Thursday, December 22, 2011

only purple?

My recent post about coveralls prompted me to do some poking around the internet. Maybe I did need to break down and buy bib-style coveralls, although it's been warm enough that I've been weaing summer-weight pants for the last two months.

The only bib-style coveralls in my size were purple. I'm not exactly a purple coverall person. And when I mentioned getting purple coveralls to the contractors I'm working with, they about busted a gut laughing.

So, maybe just more regular carhartts... hmm. For some reason, Carhartts has decided to cut waay down on the work gear for ladies, and now sells mostly jeans and corduroys, and skirts. Skirts!

Carhartts and the odd hiking pants are the only things I can wear in the field that are somewhat durable and not ass-hugging. I could never buy Carhartts in a store, so I relied on the internet to supply me. And now the Carhartts website sells exactly one style of work pant, in a grand total of 2 colors, and only in the more "womanly" fit (too womanly for me - my belly is too big relative to my ass, so they're super baggy in the thighs and uncomfortably tight in the waist), and... Oh. They don't carry anything in my size anyway.

Anybody have a suggestion for another brand of durable work pants for a short, slightly built geologist with a pooh belly?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

significant geology?

So, this month's accretionary wedge is the most memorable/significant geologic event you've ever experienced.

I haven't personally experienced a truly significant geologic event. I consider that a good thing - escaping flowing lava or having your house fall down around your ears may make for a good story, but I'd rather not live through them.

I suppose the most significant geologic events I've experienced were earthquakes - nothing spectacular, but for the east coast, they were pretty big deals. The most recent? This one in August.

I was in a city that was utterly unprepared for earthquakes, so what happened? Everybody ran outside, under the facades of the buildings (worst idea ever) and generally panicked and acted dumb. Me, I was standing in a reinforced doorway with 2 other geologists while everyone else in the office wondered what the hell we were doing.

That's about enough excitement for me...

Monday, December 19, 2011


I never considered myself to be an ambitious person. I just wanted to have a job that I enjoyed, that paid enough to live on, and that was intellectually challenging.

When I started in environmental consulting, I was concerned mostly with learning as much as I could. What career path did I want to take? Technical expert? Management? I preferred the former, but I ended up doing far more of the latter.

I'm doing much better, financially, as a management type than a technical guru. And I've been tagged as someone who's "moving up in the world", with more responsibilities (and much bigger bonuses) than most of the people 15 years older than me. Not that I'm rolling in money, but my career path so far has convinced me that in the choice between more money/more stress (management) and less money/less stress (technical adviser), I'd much rather have what I wanted all along - a technical and not management focus.

Now, the only thing to do is extricate myself from all these projects I manage that are giving me heartburn...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

abbreviation break

I mentioned a while ago that one of my pet peeves is abbreviation usage: you should abbreviate whatever it is once, and then never again. Oh, and give your readers a break and include an abbreviation list at the beginning if the document is any longer than, oh, 5 pages.

I've been having some long, stressful days in the field recently. I also had long, complicated report to review during those times while I was waiting on someone else (happened more than it should have because of mechanical issues, but that's a whole 'nother story).

It was a lovely break to edit the report. I got to rip through and fix all the stupid abbreviation issues, catch a bunch of missed/duplicated words, and rearrange some sentences. It was, in the level of serious intellectual activity, equivalent to an especially easy sudoku puzzle.

I enjoy writing, whether it's for work, for this blog, or whether I'm adding to the novel simmering away on the back burner. I think I may enjoy editing more, even though it's not nearly as rewarding in the long term. Maybe I'm in the wrong line of work...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


For the longest time, I wore rain pants as my second, windbreaker layer when it was cold out. But honestly, below a certain point, a thin windbreaker layer just doesn't cut it.

Eventually, I broke down and got a pair of lined coveralls. They were just as warm and durable as I'd hoped. However...

I had ordered a pair of jeans-style coveralls (pants, no bib) because I hated the whole "attempt to peel off an overcoat and who knows what in order to get the bib down to pee in a freezing porta-potty". This was a mistake. What actually happens is that without the bib straps to hold up the coveralls, the pants are a tremendous drag and need to be hitched up constantly if they're not so tight as to be painful. So I've traded 10 minutes of discomfort for an entire day of discomfort.

I'll figure out this field clothing thing eventually.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

smells like science!

I have a perfume allergy that has gotten worse since adolescence. I'm not entirely sure what ingredient(s) set it off, but most colognes/perfumes leave me sneezing or actually make me ill.

I have been browsing the internets today, and I came across a site for oddball perfumes. They sell a "science" set with a strong geology component (favorite: "requiem for the Juan de Fuca plate"). If you order by the 12th, you'll get it for Christmas delivery.

I cannot wear perfume. Perhaps a loyal reader will try and report if, say, "nuee ardente" smells the way it should? Inquiring minds would like to know...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the numbers, please

I was listening to a NPR program on my way home from work tonight that discussed a local environmental contamination issue.

The discussion centered on whether or not the industry practice is hurting the environment/the local residents. The residents say their drinking water is polluted and that the regulators are not paying enough attention, the industry rep says it's fine... an old story.

What aggravated me was the complete omission of scientific facts. I don't expect much out of a 10-minute radio story, but how much effort would it be to state that there are or are not regulatory standards for the chemicals, and if the concentrations are or are not above the standards?

We can argue about the standards. Maybe they're too low (conservative), or maybe the industry needs some time to meet them. Maybe we should be regulating more chemicals. But in a discussion about environmental contamination, can't we at least start with some basic facts before reporting about how angry the various parties are?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I was poking around various corners of the internet last night, looking for various examples of raingear. I'm done now. In fact, since I currently am wearing the long-lasting, super expensive, gore-tex based stuff, I probably won't be in the market for new raingear for quite a while.

So it was more than a little creepy to find Grainger's rain suits following me around the internet all evening. This is why I never use my work computer for anything other than work and the occasional non-controversial news reading.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

it's raining...

So what do you wear if you'll be out all day in the rain? There are a couple options:

1. fancy-pants gore-tex rain gear (for example, this at a fairly standard price)
2. el cheapo rubber rain suit you pick up at the hardware store (like this one)
3. poly-coated tyvek from the health and safety pile
4. Bah! I'm way too cool for a rain suit!

I think I've tried all of these at one time or another. The disposable poly-coated tyvek gets too expensive over the long term, the super cheap rain gear from the hardware store will tear if you look at it the wrong way and will be way too hot, and going without anything all day is pure misery.

