31 December 2009

2009 - A review

Another interesting year. For us it started in Panama en route back from an excellent holiday in Costa Rica. This was quickly followed by an awesome ski holiday in Japan with the usual crowd. The ski season in Norway got off to a slow start, January was especially poor, but it was also cold and the ice was in excellent condition. Had some great days out with Sandy and the guys from the UK hacking up the vertical. The skiing picked up a bit later in the season and ended with a great Easter trip to Sunmøre. April and May saw me in Utah doing what I love best, looking at rocks in the field with students and this year we were into technowank overload, playing with both the hyper spectral scanner and helicopters.

The start of the summer was nice and I took a week off while Les was over in June to play and repeat the Flåm – Godvangen kayak trip. In July and August the weather deteriorated, but I didn’t really notice because I spent most of the time in Houston. September was the company trip to Spain, Ainsa is always a blast and especially with people like that! October through to December saw nice weather in Bergen but I just seemed to be working most of the time. Spent a couple of weeks in December on a distinguished lecturer tour of the western US which saw me trek from California through Colorado to Canada and eventually Alaska. Key conclusion there was that hospitality improves with latitude. Back in Europe winter came early and both Bergen and the UK were covered in the white stuff as we headed for Christmas in the UK followed by a ski holiday in the Rockies. You would have thought I had spent enough time on planes. In fact I always thought it was an irony that airlines reward you for spending lots of time flying by giving you – free flights.

2009 was a great year for the company, we continue to grow in terms of people and reserves, hitting a net risked resource of 1 billion bbls in November without having to mine tar sands or enter any war zones. The growth was driven mainly by a success in the 20th Round (were we where pronounced the winners by the press), and a fairly aggressive entry into the Gulf of Mexico. New staff and some excellent new offices will set the scene foe next year which promises to be very exciting with a lot of that prospectivity being tested with the drill bit.

Globally – a near complete lack of moral fiber seemed to be the order of the day, while the banker induced financial crisis raged on the scum that caused the collapse took the government bail out, did everything they could to avoid regulation and then paid themselves huge bonuses. Meanwhile the people that should have been regulating the whole show were too busy fiddling there expenses, getting their moat cleaned and buying duck houses.

In the US, they finally got rid of the global nightmare that was the Bush administration. His tenure has to go down in history as one of the darkest periods since Hitler thought he needed a bit more elbow room. I still live in hope that all of his cronies, including Blair are put on trail for war crimes but I doubt it will ever happen. The tail end of the year saw numerous large oil companies scrambling over each other to be first at the Iraq trough – thus proving that the war was nothing to do with the terror and everything to do with securing energy supplies and lining the pockets of your cronies. Although it was interesting to see that the big players that did get in, did not get especially good terms.

Back in Europe the much hyped Copenhagen summit turned out to be a huge flop because the Chinese want to burn as much coal as possible to ensure that their 1.6 billion people can all live like we do in the west…

Happy New Year!

30 December 2009

27 December 2009

BSRG and Christmas

After our 27 hour delay from Bergen to Manchester, which was only slightly alleviated by a night in a very nice hotel in Copenhagen, we arrived in Manchester and the UK was white. Katharine was collected by Laura and I was met by my bro. We headed off to Wales, had a spot of lunch in Llandudno and did the last of the Christmas shopping. Les dropped me off in Bangor for this years sedimentological drinking festival that is BSRG. Within 5 minutes of being dropped off I had been called by Aid and we headed for a bar. Two days of drinking, socializing with a bit of geology thrown in. Was great to catch up with all the usual suspects and a good meeting.

Back to Les’ pad for Tuesday evening and Elin’s birthday. Excellent pub meal and a few beers before heading over to Yorkshire for Christmas Mathers style. Mytholme looked amazing in the snow and the whole place had an excellent Christmas feel to it.

A big group of Bergen people, who all have their roots nearby, descended so
we had another party! The evening of Christmas eve was spent in the Malt Shovel, just long enough to top up the blood alcohol level, Christmas was large family affair with 14 people for dinner and more showing up afterwards. Boxing day we headed over to Paul’s and had another party.

Got up this morning at 6 am to head back to Manchester airport and a flight to Canada to try and work off some of that excessive alcohol consumption with some exercise. The last ten days have been
Thursday 17th – 4 hours sleep after clearing out Katharine’s furniture
Friday 18th – Full day at Uni followed by 3 hours sleep after packing up house and then getting up early for flight to Manchester
Saturday 19th – Sunday 20th – 27 hour delay on flight to Manc, left home at 4.30am saturday arrived in Wales at midday Sunday
Sunday 20th – BSRG icebreaker
Monday 21st – BSRG conference meal
Tuesday 22nd – Elin’s birthday
Wednesday 23rd – Party at Mytholme with the Bergen crew
Thursday 24th – Christmas eve in the Malt Shovel
Friday 25th – Large Christmas meal etc
Saturday 26th – Party at Paul’s
Sunday 27th – Up at 6am travel to Manchester, fly to Canada.

I think I am going to need a rest to get over this holiday!

23 December 2009

Wednesday Movie - more bikes

Following on from last weeks bike theme here is one for all you bmx kids out there that was sent to me by my bro.

Starts a bit slow but once he gets going its pretty freckin awesome

Go on you can do it....

How hard can it be ?

19 December 2009

Oh no the SAS pilot is a bit tired and needs a rest!

Heading to the UK for BSRG and Christmas. We left the house at 4.45am having been up until 2, it was not a good start to the day. There was a fair bit of snow on the ground and the taxi driver talked incessantly about his Mercedes and how it didn't skid unless he wanted it to. It was all rather tedious.

