Carbon Confusion

Even though I suppose I’m an engineer of some description, I still consider myself to be more of a scientist than the average bloke in the street.  I feel sort of entitled to think this having sat through 2 years of the most mind-numbingly boring A-level chemistry lessons which would have made watching paint dry seem like an adrenaline sport.

At any rate, I consider myself clued up enough to spot glaring errors in Guardian articles on the environment: 

Yesterday the holiday company Airtours launched what it claims is Britain’s first round the world package holiday: a 23-day whistlestop tour of 10 countries at a cost of £4,499. Scheduled to take off from Manchester airport on February 27 next year, the Airbus will carry 329 passengers, three pilots, 10 cabin crew, 10 holiday reps and a doctor.

As environmentalists were quick to point out, they will also emit a staggering 2,289 tonnes of carbon – equivalent to the weight of 286 double-decker buses.

Sorry?  They’ll emit carbon?  As in soot?  Product of unburnt fuel?  I never knew aeroplane engines burned so rich.  Maybe they should get under the engine cowlings and play with the mixture screw a bit.

Or maybe they are on about carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas they are all so worried about, too much of which is going to cause the earth to heat up a bit.  Sitting on Sakhalin Island watching the thermometer plumb to minus six this morning I fail to see what the problem is.  But whatever my meteorological preferences, the terms “carbon” and “carbon dioxide” are not interchangeable any more than “hydrogen” and “water” are. 

Not only are they very different substances, but the manner in which these terms are used are completely arse about face.  Contrary to the article quoted, no carbon is emitted during an aeroplane flight (a miniscule quantity of partially burned fuel notwithstanding).  The carbon is locked inside the fuel combined with other elements, chiefly hydrogen.  When the fuel is burned, the carbon and hydrogen separate and join with the oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide and water respectively.  Carbon as a substance on its own doesn’t come into it.

So all this talk of “carbon credits”, “carbon sinks”, and “weights of carbon emitted” leaves me all rather confused.  If people are going to able to sell carbon credits, then the Yanks must be laughing all the way to the bank because they have greater coal reserves than anyone else.  And when environmentalists talk of aircraft emitting 2,289 tonnes of carbon, are they talking about large piles of graphite or are they talking about carbon dioxide gas?  Because if they cannot manage to get even the basic terminology right, why should we bother listening to anything else they say?

(via J.F.Beck)

Putin’s Remarks

It appears that President Putin, who I shall take care not to offend in my postings here lest I be banished from Russia for good, has made a bit of a daft statement regarding allegations of rape in the highest circles of Israeli politics:

“What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women – I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all – we all envy him!”

Which certainly seems like an insensitive gaff of the highest order.  I see that the whole episode is being blamed on a mistranslation:

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov admitted: “Yes really, these words were pronounced.”

“Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing.

“I don’t think that the proper translation is able to reflect the meaning of the joke.

He said it “in no way means that President Putin welcomes rape”.

Russian is a complicated language, but I doubt the remarks lost much of their meaning in translation.  I am more inclined to think that the manner in which a Russian would interpret such remarks is vastly different from how a westerner would.  Russian humour, often thought not to exist, is very dry and often exceptionally dark.  In many cases, it cares little for the sensibilities of those who are easily offended.  This is, after all, a country which within living memory deemed half of its citizens criminals and threw them into icy labour camps.  So my take is that Putin was simply making an exceptionally crude joke which would not cause the same offence to the Russian men in his entourage as it would to western journalists.

Whatever the intentions behind the remarks, I’m not sure I agree with Lemuel on Russia when he says:

Plus Russians are the real experts when it comes to rape, they have raped whole countries.

Which may or may not be true, but he is missing the obvious point that the Russians as a people were systematically raped by the Golden Horde of Ghengis Khan to the effect that the Asiatic features they bequeathed are noticable in nearly all Russians. There is a Russian proverb: Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tatar which acknowledges this fact. So when he says Russians are experts when it comes to rape, they ought to be as most of them carry the physical evidence of it in their features.

