydro merged to form a very big oil ompany which was imaginatively named StatoilHydro. The name was put forward as a temporary one while the 32ooo people got busy trying to come up with a new one. The world waited with baited breath. Would it be something pseudo latin and naff like Centrica? Would they get rid of the State bit that had obvious, socialist undertones? Would they take a leaf out of BP’s book and get rid of the “oil” part, which is not necessarily great in world were fossil fuels are seen as the enemy (at least until you need to drive to the supermarket).

As the tension rose and the deadline approached a few hints started to leak out, the left wing government said that it should retain “statoil” somewhere prominent in the name, although no one was really sure what it actually had to do with them. What was left of Norsk Hydro (Aluminum and A’ bombs) said that they couldn’t use Hydro. So after much pontification and navel gazing the new name will be…. Statoil!

Pretty handy for any of the ex-statoil employees who still have their old business cards, no need for new ones.

So that explains what the 32000 people have been doing for the last 2 years, although it does leave me with two questions:

1. What are they going to do now?
2. What happens to all the stationary etc that gets made redundant every time someone thinks it would be good to re-brand?

New Car!

When I moved to Norway I came in my offroad landrover. It was the only car that I owned at the time. After the first winter the limitations of an open top vehicle with no heating in wetsern Norway became apparant so I bought a very old Volvo 340 for 5000 nok which I drove about in for a year and then sold to Atle for 5000 nok. Then I bought a 1994 Audi 80 for 90000 nok, which at the time, was by far the most expensive vehicle I had ever owned.

About 3 years ago it developed an engine fault which caused it shuddered quite badly between 2300 and 2800 rpm. Apart from that it ran fine so I kept driving it, occasionally giving another mechanic a chance to try and fix it. They all failed! I decieded it might be time to buy a new one and lusted after an A4 Quattro. After a while people stopped believing I would ever get around to actually doing anything other than talk about it.

Well after 3 years of pontification, I finally got my shit sorted, scraped some cash together, searched the net and found out that there were 4 in the area in my budget. The best was a 2005 S line which we went to look at a week ago. When we arrived at the showroom there was no one around, then Norwegian Swiss Tony turned up in said Audi. I asked him if I could test drive it and he just handed me the key. No ID, no deposits, he didn't even know what car I had turned up in. You have to love Norway! The car looked ok, so we took it out and thrashed it, hard! It was fast and went around bends pretty well. Back at the showroom I made Swiss an offer and he actually looked offended. The price was, he said, the price. Hmm what ever happened to bargaining?

So I left it for a few days and called him back and made another offer. He seemed pretty angry but at least came back with counter offer. He was learning! Next time I spoke to him he tried to say that he had someone who wanted to pay the full price, so I said ok fine sell it to them then. Then he had to back track and admit that he was not exactly telling the truth - I was having fun and he was learning, slowly.

Eventually he came down to pretty much what I offered so I am now the proud owner of a shinny black A4 Quattro. The only challenge now is to try and avoid getting too many speeding tickets.

Friday Joke - Glasgow school

The scene is Bishoploch Primary School , Glasgow.
Teacher: 'Good morning children, today is Thursday, so we're going to have a general knowledge quiz.The pupil who gets the answer right can have Friday and Monday off and not come back to school until Tuesday.'
Wee Colin thinks, 'Ya beauty! I'm pure dead brilliant at general knowledge, so I am. This is goannae be a doddle!'
Teacher: ' Right class, who can tell me who said. ' Don't ask what our country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?'
Wee Colin shoots up his hand, waving furiously in the air. Teacher looking round picks Farqhuar Fauntleroy at the front.'Yes, Farqhuar?'
Farqhuar (in a very English accent): ' Yes miss, the answer is J F Kennedy - inauguration speech 1960.'
Teacher: 'Very good Farqhuar. You may stay off Friday and Monday and we will see you back in class on Tuesday.'
The next Thursday comes around, and Wee Colin is even more determined.
Teacher: 'Who said 'We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them in the air, we will fight them at sea. But we will never surrender?'
Wee Colin 's hand shoots up, arm stiff as a board, shouting 'I know, I know. Pick me Miss, pick me Miss'.
Teacher looking round and picks Tarquin Smythe, sitting at the front:'Yes Tarquin.'Tarquin (in a very, very posh English accent):'
Yes miss, the answer is Winston Churchill, 1941 Battle of Britain speech.'Teacher: 'Very good Tarquin, you may stay off Friday and Monday and come back to class on Tuesday.'
The following Thursday comes around and Wee Colin is hyper; he's been studying encyclopaedias all week and he's ready for anything that comes. He's coiled in his chair, dribbling in anticipation.
Teacher: 'Who said 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?'
Wee Colin 's arm shoots straight in the air, he's standing on his seat, jumping up and down screaming 'Pick me miss. Pick me miss. I know, I know. Me Miss, me miss, meeeeee'.
Teacher looking round the class picks Rupert, sitting at the front.'Yes, Rupert?'
Rupert (in a frightfully, frightfully, ever so plummy English accent):'Miss, that was Neil Armstrong, 1969, the first moon landing.
'Teacher: 'Very good Rupert. You may stay off Friday and Monday and come back into class on Tuesday.'
Wee Colin loses the plot altogether, tips his desk and throws his chair at the wall. He starts screaming:'WHERE THE F@&K DID ALL THESE ENGLISH B@ST@RDS COME FROM?'
Teacher spins back round from the blackboard and shouts:'Who said that?'

