Wednesday, December 26, 2012

when to give up

I haven't done a weather post in a while...

The winter storm that snarled up a big portion of the US over the holiday reminded me of something. I've discussed giving up fieldwork because of illness before, but not giving up because of the weather.

We stop work if there's a thunderstorm for safety reasons. But thunderstorms generally pass through quickly, so usually it's only a break of less than an hour. Occasionally, I've broken off early because it's getting close to the end of the day anyway. But I don't remember actually stopping in the middle of the day and sending people home.

Other adverse weather slows work down and requires additional warm up/cool down breaks. But I've never actually stopped work for temperature variations.

If I have a big field crew, we tend not to stop for snow. I may stop the work early if the roads look like they'll be especially bad and it's the end of a day/travel shift. Of course, the problem with snow is that you can't up and leave if it's snowing. You'll lose supplies in the snow and never find them again, anything wet (say, from drilling more than 10 feet below ground surface) may freeze and get damaged, and equipment that's hidden and possibly frozen to the ground is a massive safety hazard. Everything needs to be secured properly, so I can't just make an announcement that we'll leave and try to come back and finish up later. Of course, this means that I've been caught in hellacious storms (like this one) driving 2-wheel drive pickups and vans.

Short answer, we work in all weather. It takes too much coordination and schedules are too tight for anything short of "get off the road" emergency declarations. It's just that sometimes, we need to be a little more deliberate in what we're doing...and we need to have the supplies to keep warm/cool/dry and safe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

travel buddy

Today, someone asked AAM about the etiquette of hanging out after work if you're traveling with other coworkers.

For me, the default has always been that we go out for dinner together, at least for the first night. After the first night, someone may be tired from fieldwork or have leftovers. If the field crew is larger (say, more than 4 people),  people are more likely to go out and do their own thing, but at the same time, you're more likely to have a Big To Do for dinner at least one night, rather than a quiet meal that ends quickly.

The folks I have worked with have always been reasonable about accommodating dinner. Nobody's taken the only vehicle and left me stranded, and I haven't been bullied into eating somewhere or with someone that I'm uncomfortable with. It helps that I'm a pretty adventurous eater.

At the same time, the expectation has always been that we go out to/meet for dinner, and only that. We're all professional adults, so it's not like the first time we're getting let off the leash (really, making travel into a big party gets old fast), and we have other things we'd like to do in the evening, and so we nearly always separate after dinner.

Of course, there are exceptions. If we have a free day or an especially early day for some reason, I'm definitely up for an adventure. I've visited museums and national monuments, gone to the beach, and played epic games of pool with coworkers. But generally with fieldwork, we all end up exhausted and grumpy at the end of the day.

One of the questions on the AAM post was on coworkers who "run amok" when traveling. Same answer. I have a lovely, civil dinner, and then I go back to the hotel and call my sweetie and zone out to the "storage wars" marathon that's guaranteed to be on. Boring, but then I don't have to try and do physical labor while hungover and my coworkers' antics aren't my responsibility!

Monday, December 17, 2012

end of the year meme

I figured I'd do my annual end-of-the-year meme a little early before the world ends (I tried to think of something clever to contribute to this month's accretionary wedge, but I'm stuck). I've done this each full year I've been blogging (2011, 2010, and 2009) and really, it can happen any time after I've done my first post for December.

This year was a pretty good year for output. I still lost an entire month, but I still had more posts than the last two years. Hopefully next year will continue the trend.

Same rules as before: link to and list the first sentence of the first post of every month. It may be cheating to skip the first sentence if all you're doing is apologizing for not posting, but that's what I'm doing.


I'm back from vacation and ready to look back over last year.


I have an oddball phobia about damaging my teeth, or specifically knocking them out.


I am a terrifically fast writer. 


I was staying at a big conference hotel recently, and it had the usual problems: outrageously expensive internet, no food or entertainment options within walking distance, and preposterous prices - my club sandwich for dinner was $17!


After I raved about my GPS' traffic sensing here, I have to admit that I've had a serious problem recently - the traffic sensing on my GPS has been useless for most of the last month.


When I first started out in environmental consulting, I wasn't entirely sure what the managers did, exactly.


FSP broke her blog hiatus today to discuss mentoring by blogging.


So. Explosive coworkers, a theme I have extensive experience with, especially if you extend "coworkers" to include drillers and other contractors.


No posts. Bad Short Geologist!


...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 was poking around the geoblogosphere, and I came across this post on field trip etiquette. 


Copy and paste are two of my favorite word processing functions.

Consider yourself tagged!

