Saturday, September 8, 2012

Every 34.1376 hours like clockwork

Who knows where this is going to go? I'm writing late afternoon after a long easy run, a nap, and then drinking coffee while reading the paper. Normally the paper comes first, but today was a bit unusual.

You see, last night was a huge carbo-loading event of food trucks. (Translation, I pigged out.) I don't normally eat that big of a meal in the evening. I didn't sleep particularly well at first, then drifted off. This was not a surprise.

There was once a long time ago, when I was at a turnaround in Empress. Some of my readers are in the Alberta oil and gas industry and know exactly what and where I'm talking about. (Hi Leana, Susi, BJ, Lisa, Mike, Chris, Alan, Graham, Marilyn, Kim, David, Terry, and Milt). For the others, a turnaround is where they shut a whole gas plant down, throw a zillion workers at it, tear some of it apart, add new bits, fix things, and generally get it ready to continue making millions of dollars for the owners. Just turning off the gas stream costs big dollars, every day, hour, and minute the plant is down. Let's just say there is some urgency to get everything done and get it going again.

Empress is well on the way to the middle of nowhere. Here is a screen shot of the plants and surrounding territory. Just as an aside, that little patch of territory has a lot to say about your electricity bill in Alberta during the winter.

That doesn't help you place where it is? Try this one. I can still see the plants, but I know what to look for.

I forget how long the drive is to Medicine Hat, where we were staying, but I think it's about 1.5 hours one way. Once you've done it a few times, it just seems to take forever. As a side note, look for highway 884 on the left side of the map. Talk about desolation. It's ruler straight, flat, and one could easily believe that nothing has changed since the Depression. The big one in the 30's. Highway 41 is a bit better.

Ok, so we've sorted out what a turnaround is, and where it was happening. My boss at the time was an important person, in that his approval was required before flanging up pressure vessels. I worked directly with him, making sure he had the data to make decisions. It made for some long days, even by turnaround standards. How long? 12 hour days, 7 days a week, till our work was done was pretty standard for me, sometimes longer. Lots of it is spent waiting for things to happen.

On this day we got into our hotel about 9pm. Shower, down to the dining room for dinner. Ravenous. Then we wait for a couple of the others to show up so we can talk about some issues. Eventually the hotel told us to order or they'd shut the kitchen. It's about 10 pm now. I had a huge steak and baked potato and salad. Back to my room about 11. What a mistake. I didn't sleep a wink, my tummy wondering why I hated it. Then up early again, for a 7am start at the plant. That was a really long day.

Ever since then I've been leery about eating big heavy meals in the evening. Especially later. I actually plan my life around it a bit, knowing how it affects me. But that burger was so good, and it was only a little after 5!

This morning I did not need to eat breakfast, and didn't. After shambling around a bit wondering if I should try my bike again, I decided on a run. There was just enough crankiness in my back that I didn't want to push it, and Linda was out with some buddies and so unavailable for a pick up if I needed it.

What a pity, since it was a totally perfect day for it. Not a cloud in the sky. About 20 C (68 F) Not much wind. Sigh. So I went for a run instead, a nice long slow one. Skip below to the run details if you want them. I want to make another detour here.

While running I was thinking a lot about life, the universe, and everything. It started with politics, the two American parties holding their conventions, and the news that the Harper government had ended diplomatic relations with Iran, closing our embassy there, and kicking out the remaining Iranian officials here. I was thinking about what I do for a living, how long I might be able to do it, and what retirement looks like for me.

A tall order, and tough to write about in a way that makes sense for readers, since my brain often processes things in several directions at once. That comes in handy when you're trying to subtract one database from another. But I'll try.

America is in a huge economic crisis, mostly of it's own making, and that has a big impact on Canada. Two optional wars. Banking stupidity on an over-the-moon scale. Tax cuts. It goes on. Obama went over the top in promises 4 years ago, and I think he badly underestimated the hatred the Teatards have for him. I don't think anyone could have reasonably expected the total gridlock in Congress. His major fault was to try to work with them as long as he did.

