Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Accidental Remediation is going on a holiday blog break - I need to spend the next couple days shopping/wrapping, since I haven't started yet, and then I'll be out playing in the snow (weather permitting) after recuperating from Christmas.

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

an inconvenient death

This is somewhat inspired by FSP's collection of posts today about exam excuses (often family deaths, real or otherwise).

I've had two deaths in the family at times I was scheduled to be in the field. In both cases, I was an important but not totally critical part of the crew.

One death was a grandparent who was 91 and had been battling pneumonia in the nursing home for months. I dealt with the news ok (it wasn't exactly a surprise), but then when I called the project manager to tell him I had to go to the funeral, a bunch of repressed emotion came out and I started bawling on the phone. Manager's response: "Just go to the funeral already! Take off the week! Trust me, I understand."

The other death was of a young (had two small children) relative who was his family's primary breadwinner. We were on a little bit of a death watch, so about 2 weeks before the fieldwork, I explained the situation to the project manager: I told him that there was a very strong chance that I would be taking some time off to attend a funeral/wake in the next couple of weeks and that I would help out as much as much as I could, but that I would be attending the wake and funeral to support the widow. When news of the death came, I called up immediately to arrange things so that the project wouldn't be left in the lurch. The project manager threw a fit about the future absence, I went anyway, and the manager made sure that I never worked for him again.

Did I regret anything I did in the latter situation? Nope.

I work incredibly hard. All my reviews have said "what a team player! So dependable!" I stress out when things go wrong and I go into overdrive to fix them. But it's a job, not my entire reason for existence.

Monday, December 20, 2010

just you wait

Last week, I took the elevator downstairs with a gaggle of women in their early 20s. One started to complain about being mistaken for a teenager. She said, "my mother promised that I will appreciate looking young once I hit 30..." but she left before I could tell her that not everybody will feel that way. Like me.

Prematurely gray hair runs in my family, but I missed that particular gene. I'm only starting to get gray hair, and it doesn't seem to change anyone's impression of my age. It's too bad - I would love to be distinguished rather than young. At least that way, I wouldn't have to work my actual age/experience into conversations with every single business contact I meet so that my opinions have a chance of being taken seriously.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How did I miss this?

The bigger picture has part 1 and 2 of its photos of the year up. Part 3 will go up tomorrow. I was looking through the pictures and noticed this (from here):

The caption (sorry it didn't copy over) states that the sinkhole in Guatemala City was caused by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Agatha. It's 60 meters deep. Luckily, nobody was injured.

Some google-foo found that this sinkhole, which opened up in May, is similar to another sinkhole that opened up in February 2007. This is an example of a piping pseudokarst, which is caused by the collapse of caverns that form in weak but somewhat cohesive soil - in the case of Guatemala City, uncemented ash and other volcanic deposits.

I am not a geomorphologist and the areas I have experience in are decidedly non-volcanic (and not prone to sinkholes at all). So this was new to me. If you're interested, there's a nice technical discussion of pseudokarst here and a less technical explanation buried in the lower bits of this wikipedia article.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

sabbatical fun

FSP's post yesterday reminded me of my own often absent (and finally, retiring) advisor. I've mentioned him in passing several times, and in this post I touched on his frequent disappearances.

My advisor was on sabbatical for part of my time at grad school, but it didn't have much of an impact on my academic career or progress toward completion. I think he took a 6-month sabbatical right before I started most of the fieldwork for my thesis. So he was around to help me start out, and he was more or less available to help me with my thesis. It probably helped that he kept my university town as his primary residence during the sabbatical, so he was only slightly less available than at other times.

So what did my advisor do for his sabbatical? Well, he taught several short courses in various subtropical areas that were close to beaches. He renewed his contacts with his massive network of colleagues and ex-students by visiting just about every major department doing work in our particular subfield. He attended conferences in exotic locations (somehow, I was the one who went to Ohio...). And twice a week or so, he would read his e-mail and help out with whatever crises were simmering along in his absence.

Did I feel neglected during this time? Not really. I knew what I was getting into when I applied to work with him for my master's degree. He was close to retirement, didn't have anything left to prove, and was upfront about being fairly hands-off. I was probably more motivated to finish than your average grad student, since I had a sweetie waiting for me several hundred miles away.

If I had been a needier student, if my advisor had shut off communication for 6 months, or if he had taken off during a time I had needed more attention, maybe his sabbatical would have been an issue. As it was, I just told him to have a silly drink for me and that we'd reconnect once he was back. My only regret is that I can't have a sabbatical myself...

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 months of accidental remediation

It's the end of the year. Time for the 12 months meme - what's the first line (and link to the post) for the first post of each month?

I've been tagged by Silver Fox, so here goes:

I had a spectacularly unproductive year, blogging-wise, so I'm stretching the rules a little. If I had a post that didn't say anything except for apologizing for being absent, I picked the next one. If I had a first line or two saying the same thing, I picked the next line.


Last year, I mentioned some resolutions. So how'd I do?


In the past I've had long-term field assignments in very small towns or very depressed areas; places with a minimal selection of places to eat.


Ok, I'm back! And boy, did I miss out on some geology-related stuff.


Every spring when it finally warms up and I get into the field, I think, gee, this weather's terrific!


In environmental consulting, most of the gear is paid for by the company: the equipment, the supplies, the use of a vehicle for fieldwork (or reimbursement for using your own - my least favorite option).


In her recent discussion of journal clubs, FSP mentions that she considers the process of dissecting a paper (not necessarily in a savage or overly negative way) to be a critical skill.


I'm still catching up on my blog reading, so this is a late response to Brazen Hussy's post about the disappointing result of her job search.


Here's my excuse for being AWOL: it's really frickin' hot out.


I seem to be on a scheduling kick in my recent posts, but I just read Isis's post about working hours for grad students and it reminded me of my own experience.


I'm in a motel room now, nursing a minor burn on my knee.


Chris Rowan is moving to the US, following his 3rd postdoc.


I got a new GPS with traffic avoidance software to replace the old Garmin, which lasted less than 2 years (that's a story for later).

Friday, December 10, 2010

300 posts

It took me an embarrassingly long time to get to 300 posts... and then I got all the way up to 306 before realizing it was time for a word cloud! For comparison, the other two are here and here.

Here's the word cloud for the last 105 (give or take) posts. "Need work" is oddly apropos, as is "long field".

I had a great time reading back and collating all those entries over the last year or so - I had 40 pages when they were all together!

Hopefully, it won't take as long to get to 400...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

pacing problems

FSP has an interesting post today about pacing while lecturing.

I tend not to move around too much while lecturing, which is funny because in almost any other situation I am extraordinarily twitchy. I go on long, fast walks while talking on the cell phone in the field and invariably find myself hundreds of feet from paper and pen when I need them. I tend to work very intensely in the office (with one or both feet madly tapping) and then pop up at random to release tension. I am incapable of sitting still.

So why am I so stationary when I'm lecturing or leading a meeting?

I communicate much more easily by writing than by speaking - it takes me more effort to organize my thoughts. Connecting with an audience and presenting a coherent system is a real effort for me, so when I lecture, I focus intensely on what I'm doing. I'm also acutely aware of how friggin' young I appear, so in an attempt at projecting gravitas, I tend to move very deliberately.

Maybe when I'm old and totally comfortable with audiences, I'll revert to being a spaz while teaching. Until then, I probably won't be distracting my students by pacing around the room.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

suburban expeditions

I got a new GPS with traffic avoidance software to replace the old Garmin, which lasted less than 2 years (that's a story for later). One of my common travel routes is often clogged up with traffic and the new GPS routes me through some interesting neighborhoods.

