Only Five More Years?

Rarely do I find something in the new that makes me want to write, but this morning  a news article on BBC News alarmed me:

“UK Fossil Fuels Gone in Five Years”

Understandably, because I work in Oil and Gas, this was alarming. But also it seemed really wrong. I dug into the research and found it to be a map of “Years Left” based on consumption and discovery. The BBC article states that it’s five years left, so I wanted to know what they had used as figures, but the document (which you can read here) is just a bunch of maps with oddly hard to read colour gradients.

So what does the research say? Well, it says that, according to the map, the UK has something like 2 to 30 years left, as far as I can see:

It is hard to see, so I helped a bit.

So, apparently 2 to 10 years left, which is maybe where the BBC got "five". But is that even right? These numbers are based on 2010's numbers, admitted in the research. I've heard loads of different numbers - 25 to 100 years left. I don't believe them. So I decided to dig out as much as I could to come up with my own numbers.

According to some sources, we have between 12 billion and 24 billion oil and gas expected proven reserves left in the UK North Sea as of 2013. In 2013, even with a 22% decline in production, the UK North Sea produced 1.4 million boepd (that's barrels per day of oil and gas expected).

With the following assumptions:
1) Production declines to 1000 and steadies out, assuming that 22% isn't going to continue.
2) The proven reserves don't decrease or increase, and that we can extract it all (not likely, but let's say we can)
3) We take the lowest estimate, 12 billion barrels left.

We can work out a similar calculation to the calculation mentioned in the research: reserves/consumption:

12 billion / 1 million (lowest reserves / lowest production rate)
= 12000 days of production left
Assume 365 days of production a year (not including shut downs etc)
= 32.9 years.

That's not the same as a headline grabbing 5 years, is it? Without knowing the source of the numbers explicitly, and the assumptions made (both oddly missed out) the calculation is not the easiest to properly defend. However, the actual impact of the research should be lampshaded in a different way - we are running out.

If I take my number, 33 years, and add that to my age of 28 and that takes me to 60 years old, not even my own retirement age. So we have a generation of engineers who won't be even able to retire on what's left. That's how bad it will become.

Also, the "years left" research is weak because the production / reserves calculation is actually asymptotic - it'll tend to infinity. Remember, as reserves go down, so will production. It'll get to near zero, maybe even at some point be zero, but it won't be linear down. Imagine a bucket that's leaking - there's a amount left, and a big hole, but as the bucket empties, the whole gets smaller, and the draining speed slows. That's what's going to happen in the North Sea.

The research is good to show what we have left, but it is slightly undermined by the lack of numbers. Even in the main report from which this map is based, I couldn't find anything to do with years left, only growth based correlations. And the research focuses on other things, such as food, uranium, and fertility - some really interesting research, which is though provoking. The highlighting of oil and gas seems weirdly chosen as a highlight to become the headline.

I don't disagree with the concept of framing the end of oil and gas in this way at all, just that it needs to be dealt with carefully. A thin line exists between scary facts and facts that are damaging to the renewables drive because they're so outlandish and unsubstantiated. I am not attacking the research, just pointing out that numbers can be used to come up with widly different figures, but the end note must always be the same:

We can't depend on oil and gas forever. This is why the Conservative policy of Fracking and Shale Gas is not the way forward, and stripping green energy benefits is seriously short sighted. If we can go back to the bucket analogy, Fracking is just pouring in more water into the bucket with a hole - creating green and renewable replacements for fossil fuels would be like realising that it rains all the time anyway. 

Finally: I will happily change this post if the figures can be pointed out. I am not for bashing this research, just that the headline grabbing nonsense of it makes it harder to take seriously, which we all must do. Immediately.

The Racing

It is rare to come across a situation in my life these days that makes me consider something that I haven't already considered. What I mean is that I have already made up my mind about a lot of what makes me "me", and day to day very little I encounter acts as a change in view point. If I hear someone being homophobic, I will say something because I find it intolerable; if I hear someone being sexist, I'll say something; and when I see something happen that is transphobic, or anything else that I find bad, I'll say something.

These things have been formed over quite sometime, and I have found that these things can piss people off. I recently lost a friend when I pointed out that he was being homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, and racist. and that I found it offensive. He told me he wasn't being offensive, and that I shouldn't be worried about it anyway. To be honest, torching that friendship didn't hurt as much as I expected it would.