Wee Colin grabs his coat and bag and heads for the door saying:'Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn , 1314. See ye on Tuesday Miss!'

20 March 2009

Jet lagged in Brunei

"It will be fine, you can fly from the US into Heathrow and get straight on the plane to Brunei, they'll send a car to meet you when you get there".

Those were the words of my Steve, my boss who, with typical enthusiasm for over commitment had booked us to run a course for Shell in the Far East the day after I was due back from a month of field work in the USA. From the desert to the pseudo-colonial world of expat oil was always a difficult pill to swallow but even more so with a double shoot of jet lag. But he knew that I would agree, I always did. The lure of the travel, the much needed cash and an ignorance to the existence of DVT, yep I would always agree, no matter how stupid the plan.

So after crossing 16 time zones on 5 different flights, all economy, over 2 days I arrived in Brunei. Brunei is a tiny but very rich strip of hot sweaty coastline backed by a hot sweaty jungle. The locals are small, ugly people who have that laziness that can only come from being very rich, all your life. Chinese immigrants do all the manual work while the oil industry which provides all the money is run for them by European ex-pats. The Royal family is even richer and more indulgent. I arrived and climbed into the back of a car that was to drive the 1.5 hours to the other end of the country. I was vaguely aware of Chris Tarrant talking about traffic backing up in the Blackwell Tunnel. It was 11 pm and I assumed that driver must have been sent a Capitol Radio Drivetime Show tape by some distance relative working in London. Later I discovered that one of the Sultans Sons had studied in London had liked the station. This being the days before the internet and streaming media, they bought some space on a satellite and paid to have it beamed live, complete with 8 hour time difference. Such is Brunei.

I arrived and went to bed at 1 am then got up at 6am to teach a course. We taught the first day which was fine we had done it so many times we had it to a tee. Then in the evening our host from Shell, lets call him Herbert, had invited us around for drinks. A nice gesture, which I really want to decline to get soem sleep. But Steve insists that we have to go, calls we a light weight and forces a couple of G&Ts down me. Eventually I have t agree but I know its a bad idea.

Before we get to Herbert's house there are a few things its important to understand about expat Shell life...

Firstly in places like Brunei there are no bars, the only social life these people have is in their houses on the compound. Also people move every 4 years so there are no deep friendships or real bonds just short term alliances. The system is also highly hierachical, status is dependent on the man's "job group". The social situation is incredibly complex and as an outsider you will never understand the details of the dynamic. And finally there is the wives! A stereotypical Shell-wife is a well breed Dutch woman who is socially very competant but not very bright. She will be content to follow her husband around the world to a series of crappy postings while she satisfies her existence with peer group politics and her brood of blonde children. It’s a minefield!

So we end up in Herbert’s house which is deep in the Shell compound. A large wooden affair, identical to 100 others with a big garden, surrounded by trees. The pseudo American, white picket neighborhood world that is expat life. Mrs Herbert, who is actually English rather than Dutch, gets a double A star in being patronizing, pompous and shallow. I take an instant dislike to her, but this is normal and I am used to ignoring the urges to tell these types of people what I really think of them, its her house and her life, I am the guest. So we sit and make polite conversation and the booze flows. The only problem is that I now I am starting to get pissed and the jet lag is really kicking in!

I head to the toilet and while I sit trying to calculate how long it will be before I can go to bed, I look around. The room is huge, as big as my living room back home and there is a rug that looks really comfy. In fact the more I look at it the stronger the feeling to just lie down and go to sleep becomes. Just 30 seconds! It looks so inviting. Ah yes, I'll just close my eyes for a second...

Next thing I know somebody is knocking on the door. Have these people got no manners, I have only been in here two minutes? I stand up and open the door. A couple of people look at my in a confused and questioning manner. What is wrong with them? Steve says its time to go home and that sounds great to me. I am so tired.

