The Christchurch shooting-be careful how you speak

I am reading the obituary of Atta Elayyan one of the victims of the Christchurch shootings.  I have been thinking about the shootings since they happened and why they make no sense.  I know though that it all started with words somewhere.

Atta was a father, a software developer, a futsal goalie and coach, he was 33, a Muslim, he was a New Zealander, he was also Kuwaiti and Palestinian and had spent his youth in Oregon.  His father helped found the Al-Noor mosque when the family arrived in New Zealand from America.  He was a perfectly ordinary nerd with a happy life contributing greatly to the community around him.

I am a geologist, a running coach, I’m 46, an atheist and hold British and Australian passports but have also lived in the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. I’m learning to weave, I make cheese when I have time and I try to give some of my time to others who need it.  I’m a perfectly ordinary nerd who hopes I’m contributing something to those around me.

Atta was a person just the same as me.  Neither of us are defined by the words and labels we give ourselves and others give us.

The man who murdered him, a person who now has the label of white supremacist, became blind to this simple knowledge.  Somehow he came to the conclusion that what he did was right and that message and motivation came to him-via words-from others.  I cannot think of him as a terrorist as he did not inspire terror.  He has inspired shock maybe and trauma, a sense of deep distress and confusion, but not terror.  New Zealander’s have come together in a shared sense of grief and outrage that bears no resemblance to terror.

We all have to use words carefully.  They can cut, and they can sow seeds in minds that can grow unfathomable hate and loathing.  Please think before opening your mouth or writing an off the cuff response.  Your words can have consequences big and small.

My sympathy goes out to all those affected by the shooting.  Here’s hoping we learn the right lessons from it about equality.  We are all just people after all regardless of labels.

The Christchurch shooting-be careful how you speak

Why did news become entertainment? Which news sites will actually give me unbiased, well researched, relevant news?

As a kid I remember the six o’clock BBC news in the evening.  This may have been followed by the ITV news and weather as it had some local news too.  I thought it generally pretty boring as it was all about somewhere else.  Big business announcements, politics at home and abroad, strikes, wars, famine, disasters were given order of priority depending on maximum devastation or costs.  I couldn’t relate to any of it unless it was something about Sellafield nuclear site which was located a few miles from my childhood front door.  I guess I mostly watched it for the weather (as a Brit you must be obsessed with the weather).  Rarely, if ever, were ‘celebrities’ covered unless it was the Oscars or maybe an absolutely huge opening night of some film but this was the exception not the rule.

It was really the only news I saw in the day until I got older and then I might catch the BBC nine o’clock news.  This was generally the same as the six o’clock news unless there had been ‘significant developments’.  I would also occasionally glance at the newspaper, a broadsheet, that was collected everyday but, as I was no good at folding the thing up into a manageable size to read without the whole thing disintegrating, I generally didn’t bother with it too much.

In Britain I was aware my main news was produced by an outlet that wasn’t controlled by a media corporation and was, notionally, apolitical.  It wasn’t till I visited the U.S. that I realised what this meant where every news program seemed to have a political affiliation or agenda to push.  I was shocked, it was like viewing fiction and it was confusing with ticker tapes that moved constantly across the bottom of the screen demanding as much of your attention as the little inset boxes of people that were all talking at the same time.  It was also here I first encountered cable TV (it wasn’t ‘a thing’ in the U.K.).  Cable TV allowed more local content than the networks to be aired and I suspect began the 24-hour news cycle in the 1980s.  This marks the beginning of the journalistic descent as it became possible to have 24-hour a day news channels that simply kept you up-to-date on everything and anything leaving (I would imagine) regardless of its relevance, or sometimes, veracity.

I went to University about the same time the World Wide Web came into being.  It, however, wasn’t yet a place you went to for news.  We needed to wait around 10 years for the newspapers to really start to own the online space thus allowing them to be more up-to-date (constant rather than daily or weekly) and meant they could compete with the TV broadcasters.  Before I found online sites I was living in Brunei where the cable TV was either politically/shareholder aligned U.S. sites or Al Jazeera.  I went with Al Jazeera which even though owned by Qatar seemed, at that time, more balanced than the U.S. channels on offer (and at the same time I found the BBC site online).