The Republicans have made it clear they want more of the same. I cannot understand why any woman would vote for them. I can't understand why any immigrant, any non-Christian (Mormons excepted) would vote Republican. In fact, I'm completely at a loss to understand why anyone in the 95% would vote Republican. The one percent I understand. Even the top 5% I can understand, since they could be forgiven for thinking they'll join the top rank real soon now, or that enough of the benefits will trickle down to them. But anyone else? Not a hope.

Now, I have a bit of a confession to make. If I had to define my politics by recent American standards I'd be horrified. But let's open the timescale ever so slightly, but still within living memory. In a lot of ways I'd probably call myself an Eisenhower Republican. Here's the 1956 Republican Party platform. Granted, it's a party platform, and hence has lots of bumf in it, but look at the overall emphasis on the good of all Americans.

Now the Harper government and Iran. What Baird said in no way justifies closing the embassy. Much of his laundry list is years old. I think there is something else behind the change, and the public justification are lies. One of my rules in life is that you'll get further and gain a clearer understanding of the situation if you assume that a politician is lying every time he or she opens their mouth. Stuff like this demonstrates just how Harper is stupid. In the world of realpolitik it's important to talk to your friends, and even more important to talk to your enemies. A mid to lesser power like Canada doesn't close off channels of communication for that laundry list. I figure the reason is either stupidity, or trying to please Tel Aviv. I admit that's sort of a have you stopped beating your wife kind of statement. But that's what Harper tries to do to others.

Harper has continued to run his government exactly as he did when it was a minority. Divisive, in your face, unapologetic wedge issues designed to benefit big corporations and the wealthy people that own and run them. The rest of us are just occasionally noisy rabble. Watching how our federal government is behaving around the Enbridge pipeline to the coast tells you everything you need to know about how it does business, and who it does business for.

Which leads to my situation. I happen to work for an oil and gas company these days. In fact, much of my last two decades of work have been in the oil and gas industry. Nova Gas Transmission (now TCPL), Amoco (now BP) and BP, Skystone Engineeering, EOS and IMS, Talisman, and now Penn West.

If you are reading this blog, you depend on my industry for your lifestyle. No quibbling. Anything in your house made of plastic is from petroleum. It's probably heated by gas or oil. Your electricity might have come from a gas powered generating plant. Your car is practically the personification of the petroleum industry. Even your bicycle has it's roots there. A good part of the transportation infrastructure came from the push of the petroleum industry to get people and equipment out to the boonies to drill. Those huge towers in downtown Calgary, and thousands of the jobs in them and the rest of the city/province/country exist because of the petroleum industry. If you want to say I'm in the IT industry rather than oil and gas, then what are you reading this blog on?

All that said, the oil and gas industry is not an unalloyed good. Having such strong wages in one industry makes it more difficult for other industries. I remember listening to the owner of a farm equipment dealership talking about the difficulties of keeping the heavy duty mechanics required to service his products. The petroleum industry can swoop in in offer wages that are double or triple what he can pay.

A person might choose to make less money as a trade off for other things, being able to live near family, or the ocean, or to enjoy small town lifestyle, or many other things. Those choices start getting harder when you can double your wages or more. Scroll back up and look at that map again. I somehow think not many people ride to the Empress plants on their bikes. Nor are there many recreational opportunities nearby unless you really like chasing gophers. Even Medicine Hat, which is a nice little city if you like old people and hot weather, has somewhat limited opportunities.

Then there is the problem when petroleum products are spilled where they don't belong. We are not terribly good at cleaning it up again, though there have been no shortage of opportunities to practice in a variety of climates.

So here I am, earning what I think to be quite acceptable money doing things I like to do. We have managed to live within our means since before we were married. That prudence paid off when the industry here went into one of the inevitable bust cycles. That happens, just as sure as night following day, though the timing is a bit uncertain. I had essentially a year and bit off to work on IMC training and experiment with a retirement lifestyle for a while. This tells me that I'm not ready to not work.