So I've sucked it up and gotten a really expensive, semi-breathable rain suit. It makes me cringe when I plunge through thickets of thorn bushes, but so far, my current set has held up to about 2 years of steady abuse and rain - not a bad investment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

banned books

I'm catching up on my old, old blog reading, and I found a banned book meme via Silver Fox. As with the other book memes I've done (here and here), the bold items are ones I've read. More info about banned/challenged books can be found here.

So here, two months late, is my version of the meme.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz - scariest pictures EVER (example here)
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume - a copy of this book with the sex passages dog-eared was the most popular book in 6th grade
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison -- saw the movie
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien - I've only read the short story with this title, not the entire book of stories
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins - I have a copy of this signed by the author somewhere
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona and Peter Opie
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

The majority of these books were required or suggested reading for middle school/high school. In fact, the only ones that I started after high school were the Harry Potter novels and The Lovely Bones. I'll have to check out some of the others.

Monday, November 28, 2011

what happened?

Geez, I knew I was behind on my blogging, but I thought I was 2 months behind, not three months behind!

I haven't fallen off the planet; I've just been very, very busy. Like, 70-hour weeks since the last time I posted busy.

I'm not the only person who's busy out here. All of the subcontractors I've been working with - lab, driller, specialized environmental service provider - have been just as busy as I have been. The problem, then, is trying to coordinate between everybody and on a tight schedule. It's not a bad problem to have...except that after 3 months, I am totally beat. I can't wait until Christmas, when I'm actually taking off a decent chunk of time and will not be working during my break. I hope.

From this week on, I should be working more normal hours. We'll see how things go...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I could have written my Monday post any time in the last two years, because that's how long it took for me to start various parts of the PG application process, trip up on some aspect of the application, and then get a huge buildup of fieldwork and put the whole thing on a back burner.

For my foreign and non-geologist readers, I should explain that every state has their own requirements (or lack thereof) for a PG. The national association of state boards of geology (ASBOG) has a nice listing here of all the requirements - just click on the state flag for each. Generally, if you have a state with a stricter list of requirements for the PG (like mine), it's easier to get your PG in other states.

By the time I got my act together for the state PG, I had enough experience (and knew enough geologists) to apply to be a CPG through the American Institute of Professional Geologists.

I started working on the PG in my state because it was included in job listings as desirable, if not required. In my few interviews, the lack of a PG was clearly seen as a negative. I admit that I don't know much about the CPG designation. Certification-collecting doesn't help with my current gig - nobody seems to care one way or the other, other than that it shows I have some initiative and ambition.

AIPG tells me that a CPG is an awesome certification, will open all sorts of doors, prove that I'm an upstanding person, etc etc. But they have a vested interest in promoting CPGs. Readers, can you chime in with your opinions of the CPG designation? Is this something that I should work on, and will this actually promote my career/help me move into higher management/more technical positions?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I was somewhere in the vicinity of the earthquake shake zone today. That isn't terribly specific, considering that tremors were felt from North Carolina to Maine and Ontario.

In my area, the shaking wasn't terribly pronounced - it felt like a train or large truck rumbling by. In fact, I was en-route to some crisis or another and didn't notice a thing. But once we decided we did in fact feel an earthquake (confirmed by calling around - this was before the whole east coast got excited and clogged up the phone system), I confirmed it via this website within 5 minutes of the whole thing happening. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

I know, I know... in more tectonically-interesting areas, a 5.8 quake wouldn't merit mention. But the last time I experienced an earthquake, I was in middle school.

Monday, August 22, 2011

PG problems

When I moved here from grad school and started job-hunting, I quickly realized that I needed to be registered as a professional geologist (PG) in this state. I had spent my pre-grad school years in a state that didn't have any PG certification, so this was all new to me. When I started the application process, I found the following requirements:

1. must have taken particular courses
2.required courses must be worth a particular number of credit hours
3. must have at least x number of years of geologic work supervised by a PG
4. take a big exam

So what's the problem?

1. I got a straight geology degree, and they had fairly standard requirements, but I didn't get all of the recommended courses then. I picked up some additional somewhat relevant courses in grad school, but they weren't necessarily from the geology department. So...maybe I was ok for this requirement?

2. Neither my undergrad or grad school gave credits by the credit hour. Each used a slightly different credit system. I never did find a simple conversion for either. I don't know - I took full courses in accredited institutions. Isn't that sufficient?

3. I've never been supervised by a PG. I haven't had an official supervisor who was even a geologist. I've had lots of unofficial mentors who had a combination of registrations, and peers who were PGs. Is that ok? Also, I fit the full length of experience requirements in my old state. Can some of that experience transfer, or is it only experience it this new state that counts?

4. I've been out of (undergrad) school a long-ass time. How much memory do you think I've retained from those classes I took more than 10 years ago? Stuff like paleontology fell out of my head years ago, and I was flummoxed by way too many of the example test questions.

This whole process was intimidating. So I asked all the PGs I know how their application went. Turns out EVERY SINGLE GEOLOGIST I know who has a PG applied before the tests (and other requirements) were put in place and never had to jump through all those hoops. If I were just a couple years older, I too could have been grandfathered in. But I'm not.

In my instructing gig, I meet lots of different junior-level scientists. The number of geologists I've met who are trying to get a PG in this state, but who have been stymied by various requirements, is astounding.

I think part of the problem is poor communication by the board that oversees PG licensure, and that some of those folks probably would be accepted based on the totality of their record. The other part of the problem is also one of "place". It looks like the board expects a certain applicant: one who went to the big state university (which evidently reports their coursework in credit hours), worked for a big firm that had an official mentoring system for new geologists, and spent their entire career in this state. Too bad I'm not that applicant.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

new book meme

I'm a huge sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction geek, so when I saw Silver Fox's NPR top 10 SF book meme, I had to play. Books I've read are bolded. I like Silver Fox's modification of using another color (blue) for books that you've seen the movie adaptation for. Commentary in small type.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (this whole series left me cold - sorry. I never got past the first one.)
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (only the first book, which I wasn't terribly impressed by - the movie was epically terrible, and I watched before having read the book, so it made no sense at all)
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (I may have read this when I was a kid, but I won't bold because I can't remember)
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (this is a shameful book to have missed, especially since I can quote the entire movie at you)
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan (never got into it)
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (one of my top 5 books evar)
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King (I waited sooo long for the last books in this series, but I hated one book, Wizard and Glass)
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (I really didn't like this at all, but forced my way through 3/4 of it. For my effort, I reward myself the bolding of completion)
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson (book 1)
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks (another series I tried to get into, but I started too late - it was just a bunch of sword-swinging cliches to me. I'm giving myself credit for struggling through most of the first book)
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (this book sat in my parents' bedroom for ages before I read it - I was freaked out by the name)

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire (I hated this book. Sorry)
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville (one of my most favorite books EVER - I shall henceforth read anything by him)
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (I read about 20 of these, but they got cheesier and developed a horrible 4th wall problem and I gave up)
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

only 47 out of 100. This was really more of a fantasy list, but without some of the classic fantasy titles. Tolkien? Brooks? Pratchett? Salvatore? Methinks we need a full fantasy list, or an actual SF list.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

good or bad?