At the airport we boarded the plane and waited for the runway to be cleared. And we waited and waited until they took us off the plane. By 9.30 they told us that although the runway was now clear the crew needed a mandatory rest. The co-pilot had obviously had a tough morning doing nothing and was tired - ah bless!

Safety first! I hear you cry, but amazingly the Luftwaffe and KLM crews, who had started at exactly the same time and endured the same delays were all able to fly, which can only mean that it must be an SAS thing.

And because a pilot is too tired to fly a plane after sitting on his arse drinking tea for three hours we have been stuck here for an entire day. A new plane has been brought from Copenhagen and, assuming we get away on time it will be a 12 hours delay. We will miss our connection in Copenhagen and have to stay the night. The total delay will be 24 hours.

But at least the co-pilot will have had his rest, so it's all ok.

You really couldn't make it up!

Cheap tricks and low life behaviour rarely pay-off

So Katharine sold her flat. It is a lovely place, in a very old part of town full of historic wooden houses and cherry trees that blossom in summer. The flat has lots of windows and is very light, which was a great starting point for all of the work she has done inside to make it really nice.

When she put it on the market there was lots of interest and the subsequent bidding round was pretty hectic. When the auction was over and the smoke cleared, a young girl called Hilde from Hardanger emerged as the winner. She came to visit several times with her family who brought bags of apples from their farm and Katharine was delighted that the place was going to such a nice person.

It’s a nice tradition in Norway that when a house changes hands, the outgoing person makes sure that it is very clean for the new occupant. So once her stuff had been shipped to the UK, Katharine spent several evenings cleaning and making it nice. She was also leaving several pieces of furniture, including shelves in the store room, a TV stand, a bookcase and a table for the terrace as the new couple had nothing. She had also arranged to sell them the dish washer and some ikea draws at a knock down price to get them started in their new home. She also left lots of cleaning stuff and the spare paint and wall paper that was left over from the decorating. So by the time of the handover on Thursday evening despite being a bit sad about leaving, Katharine was pleased that the place was going to nice person who would appreciate it. She even bought them a Christmas card and a plant as a moving in present.

I was at the flat for the handover and 5 of them turned up. It was the girl, her partner and his family, including two hard looking older women and brow beaten old man. There was a strange atmosphere as soon as they entered. I kept out the way whilst Katharine showed Hilda round and she seemed excited. The rest of the crew just started to inspect the place for dirt. They searched and searched until eventually they found a small strip of dust where the washing machine had been. They ordered Katharine to get on her knees and clean it. This was all very strange, but when in Rome…

Then with undisguised delight the mother took out the dish washer filter which had not been emptied. She turned her nose up in an arrogant and snide way and pronounced that it was dirty! So Katharine, who by this stage was close to tears, got down, emptied the filter and put the machine on to run an empty cycle. At this point I was too angry to stay, so to avoid confrontation I went outside.

Five minutes later the munsters appeared in the street and deliberately avoided me. There was a real atmosphere. Then the girl appeared behind them and without acknowledging me, walked up the street. Next Katharine appeared behind, it was odd that there was no parting gestures but the reason soon became clear. Katharine was livid!

Once the olds had left the room the girl had, rather awkwardly launched in to a prepared speech that the flat was dirty and they wanted money off the price of the dish washer. Katharine had asked her what was dirty beyond the now clean filter and bathroom patch and she said it was all dusty. Katharine ran her finger across the surfaces, there was no dust, the girl was uncomfortable but insistent in a vague way. Katharine, who had managed to stay calm up until this point snapped, snatched the keys off her and threw her out. She seemed surprised, the scheme of turning up with 4 other people to bully some money out of someone who struggled with the language and who they had expected to be alone, wasn’t quite working out.

So we discussed what to do, called the agent, called some friends for local knowledge and considered the options. There was clearly nothing wrong with the flat, they came there with the intention of finding something to create a bargaining chip for the white goods. Everything from the shear number of them, their body language and the atmosphere they immediately created right up to the awkward pre-prepared speech, gave it away. After a brief discussion the decision was easy, two can play at childish games – things were getting interesting.

So we spent the rest of the evening removing all of the furniture that Katharine had been planning to give to them, the Christmas card also went in the bin. Everything, the shelves from the store room, the TV stand right down to the cleaning stuff, was packed up in cars and shipped to my place or given to some lucky friends. We considered cleaning the flat again but it really wasn’t necessary; we just tidied up after the mess we had made moving the stuff and headed to home. It was 2am by the time we got to bed.

Katharine was too upset to meet them the next day so the Agent took over. She went with them to inspect “this filthy hole” and apparently when they arrived and saw the stuff gone they exploded, screaming and ranting. Strike 1! They then told the agent that they “demanded an apology”. She asked why Katharine would want to apologies for removing stuff that was hers. They were so enraged they could not come up with an answer but kept demanding all the same. Oh how I wish I had been there!

Things continued through the day with the agent telling them the place was clean enough whilst trying to mediate. She said that if they could show what was dirty she would get it cleaned. They found a dusty tile in the bathroom but refused to let it be cleaned continuing to demand money off the dishwasher. Their claim started at 2000 nok and progressively came down through the day until it ended up at 300. This much stress and bad feeling for 30 quid! Katharine called me and I said take it, the shear ridiculousness of the amount beautifully highlighted how desperate they were to save some face. Oh how small and petty they must have been feeling by this stage.

They signed the documents to take possession and announced that they now didn’t want the washer after all. I would almost like to think that they knew all of Katharine’s stuff had been shipped back to the UK and thought it would be really hard for her to take a dish washer on the plane, so she might just leave it. I would like to think that, that was their plan but I really don’t believe they are that smart, I think they are just spiteful and petty and realized that they had messed things up and were desperate to salvage some dignity. If that was the case they had just made the wrong move! The best of yet to come.