An Industry in Crisis

Fed up with El Gordo spending your hard-earned cash like a drunken sailor?  Fancy earning £600 per day tax free, plus accomodation and car, working 6 weeks on/3 weeks off?

If so, then simply learn an engineering discipline and join the oil and gas industry.  At the moment, companies are crying out for people.  They are desperate.  They are throwing money at people, and still coming up short.  There are simply not enough people.  Trying to find a decent risk-based inspection engineer, HAZOP chairman, or instrumentation engineer is an impossible task, it would seem.  Actually it’s not, but if you are trying to find one on the cheap you might as well recruit the next chap you pass on the street.  One of the side effects of this situation is the older chaps can no longer afford to retire, as they would simply miss out on too much money.  Hence the industry is full of blokes well past 60 making hay while the sun shines, and wishing it was like this when they were in their twenties.

A couple of weeks back The Economist ran a special feature on the search for talent, and in their lead article they said:

[T]wo things are making it much harder for companies to adjust.

The first is the collapse of loyalty. Companies happily chopped out layers of managers during the 1990s; now people are likely to repay them by moving to the highest bidder. The second is the mismatch between what schools are producing and what companies need. In most Western countries schools are churning out too few scientists and engineers—and far too many people who lack the skills to work in a modern economy (that’s why there are talent shortages at the top alongside structural unemployment for the low-skilled).

The feature deals with the hunt for talent in all industries not just in oil and gas, but when taking my own industry into consideration, the points made above only partially apply. Continue reading

The Challenge Ahead

When I first landed this job in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a Russian girl I’m friendly with told me to expect a lot of frustration when working with Russians.  So far it’s not been too bad, although there have been one or two things which have made me roll my eyes and bite my tongue to prevent me saying something I shouldn’t.

Firstly, I must say that they are all pretty smart.  Even though they have their fair share of idiots like everywhere else, nobody can say that the average Russian is thick.  But when it comes to taking initiative I am left wondering if the word translates into Russian.  Some of them seem incapable of looking at a task in its entirety and completing the individual steps necessary to complete the whole task.  You need to ask them to do each part individually.  I get the impression that if you asked one of these chaps to take a shower, he’d call you after a few hours asking if he could get out and dry himself.  Motivating this lot into taking responsibility for anything more complicated than ordering lunch is going to be tough.

That said, one or two of the women are ruthlessly efficient at getting stuff done.  They run their departments like Stalin ran Russia, through fear, intimidation, and violence.  Okay, I made the last one up.  But although this type of management style has its uses in the sense that we need to achieve the results it brings, it also upsets a lot of people along the way and carries with it a lot of unwanted side effects.  Like resignations.  So I’ll have to temper them slightly.  However, it is quite nice to be able to wheel out one of these women to give an unreliable supplier or two a damned good bollocking in the middle of the office.  It’s impressive to watch.

Then I’ve also had a girl come to me with a complaint that her entire department is speading malicious rumours about her, and she is unhappy about it, and the only one she can trust is her friend, who is also in the same department.  Sound normal?  It would, were the department not consisting in its entirety of just four people.  I’ve promised I’ll deal with it, but have no idea how.

I’d like to see what the management gurus in the West who write all those books would do in an environment like this.  Flee in panic, I expect.

Terry Lloyd

A UK coroner has ruled that ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed by US forces in the opening days of the Iraq War.  Not content with the ruling, and clearly with the authority to make such statements, National Union of Journalists’ broadcasting organiser Paul McLaughlin has ruled thusly:

“Terry Lloyd was the victim not just of an unlawful killing, but also of a war crime.”

Odd, then, that the coroner failed to mention it.