Friday, December 14, 2012


I was recently told that I am "hard to shop for." Au contraire! I'm a cinch to shop for. Anything food-related works, whether it's cookies or chocolate or kahlua-soaked brownies or gourmet cheese or jams. Good books are always appreciated, but I guess that depends on taste and trying to find something I haven't read yet. So here are some other ideas:

Scientific office toys, like those from think geek:

Nifty rock samples, like these meteorite chunks from here:

Geeky t-shirts, like those from yellow ibis:

And last but not least, I can always use something practical. Say, the basic textbooks that didn't follow me out of college - something I'm not likely to buy for myself.

Or, you know, some local edibles...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

citation policy

I've had proper citation drilled into me since high school. The citation format may change, and sometimes, the details you need to cite may change (whole document? Each individual table?). I always check my own references, and I've often had my references argued over.

So I was highly amused when I ran across this in scientific paper:

"Information sources are not volunteered, but can be selectively furnished on meritorious grounds."

This would not fly in consulting, in grad school, in college...

In case you were wondering if I was researching bomb thermodynamics or Microsoft intellectual property, I was not. As far as I could tell, the author was discussing entirely publicly available government documents.

I really wanted to contact the author, but I'm not sure my reasons would be entirely meritorious.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

drive-by management

One of my first field projects involved a big drilling program that was spread all over town. I was watching one of several drill rigs, so even though I was a newbie and could have used some (a lot?) more supervision, the field manager was always off doing a million other things.

So I was not on top of all the things I should have been on top of, and the driller knew it. So I wasn't getting the highest-quality samples. And every time the field manager did one of his sporadic pass-throughs, I would dread it because he would always catch something else that I was doing wrong. He'd stop by, scold me, and then his phone would ring and he'd zoom off somewhere else.

Years later, I was in charge of a big, complicated project with a lot of oversight by parties that weren't necessarily happy that we were there. So it was my job to make sure everything went completely by the books. I did a lot of driving around, checking to make sure everything was going ok. I'd stop to chat with the person assigned to oversee us, make sure they were ok with everything, and then sidle over to my field personnel and discreetly mention stuff that needed to be addressed, stat. And then a crisis would happen somewhere else or my boss (the project manager) would call looking for some critical information that was on file in the trailer, and I'd head off.

It was only when a coworker complained to me about my drive-by criticism that I realized I had turned into my old field manager. So I tried to be more encouraging abut the stuff that was going well, and to stay long enough that I could actually help out rather than just being critical. Of course, if I didn't have to continually nag about health and safety/housekeeping/basic rig oversight stuff to field folks who did know better, then that would have been the best option, but someone had to be the heavy...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

popsicle time

It's starting to feel like winter around here - it's been below freezing at night for a while now, and the other night, I drove home from work in snow flurries. The snow started sticking, so the ground is starting to freeze.

And when it gets really cold out and I'm collecting soil samples, I need to worry about popsicles.

If it's super cold and I'm overseeing extremely fast drilling, such as direct push technology (DPT), which produces a large number of samples in plastic acetate liners, my samples may freeze if they stack up too fast.

Frozen water can be difficult to break into sample-able pieces. Dense soil can be difficult to mix up properly. But frozen soil with chunks of gravel, wood, and other extremely hard bits is nearly impossible to sample. Sure, you could stick it on the dashboard of your truck to warm up, but often you're trying to sample volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which need to be preserved or sealed in an airtight container right away. Warm up the soil, and all your VOCs will just... leave.

One memorable winter, we were trying to collect a large number of shallow samples. The drillers were in a hurry to get the samples and get the hell out of there, so the samples started to pile up. The samples were frozen solid, and we had to sample for everything under the sun - VOCs plus large volumes of everything else. The soil cores were so hard and consolidated, we had no hope of beating them against hard objects to dislodge anything. So what we ended up doing was breaking tiny chips off the ends with whatever we could (mostly screwdrivers and icepicks) and sending off those for VOC analysis, hacking the cores into whatever would fit into mixing bowls, and piling the bowls in the corner for later.

Hacking at slippery, literally rock-hard chunks of contaminated soil with frozen hands is perhaps not the safest way to spend an afternoon.

 ...I have millions of photos of acetate liners with soil samples, but they're sort of privileged. It was harder than I thought to find a photo online. This is from a drilling company:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

mix it up!

Copy and paste are two of my favorite word processing functions. Everybody likes copy/paste. Especially if you're writing a long report and you have to mention the same trends/discussion items over and over again.

However. You need to go back and vary the word choice. If you use very simple sentence construction, you'll sound dumb saying, "the highest level of gack is here. The highest level of super-gack is here. The highest level of "Gah! Radioactive gack!" is here.

If you decide to get fancy and say, "the results of the analyses of the environmental media indicate that the maximum detected concentration of gack is situated in this location", then for the love of God, vary your sentences. Or your reviewer may get irrationally angry about your word choice and treat your report... poorly.