So Katharine called Sandy, Helen and myself to go around and take it out. The new owners were not supposed to be their but they refused to leave, all five of them. Fantastic, now we could have some real fun…

It started with Helen walking in and bouncing up to them saying hello. They had no idea who she was but dutifully shook her hand, before it dawned on them that she was there for the furniture. Then Sandy and I took out the dish washer, all the time loudly discussing what childish, pathetic, sad wankers would create this much stress for 300 nok. They listened intently from the other side of the room while trying to be aloof. They tried to retaliate by discussing us in Norwegian. The girl told her bitch mother in law that she was "ready to explode", obviously thinking that none of us spoke the lingo. Big mistake, Helen may sound like she comes from northern Ireland but they should have realized that those striking scandic looks are not from the provinces. She calmly turned and said in Swedish “well why don’t you, it will be fun”. They were all mortified.

The dish washer and last furniture were out in ten minutes. Helen came out to the car while we were loading and told us that they had stopped her taking photos. So I went up, collected the last of the tools and took photos, lots of them, very slowly and very deliberately. They looked uncomfortable but nobody seemed to want to tell me what to do, they just huddled in the corner.

I then turned to them and said “you need to come here, I have something important to show you”. The shuffled over nervously en-mass, there was definite tension in the air. So I pointed out that since the dishwasher was disconnected they needed to blank off the point where the pipe had joined the main before they could turn the water back on. Rather bizarrely they all thanked me profusely and I almost, for a fleeting second felt sorry for them.

But outside we went over it all and it was clear. They were just very unpleasant people. They thought they could pull a cheap stunt and complain about the cleaning and get some money off the white goods. The sad thing is that, in doing so they destroyed all of the good-will and created a horrible situation for the sake of trying to score a few hundred pounds. In the end they got nothing and lost about 7000 nok of furniture which they would have got for free. Perhaps worse they had to stand in their own flat while a bunch of laughing foreigners ripped into them and humiliated them repeatedly. They now have to live in that flat with the air still heavy with animosity.

Our best guess is that the girl was at one stage a nice person and it was her weasely boyfriend and his poisonous bitch of a mother that pushed her into it. If that speculation is true then maybe at some point she’ll see the light. In the meantime it left a nasty taste in all our mouths, but at least we came away laughing and the bully got its arse well and truely kicked.

18 December 2009

Geology Monkey

A tourist walked into a pet shop and was looking at the animals on display. While he was there, another customer walked in and said to the shopkeeper, "I'll have a Geologist monkey please."

The shopkeeper nodded, went over to a cage at the side of the shop and took out a monkey. He fitted a collar and leash, handed it to the customer, saying, "That'll be £5000."
The customer paid and walked out with his monkey.

Startled, the tourist went over to the shopkeeper and said, "That was a very expensive monkey. Most of them are only few hundred dollars. Why did that one cost so much?"

The Shopkeeper answered, "Ah, that monkey is a GIT Monkey - geologist in training - it can lick rocks and tell you the exact mineralogy, well worth the money."

The tourist looked at a monkey in another cage. "That one's even more expensive! £10,000! What does it do?"

"Oh, that one's a P.Geo Monkey - a professional geologist - it can log drill holes, update and construct geological models, they are experts in igneous and metamorphic petrology and petrography, hydrogeology, sedimentology and structural geology. SOME can even do basic calculations. All the really useful stuff," said the shopkeeper.

The tourist looked around for a little longer and saw a third monkey in a cage of its own. The price tag around its neck read £50,000. He gasped to the shopkeeper, "That one costs more than all the others put together! What on earth does it do?"

The shopkeeper replied, "Well, I haven't actually seen it do anything, but it's called a Geophysicist Monkey."

16 December 2009

Wednesday Movie - A lap with Joey

Joey Dunlop was a northern Irish motorcycle racer who specialised in road races such as the Isle of Man TT. He was famous for being very quite and modest off the bike and a genius on it. He won the TT 26 times and died doing what he loved in Estonian in 2000.

Back in my Birmingham days (c. 1991), Rich Greswell lent me a video of a full lap of the TT circuit on board with Joey from 1983. This was back in the day before this kind of thing was common and we watched it repeatedly, in awe. We'd come back from the pub and do "a quick lap with Joey", everyone sat around leaning into the bends trying to imagine how you could ride so fast, so smoothly. There was something about the format of the video, just a single view with no cut aways and his quiet, understated commentary that made it a masterpiece.

I had looked for it several times on youtube and it wasn't there. I was keen to see if, almost 20 years it still seemed as cool, or if it was just nostalgia? Then last week I found it and, I can honestly say its actually better than I remember. It's amazing! Even if you have never ridden a bike I urge you to watch it all, he is touching speeds of 160 mph (that's 260 km/h) on regular roads lined by stone walls and trees on a bike from the early 1980's, yet the riding is so smooth it looks like he is just popping to the shops. If your palms aren't sweating by the end - you must have been abducted and replaced with an android and you just don't know it yet.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

15 December 2009

Anchored down in Anchorage...

Was delayed flying out of Saskatoon which meant I missed my connection from Minneapolis to Anchorage. After a brief discussion as to whether I should be shipped via Houston, which is about as far as you can go in the wrong direction, they finally sent me to Seattle where I once again missed my connection. Seattle has the most ridiculous communication system with three separate train lines, and a smorgasbord of terminals – its really not that big.

Eventually got to Anchorage which was dark and foggy. Was collected and dropped at a hotel in the center of town. The hotel is apparently “historic” which means it is reminiscent of somewhere in mid Wales, which is neither good nor bad, just different to the drab uniformity of the Holiday Inn etc. Went for a quick walk around the block and by the time I got back they had upgraded me to a suite – very nice!