Long-time readers will remember that I have a wee bit of a pet peeve about looking young for my age. It's a pain most of the time, but I've gotten adept at working my level of experience/age into an early conversation with everybody I meet. I do the same thing during the introduction to any courses I teach, but nobody remembers the course intro, and I don't go overboard in reminding people.

I got evaluations back from a class I taught recently - a class in which I was only two degrees of separation from several of the students. Word filtered back to me that I seemed especially smart and knowledgeable... for my age. I also got exceptionally high reviews for the class in general.

So, was it good that I was mistaken for someone much younger? I'm not sure. Maybe my complex about not being taken seriously is making it harder to be objective and appreciate that there are some benefits to looking young.

Monday, August 1, 2011

summer blues

It's good to be busy. It is much better to be busy than to be sitting around for two months in the early spring, scratching for something (anything!) that is somewhat productive while the specter of layoffs is hanging over your head.

At this point, however, I'm utterly swamped. I've been trying to do all my usual technical/managementy stuff while spending long hours in the field, and it's just not working. Maybe I'm getting too old for this, but I find myself ever more tired and less willing to work extra hours when I've already had a full day.

When I logged in today, I noticed that my number of posts for July was pathetically small again. There is a good chance things will ease up in the next week or so, but after that, who knows...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

super flier

A long time ago, I did a series of posts on being a road warrior, starting with this discussion of receiving super-elite status with my favored hotel chain.

I fly relatively often - once or twice a month, on average. However, before I started working at this "temporary" gig, I hardly flew at all. And most of my flying is regional rather than cross-country, so I didn't exactly rack up the miles.

So it took me a long-ass time, but I am officially a frequent flyer, having reached the lowest level of elite status at the airline I use the most often. I must admit that the perks are nice...

1. Free checked bags (ok, not really a big deal when the checked bags would be paid by my employer)

2. Upgrades to 1st class

and most exciting...

3. You get to use the "priority" line and save a half hour of standing in line on a Monday morning!

I don't want to dilute my hotel points-based credit card by getting an airline card solely to get more miles, but when the flight crew is waving around all sorts of fancy deals for signing up for their credit card, it is tempting...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

never too old

Or too experienced to do something stupid.

Like, you're watching a drill rig do its thing and it's a beautiful day and you idly notice a little piece of something or other fall on the ground, so you mosey over. It's a strange piece of metal. You pick it up...

and get a high 2nd degree burn on your fingers because what you tried to grab was actually a tortured, red-hot chunk of the engine that had just been spat out of the exhaust.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

what I wore

In case you were wondering, I did have that big meeting that I talked about here. I tried on about five different outfits in the morning and ended up with a nice pair of dark blue jeans, a fancy button-down shirt, and my steel-toe boots.

As it turned out, none of the bigwigs at the meeting were terribly dressed up. I should have guessed that anybody in the environmental biz, in any technical capacity, would avoid wearing a suit. Or a tie. Or shiny shoes.

Also, I was the only person who wore steel-toe boots. We ended up doing more of a drive-by of the site and nobody got their shoes dirty.

I'm still figuring out this management stuff, I guess.

Monday, July 11, 2011

personal geography

It's funny that I ended up in the contaminated dirt business, because I grew up in the town next to (and downstream of - lucky us!) a massive, famous superfund site.

The center of town is a glacial u-shaped valley with a misfit stream running through, although you wouldn't know this by simply walking around - it just has a flattish lower part with a bunch of steep hills in the outskirts. The stream is called "the xxx river", but like a lot of features in this area, the name is hyperbolic. Where it's allowed to flow naturally, the xxx river is about a foot deep and 20 feet wide and pretty sluggish, although it's been dammed in a couple places and culverted in others.

I grew up in an era of burgeoning environmental consciousness, and knew about the superfund site for as long as I can remember, but nobody ever brought it up, and certainly not in school. I certainly didn't know about the extent of heavy industry in the 1800s and early 1900s, or that the flat areas in town were used for industrial disposal and then grassed over and turned into playing fields and parks (which they remain to this day) in the 1930s. I didn't know that the sediment in the lake on the far side of town (created by a dam installed under the WPA program) that I swam in was contaminated with eye-popping levels of heavy metals. I found all this out much later, when I picked up a fancy volume of the town's history and started filling in the blanks.

People still fish in the lake. The "beach", a couple of dump trucks of sand on the edge of the lake, is still as busy as ever in the summer. My connections tell me that the local paper (which still exists!) has yet to publish anything on environmental issues. The superfund site has been rendered uninteresting by time, although they still hold the required local meetings to update the populace on the ongoing cleanup efforts.

This is a wealthy, ridiculously educated town. I just looked up current demographics, and about 1/3 of the adult population has a graduate degree, and about 3/4 have at least a bachelor's degree. The number of scientists, lawyers, and professors is especially striking. It makes me wonder - how many other environmental messes are lurking elsewhere in places where nobody remembers or cares?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

what to wear

In the near future, I will be attending a meeting to start off a big project. We'll meet the various bigwigs and the local contacts and their bosses. An agenda has been circulated. There will be several separate meetings. Formal introductions. And a site walk.

So what should I wear?

The whole "meeting with the big bosses" suggests I should wear nice business attire. The "site walk" suggests something more...practical.

I'm not a big fashionista - I tend to buy and wear only what I really need. My work wardrobe has been segmented into the following separate tiers by default:

Level 1: Interview/presentation suit. This is only for super formal occasions and is relatively fancy (nice fabric, tailored-looking). I suppose I could dress down the pants with a blouse and use the outfit as a fancy "regular" work outfit, but I'm afraid of getting the pants stained or something and having to start over with a new matching coat/pants pair.

Level 2: Standard office attire. Nice pants in a neutral color that can go with lots of stuff, a blouse or button-down shirt that's not transparent or super low-cut or a hideous color (quite a tall order, I know), nice shoes that I can wear all day.

Level 3: Business casual: jeans or non-damaged field pants. A t-shirt (long or short sleeved) that's not too tight, transparent, low cut, etc. Probably the same shoes as level 2.

Level 4: Field gear. Steel-toe boots.

