Posted in General

Quick Update

It has been a long time since I wrote anything, not because there was nothing to write, but mainly because there was too much going on. Let me just update every one on what has been happening and I will have to catch up later with the details.

On August 23-24 I moved into my new apartment in Brussels.  It was not easy and I spent the next three weeks unpacking boxes which had not been unpacked by the moving company.  There is a good story behind all that which I will write later so I will not go into details now.  Enough said that I am now settled with only a few things still needing to be done, mainly carpets that needs to find their final place and paintings that still need to be hung.

In early September, I went to England for meetings at the Fawley Plant.  Leave Wednesday evening and get in to the hotel at 8PM; work all day Thursday and half of Friday and get home Friday evening late.  You know the routine – the fun of business travel…

Mid September, I spent a week with my parents in the South of France.  Now that was fun!  The drive in my new car was a thrill; I was very glad to see them again and spend some quality time with them; the weather was nice etc, etc… 

Early October, I went to the US on a business trip.  First to Houston and then Baton Rouge.  I spent the first Saturday with Belgian friends who live in Galveston.  Their house survived Ike, just; their boat did not!  All is fixed now so we spent a quiet afternoon talking, talking, eating and drinking wine, and more talking.  In Baton Rouge, I saw Lee and Dave as well as Bee.  Lee and Dave came to see me at the hotel as we could not find another time to get together.  It was great seeing them again.  Bee was involved in our meeting but I saw her outside as well.  She seems to be enjoying her life here!

The last Saturday, I had lunch with Su Li and Han Wa in Kemah.  What a coincidence to run into Singaporean friends in Houston.  The weather was cold but we still had a good time.  I do hope that Han Wa did not catch the flu as he refused to wear a jacket even though the temperature was only around 15-16 C

Last week-end, I had a “friendly” regatta on the North Sea organised by the company where we have been renting boats for the last 15 years.  Nick was our skipper – we know each other well, even though we had not sailed together since 1997.  I did not know any of the other members of the team.  When I arrived in Zeebrugge, the wind was blowing in excess of 30 knots (for those of you not familiar with what a knot is, it is almost 2 km/hr therefore the wind was blowing in excess of 55 km/hr).  On the docks, it was at times hard to stand still.  The next morning, not much change and therefore the races were delayed in the hope that the wind would decrease somewhat.  It did, down to 25 knots before noon so we went out in out 37 foot Oceanis called Foxtrot.

We started with the Race Briefing.  I think this should have told me that it was not a good idea to go out! When you have to wear full foul weather gear on the docks, there is something wrong! Don’t we all look miserable?

Briefing

The first race started at 1 PM while the wind was still blowing hard and the waves were more than 3m high.  Nick steered the first race and it was hard work, especially since we could not find the windward buoy right from the start.  So we headed for the ‘judges’ boat as we figured it was going towards the mark to see how the boats managed to get around it.  It was rough moving around out there… I am not on this picture because I am already struggling to keep my breakfast down!

Foxtrot1

After a while, we got word from ‘race control’ that the buoy had been blown away by the wind and therefore the “W” channel marker near the judges boat would be the new windward mark.  We were the first boat around it and won the race easily.

When the waves are 3 meters high, it can really shake your boat, and get you interesting views of what is happening.  No, we are not sinking, we are just behing a very big wave.

FoxJump1

and since we cannot go through a wave, we have to go over it

FoxJump2

What goes up ….. must come down

FoxJump3

The second race was just as rough, with a new course again as the wind had shifted.  Michel steered this race and once again, we are the first to find the windward mark and lead all the way to the finish line.  As soon as the start is given for the third race, it is now 4PM, the wind died.  So we are drifting with 5-10 knot winds and 10 foot seas – not pleasant.  Two other boats have already given up because half of their crew is sea sick; half of our crew of six (including me) is also sick, but we struggle on for a while.  After a while, without wind, the third race is cancelled and all boats are advised to return to base. 

At the end of the first day, we are in the lead with 2 wins.  there are two boats tied for second (Reggae and Bolero) right behind us.  We have dinner together with other participants: Mussels and Frittes!

Dinner

On Sunday, the weather is much better.  15-20 knot winds and the sea is much calmer.  Our crew is down to four, so more work, but easier with the lower wind.  We make a mistake in the first race getting to the windward mark and the low winds are not in our favor on the downwind leg so we finish third despite Philippe’s good efforts steering.  I had the pleasure to steer the second race of the day. 

