Friday, September 23, 2016

The Witch-King of the oil patch

So I promised, so I deliver.

My Wednesday blog had a dressed up overly-dramatic photo of sunrise over Calgary. The second photo, not the first. Or you could look at it embiggened here. I'd suggested a couple of story lines where this photo could be used as illustration, but nobody commented on the blog. One of my facebook buddies mentioned "It's the Witch-King of the Oil Patch donning his armour."

I suspect all my readers know that the witch-king is a character in Lord of the Rings. Once a mortal man, he was seduced to the dark side, I mean, corrupted to evil by a ring of power.

So who is the Witch-King of the Oil Patch? My take on this is corporatism drunk with profits. Corporations are made up entities that exist to make a profit, and insulate the people running the corporation from whatever bad things happen as a result of corporate activities. Everything else that corporations do is to serve those goals.

Compared to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the oil and gas industry is a very new kid on the block. It's only in the last 100 years or so that we've figured out how to extract the black goo and make it into useful products with a reasonable degree of safety. That last bit, safety, has been hard won. Safety was often the last thing on corporate owners minds. They wanted production now.

The result was a lot of people killed or injured along the way, and the dramatic expansion of regulatory bodies around every aspect of the industry. The bigger companies, by and large, have embraced safety culture as part of the social license they seek to keep operating. They've discovered that it really is cheaper to keep a worker healthy, than to deal with an injured one.

But there's still a bit of a cowboy mentality out there, that it's a manly profession, get in there, get'er done, get paid, and bugger off to the next job. I remember the first time BP started testing for Benzine in pressure vessels before people went in. (Exposure to Benzine is one way of getting cancer.) There was lots of pushback. "What do you mean, go in under mask? It's not sour, get on with it!"

Some of the other standards are a little tougher. Take pipelines, for example. Pipeline are the safest way of transporting petroleum products, provided they are built and maintained to the appropriate standards. And there's the rub. When a pipeline ruptures there are typically 4 possible root causes.

1) A known condition such as corrosion was allowed to continue without adequate mitigation for too long. (It's easy to believe that a functional pipeline will continue to be functional for another year. Or two.)
2) Something changed in the product stream that introduced a new condition, such that existing mitigation activities were no longer adequate. (Sometimes that change is known of, sometimes not.)
3) An external event happened, such as an equipment strike, or a flood washing away the surrounding earth. (Some of these can be planned for. There are extensive procedures around excavating soil near a pipeline.)
4) Something was not correctly understood and allowed for. At one time Stress Corrosion Cracking and Hydrogen Embrittlement were new and not well understood. Sometimes new materials do not behave as predicted.

When a company wants to build a new pipeline it's easy to say that they will adhere to all the relevant standards and implement a robust maintenance plan. Then budgeting happens, and it becomes all to easy to "tweak" the model, and defer work, or use a cheaper chemical, or something. Then we read about a pipeline rupture. The least damaging outcome is a fresh water leak, but even too much water in the wrong place can be a bad thing.

Other products getting outside a pipeline get to worse consequences very quickly. An explosion can cause many deaths and catastrophic equipment damage. Sour gas can kill quickly and with little warning. We've all see what happens with oil leaks; fouled waterways coating the creatures living there with oil.

I've been in the oil and gas industry for 25 years or so, and by and large it's been good to me. It's been quite the roller coaster ride, but it's very easy to make the case I'm one of the lucky ones. Mostly I work in an office in Calgary dealing with nice clean data, though I've done time out in the field getting my coveralls dirty. Not as dirty as some, I'll be the first to say.

There are lots of people that the industry has not been good to, mainly those unexpectedly exposed to petroleum products as a result of some incident. I can completely understand why various groups protest pipeline expansion. It's one thing for an executive approving a risk ranking to say that a certain level of risk is acceptable. The protesters rightly point out that executive isn't bearing the risk; that the people living next to the pipeline (or other facilities) are the ones that have to live with the consequences of an incident, not just now but forever after.  They have to trust the goodwill of a corporation, not just now, but every year into the indefinite future. There are lots of reasons why that might not seem like a good bet.

The recently ousted PC provincial government was hand in pocket with the industry. It's hard to say which was running the show. Decades of power corrupted the PC's and everything associated with them. The new NDP government is still rooting it out, and discovering the temptations of being in power. Just after the election there was lots of talk about uprooting and going to seek greener pastures. Greener meaning not yet plundered and with weaker guardians. Except that there really aren't any. I've heard of companies going bankrupt, but not of pulling up stakes and moving elsewhere. And no, the NDP didn't cause low oil prices.

There was talk of fighting the government, as if that would get anyone anywhere. Remember that social license? The NDP was a newly elected government. There isn't an oil company in the world that would come out on the good side of a name calling match. I had to admire the honesty of one executive who said something like "Our industry has always faced various winds and this is another; we will set our sails accordingly." I suppose one can read that several ways.