So, the site walk would indicate steel-toe boots, right? But there's really no way for my steel-toe boots (seriously broken in, humungous) to work with any other level of businesswear. If I were a guy, it would be easy - steel toe boots, jeans or khakis, and a button-down shirt. Maybe I should do the same? I'm concerned that it's not quite formal enough for the bigwigs.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

dear recruiter

When you called me out of the blue, I was flattered. Someone in another company had heard that I was a kick-ass geologist and wanted me to have a phone interview? Sounds awesome! Unfortunately, I was not in a position to discuss future prospects, so you promised an e-mail.

I was less flattered when I discovered that you had contacted every technical person in this organization with the same story (just so you know, we do talk about these things). But still, I was willing to hear you out.

Then I got your e-mail, with no indication of your company's name, no details about this supposedly awesome position, and the only thing in your representative's signature was a name and a glamor shot of the rep (I presume). Also, you spelled "geologist" wrong.

I used some google-foo and found what appears to be the position you mentioned in your phone call. Too bad it's more than 6 hours away and in the wrong industry. Thanks but no thanks, recruiter. Chuck's suggestion that I move to Australia is about as useful.

Yes, parts of my job are annoying. And there was a period about a year ago where I was just desperate to escape. But things have been getting better - I'm able to do more technical stuff, and management has changed, and the pay has increased as I've managed to work my way out of a dead-end position. But it's a job in my field, and one that is mostly relevant to my education and experience. So I'm not about to head out to the middle of nowhere to start over at the bottom.

Friday, June 24, 2011

hand model?

I use statcounter to keep track of this blog in a really half-assed way. That is, I just checked it out for the first time in about six months. And what is the most linked-to, most searched blog post?

This one, with a nasty picture of an especially miserable case of poison ivy.

Out of curiosity I did a google image search for poison ivy between fingers, and there I am, #3.

I was hoping that I would be famous for my incisive wit and brilliant commentary on Geology, the Environment, and Life. I guess I'll settle for being famous for being really, really sensitive to poison ivy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

actual field locations

When your average person thinks of where geologists work, they often think of some sort of awesome landscape like this...(from here)

But this geologist has this exotic field site:
Hey, my commute is faster anyway.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

gift etiquette

Sometimes in the course of fieldwork someone else does a big favor for you - whether it's a local resident who returns an expensive gizmo that you left behind, or a guy at the facility you're working at who spends his lunch hour wielding a forklift to help you load all your supplies.

When I was working in big field programs run by my (male) coworkers, the default was to buy the favor-giver a case of beer in appreciation.

When I was running my own field programs later on, it felt... weird to buy a random guy beer. Also, I'm fundamentally a rule-follower and buying booze in the course of an environmental investigation set off internal alarms.

I settled on a compromise - buy them lunch! But it was still sort of awkward, especially if I was working in an area where nobody had ever seen a woman in steel-toe boots. I wanted to thank them, not imply anything else.

Have any of my field-type readers run into this? Do you buy beer (or other things) to return favors, or is this a cultural oddity specific to my area?

Monday, June 20, 2011

settling down

I'm still looking for a new position. But I've been looking for a new position for two years.

So this weekend, I took all the pictures that had been leaning against a side wall, waiting for me to take some fancy job and move to a more permanent location. And I put them all up.

Maybe I'll get that awesome job I've been searching for and it will be in Timbuktu. And I'll have to spend some time re-wrapping everything and spackling various holes in the wall.

But in the meantime, I will enjoy my (temporary?) digs with all my favorite pictures all around me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

citation frenzy

I personally don't give a rat's ass if my little paper is cited, but I'm not in academia right now and the fact that I have a paper is enough. I do understand that academics are particularly interested in their impact factors and citations. So obsessing over getting your own papers cited, as described by FSP here, is understandable.

What was really annoying was getting chewed out for not citing a professor's (out of date) paper for a class project. Seriously, dude? You're supposedly a big fancy professor with your name on about a zillion papers, but you're going to throw a hissy fit because I didn't cite something one of your students wrote in 1991?

I didn't need an A on that damn project anyway.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time Life - Planet Earth

I'm still catching up with blogs from my internet absence, and this somewhat old post at Magma Cum Laude on geological books caught my eye.

Unlike Jessica, I didn't grow up fascinated by geology (as I discussed here). So I don't have a list of favorite geology children's books.

There was one geology-related series that I loved when I was a kid. I started out by looking at the pictures and the captions, and only got into the (fairly dense) text when I got older: Time-Life's Planet Earth series. My ever-patient parents even let me get first crack at them when each new one arrived in the mail. The binding is pretty crappy and I pretty much wore out the "disaster" books, which freaked me out, especially the earthquake volume.

I thought that this was a pretty common thing to have in your library if you had a scientifically-minded household in the 1980s (and beyond). But then I realized that the only other place I've seen the series is at my dad's best friend's house, and since that series was right up GF's alley, it may not be that common in the general population. Does this series ring a bell for anyone else?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

wikipedia meme

I'm a sucker for a silly meme. This is from Silver Fox:

“Click on the first link not in parentheses in any Wikipedia entry. Keep doing this and eventually, you end up at Philosophy."

So, let's see... pulling random terms from the closest work document at hand:


1. Landfill
2. waste
3. materials
4. matter
5. physical objects
6. physics
7. natural science
8. naturalistic
9. philosophical
10. philosophy

Ok, maybe not something physical. What about the U.S. EPA maximum contaminant levels for drinking water?

1. maximum contaminant level
2. standards
3. standardization
4. technical standards
5. norm
6. society
7. related
8. limerence (?)
9. psychologist
10. clinical professional
11. dysfunction
12. mental disorder
13. psychology
14. science
15. knowledge
16. which links to... (although not the first link)...philosophy!

Bouncing around wikipedia is a perfect way to waste time while waiting for our apple crisp to finish baking...

Monday, June 13, 2011

one space, two space

EcoGeoFemme has a new post up concerning the number of spaces you add after a period when typing.

I always used one space after typing. I didn't know that two spaces were a valid option, and not a mistake. So when I collaborated with someone who used two spaces (but not totally regularly, and occasionally up to four spaces), I was convinced that he was just a sloppy typist. I kept getting rid of the extra spaces I came across, and finally they annoyed me enough that I did a "replace all" to get rid of all of them. My co-author never said anything. He probably figured it wasn't worth getting into an argument for.

I'm a keyboard-pounder. My sweetie always teases me about it because I appear to be an angry typist, but it's really because I'm going too fast to be subtle about it. With my clunky keyboard at work, you can hear my typing clear across the office. I'm far too fast to be slowed down by an extra space between sentences...

