Monthly Archives: May 2010

Top Kill Two Step

From Business Week on May 24th:

BP Plc’s efforts to plug a leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well by pumping heavy drilling fluids into it have a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of success, said Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward.

The “top kill” process is expected to start the morning of May 26 with results known that day, Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production, said today in a conference call.

From an AP article yesterday, May 28th:

[BP] CEO Tony Hayward said on the CBS “Early Show” that his confidence level in the well-plugging bid remains at about 60 to 70 percent.

BP PLC insisted the top kill was progressing as planned, though the company acknowledged drilling mud was escaping from the broken pipe along with the leaking crude.

“The fact that we had a bunch of mud going up the riser isn’t ideal but it’s not necessarily indicative of a problem,” spokesman Tom Mueller said.

Early Thursday, officials said the process was going well, but later in the day they announced pumping had been suspended 16 hours earlier.

It was going so well they stopped doing it! Now we see today’s news. It’s not good:

The technician working on the [top kill] project said Saturday pumping had again been halted and a review of the data so far was under way. “Right now, I would not be optimistic,” [said] the technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the effort. But he added, that if another attempt at the junk shot were to succeed, “that would turn things around.”

BP said Saturday it would not comment on the technician’s assertions. Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer, said at a news conference in Fourchon Beach, La. that it was too soon to tell whether the procedure was working. He said it was a process of stopping and starting and reevaluating.

“We’re going to keep at this until we see if it will work or not work,” he said. “If we believe it will work we should stay with it as long as it takes,” he said. “If we think it won’t we will go on to the next.”

So we were supposed to know results on the 26th and there was a 60-70% chance of success. Then on the 28th there weren’t really results but everything was “progressing as planned” (except that they  suspended pumping without telling anyone). Now technicians are leaking pessimistic thoughts to the New York Times and BP won’t comment and there still aren’t results.

Translation: top kill is failing.

Our fleeting glimpse of hope that we could shut the leak has all but evaporated. And relief wells won’t be ready until August.

On top of all of this, new reports show that BP knew there were problems with the rig’s safety almost a year ago, despite telling Congress otherwise. Someone needs to go to jail.


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Drawing Stars

As I grudgingly flip through my notes in my Borges literature class preparing to write my final paper, I laugh to myself about the ridiculous amount of stars, shapes, and sketches that litter the edges of my paper.

I’ve always been a doodler – I particularly like geometric patterns and attempting to draw perfect hexagons and circles. I always figured this was a terrible habit that showed my lack of focus in class. But perhaps not.

Eric Barker points to a recent study:

Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a doodling condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial. Future research could test whether doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming.

Studies, true or not, that justify seemingly bad behavior are extremely gratifying.

Now if I could only feel as good about procrastinating the writing of my essay…Oh wait.

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Upsides Of Recessions

From Psychology Today:

In 2005, a team of British scientists published a paper in Human Nature wherein they analyzed the sexiness of women’s clothing as depicted in the magazine UK Vogue covering the period 1916 through 1999. They found that as the economic conditions worsened, women’s fashion styles became more provocative. They argued that to the extent that many women utilize their physical looks as sexual signals in the mating arena, one should expect that intra-sexual competition would yield a pressure for greater “sexual advertisement” in tough economic times.

(h/t Eric Barker)

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Unsettling (UPDATED)

UPDATE (10:27 EST): New reports coming out that Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of MMS, has been fired. Incompetence or politics?

UPDATE (10:10 EST): Very promising news! Looks like the top kill worked. We should know by the end of the day for sure.

Although I’ve tapped out of almost all American pop culture, aside from the pieces I pick up on Twitter, I do follow the news fairly closely here in Argentina. Particularly, I’ve been watching (with great dismay) the oil spill story.

Although I remain hopeful, I’ve been feeling a nagging sense of dread that we won’t be able to stop the leak. David Roberts put my sensation into words (h/t Sully):

Tomorrow BP is attempting the “top kill” maneuver — pumping mud into the well. If it doesn’t work, well … then what? Junk shot? Top hat? Loony stuff like nukes? Relief wells will take months to drill and no one’s sure if they’ll work to relieve pressure. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that we’re going to be stuck helplessly watching as this well spews oil into the Gulf for years. Even if the flow were stopped tomorrow, the damage to marshes, coral, and marine life is done. The Gulf of Mexico will become an ecological and economic dead zone. There’s no real way to undo it, no matter who’s in charge.

I’m curious to see how the public’s mood shifts once it becomes clear that we are powerless in the face of this thing. What if there’s just nothing we can do? That’s not a feeling to which Americans are accustomed.

No, it’s not. Even considering the idea that we won’t find a solution is difficult. But it’s a real – and scary – possibility. And in tomorrow’s NYT, there’s this:

Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.

But the regulations that might have prevented such decisions or perhaps have averted the fact that “the science of cleaning up oil spills has remained largely the same since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster” (CNN) were never made. And now we have a catastrophic environmental disaster on our hands that we can’t stop or clean up because there were no financial incentives for figuring out better ways to stop leaks.

