Atchafalaya Swamp

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Post-Christmas Funk 2007

FUNK. IT MEANS "cowering with fear" or a "state of fright", or a feeling of dejection. Yes, that's right and I'm feeling dejected right now. No, I know it's the end of the year when we have a big Christmas party on the rig and everybody gets funky. That's not the funk I meant.

Please look at the sign above. I photographed it this morning just after some numbers in there had "changed". For you non-marine or offshore types out there (which is 99.9999 percent of the world's population anyway) the term LTA means hell of a lot. It stands for "lost time accident" and yes, as of today it is only Day 2. Two days ago the number atood at 1658 --meaning FOUR-AND-A-HALF YEARS since the rig had an accident.

Actually that's not true at all because the rig NEVER had an accident until the day before. Why? Because the rig is so new that there hasn't been an accident since it arrived here four-and-a-half years ago spanking brand new from Keppel-FELS shipyard in Singapore.

The day after Christmas I had just started to spud in a new well. It was five in the morning. This particular well had a rather peculiar charachteristic in that it spewed out lots excessive gumbo which required the crew to clean the lower decks often. Fire hoses were employed and one particular guy did not hold the nozzle of the fire hose steady. When the fire pumps kicked in the hose snaked and caused him to lose control . . . the net result being the nozzle firing the high pressure water with mud and debris . . . into his eye. We're not sure how he's doing yet because he was whisked to the medic's room and a chopper evacuated him two hours later. Our resident Liason Officer, a Major with the TNI Navy had to escort him on the chopper and to the hospital since both eyes were heavily bandaged.

He was operated yesterday and the word was his intra-occular functions remained intact. Probably to remove a blood clot or something.

The reason it's such a big deal because safety is a very serious issue with the oil companies and contractors. The safety record is tied into the contract and for the whole of 2008 the rest of the crew will have to pay the price of not getting any "safety bonuses". It's quite a bit and can amount to 10 - 20 percent of their annual income. I even had a cheap Motorola phone and a toolbox to take home last year. All because of a good safety track record.

Then there is the loss of prestige and reputation. Not to mention nosy investigators that will come in in the next few days to lecture us.

But I have a more serious concern. For the upcoming New Year's Party the client had earlier on insisted I "contribute". By this he meant illicit liquor. In previous blogs I mentioned that alcoholic drinks is strictly prohibited from any offshore installations. But this is a French company and they all like their tipple now and again. We'll, not just the French . . .

So I complied by smuggling a bottle of Pernod and Dewars' White Label past the boat security people. I was actually booked on the chopper but no way I can get whisky past aviation security. So I had to detour and take the long way by speedboat where the marine port people are a little more "friendly".

Then another asshole (someone like me) found an "electone singer". In Indonesia it usually meant lady pub singers that know how to work an organ and has a half-way decent voice but a more-than-decent body. She is scheduled to be smuggled to the rig on New Year's Eve.

A girl at the ready. Intoxicating liquids at the ready. Mat Salo's organ --er, camera --at the ready. With investigators coming and possibly doing a little spot-checking. Not too worry, it's well hidden along with other contraband that other service contractors had contributed. There's crates and crates of Anker Bir too . . .

Just let's hope the investigators and safety officers come after the holiday season is over.

Which reminds me . . . Folks, have a Happy New Year and may 2008 be good to you.

© 2007 MatSalo Images

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Friends in High Places

INSTEAD OF FEELING the need for speed, like my hyper six-year-old often does (he has actually completed PS2's Need For Speed:Carbon, no kidding), I too feel the need . . . to trumpet a few things.

Mat Salo indeed has friends (not too many) and foes (plenty - just check out the politicians) in high places and this is a good time as any to give them their due. I'm not even going to bother checking with them if this is a good idea, because hey - that's what friends are for, right?

Today on perusing TheStar's Biz Section (Maybank Appoints New CFO) I was pleasantly surprised to read that a batchmate of mine, Beghat (nickname on account of his rather stupenduos male-centric accessory), was appointed the second-most powerful position in Maybank. No shit, Sherlock.

So I sent him an sms which goes like this: Hey Beghat.. Congrats & I hope I'm not the last to wish you. Woi! Now can u pls get your housing loan ppl to get off my back?
Comes in handy to have a buddy up there, I guess.
But the good Lato' Haji had the cheek to reply: thanks bro', but when you sold me those fotos back in kolek how come you never give me discount? And for the final nail in the coffin, signed off with a heh-heh.

