Friday, October 17, 2014

siblings? cousins?

If you're on a long-term field project that requires staying overnight, and it's just two or three of you out there, you tend to get a little close. You work 10, 11, 12 hour days together, then you go back to the same hotel (or hotel room, if you're unlucky). You may be sharing a ride. Even if you split for dinner, you can't really escape them.

Regardless of whether you like or dislike the other field staff, you start developing your own vocabulary, in-jokes, nicknames, stories you've heard a million times already, pet peeves which can be exploited mercilessly...

When outsiders are convinced that you are siblings, or otherwise somehow related, it may be time to take a break.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

600 posts

Once again, I've gone through and compiled the last 100 posts for a word cloud. Someday I'll figure how to save everything at once, instead of copying and pasting from blogger to make an almost 60-page file.

"Environmental," "field," and "work" are always big. I think that "drilling" and "safety" are a little more prominent than in past post compilations.

For comparison, here's the previous word clouds: 500, 400, 300, 200, and 100.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

billable lunch?

When I first started doing fieldwork, I had to eat lunch. I was ravenous.

Now that my metabolism has slowed down, I either have something small/snacky (a granola bar or handful of nuts) or go without lunch altogether. It depends on whether or not I cobbled together a good breakfast and how busy I am - if I'm running around like a crazy person, I may forget about eating altogether.

If I don't eat lunch, and I'm going, going, going all day, then clearly the entire day is billable to the client.  But what if I'm overseeing people who stop and take an actual lunch break?

I generally consider the entire day to be billable. If the field crew is taking lunch, if I'm not eating something (or I spend 2 minutes eating a granola bar), I'm catching up on paperwork, mucking out the trailer, answering phone calls and e-mails I've ignored, etc. It is a slow day indeed if I have nothing to do for a half hour or so.

If the budget is super tight, I may donate that half hour or so. If there's a chance that I'm not going to have at least 8 hours of work that day, I'll probably consider the lunch time to be billable. On a very rare occasion I'll actually Go Out and sit down for lunch with coworkers/contractors, and that time is definitely not billable.

Consultants, what's your lunch/billing policy?

Friday, October 3, 2014

it is noted that

Another writing pet peeve to add to the pile:

I work with a few people who have the "it is observed/noted" writing tic, and it drives me nuts. You don't need to tell the reader that you're observing/noting it because you already have it in there. And that construction is so passive as to be a parody of itself. Really, who observed it and thought it was important enough to put it in? You, the writer did! Gah.

Luckily, it's an easy fix.

"It is noted that the site is inundated with floodwater when it rains, and every time this happens the treatment system shuts down for six hours."


"The site is inundated with floodwater when it rains, and every time this happens the treatment system shuts down for the six hours."

And while I have my red pencil out (and I can't resist this sort of thing):

"The site floods with every rainstorm because the seven-acre parcel drains directly into the treatment system pen. Whenever this happens, the treatment system shuts down for six hours to allow the innards PLC module to dry."

See? So much better.

Monday, September 29, 2014

conference time-keeping

Athene Donald recently addressed a big pet peeve of mine: conference talks that run way past their allotted time, thus screwing up the schedule for everyone else who has the misfortune to be after them.

When I've presented at conferences, I've usually had dire warnings to keep to the time limit, or else. And I respect those limits. How do I do that?

I practice with the material until I have a good sense of the "beats" of the presentation and I'm reasonably sure that I can end within a few minutes of the target. I also have a couple of ideas about where to expand in case I race through/forget something (nerves on stage) and it looks like I'll have some extra time at the end.

I give the presentation to interested parties internally as a trial run. In grad school and at work, I could always find someone with a stopwatch and a willingness to rip into the slides, the format/order of what I'm saying, and any bad speaking/presenting habits (Have a death grip on the podium? Hem and haw? Accelerate madly as the talk goes on?). But the best way to simulate a conference talk is to collect a reasonably large group of marginally interested people (students/staff who are just there for the promise of food/extra credit/a break from working) and present to them.

When I'm actually up there, I don't rely on a room clock (although it's nice to have one). I have a watch that I can strategically stick somewhere on the podium. And I work out a warning schedule with the moderator, if they haven't already established one. By the time I'm actually ready to present, the watch/moderator are really there for peace of mind and to be able to add a little more info to fill in a minute or so as needed.

So after I've done all my prep work, I find it incredibly annoying to sit through someone else's presentation that has clearly never been practiced and/or could never fit into the allotted time. For example, they spool up a power point with 100 slides for a 20-minute presentation, and the first slide is a wall of text. That's just disrespectful to the audience.

At the same time, it's really hard to provide context and say something interesting in a very short timeframe. I think that conference organizers are shooting themselves in the foot if they have to enforce a time limit of 15 minutes or less per presentation, unless there's some mechanism for speakers or their supplementary material to be immediately available to discuss/expand on/clarify things.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

freezing samples

A comment on this post reminded me of an occasional problem with managing environmental samples: getting them too cold.

I have two "war stories" about freezing samples:

1. I was working on an island, and a blizzard blew in as we were wrapping up groundwater sampling for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - small vials, no headspace allowed. We ended up fleeing and leaving the coolers where they were. We came back two days later, fought our way through epic snow drifts, and found that all our VOC samples had frozen. We spent all day running around like crazy people to re-sample, and by the time we had schlepped our new batch of samples back to the dock (back through those piles of snow again!), we were so overheated that we rode in the front of the launch (about 15 degrees F on the water) the whole ride back to the mainland.

2. We had a huge batch of samples that were going to go out the next day. It was winter, but we were working out of a storage box/office combo, so we had some residual heat for the whole trailer. Our VOC samples were tucked in tight in the office, but in this case the giant 4-liter glass bottles that I so dislike broke because they were out in the storage part and too far from the heater. They were essentially ok, except for the necks. Luckily (since these samples represented probably a combined 100 hours of effort) the bottles were already wrapped in giant ziplock bags for shipping and we just pumped the water out of the broken bottles and into fresh ones.

The best weather for samples is early spring/late fall in my neck of the woods: 60 degrees F during the day for comfortable fieldwork, 35 degrees F at night to keep the samples cold, but not too cold.

Monday, September 22, 2014

volcanoes and space photos

The Big Picture has two recent sets of photos of geological interest: volcanic activity and images of the earth and space from NASA. You should check out both sets - the volcano pictures, especially, are terrific.

Here's a sampling:

A June 27 lava flow from Kilauea volcano in Pahoa, Hawaii (provided by USGS):

A September 10 solar flare captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory: