Friday, December 16, 2016

journal access woes

I research various topics on a regular basis. My first preference is a recent (within, say, the last five years) guidance document or white paper from a federal government agency or research lab. Next would be technical guidance from the state the project is in, or a state in the same region.

The problem is, though, that if it's a research project that I'm working on (as opposed to an intern or entry level scientist), I'm usually in much deeper and am working with more technical details: which equation would be better for this application? Are there any specific chemical/physical/biological reactions that I need to figure out? That's when I need to start trawling through the journal articles. And most of the time, the sorts of details I'm looking for are in the meat of the article and aren't listed in the abstract.

There has to be a happy medium between open access (free!) and paying $35 for an article that I don't even know will be useful until I've paid for it. I can get a few articles here and there that have been posted by the authors or are actually open access. Some of my colleagues have memberships that come with journal access and they can send me stuff. But I can't justify the cost of spending a couple of hundred bucks to trace a possible dead end.

In grad school, our print shop had an arrangements with the publishers that they would copy journal articles, charge us a reasonable price (I think it was a buck or so a page), and send on the royalties as appropriate. I don't get why the publishers can't charge a more reasonable price (say, $5) for a reasonably short article. I'd be able to actually pay for quite a bit more if I could do so in smaller increments.

Friday, December 9, 2016

the hawaiian shirt crew

I haven't told a random school story in a long time...

I mentioned before that I didn't really fit into my undergrad geology department. Part of the problem was possibly my own class-based awareness/resentment. The whole thing came to a head right at the end of my senior year.

The geology department had a field study course requirement. The department would alternate between a "cheap" (a couple hundred dollars extra) field course and a "fun" (sky was the limit) field course annually. They were pretty damn breezy about how one was to pay for the "fun" field course, and so I did the cheap one. Fine.

So one year the fun field course was in Hawaii. All the "cool kids" who made up the core of the "real geology students" went and they had a great time, all sorts of bonding, etc. They all came back with Hawaiian shirts, and the shirts became a sort of symbol of the department.

I went to a small liberal arts school (SLAC) which was inundated with long-running, somewhat quirky traditions. One of those traditions was that the president of the school held a series of dinner parties with the seniors, organized by department or group of departments. It was considered a breach of etiquette not to attend, but I had no interest in mingling with people who'd made it clear I didn't fit in, so I skipped it. As it turned out, the other students who were also on the outs with the department mostly skipped it as well.

Word had gone around to "the cool kids" that all the geology department folks (including the professors) were to wear Hawaiian shirts to the dinner party. Nobody told me; I heard about all this later from students in other departments. So most of the department, including all the professors, came to the dinner party wearing Hawaiian shirts. And the few who didn't, because they weren't told about the arrangement, got teased mercilessly by all the other students for not matching the rest of the department. Fun party.

Those damn Hawaiian shirts precipitated my complete break with the rest of the geology department. But that's ok; I persevered without any institutional or educational support. And I'm still out here, poking at rocks, doing cool science even if I never did become one of the cool kids.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

cold weather skin

I am prone to dry skin. My face is extremely sensitive, which means I come in looking sandblasted when it's cold or windy. So I moisturize and use barrier creams and super hydrating lip balm and douse myself with sunscreen in the hopes that I don't slough off most of my face after a long day in the field.

Now that I'm older, I have a new problem. My eyelids.

My eyelids have gotten that crepe-y texture reminiscent of someone with eyes... much older than mine. And they recently started cracking in the cold.

What do I do about my eyelids once they've cracked? I must have tried every super moisturizer on the market, and they uniformly say "not for broken skin" in addition to "not for the eye area". I've been slathering them with non-medicated (non-mentholated) lip balm before going out, under the theory that if they're ok for lips, they're ok for eyes.

Do you run into this problem, and if so, what works for you?

Friday, December 2, 2016

frac tank ice cubes

Now that it's the beginning of December, it's about the time to start worrying about ice cubes. Really big ice cubes. Like, 21,000 gallons.

I complained here and here and here about frac tanks, which we use when we need to containerize large volumes of water. That large volume of water will turn into a big problem in the winter when it starts to freeze. We do try to expedite things and button up the fieldwork for the winter, but if we're not in time to get rid of the water, it will turn into a giant ice cube and then we're stuck renting the tank until spring.

I have occasionally witnessed various attempts to un-freeze frac tanks. If you catch them before they're totally frozen (say, a couple of inches thick), you can break up the ice into giant chunks with a pickaxe or other deadly object, and toss the chunks into drum to be thawed. But once they're mostly frozen, you're looking at a huge thermal mass that you need to warm up. I have witnessed giant propane heaters aimed at the walls, elaborate warm-water recirculation plans, and other hairbrained schemes. But really, the rental fee on a frac tank for 3-4 months is not as much as it would take a crew of professionals and various bits of equipment to spend days on end trying to melt a ice cube of that size.

I will admit that I have not worked in an arctic or subarctic environment, where the threat of freezing frac tanks is present for much of the year. I assume, however, that the plan would still be the same: deal with the tanks as quickly as possible, and get them emptied and off-site before they freeze.