Next morning it was still foggy, Ken, my host turned up and took me to the talk venue. Talk went fine, lots of interest, then it back to the hotel, where I did a bit of work and then headed to the museum, which was large and only half built. The bit that was open was good and I realized how little I knew about Alaskan, geology or history. From there I headed back to the hotel. Apparently you can see 6 mountain ranges from Anchorage, I saw nothing except fog the whole time I was there. Almost everyone I meet told me how great the view is.

Ken invited me and a few of his friends over to his house to eat and help him drink wine. He is very keen on wine tasting and by the end of the evening we were all rather worse for wear. The food, wine and company were excellent and I realized that the hospitality and friendless had got progressively better, the further north I had gone. From the “make your own way to the hotel, no entertainment” of Bakersfield, through the quick meal out at Boulder, to the longer meal in Canada, culminating in dinner at some ones house. How could Fairbanks be any better? Dancing girls and a limo?

The evening ended with Ken announcing that his driveway was too steep and dangerous to walk down to the waiting taxi so he would drive us. Despite our instance that it was not necessary, he did indeed dribe , all 50 m. It was one of those evening.

Up at 4.30 the next morning for another taxi and a flight up to Fairbanks, 64° north, that’s the same as Trondheim. It was still dark when I arrived and I was met by Doug, a geophysicist who told me that he didn’t really understand what sedimentologists did. He was from Utah and knew the Book Cliffs well, he couldn’t understand that there was anything interesting to do there, “it’s all so layer cake”. But he was friendly enough and took me for a coffee and then drove me around, in fact it seemed like anything to avoid going to work.

The university in Fairbanks is pretty amazing. It was cold, -20° and there was a dusting of snow. The university is a series of very modern buildings with lots of large satellite dishes and other bits of kit that give an air of serious science. Science crossed with the lair of an evil genius, James Bond villain. Dr No’s winter retreat sits on a hill overlooking the town, with the Alsaka range and Denali in the far distance. When the sun came up for its brief appearance there was an amazing golden red light. I went to a PhD defense which was interesting, followed by lunch with some students. Its always fun to meet students and I am drawn to people who opt to spend years of their life in these extreme places. They were very hospitable. Then the talk, followed by the pub. It was one of these old school deals were the entire geology department all head to the pub on a Friday night. There was plenty of beer going down and everyone was friendly and we were having a good time, then things got a bit weird.

I was under the impression that we were all going for food, so I followed Doug, who still had my bags in his car. Doug was very pleased with himself for being able to start his car remotely. Apparently that’s a big deal when its -30! Anyway out at the car we started driving and I realized that we were not going with the others, we were heading to his Korean wife’s restaurant. I guess everyone else had gone elsewhere so it was too late to complain. The restaurant was a bit of a road house in an industrial estate. We sat at the bar while he told me his life story, about how he was set to be a bachelor and then he met his wife who ran various businesses and who generally didn’t come home until 3am. Not surprisingly they had no kids. I was getting fairly drunk by this point and having a few problems keeping with the plot, but the food was good and his wife came over and said hello. You got the sense that she didn’t have a whole lot of respect for academics and scientist but the food was good and she was very hospitable.

He dropped me back at the hotel and I had now lost all of my new found friends from the department, so I went to bed. Next morning I went and hired a car and headed out to the one thing that everyone seemed to think was worth doing. Chenna hotsprings. This has been suggested by pretty much everyone I had met so it must be a good suggestion. Just after my talk the secretary from the department had hand me a piece of paper and said “when you get there, ask for Bernie!”

So I drove for an hour on long straight roads through frozen forest with the off cabin. When the road ended I was at the hotsprings, so I asked for Bernie. Bernie turned out to be the larger than life character who owned the place. He bought me lunch and then gave me a guided tour. Bernie was actually pretty amazing. A big guy with a beard and a huge personality. He talked pretty non stop, typically about how great he was. But the interesting thing was, it was true! He had bought a failing hot spring business in the arese end of nowhere and turned it into a very profitable spa, but then things got really interesting. He had also developed technology for generating power from the hot water, had built green houses for growing fruit (64°N and down to -50°c in winter) and was working on algal biofuels. All with no formal science background. He had also built an ice palace and hotel with some amazing ice carving and he took great pleasure in telling us about the Playboy photo shoot that had taken place there while serving me vodka in a glass made of ice. He was obviously taking on the hospitality vs latitude challenge without even realizing it.

After he had finished with me I headed to the outdoor spa. The water was a perfect temperature, which was good because the air was -20° so that your hair froze once it was wet.

Feeling relaxed I headed back to town, had food and another early night, getting ready for another 5am start and the journey back to Norway. Now sat on the plane heading home. Its been an interesting 10 days.

14 December 2009

River running in Spain...

Northern Spain, summer 1995. I have just returned from a field season in Utah were I got my first taste of rafting on the mighty Colorado. Sat in a large rubber raft, piloted by an experienced guide the whole think seemed rather easy.

So now I am back in the Pyrenees, looking at some of the best structural geology I know. The Galleago gorge is an amazing cross section through the external sierras guarded by with the mighty conglomerate towers of Riglos. I have climbed on these 1000 ft monsters but today I have a different plan. Today I will take what I have learnt from my rafting experience and run this punitive river with it’s little rapids. How hard can it be?

I get 4 inner tubes from a garage in Jaca but the students who I am supervising are not interested in this adventure. That’s there loss. So I head off on my own to the bridge below the dam. I arrive and there is a professional rafting company setting up, Their clients in wetsuits, helmets and life vests carry the boats from the roof of their van. In contrast I am in shorts and sandals with a inner tube under my arm and a piece of wood, found at the side of the road to use as a paddle.