Here's my problem: my GPS's favorite shortcut is through a very posh neighborhood that inexplicably has a ford across a stream. That's right, instead of going under a little culvert (it's a very narrow road), the stream crosses over some very broad, flat rocks that make up the road. Earlier this week, I followed my GPS directions along this road, only to find a big barricade up with a sign that said "ford closed for winter".

The problem is, I can't find any way to tell this GPS "don't take this road". So I ended up turning around and threading my way through all sorts of back roads parallel to the stream (and my sense of direction is terrible) while the GPS kept yelling at me to turn around already!

Eventually, I'll figure out how to get around this area without the GPS. Or the ford will reopen after the winter. It's even odds which will happen first...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I tend to drive a lot for fieldwork. I also have bad knees, partially because of genetics and partially because I developed repetitive stress injuries in high school and college. So the length of time I can hold out before stopping and taking breaks (and therefore, how long it takes to go somewhere) depends on how long my knees hold out.

Cruise control is a godsend. I last less than an hour without it, and I can go at least 4 hours (or until I run out of gas) using it. I put the car in cruise control as much as possible, even if it means just for a minute or two. I'm guessing that the first major thing to wear out in my car will be the cruise control system, if that's possible.

So, one of my pet peeves is getting stuck behind someone who doesn't use cruise control, even though I know they have it. I start creeping up behind someone, so I change lanes. That causes them to realize that there's another car about to pass them, so they do what? They speed up. I hate, hate, hate hanging out in the passing lane without passing someone (plus, it's illegal in most states), so I'll drop back. 30 seconds later, the other car slides back to their original speed. Usually I get fed up and accelerate way past all reason so that I make sure that I leave them behind.

I'm going to be driving about 8 hours (give or take 2 or 3, depending on the traffic gods) tomorrow to get to my parents' for thanksgiving. I have a feeling that my knees are not going to be happy tomorrow night.

Monday, November 22, 2010

who needs to write?

I did some catching up on my blog reading and tripped across a comment that suggested that most jobs don't require any ability to write well (it was buried somewhere in the NYTimes freakonomics blog archives, if you're curious). It went unchallenged and the conversation continued, but it made me wonder - for your average job that requires a college degree, how much writing is expected?

Most of my job experience has been either in the environmental consulting business or in academia, and I've held several somewhat overlapping roles in both. In all cases, I needed to be able to write to a certain standard, whether that was specifications that were clear and didn't have contradictory information, reports that didn't make the company look incompetent, or powerpoint slides that were easily understandable. Oh yeah, and that 100-page thesis.

If my writing had been terrible or merely bad enough to be annoying to fix, I probably would have gotten jobs similar to what I ended up with (although not my first job in consulting - that came with a writing test because they'd been burned by functionally illiterate scientists before), and I probably would have gotten into grad school somewhere. But I would have been one the first people let go (if you can write fast and well, you become indispensable to lots of people) when times got rough, and I wouldn't have moved into a management position at a relatively young age.

Maybe my experience is atypical. So how much writing do you need to do for your job? Is writing "well" (however it's defined) important?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

nice doggy?

As part of my consulting work, I occasionally found myself inside homes, sampling their air or their tap water. I met with a large number of dogs.

Most of the dogs I've met have been pretty happy to see me, whether they were small yappy dogs or large overly enthusiastic dogs ("Oof! Down boy!"). I did meet with one mama rottweiler who was guarding an elderly relative who was alone in the house, and the dog made it very clear that I was not going to go upstairs. Fortunately, I didn't have to go there! The only ones that I really worried about were a pair of extremely skittish and very young (think full-grown but not filled out) rottweilers that had recently been rescued.

My mother has a paralytic fear of dogs, which was understandable because she was attacked by an off-leash guard dog that had been trained to attack without warning. She transferred that fear to me when I was younger, reinforced by some bad experiences that I had. Note to owners of large dogs: if your dog associates stuffed animals with "doggy toy", then you'd better make damn sure your dog is under control so it doesn't aggressively chase after random toddlers on the playground, rip their favorite stuffed bear out of their hands, and mangle it. I didn't get over my fear of dogs until I was in high school and finally outweighed the average large dog.

Entering a house with the clear owner's permission usually means I won't have any trouble at all with the dogs (or other pets). I've been fortunate in that I've dealt mostly with residents and homeowners who are more or less ok with my presence, so I haven't had dogs set on me or been chased out...yet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

following the jobs

Chris Rowan is moving to the US, following his 3rd postdoc. So congrats to Chris! He's moving to his third continent for work.

It would be really neat to live and work in different countries, in theory. But I don't really have the constitution for it, especially right now. I'm working a couple hundred miles from my home base, working in a job that was supposed to be a temporary step but is becoming permanent thanks to an utterly horrendous economy. I don't have any connections here, other than this job and my sweetie, and it's really, really lonely.

Maybe if I had a job I really enjoyed, using the science I got an advanced degree in, things would be different. But I can't imagine living any further from my support network than I already am.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

new schedule

My evenings have become rather more busy than in the past, and I haven't been able to carve out the time to blog. So I'm trying something different - writing when I wake up rather than when I get back from work. We'll see how this goes.

...ok, I got distracted by catching up on all the recent posts by my favorite bloggers and now I really have to go to work. This morning thing may not work out as well as I hoped... I'll try posing actual content tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

wool shirts

As it starts getting cooler, I am starting to transfer to winter field gear. Among the winter gear I pulled out of the storage bin below the bed is my favorite wool shirt.

This particular wool shirt is an LLBean "river driver" shirt, from that time before their sizing got all wonky. It's two layers, with wool outside and cotton inside, and it's just the right length to not ride up and protect my belly and has perfect cuffs that fit under other clothing.

My river driver shirt dates from the grunge era, so it's getting close to 2 decades old. It has holes in the armpits, where the seams have given up the ghost, and the sleeves are getting ratty, and it has a fairly large collection of moth holes.

In spite of my love for this shirt, I do realize it is long past time to be retired. But I can't find a replacement. Does anybody know of a place that sells two-layer wool shirts that are small enough to use as an under-layer for a smaller-framed female?

Monday, October 11, 2010

gas cap follies

I've driven a staggering number of cars and trucks for fieldwork. Compacts rented from the airport, box trucks with missing side mirrors, university department beaters...

But it took me until a few months ago to realize something basic: all cars have a little arrow on the gas indicator that shows what side of the vehicle the gas cap is on.

So after years of driving to a gas station and looking like an idiot while I try and figure out where the gas cap is, now I can just read the dashboard.

My question is, am I the last person to find out about this? Or is this new to you, too?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

red muck mess

I was watching the news at dinner last night, and I caught something about a red muck disaster. I was at a bar, and I only caught it from one of the far TV screens (on mute). It also intrigued some other folks at the bar.

I looked it up online, and there was hardly any mention of it. Hello?! A photogenic (look at all that bright red muck destroying those towns!) catastrophe involving a caustic material that caused massive environmental damage. Burns on contact! Wiped out four villages! Killed small children!

The NY Times does have something a little more in-depth now, two days later. In a quest for more info, I tried googling "red sludge Hungary" and got almost nothing.

A few commentators have drawn parallels between this and problems we have in the US, such as mine tailings. What do you do with vast quantities of nasty stuff, some of which accumulated over decades? Hide it behind berms and hope for the best? Spend $$$$$ to stabilize it? Whose pockets will that come out of?

We used to have the Superfund tax on the most heavily polluting industries to take care of the really messy orphaned sites. Too bad the funding for it hasn't been authorized in 15 years and the program's out of money. So instead of having the worst-polluting industries pay, now all the taxpayers do. If the cleanups are done all, that is.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

long break

I think I'm marking about 1 year that my posting has been decidedly irregular. This time, illness, a tough time at work, and getting out of the habit of posting have done me in. It's (somewhat) near the start of a new month, and I'm trying to start up again.

