Wednesday, June 27, 2012

pressing flowers

This month's accretionary wedge is about field notes. Jennifer at Fuzzy Science mentioned that she kept two field logbooks: one for the science observations, and one for the more personal observations.

I've never been one to keep a travel journal, and my field notes tend to be relatively dry - they're owned by my employer and subject to be rifled through during discovery for potential litigation, so I don't have a lot of local color in my field notes. You can get a pretty good sense for when I'm having a bad day, though, because you'll find a lot of pointed "spoke to person X, who told me this, and then person Y told me something completely different, and then because of conflicting directives, this other thing got missed".

Back when I was in my field study course in college, I was pretty careful to follow the requirements for logbooks - numbering pages, having thorough observations and maps, and recording things like temperature and time. I didn't have a lot of side observations. One thing I did was collect flowers and press them in the pages of my logbook.

This was back in the day of non-digital photography (remember then?) and I'd been conserving my film so that I wouldn't miss anything spectacular while I was out in the field. Then my camera died right at the end of the first roll of exotic field photographs, and I lost the entire roll and the use of my camera for the rest of the trip. When I returned home and got to a camera shop, my camera was diagnosed with a terminal case of "sand in everything", so my only mementos of that time are those pressed flowers I kept.

In lieu of photos of me doing fieldwork (since I didn't have any), here's a photo of what killed my camera (from NPS photo):

It was a lovely way to go, I'll admit!

Monday, June 25, 2012

protective gear

Isis the Scientist has a post up from a couple days ago about an annoying "science for girls" video. The comments went off in another direction, to lab-appropriate clothing and making sure that you're protected from being doused with nasty chemicals or set on fire.

It drives me bonkers when I see folks wandering around outside with lab coats. In grad school, we wore lab coats when in the lab, and we had to take them off before we left. All labs (and my office, a former lab) had hooks for this purpose. It's simple: lab coats (and other personal protective equipment, or PPE to use environmental consulting jargon) protect you from nasties, but you need to take care that said nasties don't get spread around to a clean environment. I pass a well-known teaching hospital on my daily commute, and I always see doctors and others wandering about outside in their lab coats. Bad practice!

In environmental consulting, the closest analogue would be nitrile gloves. If you have the potential to be in contact with contaminated material, wear gloves. However, what often happens is that you're running around, doing a million things, and maybe the box of gloves got left somewhere inconvenient, and before you know it, you're driving around, drinking water, having a cigarette, all while wearing the gloves. This defeats the purpose.

Nitrile gloves cost like 3 cents a pair. Just like the strapping tape for a cooler or paper towels, the cost of gloves is infinitesimal compared to the overall job cost. Don't penny-pinch the small stuff (I complained about this practice ages ago). Change your gloves whenever you move on to another task, and always when you're going off-site, so you don't freak out the neighbors.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

101 American geo sites to see

I'm a sucker for a geology meme - this is from Mountain Beltway by way of Silver Fox. Bold is places I've visited. Unfortunately, I suck at this. Fourteen! I guess I need to go on a geo-expedition to the southeast and great plains.