There simply isn’t enough news in the day that can be properly analysed and accounted for to fill this constant 24 hour cycle requirement and this is where entertainment came in.  As there isn’t time to do the real investigative work (or money) celebrities and gossip filled the void neatly and cheaply.  It appealed to the mapgpie in us who like to look at the shiny sparkly things and are secretly delighted when they fall from their gilded perches.  There is only so much of the Kardashians anyone can take (actually not much at all in my case) but we seem to have collectively fallen for this guff.  And don’t get me started on networks that use their news programs to do stories on their other shows on the same, or sister, channels.

So where am I going with this?  The news isn’t what it used to be and I’m disappointed.  Now that we have 24-hour news channels owned by mega corporations with their own agendas there isn’t enough real reporting going on.  I’m officially over it.  Alain de Botton, the well respected philosopher, has written a book on ‘The News’ (which I haven’t read yet) and notes how it may be the religious cult of our time considering how much of our lives are filled with it occupying every conversational corner of our lives, on buses, round water coolers and coffee shops with; ‘have you seen…’, ‘did you know…’and ‘isn’t it shocking…’.  Without being up-to-date it can be quite hard to have a conversation with some people.  It’s a bit like not knowing your Bible or Koran a couple of hundred years ago.

It may have been boring but I miss a properly investigated and verifiable story which explains what happened, why and then explains what can be done about it and why it’s relevant.  I admire those journalists still holding politicians and corporations to account.  These are the people that deserve to be listened to.  I don’t think we deserve sensationalism, gossip and opinion pieces from our news providers.  I expect more.  I’m looking for alternative places reporting actual news, not selling gossip or pushing agendas.  If you have found somewhere that does good investigative journalism please let me know.

The ABC in Australia seems to be pretty good, as does SBS, and I get the Economist weekly for a weekly synopsis of what the hell is going on and why (it provides the links between stories well).  I’ve discovered Democracy Now in the U.S. too.

As consumers we get to inform the sites what we think of them by voting with our viewing time.  We only get what we deserve and I think we deserve more.

Why did news become entertainment? Which news sites will actually give me unbiased, well researched, relevant news?

An idea that’s been kicked around a lot that the oil & gas business should be supporting

Following on from last week’s blog, suggesting those who were deeply unhappy in their jobs should maybe just find the nearest exit, I’d like to suggest a compromise of sorts.

It’s simple.  We’ve all talked about it.  The industry we’ve devoted our working lives too is, and is continuing to, haemorrhage staff.  The people who are leaving nearly all have twenty or more years of experience.  See the chart below from 2011 of oil and gas demographics to stimulate your thoughts on what it might look like in 2018.

Distribution of employees in the global oil and gas industry in 2011, by gender and age (link here)


The majority of people left have, in many cases, considerably less experience.  The people left are not less smart, or less capable, but they haven’t been there, done that and bought all the T-shirts and made all the mistakes.  So companies are trying to do almost the same amount of work, with fewer people, who understand less about what they are doing!  There are fewer mentors and coaches and those that remain are now trying to cover more ground as they have fewer, less experienced resources, in their teams.

Now to state the obvious.  Why not bring back in those old-hands for a couple of days a week to coach?  Let them prevent obvious mistakes.  Let them add their understanding and wisdom to the conversation.  Let them give something back.

In the big companies – the Shell’s, Chevron’s, ExxonMobil’s and the like – it may not be quite such an issue as the peer reviews and structures are more obviously in place to protect the business when things get tight.  The smaller outfits though?  I’ve seen a few and the safety nets of experience and QC quite simply have holes in.

To the young people reading this.  I am not trying to insult you.  You are entering a business that now has vast quantities of data available to it that simply were not there when I started.  You will undoubtedly cope with that better than I but the fundamentals of what we do stand.  Identifying critical risks and key uncertainties are things learned and we haven’t got computers smart enough yet to do it for us.  It still relies on human intelligence and us ‘old folks’ have made more mistakes than you so we (hopefully) know how to avoid making them again.  Sharing those understandings through our stories is still best done face-to-face as humans fundamentally need narration to comprehend.

