A focus on building

We've got some big plans for modelr.io, our online forward modeling tool. They're so big, we're hiring! An exhilarating step for a small company. If you are handy with the JavaScript, or know someone who is, scroll down to read all about it!

Here are some of the cool things in Modelr's roadmap:

Interactive 1D models – to support fluid substitution, we need to handle physical properties of pore fluids as well as rocks. Our prototype (right) supports arbitrary layers, but eventually we'd like to allow uploading well logs too.

Exporting models – imagine creating an earth model of your would-be prospect, and sending it around to your asset team to strengthen it's prognosis. Modelr solves the forward problem, PickThis solves the inverse. We need to link them up. We also need SEG-Y export, so you can see your model next to your real data.

Models from sketches – Want to do a quick sketch of a geologic setting, and see what it would look like under the lens of seismic? At the hackathon last month, Matteo Niccoli and friends showed a path to this dream — sketch a picture, take a photo, and upload it to the the app with your phone (right). 

3D models Want to visualize how seismic amplitudes vary according to bed thickness? Build a 2D wedge model and you can analyze a tuning curve. Now, want to explore the same wedge spanning a range of physical properties? That's a job for a 3D wedge model. 

Seismic attributes – Seismic discontinuity attributes, like continuity, or curvature can be ineffective when viewed in cross-section; they're really meant to be shown in time-slices. There is a vast library of attributes and co-rendering technologies we want to provide.

If you get excited about building simple tools on the web for difficult tasks under the ground, we'd love to talk to you. We have an open position for a full-time web developer to help us carry this project forward. Check out the job posting.

Once is never

Image by  ZEEVVEEZ  on Flickr, licensed  CC-BY . Ten points if you can tell what it is...

Image by ZEEVVEEZ on Flickr, licensed CC-BY. Ten points if you can tell what it is...

My eldest daughter is in grade 5, so she's getting into some fun things at school. This week the class paired off to meet a challenge: build a container to keep hot water hot. Cool!

The teams built their contraptions over the weekend, doubtless with varying degrees of rule interpretation (my daughter's involved HotHands hand warmers, which I would not have thought of), and the results were established with a side-by-side comparison. Someone (not my daughter) won. Kudos was achieved.

But this should not be the end of the exercise. So far, no-one has really learned anything. Stopping here is like grinding wheat but not making bread. Or making dough, but not baking it. Or baking it, but not making it into toast, buttering it, and covering it in Marmite...

Great, now I'm hungry.

The rest of the exercise

How could this experiment be improved?

For starters, there was a critical component missing: control. Adding a vacuum flask at one end, and an uninsulated beaker at the other would have set some useful benchmarks.

There was a piece missing from the end too: analysis. A teardown of the winning and losing efforts would have been quite instructive. Followed by a conversation about the relative merits of different insulators, say. I can even imagine building on the experience. How about a light introduction to thermodynamic theory, or a stab at simple numerical modeling? Or a design contest? Or a marketing plan?

But most important missing piece of all, the secret weapon of learning, is iteration. The crucial next step is to send the class off to do it again, better this time. The goal: to beat the best previous attempt, perhaps even to beat the vacuum flask. The reward: $20k in seed funding and a retail distribution deal. Or a house point for Griffindor.

Einmal ist keinmal, as they say in Germany: Once is never. What can you iterate today?

Have some bacn

You might have noticed a lot of emails from Canadian companies recently, asking you to confirm that you wish to receive emails from them. This is because a key part of the 2010 anti-spam law comes into effect tomorrow. We haven't sent you anything, becase we have always complied with the spirit of the law.

What is spam?

We all know what spam is, and the Canadian government's definition is plain:

commercial electronic messages [received] without the recipient's consent

And here's a definition of bacn (pronounced 'bacon') from author Jonathon Keats:

Spam by personal request

This seems to contradict the first definition, but the idea is that bacn is better than spam, but still not as good as a personal email. It's commercial email that you asked for. (Aside: according to that same author, bacn from geologists is quakn.)

Email from Agile*

Because we want you to have as much control over your inbox as possible, I have just switched our email subscription service from Feedburner to MailChimp. One of the reasons is MailChimp's excellent and rigorous anti-spam policy enforcement. Their emails make it very clear who an email is from, and how to unsubscribe from them. 

If you receive our blog updates via email, I hope you see them as a service and not a nuisance. If you're unsure about subscribing because you fear receiving promotions and so on — I promise that all you will ever get is our blog posts. It's just a convenient way to read the blog for some people. 

Just to be clear:

  • We will never add you to a mailing list that you didn't expressly subscribe to.
  • We will always give you an easy way to unsubcribe.
  • We will never share your email address or name with anyone else.
  • We will only send you emails that have an obvious Unsubscribe option.

Other ways to read

Here are some other options for subscribing to our RSS feed, which you will find at /journal/rss.xml 

We want you to be able to easily find, read, interact with, and share our content. If there is some other way we can serve you, please let us know

The can of spam image is by Flickr's Clyde Robinson and licensed CC-BY.

2013 retrospective

It's almost the end of the year, so we ask for your indulgence as we take our traditional look back at some of the better bits of the blog from 2013. If you have favourite subjects, we always like feedback!

