Monday, July 28, 2014

CBA 'Travel Money Card' - Don't leave home without checking it...

We've used the Travel Money Cards for accessing money while overseas. You pre-load them with a specific amount of money in one or more different currencies then use it like a normal MasterCard or ATM card. Australia Post has a similar product as do the two big airlines in Australia. They are pretty common.

Once the TMC is set-up it works pretty well. But if you get one do check that it actually works before you leave home. The customer service rep at a close-by branch got our cards and set them up on the bank's system but she miskeyed an important number making the cards useless. It wasn't until we were overseas in the US and tried to use it that we discovered something was wrong. We were using cheap overseas cell phones as Aussie mobiles run on different systems than those in the US. The cheap phones we used didn't produce an audible tone when you pressed the keypad, so we weren't able to use the TMC touch-tone navigation system. Very frustrating and we complained to the CBA about it on return and they were very apologetic and implemented procedural changes to keep the situation from reoccurring. But it is cheap insurance is to check the card before you leave home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sobering reminder

The last post of mine was about the mysterious loss of MH370, which still hasn't been found. The relatives of passengers and crew lost on MH370 haven't had closure on their loss. And now MH17, shot down over Ukraine. The news shows body bags days after the plane fell from the sky, and reports of looting by the pro-Russian separatists. Just terrible. A small consolation is that we know the fate of those who were aboard MH17. May they rest in peace.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

MH370 lost at sea. Finding and recovering things underwater.

It's very sad that Malaysian Airways flight 370 has been confirmed lost in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors. But some closure must come to the family and friends of the crew and passengers knowing that the plane has crashed. The most plausible theory about what happened that I read was in Wired and explained how an electrical fire might have resulted in the loss of the plane and those aboard.

Conspiracy theories were thick in the absence of any factual information. This is a pet peeve of mine and was a partial motivation for making my sculpture, 'It became personal - Catharsis'' that's currently exhibited at the 2014 Heysen Sculpture Biennial until April 27. Sometimes bad things just happen, they aren't always the result of a terrorist activity. Remember the Asiana flight 214  plane crash on landing at San Francisco airport last year due to pilot error - the news channels were immediately saying that terrorism wasn't suspected. Well, if it wasn't suspected then why say it? It's so front of mind. Have the terrorists won, consider all the intrusions to our everyday lives by the increased 'security' measures in place to 'protect us.' The other motivation behind making that sculpture was in response to two separate cancer issues for me last year.

One of my many careers in Australia was working as a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot/tech for a diving company called Solus Ocean Systems. I was part of a three man crew providing drill support to the drilling company aboard the Diamond M Epoch. The Diamond M was a semi-submersible exploration rig. It had two huge pontoons that were submerged beneath the surface and when mainly filled with water they would stabilise the rig in the ocean. When the rig was being towed to other exploration sites the pontoons were mainly pumped-out to increase the buoyancy of the rig making it float higher in the ocean. The pontoons could also be completely flooded causing the rig to sink, if necessary. That was an option the Company Man considered one night in Bass Straight when problems caused the rig to list to one side which could have resulted in capsizing. That was an exciting night. This book could be the report on what caused that situation.

Diamond M Epoch from helicopter

When the rig was on site it was held in place by huge anchors put-out from each corner of the rig. Some of the anchors weighed 13 tonnes and were massive. When bad weather hit the rig the forces were so strong that the chains holding the anchors could break. 

A condition of exploration drilling in at least some Australian coastal waters was that after the rig finished its exploration and moved onto a new location the ocean bottom had to be as clean as it was before the exploration drilling. Remember that the number of productive wells producing commercial quantities of 'hydrocarbons' is a tiny fraction of the number of wells drilled. It's an expensive business, and risky.

This is where the connection between a drilling rig and an airplane lost at sea happens. Now that the authorities roughly know where the plane was lost they'll search for it and if possible recover what they can find. 

Once the Diamond M Epoch finished drilling in Bass Straight an underwater survey would happen to check for any potential industrial rubbish left on the ocean floor. I was told that some of the areas where the Diamond M drilled were commercial fishing zones where huge nets were dragged behind the fishing boats. If one of the nets caught on an abandoned rig anchor it could cause major damage to the fishing gear and result in costly damage repairs.

Bass Straight is very shallow compared with the southern Indian Ocean, so any exploration and recovery work there is many times more difficult if MH370 is located.  The deepest that we operated in was about 800 feet and we thought that was deep.

To scan the bottom in shallow water a small survey boat cruised the target area using a specified search pattern. The boat used a side-scan sonar that would indicate if there were unusual objects on the bottom. When something was found the location was noted for visual inspection by us.

Normally our ROV was mounted onboard the drilling rig with a winch lowering the submarine within a cage through the 'moon pool' hole in the rig's floor down to the water. When the caged sub reached the working depth the winch would stop and the sub was 'flown' out of the cage to the work site. A stainless steel sheathed cable about 40mm in diameter containing power and electronics cables ran from the winch to the cage. In the cage there was another winch that had a smaller and neutrally buoyant cable running from it to the sub, providing a certain working area from the cage.

