The truth about self-driving cars

Regular readers will know I’m rather skeptical about the prospect of self-driving cars (1, 2, 3) and so I listened with interest about what somebody in charge of a car manufacture had to say about them.

He first listed the five degrees of autonomy, with Level 5 – the highest – allowing the human occupant to remove his hands and switch his brain off any time, anywhere. This is what most people think of when they talk about self-driving cars, the ability to go to sleep in the back or be blind drunk leaving the car to take care of everything. At the moment, production cars are fitted with Level 1, which is basically driver assistance. Level 2, which allows the driver to drop their concentration a little, is being introduced slowly.

He then talked about five technical areas which will need to be tackled in order to have Level 5 autonomous cars. I’ll take them each in turn.

1. Computing

Modern cars currently have around 50 black boxes carrying out various functions. In a fully autonomous car, they will likely have a single computer split 5 ways, with the parts carrying out the safety-critical functions kept well separate from the bits that run the entertainment system. Raw computing power is unlikely to be an obstacle to the development of autonomous vehicles.

2. Antennae and Sensors

The number and variety of sensors and antennae an autonomous vehicle will need is mind-boggling, particularly if redundancy is considered and 2-out-of-3 voting required to avoid spurious trips. The antenna on the Google car can be seen in the picture below:

A fully-autonomous car would need about 5 of these, mostly for communication outside the vehicle. It would need multiple 5G connections as well being able to connect via wi-fi and satellite. Sensors will include radar and infra-red cameras, which must be kept clear of dust, dirt, and rain.

3. Decision Making

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. What does the car do with all this information it’s receiving? The software is going to have to come pre-programmed with every situation the car can conceivably encounter so it knows what it’s looking at. Even if we charitably assume self-learning AI will be fitted to the cars, automobile accidents are often such that the occupants, be they human or computer, don’t get a second chance. The sheer size of this task in achieving Level 5 autonomy for cars is unprecedented.

4. GPS Mapping

GPS for civilian use is accurate to around 3-15m, although considerably better when the US military is lobbing missiles through windows and cave entrances. Level 5 autonomous vehicles will need GPS mapping to be accurate to within centimeters. If the car comes with an incredibly accurate GPS map installed in its brain, what happens when the map changes? A new road could be easily updated, but roadworks? Will we rely on the South Pembrokeshire District Council to inform whoever makes the maps in an accurate and timely manner every time they dig up the street?

5. Control and Action

Once a car has figured out where it is and what’s in front of it, what action does it then take? Does it jam on the brakes, swerve, or carry on? Software that could handle this in a normal street environment is not even on the horizon, and probably won’t be for another twenty years at least.

He emphasised that these 5 areas only cover what is required in the car; the infrastructure required to support autonomous cars was an equally gargantuan technological challenge which national or city governments will have to deliver.

Our visitor compared the challenge of Level 5 autonomous cars to landing on the moon, only without the single, dedicated organisation driving it. He didn’t say whether he thought we could replicate the Apollo 11 mission today, but my guess is we wouldn’t stand a chance. For a start, there is a worrying lack of diversity in the picture below:

I asked him whether he thought, as I do, this is all just a pipe-dream and we might never see Level 5 autonomous vehicles. He replied that, in his opinion, the technology will advance while there is an obvious benefit for the additional cost, as was clearly the case for ABS brakes and traction control. So it could well be that we get to around Level 4 autonomy before the costs and effort to reach Level 5 outweigh any benefit.

One interesting thing he said was that the most obvious place to use autonomous vehicles was on motorways, where the environment is much more strictly controlled than on other roads. The trouble is, only around 3-5% of road deaths in Britain occur on motorways, with the bulk taking place in urban areas or on rural roads. This is because on motorways the relative speeds of the cars isn’t too dissimilar, so in a crash cars just tend to get bounced around a bit while all heading in the same general direction. By contrast, accidents on country roads tend to involve cars converging at speed, hitting stationary objects, or leaving the road altogether. Therefore, the easiest and most obvious place to have autonomous cars will not save many lives, which kneecaps one of the main arguments of their proponents.

