Vertical Seismic Profiling Part III – Russian/English Translators

We are delighted that Dr. Bob Hardage has graciously offered to pen a short history of Vertical Seismic Processing (VSP), and its re-emergence in the 1970s at the intersection of geophysics and cold-war era geopolitics between the U.S. and USSR.  If you have not read the previous blogs by Dr. Hardage on this site, you may want to catch up to appreciate the context of this latest installment, which is both humorous and informative.  Please enjoy…

Gal’perin could not speak English. I could not speak Russian. Translators were the key to us working together on VSP technology. Phillips had two Russian translators. One was reasonably skilled in geosciences; the other was not. When I encountered a significant Russian-language paper, I naturally had the translation done by the chap who had the geoscience background. One time I had to use the person who was not experienced in geoscience to translate a paper dealing with VSP field procedures. When I read the translated section dealing with VSP operations in over-pressured wells, I encountered the phrase “it is important to learn how to lock up the water goat”. My reaction was “what in the world is a water goat!!”. I went to my trusted translator who chuckled and wrote down the proper wording “it is important to shut the hydraulic ram”.

Gal'Perin Lecture Phillips Petroleum 1979 Part III
Evsey lecturing to a small group of Phillips researchers. The 2 men sitting against the far wall and facing Evsey are translators. Phillips’s translator is on the left. Evsey’s translator is on the right.

I relate this story to emphasize the importance of correct translations of the daily verbal communications Evsey and I had. The Russian translator who accompanied Gal’perin was supposedly a geophysicist. He indeed knew correct seismic terminology, but I soon found out that he did not know many important geophysical principles. I began to wonder “who are you, really?”, “why are you Evsey’s overseer?”, “is your assignment more than translating?”. Evidence began to appear that he was misrepresenting himself as being geophysicist. I will relate a few incidents, some humorous, some more serious, that caused these thoughts to come to mind.

Humorous incident 1 occurred in SEG’s office in Tulsa. SEG wanted to honor Evsey because his VSP book translated from Russian to English was a popular item in the SEG book store. I drove Evsey and his translator to the SEG office for a short publicity visit. SEG had a photographer present to document the event, and a group of 7 or 8 of us began lining up for a group photo. The translator was daydreaming I suppose because he got positioned where the photographer wanted him to be with a smile on his face. However, before the photographer took the picture, the translator realized what was about to happened and panicked. He literally ran to the opposite wall of the room and said “No picture! No picture!”. Strange behavior for a good-ole-boy Russian geophysicist.

Humorous incident 2 actually occurred several times. I sometimes had to go with Evsey and his translator on a trip that required us to stay overnight. I always booked 3 hotel rooms that were immediately adjacent to each other. We would agree when we would meet in the hall to go to dinner or to whatever meeting we were to attend. I would always step into the hall about 5 minutes early. It turned out that Evsey did the same. The first time Evsey and I did this early hallway appearance, he gave me a “be quiet” signal, walked to the translator’s door and pantomimed that he was kicking the translator’s butt down the hall. This little pantomime occurred every time we had an overnight stay somewhere. Evsey and I had good chemistry and shared this private joke in every hotel stay we had. I publicly expose our comedy routine here for the first time.

It was also interesting that government agencies seemed to be concerned about Evsey’s translator. I was told that Phillips E&P had to inform the U.S. Department of State if Evsey and his translator had an airline flight that would cross any portion of Nevada. An interesting request that fortunately we never had to act on. Immediately after Evsey returned to Moscow, the CIA visited me and asked a number of questions. They had no questions related to Evsey. All questions were about the translator. I cannot comment on the details, but one of their urgent objectives was to collect any pictures that I had of the translator.

The translator’s behavior at the photo session at SEG indicated that he did all he could to not be photographed, so I upped my photography activity when Evsey and I were engaged in casual events like backyard cookouts, classroom sessions, etc. The CIA took every photograph I had of the translator. The CIA agent gave me his business card before he left. In case you have never had a CIA business card, it is a unique item. Mine was a solid brownish color. One side was totally blank. The other side had only one piece of information – a phone number. Several years later, I was doing an office move, and that CIA card resurfaced. I thought to myself “I wonder??”. I dialed that number. Instantly, a male voice said “Hello??” in an inquiring tone. I broke the connection without replying and have never dialed the number again.

About a week after the visit from the CIA agent, an FBI agent appeared at my office. His immediate request was to also get photos of Evsey’s translator. I told him the CIA had visited only a few days before and took all of my pictures. He muttered something I could not understand, but he was obviously frustrated. I offered him the CIA phone number, but he said “I know how to contact them”.

This “intrigue” element about Evsey’s translator factored into the 3 months that Evsey and I worked together, added to my fascination about VSP, and built a bond between me and Evsey. When Evsey returned to the U.S. in the 1980s seeking cancer treatment, he could speak passible English, and no translator accompanied him.

Bob Hardage
Bob A. Hardage

Bob A. Hardage received a PhD in physics from Oklahoma State University. His thesis work focused on high-velocity micro-meteoroid impact on space vehicles, which required trips to Goddard Space Flight Center to do finite-difference modeling on dedicated computers. Upon completing his university studies, he worked at Phillips Petroleum Company for 23 years and was Exploration Manager for Asia and Latin America when he left Phillips. He moved to WesternAtlas and worked 3 years as Vice President of Geophysical Development and Marketing. He then established a multicomponent seismic research laboratory at the Bureau of Economic Geology and served The University of Texas at Austin as a Senior Research Scientist for 28 years. He has published books on VSP, cross-well profiling, seismic stratigraphy, and multicomponent seismic technology. He was the first person to serve 6 years on the Board of Directors of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). His Board service was as SEG Editor (2 years), followed by 1-year terms as First VP, President Elect, President, and Past President. SEG has awarded him a Special Commendation, Life Membership, and Honorary Membership. He wrote the AAPG Explorer column on geophysics for 6 years. AAPG honored him with a Distinguished Service award for promoting geophysics among the geological community.

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