I recall the death of Terry Lloyd well, as it was in my mind the result of an act of wartime stupidity surpassed only by that of the UN observers in Lebanon.  As CNN reported things at the time:

London-based ITN said Lloyd, 51, and his team apparently were fired on by forces from the U.S.-led coalition while driving toward coalition lines, accompanied by vehicles driven by Iraqis, including a truck filled with soldiers. ITN said the Iraqis might have been intending to surrender.

From what I could gather from the initial reports which came out at the time, Lloyd and his crew had disappeared into the battlefield area well ahead of coalition lines, unescorted and without telling the coalition soldiers of their plans.  They came across a small convoy of Iraqi soldiers, most of whom were bearing arms, and decided in their wisdom to join them as they headed towards American lines.  There is speculation as to whether the Iraqis were planning to surrender, but it seems that no white flag was raised or armaments abandoned to indicate such intentions.  Nevertheless, Lloyd and his hapless crew stuck with the Iraqi column as it sped towards American lines.  Unsurprisingly, the Americans believed the armed Iraqi soldiers to be attacking and opened fire, and somehow Lloyd was hit by either an American or Iraqi bullet.  Lloyd was then transferred to an unmarked minibus which was being used as an ambulance, along with four Iraqi soldiers.  The Americans then opened fire on the vehicle, killing Lloyd and the other passengers.

Far from being a deliberate murder of a journalist on the part of the Americans, those responsible for the killing were more likely dumbstruck at the stupidity of a civilian press crew accompanying an Iraqi military convoy which was, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, carrying out an attack.

So rather than making baseless accusations of war crimes, perhaps Paul McLaughlin should further his members’ interests in the future by providing courses in basic common sense.   Indeed, there is a case to argue that the journalists themselves were criminally negligent resulting in the deaths of some of their number.  The principal witness to the attack, and the only survivor from the group, was cameraman Daniel Demoustier.  As the BBC reported at the time of the incident:

Two Iraqi vehicles followed them, the occupants making “thumbs up” signs, which Mr Demoustier took to mean they wanted to surrender using them as cover.

Firstly, on what grounds and with what authority did Mr Demoustier interpret a “thumbs up” sign from Iraqi soldiers to unescorted reporters as an intention to surrender?  And secondly, whose decision was it that the reporters should be used as cover for surrendering Iraqis?  Indeed, do the rules of war allow journalists to act as cover for soldiers under any circumstances? 

Were these questions asked in the inquest and the answers considered by the coroner in his ruling?  Or are the media protecting one of their own by not telling us, hoping to deflect such questions by making accusations of deliberate murder?

General Winter Approaches

When I was a teenager and reading a lot of books on WWII, I remember one particular passage which concerned the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Promised that they would be in and out before winter set in, they’d only been issued with summer uniforms and a few trenchcoats and scarves.  The paragraph I recall told of how the German soldiers woke one morning in early October to find a skim of ice on the water buckets which their horses drank from.  Far from Germany, and still advancing, they knew from this seemingly trivial event that they were deep in the shit.  For someone like me, their fear can only be imagined.

Things are not quite as bad here in Sakhalin, but this morning marked the first day when I found frost on my windscreen.  Not very much at all, it must be said, but it was there and it’s only going to get worse.  Fortunately, unlike the German soldiers who took part in Operation Barbarossa, most foreigners invading Sakhalin today have a Toyota Landcruiser with remote control starting.  I’d not seen this before, but it is a function attached to the alarm and immobiliser which allows you to start your vehicle remotely, and from quite a considerable distance.  The idea is you wake up in the morning, flick the button on your little remote control, and your car outside starts up.  Of course, the doors are still locked and the immobiliser on so no passing Scouser can simply help himself.  The idea is that when you leave your car at night you turn the heater and the demister on full, so as you take your shower and eat your cornflakes your car gradually heats up and clears the window ready for when you eventually come down to drive it away.  One of the more surreal side effects of this functionality is walking to your car parked amongst dozens of others in a secure care park and finding several cars sitting seemingly abandoned with the engine running, and several more burst into life as you walk past without another human being in sight.  It is like the Toyota Landcruisers of Sakhalin have been inspired by the Terminator films into revolting against their human masters.