So, are you a one space person? Two spaces? Or, God forbid, an erratic space person?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

presentation tech

I have an itinerant teaching/presenting gig that I enjoy tremendously. For early readers (i.e. those who read this post), this may come as a surprise. It came as a surprise to me, too.

I've encountered every type of A/V setup you can imagine - everything from a barren room with a few inconveniently-located outlets to a fully kitted out system with multiple huge plasma screens. Sometimes, the barren room is easier - I bring my own little projector and my own laptop, so in case of emergency, I can aim the thing at a bare wall.

So I was interested to see what the NY Times' resident tech guru does for presentations. David Pogue claims here that he does a lot of public speaking, but I wasn't terribly impressed by the setup he describes.

Pogue uses a Mac which requires a specific dongle to connect to a standard AV setup. He needs to have his laptop with him so that he can read his notes on the laptop. He relies on his notes for new talks. His notes are on his laptop only, not on paper.

And he expects this to work?

I realize that the venues that I instruct at are not as fancy as his. Maybe he's always found armies of AV experts at his beck and call when he arrives to give presentation, but that's certainly not been my experience.

If you're getting paid to present or teach, it would behoove you to be able to present whatever it is without relying entirely on notes or (horrors!) just reading slides. The whole point of standing in front of a group of people, explaining something, is the interaction, which you lose if you're glued to your notes. So here are Short Geologist's helpful hints for other itinerant presenters:

1. Bring lots of backup: your laptop. At least one memory stick. Copies of your presentation in multiple formats (.ppt? .pptx?). Pre-printed handouts. Printed notes. Check in to make sure there's a whiteboard, blackboard, or big pad of paper if you're going to be drawing something. And if one's available to you, bring a projector that you are familiar with and that plays well with your laptop.

2. Practice! I read my notes, then, I put them down and go through the whole presentation as if I were giving it right there. Where do I lose my train of thought? Expound on something in great detail and then realize I'm supposed to cover it in another slide? For those things, I put a little sticky note on my copy of the paper handouts so that I can revisit them before the presentation.

3. Remember these magic words: "I don't know." Followed by some variant of "that's an interesting question - I'll have to think about that" or "I'll do some research/ask my colleagues and get back to you". You are not omniscient! It's ok! Better to smoothly admit that you don't know than to freeze in panic or make up some BS. Just because you don't know doesn't mean that nobody else in the room knows either.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

professional photos?

FSP has a new post here regarding professional pictures. For professional websites, how professional of a picture do you use? I struggled with this about a year ago when I needed a good picture of myself doing fieldwork for a proposal. My graduate advisor had a hilariously dated professional photo from the early 70s for our department website and only got an updated (and very nice) photo once he retired.

Do you have a stock professional picture of yourself? And if so, how formal is it - passport style with business suit, or standing ankle deep in mud?

In environmental consulting, the ideal picture is someone in the correct safety gear (as applicable), standing in front of a lovely rock formation/fancy piece of equipment, looking thoughtful, and wearing clean clothing. A google image search for "field geologist" provides a huge number of pictures that fit all of the criteria. We save the passport-style pictures for security badges.

I don't have a professional website (other than this one, har har!), but I could still use a stock photo of myself for linkedin, conferences, and proposals. I'm still not any closer to getting that ideal photo of myself.

Monday, June 6, 2011

accretionary wedge - varves

Accretionary Wedge #35 is up at Georneys - the question is, what's your favorite Geology word?

I thought of a bunch of stupid ones right off the bat - the kind that ends up on t-shirts, like "gneiss schist" or "gneiss cleavage". And then the ones that just sound funny, like 'a'a.

But I wanted to pick a term that's cool and actually relevant to something I do. So my favorite geology word is varve. "Varve" sounds funny to my ear, because they only come in multiples.

Varves are very, very fine bands of sediment that usually represent seasonal variations in deposition in still water bodies that ice over in winter. In the warm months, sediment can fall down normally, leaving light colored, wider bands. Once the lake freezes over, nothing can enter the water and the very fine sediment is allowed to slowly filter down, leaving a dark layer. Cores can represent thousands of years.

Why Varves? Well, I don't work in an area of the world with terribly exciting geology. I'm dealing with contamination and dirt. I don't get to work in places with cool morphology because the geology is generally buried. But varves are cool because they're formed in quiet lakes - the perfect quiet location to hang out and just be. And they're just about the coolest non-anthropogenic material that I run into on a regular basis.

Varves are a lot cooler in person - the bands of color are generally so fine, they're hard to see. My examples didn't photograph well. So here's one from a paper...

And here's another - somewhat local!

Friday, June 3, 2011

post-grad conference funding

I'm catching up on old posts (my epic trip did not include internet) and buried in the comments of this post by FSP is a discussion of conference attendance by former students.

I went to two separate conferences in the year after I completed my thesis. I technically graduated after attending those conferences, but that was a formality - I graduated nine months after I successfully defended my thesis, after all.

I never considered it strange or unethical that I attended conference as an ex-student. For one conference, I was paid out of my advisor's slush fund (er, big industry grant) to present some interesting results from my thesis. Who would present it other than the person who did the work? For the second conference, one of the entities that paid into the grant wanted to showcase the work they'd been supporting, and they paid the travel costs for a representative of the research group (me - I happened to be available, since I didn't have a job at the time we applied to the conference) to give an overview of some of the cool stuff we'd done.

Is this unusual? I think it was fairly clear that I was an ex-student and that the work was representative of the institution I'd just left, so I didn't see any problem with it. But maybe I'm in the minority...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

stream tables

Anne Jefferson has a new post up on stream tables. She has a super fancy new stream table, with colored beads and the ability to simulate all sorts of natural processes. I admit that I have not had the opportunity to play with such a fancy table - the only ones I've used involved play sand and a fish tank pump.

When I was a TA, we had the brilliant idea to use poppy seeds to demonstrate stream transport, which worked well... once. We put the table away at the end of the lab and a month later found a forest of poppy sprouts. Then we could demonstrate how root systems can help hold soil in place, and then we got to spend about 3 hours trying to filter a million little fibers out of the sand.

My labs had mostly upper-level non-geology undergrads. They had almost no interest in the course and were forever lobbying to remove it as a requirement (it was a little out of their area of interest). But even this jaded group loved the stream table lab. Half the class stayed around after the lab officially finished, building little dams, fiddling with the volume of water, and making their own stream beds.