Recently though, contrary to the above, I've been made to consider my position ethically and morally on something that I haven't before, and that is racing - animal racing. Horses and dogs specifically. Several years ago I was asked to put a £1 bet on the Grand National, and I refused because it was a waste of money (betting is a whole other quandary that I don't get but don't have any objections to on principle, but I do have serious reservations about the culture of betting we have in the UK, but that's another post for another time). I didn't consider the welfare of the animals at all in my decision. It was last summer when, as a team building exercise, the department in work decided to go horse racing.

I told my wife this and she was intrigued - surely that wasn't an all-inclusive event? I started to think (really think) about the event, and what it meant, and the more I thought about it the more I realised I found it sickening - that these animals were raced and potentially hurt (and destroyed) during the race.

I don't like bull fighting. I reconcile with the concept of Zoos due to conservational and educational reasons, but they still worry me, and so horse racing was a natural extension. Horse racing is something that is culturally engrained in the UK, what with the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival, and others taking place and getting massive press coverage. Jockeys are celebrities; horses are famous; owners are rich and well known.

I told this to my colleagues who were asking if I were going, and I explained my position. They understood and respected my opinion, and I respected theirs to want to go. I mean, at it's base function, the event was meant as a team building exercise more than a endorsement of racing.

This summer they are hosting another event, this time at the dog racing. This is another event I won't be going to because of several reasons, but mostly for similar ethical reasons above. Did you know that around 10,000 dogs are retired from racing a year, and only around 20% are rehomed? The rest go to shelters, or are simply destroyed. And that's just the dogs that are racing - there are many more puppies not "good enough" to race that are destroyed or left to be rehomed, unwanted by their trainers and teams.

It actually taps into a more interesting culture that I have noticed with work events (and not exclusive to this office or these colleagues, to which I mean no ill) that they are very much geared towards getting pished. I get that - I have been more drunk at work events than not drunk at work events, and for a time they were a great vehicle to getting smashed on the cheap. But as I have got older (and with more responsibility, natch) not only has that kind of binge-ing became lost on me, but that I've lost the part of me that enjoys it! If the 18 year old version of me could read this now...

I don't mind the idea of being left out of the events that build the team when it's my choice to do so (ethically or not), but when it's starting to be a pattern it is hard to not feel a little left out or put out.

So yeah. No horse racing or dog racing. Maybe just a meal and a bar next time?

NOTE: These are my personal opinions and as stated in the bottom part of this blog they do not reflect the opinions of the company I work for, or their clients.

Wake Up

Not so long ago I had the perfect alarm clock – a dog that would piss his crate if I didn’t get out of bed. He’d lie there, in his crate, and whine from around 5am, crossing his legs hoping to be carried down stairs and walked outside, peeing freely, happily, and without worry. Frank had this unintended consequence for the first few months of his life with us, which helped me regulate a body clock perfectly. It happened no matter what time I’d got to bed the night before, what I was doing for the rest of the day, and especially if I wanted a lie in. He stopped needing to be taken out just before we moved out of the flat, able to hold his piss for longer than 6 hours, but he’d still whine loudly, taking aim at his people that he liked so much (who were sleeping soundly).

He has now grown out of this thankfully – there was a time when we’d let him whine and whine before getting up, an attempt to try and train him to realise that it wasn't the whining that was getting us out of bed. He'd managed to make the connection with my phone alarm and getting out for a walk, so when it would go off he'd start whining. I had to change my alarm three times during this point. These days he still whines if he can hear us pottering about upstairs, more of a “remember me?” now than the “REMEMBER ME!” of before. 

When thinking about it, it has been a long time since I didn't have one of these forced alarms. When living with Steve, for example, I normally aimed to be in and out of the shower before he needed it, which meant having to be ready for pre-8am, a forced alarm. In Texas the traffic was a good enough alarm, leaving for work prior to 7am most mornings (at first). In Aberdeen I didn't have a car to start with, and due to the really odd timings of the trains to Dyce, I had only three options in total to get to work on time. Still didn’t mean a 100% success rate mind you, but it was very effective.

Since coming back from the wedding, I’ve not had that. In fact, my time keeping has been getting a lot worse – in the first few weeks of February I was marking 9am starts almost every day.

I’ve decided to stop that and trick myself into getting up – a new forced alarm, and it comes in the shape of a QR Code:

This QR code links to this blog, so you can have that one for free. What is interesting is that now my alarm won’t switch off unless I scan this particular code, which I’ve strategically placed in the other bedroom, the one where my towel is, and the one I have to go to get ready for work. So, to stop the alarm I have to get up and go.