Sub in cage aboard Diamond M Epoch
The motors on the sub were powered by 3 phase 440 VAC and you don't want to mix AC electricity with salt water. There are depth limits to which you can use air-filled containers before they get crushed by water pressure (the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10 metres of depth.) The electrical motors on the cage and sub drove hydraulic compressors that provided liquid power to the fans that moved the sub around in the water, and to power the actuators that we used to work with items on the drill machinery or objects on the ocean floor. We were sometimes called-on by the rig's welder to find and retrieve his chipping hammer when he dropped it over the side.

Author with submarine (it was a long time ago)

In the photo above we fitted a hydraulic-powered cable cutter on the left arm of the sub. The right arm shows a sample bit of cable. At one point during my deployment on the Diamond M we had to have a replacement submarine, cage and winch flown from Singapore to the rig as we lost ours over the side. Long story but I'll just say that once the replacement equipment was installed we sent the new caged sub to the bottom to recover the original equipment. With the cable cutter we could cut the old winch cable and sub cables into manageable pieces then attach a lifting line from the rig to pull them up to the rig. It would not have looked good if we'd left an entire ROV system on the bottom of the ocean when were supposed to be cleaning-up the bottom. 

Our crew chief did have some major explaining to do to his boss in Singapore during his call, 'Tim, I've got some bad news.' 

'Ya Robert, I hope you're not calling to say you lost another fucking submarine [this does happen in the process of doing drill support]?!' 

'Well Tim, um, it isn't just the submarine this time. It's also the cage and the winch...' 

You don't want to hear the rest of that exchange. Robert did continue with a successful career with the company and I don't know if he ever lost another submarine.

So after the sidescan sonar finds something on the bottom the submarine, cage, winch and control booth and a big generator are installed on a work boat and sent to to investigate. We lower the caged sub over the side of the workboat and if we find something we bring it back.

Control booth: Crew chief Kevin flying, George in foreground

When were were flying the sub we had two video feeds from the sub, and one on the cage. The latter made it easier to return the sub to the cage when we'd finished the underwater work and had to bring it back to the surface.

The two arms on the sub are pretty dextrous. Once, while bored and doing a Blow Out Preventer inspection in about 800 feet some very slow fish lived near the stack because the water was warmer there due to the drilling mud and fluids pumped from the surface, and we caught one of the fish with the sub's actuator. We were probably as surprised as the fish was! The victor writes the history.

One of the arms on the sub has a rotating end effector that lets you do things like tighten-up a shackle pin on a chain. The image below shows the ROV pilot moving one of the arms to attach a hook from a lifting line from the workboat to the shackle at the end of the anchor chain. We were working in 201 feet of water at the time. See the 'OIL' indicator on screen that would indicate any leaks (bad news!)

On this occasion we did locate the lost anchor and were able to attached the lifting cable to it. After a lot of straining by the workboat winch as it had to break the suction of the anchor in the seafloor, they lifted it to the boat and recovered it.

Trophy shot: 13 tonne anchor recovered by Solus Ocean Systems ROV crew: Rick, Clay, Robert, Doug

In favourable circumstances debris from MH370 might be recovered using an ROV or even divers, but it gets more and more complicated with greater depth and currents. I wish them all the best and hope the cause of the crash is determined. My condolences and thoughts go to the families and friends of those lost on MH370.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

3 month check-point following prostate cancer treatment

... and the news is good. My PSA is now down to 0.85 (a low number is good, high is bad.) I must have my PSA level monitored quarterly for a year, then it becomes less frequent over subsequent years. My radiotherapist said the PSA level may drop to as low as 0.1, which is as low as they measure.

I'm happy.

Now if only I could get Google to stop pushing incontinence pads and single-use catheters advertisements to me! I don't need them, everything works. Bloody computers!

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Post-treatment - Prostate cancer + 1 month; Thyroid cancer + 3 weeks

Prostate first then I'll work up the body: I had my one month post-procedure check-up with the urologist this week and everything is going very well. The temporary side effects caused by my body reacting to the radiation inside my prostate have almost disappeared and everything works as intended. So now I go into the monitoring phase where I'll have regular blood tests for Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and those tests will become less frequent if the treatment has been successful. The cure rate for low dose rate brachytherapy is about 95% and it is about the same as that for radical prostatectomy where the prostate is surgically removed. Important point when considering a prostate cancer treatment - surgical removal of the prostate does not guarantee a cure, and if all goes well from the brachytherapy treatment any side effects are considerably less than even the best case of those resulting from surgery. That appealed to me.