So if you’re a manager, team leader, or even a CEO reading this think back on your network.  What skills does your organisation clearly have big experience gaps in now?  How about approaching one or two of those brilliant scientists and engineers you knew a few years ago and inviting them back in to (a) help on a project (b) help an individual develop skills (c) just be in the office as a resource for a couple of days a week?  This would be a relatively cheap way of getting training and take the pressure off your team leads too.  The ‘old hands’ would get to give back.  We aren’t all looking for full-time roles and part-time may suit many better now that they’ve had some time out and found other interests to occupy their time.

So while experienced professionals may have left the building remember their knowledge is still there.  Why not use it and hold the door open again?

(Caveat:  this presupposes they haven’t run off to join the circus, become cheese makers or chosen to study fine art).

An idea that’s been kicked around a lot that the oil & gas business should be supporting

A note from the outside to those still in oil and gas

There is a life outside those doors.  If you’re that sick of it, and have the courage, maybe you should just walk through them.

Very soon it will three years since I left the oil and gas game as a geoscientist.  Yes, I’ve done the odd bit of work here and there but this downturn has been unlike any other and even if I was looking hard to get back in I doubt there would be anything available.

Since I left I have learned to make cheeses, written three children’s books (self-published), become a recreational running coach and worked with a charity in that capacity.  I have also been gifted a loom and soon I hope to try my hand at weaving on it just as soon as I’ve finished this massive tapestry I’ve got.  I have a good relationship with my neighbours, I’m there if they need someone, most of the time.  I can be there when a friend needs to talk about planning a wedding.  Some of my cooking has improved, and as someone who enjoys eating that’s a big deal!  I could go on.  My life does not come with a good pay packet anymore but it comes with a greater sense of achievement somehow.

When I meet some friends still in oil and gas I hear frustration, futility, repetition, boredom, poor decisions, lack of decision making, and stagnation.  I know some ridiculously clever people.  They are talented and smart and capable and for years they have been trying to do their best in spite of (what seems to be) their employers best efforts to frustrate them.  A paperless, hot desking environment may suit the HR teams (yes I’m typecasting) but it doesn’t suit engineers and geoscientists who now have to try and solve complex big problems on tiny screens without the maps and plans they are used to seeing on A0 paper.  I for one could never hold all the information about a field drilling campaign in my head and I needed maps to communicate with.  If I had to hot desk, with everything I owned held in a couple of shoe boxes, things would go bad fast regardless of the sparkling water that may come out of the taps at the coffee areas.

It feels like the decision makers in some of these companies are failing to understand that without their technical teams actually doing the work to ensure facilities work, or to develop them, then they have no business at all.  When I joined in the mid 90’s that was not the case.  The business was driven by the assets, those who ran them and those who were exploring for new ones.  It was not controlled by accountants, lawyers and HR (all important functions but pointless if there’s no actual commodity to support the business).  Processes have replaced innovation (I think on the basis that if we get everything ‘on average’ right that’s okay however it destroys positive change and imagination).  Ticking boxes has replaced brainstorming for ideas and removed the challenge of doing better.

This is starting to sound like a rant.  That was not the purpose; it was this.  If you are in the industry, and you really are as frustrated and bored as some of the people I know clearly are – and if you have financial security whatever that means to you – then surely it’s time to say goodbye?  Write that resignation letter rather than hanging on for the package in the next round of redundancies.  I am done having coffee and meeting for lunches with people who clearly can’t stand what they are doing anymore and are deeply unhappy.  Do yourself a favour and get a hobby and get a life if it’s that bad.  I used to define myself through my work (probably because I don’t have kids) and leaving was very, very hard as I didn’t know how to be good at anything else.

Guess what?  You don’t have to be good at anything else.  However, you do have to be interested in other things than that office you sit in all day.  You should follow your interests to see where they take you in the full knowledge that it may be nowhere.  It should be about being happy and leading a full life.  While you may be earning the big bucks to pay your kids way through private education (and for that I applaud you) are you teaching them how to have a happy life?  Do they see you as a happy person, engaged in your work and life with a good balance between them?  How do you want them to see you?  I’d guess they’d be just as impressed if you were trying to build a Spitfire from scratch or raise the chocolate brownie to such a level of perfection you became a MasterChef judge!

