Ég elska Ísland- An Icelandic essay

Iceland; evokes bone chilling cold as you even read the words. And Iceland in January? Well it must take someone with a lower level of intelligence to make a trip to this remote North Atlantic island. And Iceland conjures up thoughts of cold, freezing cold, bone chilling cold in an ambience of breathtaking scenic views, virgin lands, Vikings and incredibly long words. And that I presume would be the general perception right? If you were into a little bit of geography, you would know its not colder than some parts of the continental United States; New York, Boston and even Washington DC on most days. Having germinated the idea of travelling to that exotic place by my definition, I set out to travel.

Destination- Reykjavik, southern Iceland

A population of just over 300,000 in this vast area and the lack of any real crowds as you touch down hits you. It’s a tranquil place where you wouldn’t have to venture out too far to take in some spectacular views. The whitened surface and the ominous volcanic rocks jutting out just adds to the exotics and mystique. Waterfalls, volcanoes, Lava beds, geysers you name they have it all. So just picture this, the chaotic atmosphere all happens underground and its fairly active geothermal seismic zone. Then when you see what they’ve done to use this chaos to their advantage is nothing short of living off the land. You hear things of nukes, coal, oil and other fossil fuels but is the land not bountiful enough that provides heat from other sources? Heat sources that do not leave their dirty mark on the face of the earth or the upper zones. And I certainly do not claim to be a die hard tree hugger, but the sheer efforts in utilizing of renewable heat sources to generate over 99% of their power needs leave you nothing short of impressed.

The Power-

Geothermal and Wind power- Use of heat extracted from geysers and underground wells to produce steam to spin the turbines is the geothermal part while the high velocity winds are further utilized to generate power as well. No coal, no SO2, no NOx to deal with! And then they create a lagoon with the spring water loaded with minerals so you could get into your swimsuit and be submerged in 75 degree hot water while there are those amazing snow capped rocks watching over you. To borrow a famous phrase, “Its real and its spectacular!”

The history-

English was very prevalent and I did not have to learn the 30 letter words in Icelandic to find my way around. And every Icelandic name means something and it could be a tool, it could be a Viking warrior or a weapon made of stone. Iceland started off as a Pagan culture when Vikings came over to settle there in 870. The pagans worshipped Viking Gods such as Thor, Odinn and then around the 1100’s, Christianity happened followed by a reformation to Lutherans in the 15th century. However, they did manage to found the first parliament in the 10th century. Iceland has had a turbulent past including the dreaded Black death,; the Plague in Europe, take over by the Danes and continuing to be ruled by them until 1944. 1944 is when Iceland became independent.

 

And to add, during a significant volcanic eruption in the 17th century, the island was covered in fog for upto 6 months. Dread, misery and depression took over and it was indeed so bad that the islanders went through a complete generation without any kind of musical arts and dance. The fog caused by volcanic ash was reportedly so bad that people could not venture out even to sea to catch their daily fish. When I saw that beach, a beach of black sand caused by the lava, it looks sinister and the waves that crash against the black rocks give it a highly eerie feel. The beach could be from a sci-fi thriller and you feel like you are about to be just swallowed by the angry waves that will appear out of nowhere sounding like a crack of doom. It takes a special stepping back to actually admire the sheer breathtaking surroundings, the like of it not seen before by me.

The highlights was obviously being in the Arctic zone in the winter and the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to view the Aurora Borealis, a streak of white and blue buzzing through the night sky.

Practicalities-

Iceland is expense, very expensive. A light meal for two could cost upto $40 and a pair of woollen socks could set you back by $40 as well.