I'm in a motel room now, nursing a minor burn on my knee. I made the mistake of testing the water in the shower, then jumping right in. Within the 10 seconds after I'd checked it, the temperature spiked to scalding - and it wasn't remotely at the maximum temperature. Isn't that a safety issue?

A few months ago, I jumped into a shower and found the opposite - that the lukewarm water in the tap was a remnant of being in the walls or something, and that I actually had no hot water whatsoever.

After a long, cold (and when did that happen), wet day, my first impulse is to peel everything off and hop right into a shower. By now, you'd think I would know to check such thing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

end of summer

On one hand, I'm really, really happy that it's not over 90 degrees every day.

On the other hand, I'm having a hard time getting used to waking up and going to work in the dark.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

daily schedules

I seem to on a scheduling kick in my recent posts, but I just read Isis' post about working hours for grad students and it reminded me of my own experiences.

My grad advisor was extremely laid-back. I pretty much ran the show for my thesis project, independently checking in once or twice a week when he was around and going without when he was traveling (about 25 percent of the time). Needless to say, he didn't dictate working hours.

Then again, unlike Isis, my research focus was fieldwork, not labwork. And most of my fieldwork was solitary - a single helper if I was lucky. So my advisor didn't really expect me to be around all the time.

When I was not actively doing fieldwork, I tended to have a pretty set schedule. I'm a morning person and my natural schedule is to sleep from 11-7. So I was one of the first grad students to arrive in the morning (around 7:30), and I would screw around online/get distracted by my friends during the day, and work until 5 or so. I would end up working in my office at school about every other weekend, rewarding myself with takeout for lunch from one of the multitude of cheap restaurants within walking distance.

I miss that schedule. I didn't have a sweetie distracting me, and I lived a 15-minute walk (or a 3 minute drive, if I wanted to illegally park) from my office, and it felt like I had all the time in the world. Now, I spend 2 hours driving to/from work (if I'm working from the office) and we have the tremendous time-suck that is cable, and my sweetie likes having actual dinner, and so the time available for myself just keeps shrinking.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

chucking samples

I've spent years collecting field data of various types. Most of it gets distilled into field logsheets or logbooks and reports. The physical stuff (other than what was shipped to the lab) mostly gets shipped off-site for disposal.

But when you're collecting rock core samples as part of an environmental investigation, usually what you do is put it in a core box, labeled all nicely. And then the core boxes get piled in a storage building (if lucky) or under a tarp (if not so lucky) and get infested with bugs and forgotten about.

Rock cores are not taken for every environmental investigation, and they're generally a significant investment. They're handy because you can always go back to them, even years later, and find new details you didn't know were important before you did all your analysis.

So when I heard that the rock cores I spent seven months collecting just got thrown out, it was...deflating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

oddball schedules

I've touched on the topic of field schedules in the past, but Silver Fox's recent post reminded me of one of my problems with a common "odd" (i.e. not 5 on, 2 off) schedule.

The standard non 5-and-2 schedule I've worked is a ten-four. That is, work 10 days and have a four day weekend. The problem is trying to preserve those four weekend days. It's awful easy for the schedule to slip and for the project manager to suggest that you give up a day or two. After all, it's mid-week for everyone else.

The last time I worked a 10-4, I had to travel to the hotel the night before (stretching the shift to 11 days), then I was persuaded to work "just one more day to finish up" (ok, now it's 12 days), and then I got the stink eye when I ran into an upper management type and she found out that I was "taking a day off" for the final day.

So if you work a 10-4, or any other oddball schedule that has you working through a weekend and gives you additional time off during the traditional weekday, be wary. And avoid returning to the office during normal office hours if you can help it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

contract expansion

When I was working in consulting, we put a lot of emphasis on getting the right contractors (drillers) and getting a contract in place. Some of the contract was our standard legalese, but most of the language was based on a combination of corporate technical requirements and lessons learned ("gee, why is the data for this well always so weird?"). And the technical specification always got looked at by a couple pairs of eyes to make sure it would work.

And then we would go out into the field, and everything would change. Something would get all screwed up (torrential rain flooding the site, a large rodent would chew through something important) and we'd have to re-work things. We'd end up with a little bit of extra space in the budget and take on a whole 'nother bunch of work.

So then what?

Since we had the drillers already out there, we weren't going to bother re-bidding work or writing the spec. Need something totally different? Just call the drilling contact, ask the guy for an estimate, spend 10 minutes discussing what may work, formalize it in an e-mail, and keep the fieldwork going.

It's a pretty good racket for a drilling company. Get your foot in the door with a picky, low-margin contract, and live high off the hog with the change orders.

Of course, this works pretty well for a consultant, too. The client ponied up some money for some unexpected work? Time to add something extra to cover the little shortfall elsewhere in the budget.

The extra work is nice, for both a driller and the long as you don't depend on potential work to cover your ass financially.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I have no idea

FSP has a nice post up today about answering difficult post-talk questions.

I haven't had too many post-talk questions that were especially aggressive or difficult. When I've given talks at a conference, it was as an extremely young-looking (if not especially young) grad student, so I didn't have too many people trying to trip me up.

One thing about dealing with drillers and other contractors is that it forces you to deal with questions you may not have immediate answers for. If you get defensive or say something totally and obviously (in hindsight) wrong just to say anything, then you have to deal with the consequences - extra time and effort, more miscommunication, and worse, bad data.

After going through lots of pre-bid meetings, initial orientation/safety meetings, and discussions with clients/regulators, I had lots of practice working through the implications of a question with a big audience waiting for an answer. And lots of practice saying, "hmm, I didn't think of that. I'll have to check and then get back to you"!

Monday, August 23, 2010

work pictures

Every once in a while, someone needs a picture of me looking all serious and scientific and geologist-y.

I have exactly zero pictures of myself looking not ridiculous while doing science. Either it's -30 degrees out and I'm wearing a million layers and all you can see is my nose sticking out of an oversized hat, or I'm grimacing because something else is going wrong or I'm not wearing the right safety gear (hey, I have a small head and safety glasses fall off my nose in about 15 seconds if I bend over to do something).

Also, I am a big fan of documenting everything when I'm in the field, and nobody else I work with seems to have the same compunction. I end up with sole custody of the project camera. So I have lots of field pictures of other people.

One of these days, I'm going to find myself in an interesting place, and I'm simply going to hand the camera to a coworker/contractor/client and pose. And then I'll have one good picture I'll use for everything.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

can't be done!

I used to work with someone whose motto was "can't be done!". It was pretty annoying, because I could usually identify several solutions to do whatever I needed...I just needed some technical or logistical help to make it happen.

I do enjoy problem solving, but I never felt like my creative solutions (or the stress I went through trying to get the solutions to actually work) got any real appreciation. I did get the odd "good team player comment" come review time, but that wasn't really enough to make up for all the extra work. Meanwhile, Mr. Can't be Done cruised along his career path, annoying all and sundry but with no real consequences.

I'm reminded of this because I just spent four hours today trying to do some amateur mechanical and electrical work to get a critical instrument functional enough so that it would provide decent data. It was pretty tempting to throw up my hands and say "can't be done!", but I do have the satisfaction that I got the damn thing to work...for about 15 minutes, or long enough to get the data I needed, more or less.

When I was growing up, I had visions of doing creative stuff for a job. Like writing. Instead, I'm a creative amateur mechanic. Oh well, at least I'm not creatively fudging data, right?

Monday, August 16, 2010

I'm back!