I miss the people (when they were happy); I miss the intellectual problem solving.  However know there are other people, there are different places and things to do than that office and they may make you a lot happier than you are now.  As I type this, with the rain hammering on the window, my life coach cat appreciates my company more (well, my body warmth more likely to be honest) than anything I would have done in an office would have been appreciated and that is quite enough for me today.




A note from the outside to those still in oil and gas

Why I apologise too much

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog.  I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to say that anyone would want to hear.  This may be the case but, as I tidy up the last draft of the third kid’s book I’m writing for a special girl, it could be time to use my more grown up voice.  I need to confront the fact that I am constantly apologising.

I write this partly because I know I’m not the only one who does it.  I know the power that words have and I know that the language we use internally, and externally, affects not only the way others view us but how we view ourselves.  It’s a bit like the fuss going on about the bacteria in our gut.  We need good bacteria (good, positive words) to counteract the bad bacteria (negative, bad words) in order to live more healthy lives.  We need positive language about ourselves too.

If I walk down a street and a near collision happens I am always the one to say ‘sorry’.  If I get in the way of someone in the supermarket looking for the baked beans I am the one to say ‘sorry’ as if I have ruined their day by standing dazed in front of the canned vegetables.  If there is a misunderstanding about the time of a meeting, that I know wasn’t my fault, I will still be the one to say ‘sorry’.  If you Google ‘why we say sorry’ without even getting off the search page results you’ll see ‘Many people seem to find saying “I’m sorry” an extremely difficult thing to offer’ as well as ‘Apologizing can be hard because it takes humility and vulnerability’.  It seems I have mastered something difficult that identifies me as a vulnerable human!  I am not trying to be flippant.  There are times when sorry is required.  You are asking for forgiveness for your actions and implicitly implying you will try hard not to do the same thing again.  This is not however why I say sorry too much.

I think I say ‘I’m sorry’ a lot because I think I should be doing better.  I think I say sorry a lot because I am too hard on myself.  I think I say sorry a lot because I am trying to minimise my presence on those around me and to make myself smaller.  That was quite hard to write.  It implies I do not value myself as much as I should.  I know I am someone who tries, who contributes, who manages to make the world a little better around me.  However, I need to stop judging myself as someone who still needs to earn the right for respect (and self-respect).  I should know it is deserved already.  I need to own that privilege not hide from it.  I need to acknowledge that when I say sorry I am often apologising to myself not to the person in front of me.  I am not a perfectionist but I need to admit that sometimes I have such ridiculously high standards set for myself that they are unattainable and I am constantly apologising to myself for failing to meet them.

This seems a long way from a canned food isle in a supermarket!  However, it is there that I am reinforcing my sense of failure or lack of worth.  It is completely unnecessary and misplaced and it is damaging.  So, I ask you my friends who are reading this to tell me when I apologise too much.  I need to be kinder and use more positive language about myself.  I also encourage you to watch yourself if you recognise yourself in these words and to try and stop being so self-judgemental.  There are times when we do need to apologise but it is not all the time and not for trivial things or things not of your making.

Why I apologise too much

I’m grumpy-it’s about shoes.

I’m not a ‘girly girly’.  I doubt many of you would disagree with that.  I’m a geologist and as such as at home outdoors in hiking boots or even (although it’s been a while) steel toe caps as I am in something that actually co-ordinates with my outfit.

I’m notionally a runner too.  (Okay a mostly injured runner but that’s pretty normal) so I realise that wearing heels the whole time isn’t a great idea (unless my Achilles is playing up and then a low heel is acceptable) and I think my running shoe collection is almost as diverse as my work shoe collection these days.

Right now though I’m a ‘grumpy geologist not girly injured runner’ and that’s bad.  I have had what I believe to be my fair share of injuries over the years and the Baker’s cyst that burst in the back of my knee was certainly one of the worse as far as running was concerned but my current one is not just limiting my running it’s limiting my shoes and therefore my self-esteem (stay with me now).

