Monday, February 25, 2008

Aye, I've arrived in Scotland

Hello from Scotland, Inverness to be precise. Just took a cab from the airport and trying to meet up with some friends who have me waiting at this very posh Inn while they finish a brewery tour. Judging by this place, I think I'm hanging out with friends that have "nice tastes" (i.e., expensive). Wasn't in the plans to come here (Inverness), but the aforementioned friends (Ali & Jason from London) were coming up here with a group of friends and have a spare room so... And they left on Thursday and left me their place in London for Thursday & Friday night... just a smallish $3500/month apartment in Islington (near King's Cross tube station). Sheeshh! Things are a tad expensive here! Tomorrow I'm off to Pat & Stef's in Aberdeen.

So far things have gone quite well. The reception in the London office was very good, though nothing 100% has materialized. There would be commitments materializing if I were ready to commit 100%, but there are lots of downsides. They don't seem all that busy here (by comparison to the US offices anyway). And committing 100% for a single project would likely mean restrictions on taking smaller jobs in interesting places. For example, the only small job that has presented itself is 3 weeks of drilling supervision in Bulgaria. It sucks thought that job just got pulled out from underneath me at 4PM on Friday (a senior up guy from Germany pulled a "we want CH2M International staff on the project" i.e., not CH2M US - which I find very penny wise, pound foolish if they're interested in having me come over and "join the team"). I was rather annoyed to hear this on Friday afternoon, but things will come...

There is also work on the London Olympics project that could come through and be an expenses/accomodation paid endeavour, which is kind of key because London is friggin expensive. There is also work in ~May in Netherlands and ~June in Northern Ireland, but both of these seem so far away we'll have to see what materializes. Both the Olympics and Dublin jobs want me to commit full time, but seem willing to take me on shorter stints as well. This still could all work out well allowing me to do some travelling, go to Ben's wedding (May 4) and still end up with enough work to not cause the bank account to drop. We'll see I guess.

I will talk with some London office folk on Monday and barring any requests to come back to London ASAP, I guess I'm off to the Netherlands next? Though I've also met a fun Australian lawyer who's coming to Scotland and we may hang out and I'm contemplating a Germany visit, which could then lead to Prauge or? So maybe I'll add a stop somewhere before the Netherlands? See, the problem is my friend Jen has very rudely scheduled her holidays when I'm planning to be in the Netherlands. So I have to either stay at her place without her or rearrange (not that some alone time in Amsterdam in a paid apartment would be too rough). I haven't started to figure this out yet because everything seems to change anyway.

I realize I've talked mostly about work in London. I guess that's what was / is on my mind. But London was lots of fun as always. Were several nights of debauchery, a pub crawl and many a Guinness. I met up with my long lost 2nd cousin (Heather) who turns out went to the same junior high and high school as myself, met up with some fun people at the hostel, and met some good people at work. I was mostly focussed on work, but London is a hard place not to have some fun!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Got to Love It!

I picked up this card at the pub the other night - so much better than collecting Subway stamps for a free 6" tuna on honey oat!! Unfortunately, the pub isn't in an area of town I frequent :(

Friday, February 15, 2008

And we're off!

Hi from London! After a nearly two years of wandering about North America (okay, a few trips elsewhere), I've finally made the trip to London. Yes, this is the trip for which I largely left SF in April 2006. Better late than never!

I've been here for a few days now, working in the CH2M office in Kensington (just west of Hyde Park). Quite a nice office, small, but good people. There's also a separate office for the Olympics project (I'm going for drinks with them tonight). I'm working here till next Friday (Feb 22) doing carry-over work from the Florida and North Carolina jobs. More work than I had originally planned, but on the positive side, my time here will be positive (bank account wise), which an accomplishment of sorts given how crappy the US dollar is! I've also had a very positive reception / level of interest and have had several meetings with people about various "opportunities". Nothing in stone obviously, in large part because they keep asking the question "what is it you're doing right now?". And henceforth starts the dilemmas (sorry, it's exciting so I have to tell someone!)...

There are some longer term prospects including a relocation to Dublin (specific project is looking and I'm not sure if I'm interested). There is the Olympics project, which I will find out more about tonight, but would likely be a "need you now" situation. And there is a drilling job in Bulgaria they want me for either the beginning or end of March for 3-6 weeks (would begin to cut it close with Ben's wedding in Thailand). Then there are also job prospects in Madrid and Milan that have been mentioned but I've yet to really look into. So the dilemma, do I keep travelling? Or take the work if it comes? And where do I want to live? There was a mention that the Olympics project might pay for me stay in London for 4-6 weeks, as in all expenses paid. If that offer were to firm up, I'd be an idiot to pass it up!! But don't worry friends, your couches in Scotland, Netherlands, Ethiopia and Vietnam are still very high on my priority list!! :)

Just before coming to London I was on a very fun cruise with the family followed by a couple days of debauchery in LA. I'll get a blog for these sometime soon, but here's a foreshadow...