And after a big rant, the photo of the day. I hope you haven't read Day of the Triffids lately.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Recent reading and a flowery smile

Or I suppose, recent read. Only one book. This one.


I'm a bit of a sucker for productivity books, often prey to the though that I could/should be doing more with my time. It's probably true, what with hearing about people with demanding careers, children, and all sorts of activities on the side that alone would knacker most people.

This isn't the usual name-dropping bit with "advice" that is either really stupid or really obvious, together with "examples" that are fatuous at best.

There are 8 separate ideas, but they are more states of minds than activities. The one that got me was chapter 8, Absorbing data. I've spent my life absorbing data in one way or another, and recently reorganizing it to illustrate a point, or support a work plan. All too often the recipients are rolling their eyes, baffled at what seems to me to be a completely straightforward xl, complete with an explanation.

Not that long ago my boss asked to be walked through one example. I turned one monitor around so he could see the xl, but left the other so he couldn't see it, then I proceeded to read the email I'd sent to him, pointing at the various tabs, highlightings, pivot charts, and summaries as I did so. He said that was really good and exactly what he wanted, in both senses of the word. But he hadn't liked the email. Sigh.

The main point in chapter 8 is that, paradoxically, if you make it harder for people to understand the information, they will have to work harder and thus will understand it better. Two examples. One was people taking notes by handwriting or by typing into a laptop. As anyone who has seen it can attest, my handwriting is a scrawl at best, and quickly descends into a cryptic code I can't even decipher. It's slow and messy, and I often worry I'm getting behind because I'm not listening to what's being said now, as I'm trying to capture a comment that was said then.

I shared an office with a young woman who had the most amazingly neat handwriting, and it was fast. She could take notes in a meeting almost as fast as I could type. If I have to take notes for some reason, I want to type.

The problem is that repeated tests have proven that people that write notes remember the material better than the ones who typed them. I would like to disbelieve that, but I can see how it's true. I did lots of data entry. The data flows in your eyes and out your fingers, and typically does not pass through your brain in any real sense. When you are writing, you have time to think about it. You say the words to yourself as you write, you think about different ways to express the thought that might be quicker to write, you might use your own contractions, and there is something about the motion of your hand that links the words to memories.

The other example involves teachers not getting any real meaning out of expensive and carefully thought out dashboards of information about each student. So they forced the teachers to go through the data manually, to develop the dashboard results for themselves. Their comprehension and understanding of the data increased dramatically, and they better understood how it related to each child. Yes, it took longer, and was harder to do, but it worked.

At the end, the author offers a chapter on how it applied to him, and includes extensive notes. A fun and interesting read. I'm trying to apply these concepts in my own life.

It's a cool rainy day here today. It's snowing not that far away. But here's a nice reminder of summer from just a few days ago.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

So when the light is blah, make it up

Out at sunrise this morning, this time trying a silhouette. My original thought was to have sunlight or a bright sky behind the buildings, with the building lights on. That didn't work out so well, but it's still ok. I did get the sunlight coming right down 6th Ave, so that part worked out.


The sunlight in the clouds was kind of blah, so this is an example of an HDR image that has been manipulated hard. HARD! But I had fun making up a comic book story of big events in Calgary to go along with the image. What do you think, an alien invasion, someone having a bright idea, a super-villian weapon test firing, or what? Put any suggestions in the comments and maybe I'll blog on that. You know I will.


 When I was packing up my gear I had no idea what was actually in the camera. You can't really tell till you see it on screen, and even then it can be manipulated. I decided to take the scenic route home and scout out locations for future shoots, and I wanted to find one place I noticed during the basic Zeller photo tour. Which, just saying, if you haven't taken, you should, that's the first step to producing nice images with that nice camera you have.

The scouting wasn't what I'd call productive in terms of adding places to my list of good spots to go to. All of these were shot to simulate what the eye sees, without much attention paid to exposure. This first place had such promise, but I hadn't remembered that cell tower. Sigh. I certainly don't have the skills to digitally remove it from a photo.


No, I wasn't driving for the next batch, though you could be forgiven for thinking so. It might be fun to try a night shot and work in the head and tail lights, but I can think of lots of other places to shoot first.





Then next bunch is a good place, but holy doodle the way I took to get there is a bit of a scramble. I'm glad I wasn't carrying a pack with all my gear. Of course, I discovered after the fact there's an easier way to get there. Longer, but easier, and park somewhere else. But there was an upside, besides all the up involved.




And ta da! The upside, there is red red vegetation in Calgary! Just not much of it, and I came THAT close to wearing a lot of mud just before getting this shot.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The surprising skyline

I seem to have developed a bit of an infatuation with the Calgary skyline. It's always been there, of course, even back in the day when the Palliser Hotel and the Grain Exchange were the tallest buildings. Now you have to work to get those to show up in a Skyline shot. (Never fear!)