I have hallux limitus (or hallux rigidus in old-school parlance).  This means neither of my big toes has the normal level of flexibility as the rest of my toes.  No big deal, but the middle of last year my big toes decided they weren’t happy with the road running I was doing (I was told to stop running trails so much) and they went into an acute pain and inflammation response because of more miles on harder terrain which culminated in me being barely able to walk by October.  We are now mid way through February and I’m sorry but wearing only flip flops/thongs or trainers is getting to me.

My trainers and my ‘wish-to-wears’

I have only recently realised how much this is affecting my ‘womanly-ness’.  (I am literally in pain every step I take.  I cannot put on anything with a heel and in truth trainers hurt too).

Most of the boys won’t get this but ladies?  What do you wear on your feet when you go out to a nice restaurant?  Never mind the rest of the outfit.  Just think if you can’t put on the heels that go with the dress you aren’t dressed properly and you know it.  What do you wear on your feet for a big presentation?  What makes you feel confident?  Your daggy old trainers that you can’t run in so have been assigned to ‘walking only’ or a pair of heels?

heelsThis may sound slightly ridiculous to a fair few of you but I have always worn heels.  I have a ‘reasonable’ shoe collection.  I am no Imelda Marcos but shoes are/were ‘my thing’.  Not handbags or purses, not bikes or guitars.  Shoes.  For six months I haven’t been able to wear heels and it’s finally got to me.  I can’t even do the ‘get from the taxi to the table and then take them off’ thing we sometimes do if we really want to wear a pair of ridiculous shoes.

My relationship with myself has worsened.  I can’t ‘dress up’ properly.  I don’t care if this is because I was ‘conditioned’ as a female child to want to ‘dress up and look nice’ and I can assure you I have never dressed up to look nice for anyone other than myself.  So now I find myself in a situation where I can’t dress up; where I can’t look nice (for myself) and so I feel grumpy.
And so I’ve blogged about it which is a bit sad really.  What a very first world problem.  I shouldn’t be complaining about not being able to wear one of the ‘quite a few’ pairs of shoes I own.  I should be thankful for having any shoes to wear at all. Believe me I am.  I have that appreciation but right now I’d dearly love to be able to dress up and feel good about me with a pair of heels on.

Have a great weekend all 😉

I’m grumpy-it’s about shoes.

Cyber ignorance and misinformation rant

So last week I read ‘The Cyber Effect’ by Dr Mary Aiken (the CSI Cyber series relies heavily on her and her work) and I would recommend everyone read it (especially if you have kids although I’ll say up front it may alarm you but that’s a good thing).  I learned things like the bit of the internet I spend my time in represents somewhere between 1% and 4% of the Web.  The other 96-99% is the Dark Web; the unindexed part.  A lot of the Dark Web is just government databases, university records and the like but its also where most cybercrime happens on the Darknet on a tiny fraction of this bigger Dark Web.  You wouldn’t believe what happens on the Darknet.  Read the book and think about internet security a bit more-there is no Big Brother policing it-we need to be more proactive in this area.

Why post a picture of the New Zealand earthquake and then talk about a book?   Well the book deals with a lot of things.  The author is a forensic cyber psychologist.  To me this sounds cool and if the internet had been a bigger thing when I went into higher education this is something I’d have wanted to do.   One of the things the book starts to deal with is the relationship of humanity to cyberspace-or the internet and how we interact with it and what it does to us.

I posted a picture of an earthquake focal point in New Zealand because a friend (via Facebook) asked me my opinion on the validity of a piece he’d found on the internet about the notion of a seismic vessel in the area at the time being the cause of the earthquakes.  (I can hear some of you laughing).  Not only that, the piece talks about Hillary Clinton knowing about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake before it happened amongst other things.  I am not going to validate it by providing a link because I am taking a stand against the spreading of deliberate misinformation.  Several things strike me about this, and with my newfound cyber knowledge, a desire to share and enlighten came over me so stay with me.  It may sound rambling but hopefully you’ll get something out of this.