Scene on Cruise: My brother (Jeff), my sister in law (Alison) and I are sitting in a lounge doing some sort of twisted scavenger hunt. So happens Jeff is wearing Alison's clothes (a nice short jean miniskirt dress) and Alison is wearing Jeff's clothes (don't ask). And in walks their son Max. The funny thing is, Max doesn't even blink at his father wearing a dress and just starts on with his business. Wouldn't most 16 year olds look a little different at their father for wearing a dress? Apparently Max is quite used to this behaviour. What makes it even better, Max found us by going to guest services and asked them to find out where our charge cards were last used. Hmmmm - smart kid, eh?

And from LA:

Saturday, February 02, 2008


I'm sitting in a log cabin in the Sierras thinking.... I've stayed in a two really nice remote (Sierras and middle of Alaska) cabins in the past year that were really more homes than cabins. Not "really nice" as in Tom Cruise is looking at buying the place, but really nice as in log cabins, large, nicely built and homely. Both cabins have been off the grid with wood heat & solar/wind systems (I think the Alaska cabin also had an oil heater stove though I didn't touch it). Having a cabin / country home is ultimately something I'd like to do (yes, I did just put a 12-volt solar system into the A-frame at the cabin, but that's quite small scale) so it's nice "try out" other peoples cabins and see what works, what you like, what you'd change, etc....

Electricity: If there is an option to hook up to electrical, do you take it? Even just as a back up for the solar / wind? Instead of running a generator if / when the solar system gets run down, you could use the municipal electricty to charge the batteries? What if it costs $5000? There are of course praticality issues (cost, electric heat option) and environmental issues. Probably more environmentally friendly to use municipal electricty to occasionaly make up power shortfalls / charge batteries rather than running a generator, but then you can't truly claim to be off the grid.

Cooking: There are 3 options as I see them. Wood, gas & electric. Wood is the most labor instensive, but can also provide heat and hot water, which is particularly useful in the winter, but not as much in the summer (still need hot water). If there is a municipal electric hook up, do you use that to run the stove / oven? Or go gas and accept that propane tanks will have to be filled at least a few times a year.

Heat: The cabin I'm in right now just has a wood stove (with water heater). Though there is lots of snow outside, I'm also in California at 3000' and there aren't many really really cold winter days (-20 C would be abnormally cold). It's a bit different in Canada where -30 C days are not uncommon. The wood stove option requires constant attention (at a bare minimum twice a day) unless the place is designed to freeze (i.e., is there full-time running water?). Which takes me to one of my future hobbies and possibly jobs at some point in the distant future: geothermal. I've read up on it a bit, but need to get more into it. But I think a small geothermal system could run off of a solar system and provide a base level of heating? Might not be the be all end all when temperatures drop much below freezing, but could be designed to keep a country place above freezing year round? If you're only going to a place on weekends in the middle of winter, there is a big difference between showing up and the place being +8C and the place being -23C. Of course if the choice above was to get a hookup to the municipal electric, then a single baseboard heater would keep the place from freezing over the unoccupied winter days for a few hundred dollars a season?

Hot Water: Again comes down to wood, gas or electric. Could have a wood option / pre-warmer regardless, but how rustic does one want to go? I know the cabin I'm in right now has wood fire heated water only and let's just say the fire didn't really keep going over night and I didn't shower this morning and the water was very luke warm when doing dishes. An on demand electric heater in the kitchen and bathroom might be a good option, but would require the municipal electrical connection. On-demand gas would similarly require the periodic delivery of propane.

I think it really comes down to is this a cabin or a home. A cabin I could deal with draining water lines in the winter and then having only wood and solar. But if this is a place you want to live and work out of for extending periods of time even in the winter months, then, personally, my requirements go up. Yes, I'm a spoiled westerner. I often chuckle to myself in an embarassed way when I'm travelling in a developing country and realize only the tourist places have hot water. Yet, here I am saying that it really is a necessity. So assuming a country place would be a place I'd want to stay for MORE than the odd weekend in the winter, my current thoughts are:

- solar / wind system (power, lights, geothermal system, groundwater pumps, laundry?, dishwasher?) w/ generator backup or municipal electrical backup depending upon availability / cost of hookup
- geothermal system for heat (a paired well configuration since I am a hydrogeologist) to heat hot-water radiators thoughout building
- large central wood stove w/ water heater and "some" cook top option (not designed as cook stove, but can still do some cooking)
- gas range (wood stove could be used for some cooking when the fire is going - i.e., probably not in August)
- gas water heaters in kitchen & bath (wood stove should provide hot enough water for showers / sink, but again, fire won't be burning at 8AM in August)

Obviously some numbers to be crunched above to make things work, but just babble...

P.S. a good Canadian govt site about geothermal -