Tuesday, July 22, 2014

blog regularity

I've been able to post more regularly for a while now, and I attribute that to a few specific changes:

1. Every time I have a thought for a blog post while working in the office, I write it on a post-it note. Then I immediately stuff it in a pocket and bring it home, where it gets added to a pile of other post-it notes. I do something similar in the field or while in transit - I rip off a square of scrap paper and bring it back to the hotel (or back home, if I don't get around to writing it right away).

I used to write long posts in my head while I was having technical difficulty/was getting annoyed by something, but I'd have a long day or get distracted and would forget them by the time I was actually sitting at a computer, ready to type. Now I just collect my pile of little pieces of paper and sort through them when I'm ready. This leads to the other change:

2. I used to get home from work, scan through all my usual reading, and try to come up with something new and interesting from that day to react to. The problem was that it made blogging into a chore when all I really wanted to do was decompress and start dinner. It also lead to my production dropping off a cliff if I'd had a hard day (or month). So now what I do instead is take advantage of my schedule: my sweetie sleeps in on the weekend, and since I'm a morning person, I'm awake, alert, and undistracted then. It's the perfect time for me to write long, complicated posts. I still write posts during the week, but I've been freed from the feeling that I have to come up with something on any given day.

Bloggers, do you have a particular writing routine that seems to work well for you?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

business cards

Ask a manager has a recent post up regarding business cards, and the discussion reminded me of my own business cards.

I have always received business cards in giant packs of 500 or so. And I've been known to use that many cards. I treat them just like I treat headache pills and feminine products: you never know when they'll come in handy, and they're easy to add, so I have a few tucked into my field bag, my purse, my laptop bag, the center console in my car...

I use business cards for everything. Meet a new subcontractor manager, regulator, or other stakeholder in the field? Hand them a card. Have a site visitor? Giving them a card is a good way to prompt them to hand over theirs, so you have their contact info. Start a new logbook? Tape in a business card in case it's lost (or you forgot your fax number and someone important wants to know). Need to coordinate/get something from a local resident, business, or municipal office? Drop off a card. Meet someone at a conference? Exchange cards. Have a brilliant idea for a blog post or remember some critical task to add to the to-do list and don't have something to write on? Instant, back pocket-sized scratch paper.

Two things I don't have on my business cards: a photo of me, and my cell phone number. The first is just not used in the environmental biz, and the second is only given out (scribbled on the back of the card) to people who may actually need it to contact me in the field. Vendors, miscellaneous people who want to know what I'm doing, and random conference attendees just get the business card sans cell phone.

Now all I need are cards that stay looking nice after they've spent an extended period in the bottom of my bag or been dropped in a puddle, or have been shuffled through with my grubby hands prior to handing them off...

Monday, July 14, 2014

on-site pets

I've known several people who regularly brought their pets (dog/cat/other) with them for fieldwork. It's not something I would do, but it can work out under a few conditions:

1. The animal in question is docile/well trained and likes to be right next to/perch on the shoulder of its owner. No bolting!

2. The animal likes travel, or at least is easygoing enough that it doesn't care one way or the other. If it would be happier/more secure at home, then don't drag it around!

2. The fieldwork doesn't involve any heavy equipment or other major mechanical hazards.

3. The site is either secluded or contained in some way (i.e. not dispersed throughout a neighborhood or industrial area).

4. The presence of a pet is not going to ruffle any client or stakeholder feathers.

5. Nobody in the field crew is allergic to/petrified of the animal. Usually this works out ok if the pet owner has his/her own vehicle so that nobody else is subject to hair/dander/feathers/loose critters. Or if the coworker honestly doesn't mind. I used to spend long  (6 hour +) drives with a coworker's animal, but I don't have allergies and I like the buggers so it worked out ok. Other people were seriously put out by it and it was a big black mark against them in the office/in their career.

I have had plenty of sites where a leashed dog/shoulder loving parrot/trailer hamster would be fine. But pet owners should keep in mind that an on-site pet may be viewed as charming/totally ok by most people, but that a certain percentage of the population will find it incredibly unprofessional. It's best to be extremely careful and to take into account political considerations if you want to take your pet along.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

summer shirts

I've written a number of posts on winter gear, such as this one on layering and this one on wool shirts and this on shoes. Now that we've officially moved into summer weather (regularly above 80 F) in the northeastern US, I thought I'd address the Great T-Shirt Debate: natural (cotton) or un-natural (polyester)?

Polyester/rayon/nylon/whatever blends are generally cooler and lighter. They also dry out well. However, they don't wash well: any dirt gets pretty much ground in there permanently, and mine smell distinctly of sunscreen (and probably sweat, although the sunscreen is most noticeable) even after being washed multiple times. Also, they don't hide anything underneath, and I have to wear a distinctly, ah, supportive and thick sports bra in order to not be indecent in them, which kind of negates the "cool" part.

Cotton t-shirts tend to be heavier. They don't dry out all that well, and will stay damp for ages if you've been sweating in them. However, they're also safer if you (or a contractor you're overseeing) are doing any welding, grinding, or other hot work, because sparks that land on them may smolder and scorch them, but won't melt them to your flesh.