Foxtrot2

We made a bad mistake on the windward mark again and let Reggae (who already won the first race of the day) take a very long lead on the downwind leg.  However, they make an even bigger mistake and totally underestimate the speed of the tide.  Nick reminds me to pay attention to that and the lack of speed of the boat and I end up steering almost 45 degrees up-tide of the mark just to stay even.  Our actual track is directly to the buoy and in slow motion, we round the mark in first place.  Now, into the wind back to the start line.  The wind is low so it is a constant struggle to head into wind as much as possible while still maintaining boat speed.  We are barely gaining on the tide and therefore  are moving almost sideways.  Reggae recovered from their mistake and are just behind us – they seem to be able to consistently head to wind better than we can and with a smaller boat, they are better able to take advantage of the small gusts of wind when they come.  They slowly gain, but we are able to keep them behind us until the finish – we get line honours, but we suspect that with corrected time, they will actually be placed ahead of us in that race too.  Bolero is far behind and actually has to motor to finish the race, so the fight is now between Reggae and ourselves with two victories each – only one race left…

Nick is steering the last race.  We manage to beat Reggae to the windward mark and they do not make the same mistake on the downwind leg so they are right behind us round the last mark.  There is still not much wind, so we are having a slow motion head to head race less than 100 m between the boats.  This time, their ability to  head to wind better is too much and they nick us at the finish line.  We have given it our all, but we know that we are in second place overall.  Here are the results

Results

Notice the results of Racve 4 – We beat Reggae by 1:16 across the line, but they beat us by only 53 seconds on corrected time – 53 seconds between first and second place!  We also have the fastest time overall.  So a lot to be happy about.

Still, it was quite an experience and reminded me of the previous times that I has sailed on the North Sea.  I will continue to participate – I am not sure yet if I am ready to actually skipper a week-end (I will have to make sure that I can control my sea sickness before I can do that), but I will certainly go regularly as ‘experienced’ crew.  When I finally made it home on Sunday evening, I ate, went to sleep two hours earlier than usually, and slept the whole night in a very deep sleep – I guess I was tired from all the excitement!

Posted in General

Waiting for GOD (?) – Oh!

For those of you in Canada, I mean “Waiting for GOD (?) – He!”

In Singapore, “Waiting for GOD (?) – Lah!”

In Australia: “Another stubby, Mate!”

In this case, GOD is “Goods Overdue Delivery”.  After 20 days at sea, a 6 day grand tour of Europe (I am jealous), with stops in Rotterdam, Felixstowe and Hamburg, ‘my’ container finally arrived in Antwerp last Wednesday 12 August.

Since then, I have been waiting … and waiting … to hear when my furniture (my goods) will be delivered to my new apartment.  There is little I can do to start settling down until I get my ‘things’ so I am in a holding pattern.  My cable TV and Internet was supposed to be installed on Friday – I have had to delay by one week … I have my temporary apartment until Monday – I have also extended for one week.  I still do not know when I will be able to move in.

There is some progress, though.  The movers informed me today that they have decided that the only way to get my ‘stuff’ into my apartment is using the stairs!  The elevator is too small, and the lifts that they normally use on the outside cannot reach the ‘recessed’ area near my apartment.  I cannot imagine how many people are going to be required to carry all my furniture and other things up 10 flights of stairs – just assuming that all of it will even fit through the narrow staircase.  I politely (right!) asked them to reconsider!

Other aspects are going well – at least I am making slow progress.

  • It took my five phone calls over 10 days to the credit card company to be able to make on-line purchases.  On the fifth call, “Customer Service” gave up and told me that my only option was to lodge an official complaint.  I did and the problem was solved in less than two hours.
  • I have 8 separate ‘problem tickets’ open with our Computer Help Desk to resolve problems related to me move.  Today I called the Help Desk four times, twice to resolve issues that were caused be action taken during previous hone calls the same day.
  • I have spent 3 months salary to buy things for my new apartment – I am certainly doing my part to recover for the world wide recession.
  • My company owes me over 3 months salary in expense accounts related to my move
  • I should get me new curtains next week – unfortunately, the store where I ordered them went on vacation at the beginning of August and will only be back next week.  But then, with the overdued delivery of my good, I am still likely to have my curtains before I move in.
  • I have already ‘tried’ 12 different kinds of Belgian Beers – still a long way to go.
  • I signed up at a local club and yesterday went to a class called “Total Body Cycle” – It is one hour long and we finished with 130 ‘crunches’.  Oh how I am going to hurt tomorrow!

I have to stay busy waiting for GOD – Oh! Only a few more days before the next chapter in my life starts for real!

Posted in General

Homeless in a foreign country

OK, there is no need to feel sorry for me, but this is a new experience for this blog, even if not totally new for this blogger.  I once again find myself without a home, staying temporarily in hotels and serviced apartments and living out of suitcases.  I estimated that I have spend well over a year “in transition” between countries since I started my peregrinations in 1982, just before I started my first job.

The last few days in Singapore were full of excitement, and unique experiences.

On Thursday I had my second meeting with representatives of the Government of Singapore – a totally new experience for me.  In this case, I was answering questions on the HAZOP for my project which we had provided to the Ministry of Manpower a few months earlier.  The questions were quite surprising, and showed good understanding on their part, but were also easy to answer.

On Friday, I had a fantastic get-together with a lot of my local friends, especially the members of Papillon.  I was sad to be saying good bye to people who meant so much to me over the past three years but I am sure we will meet again.  I need pictures please!

