Monday, 29 November 2010

Going Metric.

When studying Mechanical Engineering at college, the lecturer drummed  into us the importance of  the units of measurement. All of our calculations had to show not only the numbers but all of the units and the answer with the correctly derived unit. The beauty of the S.I. system of units is that it can be calculated like this, even if you didn't know the correct unit for Work, the fact it is calculated by Force (N) * Distance moved (m) would tell you the correct unit is the Nm. or the Joule to give it another name.

I therefore get slightly annoyed at the British press (for whom all scientists, engineers or anyone who can wire a plug is called a 'Boffin') for constantly using the non SI and non Imperial unit of measurement called 'The double decker bus'. Thus a story about a submarine captain losing his command is dumbed down because the multi million pound, nuclear powered, killing machine (sorry, 'deterrent') that he grounded, weighs 7800 tonnes - "equivalent to nearly 1,000 double-decker buses".

Fractions are best avoided in practice
Fortunately, there is a handy calculator available that will allow you to convert lengths, areas, heights and speeds into manageable 'DDB' units: DDB Calculator. Thus, I know that 1 Blue Whale is equivalent to 3.58 double decker buses and 1 Statue of Liberty is equivalent to 10.6 double decker buses. I will endeavour to use DDB units with my customers when discussing their wells and the performance of our drill bits. I'm sure they'll be more impressed that a bit can drill at 0.1219 double decker buses/hour instead of 30 feet/hour.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Sunday Top Five : Girls Aloud

1. Kimberley Walsh: Lovely, curvy, with an accent like freshly baked bread. But will she go all "Fern Britton" when she hits thirty? That's the worry, I have nightmares.

2.Cheryl Cole: Sexy, skinny and with such a poor track record of picking a man that even I'm in with a chance. A bit of a crier though and obviously can't cook.

3. Nadine Coyle: I'd go out with Nadine just to annoy her Hollywood Ex. but only if she agreed not to speak at all. No, seriously, I'd want that in a legally binding document.

4. Sarah Harding: She's the one you'd go down the pub with, before going home to Kimberley. The pub would need loud music. And nachos. With cheese.

5. The Ginger One: Girl not allowed.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Talking Rubbish

Libya is a rubbish dump, with garbage everywhere and people throwing litter out of their cars without a second thought. You can go out into the hills, miles from anywhere and the stench of rotting garbage will greet you.
And then, several weeks ago, the yellow army arrived. Hundreds of illegal migrant workers, wearing bright yellow coveralls and caps have been filling bags and yellow bins with garbage from the side of the road. A temporary base close to my house is filled with garbage trucks and bins, with trucks picking up and dropping off workers.
The road to my office was beginning to look fairly decent, although it was always obvious how far the workers had progressed the previous day. I was actually impressed that the government was taking steps to tidy up the city and make it slightly less of a dump. "Good on 'em", I thought.

Of course, I should have known better. There had to be an ulterior motive and sure enough today I found out about the 3rd Africa-EU Summit / Tripoli, Libya, 29-30 November 2010.

Oh yes, Tripoli is about to host nearly a dozen African presidents, over 100 delegations and assorted self important big men. So things are being tarted up so that as the VIPs are being whisked around from point A to point B, they won't get to see piles of trash. And to further ensure the city is seen as being modern, sleek and fast moving, there'll be a two/three day public holiday. They call it 'holiday' because 'curfew' doesn't give the right impression, but Allah help anyone trying to drive anywhere in the city. Escape will be impossible, as the airport is being closed down. Although they state 'security reasons', it's more likely to be due to the fact that the car park outside the terminal resembles a car breaker's yard.

Still, we all get another short holiday, but in true government fashion, they probably won't release the dates of the curfew, sorry, "official public holiday", until Thursday evening at 9PM on local, arabic speaking media only. Better make sure the fridge is full of wine and food. This could be a long weekend.

What'll happen to all the yellow army when it's all over and where in the desert has all the crap been dumped ? It'll show up on GoogleEarth in a year's time. You can already  see the lagoons of waste from drilling if you know where to look. At least the poor migrant workers are getting something out of it all.

Edit: apparently now it's "100 leaders" and rumours are that Obama is coming....

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A Sunday Top Five: The Deca Iron Top Five

167 hours in to the Deca Ironman race in Mexico and they're well into the run section now.

NumNameCityGroupLapsDistance CompletedTimeLast LapPlace
11Christian MauditFranceMale143272,137 km Run167:29:540:21:301
13David ClampEnglandMale113215,227 km Run166:40:330:34:132
16Roger LehmanUSAMale64122,274 km Run167:26:360:26:023
12Antal VonekiHungaryMale61116,583 km Run167:35:220:21:164
10Wayne P. KurtzUSAMale4790,025 km Run167:26:280:14:145

Dave Clamp has 110 laps to go and is slowly catching  Christian Maudit who has 87 laps to complete. However Dave's had to strap up his right ankle and is suffering  a wee bit.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Short Road To Freedom

45 minutes.