He also mentioned the legal aspects of autonomous cars. Currently drivers are responsible for accidents, and individual drivers insured. With autonomous cars, it will be the manufacturers which will be responsible, and this will drastically change the legal and insurance landscape in any country which adopts them. He didn’t put this forward as a reason autonomous cars won’t happen, he just mentioned it as another thing to consider. Regarding the technological challenges, he didn’t think there was any chance Level 5 autonomous vehicles will be possible for at least twenty years. My guess is it’ll be a lot longer than that.



About once a week I get an email from some company, usually to do with energy, telling me about some development or other which might interest me (I seem to be on some list as an energy blogger). Normally I delete them but I’d just been given an assignment as part of my studies so decided I’d reply to one I got two weeks ago. First I rang the person who’d sent it to express my interest, left a message, and they emailed me back. Then I sent this email:

Many thanks for getting in touch. I am currently an MBA student Geneva, and I wonder if I may talk to one of your spokespeople about the change. In particular, I’d like to ask:

1) Why XXX was split off from YYY and sold?

2) What opportunities will arise from XXX being a stand-alone company? For example, will they have easier access to capital for new products or research projects?

3) What, if anything, will change in terms of management style of the company? For example, will regional offices be able to act more independently within a more streamlined approval process?

My time zone is GMT+2. I’m generally available weekdays between 9am and 4pm (my time), or after 10:30pm. Are any of your spokespeople based in Europe?

I never heard back from the person I’d spoken to. So why do you reckon that is? They actually read my blog and decided they’d better stay well clear? They don’t want to waste their time with students? Or my questions were stupid of awkward?

Amusingly, I also got this email the other day from someone who definitely doesn’t read my blog very closely:

My name is Sonya, and I’m the founder of Her Aspiration. I wanted to reach out to you after coming across this page of yours:

We recently put together a piece Donald Trump’s quotes about women… an annoying subject for all of us. We think with the elections coming up, the more people we educate about his attitude towards women, the better. 

Here it is:

Would you consider adding a link to it in the page of yours I mentioned above? It’d really make my day 🙂

Let me know what you think!

Well, I’ve posted it, although not in the place requested. Do you think I made her day? Answers in the comments, please.


The truth about electric cars

Earlier this week we had a the head of a car manufacturer visit us and give us a couple of talks. The first thing I noticed was that he didn’t immediately start apologising for what his company does or grovel at the feet of our moral guardians and beg for forgiveness. Instead, he unashamedly said his company made cars of which they’re proud, and said the automobile represented an enormous leap in personal liberty. The fact that this was refreshing says a lot about modern corporations, whose CEOs are often found wringing  their hands while preaching moralistic piffle to placate a noisy minority who think any economic activity which makes people happy is evil. This chap was doing none of that, which made me like him right away.

Rather than speak about his company’s products, he instead spoke about the two major challenges the automobile industry is facing: electric vehicles and autonomous cars. On electric vehicles, he said pretty much the same as I have (1, 2) in that the battery technology is nowhere near mature enough to make the switch now, and probably won’t be for at least 20 years. He compared the power to weight ratio of Tesla’s batteries with the internal combustion engine in his company’s vehicles, as well as their respective useful lives. He thought there will be some improvements with a move to solid-state batteries, but without some sort of hydrogen cell electric cars aren’t going to replace petrol and diesel. He also spoke about the environmental effects of making, recycling, and disposing of batteries for the 100 million cars which are produced every year, including the mining of lithium. None of this will be new to readers of my blog. He didn’t go into the amount of copper that would be required to provide charging points in domestic streets on a national scale, but he did ask where the electricity was going to come from and whether it’s not a case of just shifting pollution from cities to somewhere else. I found all this interesting because it is so out of whack with current policy, which seems to be based on the notion that electric cars are just around the corner. This is from the BBC today:

A ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars should be brought forward by eight years to 2032, MPs have said.