I've been posting irregularly for the last couple months, partially because I've been flat out at work and partially because my head really isn't in the right place for it. I've been pretty much burned out for a while, but hanging in there because I haven't found a better place to be.

I was going to announce an official hiatus and possible end of blogging, but then today I had a heart-to-heart with a young female geologist who's in a male-dominated environment and who is looking for career and educational guidance.

That conversation reminded me that I can still help out other geologists (and other environmental scientists!) and be a positive role model, even though I'm not in the place where I personally want to be.

So I am newly inspired to keep I just have to survive the heat and humidity of August!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Here's my excuse for being AWOL:

It's really frickin' hot out. And I'm working long hours in the heat.

This summer has been killing me.

I'll try writing more once I'm back in the AC on a more regular basis.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

diploma display

Congrats to EcoGeoFemme for recently receiving her diploma.

I got my diploma several months after I finished all my degree requirements. I got the fancy frame for it (actually, that was my parents' graduation present) and hung it in a place of honor in my office.

I was debating adding my undergraduate diploma to my collection, but my undergraduate institution has the world's largest diplomas. It's completely ridiculous. So I just have the grad degree hanging up.

Do you have any degrees used as decoration in your office? Or do you think it looks a little silly/pretentious?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

information levels

Folks at RealClimate are having an energetic discussion about the technical levels at which public communication (i.e. scientific info for the general public) should be written. (via highly allochthonous).

I've run into this issue a lot in environmental work. Local residents and community action groups may have a limited scientific vocabulary, and most reports are geared to an industry audience (regulatory or otherwise). How much technical explanation is necessary?

I won't sacrifice the scientific vocabulary, because the language is precise. For example, contaminants may get bound up with the soil by adsorption or absorption, but they're two different processes. That's why we say "sorbed" and leave it at that.

At the same time, we don't need to complicate the matter by using multiple terms for the same thing, cluttering up our sentences with a lot of junk like "whereas" and "herein"...or making every sentence into a paragraph. Some clarity goes a long way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

random meme

I got this from Silver Fox. My last post...

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Cory Who?
I don't know that it says very much about my writing abilities...So I picked a much longer post.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Ah. Someone who writes incredibly complicated stuff that's stuffed with asides and endnotes. I guess that works...

ETA: I just tried my published paper, and I still write like David Foster Wallace. I'm guessing the software thinks citations are random asides.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

semi-log paper

The light table I mentioned earlier is a bit of a dinosaur. But it’s a reliable dinosaur. It sits in the corner and is forgotten about 99.9% of the time. You don’t need another light table, you just need to keep (unearth?) the one you have tucked away somewhere.

Semi-log paper is consumable. It’s getting harder and harder to find, too.

You may ask, “Why the hell would anyone need semi-log paper? Doesn’t everyone have a spreadsheet/graphing program?”

There are some problems with computer-only semi-log graphing:

1. When you graph something in excel, the points are immutable unless you actually track down the point in the spreadsheet and adjust it. In order to see patterns in the data (for example, what slope you need to use to analyze the time-drawdown data for an aquifer test), it’s often easier to adjust points so that you can figure out what actually happened.

2. If you’re in the field and you’re trying to decide if you have enough data to continue a drawdown test, it’s often easiest to do a quick sketch of your manual measurements rather than reconnecting multiple transducers to a laptop or hand-held device and fiddling with the data so you can put everything together.

3. Excel is becoming a black box. Does a student actually understand what a logarithmic scale is? If they’re using a published graph of data, can they compare their results and see what they have? In both my instructing gig and my TA days in grad school, I’ve found that students are stymied by creating simple graphs by hand. If you can’t put points on a graph, how can you interpret the graphs that excel made for you?

Maybe I’m old and too suspicious of computer gadgetry. But I can plot something up and figure out trends to bolster an argument in 30 seconds using my trusty semi-log paper.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

the light table

The humble light table is getting harder to find. The place I’m working at now has a light table, but when I arrived, it was in a corner, buried under about 10 years’ worth of old maps and papers. I’m fairly sure I am the only person who ever uses the light table here.

In an ideal world, I would be a GIS whiz and I would have a full license for GIS and a computer with the capacity to run it without having each change take more than a couple of seconds. And I would have a really big, really light tablet (sort of like…a piece of paper) so I could draw stuff electronically and pull various layers around and see the relationships between site features and the geology/contamination.

What I usually end up with is a selection of fuzzy aerials, maps done by other contractors (no shapefiles for you!), a USGS quadrangle I’ve blown up to almost the right scale, sample points that haven’t been entered into a basemap yet, and maybe some giant copies of as-builts from 1952.

How are these two different contaminant plumes related? Can we figure out what that odd structure is, and what sort of impact does it have? The water table’s doing something funny over here – do we have any evidence for why it looks odd, or is the well just screwed up? Often, the best way to figure out what’s going on is to fire up the light table and start shuffling paper around.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

not obsolete yet

In the grand march of technology (i-pods for compasses!) some items are bound to be left behind as the next big technology takes root. But are they really replaced?

I haven’t done a themed week since last year, so here’s another: do you have any items/equipment that have fallen out of favor but which are still essential?

I’m a big contrarian, so I have a few that I’ll describe in the next few days, but do my readers have any favorites? Maybe you’ll mention some of mine…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

job search juggling

I'm still catching up on my blog reading, so this is a late response to Brazen Hussy's post about the disappointing result of her job search.

Brazen Hussy had a pretty epic job search that ended in...not a new job. I've been keeping the details quiet, but as I implied here, I've spent a chunk of this year trying to move in a different direction for my career. And I've had about as much luck as Brazen Hussy.

It is so hard trying to do job searches and go on interviews when you're spending all your working time either in the field or in frantic preparations for more fieldwork. Hell, it's hard enough trying to fit in dentist appointments.

Monday, June 28, 2010

journal club?

In her recent discussion of journal clubs, FSP mentions that she considers the process of dissecting a paper (not necessarily in a savage or overly negative way) to be a critical skill.

My department in grad school didn't have a journal club. Neither did my undergrad geology department. I wish they did, though. Although I read my fair share of papers and I did have a number of scientific writing assignments, I still had a lot of trouble when it was time to write my own paper because I was stymied by the mechanics of structuring it and squashing it into the page requirements. And this with an undergraduate department that was heavily focused on scientific writing.

Are journal clubs common in geology departments? They certainly seem like a good idea especially for grad students, who may be reasonably anticipated to write scientific papers for an outside audience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

blog hiatus

Sorry for the silence - I've either been working outrageous hours or have not been in a position, internet-wise, where I was comfortable posting. I'm not sure when the situation will change, but I may be able to pick up blogging more regularly starting next week.

Incidentally, I am very glad that I have moderated comments set up. Otherwise, you would be hearing a lot more about knock-off purses, porn sites, and Russian....something or other.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

caught on tape

FSP has a recent post up about video recordings of conference or workshop talks.

I've given about a dozen talks at various conferences and was not recorded in any official capacity. I suppose someone could have aimed a webcam at me. I'm still involved with that instructing gig I mentioned ages ago, but that has never been recorded.

Would I mind if one if my talks/lectures were recorded? No, not really. I would rather not have that knowledge sprung on me at the last minute, because I would probably panic about the state of my hair/clothing/whatever. At the same time, I'm not sure I would want to watch the result. I hate how I sound on voicemail (although I hate leaving messages, so hopefully I don't sound that silly normally), and I can only imagine how much I could fixate on my various mistakes.

I was lucky in that I had some brutally honest friends in grad school ("you really like the word 'um', don't you?") and I think they broke me of most of my verbal tics. I don't think an video of me would be traumatic to watch. But ask me again after I see a video of myself...