First up I commend my friend for approaching someone whom he thought would have knowledge of such a claim rather than just looking on the internet (I’m flattered).  Because on the internet we tend to find things we’re looking for.  Yes you read that right.  One of the behaviours we display on the web, most tellingly in cyberchondria (like hyperchondria but enabled by the millions of websites devoted to health issues rather than visits to countless text books and doctors) is looking for things that already support our position, or desired outcome.  This is cognitive ease in the case of the earthquake.  I have a preconceived idea that the earthquake is man made therefore I will search out information that supports this view and ignore other sources to the contrary.  (Not that I’m saying that is what my friend would have done).  I would alternatively call it intellectual laziness or a lack of critical thinking and this is bad.  Imagine our cave man ancestors displaying this characteristic when, on his way home after a day’s hunting taking his usual route he spies, for the first time ever, a group of large carnivorous beasts on the path but decides that because he always takes the same route home and nothing happens to him then why should today be any different.  (Taken to it’s worst case outcome cognitive ease can result in an individual receiving a Darwin award).

Secondly, how the hell is someone allowed to write this codswallop on a news site anyway?

Without being too boring some facts.  Not too many numbers.  In the last month New Zealand has experience 769 earthquakes of >2 magnitude, of these 49 were >5 mag and can be seen here on the map below (source49

Now a quick look at the map should make you wonder how a boat could be the cause of the onshore events and begin to question the claim.
Next lets think about where they happened.  I’ll take just one as an example.  How about the 7.8 (first big one) 53km NNE of Amberley that has a focal depth of 23km (source).  So now, can a boat with (admittedly big) air guns, acquiring seismic data offshore in water depths of >100m  cause a 7.8 magnitude earthquake at 23km into the earths crust?  Intuitively I hope you are all shaking your heads because even if you only did a little physics at school the idea that a big bang of air, which dissipates its energy very quickly in water and even quicker in rock will have no energy left to disturb anything at 10kms into the ground never mind 20kms!  So by now you are seriously, and critically, challenging the claim right?  So what’s the alternative?

Call me old-fashioned but I think the more obvious explanation is the Alpine Fault zone in the South Island is moving.  This is a well understood fault that has apparently moved more than any other on earth in the last 25 million years (source).  For the non-geos please understand that the North Island of New Zealand is on the Australian tectonic plate while the South Island is on the Pacific plate.  The North Island is being pushed up as the Pacific plate is being pushed under it (this causes things like the Taranaki volcano to form).


credit Mikenorton via Creative Commons.

So maybe my  years of learning and geo-knowledge- not an expert but an informed individual-meant that I knew better places to look for reliable data on the internet than the writer of the original piece.  Let’s be nice and go with that for the moment.  If you still think the boat could cause the earthquakes then in the words of Douglas Adams “…I repeat we have normality.  Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax.”

Last of all I want to emphasise the point about critical thinking and encourage you all to use more of it when looking at, and sharing from, the internet because I mention cyber ignorance in the title of the blog.  When we are online we are disinhibited, we “act drunk” it feels anonymous, there are no visible teachers, parents or policemen.  Humans, when they don’t think they are being observed behave in this way (a lot of what I’m about to write is taken heavily from Dr M. Aiken’s book).  Cyberpsychology has a name for it the online disinhibition effect (too many selfies, too many pictures of food you’re about to eat, just too much sharing really) and it leads to something that I think is worse called online escalation.  This is basically where your behaviours are amplified because you are online.  It becomes worse because people hang out in chat rooms with like-minded people.  We positively reinforce each others preconceived ideas and normalise behaviours that in real life we would consider extreme.
Now if your chat rooms are about growing vegetables then visiting them and having your gardening powers amplified by positive reinforcement and feedback from other enthusiasts is not a problem.  However, if you’re visiting sites that tell you that killing people that don’t look like you is okay then we have, in my opinion, a problem.  The principle of non-harm should apply in cyberspace too as far as I’m concerned (John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ essay, 1859).

I have taken an extreme example to make a simple point and to try and attract you to read the book.  I would encourage everyone to be aware that your behaviour online is not your real life behaviour.  We all need to demonstrate more responsibility online when it comes to sharing information or news sites so that the proliferation of lies, misinformation and dissembling is reduced.  We need to be aware that our behaviours directly affect what other people will do online because it’s easier there than in real life where face-to-face contact is needed.  I have written too many words.  You’ve probably stopped reading.  To summarise.  Read The Cyber Effect, and no seismic vessel is capable of causing the earthquakes seen off New Zealand in the last week.


Cyber ignorance and misinformation rant