The government’s current plans to ensure all new cars are “effectively zero emission” by 2040 were “vague and unambitious”, a report by Parliament’s business select committee said.

It also criticised cuts to subsidies and the lack of charging points.

The government said it aimed to make the UK “the best place in the world” to own an electric vehicle.

Politicians seem to think technological barriers to electric cars can be overcome by sheer force of will, as if car manufacturers are sitting on the solutions but are reluctant to apply them. I don’t know who is advising them, but given how the hard sciences have been corrupted by environmentalists and every institution in the land captured by lefties, it’s not too hard to imagine what form government consultations on electric cars takes. Even if they roped in a few representatives of car manufacturers, they’d probably just cave in under NGO and government bullying and tell them what they want to hear (with one eye on their pension and retirement date). My guess is these efforts will run into a brick wall, government-backed schemes will be scrapped having wasted millions in taxpayer cash, and the public will be left high and dry with the cars they’ve bought as official policy collapses into a confusing mess.

What our guest said about autonomous cars I shall write in another post.


Weakness Exposed

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Kimberly-Clark and asked:

How long do you reckon it has left under its current management?

Let’s ask that question again in light of this story:

Kleenex is scrapping “Mansize” branding from its tissue boxes after 60 years on the shelves as consumers called it out for being sexist.

The company said the tissues would now be called “Extra Large”.

One customer questioned the firm after her four-year-old son asked if “girls, boys and mummies” can use them.

60 years of branding in the bin because of a single Twitter user who was supposedly parroting her four year old. It’s not looking good for them, is it?


Open Thread

I’ve got lots I want to write about but I’m rather busy at the moment with school stuff. So let’s have another open thread.

To kick things off, I was at a conference yesterday where someone representing a large, influential supranational organisation known by its acronym said the following:

“Our global goals have been agreed between governments and private business.”

Is that good or bad?


Black, Smart, and Sane

From The Guardian:

More conclusively than it tells us anything about her genetic heritage, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s neatly choreographed release of her own DNA analysis makes one thing abundantly clear: she’s running for the White House in 2020.

The release was a direct rebuke to Donald Trump, who has made a habit of mocking her claims of Native American ancestry by referring to her by the racist moniker “Pocahontas”. Warren’s move is a clear gambit to get out in front of a controversy that has dogged her political career and could be a big stumbling block in the future.

Elizabeth Warren always struck me as being rather dim, and what The Guardian article doesn’t tell us is her stunt has backfired badly:

Warren released the results of her test, which showed her to potentially have 1/1024 Native American DNA dating back six to 10 generations. This sets the lowest bound of Warren’s Indian DNA at .098 percent and the highest at 3 percent.

The average European-American has 0.18 percent Native American DNA, according to a comprehensive study by the Genetic Literacy Project.

In other words, Senator Warren is quite likely to be even whiter than the average North American white bloke. This is also amusing:

According to a report by the Boston Globe, there is no Native American DNA available for genetic testing “because Native American leaders have asked tribal members not to participate in genetic databases.”

Therefore, in order to test for Native American ancestry, genetic researchers have to use samples from other parts of the world.

Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor, used samples from Mexico, Peru, and Colombia to attempt to calculate how much Native American ancestry is in Warren’s DNA.

Elizabeth Warren was always something of a laughing stock, and Twitter wasted no time laying the boot in. However, it was this tweet from Steve Sailor which got me thinking:

I’m currently going through the back catalogue of Joe Rogan’s podcasts, and caught the one from ages ago with Ben Shapiro. I’ve agreed with critics of Shapiro in the past but there’s no denying he’s a smart guy and wholly correct about certain issues. Shapiro made the point that it wasn’t so much Hillary Clinton’s neglect of Wisconsin which cost her the Electoral College but her failure to mobilise the black vote in Ohio. What made Obama’s victories secure was his ability to get blacks out to vote Democrat, whereas for Hillary (and everyone else) a lot of them stayed at home. Trump (or any other Republican) doesn’t need to win the black vote if they don’t come out and vote Democrat either.

