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Finding Nemo. 5/13/2004

Many years ago, a lifetime ago, I was working in the oil and gas industry, in an area where the sea was noted for its ferocity and extremely unforgiving nature. I was tasked to go out to one of a group of Production and Pressurisation Platforms. This particular platform relied for its power and compression needs on a gas turbine. This turbine was from a manufacturer now ceased operations, but their turbines were noted for being very powerful, but also very tempremental.

As a specialist, I was required to attend to the periodic maintenance of a pair of these turbines, and also attend to the occassional breakdown service. So I found myself, coming to the close of the year, fixing up a turbine which had decided to flame out at very odd occassions. After solving the problem, which required about 6 days of my time, working, eating, sleeping and living on this platform way out in the ocean, I was about ready to head back for shore, and told the Rig Superintendent that my work was finished and could he please book me a place on the morning chopper. He said fine, I was was all happy and went off to square away my gear.

The next morning, the wind was howling, and it was threatening to blow up a storm. I was deathly afraid the helo was going to be cancelled and I would be stuck for another day on the platform. As I was having breakfast in the mess hall, the Sup comes to my table and sits down in front of me. He looks me in the eye and told me that another platform in the group was having a problem with its turbine and could I please go have a look. Well, actually, he did say please, but the way he said it told me that my refusal was not an option.

So I sighed, and mentally totalled the extra allowances I was getting to soothe my wanting to get back on shore. I reported to the Radio room to arrange for my transfer to the next platform. And the Radio Operator told me the only way that they were going to do inter-rig transfers today was by rig tender. A rig tender is an 80 foot long work boat, and being a work boat, was not noted for comfort. This was not going to be any kind of sea cruise, because outside the R/O’s window I could see the wind whipping the waves up to 3 metres.

I then reported to the Main Deck, to arrange for transfer to the work boat. The wind was absolutely howling by now, and we had difficulty walking against the wind or standing up straight. Now, the normal method of transfer to a rig tender from the main deck, is by cargo basket. This is a round basket, with netting on 4 sides and gaps in between, where you put the cargo in the middle of the basket, and you stand outside hanging on to the netting. The crane operator looked at the wind, and said he would transfer my gear and tools first, and then only me and 2 others guys who were also making the trip.

A word about my tools. A gas turbine is a specialised piece of machinery, and requires special tools to fix it. Diagnostic tools, vibration analysers, precision hand tools, things like that. Which made my tool box very heavy. So I put my tools in the basket, together with my gear, and the other 2 guys did the same. We then stood back and watched the crane lift the basket into the sky above the main deck.

We walked over to the railing to look down at the tender, and saw the guys on the rear deck of the tender waiting with hooks to grab the basket. Why were they waiting with hooks? Because the wind was swinging the basket around like a pendulum. I looked up at the basket, and mouthed a silent “Oh, fuck!” The wind has suddenly gusted, and shifted the load in the basket. The basket was now tiliting dangerously to one side because of the imbalanced load. The netting was straining to hold everything in place, when it suddenly snapped. And all the gear, including my tools, fell off the basket and into 280 feet of deep water. I could only watch in a stunned silence, as I saw my $60,000 tool box sink into the ocean.

The Sponge. 5/10/2004

Hi-de-ho neighbour. Terribly sorry for the long time between posts, but I’ve been busy since returning from Thailand.

After burying Franco, I returned to the office, rather the worse for wear after having spent the last 4 days on very little sleep. 2300 kilometers of driving, most of it in the dead of night, is a task my aging body will no longer tolerate. I still remember surviving Iron Butt 1987, a task performed on a GSXR-1100. I could ride all day and night, and still party hardy. Now? I just turn over and mumble something about getting sheep cells.

Getting into the office was surreal. Everyone had thought I’d gone for a holiday in Thailand. Needless to say, I set the record straight fairly damn quickly. Too many fucking busy bodies in the office. Especially 2 specific people, who are allegedly consultants, but have very little technical information in their heads. Most notably the female consultant, who wants to know everything about what’s going on, but never wants to take responsibility for anything. And she is very adept at manipulating situations to her benefit.

Landing in the office, the Managing Director tells me that I’m required in HQ for a special project, involving a privately funded public service building. A sister company, owned by the group which also owns the multi-national I work for, was involved in this project locally. The Group had asked for a special status audit of the project, because there were concerns at very high level it was ‘bleeding’ money. Apparently money was being siphoned to purchase project essentials such as S Class Mercedes for the owners.

Going through the project documentation, it was apparent that the status reports did not tally with the pictures of the project progress. A site visit was performed, and well, the suspicions that we had were right. The project was 15 months behind schedule, and the owner turned up with a gleaming black S Class Mercedes sporting a single digit number plate. Sheesh. The net result of our visit, is a report generated by myself and another counterpart from the Home Office in Vienna. And this report is going to the Head of the Group Office. Which is going to result in the Managing Director of this project being sent home to Germany in disgrace. I had a discussion with this Managing Director in the stairwell whilst smoking a cigarette, and standing in front of me was a man who was terrified of losing his job. He was very concerned about the project, and the possible implications of the report. And since I was told that the report was going to the very highest level in Group, I was reminded in the briefing that the contents of the report were confidential.

But I pitied this guy. He was in this country, enjoying all the benefits of being an expatriate, with the huge salary, house and everything else. And he was going to lose it. Because of my report. I didn’t see myself as having any other choice, as a professional, I was obligated to report things as I saw them, and was bound by the code of ethics of my profession, and my professional qualifications.

Someone in Group saw a sponge, and they needed to excise it post haste. And the task fell on me and H. And we reported what we saw. Over beers at lunch, I asked H. what the result of this report was going to be, and he said, with no qualms, that Dr. H’s neck was very close to the chopping block.

And thus, I find myself ending the career of someone else, whom I didn’t know, and had never met before this special project.

As Graham is fond of reminding me, no one’s job is guaranteed.

Sometimes I despair. 5/7/2004

I am currently involved in a project to build a public service building. An essential public service building. The company I work for was tasked with the provision of the essential equipment, and I was seconded from a sister company in the group to this company. The reason I was seconded was because the on site project team lacked someone with my qualifications and experience, and the main project company was asking questions as to why they did not have people on site who were qualified.

Thus, I find myself back in the construction game. Dealing with a bunch of people who couldn’t care any less about the building, or about the quality of their work. They perhaps don’t realise that what they are doing is leaving a legacy of their work, for the use of the public. I find it sad that a sense of professionalism and pride in work is absent from this site. Everyone is only interested in covering their arse, and everyone else can go to hell. As long as I’m covered and you can’t blame me, buddy.

Today I had to look at a mounting for a projector. A big projector. For an auditorium. The vendor supplying the equipment came with us on site, and I showed him the mounting for this projector. Which vibrated if you so much as breathed on it. I told the vendor that this was unacceptable, and asked him to install a proper isolation mounting. He looked at me blankly, and asked me what an isolation mounting was. I could only let my jaw drop in disbelief. This guy was supposed to be the vendor’s engineer, and specialised in the installation of this type of equipment. And he had no idea what I was talking about or wanted. I despair.

How to destroy a $70,000 motorcycle in one easy lesson. 5/5/2004

Step 1. Buy motorcycle.
Step 2. Go to track.
Step 3. Start having delusions about being the next Valentino Rossi.
Step 4. Get passed by a more experienced, faster rider.
Step 5. Attempt to show more experienced, faster rider how it should be done.
Step 6. Slide on your arse watching your new motorcycle being turned into scrap metal.