On Saturday, I gave away some of my furniture and had dinner with the SPA-X Team and other members of the project I have been working on – I had worked for five years with some of the people there, ever since I started on the project when I moved to Baton Rouge in 2004. 

On Sunday, I left my apartment to move into the hotel, with two large suitcases that will be all I have for a few weeks. 

On Monday, the movers came to start packing.  I always hate the packing and unpacking days.  I have to be present, but there is really very little for me to do.  I generally pack my stereo, and my computer, but the rest I leave to the professionals; I try to stay out of their way, but it is more and more difficult as they pack the chair I am sitting on, the table I am working on or the couch I am trying to relax on… 

On Tuesday, the packing continued and at the end of the day, I returned my Cable TV Set-top box and cancelled my Internet connection. I also had dinner at Kinara with a few good friends from work.  Kinara, on Boat Quay, is one of the first restaurant I went to in Singapore when I first visited there in 1996;  I have been back many times and always really enjoy it – one of the few places that I will go to on Boat Quay as most other restaurants there are tourist traps.

On Wednesday, all my posessions, now reduced to 213 packages, were moved into a single larger box (a 40ft container).  It is only 3/4 full.  In the evening, dinner with another good friend; her husband could not join us, but two people who work with him are sitting at a nearby table – that will get tongues wagging!  If you want to have a ‘discreet affaire’, don’t do it in Singapore as you will always run into some one you know, even when you are really innocent! 

On Thursday, I returned my car and the keys to my great apartment (sorry Papillon, no more parties!) – at 23:05, I left Singapore bound for Frankfurt and then Belgium.

You may think that Belgium does not qualify as a ‘foreign’ country for me, but I have not lived here in over 12 years and it has changed a lot since I left, changes that are not always apparent when just visiting.  I have changed a lot too and the combination of both of these will make re-adaptation that much more difficult.  I always warn friends that I encounter on their first foreign assignment that the move ‘home’ is the toughest of all – many have later confirmed to me that they agreed after the fact, even though they did not believe me ahead of it.  One way to make it easier is to approach it with the same open mind and spirit of adventure as a move to a foreign country – I therefore keep telling myself that I am doing just that – eventually I may even believe it.

You have seen the view from my apartment in Singapore (see a couple of posts earlier) – so here is what I see from my Hotel (this is only a single shot …)

 hilview2

Not the same as Singapore, but nice nonetheless.  The tall buildings in the back are  not that tall – only about 30 floors.  There are no skyscrapers in Belgium.  On the other hand, the building in the foreground is several hundred years old (has been renovated recently) and was the residence of one of the local high officials in Napoleon’s time.

hilview1

Looking the other way.  The large empty lot has been used for temporary sculpture exhibits.  On Saturdays, there is a “beach” resort set up with beach chairs, umbrellas and a wet bar.  I guess this is for the few people who are not on vacation in Spain or Italy right now.

I thought that by moving in July, I would avoid the climactic shock that could occur if I were to move in winter.  Unfortunately, the weather is particularly cool for the month, with a daylight temperature of around 17 C and less at night.  I was still able to eat outside on my first evening in Brussels – I picked the right restaurant, the one with a very large awning over the eating area, not to protect from the sun, but from the rain that started to fall mid-way through my meal.

I also have to get used to sunlight at 10PM again.  I am tired and ready to go to sleep at 8PM (jet lag is doing that) but the sun is still shining and I am not even thinking of dinner yet.  My stomach is grumbling, but my mind is telling me that if the sun is up, it is too early for dinner – the sun goes down around 7PM every day in Singapore and that has now conditioned my expectations.

My arrival in Belgium did not reduce significantly the things I needed to do.  On the Friday of my arrival, I needed to go to Antwerp to pick up a check for my apartment; on Saturday, I started shopping for all the things I need to buy.  On Tuesday there was a big party in Brussels.  I thought it was because I had arrived, but I was told instead that this is for the Belgian National Holiday which also occurs on 21 July.  I had a late dinner on top of the Museum of Musical Instruments and from there watched the annual fireworks display.

On Wednesday I completed the purchase of my new apartment and on Friday, I spent most of the day getting the licence plates so that I could drive my car out of the dealer’s lot.  I first had to go to the car dealer to get all the necessary documents, than I went to the insurance broker who than took me to the insurance company so that they could affix a yellow sticker on the pink “registration” document for the car.  Return to the insurance broker for signature of all the documents than a trip to Brussels to the office of Auto Registration.  There are over two hundred people waiting! However, I need a “Transit” plate and there is no line for that.  However, I do not have the right documents from the dealer.  I call them to get it ready while I hop on a taxi – half hour later, I am back waiting in line – there are two people ahead of  me.  One number is called; when the second is called, no one shows up so I am hopeful that I will be served quickly.  However, the attendant decides that this is a good opportunity to make a few phone calls, check e-mail and chat with other attendants.  Finally, my number is called and I get one plate (for the rear of the car).  Since I need two, I have to have one made – fortunately, there are three shops near the office of Auto Registration where you can get plates made, so, another 10 euros lighter, I now have two plates and can take another taxi to the dealer to pick up my car!  Please take a look – I think it was worth it!

newcar

On Saturday I moved to a temporary apartment near Montgomery Square.  Every morning when I wake up, I can salute Field Marshall Montgomery and thank him for what he did to free Belgium in WWII

monty1

On Sunday, I went jogging for the first time.  I passed right under the monuments built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence – NO, this is not Berlin!