In addition to the above, the ZMan made the point in his latest podcast that the whole Brett Kavanaugh circus was largely about white, middle-class women trying to gain control of the Democrat party. The entire third-wave feminist and MeToo movements are as much about internal Democrat party politics as opposing the Republicans; they want to be the party for deranged, purple-haired women who inhabit coastal California, Brooklyn, and college campuses. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that a lot of blacks, especially men, will have watched them screaming “believe all women” as Kavanaugh denied baseless allegations of gang-rape and been a little concerned about where this was headed. After all, it is black men who stand the most to lose by standards of proof over rape being lowered. Somehow, this never occurred to the Democrats who rely on black votes to get them back into the White House. You’d have thought Kamala Harris or Cory Booker might have twigged, but the former is as thick as mince and the latter thinks he’s auditioning for a part in a political drama series every time he speaks.

One of Barack Obama’s many failings was he made the Presidency all about him, rather than the Democrat party. Then Hillary made the Democratic party all about her. Now both are gone (although Hillary’s still hanging around like a bad smell), the Democrats have no idea what they’re for. Elizabeth Warren running for president in 2020 will only serve Elizabeth Warren, and demonstrate the Democrats’ aren’t a serious party. Certainly, she won’t get the black vote out, and it’s hard to see who will out of the possible white candidates. The Democrats therefore need a candidate who is black, smart, and sane. Who would that be, then?


Problematic Personal Preferences

I’ve written before about how dating sites and apps are one of the few remaining places where people are free to discriminate, and gay men appear to be particularly unenlightened. Here’s an article addressing the same thing:

Dating applications can allow users to fall into their own racial biases while searching for a partner, a new study says.

Meaning, people have dating preferences. What a revelation.

But in their study, researchers from schools like Cornell University say the “sexual racism” that plagues apps like Grindr, Tinder and Bumble can be stamped out with a few simple changes.

User preferences can be stamped out by not giving people any choice.

The end goal, the study says, is to promote more diverse pairings on the dating sites.

The ultimate goal of dating sites is miscegenation, eh? And there was me thinking they were there to make money for the owners by giving users a service they want.

Jevan Hutson, lead author of the study, said …“Intimacy is very private, and rightly so, but our private lives have impacts on larger socioeconomic patterns that are systemic.”

Your love lives must contribute towards the greater good of a mixed-race society.

Take the case of Sinakhone Keodara for example. He threatened to sue Grindr, a dating app for gay, bi and trans men, because of “sexual racism” he faced on the site, NBC reported. More specifically, Keodara says some users on the site had captions like “Not interested in Asians.”

So what’s the alternative? You meet with a guy who doesn’t like Asians? How does that end well?

As noted by the study — which compiled data from prior research — white people are ten times more likely to receive a message from a black person on a dating app than they are to message the black user themselves. That suggests a hierarchy of attention on racial lines.

Okay, but we can add that to the long list of other factors in the hierarchy of attention: height, beauty, wealth, intelligence, social status, breast size, hair colour, sense of humour, etc.

The study found other examples of inequalty in dating apps, including:

Asian men and black women have the lowest chance of receiving a message or a response.

Right, but are these people living in majority white countries? It would seem odd indeed if Asian men in China or black women in Nigeria weren’t getting many responses , but in the US or UK? What do they expect?

White people of “all ages” prefer to go on dates with other white people.

Isn’t this true generally of all races?

College students are most likely to avoid going on dates with black women.

Does this include black male college students? If so, maybe someone could ask them why?

