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.