I haven’t got this system fitted on my car yet, so I have to clear the windscreen by sitting in the car shivering.  Not that I’d have been able to stand in a hot shower and wait anyway.  The town’s heating came on a few days ago, and the hot water eventually reached my apartment’s radiators yesterday.  The side effects of this is that I now have masses of hot water in the evening (whereas before I had none) but nothing whatsoever in the morning (when I used to have plenty).  Oddly, the radiators seem to have hot water in all the time, which means they must be on a completely different circuit.  So I am now unable to have a shower in the morning, and if this keeps up I’m going to have to learn to take my daily shower in the evenings instead.  Ah, the joys of living in a former communist paradise!

Billiards with a Caucasian

I am now into my second week of bachelorhood in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, my tsaritsa having fled to St. Petersburg and back to civilisation for a few weeks.  So last night my Ossetian friend, also my landlord, took me to play billiards and drink a little.  Why he did not have this idea on a Saturday evening I do not know, but I was wishing he had this morning when I wobbled my way around the apartment before going to work.

The first thing I realised is that I had never played billiards before.  I’ve played a lot of pool, some snooker, and I vaguely remember playing some weird game in a country pub which involved a table with holes in the middle with little wooden mushrooms dotted about.  Or perhaps I was on crack.  Anyway, I’d not played billiards before.  It is played on a snooker-sized table, and you are allowed to whack any of the dozen balls into any of the pockets in any order.  You can even pot the cue ball.  The balls are slightly larger than snooker balls, and heavier.  What makes the game so difficult is the fact that the pockets are about 1mm larger than the diameter of the balls, so you have to knock them in straight.  You can’t, for instance, pot a ball by rolling it down the cushion.  Whoever has potted the most balls by the time there is only one left is the winner.

As things turned out, I wasn’t too bad at it.  I lost the first game, but won the next two.  My aim was getting gradually steadier with the aid of two glasses of Baltika 7 and a whole load of vodka.  Admittedly between games one and two a small Korean chap named Valeriy stepped in and thumped me by eight balls, but apparently he was the second best billiard player on the island.  Such a title is not to be sneezed at.

Between shots, I had a chance to look around.  The bar of the billiard hall was staffed by two fifteen year old girls, supervised by an older woman.  A gang of ethnic Koreans dominated one corner of the room, and the Ossetian introduced me to some of these when we first came in.  They had spent considerable time working on their arms and upper bodies, presumably not to assist them in sinking billiard balls.  A couple of older men played on the table beside ours, one of whom had brought some carpet slippers from home and wore them to play whilst his shoes waited patiently beneath a chair.  Another couple of men sat in a dark corner eating, drinking, and not playing much billiards.  They were joined briefly by a couple of women wearing denims and black kneeboots.  Then two thirteen year old girls came in and spoke to the bar staff, appearing to be asking about work.  After a few minutes conversation, they were told to come back once they’d reached puberty, refrained from wearing nasty tracksuits, and cut their fringes off.  There was a little restaurant area off to the side, in which a few more Koreans were watching Russian boxer Nikolai Valuev making very heavy weather of beating up a man half his size on TV.

There was a man in his fifties who came in and immediately started annoying the bar staff by talking what seemed to be shite.  He wore a bizarre pair of light brown leather trousers which were miles too big around the arse, and didn’t suit him one jot.  He was having enormous difficulty keeping them up, and tried repeatedly to tie his belt around them.  For reasons known only to himself, he didn’t thread his belt through the loops conveniently located on the trousers; instead he just tightened the belt around the top of the trousers over the pockets, leaving a large flappy section above.  Then as he walked, the trousers would slowly slip from beneath his belt revealing stripey boxer shorts, and eventually he’d end up with the belt around his midriff, high and dry in relation to the trousers which were at this point somewhere in the region of his knees.