That's how long it takes to fly from Libya to Malta. If that was British Airways, you wouldn't even get a smile from the cabin crew. Air Malta will give you 2 cans of Cisk lager, or whatever tipples your fancy. The atmosphere on any flight out of Tripoli has to be experienced. The 1500hrs flight to Heathrow is 'The Party Flight', they've got three hours of gin & tonics and they will abuse it.
Pay Your Respects Here

I'll spend more time queuing in immigration in Tripoli, or waiting for my bags when I come back or probably waiting for some muppet Libyan to come back and shift his car so I can get out of the car park* than I will actually flying. And yet Malta is the perfect escape. It's British enough (it has the pub that Ollie Reed died in), they speak better English than a good percentage of the population of England, you can get everywhere from anywhere within the hour, the seafood is great, the bread is superb and they have broccoli the size of basketballs.

Aye, Just park it here love.
What's not to like ? Their driving is more liberal than the UK, but not as anarchic as Libya. It's hot but not in a blast furnace way. They have beaches, but they're not covered in plastic bottles or hair gelled lotharios. It's small enough to see most of, but not feel smothered by. And it's full of old cars, like a set from 'The Sweeney' or 'The Professionals'. No wonder so many Libyan based expats have apartments there.

We're off there tomorrow for a few days with the Hash. A few days of relaxing, drinking and we might even do a run. I'm taking a large bag to bring back plenty of culinary essentials. I'm also currently training for the 2011 Malta marathon on Feb 27th. as I'll most likely still be working here then. Whether I'm actually fit enough (and not injured) then, doesn't matter. It'll be worth the minor investment in the flight just to savour the sweet taste of freedom once more.

*Or you can help a group of equally annoyed Libyans to pick up the offending car and move it - taking care to cause as much damage as possible in the process.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Nuts Part 1

I blame the parents. It has to be someone's fault. A total dislike of team sports (except women's beach volleyball) and a lack of depth perception combined with such poor co ordination  that I struggle to find the Pause button when Maria Sharapova is mid-serve. 

I seem to be attracted to the 'sports' that involve improving your own performance rather than beating others. OK thai boxing might have involved trying to kick seven shades of sh*t out of an opponent, but for me it was always about learning more technical moves, stretching further, kicking higher and faster. I was a pretty useless fighter, but could do the moves perfectly. Probably why I could teach others to fight better than I could do it myself. Rollerblading was always about finding new, higher, steeper sets of stairs to ride down. Falling and falling until they were mastered, then moving on to find a new challenge. With scuba diving I went through the qualifications up to instructor, then was getting into technical diving and rebreathers when I left Thailand. This was about diving deeper, staying down longer and mixing gases in order to combat the body's natural preference to being  on the surface with a nice frosted margarita rather than slowly poisoning it with Nitrogen at 50m down. I dabbled with strength training while in Thailand, increasing the weights every session, finding it hard to sleep at night as my legs were hurting so much. The downside of this kind of training was people would always ask you to carry heavy things ,as you were the 'strong one'. I was training to be a donkey.

I quickly went from running in a 10km race to wanting to do a marathon. I only started to do triathlon because I thought it would force me to learn to swim front crawl, but I knew when I signed up for my first sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike , 5km run) that I'd end up doing an iron distance race (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 41km run) - I can't help myself. Now of course, I want to do another, but want to go faster than before. I want to take an hour off my Barcelona time and go under 12 hours in Germany next year.

Norseman Swim Start
But going faster isn't enough, I want to know how far my body and mind can go. In 2012 I want to do a double Iron distance race, which should be about 30hrs of fun. There's always a triple or quint, but then you're getting into sleep deprivation and losing toe nails. Alot of these ultra distance races involve huge numbers of laps of short bike & run circuits, which keeps things safer (should you collapse or fall asleep while moving!) but are boring. I think I'll attempt the double then just look for the harder or more interesting challenges. Ironman Lanzarote is a brutally hard iron distance course, whilst the Norseman race in Norway starts the swim with jumping off a ferry into a fjord, and after a tough bike leg, ends with a run up a mountain. 

Also interesting is the more bizarre stuff like Ö TILL Ö in Sweden, described as:

A simple concept – teams of two run and swim, continuously, during the hours of daylight, from the northern end of the Stockholm archipelago to the south, encompassing 22 islands from Sandhamm to Üto. 

Total distance is over 66km; 57km running and 9.3km swimming

So that's running in your wetsuit and carrying your running shoes and backpack while you swim - mad as a box of frogs!