I dig the keys out of my pocket and as I produce them Mrs Herbert says in her whinny, high pitched horsey tone
"O my gwed, HE’S going to drive"
Yep you'd better fuckin believe it bitch! So I climb into the Toyota corolla, rental, start the motor and gun it. Straight onto the lawn, then pull a very neat 270 degree donut before exiting the garden via the rose bed in to the darkened lane. Steve is laughing so hard I think he is going to wet himself and we screech off up the road. There is no drink drive laws in Brunei because there is no drinking (apparently) so we have no trouble with the law.

We get home in one piece and my bed is very happy to see me. Next day we are up at 6am to teach again and its fine, of course. Herbert doesn't mention his lawn or his rose garden but we are never invited back again – Steve blames it all on me and I blame it on him for making my fly ¾ of the way around the world and then spend an evening with a bunch of hoorays!

Friday Joke - La Computadora

A Spanish Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.
'House' for instance, is feminine: 'la Casa.'
'Pencil,' however, is masculine: 'el lapiz.'

A student asked, 'What gender is 'computer'?'

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer' should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that 'computer' should definitely be of the feminine gender ('la computadora'), because:

1 No one but their creator understands their internal logic;
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your pay check on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ('el computador'), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on
2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves
3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realise that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

Utah is the happiest state

I have always loved Utah, despite its somewhat strange religious leanings and its very weird drinking laws the combination of mountains, high deserts, big rivers and awesome geology have repeatedly drawn me back. In fact if it had a coast line with some nice beaches I think I'd be living there now (the Great Salt Lake doesn't count!).

A recent survey suggests that its the happiest place in the US with the highest standard of living. Like Norway but with big cars and more hand guns. The map is below, interesting to note that the bit with either mountains or a decent coastline score better than the crappy flat bits in centre.

18 March 2009

Hemsedal Again

We were back in Hemsedal last weekend with Sandy, Helen, a few other friends and a very big dog who had a passion for crouch sniffing. The weather was fantastic blue skies and there was plenty of snow. I boarded on saturday and went to climb some ice with Sandy on sunday.

Saturday night we stayed in the cabin and Sandy, his brother and Harry demolished a bottle of vodka, a bottle of contrau and a load of whisky. I was smart enough to stick to the beer. Sunday morning was predictably a bit slow and we checked out a couple of possible climbing venues before ending up back at Rjukenfoss. Everything is melting, especially the stuff in the sun.

Another great weekend, the 4th of the season in Hemsdal. You can feel that spring is definatly coming

13 March 2009

Friday Joke - literal video

Not actually a joke this week, more a concept.
Did you ever watch a music video and think "how the hell does that relate to the song?"
Well these guys have got a Karaoke machine and taken that to the next level.
The result is "literal video", its very simple and very funny...

So a good introduction would start with the song that began the genere Aha's Take on me . Then moving to the Monkeys' Daydream Believer followed by an awesome version of the Chili Peppers' Under the Bridge and finishing up with Creed's Eyes Wide Open

Enjoy and have a good weekend. We are back to Hemsedal for more boarding and ice climbing.

11 March 2009

More HDR

Splashed out and bought the photomatix software and had a bit more of a play around. Same photo's as before since I havn't been home in dayøight to take anymore. Also found some excellent tutorials on youtube such as this one

Interesting to contrast the original photo with the HDR

Publishing frenzy

When I was in school, which admittedly was more than half a life time ago, I had an English teacher called Dai Gealy. He was a small weasely fellow who was much more interested in talking about rugby than he was in teaching english. He had spent his entire life in the school, initially as a pupil and then as a teacher. For whatever reason he took a serious dislike to me and told me in no uncertain terms that my English was very poor and I would never amount to anything. He said so on several occasions and even blocked my path to study the humanities before I had personally decieded on a science track. As they say, that was then and this is now...

I just had to compile a summary of my academic output for 2008 which came to a total of 12 peer reviewed articles and numerous other bits and bobs. Twelve papers in a year is a personal record for me and brings my total to 75 in 17 years (or 20 depending on what you consider to be the start of the career). It should be said that I certainly didn’t write all of last years papers just by myself, 6 of them were part of a thematic set from a large EU funded project and the rest were written with various students and co-workers. However that tally still accounts for 15% of the total annual output from a University department which contains 110 researchers and PhD students. Some of those guys are co-authors on some of the papers but considering I only work there half time, it’s not bad going.