How is this going? Well, on Monday I did it and it woke me at 5.15am, because I’d set the alarm to wake me up at 5.30am – but it tries to monitor your sleep, and wake you when you’re in a waking cycle. Anyway, that was ridiculous. So I reset it for 6am wake up (earliest being 5.30am) and moved on. Even on Tuesday, which is set for 7am due to me not getting to bed at 1am on a Monday night worked perfectly – I made the 8am train and got into work for 8.30am. And on Wednesday I managed to wake at 5.30am, get up washed showered and Frank peed and then onto the 6.25am train, getting to work at 7am sharp, the earliest I’ve ever been since moving to Glasgow and the earliest I can be in – there’s no train before 6.25am.

I am also getting better sleeps too – the alarm thing might be a bit of a gimmick (the science is sound, I just don’t trust it’s method of recording my sleep patterns). 

And Frank gets to pee on my clock now.

Goodnight Windows XP

I guess, the best place to start this post is back in 2001. Thirteen years ago my parents decided that our long standing 1997 purchased Windows 95 computer was on it’s last legs. Okay, so maybe the best place to start is actually 1997. Our original computer, bought in 1997 just as I started first year of high school, changed everything. It wasn’t even connected to the internet for the longest time, and I even failed a report at high schoolbecause I used the printer to submit a typed up version, where everyone else hand wrote theirs, with the teacher assuming I'd just copied it from a book... Yeah, I am sure I’ve told that story before.

Anyway, from 1997 to 2001 we had that machine, a Packard Bell. It had a 2Gb hard drive and 16Mb of RAM. My father and I extended the life of the machine by adding an additional 12Gb hard drive, an extra 16Mb of RAM, and a new Voodoo 3 Graphics card, which is so quaint it is now astonishing. Four years back in the late 1990s was around 400 years in computer technology. Our machine, which has a really important role in my life, much like a previous generation’s first TV, still has a warped nostalgia about it. I know it’d be almost impossible to use now, as just looking at the Windows 95 File Explorer makes me wince.

We replaced that machine, finally, in 2002, my father decided we should get a replacement. I think it might have been 2002 (he’d have to correct me) but we picked up our new “Tower” desktop computer (a form factor that was genuinely innovative back then) that had a Pentium 4 and Windows XP.

Windows XP was a massive leap from our Windows 95 computer. We’d managed to skip Windows 98, Windows Me, and Windows 2000 (though my school had recently had it’s computers upgraded from Windows NT 4.0 to 2000 that previous summer) so the leap from Win 95 was akin to going from Horse Drawn cart to a Mercedes Benz. The computer was so powerful it blew my tiny little teenage mind. Also it linked directly into us getting broadband for the first time, which also blew my mind.

The point of this post however, is to accentuate the timeline – this is 2002. Today, it is 2014. And, finally, after twelve and a half years since it was introduced, the last hold out on use of Windows XP is about to fall – my work. My work has been steadfastedly using Windows XP since I started in 2007 (back when it had been replaced by Windows Vista), and since it’s been replaced by Windows 7, then Windows 8, and then Windows 8.1. It’s been a long time coming too. But really, what am I worried about? I upgrade my Mac all the time, why is Windows XP so important?

Well, it’s not really. I mean, Windows XP is really a bag of arse these days – it’s so unsecured, so out of date, a real hold out in the world of operating systems that are truly future proof. It barely understands the idea of the Cloud, the network settings are out dated, and I don’t even know what it must be like having to build applications that still have to run on a twelve year old OS as a developer. But, from a purely personal point of view, it is odd to think that this comfortable, if old, environment is suddenly going to just… disappear. It’s like throwing out the oldest pair of shoes you have, ones who have holes, are worn, are probably done, but they are the comfiest you have. Windows XP is just… well, it’s just work for me now. The grey Classic look, the odd task bar, the old start menu, and the Piano intro, are all "work" for me.

People will call me sill for being nostalgic for an operating system, and XP, but you can’t chose what you find nostalgic.

Interestingly though, to end this post, the leap in four years from 1997 to 2001 was massive, the twelve year leap from XP to Windows 7, the eventual replacement at work, isn’t as sharp a change. It probably shows how much Windows XP really did have it right that it still can be used and still is used, for better or worse, and probably the last time that Microsoft really got it right right. I used Vista, and it was a bloody mess. 7 is, apparently, good. I just wonder if that in 2026, when my company decides to upgrade Windows 7 to… whatever exists then, will I still remember Windows XP?

Probably. Farewell, sweet prince, those rolling green hills in the back ground, the blue start bar and green start button, and Puppy Dog Search Bar; I will miss you.

Note: I cannot wait to get a new computer. I hate working on my work machine. It's from 2006. 2006! And I just bought a brand new 2013 MacBook Pro, so going from that to work is like trying to use the internet whilst stuck in treacle.