Finally there are the people who were dropped on their heads as babies. Starting on November 14th and running (or more likely sadly shuffling) until 12 December, we have The Deca and Double Deca Iron Distance race in Mexico. I'll need a calculator for this:   76km swim, 3600km of cycling and 844km of running. The swim is 1520 lengths of a 50m pool, the bike ride is over 1800 laps. Even if you got to see Megan Fox pole dancing once every lap - it'd get tedious.

Go Arthur!
The winner, as long as they finish in 28 days, gets $2000, which won't even cover the costs for you and your support crew. There'll be no sponsorship deals and I'm pretty sure the WAGS won't include glamour models helping to drain blisters, cut the toes out of running shoes or live in a tent by the side of the track for the best part of a month, feeding their athlete a steady stream of food, drinks and verbal and emotional support. I'm going to be following the daily results for a month. I'm backing Arthur Puckrin, well he's British and his birthday is only 2 days after mine. And he's 73. 
Go Arthur, you're brilliant & barking mad. I blame your parents.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Sunday Top Five: Top 5 James Bonds

1. George Lazenby. Aside from OHMSS being my favourite Bond film, Lazenby lived the playboy Bond lifestyle. Respect for not selling out to art!

Ding Dong Moneypenny!
2. Daniel Craig. Bond a nasty b@stard? Well he is basically a government salaried hitman. Bourne would still whup him though.

3. Roger Moore. If Leslie Phillips had played Bond, this is how it'd have been.

4. Sean Connery - punch or punchline, you can't have both, ask Steven Segal.

5.Pierce Brosnan. Because there has to be 5 and it can't be Timothy Dalton and I've not seen the original Casino Royale.

Place Your Bets....

For the last week I've not been allowed to drive my company car. Once again the laws have changed and because it's a car with Libyan plates, as opposed to having a blue square and a number designating it as a foreign registered car (20=UK) it means only a Libyan can drive it. Until last week it was enough that I had a letter from the company giving me permission to drive the car, but now the goalposts have moved. To be fair, it is designed to stop private individuals leasing cars to expats and not declaring the income. I'm 100% behind them on this and if I worked for a company that wasn't conforming to the local legislation I'd be suitably non plussed...

So this means I've been relying on Bassim to drive to my house, leave his car at ours & then drive me to the office. So far, 0845hrs has been 0855, 0900 and 0910hrs. At least on Thursday I gave him credit for honesty, ("I overslept"). When he drops me off at night or has left me the car at the office, in the good old days when I was allowed to drive myself, I always (half jokingly) have  asked if he has his keys, phone, cigarettes etc. Invariably he leaves something behind. On Thursday he dropped me at my house and somehow left his house keys outside in the dirt, where my landlord found them. I still have them here.

Anyway, onto the subject of the bet:
I have to go to work tomorrow (Sunday), Bassim has to pick me up from the house, I haven't told him what time to be here. Logically you'd assume it'd be 0845hrs, as that it the normal time to be late for. But it might also be common sense to phone and check what time you're required.
After two years of employing him, I know I need to phone him and tell him what time to be late for.

But I can access my work e mail from home, I have my mobile phone, the boss is away, so let's have some fun rather than get p*ssed off with the never ending muppetry. I've not called him and me & Dear are betting what's going to happen. So join in the fun.

Will he:

a) turn up late, thinking he needs to be here at 0845hrs ?
b) phone from his house, after 9 am. asking where to go ?
c) phone from my office after 10 am. Having forgotten I'm not allowed to drive ?
d) not turn up or call ?
e) be here on time ?

Dear reckons (b), I favour (c).

There'll be no b@llockings or fines this time, I know I should call him as he has zero initiative, but we need to get our fun somehow...

So, place your bets now.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


It's one week to go until the big Eid holiday, which for expats is 3 days off work (praise Allah that it doesn't fall over a weekend this year!) and sheep get nervous when offered a ride home in a stranger's car. Thousands of sheep have been enjoying life in the country, then one day they're loaded into pick up trucks and get to enjoy the feeling of the wind in their faces as they're raced into town. Once here they stand around in makeshift pens, set up wherever the farmers damn well feel like it. These impromptu markets appear everywhere overnight and last until the final runt of the flock has limped away for a ride home in the back of a taxi or a family's Mazda.

Whilst Christmas typically dictates the devouring of a turkey or other fowl, the difference is that it's not a custom that every family attending a Xmas dinner would bring their own bird with them and slaughter it in the back yard. Sheep aren't cheap and yet it is important that everyone can provide one. As the male of his house, my driver will use pretty much his whole month's salary to buy a sheep , yet with only him, his mum and sister in the house, how long are they going to be munching mutton ? And as they live in an apartment, they will have to keep their sheep on the roof overnight until it's time for it to get the closest shave it'll ever experience. It's not uncommon for the more well off families to buy a cow or buffalo; even camels are reduced to handy steak sized pieces. Budding entrepreneurs set up grind wheels at the side of the roads to sharpen the blades of the once a year butchers.