1. Wetumpka Crater, Alabama
2. Exit Glacier, Alaska
3. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
4. Meteor Crater, Arizona
5. Monument Valley, Arizona
6. Prairie Creek Pipe, Arkansas
7. Wallace Creek, California
8. Racetrack Playa, California
9. Devils Postpile, California
10. Rancho La Brea, California
11. El Capitan, California
12. Boulder Flatirons, Colorado
13. Interstate 70 Roadcut, Colorado
14. Florissant Fossil Beds, Colorado
15. Dinosaur Trackway, Connecticut
16. Wilmington Blue Rocks, Delaware
17. Devil’s Millhopper, Florida
18. Stone Mountain, Georgia
19. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
20. Borah Peak, Idaho
21. Menan Buttes, Idaho
22. Great Rift, Idaho
23. Valmeyer Anticline, Illinois
24. Hanging Rock Klint, Indiana
25. Fort Dodge Gypsum, Iowa
26. Monument Rocks, Kansas
27. Ohio Black Shale, Kentucky
28. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
29. Four Corners Roadcut, Kentucky
30. Avery Island, Louisiana
31. Schoodic Point, Maine
32. Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
33. Purgatory Chasm, Massachusetts
34. Nonesuch Potholes, Michigan
35. Quincy Mine, Michigan
36. Grand River Ledges, Michigan
37. Sioux Quartzite, Minnesota
38. Thomson Dikes, Minnesota
39. Soudan Mine, Minnesota
40. Petrified Forest, Mississippi
41. Elephant Rocks, Missouri
42. Grassy Mountain Nonconformity, Missouri
43. Chief Mountain, Montana
44. Madison Slide, Montana
45. Butte Pluton, Montana
46. Quad Creek Quartzite, Montana
47. Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska
48. Scotts Bluff, Nebraska
49. Crow Creek Marlstone, Nebraska
50. Sand Mountain, Nevada
51. Great Unconformity, Nevada
52. Flume Gorge, New Hampshire
53. Palisades Sill, New Jersey
54. White Sands, New Mexico
55. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
56. Shiprock Peak, New Mexico
57. State Line Outcrop, New Mexico
58. American Falls, New York
59. Taconic Unconformity, New York
60. Gilboa Forest, New York
61. Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
62. South Killdeer Mountain, North Dakota
63. Hueston Woods, Ohio
64. Big Rock, Ohio
65. Kelleys Island, Ohio
66. Interstate 35 Roadcut, Oklahoma
67. Mount Mazama, Oregon
68. Lava River Cave, Oregon
69. Drake’s Folly, Pennsylvania
70. Hickory Run, Pennsylvania
71. Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
72. Beavertail Point, Rhode Island
73. Crowburg Basin, South Carolina
74. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
75. Mammoth Site, South Dakota
76. Pinnacles Overlook, South Dakota
77. Reelfoot Scarp, Tennessee
78. Enchanted Rock, Texas
79. Capitan Reef, Texas
80. Paluxy River Tracks, Texas
81. Upheaval Dome, Utah
82. Checkerboard Mesa, Utah
83. San Juan Goosenecks, Utah
84. Salina Canyon Unconformity, Utah
85. Bingham Stock, Utah
86. Whipstock Hill, Vermont
87. Great Falls, Virginia
88. Natural Bridge, Virginia
89. Millbrig Ashfall, Virginia
90. Catoctin Greenstone, Virginia
91. Mount St. Helens, Washington
92. Dry Falls, Washington
93. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
94. Roche-A-Cri Mound, Wisconsin
95. Van Hise Rock, Wisconsin
96. Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
97. Green River, Wyoming
98. Devils Tower, Wyoming
99. Fossil Butte, Wyoming
100. Steamboat Geyser, Wyoming
101. Specimen Ridge, Wyoming

Monday, June 18, 2012

climate control

Although I work in the environmental biz, I'm not a die-hard environmentalist. I don't save toilet flushes, or compost, or bicycle to all my errands.

At the same time, certain energy-wasting habits are a mystery to me. Like climate control.

I had a really hard time with some of my roommates in grad school because they would do things like set the heat at full blast while keeping the windows open for "airing." I could attribute this to my roommates being young and never having to pay for their own energy bills.

What I can't understand is getting to my hotel at night and finding that on a lovely summer day (70s, light breeze), everything in the hotel is set to 65 degrees. Here's a hint for all: in the winter, you should expect the indoor temperature to be set at a lower temperature than in the summer. First, it's unnecessary and energy wasting to have the room so cold in the summer, and second, it totally throws off my own internal temperature regulating system and I completely wilt when I go outside.

At the same time, I do understand that if a hotel provides only a single blanket, and that blanket is a gigantic comforter that's more than 6" thick, you need to keep the AC cranked up so that you don't wake up in a puddle of sweat in the middle of the night. Why the hotel is compelled to put a 35-degree comforter in every room in the summer is another mystery...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Team Briefing!

I recently heard back from a high mucky-muck that I had really impressed the guys at a field team briefing for... doing a great job at a field team briefing.

I'm not sure how much of a compliment that is. I mean, I assigned tasks to various people, I talked about gear and why we needed it, I explained the particular oddities of the site and client, I passed around paperwork to be filled out, and everybody filed out to Go Do Fieldwork.

I feel like this is the same thing I ran into when teaching a course a while back. Am I really that awesome? I'm a mid-career professional who's been leading team meetings for ages/teaching lots of courses. I have tons of experience doing this stuff, none of which is difficult.  Why is being competent surprising? I should be competent by now!

I know that the people around me know that I'm older than, say, 20. But maybe because I look young, people forget my actual age, no matter how often I add in references to my advanced age and years of experience. Or perhaps I'm socially awkward enough that people are surprised that I can string multiple sentences together in front of a crowd.

Or maybe I just give a damn good team briefing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

the view from above

When I first started out in environmental consulting, I wasn't entirely sure what the managers did, exactly. They ran things, but they didn't seem to know much about the fieldwork. And what sort of manager wasn't an expert in what they were managing?

It didn't take me long to realize that a good manager didn't need to be a technical expert.

At the same time, when I started running my own projects, I realized just how little the skill sets of fieldwork and management intersect. Sure, I have lots of experience with running a project in the field. And dealing with recalcitrant drillers and keeping a field project running gives you lots of critical life skills that will help with managing an entire project. But making sure that your project has sufficient margin that it's paying its fair share to keep the lights on? Fixed price versus cost plus proposals? Return on investment? I had no idea I needed a crash course in accounting.

What I need is my own personal financial person who will occupy office space right next to me so I can ask questions all the time if needed, and who will keep all the financial stuff in the background for me so that all I need to do is keep track of the budget. That way I can keep the geology and environmental stuff (which is what I always wanted to do anyway) running properly.