An explanation is in order. I have been into photography ever since I was in Form One and it fell on me to catalog a piece of my batch's history and also to profit from it. So I'm the nerd with camera slung around the neck and was charging 20 sens (1975 dollars) for a 3R copy. And that was just for the black and white ones! I developed and printed them myself at the club's darkroom below the stairs near the science lab. The camera, all manual shit with no auto-anything was of course the club's property, along with the developer fluid, enlarger and photographic paper. For color prints I have it sent across to Yong's Photo down on Kuala Kangsar's main street where I would apply the appropriate mark-up to my fellow victims. At the end of the day, that was what the good Dato' remembered.

The bloody profiteering.

And the bloody profiteering is why The Bank has posted record profits --- and why its employees are now busily picketing with round badges over their breasts crying, "Thief!"

Anyway here's a photo of MBB's Number Two as a thirteen year-old preserved for posterity by yours truly.

©Mat Salo 1975

Payback time, eh Lato'? No man, am real proud of you, dude!

Actually I was into photography way longer than that (but why I'm still taking crap photos is anybody's guess). It all started in primary school when I was classmates with Mr. Heng FM whose dad owned the Film Star Photo Studios on Jalan Trus, Johor Bahru. As a ten-year old boy I was impressed that FM had a professional dad who photographed Ministers and Sultans.

Which brings me my next story, FM himself.

Couple of months back FM was also featured in The Star in his capacity as Managing Director of an SME IT company called Ceedtec in Penang, poised on the brink of greatness, MESDAQ and all that.

As per normal trumpet procedure, Mat Salo was the first to have caught this scintillitating item and had forwarded it to my primary school STAR2 JB e-groups where FM was forced to answer some uncomfortable questions.

For many years FM worked in the 'kilang sector' and while with HP had a big hand in putting cameras into phones. But it surprised me to know that FM, being unworthy of his dear father's profession? - shoots only with a compact camera? What-the-f%&*? An Olympus I think. Hard to believe he hasn't got an SLR when Heng Sr. was probably the most respected photographer back in the wild and swingin' JB Seventies.

At press time FM is actively enganging an "ODM Partner" (whatever that means) and having talks with "VC's" (Venture Capiltalists). Anyway, seriously, I do wish him luck. I hope to cash in if his tech company hits the jackpot. And do remember, you read it here first!

And my final story is about a guy, also from way back in JB who has now, some speculate, succumbed to the Dark Side*. Zikri is the guy in blue.

©US Department of Energy - Argonne National Labs

Zikri Yusof, PhD., is an "Accelerator Physicist" at US's prestigious Argonne National Labs near Chicago, Illinois. In our "JB" e-groups, Z, like his illustrious English College schoolmate FM before him, also had to answer lots of uncomfortable questions - namely from nincompoops like me. Z's breakthrough has directly impacted our lives by making more efficent x-ray machines using less energy.

Who knows, this Towering Malaysian might perhaps one day win a Nobel.

If that happens I can then smugly say, hey, I know that dude!

Please read Argonne's Press Release

And if you're like me, who never paid much attention to secondary school physics, I asked some rather silly questions because the press release was sheer gobbledygook. So Z was forced to email us a detailed explanation which I shall reproduce below in its entirety.

Since several of you have expressed some curiosity regarding the nature of this work, I will spend a few minutes describing what it is, and how, in fact, the advancement here could actually have an impact on a lot of people, beyond just the immediate application to high energy physics.

The whole idea here is to make a better accelerating structure to accelerate charged particles, in this case, electrons. Our current technology uses copper cavities to do that. However, we can only put so much gradient inside this cavity before we destroy it (roughly 30-60 MV/m). So in order to accelerate particles to higher and higher energies (such as the one about to be turned on at CERN), the accelerator facility needs to be longer and longer so that we can stack more and more of these copper accelerating structures to get to the energy that we want. Unfortunately, this also means that such facility will be horrendously more expensive. The proposed International Linear Collider, which will be about 40 km long, is estimated to be about US$10-15 billion! At some point, we just can no longer build such monsters.

Thus, several groups around the world have been working on new acceleration schemes to make smaller structures able to produce higher accelerating gradients than the conventional ones. Our group, the Argonne Wakefield Accelerator, is one of them.

The physics here is actually quite simple [emphasis mine]. Imagine you have a boat moving on water. What you see behind the boat is a wake left behind that was generated by the boat. The larger and faster the boat, the larger is this water wake.

