Entries in conferences (76)


January linkfest

Time for the quarterly linkfest! Got stories for next time? Contact us.

BP's new supercomputer, reportedly capable of about 2.2 petaflops, is about as fast as Total's Pangea machine in Paris, which booted up almost a year ago. These machines are pretty amazing — Pangea has over 110,000 cores, and 442 terabytes of memory — but BP claims to have bested that with 1 petabyte of RAM. Remarkable. 

Leo Uieda's open-source modeling tool Fatiando a Terra got an upgrade recently and hit version 0.2. Here's Leo himself demonstrating a forward seismic model:

I'm a geoscientst, get me out of here is a fun-sounding new educational program from the European Geosciences Union, which has recently been the very model of a progressive technical society (along with the AGU is another great example). It's based on the British outreach program, I'm a scientist, get me out of here, and if you're an EGU member (or want to be), I think you should go for it! The deadline: 17 March, St Patrick's Day.

Darren Wilkinson writes a great blog about some of the geekier aspects of geoscience. You should add it to your reader (I'm using The Old Reader to keep up with blogs since Google Reader was marched out of the building). He wrote recently about this cool tool — an iPad controller for desktop apps. I have yet to try it, but it seems a good fit for tools like ArcGIS, Adobe Illustrator.

Speaking of big software, check out Joe Kington's Python library for GeoProbe volumes — I wish I'd had this a few years ago. Brilliant.

And speaking of cool tools, check out this great new book by technology commentator and philosopher Kevin Kelly. Self-published and crowd-sourced... and drawn from his blog, which you can obviously read online if you don't like paper. 

If you're in Atlantic Canada, and coming to the Colloquium next weekend, you might like to know about the wikithon on Sunday 9 February. We'll be looking for articles relevant to geoscientists in Atlantic Canada to improve. Tim Sherry offers some inspiration. I would tell you about Evan's geocomputing course too... but it's sold out.

Heard about any cool geostuff lately? Let us know in the comments. 


Do something that scares you

Last week, I asked if we — our community of practice — is comfortable with the murky zone between corporate marketing and our technical societies. Lots of discussion ensued. On reflection, I was a little unclear about exactly whom I was picking on — corporate marketers (mostly) or technical societies. Today, I thought I'd dig deeper into the corporate marketing side a little, and think about what the future might look like. We can look at societies some other time. 

What marketing used to be

Marketing used to mean nothing less prosaic than buying and selling stuff. Since the post-war consumer revolution, it has gradually expanded in scope and today covers advertising, promotion, publicity, branding, and customer management.

Unfortunately, much of what comes out of marketing departments is spin. How else could it be? The marketers only have control over their own domain, they don't design or build or even use the products. They're 'only doing their job' — positioning their products in the market, obsessing about the competition, negotiating ad space, and tweaking their brand image. Beyond the simple transmission of information — a necessary service to the world — all this effort is aimed at making their products and services look better than they actually are. 

Recognizing brokenness

Some totally real readers of this blog. Let's start with some easy things: if your marketing people can't answer questions about your products and services, they don't care enough — replace them. If they write copy that contains the words 'innovative', 'breakthrough', or 'unleash' — replace them. If you ask them for 'something new' and get back stock photos with pictures of your software pasted over them — replace them.

The problem with all this — buying more ad space, building bigger booths, getting better seats at hockey games, and so on — is... well, there are lots:

  • We've seen it all before, it's boring. Is that your message?
  • Thanks to the Matthew effect, the biggest wallet will win. Is that you?
  • It's all about you, the brand, not them, your users and customers.
  • I don't trust you. You are biased. I trust my friends and colleagues. 

Walk the walk

Like losing weight, getting fit, or writing a novel, I'm afraid there's no easy way: you have to do the hard work. Stop looking for new ways to tell everyone you're the most awesome company with the most powerful software. Just be the most awesome company. Show don't tell. Build great software and services and, more importantly, do great things with them. Competitors can copy what you do, especially if they are Petrel (they will beat you every time), but not how you do it. Instead of trying to play tennis against Roger Federer, you might do better changing the game to The Settlers of Catan, or super-solar space spag (no, that game has not been invented yet). 

Here are some ideas for your next expo. These things should scare you. If not, find something that does.

  • Bring developers to talk to people and connect them with your users.
  • Show people your development process, your bug list, and your roadmap. 
  • Hold a clinic and help your users help each other do more awesome things.
  • Brainstorm new product ideas right there on the show floor. Have a developer prototype the best one each day.
  • Broadcast your ideas in front of your competitors. They will weep with fear because they know they lack your courage and audacity. They can copy algorithms, but they can't copy awesomeness
  • Watch people using your products. Let them teach you how they want to work.
  • Hold a contest to find The Power User. Can your best user beat your best consultant?
  • An iPad draw? Seriously? You just want my email address to spam me. I have an iPad.
  • Hide your sales and marketing people for a day and see what happens.