Most visits

Amazingly, nothing we can write seems to be able to topple Shale vs tight, which is one of the firsts posts I wrote on this blog. Most of that traffic is coming from Google search, of course. I'd like to tell you how many visits the posts get, but web stats are fairly random — this year we'll have had either 60,000 or 245,000 visits, depending on who you believe — very precise data! Anyway, here are the rest...

Most comments

We got our 1000th blog comment at the end of September (thanks Matteo!). Admittedly some of them were us, but hey, we like arbitrary milestones as much as the next person. Here are the most commented-on posts of the year:

Hackathon skull
Hackathon skull

Proud moments

Some posts don't necessarily win a lot of readers or get many comments, but they mark events that were important to us. A sort of public record. Our big events in 2013 were...

Our favourites

Of course we have our personal favourite posts too — pieces that were especially fun to put together, or that took an unusual amount of craft and perspiration to finish (or more likely a sound beating with a blunt instrument).



I won't go into reader demographics as they've not changed much since last year. One thing is interesting, though not very surprising — about 15% of visitors are now reading on mobile devices, compared to 10% in 2012 and 7% in 2011. The technology shift is amazing: in 2011 we had exactly 94 visits from readers on tablets — now we get about 20 tablet visits every day, mostly from iPads.

It only remains for me to say Thank You to our wonderful community of readers. We appreciate every one of you, and love getting email and comments more than is probably healthy. The last 3 years have been huge fun, and we can't wait for 2014. If you celebrate Christmas may it be merry — and we wish you all the best for the new year.

News of the month

Another month flies by, and it's time for our regular news round-up! News tips, anyone?

Knowledge sharing

At the start of the month, SPE launched PetroWiki. The wiki has been seeded with one part of the 7-volume Petroleum Engineering Handbook, a tome that normally costs over $600. They started with Volume 2, Drilling Engineering, which includes lots of hot topics, like fracking (right). Agile was involved in the early design of the wiki, which is being built by Knowledge Reservoir

Agile stuff

Our cheatsheets are consistenly some of the most popular things on our site. We love them too, so we've been doing a little gardening — there are new, updated editions of the rock physics and geophysics cheatsheets.

Thank you so much to the readers who've let us know about typos! 


Nothing else really hit the headlines this month — perhaps people are waiting for SEG. Here are some nibbles...

  • We just upgraded a machine from Windows to Linux, sadly losing Spotfire in the process. So we're on the lookout for another awesome analytics tool. VISAGE isn't quite what we need, but you might like these nice graphs for oil and gas.
  • Last month we missed the newly awarded exploration licenses in the inhospitable Beaufort Sea [link opens a PDF]. Franklin Petroleum of the UK might have been surprised by the fact that they don't seem to have been bidding against anyone, as they picked up all six blocks for little more than the minimum bid.
  • It's the SEG Annual Meeting next week... and Matt will be there. Look out for daily updates from the technical sessions and the exhibition floor. There's at least one cool new thing this year: an app!

This regular news feature is for information only. We aren't connected with any of these organizations, and don't necessarily endorse their products or services. 

First class in India

I wrote this post yesterday morning, sitting in the Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi, India.

Where am I?

I'm in India. Some quick facts:

I met some of these recent graduates last week, in an experimental corporate training course. Cairn India has been running a presentation skills course for several years, provided by a local trainer called Yadhav Mehra. Yadhav is a demure, soft-spoken man, right up until he stands up in front of his students. Then he becomes a versatile actor and spontaneous stand-up, swerving with the confidence of a Delhi cab driver between poignant personal stories and hilarious what-not-to-do impressions. I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of courses before, but Yadhav really made me see ‘training’ as a profession in itself, with skills and standards of its own. I am grateful for that.

How did I end up here?

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Last fall, Susan Eaton—whom I’d met in the pub after teaching for the first time—wrote a nice piece about my then-new writing course. One of my long-lost PhD supervisors, Stuart Burley, read this article in his office at Cairn India in Delhi, and it triggered a thought. He had Yadhav, a pro trainer, helping his super-bright geoscience and engineering grads with their presentation skills, but they also needed coaching in writing. 

Their education provides them with...

the traditional written communication vernacular employed in the physical sciences, in which exposition is lengthily embellished with extraneous verbiage, and the passivum, or passive voice in its not uncommon appellation, is unfailingly and rigorously exercised.

You get my point. Stuart’s thought was: let’s do combine the two courses!

What happened?

The great thing about Stuart is that, along with breadth of experience and penetrating geological insight, he’s practical—he gets stuff done. (Like almost everything else in my dim-witted student days, I didn’t appreciate how valuable this was at the time.) So the three of us planned a 3-day course that combined my day's worth of writing coaching with Yadhav's two-day presentation course. Yadhav brought some didactic rigour, and I brought some technical depth. Like all collectable first edition, it had some rough edges, but it went beautifully. Students wrote an extended abstract for a conference paper on Tuesday, then presented their paper on Thursday—they made a great effort, and all did brilliantly.

I hope we run the course again—I'd love to see it reach its full potential. 