50naire

OK, so technically I am not “homeless” in Belgium, but I am still “furnitureless” and will continue to be so for another 3-4 weeks.  We will see what happens between now and that time.  A lot of ‘new’ stuff in Belgium that I need to get used to again…

Posted in General

Fun with Panoramas

I have been playing with my camera and Photoshop lately.
I have created two panoramas from my apartment in very high definition.
One is at night and is a collage of 7 shots – this is a large file and you have to download it at the following link:
www.twimpg.net/AptViewNight.jpg
The second if a daylight view in even higher resolution – I combined more than 20 photos to create that one. You can zoom in and look at the laundry that is hanging on the balcony of my old apartment complex about 1 km away. This file is at:
www.twimpg.net/AptView.jpg
After the file is downloaded, you can ‘right-click’ on it and select “save as” to save it on your hard disk.  With Windows Explorer you can open the file and move about and zoom in and out much easier than Internet Explorer.  You can only get the full effect if you save rthe file and play with it a while…

Be patient – I think it is worth it….

Title changed as this post was getting a lot of SPAM comments…

Posted in General

The Big Event

D-Day – 6

This will not be a ‘normal’ post in my blog.  In only 6 days, the plant is shutting down in order for us to complete about 50% of the project that I have been working on for the past 5 years.  Obviously shutting down a plant costs a lot of money and therefore we only have 56 days to do everything we need to do and then the plant will restart but only if we are successful.

This is traditionally called a turn-around – or T/A for short – and usually there is mostly maintenance work done.  In this case, 90% of the work will be for the project.   We are expanding the capacity of the plant quite significantly and therefore will have to replcae a lot of equipment, a lot of piping and many instruments.  A lot of work, all concentrated in 56 days.

I plant to regularly add to this post during the duration of the T/A sharing the history of the project, our final preparation, eventual successes and failures as we go along, as well as my reaction to this special time since it is a first experience for me.

You may recall that my involvement in this project (the largest ever executed by my company) started in August 2004 when I moved to Baton Rouge.  A lot of planning and work had already been done, but I was amongst the second batch of people added to the team.  I have been involved in a rather small part of the overall project – the revamp of an alcohol plant – but probably the most complex because of what we are about to start in 6 days.  In 2004, we did an initial evaluation of what modifications were necessary to the plant.  In 2005 we refind our evaluation and actually designed the modified plant.  These two activities are typically done by small teams – I was leading a team of 4 1/2 engineers in 2005 (one was only part time on my project) and there were probably only 50 people involve din the whole project.

Things grew in 2006 – the team which was mainly based in Houston, exploded all over the world.  My team went to Singapore and we started to work with our contractor, and a team of 30 engineers and designers, on the next phase of design.  Some of my colleagues went to Tokyo, others to Reading and still more stayed in Houston.  What used to be 50 people quickly grew to several hundreds.  But also what used to be a quick phone call in the middle of the day, became weekly teleconferences late at night in order to reach all the parties all over the world.  Doing a world-wide project has some disadvantages.  As the design progresses, people joined my team as well – these quickly became friends as we were struggling to keep up with everything that was going on around us.

From day one, we knew that the turn around would be the main event that ultimately defined how successful the project would be.  From day one we also started to plan this one special event.  We had initial estimates that went from 4 weeks to 10 weeks.  We looked at doing several shutdowns in successive years.  In late 2005 after another evaluation by experts, we settled on 8 weeks in a single event.  And that is when the hard work started.  Since then, we have been looking at the event in more and more details to confirm that we could indeed do all the work in only 8 weeks.  The answer always came back: “It will be tough, but it can be done”.

Construction for the overall project is still just getting started – we only have 6000 workers on site today while we expect a peak closeer to 12000.  However, the project I am working on is almost completed.  Only 56 + 6 days to go and we should be done.

More on the road to the T/A in the next episode.

D-Day – 3

It is 1 May – labour day in most of the world, and I celebrated by working, of course.

The real planning for the T/A started in mid 2007 – yes, about two years ago. It is very important to know all of the activities that will have to be executed, and develop them into more and more details so that we know the exact sequence of activities, how long each will take, and how many people will be involved in each.  The schedule has become more and more detailed until it now includes more than 20000 separate activities.

Over the last few days, we are finishing the final preparation, making sure that all the material is available, identifying where new equipment goes, where new piping goes, where to cut and where to weld etc.