Monday, May 10, 2010

accretionary wedge

This month's accretionary wedge is a geo-image bonanza. So here's mine...not a terribly technical picture, but rather a pretty one - a satellite image of Mount St. Helens from the archives of the big picture.
Mt. Saint Helens erupted May 18, 1980 - a wee bit shy of 30 years ago. National Geographic has a terrific article about how the wildlife around the area has rebounded, but it still looks pretty barren in this picture.

Monday, May 3, 2010

clothing payment

In environmental consulting, most of the gear is paid for by the company: the equipment, the supplies, the use of a vehicle for fieldwork (or reimbursement for using your own - my least favorite option). The use of specific safety gear is also included, such as steel-toe boots.

When it comes to more personal stuff, however, who pays for it? I realize that boots are about as personal as you can get (nobody wants to share your nasty, broken in boots, whereas jackets are more interchangeable), but they're covered by regulations. But what about other clothing?

Raingear: in the various places I've worked, I have not actually requested a rain jacket/pants etc. But I know coworkers who requested (and got) raingear. Was I just a chump for buying my own stuff?

There are 2 advantages to buying stuff on your own: first, you can get what you actually want, rather than, say, using the common drilling company method of buying everybody $6 rain suits that rip the day you open them (if not the hour). Second, if you buy the stuff on your own, you can use it for non-work related activities and not get hounded by management to return it on weekends and such (true story).

General field clothing: I don't know anyone who has tried to expense clothing. However, after an unfortunate project involving corrosive chemicals and the destruction of two outfits (significantly more than little acid spots), I was seriously tempted to charge my employer the replacement cost of my $75, hard-won field pants.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The things you learn on facebook...

My cousin is a freelance writer who has a popular blog on writing. She makes enough to live on.

I like my psudonymity. Only two people in my life know about this blog, and one has never expressed the slightest interest in it. And that's fine. But when I found out about my cousin's blog, it was really hard not to immediately announce "I have a blog, too! And sometimes I even have commenters!" on her wall.

Note to self: if you tell 136 of your nearest and dearest that you write this blog called "accidental remediation", you can kiss your pseudonymity aside.

It is sort of tempting, though.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Silver Fox's post today reminded me of a common problem I would run into when sampling: unlikely "stratigraphy". In her case, her samples got mingled together.

I quickly figured out that if I had the same soil type in the first couple inches of the sampler (every 2 feet, natch), then I was getting some "slough" in the top of the sampler. There are ways to minimize this - a common and easy way is to only collect 1 sample per interval and not "stack" the samplers. The problem is always convincing the driller that we need to use the slower, more tedious method.

One of my earlier posts complained about my problems convincing drillers to do what I needed. At this point, I think I've been able to overcome my short stature and youthful looks - the key is to be friendly but firm in the beginning...and find a way to work my actual age/experience into the conversation as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

lunch break

Today was a lovely day. We had a nice lunch break, sitting on the tailgate and enjoying the day. However, I was reminded of a common lunch-time mistake: not securing the heavy equipment/ samples/whatever to your usual standards because you're just going out for a quick bite. This is especially true if you're working at some sort of secure facility. After all, you have security keeping an eye on things, right?

The problem is that when it's a nice spring day, everybody ambles outside on their lunch break. And what do they see? This funny-looking equipment with all sorts of interesting stuff and only a lame chunk of caution tape keeping out the curious.

I was working on paperwork while eating a granola bar (the drillers were out buying lunch), and I had to scurry over and intercept some overly curious office workers.

I don't mind explaining what we're doing - at a safe distance. And lunchtime is actually an ideal time to gather some people and explain some of the technical stuff. I don't have to yell to make myself heard, I'm not (usually) terribly busy, and there's no moving parts to worry about. I just need to make sure I'm there to do the explaining.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

drilling differences

Silver Fox has several posts up recently about drilling. See here and here. One of the reasons I enjoy her blog is because it gives me a new perspective about the exploration biz.

Even though we are both geologists who have worked on drilling rigs, taking rock samples, our actual work is not necessarily similar because of scale differences.

When I'm in the field, collecting rock samples, it's usually just me, a driller, and a driller's helper. If I'm taking a bunch of analytical samples, I may have a helper; if the job is big or complicated, the driller may have 2 helpers. Once you get into the big jobs with multiple rigs running around at once, then you need at least one "field boss" to keep all the balls in the air - God forbid a rig runs out of work and is idle!

Sometimes, we may not care so much about the stratigraphy of the rock - we're just looking to find water-bearing zones and install a bunch of wells. In that case, we may use air-rotary methods and then I'm trying to discern something from the little chips blown up from the hole and caught in a strainer. We know we hit water when a) the rig drops, b) we get water blowing out of the hole, or c) the driller tells me (hey, sometimes I get distracted).

In other cases, we want as much detail as possible. So we'll use a diamond core barrel and collect core samples in 5-foot runs. That's when I get a traditional intact core and can spend some time doing all the traditional rock description work - where are the fractures, what do they look like, what are the minerals (if visible). I tend to set up the core where I can keep an eye on the drilling while I look at the core. If it's raining or the drilling is going fast or we're having problems, the core can get shoved in a corner and I can write everything up later.

We generally aren't in a super-big hurry to finish a particular job (unless the job got screwed up somewhere) and the margins aren't high enough to pay vast amounts of overtime, so we almost never work around the clock. In rare exceptions we work into the night, but I've never had to work past 10 pm.

Environmental geologists should (and generally do) watch the rig themselves. Why? Well, mainly because things are always changing for environmental sampling. We're often taking soil samples, which need to be legally acceptable (no cross-contamination, sampling interval is specified, don't let the samples air out, etc). We're often in high-visibility places and need to manage the public. Monitoring wells installed in the boreholes have to be done properly so that groundwater samples and other hydrologic data are again, legally defensible. And finally, environmental wells tend to be shallow (less than 150 feet in most cases), so there's always something new to do or prepare for.

So between Silver Fox and I, we've covered environmental and metal-resource drilling. Anybody want to chime in with differences for oil drilling?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

drilling hours

In an earlier post, Chuck asked about my usual working hours when working with drillers. Short answer: it depends.

In most cases, I let the drilling company take the lead on working hours, as long as it was at least 40 hours/week - I was completely fine with the "lets work really hard the first four days and have a short Friday" option. My personal preference is to start at 7-7:30 and to work until 4:30 or so, depending on whether or not the drillers take a lunch break.

Exceptions included: 1) facility-specific hours, 2) residential areas (those are pretty much straight 9-5 so that we're not waking people up or hammering away through their dinner), 3) other oddball access situations, such as working on an island and meeting the shuttle's schedule.

Of course, sometimes you end up working longer hours. For one job that started out behind schedule and over budget (and didn't get any better over time), our standard working hours were 7 am to 6 pm for the drillers, with 45 minutes added to either end for me. No lunch. Why? Well, the equipment set up and break down took a minimum of 2 hours each, plus several of our big costs were rental-based, and we were just trying to make some headway in the project and get on with our lives. The driller and I each had the pleasure of getting angry phone calls from our respective managers multiple times a day about the budgets we were draining. Budgets which we had no input in and no control over....

Sorry, rant over. But I would say that 90% of the time, the drillers' schedules would be something like 7:30 to 4:30 - enough to be productive, but not outrageously long.

Monday, April 19, 2010

cool volcano pics

I think everybody knows about the volcano in Iceland now...we know that most of the folks trying to fly to/from Europe certainly know about it. The big picture has a couple nice photo spreads of the volcano: the first one here and the second here. My favorite picture from the most recent post is below.

A pet peeve: if a mountain is spewing ash and/or lava, it is officially a volcano.