There are all sorts of places you can see the skyline in Calgary, and some of them are a surprising distance from downtown. Like 22 K. I've got it so I know it can be done, but I want to get a better one to put here.

As you run or bike around the reservoir, the skyline pops up here and there. Like this. Go a few feet to my left as I take this, and the tower essentially disappears.


Then I turned a little and got these upturned water craft with the beautiful colours. That tells you where I was, if you hadn't figured it out.


But the real treat this morning was to figure out where the sun would be coming up, finding a place that should give the desired reflection, and to get the shot. I took 146 shots so as to be sure I'd get a choice of what to develop. Even though it was cloudy the sunrise still painted the buildings a gorgeous rosy pinky orange. This took surprisingly little editing in Lightroom, mainly to bring up the colour swirl in the clouds, and a bit of cropping to fine tune the frame. From the same place, if it had been clear, you'd get the mountains as a backdrop. Another time.


My buddy Bart came along, but I haven't seen any of his shots yet. It was nice to watch the sunrise, chatting as the cameras clicked away. We were fortunate that the rain held off just long enough. In some ways photo shoots are like workouts. You never know what the weather is going to do, so you go anyways, and go prepared.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Right out of the camera

There's a story I read in a book about working with photographs. The young new photographer shows this beautiful photo to the grizzled pro photographer during a job interview. "That's a great shot," the pro says. "How long did it take you to get those effects?"

"Hours! This and that till it was perfect."

"Hmmm," the pro thought, then said, "That's too bad, I'd be interested in seeing what you could do in a few minutes. I can't afford for a shot to take hours."

I haven't played with any one photo for hours (yet). Part of the process is knowing when to stop. And sometimes, that's right at the beginning. I've had a few shots right out of the camera that I don't want to touch, though maybe other photographers would. This was shot with the new lens during a walk around the neighbourhood, taken only to show Linda how far away from the flower I had to be to get it to focus, as opposed to the 100 mm macro lens where you can get right into the flower's little face.
The only thing I did was crop to 16x9.






Sunday, September 18, 2016

A change of life

My last day at Penn West was Aug 31. I have deliberately tried to think of myself as a retired person, rather than a working person on vacation. For a start, I don't (yet) have a job to return to. Not that I'm out there digging under rocks looking for one. There's been some expressions of varying degree of interest, but there's lots of ways for the wheels to fall off the various wagons before the paperwork is signed.

The first couple weeks of retirement have not been entirely unalloyed pleasure. I got a sniffle as a departure present so I was fighting that off. There was a 26 K run scheduled for the 3rd, and I bailed out at 22 K. From then till now the running has essentially been a no go zone. I don't think I actually injured myself, but I do think I was right at the ragged edge. My running mojo was in the middle of that zone where I couldn't get at it.

Other things happened as I gave my legs a break. Lots and lots of photos, some blah, some good, and some spectacular. They haven't all made there way to this blog, but some will, at least one a day. You may have missed yesterday, a skyline shot from the west, since I posted it quite late in the day.

Naturally I've been taking some time for reflection. Lots of people think of September as a time of new beginnings. A new school year. Coming back from vacation. Lots of people schedule new jobs for a September start after the kids are back in school. Money managers in various corporations look at their budgets and decide if they are actually going to spend, because now is the time if they're going to at all. Moms with kids going to school get together with their mom buddies to have a little celebratory freedom drink, then get down to the serious business of whatever it is that newly free moms get up to. It's probably best if their husbands don't know. I know some moms read this blog, and some might have kids that age. Feel free to comment!

The trees are changing colour here, meaning lots of golds, yellows, and almost orange. Not much red. Still, it's pretty spectacular.



The other day while rolling and stretching I got a huge thunk from my back and things started feeling better. There was a baby 3K easy run that felt pretty good, as did an easy spin on Thursday. Today I was itching to run, and ended up 5.5 K around the neighbourhood with my run buddy. We were forced, FORCED to stop and admire the view of Fish Creek. (Assembled from 7 individual photos, the resolution in the original is amazing.)


Since the clock wasn't running, we didn't mind taking a minute. That's been my mantra just lately, it doesn't matter if things take a few minutes longer. Unless it's traffic on the way to a place to watch a celestial event. Then minutes might matter.

So far I'm enjoying it, sniffles aside, and I'm glad that's ovre. The run felt good, and stretching after produced another series of good noises. I am hopeful I'll be back in the running groove soon, though I'm not going to push for the October marathon. I've seen too many buddies injure themselves trying to come back too fast, too soon, too hard. Not me. I'd rather settle into good volume, quality runs, and postpone a marathon till next year.

I'm having fun taking photos, and learning more about Lightroom and other photo related software. Still lots to learn. I've seen a couple more potentially good places for skyline shots I'm going to explore. Photo buddies, feel free to reach out for shared photo trips!



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