Luckily, as a vegetarian and an atheist, I'm unlikely to receive any invitations to join in the celebrations. And this year we're escaping to Malta with a bunch of people from the Hash, much better to enjoy an Islamic religious holiday in a non Islamic country. I'll raise a glass to all the sheep.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Sunday Top Five: 5 Times I've dislocated my shoulder

  1. Falling on a half pipe on rollerblades, Aberdeen
  2. Falling on a climbing wall, Chiang Mai
  3. Falling down some steps, drill ship , Irian Jaya
  4. Jumping off a dive boat roof into the sea, Koh Samui
  5. Slipping on ice when drunk, Kazakhstan
*note: I'd not recommend Googling 'Shoulder Dislocation' if you're squeamish

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Driving Miss Crazy

My driver's mum is on holiday. I know this because he has been late to work every day this week, despite the fact we bought him an alarm clock last year. We've tried fining him 5 dinar a day each time he's late, which when you're on 500LYD/month, can soon add up.

I don't ask much of him, there are just 3 rules:
1. Be in the office by 0930hrs
2. Never give me the car back with the out of fuel light on
3. Never let the windscreen washer bottle empty light come on

He has been my driver for 2 years and yet still can't manage these 3 things.  There's always an excuse, how yesterday he 'forgot' the fuel tank was empty between parking my car outside the office and walking about 200m to give me the keys. If he's late "there was traffic", "he couldn't get a taxi" or "the taxi driver drove slow" or "didn't have change" - "get  up earlier" and "carry change" are alien concepts, it is always someone else's fault. He almost ran into the back of a car that braked - "that car braked!", "No Bassim, you were so close to him I could have picked the couscous out of his moustache"

He has lived in Tripoli all of his life, yet I seem to know how to get around better than him. Despite the number of times he's taken me to my customers, I still have to give my instructions as:

To go to BP: " Goto the office by the chinese people"
To go to Petrocanada. " Goto the office that isn't the one by the chinese people"
To go to Sonatrach "Goto the office we went to last week, and you got lost and went to the coffee shop and got directions" - although after today I might be able to call them "the office by the coffee shop"

Thankfully I can walk to Oxy's office.

I don't actually need a driver and prefer to drive myself, but we need him to ferry Dear around and if I'm using the car I think I should make him work a bit, otherwise he'll just sit around the office looking at his feet.

He has driven Dear to violence, she has hit him at least twice and you would be surprised, nae shocked, at how she speaks to him. She's not proud of it and she admits he really brings out the worst in her.  I recommend pouring her a drink, get one for yourself - make it a large one, get a comfy chair and ask her about him. It's comedy gold!

We're going to let him go at the end of this month, he is being particularly bad and lazy right now, Dear lost it yesterday and told him to not bother coming back today. Yet it doesn't seem to sink into his head. He is 31-32, lives with his mum & sister and has got a pretty easy job working for us, in a country with a high level of unemployment. The only reason we've not looked for another driver, apart from him being a nice enough guy, is that we can trust him and he really looks out for Dear if she's out shopping. He might be as lecherous as most Libyan men, but Allah help any man who would be be lecherous towards Dear, his sister or his mum! It's a shame to let him go, however once Dear leaves, I don't need him. If he was  keen or showed some initiative then maybe I'd keep him on, but if after two years I need to call him at 10am to see when he'll be at the office, then I think I can see how I can save 250GBP/month. Plus - touch wood - he's had alot more accidents in my car than I have....

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


The Crossroads by my house - traffic lights not working and no police present

The horrendous driving in Libya is a constant source of amusing/horror stories. Every day I have to go across a junction (from left to right above) on the way to work. The traffic lights no longer work, which is a good thing as you're better off knowing that no one will stop than assuming they will stop because a light is red. There is always a police car parked up, maybe it hasn't got an engine. Sometimes the police get out and try to direct the traffic, on those days the jams are really bad.  GoogleEarth shows it at a typically chaotic moment, but this natural law does work and is better than the two controlled alternatives.
For true traffic fans it's at: Lat: 32°47'41.99"N , Long:  13° 1'24.32"E

Monday, 1 November 2010

Taking the Mickey

Insert Employer's Name Here ANNOUNCES THIRD QUARTER 2010 RESULTS
 October  2010  Employer's Name (NYSE: E.N) today reported that for the third quarter ended September 30, 2010 it earned net income of $404 million, 

So why can't we get have some money to buy printer cartridges ? I need to print a proposal out for a customer but no one in the office has ink.

A resourceful person would nip out to the shops, buy the ink and claim it on expenses.

They would then be an out of pocket person, because I'm still waiting to get June, July & August's expenses paid. So now Bank of Ed is open for deposits only.

Multi million dollar, multinational corporation or Mickey Mouse Club ?