Stephanie Yeboah, a blogger, said that she has experienced racism as a black woman on online dating apps even when people are open to meeting up, according to The Independent. She said that some people ask offensive questions like if they can “get a taste of jungle fever” — and say they want to see if black women are “as aggressive in bed as they’ve heard.”

Well, yes. Manners and politeness tend to disappear altogether when strangers communicate electronically while hiding their true identity. Take a look at Twitter, for example. This isn’t unique to dating apps.

“Comments such as these are extremely dehumanizing to myself and other black women who are only looking for companionship,” she told The Independent. “It seems to suggest that black women are only good for one thing, and cites back to previous ideologies of black people being compared to primates; as primal and feral, hyper-sexualized creatures. It’s very hurtful.”

To be honest, I’m surprised more black women don’t feel that way after watching a rap video.

The study’s authors noted that OK Cupid itself experimented with pairing up users and saying they were “highly compatible” — even though they weren’t considered good matches — and found that the conversation between the two people often went well.

And if it didn’t? Well, that terrible date you’ve just been on is the result of an experiment you were unwittingly forced to take part in. How the hell is this ethical?

In other words, it appeared that just the mere suggestion that two people were compatible made both users more likely to give the connection a chance.

Anyone who’s used online dating sites will tell you the compatibility ratings are a load of nonsense.

The study’s authors wrote in a press release that it proves “the strong power of suggestion” that can be used to bridge the gap between people of different races.

Why is this even desirable?

Another potential solution could come from 9Monsters, a gay dating app from Japan, that allows people to describe themselves without explicitly revealing their race, according to the study’s authors.

Another gay dating app, called Hornet, prevents people from using their profile to mention race at all.

This might work well for pen-pals, but I’m not sure it’ll work for people who eventually want to have sex with one another. It’s just delaying the inevitable to a point where time and effort have been expended.

The study’s authors concede that sexual racism is a hard thing to conquer — but Keodara, who threatened to sue Grindr, said fixing the problem would improve the mental well-being of people of color looking for a chance at love on dating apps, according to The Guardian.

So we should treat people of colour as mentally-ill and unable to navigate dating preferences? Could this be any more patronising?

“Over the years I’ve had some pretty harrowing experiences,” Keodara told The Guardian. “You run across these profiles that say ‘no Asians’ or ‘I’m not attracted to Asians’. Seeing that all the time is grating; it affects your self-esteem.”

Imagine how short, bald men have felt for decades.

This whole nonsense about sexual racism is the illogical endpoint of anti-discrimination laws which force people to associate with those they’d rather avoid. Give it a few years and there’ll be legislation being passed forbidding you from not dating in a state-approved manner. I kid, but not by much.

Incidentally, I’ve seen a few articles and tweets here and there which suggest one of the freest web forums is the one on Pr0nHub, simply because busybodies and the perpetually offended would never contemplate using the site. You think people just talk about sex on there? Think again:

One day we’ll all be Pr0nHub users, sneaking under the ever-pinging radar of the SJWs roving overhead.


How not to recruit

Commenter Bardon graciously provides us with a business case study to analyse. Here goes.

We recruited a bloke recently to work in Dubai, and we initially were considering him for Kuwait, but the offer and acceptance was done on the Dubai role by me from Brisbane.

So this company has operations in at least two Middle East countries, but has no regional manager. Instead, things are run from Brisbane which makes about as much sense as running South American operations from Moscow. When I worked in that region, one of the first things I learned was Arabs appreciate physical proximity, and expect the regional manager to be in their country. Before I went to Kuwait I was very briefly based in Abu Dhabi, and the first thing the Kuwaitis asked was “are you based in Kuwait?”. We quickly got the message we need to be based in Kuwait if we’re working with Kuwaitis. At the very least, the regional manager should be based in the region; anyone who tries running things from the UK or elsewhere won’t be taken seriously.

He was based in Canada and coincidentally was in Doha when he initially arrived from Canada to get a briefing from our management team there.