I will actually be involved in the final stages of each activity which involve turning over completed work from the ‘project’ to the ‘plant’ so that they can actually start to operate it again.  This involves the final verifications that all has been built to specifications and that it will be safe to operate.  It should be easy, but it never is as everybody seems to have a different opinion as to what is “to specifications” and especially what is “good enough”.  There are 4 turn-over teams, three during the day and one for the night shift.  At the end of the T/A each team may have two or three T/O to do each day – and this is only a part time activity as all members of the T/O teams have other responsibilities too.  My job will be to make sure that all progresses without hitches, or if there are problems, they get resolved quickly.

Much more to come on this topic.

D-Day – 1

We have done all we could.  We now have to hope that it is enough.

The plant will start to shut down early Monday morning and therefore for the next few days, there are only limited things we will be able to do as there is a higher risk of spills and gas release – therefore no open flames in the plant and only minimum people around.

We will still start our regular schedule.  Basically I will be working 6 days a week from 7AM to 7PM.  My day off is Tuesday (we have to make sure that the people who can ‘cover’ for each other have different days off).  Probably, for the first few weeks, I will not have to work the full twelve hours, but later, this will be a minimum.

This is a long event and therefore we will all have to pace ourselves.

One of my ‘hidden’ roles during this project, which will become even more important in the next 8 weeks, is that of the ‘fire fighter’.  I am often in the best position to solve problems that come up and it will be very important during this T/A to get to resolutions quickly so that the work is not affected.  This means that many days, I am not sure what I will be doing before I get to work.

 Starting Monday, we will have more than 500 workers involved, 2/3 during the day and 1/3 during the night.  Counting the supervisors, managers and others, we will probably have 800 people involved in this event, with close to 1/2 million manhours expended.  We have already spent 1 million manhours getting to where we are today.  We have unfortunately had a few minor injuries but generally all the work has been very safe.  This is our first priority.  Only 20 years ago, we would have been very happy to have a project of 1 million manhours and not had anybody seriously injured or killed.  The standards have changed so much that the goal for the overall project (with more than 15 million manhours) is no serious injuries.  We still have a long way to go.

Big Event – Day 3

We are on the thir day of the shut down and the plant is stopped – no longer making product, therefore no longer earning money.

Here is my typical day right now:

Leave home at 6:20 in order to beat the traffic and get to work about 7:00.  I get a bus from Area 17 to ACB where I have a quick breakfast and at 7:30 meet with my colleagues from the night crew in order to find out what happened overnight, and what my team will have to look out for during the day. 

Catch a bus from ACB to Area 18 and I arrive at my office around 8:00 and catchup on other overnight events through e-mail

I also need to change into my FRCs (Fire Retardant Clothing) as this is required in order to go into the plant.

By 8:50 I catch the next bus, from Area 18 to the plant in order to attend the Turn-over meeting at 9:00.  We discuss what is coming in the next few days (at this stage very little) but also finish the organisation of the teams that will be involved in this activity.

After the meeting, I do a quick tour of the plant to see for myself what activities are going on and what was done overnight.

At 10:00 there is the big construction meeting – about 30 people – to focus on the key activities for the day and what impediments there may be to progress.

I can generally catch a ride after the meeting back to Area 18 until several of us catch a bus back to ACB for lunch around 11:30.  Of course there is another bus trip after lunch to get back to Area 18.

Afternoon, I can finally do some work.  Today, I wanted to finalise the schedule for turn-overs so that I can be sure that the three teams we have can handle the work load.  I also looked at some of the quality processes used by our contractor to continue to see if there are ways to simplify and facilitate the process.

We still have some work that was supposed to be done before the beginning of the turn-around but was not completed.  I spend some time reminding every one that they still have this pending, and the sooner they finish, the sooner they will get rid of my constant pestering about it…

At around 18:30, I shut down my computer, change back into my ‘civilian’ clothing and catch a bus back to ACB for dinner and the handover with the night crew at 19:30.

After the meeting, I catch the last bus to Area 17 at 20:00 to get back to my car and drive home where I arrive around 21:00 …

This is the plan six days a week – I get Tuesdays off.

Today,  I also found out that the last bus from Area 18 to Area 17 has been moved from 20:00 to 19:45.  Since I have a meeting that ends at 20:00, I now potentially have no way to get back to my car and then home at the end of the day.  One more thing for me to work on tomorrow…

Big Event – Day 6

It is probably difficult for most people to imagine what is going on in the plant.  Let me try and describe it for you.

The plant that we are expanding, and which stopped a few days ago, is normally operated by a team of 6-8 people.  Of these, there are 2 maybe three in the plant at any one time.  For maintenance, there may be 10 additional people working on something.  Therefore, you normally have 4 to 20 people in the plant and rarely 20, fewer at night.

Since Monday, we have in excess of 500 people in the same plant all the time during the day and over 300 at night. In every unit, on every floor of every structure, on every tower and around every equipment, there are people working on something.  I know the plant very well, considering that I was involve din the original design and construction and worked in the plant for 3 years after start-up.  Right now I get lost in areas I should know, becouse there is scaffolding everywhere, there are barricades and workbenches everywhere.