Maybe I should quit my job and start building stream tables and their groundwater analogue, the ant farm with wells and hydrogeological features. Not so technically interesting, but I could totally earn a living and then I could play with them for, um, quality control.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

in memoriam

I have a file of random "important papers" that I've taken with me to every place I've moved. It contains my middle school and high school diplomas, various awards and certificates, my unopened recommendations, a duplicate copy of my car's title, and other stuff that doesn't fit with the rest of my papers. In the back of the file is a professional-looking crayon drawing of a 3-masted schooner. On the back is a year that puts me at about 5, with a later note that says "GF did this!". I remember that GF dashed this picture off in about a minute, and I'm sure he put it out of his head once he handed it to me. I had always meant to show him that I'd kept it all this time.

GF met my dad in college. I've mentioned before how alike my dad and I are, to my chagrin. My dad was miserable when he started college, lost in a big university and a big city, and desperately lonely. GF befriended my dad, dragged him around in all his adventures, and introduced him to my mother. My dad is high-strung and awkward in social situations, and GF was the one person who he could relax with. GF and my dad were the best man in each other's weddings three months apart, and our families were inseparable from then on.

GF always had the best stories, and I think the only way to explain who he was is to tell some of my own.

GF lived with his wife in the same 3-bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch they bought 30 years ago, even after having 3 kids and after the company he founded took off. In the booming 90s, he took the entire company, their families, and several babysitters to Disney World for two weeks. Twice. They didn't get around to updating or renovating the house, so the youngest ended up sleeping in the basement as a teenager. When GF received the cancer diagnosis, they decided to finally build the dream house they'd been designing for years, and they imploded the old house because really, what could be a better send-off?

I thought GF could survive anything.

He had a ridiculous, bloody chainsaw accident miles from anywhere (this is part of a really long story that only GF could tell properly) and his brother doused the gaping wound with gasoline (the only liquid they had) to rinse it and bound it in duct tape to keep it closed.

He was coming home late at night when he rounded a curve and got tangled up with a bunch of kids who were street racing. GF blacked out and woke up with a mangled left leg (almost every bone from the knee down was broken, including his toes) and his car in the bushes. He mistook the steam rising from the crumpled engine compartment to be smoke. Convinced the car was about to explode, and in an adrenaline-fueled daze, he hauled himself into the back seat, I guess because his door was pretty much destroyed, and crawled out the back window and fell into the bushes, where he wasn't found for a while. The emergency crew was mystified - how did the car get there with nobody in it and the doors locked?

As long as I can remember, GF was my favorite person; infinitely patient, passionate about a million oddball things from pirate ships to barbecueing to flying to maple sugaring (hence the chainsaw accident), and utterly selfless. And he lit up a room, even when he was yellow with jaundice, painfully bloated, and exhausted from the chemo.

I dropped everything and drove the hundreds of miles to come home for the memorial service. Not as much for his widow and their kids, who are closer to me than the rest of my family. Not even for my poor devastated dad, who took the loss so hard. But for GF.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


How was my long-anticipated adventure?


Friday, May 6, 2011

checking in

I haven't given up blogging completely - it's just that over the last two months, life got in the way.

1. Someone I loved died. I didn't have the emotional wherewithal to explain who died and why he meant so much to me, etc etc to people who didn't know him. Also, I curl up and withdraw when I've been hurt, so I pretty much took an internet break for about a month.

2. I got sick. Again.

3. Work peaked (field season!) and I've been working 12 hour days and even the odd weekend (not a 10-4, just more days to work).

4. By the time I got through #1 and #2, I had fallen out of the habit of writing and the odd day when I had time, I wasn't thinking about this blog (horrors!). I had lots of posts gestating when I couldn't write them down, though.

At this point, I have a much needed epic vacation coming up that's been in the works for a couple of years. So epic, I'll be AWOL pretty much the whole month of May! So let's reconvene on June 1, and I'll have lots of stories.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

the yellow logbook

I've been going through the back posts of Silver Fox's blog, and boy, was I behind! She discussed the trusty yellow field book in this post. You know that I can't resist a gear post to comment on...

We have certain standards for our field books (which are generally either yellow or orange) based on legal requirements. They need to be bound. They need to be numbered, although we also number them ourselves as we go. Any errors must be crossed out with a single initialed line. They can't have skipped pages, or empty space at the end of each entry (you put a line through and sign the line) - all these so that you can't go back and sneak in more stuff after fieldwork is done.

So what do we put in those logbooks? Anything that may be important later. Date, day of the week (not everyone does this, but it really helps your memory when you're looking for something specific), weather, name and affiliation of everyone on site (and when they arrive and leave), name and time of any samples, names of visitors if they'll tell you (sometimes the activists are paranoid), deviations from the work plan, contact info (this either goes into the front or the back page), calculations, and anything else that may need to be remembered later. Project name, start and end dates, logbook number, and charge number go on the front, and the company contact information goes into the inside front cover (I tape a business card there to cover the "where to send if lost").

I've always ended up with a blizzard of paper logsheets (health and safety stuff, boring logs, well construction logs, sample logs), but the thing that ties the project together is the logbook. And well, it's rewarding to look back at your office (or the administrative file) and see a big line of bound books that you've filled yourself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

reading pains

A long time ago, I mentioned the presentations that set off my migraines - all white background, spindly (think times new roman) black text.

I've been collaborating with other writers on reports that require lots of input and editing, and I'm finding a couple of document issues that also set off the migraines.

1. A coworker highlights various passages in garish colors to distinguish things that he'll take care of but hasn't yet, things he wants me to take care of, and things that we need from the client. When I highlight things, I pick a nice, neutral color: gray. If I need to make things more complicated but for some reason don't want to track changes or add comments, I'll make the text different colors. I open documents from my coworker, and they're a combination of bright green, yellow, and blue. It's insta-migraine.

2. I've got a big technical report that needs to be completely re-done because we've gotten a bunch more data to fit in, and we're also trying to address comments on a previous version that are kind of random. We have a round-robin of four people trying to work on the thing, and we're keeping it in tracked-changes mode and nobody wants to accept any changes because they don't want to step on toes. Nobody can follow the text.

Of course, there are ways to fix these issues. For #1, I can un-highlight all the stuff that's not meant for me and then use gray for what I need. For #2, I can accept all the formatting and the stuff that's not controversial to keep down the mess. The problem is that I don't think about fixing anything until I'm already well into the migraine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

comment moderation

I just realized that I haven't spelled out my comment moderation policy.

I have active comment moderation. I know it cuts down on the spontaneity of the comments, because you have to wait for me to log on and approve them. That can take a while because if I'm busy, I don't log in at all. I first set things up this way because I was initially paranoid that I'd be "outed" online, but I keep it this way to cut down on the spam.