In fact, the government division, Mineral Management Service, that polices offshore drilling has been a total failure. Kate Sheppard reports in Mother Jones:

During [the George W. Bush] era, Interior became a revolving door haven for industry lobbyists. MMS developed a hands-off approach to regulation and was known for its deference to the companies it was supposed to be policing.

And so here we are with oil gushing into the gulf and our fingers crossed that we can stop the leak. I hope we can. But it seems that with years of drilling innovations we should have also had years of safety innovations. Instead we’re pumping mud into the hole. Let’s pray it works.

Photo via Flickr user nasa1fan/MSFC (CC).

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Punta Alta

I just took my last trip in Argentina. It feels weird to write that after spending what feels like years here. I’ve been to Córdoba, Mendoza, Iguazu, Bariloche, San Juan, El Chalten, El Calafate, Punta Alta, and Bahía Blanca. And, of course, I’ve spent months here in Buenos Aires.

This weekend was the 200th anniversary of Argentine independence, so the country had a huge bicentennial celebration. My roommate and I spent our 4 days (Monday & Tuesday were both holidays) about 9 hours south of BsAs in a little town called Punta Alta, about 30 minutes from the much larger city of Bahía Blanca.

Two Argentine friends of ours took us around their town and the surrounding countryside. But, really, the trip wasn’t about sightseeing; it was about food.

The picture above is of the best asado that I’ve had to date, and I’ve had some good ones. We had chorizo, morcilla, chinchulines, matambre a la pizza, and costillas (sausage, blood sausage, intestines, flank steak with tomato sauce and cheese, and ribs). Absolutely rocked my world. And it was all cooked on a custom indoor parrilla built by my friend’s grandfather, who moved to Argentina from Italy only 50 years ago. It was, as my friend Eli said, “una obra de arte” (a work of art).

And that was only one meal. I had amazing fondue, pizza, more steak, empanadas, locro (a traditional pork stew with beans), an incredible coconut torte with dulce de leche. This could go on and on.

I think these may have been the best 4 days of eating that I’ve done and a badly needed vacation. Now, back to the grind and back to the gym…

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Cal Newport sees something positive about procrastination:

…deep procrastination, though scary, represents something important and perhaps even exciting. It marks that key transition where the momentum of “this is what you need to do” — the momentum that carried you through high school and into college — begins to wane, leaving you to discover a new source of propulsion — not just new, but also more durable and more personal.It’s important to side step the self-help cliches in this situation. It’s unlikely that you’ll unearth a burning life’s mission hidden conveniently just below the surface of your psyche. What you seek is more fundamental: an acceptance that doing things well is hard, and always will be, and that you need to spend more time than you thought was necessary deciding which such hard things gain rights to your attention.

Thing is, this kind of procrastination has been with me since way back in my schooling. And I still engage in it now (actually, right now – I should be writing a paper).

Absolutely it’s important to learn to budget your time for the things you really value, but who actually uses their procrastination time to work on other, more important projects?

But it’s a nice rationalization.


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The Best of NYU Local: Spring 2010

The Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper, just sent out an email with a list of their best stories from the semester. Their list got me thinking about my favorite pieces from NYU Local this semester.

So here’s a list of my top 10 posts, in no particular order:

The Alec Baldwin Interview – Certainly the highest profile interview we’ve had on Local. Funny, interesting, and a great read.

This Morning’s TBNYU Protest Reveals An Organization Fumbling for Relevancy – Brutal takedown of the scraps of TBNYU that remain. Proved to me that Kimmel stunt was a diversion and a quest to be in the spotlight, without a true ideological purpose.

How This Recession Permanently Screwed Our Entire Generation – Ned at his best. Hard to summarize, just read it. It really shows his progressive colors – we’re screwed unless we help those less fortunate than us.

Stern Professor Shuts Down Whiny Student in Bitch-Please Email – One of the best stories at NYU this semester. Classic.

In Defense Of The Straight, Single NYU Female – Annie goes hard at Damon Beres. Not sure if Damon deserved such a huge takedown for what he wrote, but this was probably the best rant of the semester.

WTF Gallatin Majors: Grand Romantic Gestures – The first, and best, of this excellent series.

Don’t Be Afraid To Skip A Reading: Advice For Freshman Year – Although there’s not a whole lot of advice here, it’s great to see the way the first year at NYU unfolds through a freshman’s eyes. Very refreshing and honest.

An Interview With NYU 2013 YouTube Star Maddi Gilje – Similar to above, it’s great to see such optimism from new students at NYU. Maddi’s excitement is inspiring (and her videos are hilarious).

Leavin’ Blogs Is Hard To Do – Jess’s goodbye post is, of course, awesome. Must read. I’m going to miss her a ton.

How NYU’s Medical Center Is Helping Patients But Hurting Our Health Care System – This is the post I’m most proud of from the semester. It was too long and I think a lot of students didn’t read it and/or didn’t care about it, but I worked my ass off researching and preparing the piece and it stands out to me as some of my best work at Local.

Two other series I couldn’t select from but wanted to note: Most Eligible Bachelor(ette) and our Study Abroad Guides. Both fantastic.


It was a great semester and I really can’t wait to get back to New York to meet the staff I don’t know and get to work on another exciting year.

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