Above all, stop copying your competitors. They suck at marketing too. 

Advice for the rest of us

I know not everyone feels as strongly as I do, and some people seem happy with the status quo. But to everyone else, I have a challenge: Demand to be delighted.

Next time you are confronted with some sales and marketing cruft, dare to ask hard questions. Have high expectations. Refuse the stuffed toy — "What has this got to do with my work?". Laugh at the lame pen, don't stuff it in your pocket. Call out the sexist nonsense. And when you find a booth that's working hard to please the people that really matter, reward them with your attention.

If you're a marketer, what would you do if there was no risk of failure? If you're a victim of marketing, what would could should a service company do to delight you? 


Grand challenges, anisotropy, and diffractions

Some more highlights from the two final days of the SEG Annual Meeting in Houston.

Grand challenges

On Friday, I reported on Chevron's take on the unsolved problems in petroleum geoscience. It was largely about technology. Ken Tubman, VP of Geoscience and Reservoir Engineering at ConocoPhillips gave an equally compelling outlook on some different issue. He had five points:

  • Protect the base — Fighting the decline of current production is more challenging than growing production.
  • Deepwater — Recent advances in drilling are providing access to larger fields in deep water, and compressed sampling in seismic will make exploration more efficient.
  • Unconventionals — In regard to the shale gas frenzy, it is not yet obvious why these reservoirs produce the way that they do. Also, since resource plays are so massive, a big challenge will be shooting larger surveys on land.
  • Environment and safety — Containment assurance is more critical than pay-zone management, and geophysics will find an expanding role in preventing and diagnosing environmental and safety issues.
  • People — Corporations are concerned about maintaining world class people. Which will only become more difficult as the demographic bump of senior knowledge heads off into retirement.

The Calgary crowd that harvested the list of unsolved problems at our unsession in May touched on many of these points, and identified many others that went unmentioned in this session.

Driving anisotropic ideas

In the past, seismic imaging and wave propagation were almost exclusively driven by isotropic ideas. In the final talk of the technical program, Leon Thomsen asserted that the industry has been doing AVO wrong for 30 years, and doing geomechanics wrong for 5 years. Three take-aways:

  • Isotropy is no longer an acceptable approximation. It is conceptually flawed to relate Young's modulus (an elastic property), to brittleness (a mode of failure). 
  • Abolish the terms vertically transverse isotropy (VTI), and horizontally transverse isotropy (HTI) from our vocabulary; how confusing to have types of anisotropy with isotropy in the name! Use polar anisotropy (for VTI), and azimuthal anisotropy (for HTI) instead.
  • λ13 is a simple expression of P-wave modulus M, and Thomsen's polar anisotropy parameter δ, so it should be attainable with logs.

Bill Goodway, whose work with elasticity has been criticized by Thomsen, walked to the microphone and pointed out to both the speaker and audience, that the tractability of λ13 is what he has been saying all along. Colin Sayers then stood up to reiterate that geomechanics is the statistics of extremes. Anisotropic rock physics is uncontestable, but the challenge remains to find correlations with things we actually measure.

Thomas Young's sketch of 2-slit diffraction, which he showed to the Royal Society in 1803.

Imaging fractures using diffractions

Diffractions are fascinating physical phenomena that occur when the conditions of wave propagation change dramatically. They are a sort of grey zone between reflection and scattering, and can be used to resolve fractures in the subsufrace. The question is whether or not there is enough diffraction energy to detect the fractures; it can be 10× smaller than a specular reflection, so one needs very good data acquisition. Problem is, we must subtract reflections — which we deliberately optimized for — from the wavefield to get diffractions. Evgeny Landa, from Opera Geophysical, was terse, 'we must first study noise, in this case the noise is the reflections... We must study the enemy before we kill it.'

Prospecting with plate tectonics

The Santos, Campos, and Espirito Basins off the coast of Brazil contain prolific oil discoveries and, through the application of plate tectonics, explorers have been able to extend the play concepts to offshore western Africa. John Dribus, Geological Advisor at Schlumberger, described a number of discoveries as 'kissing cousins' on either side of the Atlantic, using fundamental concepts of continental margin systems and plate tectonics (read more here). He spoke passionately about big ideas, and acknowledged collaboration as a necessity: 'if we don't share our knowledge we re-invent the wheel, and we can't do that any longer'.

In the discussion session afterwards, I asked him to comment on offshore successes, which has historically hovered around 14–18%. He noted that a step change — up to about 35% — in success occured in 2009, and he gave 3 causes for it: 

  • Seismic imaging around 2005 started dealing with anisotropy appropriately, getting the images right.
  • Improved understanding of maturation and petroleum system elements that we didn’t have before.
  • Access to places we didn’t have access to before.