I accept all comments that are not simple plugs, with somewhat higher standards for businesses. For example, if you leave a comment that says "great blog! Love, (my link)", you have to link to a fricken' awesome and relevant personal blog in order to be accepted. I will accept commercial comments if they actually add something to the conversation. I like comments on old posts. I like comments even if they appear to be from someone who googled something tangential to what I'm writing about and has an axe to grind. Basically, I like all comments that aren't a blatant effort to drive traffic to an unrelated site. I'm looking at you, college paper ghostwriting service!

It would be nice if I could pre-screen commenters so that regular commenters wouldn't have to wait for me to accept comments. But I can see more technical snafus, so maybe it's best to stick with the slow system.

Monday, February 28, 2011

post-grad jobs

I've been catching up on old posts in my blogroll, and FSP's post here about post grad school jobs caught my eye.

I don't have any information on my grad department's placement rates. My department had a fair number of masters students, so we had a relatively low number of students intending to go into academia.

I have a better sense of how my advisor's research group did. Keeping in mind that my cohort graduated just as the economy tanked, I think we did pretty well. Nobody dropped out while I was there. My PhD friend and co-conference buddy (we were working on the different aspects of the same problem, so we ended up rooming together everywhere) is now an adjunct professor. Most of the other students were getting their masters only (my advisor was starting to wind down his career) and ended up either in consulting (industry) or government, with minimal post-graduate unemployment periods.

I agree that the measure of success for a grad program should be based on the percentage of grads placed into their intended career, not just the percentage of grads placed into academia. Hard as it can be for academic types to accept, not all of us want to be tenure-track professors.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

groundwater sampling

I decided I hadn't done any technical posts in a long-ass time...

One of the first things that a newbie in environmental consulting does is go out and sample groundwater monitoring wells. Doesn't matter if you're a biologist, geologist, engineer... most environmental investigations and practically all remedies involve groundwater monitoring, and the work doesn't involve a whole lot of technical know-how and has minimal chance for personal injury. That last bit, of course is relative to all fieldwork - any time you work outside, you have a decent chance of getting into some sort of vehicle incident, getting bitten by something, throwing your back out hoisting a cooler, and getting chased by angry property owners. But I digress.

I've sampled approximately...actually, I have no idea how many wells I've sampled. "Hundreds" is probably a low-ball estimate. I don't get much of a chance to sample wells any more - I usually do more complicated fieldwork when I do go into the field. But I've been helping someone out with groundwater sampling recently, and it reminded me of how complicated this stuff can actually be.

Sure, a field sampler is sent out with a work plan of some sort that states the sampling protocol, what bottles to fill, and where to send them. Those are usually straightforward. But what happens when things go wrong? The low-stress sampling procedure (which varies widely by jurisdiction) has some standards that you need to meet in order to get the sample correctly. How much can the water level in the well go down? What happens if you keep losing water? The water can be extracted by bailers (takes forever and is bound to get water everywhere) or by pumps (all finicky in their own special way), and what you use can affect sample quality.

I haven't seen or heard of companies that do really thorough training of new field people before they're sent on their own to do groundwater sampling. The older field hands often forget how many little details they've internalized or don't explain why each step is important (including filling all the paperwork out!) because there's always some sort of time crunch. And if the "why" isn't explained, then it looks like just a bunch of busywork and it's easy to blow off. Then you go into the field with someone who's been on their own for a while but not really trained (if you're lucky), or you get back strange data or a regulator or lawyer starts asking questions (if you're not so lucky) and find out exactly how much has gone missing.

Maybe I'm just too picky. Most sample results are never scrutinized by regulators or anybody else. But if you don't know what you're doing, you may get burned the few times it actually is really important. Which sample will be critical in litigation later? Who knows when you're out in the field, swatting mosquitos...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I have been under-managed for my entire career, starting with my college thesis, moving onto a succession of jobs, and in grad school. This is generally ok - I don't feel the need for a lot of hand-holding and am generally content to do my own thing.

However, even though I don't need a great deal of external motivation, it would still be nice to get some positive feedback every once in a while.

When I was working on the project from hell, I had an unhappy client rep on-site non-stop, we were doing some experimental stuff that had all sorts of time and budget constraints (always a bad combination) and so nobody knew what they were doing, and I was trying to manage about six "difficult" people. By manage, I really mean "keep from killing each other". After each 13-hour day, I would spend 45 minutes on the phone with my boss and get lectured on how we were hemorrhaging money and how was I going to get the project (which I had no initial input into) back on track.

Toward the end of the job, we'd had a big "oopsie" and I had to physically get between the client rep and someone else to redirect them away from screaming at each other and toward fixing the problem. A technical expert who was outside the lines of authority pulled me aside and told me that he was impressed by my ability to handle the different personalities and keep an impossible project going forward.

That was the only positive thing anyone told me. It made me indescribably happy that someone with no stake in the game thought I had done well, and it almost made up for all the bullshit I'd been through.

It made me think - when had I last told someone at work that they had done a good job? Said more than, "thanks!" and then gone on with my day? From then on, I resolved to make an effort to notice when coworkers go above and beyond, and then compliment them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

new passport

Ok, I'm finally back to 100% - now I have energy to work, cook dinner, and have time for blogging!

So, I just got my new, renewed passport. Out of curiosity, I pulled out my old passports (I'm so glad they send them back!) and compared them. Boy, is my face puffier in my new one compared to my old one! Then again, the last passport is a fair bit older than 10 years old, so changes are inevitable. So how do all of them compare?

I got my first passport when I was a kid, when my father was traveling quite a bit for work and my parents had a reasonable expectation that he would be going overseas. That didn't happen, and in fact, he was laid off shortly after I got the passport. No stamps.

I got the second passport when I was in high school before I got braces. Holy buckteeth, batman! I actually did some international traveling on this passport, but unfortunately not all countries stamp passports (much to my chagrin at the time). Four stamps.

I got the third passport in college. I ended up with two visas, one of which was in order to live in another country. That visa got a constellation of overlapping stamps because I kept leaving that country for various reasons, and customs insisted on stamping the visa itself and not the 10 blank pages behind it. Sixteen stamps.

I put in for an opportunity to do more international traveling for work. We'll see if that pans out - although I don't want to have an entire career abroad, I wouldn't mind it for temporary postings. My goal is to have a minimum of 16 stamps... let's see how I do over the next ten years.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

the flu

Sometimes I think about my professional position and I get discouraged. I went ahead and got an advanced degree, and although I got somewhat of a pay increase, I'm still underpaid relative to the local industry average (and way underpaid compared to other local scientists in general), my schedule is still all over the place, and the benefits suck.

I've been out sick with the flu. I'm basically a healthy person, and this one common bug sucked up my entire sick leave. That is, one week.