So there is a management team in the Middle East. But they’re not the ones doing the recruiting for roles in their region. This sounds like a confused mess.

I spoke to him and told him that he needed to go and get some work…

So this chap reports to you, who is based in Brisbane. Presumably the management team in Doha is there for show.

…and that we will support him from Doha for the moment and that we will start building a Dubai team on the back of contracts.

I can only assume you told him this now because it wasn’t made clear during the recruitment process. It sounds to me as though you recruited him for an operational role in Kuwait and, once he’d signed up, decided to put him in a business development role in Dubai.

He came back to me and said that he wanted some staff now

So he’s advising you of his resource requirements for this new role you’ve suddenly sprung on him.

I said that he will have to wait and use the existing resource,

Ah yes, a regional “support” resource which he has no control over, yet he will be accountable for meeting targets. How drearily familiar.

then he said we needed to negotiate, negotiate what I asked him, he said that it was a very senior role more so than the Kuwaiti one…

So he is confused about the role, and I can’t say I blame him. Obviously you spoke to him about the role in Kuwait (or how else would he know about it), then later changed your mind. A professional company would have supplied a job description for the Kuwait role and later replaced it with one for the Dubai role, with the differences between the two roles clearly identified. Obviously this didn’t happen, hence you’ve mobilised a person halfway around the world who is confused about the role. This is not good management.

…and he felt that his package should be much higher.

Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not, but you have changed the role he signed up to (or at the very least, left him extremely confused about the role he’s supposed to be doing). If you change someone’s role they are by definition permitted to enter into a discussion as to whether more money is warranted.

I told him to see me after lunch, contacted the relevant director and confirmed that he was on the next plane back to Canada.

This is the response of an immature child, not a professional manager. You have messed this bloke around since Day 1, changing his role and his country of assignment, and when he approaches you, quite reasonably, to ask for increased terms upon finding out the truth your immediate reaction is to fire him. This decision was not made for the benefit of the shareholders but your fragile ego.

I then told him it was over and he backflipped to say that he would do the Kuwaiti role for the leer money

Okay, seems reasonable. He pushed for money, got turned down, so weighed up that, having come all this way, he might as well give it a go. He sounds rather mature.

, no way, you are out of here.

So your employee, who has done nothing other than ask for more money having been lied to about the role and stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional mess of an organisation, agrees to do the job he was hired to and you fired him. Wow, what a tough guy you are.

He lasted about three hours.

And for this you wasted countless manhours on the recruitment process, plus paid for his mobilisation costs and whatever salary you owe him. On top of that, there’s the delay of several months spent trying to find a replacement. Probably the kindest thing I can say at this point is I hope this tale is made up.


Transworld Sport

This story amused me:

A biological male who identifies as a transgender woman won a women’s world championship cycling event on Sunday.

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Los Angeles.

McKinnon, representing Canada, bested Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands and American cyclist Jennifer Wagner to take home the gold.

Here’s a pic:

Bit of a difference in physiques, eh? Now we’ve seen similar madness before: a male weightlifter from New Zealand competed in the women’s categories and unsurprisingly cleaned up:

The 39-year-old lifted 123kg in the snatch discipline, and then produced a clean-and-jerk lift of 145kg for a 268kg total – 19kg better than the second-placed competitor.

And we also had Fallon Fox, a biological male fighting in the female category of mixed martial arts, inflicting serious damage on his opponents, some of whom were not aware their opponent was a man. There’s also the

Now we’re obviously down the rabbit hold of gender insanity here, but let’s step back a minute and look at this:

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket…

Okay, nobody gives a damn about women’s sprint cycling in the 35-39 age bracket, relatively speaking. It’s a shame for the real women who trained hard only to be beaten by a man, but cycling at this level is at best a hobby. I expect outside family members and a few die-hard cyclists who were there for other events, nobody even watched this race. Weighlifting is no more popular than cycling, but the Kiwi bloke who won was at least participating in a top-tier event. Similarly, Fallon Fox’s last professional MMA fight was in 2014, before the sport was as popular as it is now.