Yesterday we were also able to set up two of the three large cranes we will be using – two 250 tonners.  We do not have heavy loads, but these will be able to reach all parts of the unit from fixed positions so that we do not have to move them often (moving these monsters takes more than a day!).  The third large crane (160 ton capacity) is still being inspected to make sure it is in good conditions.  All the tools used in the project are inspected before they can be used – this goes from the largest cranes to the smallest electric drill.  Many are rejected, and it is unbelievable what some sub-contractors try to bring on site.  Electric equipment with frayed chords, exposed wires or hand-made modifications; hydraulic cranes with low quality hoses or by-passed safety switches.  We fortunately started getting everything inspected many weeks ago, and almost everything passed, except the 160 ton crane.

Big Event – Day 22

Yes, I have been busy.  After a 13 hour day, I do not usually feel like looking at, or doing anything else.

Today was not different from the previous 22 – just I feel like sharing what is happening. A lot of work, a lot of progress, many incidents of all sorts, but also unbelievable ‘misses’ in what should have been a well oiled plan.

Here are some examples:

(1) The 160 ton crane never made it.  During the inspection, it was discovered that was was supposed to be a brand new crane had had a very significant repair done.  The repair had not been approved by the manufacturer.  When we asked DeMag to approve the repair, they started by calling their lawyers.  We gave up and looked for another crane.

(2) We had planned for months to cut the foundation of a compressor using a large diamond tipped band saw.  The foundation is 10 m long by 3 m wide so the saw ‘blade’ needed to be at least 27 meters long.  However, after setting up all the equipment, the specialised vendor discovered that the blade they had was 1 meter too short! It took several hours to be able to continue the work.

(3) We knew that some work needed to be done on the nitrogen system during a 2-day outage.  It was time critical as we had only 2 days to do this work.  However, there were 7 different tie-ins into the N2 system, and all were scheduled at about the same time.  It is only after the system was shut down that we found this discrepancy and had to scramble to identify the 2 tie-ins absolutely required.  they were completed in 2 days and the N2 was back in just on schedule.

(4) We had an unscheduled shower today.  Another group decided to flush a large line (6″ diameter) with a large amount of water.  The line went up to our plant and that is where the water came out.  No problems so far, except they forgot to tell us what was happening.  Anytime you see a large leak in a plant, there is always some worry.  In this case, it was only water, but water sitting in a pipe under the Singapore sun can heat to over 80 C and could cause instant burns if it sprays on anybody.  It is always good to know what is happening ahead of time, not after the fact.

These happened over several days, but we have similar incidents all the time.  Just to keep us entertained!

Big Event – Day 42

We are bout 1 week behind schedule… My work is three weeks behind plan!

I need to explain this.  As I said earlier, my responsibility is Turn Over.  Once a part of the plant is deemed finished, I am responsible for organising and sometimes leading the teams inspecting the finished systems.  We have devided the plant into more than 90 “systems”.  By now, more than 60% should have been completed and ‘turned-over’ to the plant.  We have only completed 6!

It is not really my fault! It seems that all the work crews are perfectly happy completing 90% of the work in one area and than moving on to another, leaving small details to be finished, but enough to prevent my teams taking over.  The back log is becoming a concern.

Today, I essentially spent all day trying to coax people into  completing activities on three systems so that we can inspect them tomorrow.  You have to know that even after the work has been done, there are a number of quality checks that also need to be completed.  These are summarised in a quality pack and a lot of inspections have to be signed by the people doing the work, the contractors QA inspectors and my company’s inspectors.

A typical conversion went as follows – T-127 is a system that I have been highlighting for a week as “Critical to be finished” and I have been asking for a week what is required to complete the Loop Folders:

Me asking the Instrument Supervisor: “When can you complete the Loop Check for the instruments on system T-127?” (Sorry for the jargon!)

Reply: “We are done!”

Me: “Great – When will you complete the Loop Folder”

Reply: “Cannot do that, the FOs are not installed”

Me: “When can you install the FOs?”

Reply: “Not my job – piping does that”

Me: “Have you asked them”

Reply: “No – should I?”

I than go to see the piping supervisor.  Me: “When can you install the FO’s on T-127?”

Reply: “Installed already”

Me: “When did you do that?”

Reply: “Early this week”

Me: “Have you told Instrument that they are in?”

Reply: “No – why?”

Enough to drive you crazy.  I later found out that the FOs were indeed installed, but without a check on the diameter and direction, both of which need to be signed off by “Instrument” – so, we will have to take them out and do it all over again!

Big Event – Day 55

We should be finishing the turn around tomorrow, on day 56.  We will not…

We are late and nothing we have tried has been able to reduce the delay that built up early.  Now we are in a total rush to turn over all the facilities that are being completed to the operating organisation so that they can start to prepare them and eventually startup the plant.  We have a few more days to go, but we are getting there and making dignificant progress in eliminating ‘obstacles’ one at a time.  It is amazing how many small things can create large impediments to completing our tasks.