Also, I first saw the pictures from the first post this weekend and made the mistake of reading the comments (back when there were around 100 and not 708). Why oh why does every friggin' picture of nature inspire a flame war of "look how Mother Earth is hurting" vs "there is no such thing as pollution"? Seriously. This is getting tedious.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Every spring when it finally warms up and get into the field, I think, gee, this weather's terrific! I am so glad that it's finally warm out!

I pull out my summer gear and stuff the mittens and wool hats and coveralls back in my "out of season" hidey-hole. I organize my equipment and miscellaneous other gear, set up wherever I'll be working...

and a cloud of gnats, midges, mosquitoes, and other annoying buzzy things descends on me. Oh yeah. Everything else likes the warm weather as well.

When I was in consulting, I usually couldn't just douse myself in bug repellent. We'd be sampling for volatile-type compounds, and usually if you're standing in a cloud of something smelly, you have the potential to contaminate those samples. Bug nets work for the flies and mosquitoes, but gnats? Not so much.

Monday, April 12, 2010

last week's excuse

So, I did have internet last week. And my workload was actually sort of reasonable. And I didn't have any burning interpersonal issues. And I finished my taxes before April, which is quite possibly the earliest I ever did my taxes (federal refund pretty much can canceled out the state taxes due, in case you were curious).

So why didn't I do any blogging?

You see, I was working in a new place. And I had an adventurous coworker. These two sets of circumstances seldom come together. So after work and a quick shower, we went out adventuring every day after work. We found a park with some famous natural stuff to see. We went window-shopping in a super expensive area. We spent several hours at a tacky tourist trap.

Between adventures, dinner, and work, I had barely enough time to sleep.

But don't worry, fair readers - I am envisioning unadventurous travel companions and repeat field sites for the foreseeable future and should be back to consistent blogging.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

favorite weather

I'm not sure if it's a result of being from a particularly cold/rainy part of the world, but I love cool, misty days. Not rainy days, mind - if I'm in the field, rain makes note-taking annoying, to say the least, and I hate getting soaked and standing around in wet clothing.

But I love a foggy day, with the temperature somewhere between cold and hot (or 45 - 60) - the feeling of moisture condensing on my face. Warm, sunny days are nice too, but they don't evoke the same feeling of home.

Today was misty and cool all day, but not a drop of actual rain. I didn't get as much work accomplished as I'd hoped, and we ran into the sort of annoying problems that always seem to plague fieldwork (stuff forgotten, subcontractors somewhat obstinant in doing something I didn't especially like), but it was still a day that made me happy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

office hours

There are certain jobs that require a set schedule. If you're in customer service or dealing with clients, you need to be available (although in this day and age, a blackberry allows you to be available all the time) during "standard office hours". And of course, shift work requires set hours.

At one point when I was doing a lot of fieldwork in consulting, I worked at a place where management demanded that all personnel work the same "standard" hours. Didn't matter if you were the receptionist or the office manager or the field doobie spending 95% of her time outside.

If I'd worked 12-13 hours a day in the early part of the week and then got back Thursday night or Friday morning, I was expected to put in a full day in the office on Friday. Didn't matter that I was already Ms. Billable and that nobody was going to give me more office work because they knew I'd be out in the field the next week anyway.

If I end up in charge of an office, you can be damn sure that I'll allow people to work whatever hours work for them, as long as the work gets done and the clients know they can reach who they need to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

daylight savings

I've been having internet connectivity and, um, personal issues, so blogging sort of fell by the wayside. I'm trying to catch up, though - not only with this blog, but a lot of other relationships (and isn't this sort of a relationship, after all?) that fell by the wayside over the last month or so.

I know we changed the clock back a couple weeks ago, but it is such a psychological lift that now it gets dark at, oh, 7:30 instead of 6:00 or earlier a month ago. I may be somewhat more affected by daylight hours than other people. But it makes such a difference to my well-being that I can not only go home in daylight, but I can also sit outside with a cup of tea and enjoy daylight after work, not just on the weekend.

Of course, fieldwork is infinitely easier when you're not racing the clock. And in the summer, I tend to work much longer hours. But it's so much easier to work those long hours when it stays light out until 8 or 9 at night. We're not at that point yet, of course. But now that it's spring, it feels like it almost could be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

advisor power trip?

I've apparently lost another week. Hmm. I'm going to be busy for quite a while, so I'm not sure how much posting I'll be able to do this week and next week.

I can't really write a long post right now, but I did click through to Dr. Jekyll/Mrs. Hyde earlier today. I must say, I am ever so glad that my graduate advisor was laid back, generally helpful and even though often jetting about the world to various conferences, had a posted schedule and responded to e-mails even when in Timbuktu.

I have to admit that my advisor did have a tendency to forget deadlines. Every once in a while, I'd get a "why don't you submit an abstract for this conference by 2 pm this afternoon?". That's more absent-mindedness than a power trip, though.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

truck organization

I really dig the photos that Silver Fox has in this post. I appears that her truck uses the same organizational system that mine do. That is, everything is spread out for maximum usage of available space and for easy finding.

Unfortunately, my coworkers were not terribly impressed by my truck organizational system. Something about "unprofessional" and "unsanitary".

But trucks and SUVs have all sorts of handy spaces to put the oddball things that you'd lose track of otherwise. Dashboard? Perfect for a laptop (as long as you're not leaving it alone). Drink holders? They work for water bottles, emergency whistle, migraine medication, the cell phone, a utility knife, and the spare pens that I always need. Back seat? That's for the extra sweaters, comfy non-steel toe shoes for driving, rain gear, and other "soft" stuff. Heavy stuff (hammers, toolkit, random metal bits) go on the floor. Everything else goes into the back. And yes, I do have a system for that.

It may look like a mess, but it keeps me from losing every little thing when I'm frazzled and don't have time to go searching for it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

climate and earthquakes

Ok, I'm back! And boy, did I miss out on all sorts of geology-related stuff. The biggie, of course, is the earthquake in Chile. It does prove what I said here - that one of the big problems with earthquakes is the structural integrity of the buildings rather than just the shaking itself. Just compare magnitudes and death tolls from Chile and Haiti.

But that's not what had me all fired up about earthquakes earlier this week.

I saw this article about the Chilean earthquake and started reading the comments. I read the first couple pages and was horrified by the number of people blaming global warming for the earthquake.

Seriously? What possible connection is there? Global warming = atmospheric issue. Earthquake = rock issue. Ok, so certain people think "mother nature is angry" because of our various environmental sins, of which global warming is the most popular right now. We can eliminate that as a scientific explanation.

But if you read far enough, several people advance a theory that sounds plausible if you don't know much about earth science. It goes like this: glaciers in the Andes have been receding, thanks to global warming. The removal of all this weight (isostatic rebound) caused the earthquake. Ergo, global warming caused the earthquake.

There's a simple way to refute this. Global warming may have potentially impacted glaciers over the last, say, 20 years. This (wikipedia) lists all of Chile's known earthquakes back to the 1500s. Note that the most recent quake is not even that memorable in comparison, with 4 other earthquakes listed with the same or higher (estimated) magnitudes. Hell, the 1960 Valdivia earthquake in the same area was the largest recorded.

Yes, isostatic rebound can cause earthquakes. But the size of this particular earthquake is totally out of proportion to the pressure release from the melting of some glaciers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

steel-toe problems

I've been traveling...blogging may continue to be minimal for the next week or so. Back to your usual programming:

I needed a new pair of boots ASAP. My old boots were past the minimum time required for reimbursement, and then I went and ruined them by standing in a sticky, ankle-deep mess of bentonite and contaminated slop. Don't ask - it was one of those days.

