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 He always insisted that I take his (utterly outdated) maps.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.