In the meantime, if you're interested in exploring ways to get more people in your organization writing a little better, or a little more often, do get in touch! You can find out more here. 

Two hundred posts

The petrophysics cheasheet was one of our most popular posts

My post on Tuesday was the two hundredth post on our blog, which we started 19 months ago in November 2010. Though we began with about 15 posts per month, we have settled down to a rate of 7 or 8 posts per month, which feels sustainable. At this rate, it will be at least a year before we hit 300.

We hit 100 posts on 21 June last year, after only 222 days. In the 358 days since then we've had about 41 700 visits from 24 500 people in 152 countries. The most popular content is a little hard to gauge because of the way we run every post over the home page for a couple of weeks, but from the most recent 100 posts, the favourites are (in descending pageview order):

Someone asked recently how long our posts take to write. It varies quite a bit, especially if there are drawings or other graphics, but I think the average is about 4 hours, perhaps a little more. Posts follow an idea–draft–hack–review–publish process, and this might be months long: we currently have 52 draft posts in the pipeline! Some may never make it out...

We'd love to have some other voices on the site, so if you feel strongly about something in this field, or would like the right to reply to one of our opinion pieces, please get in touch. Or start a blog!

Geophysicists are awesome

Thirty-nine amazing, generous, inpiring authors contributed to our soon-to be released book about exploration geoscience. A few gave us more than one chapter: Brian Russell, Rachel Newrick, and Dave Mackidd each gave us three, and Clare Bond, José M Carcione, Don Herron, and Rob Simm did two. We humbly thank them for their boudless energy — we're happy to have provided an outlet! And Evan and I each did three chapters, partly because I was obsessed with getting to the completely arbitrary number 52. It just seemed 'right'. 

There are biographies on all the authors in the book, so you can find out for yourself what a diversity of backgrounds there is. By the numbers, out of 39 authors...

  • 10 are connected in some way to academia (5 of them full-time)
  • 19 are North American
  • 22 currently work in North America
  • 1515 papers and 14 books have been written by this crowd (not including this one :)

Update on the book: we got our proof copies on Friday and spent the weekend combing it for errors. There was nothing catastrophic, so the bugs were fixed and the book is ready! We are completely new to this self-publishing lark, so I'm not certain how the next bit goes, but I think it will be live in Amazon this Friday, a whole week early. Probably.

What happens next is also not completely clear yet. We are working on the Kindle edition, which should be out soon. In terms of layout, digital books are less complicated than print books, so we are mostly removing things that don't work or don't make sense in ebooks: page numbers, fancy formatting, forced line-breaks, etc. Once the Kindle edition is out, we will have a go at other platforms (iBooks, Google Books). Then we will turn to the web and start getting the material online, where it will no doubt be different again.

We'll keep you, dear reader, up to date right here. 

Today's the day!

We're super-excited. We said a week ago we'd tell you why today. 

At the CSEG-CSPG conference last year, we hatched a plan. The idea was simple: ask as many amazing geoscientists as we could to write something fun and/or interesting and/or awesome and/or important about geophysics. Collect the writings. Put them in a book and/or ebook and/or audiobook,... and sell it at a low price. And also let the content out into the wild under a creative commons license, so that others can share it, copy it, and spread it.

So the idea was conceived as Things You Should Know About Geophysics. And today the book is born... almost. It will be available on 1 June, but you can see it right now at Amazon.com, pre-order or wish-list it. It will be USD19, or about 36 cents per chapter. For realz.

The brief was deliberately vague: write up to 600 words on something that excites or inspires or puzzles you about exploration geophysics. We had no idea what to expect. We knew we'd get some gold. We hoped for some rants.

Incredibly, within 24 hours of sending the first batch of invites, we had a contribution. We were thrilled, beyond thrilled, and this was the moment we knew it would work out. Like any collaborative project, it was up and down. We'd get two or three some days, then nothing for a fortnight. We extended deadlines and crossed fingers, and eventually called 'time' at year's end, with 52 contributions from 38 authors.

Like most of what we do, this is a big experiment. We think we can have it ready for 1 June but we're new to this print-on-demand lark. We think the book will be in every Amazon store (.ca, .co, .uk, etc), but it might take a few weeks to roll through all the sites. We think it'll be out as an ebook around the same time. Got an idea? Tell us how we can make this book more relevant to you!

One week countdown

We're super-excited, dear reader. Even more than usual.

At the Calgary GeoConvention last year, we hatched a plan. The idea was simple: ask as many amazing geophysicists as we could to help us create something unique and fun. Now, as the conference creeps up on us again, it's almost ready. A new product from Agile that we think will make you smile.

Normally we like to talk about what we're up to, but this project has been a little different. We weren't at all sure it was going to work out until about Christmas time. And it had a lot of moving parts, so the timeline has been, er, flexible. But the project fits nicely into our unbusiness model: it has no apparent purpose other than being interesting and fun. Perfect!

In an attempt to make it look like we have a marketing department, or perhaps to confirm that we definitely do not, let's count down to next Tuesday morning, in milliseconds of course. Come back then — we hope to knock your socks at least partly off...