  1. Travel light and dress in layers if you want to be there in the winter. The sun doesn’t rise until around 10.30 am. Its not the cold that gets you, its that dreaded wind and makes it feel you want to fly to the South seas!
  2. Carry proper footwear with some good wooly socks and mittens. Do not ever attempt to get out in your Sperrys
  3. Several cheap flights from the east coast and Europe flying into Keflavik, a 45 min drive from Reykjavik. Not bad at all with the flight not lasting over 5 and half hours.
  4. Buy your own booze at the duty free. Do not attempt to buy yours at the bars in Reykjavik if you can help it.
  5. Reykjavik has a very active night life and what better to do in winter after 4.30 pm than to hang out at the city center downing a few!
  6. Food- You get it all although if you a tad faint hearted you may not want to eat bull’s testicles or a rotten shark.
  7. Try to get into group tours but do not book them online from your country. You will get lot better deals if you book it all when you arrive in Iceland.g
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An interview- Heath Suddleson

LDRHeath Suddleson is a management leadership consultant and a published author as well. Heath comes off as a gregarious personality, gets along with people like a house on fire and seems to have a degree in people. He shares his thoughts with us today.

  • What is your profession and tell me about yourself, your background

I turn project managers into project leaders. I am a professional trainer for leadership development in the project management space.  For more than 25 years I have managed design and construction projects all over the world.  In addition to being in some leadership positions in the corporate space, I have held many leadership positions with Not For Profit organizations.  In one of these global Not For Profits, I served on their International Board of Directors.

 

  • What drove you to choose this career path? As my job required me to conduct more and more training, I realized how much I loved doing the training more than the project support. One benefit was that when I was conducting so much training there were fewer project demands I needed to meet, which lowered my stress level. Still, the biggest benefit was actually seeing those “ah ha” moments in the classroom as people began to connect the dots. There are few rewards greater than knowing you have helped someone improve themselves and their lives.

 

  • Have you moved a lot for your profession and do you like travelling?

I have changed companies more than a few times, in part because I didn’t want to move my home. In the construction industry, it is difficult to always stay in one area because you need to go where the work is located.  Wanting to stay home based, it did cause me to do a lot more travel.  In some aspects, the travel is great and you get to see exciting parts of the world and experience different cultures.  However, there is a dark and lonely side to travel that takes a toll on the body and the soul.  Spending so many countless nights eating dinner alone, not seeing your family, not being there for the plays and piano recitals of your kids all makes the road that much harder.  Now that I own my own company, I have more control over when I travel, how often, and how long each trip will be.  That makes the travel more fun again.

 

  • What in your opinion are the three major traits to be successful in your profession? To be successful as a trainer, there are three levels of mastery. The first is to be a subject matter expert. There are some out there who think that if you can present well you can speak about anything, but the truth is that your credibility is based on what you have accomplished and what you can teach others who have similar experiences. When teaching technical skills in the workplace you will not be the only expert in the room.  Lose the confidence in those other experts and you will quickly lose the class.  You have to know your stuff.  The second level of mastery is to be an engaging presenter.  Especially in the engineering fields, many presenters are lack luster and some are just plain boring.  If you are going to present for hours on end, you better be entertaining and engaging.  The third level of mastery is to be a trainer.  Again, there are misconceptions that if you have the first two levels licked then it’s easy to be a trainer, but it is a completely different set of goals to be able to gauge the knowledge gap and when you find one know how to fill it.  You need to be able to adjust material based on the class attendance and not just the slides.  Being a true trainer is to master all three levels.

 

  • What have been your biggest challenges over the course of your career?

The biggest challenge over my career has been learning to deal with difficult people and to not become one myself. The construction industry is filled with people who lack people skills.  On some projects and in some companies, those who are the harshest to deal with are sometimes celebrated, which only promotes less focus on human capital.  Of course, those people cost the company money in ways unseen through high turnover of staff, loss of continuity, and sometimes even lost clients.

 

  • Would you recommend this profession to young hopefuls?

The construction industry, yes. It is a great industry if you want a lot of great opportunities to work on projects that have real meaning to people.  There is a sense of satisfaction when you go see a completed project and know that you were part of the team that made that happen.  The pay is good and the chance to travel is great.  Just know that it will be long hours and high stress at times.

