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.