In our case, the boat is a bunch of electrons, and the "water", which is the medium that the wake is generated in, is a dielectric (insulating ceramic) hollow tube, and the wake field itself is the electric field. We can generate an accelerating mechanism in 2 ways:

1.We pass a large bunch of charge (we call this the drive beam) through our dielectric tube. It creates a large wake field. Then before that wake field decays away, if we pass a small bunch of charge at just the right moment, it will experience an acceleration through the tube. This second bunch is the bunch that you want to accelerate (we call this the witness bunch since it is "witnessing" the wake field). This is like a transformer ratio – large current, low voltage being equal to low current, high voltage, with the power being the same. In our case, it is large charge, low gradient going to low charge, high gradient. The drive bunch has a high charge, creating all the wake field, and this causes a witness beam of low charge to be accelerated by a large gradient.

2.But that’s not the only means of doing this. Since the wake generated is nothing more than a classical wave, we know that classical wave can add constructively. So, if we smart enough, we can make use of that. And we do! If, after the first drive bunch has passed though, if we can add a SECOND drive bunch just at the right time, the wake field generated by the second will ADD to the wake field generated by the first, thus creating an even larger wake! What if we have 4 drive beams, 8 drive beams, 16 drive beams, 32 drive beams… etc.? You can already see that if we can have a "bunch train" of drive beams spaced just right, we can create quite a large wake to accelerate the witness beam.

As you can imagine, the construction and the details in producing all this aren’t trivial. That’s why it took the group almost 20 years just to get to that 100 MV/m milestone. We’re hoping that since we now understand things more (and we also know what dielectric to use), the next series of progress won’t take as long.

Oh, how does this impact you? If everything works, it means that we can produce a cheap, compact accelerator. Accelerators are used in a lot of things, including to generate x-rays. There are medical accelerators to generate x-rays already in used in hospitals and doctors’ offices. In principle, this technique can create more compact, cheaper medical x-rays for not just diagnostics, but treatment as well.

Whoa! I’ve written way too much and have probably put all of you to sleep! Still, I’m sure you can understand by now the excitement surrounding this, and why I think this is quite fascinating.
Take care!


Damn, Z. Whatever. Now people... do you find this fascinating? Especially about the "physics is simple part"?

Anyway, heartiest congratulations to my friends Beghat, FM and Z.

And about the "embellishments" in this blog . . . all this is in jest, eh buddies?


Uh-uh, got another one to make. An addendum. Because as soon as I posted this one up another interesting snippet came up in The Star today. This involves blood, my kah-zen, Man, the 'white sheep' of the family. No need to tell you who the 'baa baa blackie' is, eh?

This last-in-the-minute-past-deadline-post does the title justice - Friends in High Places - literally.

Anyway, Man, or referred to in The Star's story as Mejar Azman Jantan, is the first to fly the 'Ferrari of fighter jets' - the Sukhoi SU-30MKM - training with the famed Russian Knights since last July in Moscow. The reason he appeared in today's Star was because he did some aerobatic display at yesterday's LIMA in Langkawi. The paper quoted him as saying:

"...the Sukhoi could stall in midair while making swift turns, noting that it could also bank 90 degrees in the air and tail-slide down at ease.

“Apart from making flat spins like a falling leaf, the aircraft can also do a fantastic spin role on slow speed, dropping from 270 knots to 50 knots in less than five seconds,” he said.

Mejar Azman said the RMAF was looking for young and talented Malaysians to become pilots.

“Hopefully, by Lima 2009, we could have our own aerobatic team using all 18 Sukhoi aircraft,” he said.

Ea-sy kah-zen... gotta run that one by our current DPM first.

Anyway Man was already making news even from the late 80's when Mat Salo was busy scrubbing the deck of junk 25-year floating rust bucket. He did the family proud and even managed to further cement Mat Salo's reputation as the 'blackie'.

Man who had then just graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC) became the first ever Malaysian to be inducted into the famed Colorado Springs US Air Force Academy. The mother of all Top Gun schools which has produced 34 astronauts, famous Vietnam POW's and a host of US generals. There were Malaysians before him who went into West Point and the Naval Academy in Maryland but USAF? Not yet laar...

The USAF's is not only a military boot camp but a top-notch 4-year engineering undergraduate institution as well. Let's look at what it takes to get into one:

All qualified candidates may apply for nomination by either of their state’s two U.S. senators, their U.S. congressional representative, or the vice president of the United States. Children of armed forces personnel (on active duty or retired) may apply for nomination by the president of the United States. Nominations are also available to qualified enlisted members of the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. Qualified children of Medal of Honor winners . . . [as quoted in MSN's Encarta ]

Ok, Man, proud of you, 'cuz. I look at it this way, without white there can be no black. Without evil there can be no good. So it takes all kinds . . .

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's early in the morning . . .