This year we have already had two papers published from Atle's Phd, one in AAPG and one in Petroleum GeoScience. In both those cases we got the front cover photo of the journal. The AAPG photo from which was taken by Simon (see below) shows use doing fieldwork in Canyonlands National Park in Utah - one of my favorite parts of the World. If you look really carefully at the photo you can just see me and the laser scanner on the rocks in the foreground in the bottom left corner - I made the front cover, fame at last!

On a non scientifc front UKC just published my ice climbing article "Feeding the Rat: fear and ice in western Norway" which was originally published on my blog a while back. It is illustrated with Mike Hutton's excellent photo of me from Bergsdalen.

I am certainly no poet laureate or Nobel novelist but I do think that Mr Gealy's total dismissal of my writing ability was perhaps a tad premature, but I guess that's why he spent his whole life in a small school in an obscure part of mid-Wales.

08 March 2009

Quiet Weekend

This year I have ice climbed or boarded every weekend and a few week days. Chalked up 5 climbing and about 20 board days - my body is buggered. Also have a cold which I am having trouble shifting, so with Katharine away in jockland I opted to have a quiet weekend in the lair. Lola was very happy. So I declined offers of climbing and top touring and just pottered about, checked on the boat, cut wood, fixed the hot tub, did some editing and went for curry and beers with the boys on Saturday night. Sometimes its good to take a breather.

I also played with my camera. I have seen a few High Dynamic Range photos on various website and been fascinated with it. So I set about teaching myself. The basic principal is pretty simple. The dynamic range in a normal photo is limited and some area will be over exposed and blown out while others will be in shadow. So you take a series of shots of the same view at different exposures (bracketing) and then use some software to combine them.
Here are my first attempts. I am rather pleased.

Comparison of HDR and regular photo of same view

06 March 2009

Friday Joke - John’s Guide to Zen*

Do not walk behind me for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either, just fuck off and leave me alone.

Sex is like air. It only becomes important when you aren’t getting any

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a flat battery and a burst tyre

The darkest hour comes just before the dawn. So that is the best time to steal your neighbours milk and newspaper.

Remember that no one is listening – until you fart.

Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

If you think that nobody cares if you are alive or dead – try not paying a few bills

Before you judge someone you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you judge them you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.

If at first you don’t succeed, avoid skydiving [particularly relevant to me]

Never miss an opportunity to shut up and listen.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will spend all day standing by a canal in the rain.

If you lent somebody 200 nok and then you never saw them again, it was probably money well spent.

Don’t worry, it only seems kinky the first time you do it, after that…

Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment

A closed mouth gathers no feet

You are not learning very much when your lips are moving

Experience is something you get just after you really needed it

There are numerous theories about how to win an argument with a woman. They are all wrong.

*shamelessly stolen from somebody else

05 March 2009

Åre - just across the border but rather different

Last weekend we were in Åre, a big ski resort just across the border in Sweden, never been there before so it was a bit of an adventure. We flew from Bergen to Trondheim then drove for two hours across the boarder. The journey was made more amusing when the extremely camp man at the SAS check-in totally lost it when I refused to pay for the ski bags. He started ranting and shouting about Ryan Air and how unfair it all was. Still we didn't pay so that was the main thing!

The drive across to Sweden was made worse by the snow storm and the fact that Wales lost to France. That in itself was compounded by me losing two bottle of wine and a lot of face in a bet on the game to a small hyperactive French girl. Bugger!

Åre had a really nice feel to it, just a bit smoother and more polished than most Norwegian resorts. We stayed in a rather strange hotel, ultra modern with very small rooms with 4 bunks and no windows. Outside the room was a little seating area like a patio, but all indoors. Odd but functional. Anyway it was central for both the town and the resort so no complaints.

The boarding was ok but it needed a good dump of snow. Still it was fun to explore and new resort and we found some fantastic terrain, including a huge U shape bowl with tonnes of potential. Lunch on the Saturday was a challenge since all the restaurants on the mountainside seemed to be sit down, table clothes and waiters. Not a bit like the pølse and waffle shacks we are used to in Norway.

Saturday night we had an excellent meal and a few beers. Sunday was strangely quiet on the slopes and we chalked up another good day but bailed early as I am still feeling under the weather with man flu. The drive and flight back were uneventful. In summary definatly worth a visit and surprisingly different in a lot of subtle ways to Norway.

03 March 2009

My favorite airport - Bergen Flesland

I travel a lot and spend too much of my life in airports. On the whole I don't really enjoy the experience although I am, by now used to it. The whole airport experience has got significantly worse over the last few years, due to a number of factors including the post 9/11, knee jerk security reaction and the reduction in service quality as the big carriers try to out-cheap the budget airlines.