Thyroid time: yesterday I had an appointment with an endocrinologist to discuss treatment post-thyroidectomy. The surgery can't guarantee that all thyroid tissue is removed and some might even contain cancer cells. So the normal follow-up is to 'ablate' any remaining thyroid tissue (including cancerous thyroid tissue) by internal radiation therapy. The patient drinks a liquid containing highly radioactive iodine that is taken-up by any remaining thyroid cells in the body. This dose is quite different than that of the brachytherapy and requires the patient to remain isolated in a shielded hospital room for two days, and then a need to keep a specific distance from other people for a short while afterwards. If I go ahead with this I'd almost pay someone to say, 'Man, you be lookin' HOT!'

My thyroid surgeon strongly recommended having the Radioactive Iodine treatment as a normal course of  treatment. But the endocrinologist said that I have a choice of whether or not to do so, or I could do it in 6 months or so if I wanted to get past the prostate cancer issue first. The risk factor that makes the doctors recommend that I proceed with this follow-up treatment is that I'm over 45 years of age.

So now it's yet another cancer treatment decision time - to treat or not to treat. What is the risk/reward trade-off in having the radioactive iodine treatment? If I have the treatment then it's easy to determine if the cancer reappears by an easy blood test as any activity of thyroid would indicate a new thyroid cancer development as all the thyroid cells would be 'ablated' by the Iodine. But a side effect is that I could end-up with a 'dry mouth' if the treatment damages the salivary glands. I don't know how bad a 'dry mouth' would be in this case but a dear friend of mine suffered from it terribly following external beam radiation for throat cancer. He also had terrible pain in swallowing and ended-up not being able to eat due to that pain. His was not a good result although his treatment was very different than what I'm facing. The doctor yesterday said the 'dry mouth' generally doesn't appear unless a patient has had multiple treatments with radioactive iodine. A scary potential side effect that I read about on the Internet (from an official cancer information site) was a very slight chance of developing leukaemia. But the doctor said that is something that he hasn't come across.

So next Tuesday my case will be discussed by a cross-disciplinary panel of doctors at Flinders University to determine the dosage and other details of how my radioactive iodine treatment would take place if I go ahead with it.

Ugh. One cancer treated and out of the way but another big decision to make about this second cancer treatment. What's another decision, right?

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Sculpture hired

Each year ArtSA selects an indoor sculpture to hire for 12 months, to be located in the foyer of the State Administration Centre building. I've applied several times but the competition is always very fierce and mine wasn't selected. But that changed this year and I'm thrilled that my sculpture, 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass' was the winning submission and it has been installed at the State Administration Centre foyer. Woo hoo! The foyer is open during office hours for a visit if you are in the area (Victoria Square in downtown Adelaide.)

See my webpage for info about the work:

Done and done, almost...

The brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer seems to be going well. It has been over a week now since the radioactive Iodine-125 beads were inserted with no significant side effects apparent. Not even any impressive bruising as a result of the process - the urologist showed us a photo of a man who had extensive bruising everywhere around his groin following his brachytherapy treatment. I guess if you see the worst case and yours is not as bad then it's all reassuring. I'm reassured. Now the on-going treatment for prostate cancer becomes regular monitoring of my PSA level. In a week or two the urologist will check that all the physical processes work appropriately and if the PSA levels drop as expected then I'm on the road to cure for that cancer. One down.

On Friday I had my thyroidectomy operation to remove a cancerous nodule on the left side of the gland. A month or two ago I hadn't even thought of my thyroid but what seemed to be swelling and discomfort in my throat resulting from the general anaesthetic procedure for my brachytherapy 'volume study' was diagnosed as papillary thyroid cancer, which is the most common kind of it. There was no apparent link between the two different cancers, just bad luck of the coincidence.

Before the operation I was told that the left half of the thyroid would be removed first, tested by a pathologist in the operating theatre and if cancer was confirmed then the other side would be removed as well. So that's what happened Friday morning. By Saturday after lunch I was feeling well enough, and had recovered satisfactorily, for my surgeon to discharge me a day earlier than I expected. I'm taking it easy this week for a quick recovery following the surgery.

The follow-up treatment for the thyroid cancer might involve me having to consume a different isotope of radioactive Iodine that binds to and kills any remaining thyroid cells, including cancerous ones that might have remained despite the surgery. I'll find-out if that is required at a follow-up appointment with the thyroid specialist at the end of this week. Two down...

It's been a busy few months, hasn't it? And enough of all that now. Time to get this cancer nonsense behind me.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 2 - post implants

I just joked with a friend of mine that my new prostate-based nuclear reactor seems to be going well.

What I thought would require an overnight stay in hospital turned-out to be just a day procedure and I was home late that afternoon. The implant procedure took about 1.5 hours and recovery was a couple more hours after that. I've got a copy of the x-ray showing the 66 I125 beads installed in what I hope is my prostate.

The radiotherapist said that it takes a week or two before the radiation effects are really felt by the prostate and surrounding tissues and that's when the side effects generally start to occur. I'm hoping that they aren't severe in my case.

My wife is documenting the daily spread of the bruising but I'll spare you those photos!

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