The guides look at my in confusion, which quickly morphs to compression, followed quickly by anger. The guides obviously don’t want me to humiliate them or their paying clients, my lack of expensive kit is underlining the validity of their operation and they are pissed off. They shout at me in Spanish but I ignore them, throw the tube off the bridge and vault the rail, casually taking the 10 m to the water. In the water I climb into the tube and set off downstream on my adventure. I sit in the tube and go with the current. My arse bounces off the odd rocks but I am happy, I am on the river and the sun is shinning. This is the life.

At the first rapid I fall out, its harder than it looks, but I float the rapid into the eddie and climb back in. A quite section follows and I admire the familiar geology. More rapids and I am starting to get a technique, I still fall out occasionally but its all going well. I laugh at the students stuck back at the hotel and I laugh at those stupid people with all their gear. What a bunch of idiots, what a waste of money.

My progress continues, through rapids followed by gentle sections. I see the towers of Riglos and feel sad that my tour is almost over. The gorge is narrowing for the last bit, maybe there is still some fun to come? I wish it had been just a bit more exciting. Then I round a corner and I hear the roar, maybe its not over yet? The best is obviously still to come, I am more excited than scared and I make it my goal to try and stay in the ring.

The roar gets louder but I still can’t see too much. I am wandering what to expect as I go for the falls. They are only about a meter high but I am immediately out of the ring and in the water. I splash and paddle as amusement turns to anxiety and then to full on fear. I am bounced off large boulders, fighting to stay above the water. I go over another drop and I don’t come up. I start to fight and swim hard but I can’t even tell what way is up. Just as I am getting really scared I am spat out to go straight over another small drop into a pool. I go under again but surface quickly, right next to the rubber ring, which through its own adventure has ended up next to me. I grasp it and use it to keep me afloat has I am carried further down the river, bashing and bouncing off the boulders.

I am pushed against a large boulder in the middle of the stream. Initially it threatens to pin me down but as I climb up the back of it the water pushes me up on the top. I grab the ring and I am safe, temporarily at least. I take stock of the situation, a few cuts and bruises but apart from that I am ok. I sit on the rock, with the water roaring either side and, without warning I throw up! Probably a combination of the water I have swallowed and a delayed reaction to the fear. The retching goes on from a few minutes until my stomach is empty I sit there cold and shivering.

It takes me 20 minutes to sum the courage to do what has to be done. The only way off the boulder is back in to the raging river. I have no idea what is down stream but I can and starting to get really cold and I know I can’t stay here.

I tentatively ease my way into the water, all the bravado and bullshit has been washed away. I don’t even try to ride the ring, I just clutch it and let the water take me. Its not as bad as I had feared and in a few minutes its all over, I am spat from the rapids into the deep running smooth waters.

I climb in the ring and float for about a kilometer, before I find a good spot to get out. Climbing the side of the gorge is steep and treacherous but I hardly notice as I scramble up, leaving the river below me. At the half way point I stop and I look back, staring at the rapids. Scouting them would have been a good idea, but then again if I had done that, I probably would have stayed back at the hotel with the students.

I watch the guided tour appear around the corner. They stop at the top of the big rapids, the clients get out and walk around as the guides run the boat down on a line. Finally I laugh to myself at myself and my ridiculous adventure.

12 December 2009

Life on the Prairie

I love flying across the central part of the US. The flat terrain, which must be incredibly tedious to drive across is strangely compelling from the air.

First, there is the regular grid of the township and range, imprinted by the European settlers to impose order and ownership on the wide open plains. The checkerboard pattern resulted from when the land was sub-divided into 1 mile square blocks, with a grid of roads, each as straight as ruler. Some of these roads are just dirt tracks to the farms, others almost by chance have evolved through time into the major highways. Each mile square is subdivided into 4 homesteads and the first bit of variety comes from the location of the farm house within the plot. Then there is the land use, some ploughed, the combed lines always running parallel to the larger grid. Some blocks are further subdivided and some left fallow, in the more arid, southern US the grid has a circular pattern imposed by the huge irrigation wheels, sometimes these sit within a single 1/4 mile block other times they fill the whole mile, but do the tell neighborly cooperation or past failure and takeover. What stories can the occupants of those little houses, the families who work the land tell us? What can we learn of the personal triumphs and tragedies from the subtle variations in this national grid.

The grid is imposed on nature, which for the most part flat and featureless. Locally though a river or stream with no respect for the straight edges, snakes through the grid, highlighting the difference between mans order and natures apparent chaos.

One day I may drive those roads but in the meantime I am content to enjoy the beauty of the grid and its imperfections

11 December 2009

Friday Joke - difficult costumer

This week courtesy of Gareth...
Hello David,

I would like to catch up as I am working on a really exciting project at the moment and need a logo designed. Basically something representing peer to peer networking. I have to have something to show prospective clients this week so would you be able to pull something together in the next few days? I will also need a couple of pie charts done for a 1 page website. If deal goes ahead there will be some good money in it for you.


From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 16 November 2009 3.52pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Logo Design

Dear Simon,

Disregarding the fact that you have still not paid me for work I completed earlier this year despite several assertions that you would do so, I would be delighted to spend my free time creating logos and pie charts for you based on further vague promises of future possible payment. Please find attached pie chart as requested and let me know of any changes required.

Regards, David.

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Monday 16 November 2009 4.11pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Logo Design

Is that supposed to be a fucking joke? I told you the previous projects did not go ahead. I invested a lot more time and energy in those projects than you did. If you put as much energy into the projects as you do being a dickhead you would be a lot more successful.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 16 November 2009 5.27pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Dear Simon,

You are correct and I apologise. Your last project was actually both commercially viable and original. Unfortunately the part that was commercially viable was not original, and the part that was original was not commercially viable.