In most parts of the World the typical airport experience involves
1. Leave for airport 3 hours before departure because its going to be a long and painful experience.
2. Arrive at airport - generally have to park or get dropped off several miles away, spend ages getting to the actually terminal.
3. Go to check in - argue with check in staff about luggage allowance, seating etc. This is fairly standard and somewhat tedious because they are inconsistent and despite smiling a lot they are pathological liars.
4. Go to security - now this is the worst bit...

If one were cynical (and I am) you may believe that giving you loads of hassle at the airport is designed to annoy you but at the same time amplify the feeling of being threatened while strengthening the subliminal impression that the people in charge are at least doing something about this grave threat. The threat is real but extremely small. Statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lightening twice on the same day than be on a hijacked plane. But the threat has been grossly exaggerated as a justification for all sorts of other nasty actions, such as stealing people's oil. This fact is illustrated by an interesting paradox...

If you try and board a plane with a gun they will arrest you - obviously. However if you try and board with a knife or even a bottle of highly infeasible liquid explosive that looks like Evian, then they will simply confiscate it. So, for the very determined suicide terrorist this is a "no loss game" - they can just keep trying until one day they get through. Meanwhile for everyone else it is a totally pain in the arse, designed as I said to provide inconvenience that fosters a belief that there is a huge threat but the government is looking after you. A few questions to ponder:

- Did anyone ever shout "stick em up and spread em" whilst hijacking a plane with a pot of jam?

- Is there any difference between the nail clippers you buy in the shop outside the airport and those you buy inside? Security, but not when it interferes with revenue creation.

- Isn't a broken wine bottle a more effective weapon than a key-ring penknife with a 1 inch blade? Yet one is band and the other is not. Why? Think duty free equals income, again security, but not when it interferes with revenue creation.

- If I wear a jumper I don't have to take it off to go through the scanner machine. If I wear a jumper with a hod, I still don't have to take it off. If I wear a cardigan or sports top with a zip, I still don't have to take it off. If I wear a hoddie with a zip I am asked to take it off - I have tried this experiment numerous times. I am rather keen to know what is special about that hod/zip combo that makes me a security threat?

- Is that an X-ray machine? Well if it is it should be able to see through this bag and see that I have a computer in it. Why do I have to take the computer out?

- The utter idiot fest in London Gatwick were you remove your shoes to go through the scanner, walk 10 m and are then told to remove your shoes again and have them scanned. What is that all about?

- The whole clear plastic bag thing for your tooth paste etc. Ok so if you want to limit the total volume of liquids it works but what happens when I only have one thing that says 80 ml on the side of the tube. How does placing it in a plastic bag make any difference?

- And finally the people in the queue. They have stood there for an hour watching their fellow human sheep being told to take off their belts, remove their mobile phones from their pockets, leave the bottle of water behind (so you have to buy another on the other side) and still when they get to the machine they try and walk through with belt on, phone in pocket and water bottle in bag. For Christ sake - it may be inane and pointless but its not that complicated. Salt Lake City airport has green, red and black lanes like ski runs, green is for clueless people with 5 small children who have never seen an airplane, black is for experienced travels who can get through running. It works a treat and should be adopted everywhere.

Anyway back at our trip to the average airport...

5. Get through security and realize that you still have 1.5 hours to kill. Ask yourself why you bothered turning up so early.
6. Wander around a load of over-priced shops that you would never dream of visiting at any other time in your life.
7. Buy some food that you don't really want and watch lots of Tenerife bound easyjetters drinking beer at 8am
8. Get called to gate, despite the fact that the plane still isn't going anywhere for three quarters of an hour. Find out that it isn't infact boarding at all, they laid - again. Wander off.
9. Get distracted looking at electrical goods in the duty free shop and then get summoned over the tanoy. I like it when they call me by name, it makes me feel special.
10. Board the plane and then sit there bored while the plane is delayed for another hour.

This rant is getting away from the original purpose of the post which was to comment on my local and favorite airport, Bergen Flesland, which just voted the best in Europe (see below) by some dodgy travel mag from the UK.

Why do I like Flesland? Because it works, efficiently. To repeat the above trip to the airport...
1. Leave home 1 hour before the plane departs and drive 25 mins to the airport.
2. Park and walk 5 mins to check in.
3. Check in anytime up to 20 mins before the plane leaves and get no hassle from the check in staff.
4. Five minutes to go through security, sometimes 10 when it’s really busy. Limited hassle and most of the travellers know what is going on
5. Walk past the few shops and get straight onto a plane that leaves in 10 minutes

Fantastic - that is how all airports should be. And anyone who says that it's easy for Flesland to be efficient because it's small - well that seems like a good argument for not expanding the other already oversized and overstretched airports even further.