I was new to the area, working with people who all were either male or could wear mens' size boots. My feet are way too small for that, as I described a while ago. I had the hardest time finding new boots, and nobody else seemed to know where to find them. So I got a pair of cheap boots that didn't fit terribly well. I figured I could live with them.

I would have been better off ordering good boots from the internet and having them overnighted to me. Because I was stuck with uncomfortable, minimally-padded boots that lost their waterproofing in record time ("totally waterproof!" chirped the salesguy) and that I wore 12 hours a day for a year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

pressure cooker?

I've been traveling/otherwise busy, so I'm only just catching up with the news. So I didn't hear about the recent academic shooting until I was reading FSP's earlier blog. When I went to look for it, it had gotten buried. Here's a news link.

In some of the discussions about the shooting, one topic seems to come up a lot: that academia is a stressful, pressure-cooker environment. Now, I know how hard a lot of professors work, and the PhD/post-doc process is a long slog. And being denied tenure is devastating.

But seriously. When I was in consulting, I was running full-scale field projects - coordinating with and supervising contractors, dealing with angry abutters and their lawyers, trying to keep my picture (and any lapses in whatever) out of the news trucks that were parked next to where I was trying to work, working 70-hour weeks, and generally keeping about 15 different balls in the air. Just check out my "field rants" tag.

I've been laid off. I've had friends who were laid off who were the only ones working in the household, and they were living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes the layoffs had no warning signs of trouble other than a new management team. A family member lost a job and became one of the millions of people who eventually gave up looking for work and finally called it "early retirement".

Where is this industry safe haven of a secure job with good benefits and no stress? I know that the grass is always greener on the other side, but if academics think that "outside" work is a cakewalk, maybe they should try it for themselves.

Friday, February 12, 2010

conference drinks

I was at the post-conference cocktail hour, where everybody tries to juggle drinks, lukewarm appetizers, and business cards. I was staying at a hotel a couple blocks from the conference center and my only bag was my giant laptop/paperwork briefcase, so I'd just brought some cash and the room card.

Nobody would serve me a drink. C'mon! I've got my conference badge with my scientific and clearly non-entry-level job title! I've got my little conference drink ticket! And it's a long, cold trip back to the hotel for my driver's license.

So I got my coworkers to order me a glass of wine and then sneak it to me when the conference staff wasn't looking.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the homely baby

I figured I'd be early on the whole bloggy baby shower thing that EcoGeoFemme is putting together. I'd like to contribute especially because I can see myself in the position that ScienceGirl finds herself in. If I were to have a kid, I would be essentially alone with my partner, in a work environment where field people simply don't have/raise babies, several hundred miles from my own fantastic support system. It would be a little overwhelming.

I am not a big fan of children. Never have been - when I was the age of babysitting, I was simply intimidated. Now I am mostly annoyed by them. And I haven't spent much time with little kids, so I don't have much expert advice.

Except...I am very close to a particular family, and I was close to the kids (10, 12, 14 years younger than I) while we all grew up.

Child number 1 had a terrible time learning to read. She struggled for years. She hated reading.

Child number 2 was a little devil child. She was so picky, her parents said she lived off sunshine, because she spent most of her time burying/avoiding food. She tormented the youngest sibling. She demanded attention. She pinched. She bit.

Child number 3 was a homely baby. Seriously. He looked...lizardlike. For years, he had these oddly huge, wide-spaced eyes and sallow skin. There aren't many pictures of this baby.

These kids have grown up to be utterly lovely young adults - gracious, awesome to hang out with, terrific students, state champions in their particular sports. And child number 3 is model-beautiful.

So hang in there. Babies may be slow to catch up, difficult, and/or homely, but they can still blossom in unexpected ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

$ rollercoaster $

I had a roller-coaster week. I got some money out of the ATM, and I had a surprising amount of money in my account. Sure enough, two days later, I got my credit card bill. Between travel, fieldwork supplies, and a large unexpected charge (hey, sometimes the car needs something), I owed $7,000.

I admit that I don’t keep especially close track of my money. If I’m in the field for more than a week or two, it’s not always easy to keep up with expense reports. So I get my money back all at once, and it’s like Christmas.

I have friends in consulting who live paycheck to paycheck. I always make sure to have a decent cushion – I have no idea how they juggle their finances so closely.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I was doing some pre-tax cleaning, and I came across an old file of my grad school applications. Along with a couple of copies of my college transcript and some application forms, I found some old recommendations.

Back when I started applying to grad school, I had a particular list of possibilities. For one of these school, I couldn't get ahold of the professors who were doing contaminant/dirt type research. By the time I got all my paperwork together, I'd finally heard back from the professors, and none of them were interested in a master's student.

So I have three signed and sealed recommendations that never got sent out. So here's my question: if you had access to sealed recommendations, would you open them? Call up the recommenders and ask their permission to open them? Toss them? Or just hold onto them unopened, like I did?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

wandering advisors

Usually I agree with FSP, but I've got a problem with her post from Monday. That is, when she says that if a grad student thinks that an advisor may be leaving,

" could ask your adviser a direct question about it. Either you will get a non-answer, in which case you should respect the fact that you don't have a right to know everything about your adviser's professional decisions despite the fact that they affect you, or you will get some information that will either be comforting or disconcerting."

Here's my issue, and it's one that several comments hammered away at: having your advisor leave is a really, really big deal. When a grad student's advisor leaves, it's a lot more than disconcerting. A grad student may have moved a significant distance, may be several years into a degree, and may have their entire income (such as it is) evaporate in the institutional confusion.

I'm not saying that professors shouldn't be allowed to move to greener pastures. But at least they should have the decency to make sure that they don't leave their students high and dry.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the regular

In the past I've had long-term field assignments in very small towns or very depressed areas; places with a minimal selection of places to eat. In those situations, you tend to become a regular fast.

It's nice to have people recognize you and know what you're going to order (as much as possible - honestly, if I'm eating at the same place more often than twice per week, I'm not ordering the same thing).

One of my fondest memories is of a tiny bar we used to eat at nightly during one of my long-term projects. The place had a two-burner kitchen that was likely not up to code, and we had a big field crew, so we made up most of their business. The field manager would call up mid-afternoon, tell the owner how many folks would be showing up and any special requests, and she'd have dinner waiting for us - something different every night. It was way better than anything I would have made...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

on blogging

My eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a (small) change in the blog yesterday.

My miscellany tag was getting more and more prominent, and I’ve been debating adding a tag for all my musings about blogging: the writing process, my concerns about being positively identified, my word clouds...

So I finally went through and added a new tag, getting “miscellany” down to only the fourth most commonly-used tag. My tag list is getting long…if I don’t add any more posts that I can label “world studies” in the next couple of months, I’ll retire that tag.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

more bad news

I just posted recently about the loss of sciencewomen, and now Brazen Hussy has announced that her blog will be ending in the near future. How depressing.

One of the things I liked about Brazen Hussy's blog was her photos of angry birds (check out her "birds" tag). I've thought in the past, "gee, those photos may be somewhat identifying...". In the post I linked to, she mentions being found out by both readers and real-life acquaintances.

I've been in some fairly interesting/amusing places for fieldwork. And I've gone as far as taking some photos (with no obvious identifying details, like road signs) of these places with the intent of posting them, but I'm afraid that they'll still be somewhat identifiable. Maybe I'll post them years from now, when everybody I've ever worked with has forgotten them...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

it just walked off...

In environmental consulting, sometimes you work in dicey areas. If you do so, you’re usually hyper-aware of your equipment and keep a close eye on it. I never had anything stolen in that situation.

But if you’re working in the middle of nowhere, or you run out for a couple of minutes…that’s when you’re likely to lose something.