Update: This post was modified on the 10th April 2014 to include the link to the old story about failing my science report. I knew that I had already wrote about that.

The Enduring Cliche

As the trip to Canada approached I relished the time off from work and the break that it would bring - three weeks away from the office and a break from the madness that is Two Phase flow 

Remember that post about Steady State and Dynamics? Well two phase flow can be steady state for the most part, if that is how you want to approach it, but in most cases it has subtleties that make it a difficult thing to model and calculate correctly. Basically this is because that in certain fluid scenarios (mixtures, density, components, orientation, pressure and temperature all play significant parts) the fluid does fancy things, like the liquid moving at a different velocity (at a different point inside the pipe) to that of the vapour, and even then there is the lovely interface between the two, where... It's neither liquid or a gas.

Interesting? Actually, yes it is, but it is very hard to describe and calculate, which means that you have to make a load of assumptions and various correlations which makes a simple three line calculation in single phase literally seventy pages of calculation.

Anyway I digress.

Another added thing that occurred as the trip got closer to starting was that more people found out about it. I keep a lot of personal life stuff hidden from view, but it is hard when a lot of the people that you work with are your best friends, and one has been since I was 13 years old. Also, it is even harder when a lot of the team have worked with your father since... Well, before I was born. But I do, and that seems to work for the most part.

The usual thing that someone would say to me is the cliched "are you sure?" And other variants of that phrase. It is interesting that it is seen as socially acceptable to joke about the fact that my life long commitment to some one, and that the first thing you'd say about it is that. Why? It is meaningless. There is a strange fascination in my workplace amongst certain men to joke about their other halves and paint them in the light that they make their existence utter hell. It's is obviously not the case for the majority of them, so why do it?

I am unsure. It must be related to the idea that they have to have a common joke or thread in which to talk about. It is the same thing that makes people automatically assume that you like football, an olive branch. But the football question is far more obvious, and I am an anomaly in that I am a grown Glaswegian that doesn't follow one of the two main teams in my city.

Since I noticed this I have exercised caution in playing along, but also of not showing my disapproval too much, because what is the point in that? They don't mean what they are saying, they are just saying it because it is something to say, and really it is me being overly sensitive. They are well meaning, and did wish me well when it came to the last afternoon.

My First Job

My first job was until 2011 also the one where I had been for the longest. I went for several interviews with various shops over the summer between 5th and 6th year - Sainsbury's knocked me back and my first interview with The Link was also knocked back, but then I had a second interview and I was hired as a backroom staff member; essentially, I earned a lot less and no commission compared to the sales colleagues, which was fine.

Oh yeah, remember The Link? No? Well they used to sell mobile phones! I loved it. Turns out, there is no adverts on Youtube, which probably means that it never existed., eh?

Working in the shop chronicled some of my favourite times; it was the first time I had a drink, went to a club on expenses, worked night shift, and essentially had the most fun. It is probably the most fun I've ever had - I still have two of my closest friends from those days.

Also, in the end I started to make money! After earning £165 a month I later ended up earning a lot more thanks to commission and various other incentives that looking back I actually feel bad about exploiting. A lot of my friends are surprised when they find that I used to sell phones and when I think about it so am I - I have never been ruthless enough to shove shit phones at people who didn't want them or need them.

Oh, I can't talk about The Link without mentioning my assistant managers. I only had two main managers during my time there but an almost endless stream of assistant managers. Some of which were cool but a few... were infamous. I can't name them here for fear of slander or them finding it (the internet is less anonymous than it used to be) but for the few that do know, being called bingo was one major episode.

My favourite story from the Link days though starts with a damaged phone. A customer came in with a Motorola V220 that wasn't working. Normal procedure would have us go down stairs and check the phone to make sure they weren't trying to send something back that was not failed. We used to had out phones as most customer's phones had to go back to our repair team to get diagnosed. So, I go down stairs and find my manager mopping the floor. I had this habit of throwing phones up and down in my hand, probably a nervous tick. But anyway, but I was standing talking to my manager about the customer's situation. I remember a bit about this, but I think it was because the time between them buying it and the time for quick returns was basically up the day before. As we chatted, I threw the phone up and missed it, and it fell straight into a bucket of soapy water.

I actually had doubled over in laughter, with my manager falling over wiping tears from his face. We had to compose ourselves quickly, and I plain faced took a brand new phone to the customer and swapped it all out. So for them, it was amazing customer service - for me, it was a major moment of fun.

So yeah, loved working there and was very sad to leave. But I had to.

Now, if you want to read more funny stories, have a look at my Rock Steady series, the reason I started blogging.