Today, I lost my temper for the first time.  One of my colleagues indicated that he would no longer accept turn over dossiers (the official document that sanctions the transfer of parts of the plant from us to the operating plant) if they were not 100% complete.  Typically, we do so with small items that still need completion and these are tracked to completion.  However, this gentleman complained that it was too much work for him to track all these items every day and therefore he would stop everything.  This is a person who goes home at 5PM because he has nothing to do while the rest of us stay every day until 7 or 8 PM to complete the work – and I lost it…. I did not raise my voice … too much … but explained to him that he had a problem, not us, and he better find a way to solve his small problem without making a big one for us.  I know I should not have lost my temper – on the other hand, I am also proud that I had not lost it earlier – I was close several tiems and always stopped, telling myself that it would not help.  This time, I do believe that it might actually help .. it looks like he changed his mind!

Despite all of this, and the delay which is never pleasant, the atmosphere at work is still very pleasant an we can still smile and laugh most of the time.  However the tension still mounts, days are still monger and tougher and we have a few more days of this to go through.  I know that this is one of those experiences that stays with you a long time, and that gets better with every year that passes.  I can only hole that only the good memories will remain.  In any case, we are really accomplishing something special right now, and that will remain with us throughout.  We have also had only one small injury for the whole turnaround – after 500,000 manhours – and even if we are a little late, that is a success to be proud of!

Turn Around – Finished

Yes – they said it could not be done, but we did it, actually finished a few days ago, but I was too tired to do anything in the evening.

All went well in the end, but I was extremely busy for the last 10 days – working non-stop from 7AM to 8PM and I did not take a single day off for two weeks – a bit much…

But the plant is now producing again, everything that we installed is working and I have not heard of any major problems.  The atmosphere remained very pleasant throughout even if we did have ‘words’ on occasion.  The team stayed together and worked together, without pointing fingers, until the job was done.

Quite an experience – I am not sure that I am ready for another one though!

Now I am packing and ready to go back to my home country – another experience in a foreign land!

Posted in General

April Fools … but no fooling

I have been in Belgium for almost two weeks and 1 April 2009 will be a date that I will remember for a long time – no kidding.  I have spent more money on that day than ever before.

At 10 AM I dropped an offer at the estate agency for an apartment I had seen on Monday.  Here is the “sales pitch”

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This is the view from the living room and balcony. There is the same to the left – I can actually see the Atomium – only building left from the 1958 World Fair held in Brussels – the year I was born…  Hard to do better, right.

The apartment is located right in the neighbourhood where I was looking.  It is on the top floor of a 9-story apartment building and has been completely renovated only 4 years ago.  The living room is very large

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and the kitchen is well equipped with very nice cabinets

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There are three bedrooms.  One is rather small and just off the entrance and I plan to use it as my ‘den/office’ – it is not big enough for a pool table though.

The two other bedrooms are large – one will be mine, one will be a guest room.  If you are interested, let me know and I will put you on the waiting list!  There are also two bathrooms – something unusual in Belgium where older apartments often have only one bathroom for 3 bedrooms.  All the work has been done with high quality material and in a style that I really like.

The apartment has the whole width of the building so I have windows on both sides and can create a draft on the (rare) days when it is hot in Brussels.  The balcony is very nice and I can put a small table on it with four chairs.  I can also fit my barbecue grill there for when the weather is really good.

I may have to get rid of some of my furniture before I head back, but this is a very nice apartment and less than 1/4 the price of an equivalent apartment in Singapore – a bargain!

Later that afternoon, I put a deposit on a new car to be delivered end July.  I had spent a lot of time on internet looking at different car offerings and creating several carconfigurations on different sites to see what they would cost and what they offered.  I looked at the Honda Accord, the Alfa Romeo 157, the Saab 9.5, the Lexus IS300 and the IH450.  But one make and model came back again and again as the ‘winner’.  Late last week I had tried it and really liked again how it drives – so I decided to buy the BMW 320d.  Here is the “artist’s” rendition of what I bought!

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Inside too – nice leather seats

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and fully loaded with GPS, PDC, ABS, ETC and many other abbreviations that just ooze quality and sportiness….

So as you can see, I spent a lot of money on April Fools Day and everybody took me very seriously.

And that is not all I bought in Belgium.  I am heading home with Chocolate bars, chocolate eggs, chocolate morcels, chololate spread, speculoos (the thick kind) and speculoos spread. 

Change of address, and photos of a real hot new car coming soon!

Posted in General

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

To all my readers, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.calvin1

I just love Calvin and Hobbes!  This is a particularly good ‘seasonal’ cartoon thanks to Lou.

And it is about as close as I will get to snow this season.

Another year full of excitement and exotic trips – thanks to all for keeping me company on this fantastic adventure called ‘LIFE’.

Posted in General

In Myanmar

I am now back in Singapore.

I have spent 17 days on another planet (not my words) and after 3 hours and fifty years, I am back to the Earth and life I remember …

I am changed – I believe that I know less now about the world and life that I thought I did three weeks ago.