Later on, as it got dark outside, a few men came in wearing suits.  Why the hell anyone would be wearing a suit on a Sunday evening in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is a mystery to me, but there were a few of them.  Maybe they were wanting people to think they were gangsters?  One of these chaps in a suit came accompanied by a blonde woman in her early 40s wearing a lime green nylon suit with a skirt which was about six inches long. They sat togther for a while, then she inexplicably moved several barstools to the right and flashed her legs and knickers at everyone as she sat, whilst he got pissed and loudly applauded every successful shot on our table.  Then one of my company’s subcontractors came in, a small Korean chap known as Igor the Thief, and shook everyone’s hand in the room before settling at our now-vacated billiard table and getting himself soundly beaten by a chap who looked as though he models his look on that of Jason Donovan.  An interesting place indeed.

Once we’d finished playing billiards, we left the billiard hall and climbed into Valeriy’s tiny car and whizzed through the pouring rain to a small cafe attached to a shopping centre.  We were being hit by a small typhoon up from Japan, and the effect of rainfall of this quantity on Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was the formation of bodies of water in the street which would interest a passing oceanologist.  This affected the local driving style not one jot.  In the cafe, the three of us ordered some food and the Ossetian and I a vodka and orange each.  Drink driving laws seem to have had some effect in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, because I have seen quite a few people so far refrain from drinking because they are driving.  However, the Ossetian and I were not restrained in such a way, and hence at about midnight Valeriy had long gone home and we staggered into the street with a freezing wind at our backs and rain teeming down to find a taxi.  But before we could find a taxi, the Ossetian needed to find us a beer, so we lurched into a kiosk and got us a bottle each.  Having walked about half a mile in the wind and rain clutching our beers, the Ossetian decided he wanted to eat something, so we crashed into another kiosk where he bought a packet of squid, or jellyfish, or something.  In ths kiosk were a group of low-level criminals who the Ossetian pointed out to me with a nod of his head and advised I don’t speak, lest they saw I was foreigner and wanted to start some trouble.  Any third person who was observing would have likely thought anyone looking for trouble with two Russian-looking men walking with beer bottles through the dark streets of Yuzhnii, eating squid from a plastic bag, would have needed their head looking at.  Outside, we found a taxi which took us home.

Once home, however, the Ossetian hung his coat up, sat down, I gave him a beer and poured myelf a vodka, and we were off again.  It was sometime around one o’clock before he finally stumbled out into the night with a cheery grin, and I crawled into my bed wondering why the hell I still do this on a school night.

Anna Politkovskaya

As Mr Worstall has said already, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was always likely.

When I was in Ukraine last year I took with me her book Putin’s Russia, and found it to be both very interesting and utterly depressing at the same time.  Although I thought she laid too much of the blame for the state of Russia at the feet of Putin and implied that the problem was more to do with him as an individual than Russia as a whole, she did an excellent job of highlighting exactly what is going wrong in Russia today and describing the appalling state of affairs with which ordinary Russians have to live.  Sadly, people like her willing to criticise what is happening in Russia are all too few and her murder will do nothing to encourage others to follow in her footsteps.

Her death is a tragedy for Russia.  If somehow the government was involved, it represents a disaster.

Idiot Idiot Idiot

I’m an idiot.  Make that a complete idiot.

Amazon.com do deliver to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and indeed everywhere else in Russia.  I am just incapable of reading an onscreen message.  One of the books I was trying to order was out of print, and hence I was ordering it second hand through a third party affiliate of Amazon.  This third party don’t deliver to Russia, hence a warning flagged up beneath this particular book as well as at the top of the page.  Your clueless blogger saw a long list of books with a warning at the top and bottom and assumed the entire list was unable to be shipped to Russia.

As I said: idiot.  Still, at least that’s an idiot with a book supply.