I would no doubt find your ideas more 'cutting edge' and original if I had traveled forward in time from the 1950's but as it stands, your ideas for technology based projects that have already been put into application by other people several years before you thought of them fail to generate the enthusiasm they possibly deserve. Having said that though, if I had traveled forward in time, my time machine would probably put your peer to peer networking technology to shame as not only would it have commercial viability, but also an awesome logo and accompanying pie charts.

Regardless, I have, as requested, attached a logo that represents not only the peer to peer networking project you are currently working on, but working with you in general.

Regards, David.

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 11.07am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

You just crossed the line. You have no idea about the potential this project has. The technology allows users to network peer to peer, add contacts, share information and is potentially worth many millions of dollars and your short sightedness just cost you any chance of being involved.

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 1.36pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Dear Simon,

So you have invented Twitter. Congratulations. This is where that time machine would definitely have come in quite handy.

When I was about twelve, I read that time slows down when approaching the speed of light so I constructed a time machine by securing my father's portable generator to the back of my mini-bike with rope and attaching the drive belt to the back wheel. Unfortunately, instead of traveling through time and finding myself in the future, I traveled about fifty metres along the footpath at 200mph before finding myself in a bush. When asked by the nurse filling out the hospital accident report "Cause of accident?" I stated 'time travel attempt' but she wrote down 'stupidity'.

If I did have a working time machine, the first thing I would do is go back four days and tell myself to read the warning on the hair removal cream packaging where it recommends not using on sensitive areas. I would then travel several months back to warn myself against agreeing to do copious amounts of design work for an old man wielding the business plan equivalent of a retarded child poking itself in the eye with a spoon, before finally traveling back to 1982 and explaining to myself the long term photographic repercussions of going to the hairdresser and asking for a haircut exactly like Simon LeBon's the day before a large family gathering.

Regards, David.

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 3.29pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

You really are a fucking idiot and have no idea what you are talking about. The project I am working on will be more successful than twitter within a year. When I sell the project for 40 million dollars I will ignore any emails from you begging to be a part of it and will send you a postcard from my yaght. Ciao.

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 3.58pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.10pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Anyone else would be able to see the opportunity I am presenting but not you. You have to be a fucking smart arse about it. All I was asking for was a logo and a few pie charts which would have taken you a few fucking hours.

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.25pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Dear Simon

Actually, you were asking me to design a logotype which would have taken me a few hours and fifteen years experience. For free. With pie charts. Usually when people don't ask me to design them a logo, pie charts or website, I, in return, do not ask them to paint my apartment, drive me to the airport, represent me in court or whatever it is they do for a living. Unfortunately though, as your business model consists entirely of "Facebook is cool, I am going to make a website just like that", this non exchange of free services has no foundation as you offer nothing of which I wont ask for.

Regards, David.

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.43pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

What the fuck is your point? Are you going to do the logo and charts for me or not?

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 5.02pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 5.13pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Do not ever email me again.

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 5.19pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Ok. Good luck with your project. If you need anything let me know.

Regards, David.

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 5.27pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Get fucked.

09 December 2009

A cold lesson

All this cold weather reminds me of an ice climbing trip to Canada back in 2001/03. We were staying in Banff and one day when it was fairly cold (-20 ish) we headed out to bag a couple of pitches of road side ice.

We climbed to parallel routes, I was climbing as part of a three and by the time I got back to the bottom of the pitch there is no sign of Dave and Mike but there is a lot of blood on the ice. That's a bad sign, given that you either have to have a facial injury or be bleeding very heavily from below all the layers for there to be that much blood on the ground. I was expecting the worst.

Back at the car and the boys are looking sheepish but decidedly intact. I ask about the blood and Mike nods while Dave sniggers.

Turns out that Mike was sorting his gear and he put a metal crab in his mouth, which had...

...yes predictably at -20, had stuck. He then panicked and pulled the skin off the end of his tongue and as he started screaming blood and spraying went everywhere - OW!!!

There is a lesson there! We felt the need to re-enforce this lesson by feeding Mike chili and curry for the rest of the week. It was for his own good but I think we realised that it could have been any of us.
I have not asked him but I am prepared to bet that he hasn't done that again, I certainly haven't. So the following from http://www.despair.com/ is for Mike...

-35° is cold!

Despite the best efforts of United Airlines I eventually got to Saskatoon at about midnight. Saskatoon is a town of 200,000 in the middle of the Canadian prairies. I thought Boulder was cold, but it wasn’t even trying. Saskatoon was in a whole different league, the temperature when we landed was -30° and forecast to get colder.

I was met by my host Luis who seemed like a very nice chap. In this part of the world there are so many messed up accents (Canadian, French, French-Canadian, American etc) that I didn’t even realize that he was Argentinean until half way through the journey. Turns out he is from Buenos Aries and knows Gonzo and Ernesto, it’s a small world.

He dropped me at the hotel and I went straight to bed. Next morning I was up and the temperature was down, to -35°. I went for a bit of a walk to try and photography -35°. It looks different, difficult to explain, steam is rising everywhere and the light has a metalic golden colour to it. The river was frozen and there were small pressure ridges and lose blocks jammed together in a huge jigsaw. The ducks didn't look especially phased, maybe they have antifreeze in their blood.

About 500 m from the hotel I realized the error of my ways, just as the bare flesh on my face and hands started to ache. I took a few pics, juggling the camera from one hand to the other. Then I headed back. I could feel the hairs in my nostrils freezing and my face was burning, the skin on the back of my hand took on a waxy white appearance. I had only been out 10 minutes!This was awesome, I have never been out in temperatures this low.