 

  • What is your advice to young graduates and professionals?

My advice to graduates and young professionals is to do something you truly enjoy. If you love what you do, and you are doing what you love, you will do it with passion and inspiration.   Because you are putting so much of yourself into your work, it will be recognized and you will be rewarded.  Millennials seem to understand the concept of work-life balance more than previous generations.  There may be some changes in the workplace coming as a result of this that will be seen in another decade.  Why this is important is because those people who succeed the most are those who can see where the market is going more than where the market is now.  See where it is going and put yourself on the leading edge.

Gerard Van Den Broek- An interview

Starting this month, this site will publish question & answer sessions from a selected group of seasoned professionals across several fields of expertise. The idea is to have these people share their backgrounds and experiences with a wider audience and have our readers and followers get something out of it.

The first of the series is a chat with Gerard Van Den Broek is a Construction professional from Australia and he shares with us his insights.

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Q- What is your profession and tell me about yourself, your background

A-  Construction Professional, started in the industry as a boilermaker apprentice in 1987 for a heavy earthmoving and structural fabricator/erector. On completion of the apprenticeship I moved to central Queensland and began working maintiance and construction jobs ranging from coal fired power stations , cyanide facilities, alumina refineries, aluminum smelters, explosive plants, glass manufacturing facilities, acid plants and also ship refits for the South pacific Navy. After some time in the industry I left to study a bachelor of science, applied Biology industrial chemistry (Central Queensland University). During this I worked part time for the department of primary industries as a field hand doing research for the barrier reef and sugar cane industry. Before completion of this I returned to the construction industry and continued both study and work.

After numerous years working my way up to a superintendent level for various companies I Joined Bechtel on the Camalco project in Gladstone in 2003 as a seconded CBI supervisor. I then worked fly in fly out for CBI on the north west shelf and later joined Bechtel again in 2008 for Yarwun stage 2. From their I moved to Worsley for 3 years and then Wheatstone for 4 years, currently still with Bechtel working pre feeds in Houston Texas USA.

Q- What drove you to choose this career path?

A- I have always enjoyed building even as a child building model airplanes, go carts, cubby houses, the reward is in finishing a build and the sense of accomplishment associated with providing a good product.

Q- Have you moved a lot for your profession and do you like travelling?

A- Yes, lots of moving as the work is always in different locations, the travel aspect is one of the benefits of the industry.

Q- What in your opinion are the three major traits to be successful in your profession?

A-  Be Innovative, Be a good Listener and have a thirst for Knowledge.

Q- What have been your biggest challenges over the course of your career?

A-  People, the old saying goes you please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

Q- Would you recommend this profession to young hopefuls?

A-  Yes this is a great industry and has lots of scope for energetic dedicated people, and you get to work yourself out of a job.

Q- What is your advice to young graduates and professionals?

A-  If you are unsure of what path to take in your profession that is ok, joining the construction industry, this industry has so many different functions and career paths that you will never be bored. And along the way you will meet opened minded individuals from all cultures and aspects of life.

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Snap poll- Your opinions matter

What, in your opinion, is the most significant issue facing mankind today?

  1. ViolenceIMG_0608

  2. Hunger/Starvation

  3. Climate change

  4. Commodity prices (Oil, minerals)

  5. Economic disparity

  6. Disease

Chile -A glimpse from 2012

Having spent the last few weeks traversing South America, I consider it as a great opportunity. Not just being able to see the continent from the mighty majestic Andes to the Pacific Ocean, from Rio Del Plata to the arid regions, but the chance to live the local life is indeed a windfall. Chile is a country which reflects an unending optimism, the urge to be among the best in the region. And the evidence all points to this. The mineral market has been capitalized by the Government and the ease with which mining giants, BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Barrick can operate in this stable economy makes it a win- win situation for everyone. Never did I sense that unemployment is an issue, never did I sense people desiring to leave Chilean shores for better opportunities. It’s all there and prosperity obvious. And this is Santiago. Valparaiso, the significant harbor on the pacific did lose its economy at the turn of the previous century with the opening of the Panama Canal but has picked herself up and is looks well in tune with any port city in the world; turning herself not only into a la Gold Coast, but being a key contributor to the Chilean economy. I have to yet to explore the north and that’s exactly where the reddish tinges of Copper are all pervading.

