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...