Monday, October 29, 2012

hangin' with Sandy

Like everyone else in the northeastern (southeast, central) US, we're hunkered down with the weather channel while the wind screams outside. We lost power for a couple of hours, but it came back just in time for us to cook dinner. Yes, sometimes it is convenient to live near a critical piece of infrastructure - the local utilities are a little less... leisurely.

I'm not a big weather bug, but I thought I'd share a couple of oddball websites:

This wind map of the US only goes up to 30 MPH, but check out the swirling around NYC.

Who knows if Mount Washington actually has the world's worst weather, but it's the place with the worst weather that's well instrumented. Right now, sustained wind is 88 mph, with gusts to 127.

Also, there's lots of cool pictures that are flying around the interwebs. How to tell if they're real? One hint - if the clouds look all nifty, they're probably not of a hurricane, which is gray and wet and, well, windy. This website will help.

Stay dry!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

medical monitoring

A couple weeks ago, ask a manager had a question about an invasive pre-employment medical questionnaire. They were about to start a job in environmental consulting. A bunch of people responded that yes, a thorough medical exam is required for this work, but I wanted to expand a little.

If you are in a position where you may be handling hazardous waste, or you may be investigating an unknown site with unknown contaminants, you fall under HAZWOPER (hazardous waste operations and emergency response). HAZWOPER  requires medical monitoring. I'm going to quote from the standard itself here:

Medical examinations required by paragraph (f)(3) of this section shall include a medical and work history (or updated history if one is in the employee's file) with special emphasis on symptoms related to the handling of hazardous substances and health hazards, and to fitness for duty including the ability to wear any required PPE under conditions (i.e., temperature extremes) that may be expected at the work site.

Since your employer doesn't know exactly what you may end up handling, you can be expected to be tested for everything under the sun, and for your ability to wear the highest level of physical protection (earplugs/respirator/fully encapsulating suit).

So, you'll be asked to fill out a complete questionnaire which will ask for your complete family history (and which the doctor will spend two seconds looking at). At the exam, you'll likely get a chest x-ray. You may have an EKG (I've had just one). You'll definitely get a hearing test and a lung capacity test. You'll have to pee into a cup for a urine sample (usually this is in a DOT drug-testing bathroom with no hand-washing facilities so you can't monkey with the urine sample - don't even get me started on how gross this is for a lady) and you'll get what feels like several quarts of blood removed. And then, if you ever leave that first job and start a new one, you'll get to do the full exit physical for the one and the full entrance physical for the other.  

After they do all their tests, they send your employer a form saying that you were or were not medically cleared to do the stuff they want you to do. Your employer does not get to see the whole enchilada. And if you think that's invasive, just wait until you go for your CDL...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

planning tip

When you're planning an investigation into the hydrogeologic properties of the bedrock, a common method is to seal off intervals of interest with packers, which are big inflatable rubber donuts that seal against the walls of the borehole, and then do your testing.

(packer illustration from here)

One thing you need to do is find out where the steel casing for the upper portion of the boring ends and where the bedrock begins. Otherwise, you may do a detailed investigation of... a steel casing.

I was relieved to find that the steel casing did not in fact transmit water. The actual bedrock? Still a mystery.

Monday, October 8, 2012

diploma displays

A while back, I was reading through the comments on an Ask a Manager post (can't figure out which one now) and there was a long side conversation about displaying diplomas in your office. Opinions varied, but most of the commentators thought that displaying them was pretentious/obnoxious.

I have my diplomas and my professional certifications displayed in my office. My parents' graduation present was to get the fancy frame for both degrees, and they don't fit anywhere at home, so I brought them to the office.

When I first read that commentary on AAM, I thought, "oh, it's different for us scientific folks. We display everything!" Then I got curious and did a survey of the scientists and engineers I work with. Hardly anyone displays their diplomas, and only about half display their professional certifications.

Hmm. Does this make me pretentious?

Friday, October 5, 2012

snow day

The topic for the accretionary wedge for this month is fun field trip/camp moments.

There is something about a fresh coat of snow... a lot of snow, that brings out the kid in me. I don't know if I can distinguish between "most fun moments" in the field.

 Maybe it was the time that I hiked out to my field site in the snow all alone (and was scared on the way by an extremely large, non-domesticated... canine) and came across a huge, pristine open field with at least 3 feet of snow and made a chain of snow angels all the way across it.

Or it was when we took the sleds intended for hauling gear, snuck into a local park after dark, and spent hours illegally sledding on a massive hill. 

Yeah, working in the snow gets miserable fast. But when it's fresh and deep, it can be awesome.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

table/figure locations

Ok, I have a formatting question for you scientific types:

A disagreement has arisen about the proper location of tables and figures in scientific documents.

I can't stand reports that have the tables and figures buried within the text itself. It would be ok if the tables/figures were small enough that they didn't interfere with the text. But what happens is that you end up with one page of text and then you get a full-size figure (or a couple figures). And then you have another page or two, and then you get some more stuff breaking up the flow of the text. If you're trying to review a complicated analysis, it's incredibly distracting, and the figures/tables you need to refer to aren't terribly close to whatever you're reading. It's even worse if you're trying to find a particular table and need to flip through the entire document (or more likely, scroll through a several-hundred page PDF) to find it.

It is so much easier to have all the tables and figures in their own section. Easy to flip to, easy to find, and it doesn't impede the flow of the text.

I lost my argument, so my complicated document will have in-text tables and figures. What's your preference?

Monday, October 1, 2012

unit conversion 2

So, what happened to me? first, I was incredibly busy, then it was my sweetie's birthday and we ended up with an overabundance of awesome books to read, and then I fell out of the habit of posting.

Anyway, a while back, I was rooting through some old literature and came across this response to a paper published in Ground Water (Correlations of permeability and grain size, R. G. Shepherd, Volume 27, No. 5, October 1989):
I'll admit that I have never used the meinzer unit in any of my calculations. I've also avoided some of our other oddball units (acre-feet?). So there is hope that some of the more obscure units used in American hydrogeology will die out. Maybe in another 50 years we'll have converted to the metric system and not have to worry about all the contortions required to figure out how many gallons of water I need to pump out of a 5-inch borehole.