I’ve had various items stolen from job sites, with costs ranging from less than $10 (the odd screwdriver) to thousands of dollars (sampling/analytical equipment ain’t cheap). The worst experience, however, was when the drillers came back from lunch on a cold winter Monday to find that their duffels and suitcases stuffed with jackets, pants, spare boots, and all sorts of personal items had been taken. They were not happy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

appointment annoyances

I’m writing this post while I wait for my car to get fixed. I always go to this particular location because it’s convenient and they treat me well. But it’s not in a very, um, nice area.

The techs are chattering about a particular customer who just called. She has an appointment later today, and she just wanted some standard maintenance. But her car got “all shot up” and now it’s going to need a lot more work. Can they still fit her in the original appointment slot?

The funny thing is, the techs don’t sound that surprised. Is this such a common occurrence? Maybe I need to find another, less exciting place to get my car looked at. But my choices are severely limited when I’m traveling all the time and working 13-hour days (when I’m actually in the same region as my car). I need to find places that are open on weekends.

Don’t ask me how long I’ve gone without a dentist appointment…

Friday, January 22, 2010


Apparently the “geologists heart beer” stereotype has gotten around to wired. Link here. Note that this is an old video, but I didn't notice it on other geology blogs the last couple of months.

Why is it that geologists are famed for their love of beer?

I do have geologist friends who sort of enjoy beer but aren't beer snobs, but very few geology friends who don't like it at all. But get a bunch of geologists in a room, and they tend to go a little beer-crazy. Especially if they have access to a local microbrewery.

I admit to being a pretty big beer snob. Then again, I'm also a big fan of good tequila, fancy dark chocolate, and local cheeses. So maybe I just have expensive taste!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eclectic coursework

FSP has a post up today on eclectic courses.

I touched on this subject back when I was in grad school. In my old post, I mentioned a common criticism of a BA with some random-looking courses: the coursework isn’t rigorous enough. The other big criticism, which was raised in the comments to FSP’s post, is that liberal arts students, with their greater freedom of courses available, take all sorts of oddball subjects and don’t learn the fundaments of whatever.

Presumably, even if a student appears to be majoring in a bunch of random stuff, their primary coursework is still organized into a concentration, under the supervision of a department that approved the graduation requirements. And if they want to apply to graduate school (therefore putting aside the straw student who takes the easiest courses available, whether they’re “creative basket-weaving” or “chemistry through true-false exams”), someone should have made it clear that they’d need more than the bare minimum of primary and supporting courses.

So what’s left after you take your recommended number of primary and secondary courses for your major and (possibly) minor? Probably not a large number of classes. If a student takes a few courses that appear to be random and/or easy, but they’ve learned something fundamental to their broader education (how to critically examine a work of art, construct a logical argument, etc), then more power to them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let me tell you...

I recently met an undergraduate science major who is debating going into environmental consulting. Should he go directly to grad school? Work for a few years first? And what is this environmental consulting gig really like, anyway?

I was so tempted to tell him, “Check out the blogosphere! There’s this chick who has a blog called “accidental remediation” and it’s perfect for the sorts of questions you’re asking!”

Unfortunately, the blog might be a little too applicable to his situation. I had visions of him reading it and saying, “heyy…wait a minute. Do I know this person?”

Have you run into this, my pseudonymous readers/bloggers? Would you bring up your own blog if it’s super relevant? I didn’t, but maybe I’m overly paranoid.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

structural integrity

For a fantastic geological explanation of the Haiti earthquake, see this.

It's so depressing to see horrific death tolls year after year from earthquakes. I realize that Haiti is a desperately poor country and has no construction standards. Oh, and that it's deforested and now we have to watch out for landslides.

We have a lot of top-down foreign aid. Over the past decade, low-tech engineering organizations (the big one, of course, is engineers without borders) have started to fill in the gaps by helping with basic sanitation and water projects. But we need to figure out a way to build super low-cost, sturdy housing on a large scale, especially in disaster-prone regions.

Picture 37 from the bigger picture blog here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

blogroll notes

This is over a month late, but I am so sad to hear that sciencewomen is no more. This means that I now have 2 dead blogs on my blogroll (the other, of course, is this one).

I’m not removing either, because the archived posts for both are terrific. I will, however, add a new blog to each category on my blogroll.

For the geology blogroll: Magma Cum Laude. I’m not a big volcano person (cue the chorus of “how can you be a geologist and not love volcanoes!”) but I enjoy Tuff Cookie’s posts, which are invariably both scientifically interesting and well-written.

For the science/academia blogroll: Isis the Scientist. My very favorite photoshopper. However, sometimes the arguments get tiresome. I’m sort of glad I’m not popular enough to have my own trolls.

For the miscellany blogroll: The big picture is a photography blog that captures some of the best pictures being published. Right now they’re showing some terrific pictures of the Dakar rally. Question: if a race is on another continent from its namesake, is it time for a name change?I think I got this one from Lockwood a while ago.

Friday, January 8, 2010

continuity = good

If you're managing a somewhat long-term project, it's best to at least attempt to keep some continuity between field people. Otherwise, you end up with these phone calls when you're out in the field:

Short Geologist (SG): "Hello?"
male voice: "Ok, I'm on Flibbergidget Street."
(long pause while SG tries to figure out why Flibbergidget Street sounds familiar)
SG: "Are you...making a delivery?"
male voice (exasperated): "Yeah, like I said, I'm waiting on Flibbergidget Street. They told me to go this way, but I've got a [very large piece of equipment] and the gate is locked and I can't turn around."
SG:...(light dawns) "Oh! You're delivering the [very large piece of equipment] to Site X! I'm actually 200 miles away, on an unrelated site, but I think I know who your contact person should be. I'll call him and let him know you're waiting, but here's his number for future reference."

...three days pass...the phone rings again, right in the middle of some new field crisis...

SG: "Hello?"
different voice: "Hi, I'm on Flibbergidget Street with [another piece of equipment]. I'm stuck outside the gate."
SG: "For the last time (something crashes in the background), I am no longer the contact for Site X. Call this number."
different voice: "Well, I tried that number, but the guy said he's not working at that site and doesn't have time for this."
SG: "Ok, what you need to do is..."

Two months later, guess who was back at Site X? No wonder the contractors got fed up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

this year's resolutions

My last post was an update on last year's resolutions. So what about this year?


1. I've been cagey about it, but what I'm doing right now isn't exactly what I intended when I graduated. My big goal this year is to find something that uses my fancy degree and that doesn't require me to jet across the country on two days' notice.

2. Add a publication to my résumé. This is cheating because an article I co-authored got accepted (yay!) and should appear in a journal within the next several months.


1. Floss daily. This should be easier than the exercising thing.

Let's see how this one works out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

back for the new year

Happy new year! I've been out because of holiday duties, traveling in areas with minimal internet, and illness.

Last year, I mentioned some resolutions. So how'd I do?

1. I did not get back to working out 2x/week. I did, however, lose 15 pounds in three weeks because of a particularly stressful field event. I don't recommend this.

2. I kept blogging. Sort of. Um, I'm still here, right? We'll ignore my 3 week silence.

3. I did not go somewhere exotic. I did have a lovely week on a familiar beach this year.

4. I did keep up with my correspondence, at least a little better - I still don't communicate enough (the odd blast of TMI on facebook does not count), but I got back in touch with a very old friend who I hadn't spoken to in years, and I re-connected with a group of loved ones I'd been neglecting far too long.

5. I stopped wasting quite as much time on stupid internet stuff, mainly because I'd gotten sort of bored with my old favorites.

So, I didn't keep 1 or 3, but I'll give myself partial credit for the other 3. So...25%?

Tomorrow I'll get to this year's resolutions.