At that point a man on a bike cycled past…

Went to the Uni, meet some students and went through their work, then gave my talk, which went fine, good audience of about 40. In the evening went for a meal with Luis, his very excitable wife and some guy called Paul who epitomized the lecherous lecturer, 60 years old, goatee, slicked-back hair and a very high opinion of himself which was expressed in a loud voice. Anyway we had a nice meal and I got back fairly early.

Up at 4.30, taxi to the airport with a very random Romanian who kept tapping my arm and calling himself my friend. Then the flight was delayed because the hydraulics were frozen. The pilot said that was common at -35, which I found rather worrying since I am pretty sure that -35 is quite common at 35000 ft.

Missed my connection to Alaska so now sitting in Minneapolis waiting for the next one having narrowly missed being routed via Houston…

Apparently it’s much warmer in Anchorage.

Wednesday Movie - HalveJula4

This weeks vid was the annual Christmas offering from JohnT and the other talented folk at Statoil Research Centre.

It addresses the piss-poor efforts of the 32000 people who worked on the statoilhydro re-branding exercise who have decided that a pink rose which looks rather like the logo on a tampon box is a suitable emblem for a major international oil company. The remaining employees (the ones that actually do something constructive) are less than impressed and there was genuine fear amongst offshore crews that they might be issued pink overalls.

The title "HalveJula4" comes from John and Co's previous efforts which started with this - a musical ode to them having to work the half day on Christmas eve (Halve Jula). I have not be able to track down the other two but the second was about the merger and the third dealt with the search for the new company name.

Anyway this one made the local press! Good effort, keep them coming guys.

07 December 2009

Amanda Knox - view from this side of the pond

Foxy Knoxy was recently convicted for the horrific murder of her flat mate Meredith Kercher in Italy. Its very interesting to see the response in the US. There is almost uniform outrage that an American citizen should be tried and found guilty in Europe. Whether she did it or not seems almost irrelevant to a huge spectrum of people from the Mayor of Seattle to dumb asses who couldn't even find Italy on a map if it was labeled. The talk shows have been inundated with people saying that the Italian justice system sucks, she didn't get a fair trail and best of all "its anti-American". Just because she is American that does not make her innocent! Interesting also that none of them seem to care if the Italian or Ivorian also on trial got a fair hearing.

As I was driving to the airport an American "legal expert" was on the BBC saying how the Italian legal system which involves 2 judges and a small jury was "not fair" and unconstitutional...

Well if she wanted to be tried in America maybe she should have stayed at home and killed someone there instead. Then they could have put her on deathrow because that obviously is fair and constitutional.

And if all these cretins stop eating pizza and boycott Italy for their holidays thats fine by me, its a few less loud, obnoxious people in check trousers* when I go and visit Rome...

(* Note this is not my view of all Americans, just the ones that phone in to right-wing talk shows and mouth off about how they are going to boycott France or Italy or which ever bits of Europe have upset them this week)

United Airlines really is shit!

I recently saw a video by a guy who had his guitar broken by United Airlines - they were unsympathetic to his plight so he wrote a song, it went viral and they got to look like a bunch of cocks.

So I got up this morning, strolled into town to get some fresh air, had breakfast in small coffee shop and then headed to the airport. Traffic was pretty slow because of the weather (-15 and some snow), then it took Avis a bit of time to check the car back in because
a. the guy in front of me had smashed his up....
b. I had switched the dash read-out to metric (8 degrees F means very little to me) and the distance was then in km and the guy was freaked out that I seemed to have done 7000 miles in 3 days.

So I arrived at the check in 44 minutes before the flight, by my normal standards this is a life time. I went to check in and the woman said I was too late, I needed to check in 45 minutes before departure. I said it was a bit childish since I was only literally 2 minutes late - she said that it wasn't up to her it was the computer. She managed to say this in a way that was both disinterested and smug at the same time.

"Computer says No"

So I rebook, it doesn't really make a difference and then go to the lounge to do some work. There I am told I have to pay for the wifi - which I am happy to do because I can now sit here and write about what a bunch of utter wankers United Airlines are!

On Tour 2 - Boulder Colorado

Is this actually the same country?

I arrived in Denver from Bakersfield Ca (or was that Tx) after an awesome flight across Canyonlands and then the Rockies. I was met at the airport which was already an improvement on the last stop. Picked up a hire car and headed to Boulder. I have been in Boulder a couple of times before. It is an awesome little town on the edge of the Rockies, with lots of cool brew pubs and coffee shops and a really bohemian atmosphere. Lots of people with dreds and tattos and everyone drives a Subaru!

Met my host Paul who took me to lunch at the Alfred Packer Memorial Grill in the University. Packer was a frontiersman who ate all his colleagues and was eventually tried for cannibalism. When the University built the student centre in the late 1960s they let the students decide what to call the dining hall! They came up with the name and the slogan "have a friend for lunch!"

Gave my talk which went fine and then spent the afternoon meeting with students and going through some of their work. Some really interesting stuff and a great bunch of guys. Friday night Paul took me for a curry and a quick beer before leaving me to my own devices. Perfect.

Saturday I met up with Bruce Trudgill and his buddy Tom, at their local ski resort of Eldora. Its early season and there was only a few runs open but we got some turns in and had a good time. First trip out this season, it felt good to be back on a board. Saturday night I bought some new boots and then sampled the delights of one of the local breweries.

Sunday there was a load of fresh snow in Boulder so I was up early and back up to Eldora which had some fresh but not so much as down in the town. It was super cold (-15) and I lasted until 1pm before heading back to do a bit of work. It's a rock'n'roll life on the road, but at least I got out and got something done.

Boulder is great - I could live here... tomorrow it's off to the middle of Canada and I can only imagine it's going to get colder.