Contrast to Chile is that large country across the border; Argentina. Flying into Buenos Aires and getting away from the airport is nothing short of my own experiences in Bombay (I will not call it Mumbai). The dirt, the chaos, the ugly buildings lining the main freeway and the obvious lack of new construction is something you cannot miss. The version of Argentina is at least two fold, the cab driver version is one of rosy optimism and while there are problems, the country is in a growth mode nonetheless. And then a few days later I ran into a Professor of Oceanography and the version from the erudite folks is diametrically opposite. The country, sitting on some of the best natural reserves will not make it any easier for companies to operate and the mindset and the policy of not expending the USD will continue to hurt them. If the seller of real estate keeps waiting on getting paid in USD and the buyer will not pay in any currency other than the Argentine Peso, it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that there is a development and growth impasse. The people have not been helped by the fact that the regimes they are under swing from one of extreme privatization to one that is socialist. When someone says they cannot buy even a decent bread toaster in Argentina, it certainly gives you a lot to ponder.

One thing is, like my earlier sojourns in South Africa, the people here come off as very friendly and the kind you will not mind having a beer with.

The Indian professional stereotype

I have seen a huge diaspora of Indian professionals across the globe in various capacities. Sterotypical Indians are not a myth but quite a stark reality.  Having grown up and studied my undergrad school in India, I have allowed myself the liberty of sharing my observations and some subtle tips. When someone like me has grown up in India in the 70’s and 80’s, it is truly eye opening to see several myths busted almost on a daily basis.

For those of you that work with junior level professionals from India (most of you probably do), you possibly think of them in a group rather than individuals. You think these kids tend to stick together protecting themselves from some awkward fears? You think these people assume no identity and go on busting their chops like the proverbial oompa-loompas? You think they get a discount at the local 7-11’s?

The first two are fairly closer to the truth. And a lot of it comes with the “safety in numbers” mentality that comes in intrinsically from just being in a “foreign land”. Takes a while to break them, months, years may be. Some of you probably sound like Hollywood stereotypes too and may come off as too brash. So this is where the inter-cultural compromise comes in. And remember talking to them louder and real s-l-o-w ain’t the solution.

Then the age old Indian myth on superiority of race is ingrained, surprisingly still prevalent in many parts of India outside the metro centers. The erroneous notion that fairer.whiter the person the more intelligent he/she is. Indian have their own brand of racism where stores still sell products that will turn you “fair and lovely” or “fair and handsome” , which is an insinuation of the Indian brand of racism. With this rather naive notion in mind, you may see young Indian professionals intimidated by your approach. Its cool, no one means anything malevolent. Again inter-culture boundaries need breaching to reach across and make them feel belonged.

Trust me, the level of intelligence and diligence seen in several of these entrants (FOB kids) is some kind of a rare commodity. Nurture it well without sense of exploitation or looking down upon them. I have seen the “looking down upon” approach especially to young engineers that just do not dress or appear to be savvy looking.

For you Indian kids, I’ll say this- Work speaks for itself. Do not be intimidated by other people and just because they speak better English does not make them superior. In fact your English is way better than their Hindi, that I can safely say. Assimilate well when you travel overseas and do not be a wildebeest, be a stand out person and performer. Trust me, this will go a long way.

A mosaic of God’s wonders-A photographic essay

A journey through the Umfulozi reserve, Natal, South Africa (Elephant, white rhino, buffalo, Giraffe, zebra, cheetah) and a few shots from Denali, Alaska (Moose, black bear, caribou). The one at the bottom is of a Llama in Peru