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 consultant...as 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 blogging...now 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.