My point is I reckon this nonsense will be stopped dead in its tracks as soon as trans women start trying to compete in women’s sports in events which draw reasonable crowds of serious fans and there is money at stake. There is no way the MMA is going to put a man in to fight a woman on the undercard of a fight like McGregor v Nurmagomedov, for example. Similarly, if a trans woman tried playing tennis at Wimbledon, they’d be told to sod off in no uncertain terms. The paying public simply wouldn’t tolerate seeing a bad male tennis player thrash the top female stars into 6-0 6-0 losses.

The closest we’ve come to allowing trans women to participate in popular events (and I use that term loosely) is in Australia’s AFL, and they’re approaching it gingerly indeed. In August this year, after much humming and hawing, they came out with this:

The AFL has put forward an AFL transgender policy proposal at a meeting on Wednesday between the AFL and transgender athletes that would see potential AFLW footballers required to have blood testosterone levels maintained below five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for 24 months.

Which is a fudge, because other attributes like muscle mass, height, and lung capacity will remain very much male, but at least they’re applying some criteria. So my guess is this topic will provide amusing stories every now and again, and it really does suck for the genuine females who deserve gold medals in fringe sports which will now be denied them, but it won’t go any further than that.


Visa Quotas

Underneath my recent post on the importance of managers earning the respect of their subordinates, several people suggested Rick should have been fired, or was at least a problem. Leaving aside whether or not this was the case, here’s why it would be difficult anyway.

If a company wants to employ foreigners in Russia, it must submit an application for a work visa quota early in the year before they need the work permits. From memory, the visa quota applications for 2008 were submitted to Moscow around February or March 2007. In the quota application a company had to list:

1. The job position.

2. The nationality of the person who would fill it.

You can imagine this presents a considerable headache for a company which has just won a major contract and needs to get a few dozen foreigners on the ground right away, followed by a few hundred later in the year increasing to a thousand next year. Half the problem is you don’t know what nationality will fill a lot of the key positions. You can reasonably assume your scaffolding crew will be Nepalese or Kazakh, or your cladding guys Indonesian, but who will be the project manager, construction manager, safety manager, etc? You don’t know, because you’ll not be recruiting until next year and you don’t know who will even apply for the job. So what companies do is they take a guess, and put 30 Brits, 10 Australians, 5 Canadians, 5 Dutch, etc. against a generic list of company and project positions. Then as you recruit, you just assign each successful candidate to one of those positions, regardless of his or her actual job (I think I was a geologist for a while in Nigeria, and something equally daft in Russia).

Until a company has its quota approved, nobody can apply for visas and the process is fraught with difficulties in every country I’ve worked in. It’s very common for people to be sat overseas with their mobilisation delayed due to “problems with the quota”. Visas are rarely rejected, it is the annual quota application that fouls things up. In the early days in Sakhalin, companies simply bypassed this by bringing everyone in on business visas, which are much easier to obtain and require no quota. Then the Russians got fed up with this and started imposing large fines on any company caught employing people on business visas rather than full work permits. By the time I arrived in 2006, company HR departments operated a gigantic bureaucracy, juggling multiple quota applications and visa applications in a never-ending cycle: as soon as one lot of visas had been renewed under one quota, the application for the next quota had to be prepared.

Even leaving aside the fact that finding experienced industrial insulation specialists with LNG experience in 2006-8 who were 1) available and 2) willing to go to Sakhalin was a nigh-on impossible task, the quota system meant replacing one expat with another was also very difficult. You would either have to replace the outgoing person with someone of the same nationality, or recruit someone of a nationality for whom you had a spare slot. Getting rid of a Canadian (say) and replacing them with a Brit simply wasn’t possible under the Russian quota system. Eventually, many companies turned to manpower agencies and let them take care of it all.