Pictures and more detailed accounts will come when I have had a chance to gather my thoughts and understand better what I have experienced.

We are back in Yangon, after visiting Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and the Golden Rock.  Extraordinary.  I have taken over 1200 photos, some I expect to be quite nice.

Today we leave for the Delta region and than a few days on the beach.  I will be back in Singapore on 11 November and can update everybody of what has been going on.

I will be a while before you will see any photos as I will have to sort through a lot of them to decide which are good enough for publication.

It has certainly been a n adventure so far – just a little more to come.

Earlier I wrote:

I am in Mandalay, leaving today for Bagan.

Excellent trip, but no access to email, phone or anything else. This may be only way I have to spread news so please pass the word …

Yangon was frenetic, Mandalay is much more laid back. Unfortunately. it has been raining most of the time, but we have still manages some interesting visits.

Will keep in touch with this post as I go along…

Posted in General

I do work … occasionally

Let me just make sure that every one remembers why I am here.

Even though it looks like my days are spend training for competitions, competing and travelling around the world, I do occasionally find the time to work also.

And work can be rather intense at times, even though, fortunately, it remains a lot of fun.

Here is one ‘typical’ day for me …

My alarm clock wakes me up at 5:55 AM, just in time for the 6:00 AM news on BBC World Service.

After the news, I get out of bed and get ready and I normally leave the house at about 6:20 AM.  I have to arrive at the Jurong Island Check point before 7:00 as the queus become much longer after than.  I need to scan my badge to prove that I have a right to enter, than an armed security guard inspects my car, including the boot (or trunk depending on where you learned your English).  At this time of day it takes less than 5 minutes to go through, but at 7:30 or later, it may take as much as 20-30 minutes.

I still have a 10 km drive on Jurong Island to get to Area 17 – I am not sure where the ‘code names’ came from – where I need to park my car, scan another badge that gives me access to the plant and take a bus to go to my office.  There are regular shuttle buses, so the wait is not long.  After about 3 km and a stop at the PDO-X, I get to Area 18, where my office is, at about 7:30.  All these “Areas” (there is an area 16, and 24, but so far I have not found Area 51) are temporary facilities for the SPT Project (Singapore Parallel Train – the MEGA-Project I am working on).  Just to give you an idea of the size of this project:

  • We recently celebrated 5 million manhours without a loss time injury – and we are not even measuring construction progress as we are still in site preparation
  • We expect 14000-15000 workers at the peak of construction
  • We have at least 12 major contracts with engineering and construction companies around the world
  • Currently we have people in Houston, Yokohama, Tokyo, Reading and Singapore working on this project.

So, as you can see, there are reasons to be busy.

During a typical day, I will take my bicylce to go into the plant and see how construction is progressing, or look at equipment that has been recently installed, or just to do a safety audit and insure that all is being done with Safety as the first priority.  All of us are asked to do at least one safety audit every week.

I will also take a shuttle bus 2-3 times to go to other offices around the plant for meetings or discussions.  There is also lunch, which until recently was only available at the main plant cafeteria – therefore a shuttle bus ride required for that too.  The cafeteria at Area 18 is now open, so we can avoid that extra ride.

Because of the number of people scattered around the world, a lot of things happen with e-mail.  I typically have 50-80 unread e-mails when I come into my office.  It is very easy to get into an ‘infinite loop’ with e-mails and I have decided that if I cannot resolve an issue after 2-3 e-mails back and forth, it is time to talk, even if this requires an early morning or late night call to find the right people.  I think this has helped me getting things done quicker in general.

Part of my responsibility is the SPA-X Project.  It is a very significant expansion of the SPA Plant, which I helped to design and build between 1996 and 2001, the reason for my stay in Singapore.  For this we are working with FWP and MCD, two very large contractors.  We only have a small crew and therefore we are heavily dependent on them to manage the work.  A lot of time each day is spent to make sure that they can do that efficiently by removing “barriers” that always seem to come up.  A recent example had to do with temporary offices – the base plant requires a permit which needs many signatures.  Each person, before he signs, will usually have some ‘additional’ requests and I had to cut through these to get the permit.  Not always fun, but challenging, and requiring to discuss with many different people.

I leave the office around 17:30 to 18:30, depending on what comes up at the end of the day, and retrace my steps of the morning:  shuttle bus from Area 18 to Area 17 via PDO-X, get into my car and drive out of Jurong Island – there is no check point to go out so traffic moves well.  However, there is always traffic on the AYE and therefore it takes me longer to get hoe, ususally between 1h30 and 2h.

I am not necessarily done with my work day.

Once or twice a week, I have teleconferences in the evening.  Because of how disperse the team is, the only time that we can get everybody together is 21:00 Japan, 20:00 Singapore, 14:00 UK and 7:00 Houston time.  So I will be on the phone for anywhere from 30 to minutes to 2 hours on many different subjects.

I am certainly not complaining … I just want to make sure that my readers realise that there is another side to my life which, after all, pays for all the fun ans games I normally share on these pages.