05 December 2009

Friday Joke - Jesus is watching you

A bit late, but an important message so pay heed...
A Burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said

'Jesus knows you're here.'

He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze. When he heard nothing more, he shook his head and continued. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard

'Jesus is watching you.'

Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam comes to rest on a parrot.

'Did you say that?' he hissed at the parrot.

'Yep', the parrot confessed, then squawked, 'I'm just trying to warn you that he is watching you.'

The burglar relaxed. 'Warn me, huh?

Who in the world are you?

'Moses,' replied the bird.

'Moses?' the burglar laughed. 'What kind of people would name a bird Moses?'

'The kind of people that would name their Rottweiler Jesus'.

03 December 2009

On Tour 1 - Welcome to the Hotel California

On a lecture tour of the western side of the US for AAPG. Apparently this makes me distinguished, which I think has something to do with having grey hair...

A few friends have congratulated me on this although given all the other stuff I am supposed to be doing I am not exactly sure why I said yes. I think it is a combination of vanity and insecurity. The vanity is self explanatory, the insecurity is because I am still amazed people actually invite me to do these sort of things and paranoid that if I say no, maybe they won't ever ask me again. Anyway, away from the navel-gazing, I guess I should just enjoy the trip.

Left Norway very early on Wednesday morning and had an amazing flight over. I had not had chance to get the talks together before I left so I was trying to be disciplined on the plane, no movies, just work! Crossing Greenland the sky was totally clear and we seemed to be flying pretty low - it was awesome, so beautiful, I just sat and stared out the window for about half an hour. Glaciers, icelfields, fjords, and snow capped mountains all by the light of a full moon - utterly fantastic and totally pristine. I so want to go there.

After Greenland the cloud came in so I got some work done until we got over northern Canada. Crossing the Northern Territories you realise how much space that there is on earth. Mostly empty, with very rare isolated towns and fantastic fluvial geomorphology. I think I even spotted Yellowknife where an old friend has ended up living, 64 degrees north without the Gulf Stream is a whole lot different to 64 degrees north in Norway (Trondheim).

Then over the Canadian Rockies which were in fine form. The knife sharp contact between the mountains and the plains of the foreland basin, the linear ridges of the upthrusted blocks and the very consistent westerly dip of the beds, all captured in majestic snow covered mountains. I love geology (and yes I am a geek).

Flew into LAX and then on to Bakersfield California. The coast of California is beautiful and as you head in-land you cross the coastal foothills covered in vine yards and farms. Then things flatten out and you cross huge farms in the mile square, chequerboard pattern of the township-range. Looking down at this it is hard not to thing of Steinbeck and it evokes a strange, nostalgic feeling for the time in Chile when I was reading his books.

Bakersfield was an eye-opener. A small piece of Texas had been transported west. Flat terrain, low rise buildings, brash shop fronts, big pickups on wide roads and and oil wells on street corners. Without the palm trees along the road side it would have been tough to actually know the difference. Welcome to the oil patch.

I was jet lagged and very tired as I drove from the little airport in to town. I think was starting to halucinate as I watched a huge glowing red sun set through the hazy between some 70's modern architecture and a palm tree and couldn't stop singing "welcome to the hotel California" to myself. I was looking at the album cover, or at least the copy that is stored in my memory.

I bombed when I hit the hotel and woke up early next morning to finish my talk. My host was younger than she had sounded on the phone, but no less vacuous. She took me to the tallest building in Bakersfield (7 stories!) and to the petroleum club on the top floor. I set up whilst the good ole boys of the oilfield rolled in and sat down to lunch.

I gave my talk, about the story of building the company, the technology and the challenges of being a bit different. It was a bit long, but they were attentive and I was impressed by the quality and the number of questions that followed. Then they where gone and I was alone.

Miss Vacuous had suggested I visit the oilfield and then her and her colleagues would take me to dinner at 6pm. This is always a conundrum of these things, your host feels obliged to be hospitable, although you know they probably can't be arsed and you feel obliged to be socialable. I was in two minds, but since I hadn't spoken to anyone socially for 2 days and the prospect of another evening alone in a hotel room was not great I said yes. I went back and worked for a couple of ours with the goal of hitting this famous oil field for sunset. Left the hotel at 4.30 and the sun was already dropping below the horizon. Bugger! Mistimed that one, which is why I will never make it as a professional photographer. I headed to the oilfield which lies on the edge of town anyway.

I have seen onshore fields before but never anything like this. Its heavy oil, shallow, no pressure and a very old field. One of the guys at lunch had said it was 4 billion barrels in place and they have produced 2 already. Lots of steam injection and all sorts of potential for environmental fuckups, especially next to a river when the top-seal is the water table. I had tried to ask about this, but he hadn't understood the question, so the conversation had degnerated to bashing that "socialist Obama". Yes it really was like being back in Houston.

On a more useful note, Matey-boy had told me that the wells are on a half acres spacing. That might not tell you a lot until you think that means you would get 6 on a soccer field, they are about 30 m apart. But even that implies a degree of order that just didn't exist. It was chaos, nodding donkeys everywhere, big ones, small ones, pipes, cables, compressors, well heads, jostling for space on a dusty hillside and as it dark, it got more menacing.

Took some pics and headed back into town. Didn't get the call for dinner until 7.30 by which point I had decided to bail anyway, so I grabbed a bite and headed to bed early with the goal of using the remnants of the jet lag to help me get up at 4.30 for my flight to Colorado.

02 December 2009

Wednesday Movie

This reminds me of a saturday night out in Liverpool...

I am off on a distinguished lecture tour of the western US, which will be different!
California, Colorado, Saskatchwen, Anchorage and Fairbanks - watch this space!