Even though I'm still a bit more creaky than I'd like, I'm still able to get out into the sunshine and go for a run. That's still a mildly amazing thing for me, who didn't use to run until a few years ago. My health is much better than it was. I'm making good money at a job I like, which is not the case with a great many people right now. Life is good, and I'm loving and appreciating it.

I'm just a bit nervous that the politicians will screw it up. Ok, I'm a lot nervous. The economic recovery is a slow slog, with many people not working or underemployed. There are so many ways it could get worse, and both Harper and the Teatards are eager to try them. I'd love to work only part time starting in a few years, but a lot depends on the economy. I know a lot of people about my age or a little older are thinking very seriously about retirement decisions. It's really hard to decide when you have no real idea how much money you'll have because returns on investments suck so badly, if you've even maintained your capital.

The 34.1376 hours like clockwork? I started the blog when I started training for triathlon, trying to get into better shape. Since then I've published well over 1000 posts. On average, they come out every day and half or so. Not quite set your alarm clock and plan your day around them, though I don't mind if you do, but close.

The blog has become a fun thing for me. Some people struggle with what to write, but as you can see, that's not a problem for me. I don't have a zillion readers like SUAR or Steve in a Speedo. I don't care. I write for me, and to some extent some of my regular commenters and readers. And that's what I'm going to continue to do. This one isn't a major milestone or anything, I was just struggling for a title.

Run details start. Stop reading here if you aren't interested in them. Scroll down and comment instead.

The run was really nice. 13 K, 93 minutes. I walked to Anderson, and started easy, intending to keep it easy. I even wore my heart rate monitor for the first time in a long time. Here's the map of where I went. If you can't see it, I touched the bridge in the Weaselhead.

And the graph.

I didn't look at the heart rate zone calculators before the run. I wanted to do what I thought an easy run was, and see where my heart rate went. Overall I'm pretty pleased. the first half of the run it was low 130's, and the last half, the uphill half you'll note, it was typically mid to upper 130's. Peak heart rate was 147 and it came down smartly after that hill. Maybe the run wasn't quite as easy as it should, since the calculators tell me my zone 2 pace is under 131 BPM. Except for the hills, though, I was breathing very easily, and would have been able to chat or breath through my nose.

That elevation graph isn't particularly accurate. It should be a mirror image around the 7 K mark. Still you can see the spike in my time climbing out of South Glenmore. Toward the end my feet and legs were getting a bit tired and sloppy so I stopped at 13K and walked the rest of the way home for an easy cool down, then stretched after. A few hours later my right hip is feeling a bit cranky. I'll go stretch some more when I'm done writing.


  1. You have wittily and succinctly summed up my feelings about politics in a few very well crafted paragraphs. Harper worries me greatly. I hope he doesn't screw up your retirement, once you're ready.

    Thoroughly enjoyed "unless you really like chasing gophers". I may just take that up! lol.

    Would also be interested in hearing about your wines. And, perhaps, any whine you have, too. ;)

  2. That's two people interested in me writing about wine, so that will be a go, maybe even starting today. What's a book club meeting without wine? Of course, there are many more people interested in *drinking* it, but that's as it should be.

  3. I'm Canadian and I HATE Harper and his government with a vengence. I think what you wrote about the republicans can (IMO) be put towards Harper too. I can't even see why he was given a majority govn't! Nothing he does benefits anyone but the 1% - I am a huge Green Supporter and also like the NDP however if you take my environmental views out of things I really and whole heartedly support Elizabeth May. She is someone who continuously inspires me to do better. I was actually just asked to be the green candidate in my area for the next coming election - I have yet to decide. I have no idea what is going on in the states, as I feel like both of them suck! I would love harper and his stupid pipeline to get the fuck out of Canada ;) NICE POST!

  4. Don't hold back! Tell me how you REALLY feel, that's what this blog is all about. Well, it's all about lots of things. Harper is Republican light, pushing as hard as he can, and probably has wet dreams about the Republican agenda and support it gets. There's lots of things sensible I like about E May, though her line about the ark compared to Titanic during the last election just pissed me off.


Looking forward to reading your comment!