I'm still not really well - I'm still worn out and have some sort of lingering vertigo that has me convinced I'm going to faint if I stand for more then ten minutes or so, plus I'm still all stuffed up. But I'm not feverish or sleeping 15 hours a day any more, so I've been dragging my ass in every day.

I know some folks who are in my organization who are not terribly healthy. So they burn up their sick leave, then their vacation time, then they start taking unpaid leave, then the next time there are layoffs, they're on the list to be cut.

I don't really have an answer for that. I'm not exactly feeling sparky - maybe if I could get over the flu, I'd be more optimistic. Or more coherent...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

finding my way

So, Silver Fox recently posted a big link-fest on field geology and one link she mentioned was my "gear" tag, which has been somewhat neglected over the last year. So here's an update on the GPS...

The traffic-sensing function on my GPS is fantastic. In this winter of ridiculous snow and terrible road conditions in east coast big cities, I've used the GPS to thread my way right through areas I would otherwise detour around.

This confounds some of my technology-adverse coworkers. "You just follow the GPS anywhere?" asked one. Yes, yes I do. Because the GPS tells me the fastest route, which is usually a route that is at least passable. If the GPS thinks that it will take me four hours to drive what should be 20 minutes, then maybe I take a nap and try the drive later.

I used to work with someone who used paper maps exclusively - an entire desk drawer filled with a huge stack of the free road maps you pick up at rest stop welcome areas. He always insisted that I take his (utterly outdated) maps.

I do have a road atlas buried in the trunk of my car for emergencies, but now the GPS is my guide...for both finding new field sites and to find new shortcuts in my own backyard.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

surviving an audit

A comment on my last post mentioned QA (quality assurance) audits. I haven't been involved in a QA audit on administrative (filing?) practices, although the threat of such an audit was used routinely when the administrative stuff started to get shabby - reports going out with a bunch of stupid mistakes, files "stored" all over creation, etc.

I've been in charge of fieldwork that was targeted by technical QA audits (i.e. making sure that the sample protocols were correct) and health and safety audits. I always had at least some sort of warning, whether that was a clandestine call from a friend that the QA person was seen leaving the office with steel-toe boots, or it was the distant sighting of someone with a fresh hard hat and a clipboard. I even ordered up a safety audit myself once when the field crew was trying a brand-new (and scary) technology, nobody had a clue what they were doing, and I was convinced someone was going to get hurt.

Other than my last example, which was not an audit request so much as a plea for help, I never found the audits to be all that useful. The field personnel generally knew their stuff more than the auditor, so the audits turned into an exercise in filling out little check boxes and making sure the paperwork was in order. I got dinged personally for using an old company form to fill out the exact same information and then arguing with the guy about it. Somewhere in my old personnel file is the word "insubordinate"...

But I digress. What I really could have used was an actual technical audit, intended for internal use. It would have really helped to have an independent geologist (i.e. one not personally or professionally involved with the project) come by and see what I was doing, make suggestions, and then revise the standard operating procedures based on what was actually working (or not) in the field. Maybe then the audit wouldn't be a "gotcha" exercise and a threat, but an actual learning experience.

Friday, January 14, 2011

filing follies

I have certain documents that need to be filed. There's no big rush to file them, but eventually, before the project ends, they need to be organized. So what's the problem?

I don't have access to the filing system. In order to be filed, to be legally and contractually secure, an administrative person has to give the thing an official number and put it in the administrative record - something that I could do in approximately 12 seconds if I did have access.

My documents have been sitting in the admin person's mailbox for the last three months, which I pass daily when I check my own mail.

I've seen the mess and chaos that ensues if you have a big project and a nonexistent filing system - especially in environmental consulting, where you have a constant flow of people in and out of the office. I promised myself that I would be better about organizing stuff. But now I understand why it's not as easy as it looks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

post-fieldwork bloat

I mentioned in my last post that I only did about 12 weeks of fieldwork this past year. That poses a certain problem.

One side of my family is genetically predisposed to be skinny no matter how poor the diet and how minimal the exercise. The other side is...round. Because I spent my childhood and young adulthood as a human garbage disposal with no ill-effects, I figured I'd lucked out and gotten the skinny genes.

I spent the year before grad school in a tizzy of non-stop fieldwork. I was in charge of a pretty big operation, and I spent my 12-hour days constantly on the run. When I went to grad school, I walked about a mile each way to school daily...and my printer was in a different building than my office. So even when I was relatively sedentary, doing homework or writing my thesis, I was still running all over the place to get stuff from the printer, realize the printer was out of paper, run back to the printer, find out that someone else had walked off with my stuff...

At some point between the start of grad school and now, my metabolism slowed down. Now I'm even heavier than when I last blogged about my weight gain, and now I definitely have a little pot belly. Hell, my grandmother's first words to me at Christmas were, "well, haven't we gotten bigger!". Great.

My resolution to exercise outside of work didn't go so well last year. This year I'm going to try and exercise in the morning before work, before I'm emotionally/physically wrung out from a full work day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

fieldwork forever?

Everybody's been doing a traveling meme for the past year - Silver Fox has a nice collection of other geobloggers who have done one this year. I didn't join in because of my paranoia about keeping my pseudonymity. But I did start compiling a list of the different places I've traveled this past year, and it's actually fairly short. I haven't done much fieldwork this past year - I counted about 12 weeks, not counting traveling I did for work that didn't involve playing in the dirt.

I never intended to be a full-time field person for my entire career, so it's ok that I'm transitioning more to office work. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't mind the lousy weather or the long days - I just miss having a life on weeknights, and I have certain commitments right now that require at least marginal attention during the work week.

I know a couple of "fieldwork forever" guys (they're all guys) who can't stand being in the office. They get itchy and they tend not to deal well with crowds, with "crowds" being more than about 5 people. I've been helping out a fieldwork forever guy with some basic computer stuff, and his level of discomfort with basic computer stuff is pretty...bad. I mean, technical skills like writing a simple memorandum or downloading a file are a mystery.

I'm glad that these guys are happy doing 100% fieldwork. But it does worry me a little - what happens if work slows down and there's a backlog of reports to be written? These forever fieldwork guys usually do ok for themselves, but come winter, when things generally slow down, they're not exactly flexible. And in this economy, being less than totally billable isn't a good thing. Sure, they'll be working ridiculous hours in a couple months, but will their management wait that long to keep them?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

a new year

Looking back over the last year, all I can think is, "thank God that's over!"

Usually, my first post of the year is a review of past resolutions and some new resolution. But I broke all my resolutions in 2009, and then my diminished resolutions from this time last year didn't pan out either.

So, no resolutions! Here's to a healthier, happier, and more consistently-posting 2011.