Although the workshop format isn't all that different from the relentless PowerPoint of the technical talks, it did have an entirely different feeling. Was it the ample discussion time, or the fact that the trade show, now packed neatly in plywood boxes, boosted the signal:noise? Did you see anything remarkable at a workshop last week? 


Standards, streamers, and Sherlock

Yesterday afternoon at the SEG Annual Meeting I spent some time with Jill Lewis from Troika and Rune Hagelund, a consultant. They have both served on the SEG Standards Committee, helping define the SEG-D and SEG-Y standards for field data and processed data respectively. The SEG standards are — in my experience — almost laughably badly implemented by most purveyors of data. Why is this? Is the standard too inflexible? Are the field definitions unclear? The confusion can lead to real problems: I know I've inadvertently loaded a seismic survey back to front. If you feel passionately about it, the committee is always looking for feedback.

Land streamerI wandered past a poster yesterday morning about land streamers. The last I'd seen of this idea — dragging a train of geophones behind a truck — was a U of C test at Priddis, Alberta, by Gabriella Suarez and Rob Stewart. I haven't been paying much attention, but this was the first commercial implementation I'd seen – a shallow acquifer study in Sweden, reported by Boiero et al. The truck has the minivibe source right behind it, and the streamer after that. Quicker than juggies!

I don't know if this is a function of my recent outlook on conferences, but this was the first conference I've been to where all of the best things have been off-site. Perhaps the best part of the week was last night — a 3-hour geek-fest with Evan, Ben Bougher, Sam Kaplan, and Bernal Manzanilla. The conversation covered compressive sensing, stochastic resonance, acoustic lenses, and the General Inverse-Problemness of All Things.

As I mentioned last week, I hung out every day in the press room, waiting for wiki-curious visitors. We didn't have many drop-ins (okay, four), but I had some great chats with SEG staff, my friend Mike Stone, and a couple of other enthusiasts. I also started some fun projects to move some quality content into SEG Wiki. If you're at all interested in seeing a vibrant, community-driven space for geophysical knowledge, do get involved.

I bought some books in the Book Mart yesterday: Planning Land 3D Seismic Surveys by Andreas Cordsen et al., 3D Seismic Survey Design by Gijs Vermeer, and Fundamentals of Geophysical Interpretation by Larry Lines and Rachel Newrick. We're increasingly interested in modeling, and acquisition is where it all begins; Lines and Newrick was mostly just a gap on the shelf, but it also covers some topics I have little familiarity with, such as electromagnetics. Jennifer Cobb, SEG publications manager, showed me the intriguing new monograph by geophysical legend Enders Robinson and TLE Editor Dean Clark — I can't quite remember the title but it had something to do with Sherlock Holmes and Albert Einstein — a story about scientific investigation and geophysics. Looking forward to picking that up.

That's it for me this year; I'm writing this on the flight home. Evan is staying for the workshops and will report on those. As usual, I'm leaving with a lot of things to follow up on over the next weeks and months. I'm also trying to sift my feelings about the Annual Meeting, and especially the Exhibition. So many people, so much time, so much marketing...


The future is uncertain

Image: Repsol, SEG. Click for the abstract.

SEG Day 2. In the session entitled Exploration and Uncertainty Analysis, I was underwhelmed with the few talks that I attended, except for the last one of the session entitled, Measuring time-map uncertainty

Static uncertainty

It is commonly uttered that different data processing companies will produce different results; seismic processing is non-unique, and so on. But rarely do I get to see real examples of the kind of variances that can occur. Bruce Blake from Repsol showed seismic imaging results that came back from a number of contractors. The results were truly shocking. The example he showed was an extreme case of uncertainty caused by inadequate static solutions caused by the large sand dunes in Libya. The key point for me is exemplified by the figure shown on the right: the image from one vendor suggests a syncline, the image from the other suggest an anticline. Beware!

A hole in the theory

In the borehole sonic session, Xinding Fang, a student from MIT, reinforced a subtle but profound idea: it is tricky to measure the speed of sound in a rock when you drill a hole into it. The hole changes the stress field, and induces an anisotropic stiffness around the circumference of the borehole where sonic tools make their measurements. And since waves take the shortest travel path from source to receiver, speeds that are measured in the presence of an artificial stress are wrong.

Image: Xindang Fang, SEG. Click for the abstract.

The bigger issue here that Xinding has elucidated is that we routinely use sonic logs to make time-depth relationships and tie wells, especially in the absence of a check-shot survey. If it works, it works, but if ever discrepancies exists between seismic and well, the interpreter applies a stretch or a squeeze without much thought. Some may blame the discrepancy on dispersion alone, but that's evidently too narrow. Indeed, we rarely bother to investigate the reasons.

There's a profound point here. We have to drop the assumption that logs are the 'geological' truth upon which to hang an interpretation. We have to realize that the act of making the measurement changes the very thing we want to measure. 

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