So what do I go with? It depends on the weather. If it's going to be brutally hot out or I know it's going to rain the whole day, I'll go with non-cotton t-shirts. If there's a chance for passing showers or I want to give the serious sports bra a rest, I'll go with cotton to prevent any issues with the shirt becoming see-through. I also think that cotton layers better, with minimal static if you have to peel something off. So when I'm in the field, I bring a few of each.

I think most of the contractors I've worked with are all-cotton, but that may be because cotton t-shirts are cheaper and are more permanently silk-screened with the appropriate company logo. If you do a lot of fieldwork, do you have a preference for one or the other?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

firing contractors

A comment on the previous post raised the issue of "firing" drillers/drilling companies. We all have different tolerance levels for bullshit from contractors. I look young (read: inexperienced), I'm a bit of a crier, and I can be a perfectionist about the standards I hold the contractors to. This may lead you to think that I kick drillers off-site left and right.

Au contraire. I may be young looking, picky, and sensitive. But I'm also stubborn and forever convinced that I can work with/around anyone. I also haven't worked with that many drillers or other contractors who were unsafe and insubordinate, so if I have to stand on someone and nag them to wear their PPE (personal protective equipment), invite field safety audits (by my firm or theirs), stop them every 20 minutes to change what they're doing, and extend the morning tailgate meeting to an hour-long roundtable discussion, then that's what I'll do.

For projects I manage, I would be a lot more proactive about booting unsafe/difficult drillers, because I wouldn't expect the people working for me to put up with what I'll put up with. I've never had an issue with drillers/other subcontractors on projects I've managed, though. That's probably a numbers issue - I've worked with many more individual drillers/contractors than projects I've managed.

I have not fired or been involved in projects that fired drilling companies. We work out the end of the contract and then go our separate ways. The largest investigations tend to go in phases (and be contracted in phases) as we look at previous results and adjust what the next phase should entail. And that usually means sending out new specifications, and going through the bidding/driller selection process again. That's the point at which I take a hard look at the drilling company's performance. Did we just have one bad egg (and I can request someone else), or is it a larger bad management/culture issue? Maybe we pick someone new next time. If we routinely have problems with a particular drilling firm, we drop them from the bidders list.

I've had very few individual drillers and firms that were unsafe/insubordinate/unable to do the work. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I think that as the environmental industry matures and consolidates, the "rogue" firms and drillers have been pushed out, and the number of "firings" have decreased.

Monday, June 30, 2014

drilling payment

When I plan subcontracts, there are generally two ways that I prefer to pay for the work: by the unit of x produced, or by time spent. For drilling, most of the time, I prefer to pay by the foot rather than a day rate.

The footage rate is a performance basis. If the driller brings equipment prone to break down or encounters problems with the geology and can't go as fast as he'd planned, then the drilling company is on the hook for that extra time. This carries more risk for the drilling company, so their cost proposal is likely to be on the high side. However, if I have lots of information about the local geology and quirks of the site (for example, if we've already put in a couple of boreholes) and we have a pre-bid meeting, then the drilling company has less risk and will provide a more reasonable footage rate.

If a crew is being paid by the day, then there's less incentive for them to be as efficient as possible, and if they have equipment breakdowns or obvious periods when they're not productive, then I need to have a reckoning regarding how much of that time I'm willing to pay. However, if the work involves a lot of not drilling (they're required to decontaminate the drill rig with toothbrushes, they need to haul all their equipment and investigation-derived waste back to the staging area every night, etc.) then paying by the day does make sense. The drillers would need to have a wildly inflated footage rate to account for all that extra work.

I have zero interest in paying for stuff on a time and materials basis: today the driller used 2.5 bags of sand on this monitoring well, 3 bags of sand on that well, 2 rolls of teflon tape, 3 well caps, 3 well locks, 15 protective casings because they were all installed at once... It's a good way to make things overly complicated, and I don't really care what items were used, as long as the work was done safely and to our standards.

In the past, I've used a mix of payment items (mobilization fee, footage rate for each type of drilling, standby for delays that I cause). If it's a big job with multiple rigs, it's really best to go through and determine how much of each item on a daily basis. Otherwise, the accounting gets... difficult. And generally, the driller has his own items which I don't care about because they'll get rolled into the final invoice back at the office. But as I've gotten older, I've tried to minimize the number of items so that I have the level of accounting I need but the person watching the rig doesn't spend ages trying to figure out what we'll pay for.

On the surface, the intricacies of subcontracts appear overly nitpicky and not all that interesting. But since I've been stuck with massive cost overruns, invoices that bear no resemblance to reality, and heated arguments in the field about who paid for what... it pays to get this stuff right. And it doesn't take all that much effort to do so - you just need to consider what the end goal of the project is and how the subcontract helps or doesn't help that goal.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

fieldwork + ticks

I was traipsing through the woods (and the fields, and a bunch of heavy shrubbery) and didn't notice any ticks, spiders, or other unsavory critters hanging out on my clothing. But my coworker, who covered the same ground, found one tick in "an unspeakable location" and several more on his pants. Am I lucky, or just not very good at detecting ticks on myself?

I was having phantom "creepy crawlies" everywhere for the rest of the day after he said it. It was a long afternoon.