(and in case you’re wondering, I’m not wondering what clothes to wear; same coveralls everyday lah)

BE FOREWARNED: This post is a rambling one and has no discernible beginning, middle or end. With a lot of typical embellishment and hypebole thrown in --but hey --artistic license right?

Got pretty confused as to the goings-on in Bolehland recently, so much to talk about and the pundits having beaten me to it. Just as I start a post about something, and no sooner someone comes out with a brilliant piece and the Delete keys get (over) used again. Well then, in this age of instant messaging and Punditry Inc. I’d better get used to it.

So I let blog commentators trigger me; and see where that takes me.

Case in point is the blog title above, triggered by Chegu's recent post on ‘Guitar God’ Eric Clapton. A raff of associations hit me especially that much abused karaoke fodder ‘Wonderful Tonight’. I remember being in a karaoke joint in Ho Chih Minh City a lifetime ago and the patrons in the adjacent booth, middle-aged and balding Saigon businessmen, were screaming “hotel, hotel!” Hotel? What hotel? This is a karaoke club lah. Aah, they were trying to coax a colleague sing that other much abused karaoke fodder ‘Hotel California’.

What? –Thick-in-the-middle, middle-aged and balding businessmen? And what about yours truly? Yeah, it happens only to the other guy. Right.

Then there was Bung Zawi who ‘suggested’ I host Daphne of Aphysia-Dyphasia on my rig, seeing she was curious in the first place. I started to reply in a comment but it got too long. So I decided to reproduce it here for the benefit of other curious folks.

I'd love to host visitors, but unfortunately it's not up to me, rigs are tightly guarded places. To get on a rig one needs to attend a 3-day approved HUET ('Hooyet') and Basic Sea Survival course with the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training entailing participants being strapped in a helicopter-type carcass and dunked.

Participants come dressed in coveralls. The crane lowers the 'heli' down until everything is submerged (you included, of course) 6 feet under. We're strapped in our seatbelts. Two divers are on standby in-case of difficulties and also to ensure no one cheats. The moment the water gets to your ears you take a deep breath. Five seconds later we're under. The heli rotates 180-degrees so now our feet are up and our heads are down. It's easy to get disoriented but because of training we know which door or window to grasp and kick out. Most people get claustrophobic and panic. It's got to be a controlled underwater exit or else everybody gets tangled and drowns while the damn thing is sinking! So grab on the door or window frame tight (10 seconds would have elapsed - I know it's short but believe me it feels like an eternity) because when you undo the buckle upside down your body floats up to the top of the chopper (in this case, the heli’s "floor"). Watch your colleagues exit, sometimes while disoriented they fail to see the door or window next to them. Kick or push out the window (with everything submerged, pressure has equalized) and the door or window easily falls away. Exit and swim to surface. Don’t worry, your natural buoyancy will also guide you up. But if you pull the cord that fires the pressurized cartridges that blow air in your life-jacket too quick (before surfacing) you fail. The idea is constant training makes you react in rational manner under pressure. But who knows how people react when shit actually hits the fan?

Do this two more times and then you get certified, and after passing a comprehensive medical exam you can now be eligible for a rig visit. This is overkill I know, but training does pay off. Just last a year a chopper carrying rig workers in Terengganu fell into the sea. Only the pilot was killed but the rest survived.

The HUET course needs to be done every three years. I did mine at a rather rigorous facility along with some Singapore’s Israeli-trained air force pilots in Loyang, Singapore. The whole she-bang (as a mandor I needed the extra courses) took five days which included advanced fire-fighting, CPR and all that good stuff.

The chopper thing in Singapore, although scary, pales in comparison to advanced fire-fighting training. Fire-fighters get all my respect. Imagine being in full fire-fighting gear (without a real fire it’s already like a sauna in there): helmet, full faced mask and an oxygen bottle that’s going to last me 15 minutes. The scenario is like this: On the word go I enter a building (in a totally blacked-out warehouse in Loyang stacked with containers). No flashlight. The idea is in a real-life situation there’s so much smoke it is pitch black. My goal is to enter into the container-mazes inside the dark warehouse, crawling makeshift tunnels to find a life-sized dummy and bring it out. We do this in pairs like in a buddy system. After a while you get disoriented and it didn’t help matters that my partner was the claustrophobic sort. At the ten minute mark with impediments, boxes, oil drums here and there, we knew we’re going to fail.

So I cheated. This is where being a smoker comes in handy. I told my buddy to turn the oxygen spigot off. “Screw this,” I said. “Else we’ll never find that blow-up doll”. I pulled my trusty Zippo and lo and behold, in another minute we found our target. Of course, near the exit we don our masks back on and the former Canadian Coast Guard instructor was suitably impressed. But when he checked our oxygen bottles he knew they were air still left in them when other teams usually finish off theirs. I could never look him in the eye after that.

The HUET in Loyang was another matter altogether. Now I was to rub shoulders with elite Israeli-trained crack fighter pilots. What these uber-kiasus didn’t know was I was a pretty decent swimmer. Back in the seventies I represented my school up to state level and even participated in National meets. 400m and 800m ‘kuak dada’ was my specialty. By Form Two I not only had the Bronze Medallion but also the higher Bronze Cross life saving certificates under my belt. To be a pool lifesaver you only need the ‘Medallion’ and I guarantee you only some of the 5-star hotels have these paper-qualified lifeguards.

Because of the kiasu factor in these swaggering SAF pilots, the instructor devised some pretty interesting scenarios for the ‘upside-down’ heli-training. So first we went through the usual as a warm up. These guys were looking at an overweight Melayu who kept sneaking off to smoke cigarettes. They looked at me with pity. Now the instructor added a twist just to see what these wannabees are made of. Instead of four exit points, there will be only one (the rest presumably jammed shut) and we won’t know which in advance. This is the best part: We will all be wearing blacked-out goggles!

Needless to say these super-fit kiasus didn’t even bat an eye-lid. And they looked at my sodden cotton coveralls with glee in their nice water-cum-fireproofed flight suits.

But the proof of pudding is in the eating and they deliberately entered the suspended heli-carcass first. Now they were three frogmen in the water in case serious rescue were required. I entered last. Seems those bastards knew before-hand which window was free so they sat nearest to it while I was furthest away. I suspect one of the frogmen tipped them off. No worries, I just needed to hold my breath longer and mentally mapped the exit. This is where my Bronze Cross training paid-off.

The Bronze Cross Life Savers Certificate is really quite challenging. It’s designed for a lifesaver to get in any closed-water situation (as opposed to open water – the seas, which requires further killer training) like lakes, rivers ponds and pull up to two victims to safety and demonstrate underwater combat skills. The combat skills is designed to knock your victims out, instead of your victim thrashing about that might pull you the lifesaver under -- now instead of just one, you have two casualties. So you knock them out cold first.

You must also tread water while performing mouth-to-mouth. The test is conducted at night and I did mine at Ipoh’s municipal pool. The water must be at least 12 feet deep. You face away from the pool, fully-clothed (baju Melayu in my case) and the instructor throws a ten-kilo brick wrapped in cloth to simulate a drowned victim lying at the bottom of a 12 feet pool. You hear the splash and you mentally map the supposed target. You turn around and the examiner gives you the thumbs up. Your fully-clothed partner is by the pool ready to jump and be ‘the victim’ to be resuscitated and towed for four lengths of the 50m pool (200m). The distance you assume where the brick went down is bout three-fourths of the pool, about the 35m mark. So you dive in, the clothes immediately clinging and offering resistance. Of course we also had our Fung Keong shoes on too. But those days I trained for at least 2 km everyday, so no sweat. About half-way, I jack-knifed in and if don’t bring up the brick-cloth up I would automatically fail. So you flail around the 10, 11, 12 feet depth area at the bottom desperately searching for the brick in the cold murky darkness. 30, 35, 45 seconds pass –yes, got it. Give a kick-up and surface. Thread water with the brick above the water to demonstrate superior water-threading skills. After a minute the instructor tells your partner-victim to jump in so you throw the brick away. Victim pretends to flail and you do some chop here and chop there and he relaxes. Pretend to mouth-to-mouth with your buck-toothed jerawat batu guy partner knowing full well that Michelle Yeoh is nearby in Convent Ipoh (a year younger than me) and would only be a star three decades on –but why am I telling you this? –and start towing.

Now back to Loyang. Black goggles on and the winch drops us in. The world goes dark. I hyperventilate. Everything is in my mental map now. Stay calm, don’t get disoriented. The damn thing turns over, and I count, “one thousand one, one thousand two . . .” I forced myself the urge to quickly undo the buckle. I think I overdid it. Because when I exited (feeling each window to find the opened one) the water felt calm meaning the three Chuck Yeager wannabees had already surfaced. Needless to say I whupped their ass. I was out last but the instructor gave me an approving look and clapped. The three frogmen too gave me a thumbs-up.

The 'winner' in this case is the one that gets out last. Because this is one instance where kiasu-ism defeats the purpose of a controlled exit. Apparently there was a tangle with the second and third SAF pilot. I'm glad to have stuck to my game plan and held out as long as I could. These kaisu buggers can only kill you. Fighter pilot or not.

I tell you man, It felt so great to one-up a Singie... Yeaaaah!