Thursday, December 24, 2015

where in the truck is...

As I was composing my last post, I kept thinking of vehicle-related "common sense" stuff that newbies may not be aware of.

In consulting, we tend to drive a wide range of vehicles - our own, various rentals, and/or company trucks/vans. We also tend to hop into each others' trucks to move them out of the way or grab something, so we may not be that familiar with whatever we're driving. However, the rest of the field staff is going to expect newbies to know these things. So here's a guide to the non-driving aspects of cars/trucks/whatever.

1. Gas cap: if you can't flip it open, push on it. If pushing on it doesn't work, it probably has a lever down close to the floor by the driver's door with a little gas pump icon.

2. To open the hood: there's usually a pull lever under the dashboard to pop the hood. To actually disengage it, you need to feel around the front inside of the hood for a lever.

3. The fuel gauge has an icon with a gas pump. The arrow next to the icon indicates what side the gas cap is on.

4. Emergency blinkers are marked with a red triangle, and may be on the top of the steering wheel or somewhere in the middle of the dashboard/center console.

4. The rearview mirrors should be extended out so that you can just barely see the edge of the car in them without moving your head. Most rearview mirror adjusters are located on the driver's side door, and have a switch or toggle for the left or right side mirrors. If not there, look around the center console.

5. If you're being towed/pulled out of a ditch, put the vehicle in neutral.

6. Yes, you can buy an inverter to plug into a car's cigarette lighter/auxiliary power supply, so that you can plug in a pronged cord. But you cannot run energy-intensive equipment (like, say, a drill or a big printer) off that power supply, as you'll blow the fuse.

7. You can replace fuses easily - all vehicles start out with spares tucked away somewhere. But if you have an old or rental vehicle, chances are the spare fuse you need has already been taken. Fuse boxes used to be reliably tucked under the dashboard, but I've also found them in the engine bay.

8. If you need to lock in 4-wheel drive, most modern vehicles will have a switch or button somewhere around the dashboard for that, and that's all you need to do. The dashboard should indicate that you're in 4-wheel drive. Some may require you to cruise forward for a bit for 4-wheel drive to engage. A few require you to put it in neutral first. And rare older trucks will require you to physically get out and lock the wheels (turn a lever on the center of the wheel).

9. It's ok to open the manual to find something! If you're using a rental vehicle, the odds are about 90% that the manual will still be sealed in its original packaging.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Life skills and fieldwork

Ugh. I got a bug and then was distracted by holiday obligations, so I haven't posted for ages. But I'm back!

So, life skills for environmental/geology fieldwork: when we hire newbies, we often assume a level of experience that they don't have. So we don't think to mention things that are common sense for us. So here's a list of various common sense skills/tools that I've had to explain or demonstrate:

1. Taping packages: The goal is to secure the package reasonably quickly, not to make sure every square inch of tape is stuck to the side. So you tape the first side, then extend the tape to a length a little more than the distance to the next edge you're going around. Then press the tape to that surface and swipe to seal. If you're taping a box, extend the tape several inches beyond the top on each side. If you're taping a cooler or something else that doesn't stick well to tape, your goal is to stick the tape to itself, not the cooler, so you keep stretching the tape and sticking to the edge again and again until it's fully wrapped the required number of times (if you have such requirements - see this post for more discussion of the infinite variety of shipping requirements).

2. Ratchets: We often use ratchets with sockets to open bolts on wells, drums, and miscellaneous equipment. If you fit a socket to the bolt you're trying to loosen/tighten and it just spins with minimal resistance, there's a little switch thing on top of the ratchet (the handle) closest to the socket. Switch that over to change directions.

3. Righty tighty, lefty loosey: If you're approaching a strange knob/nut/whatever, unless it's a gas valve (which may tighten differently depending on the gas content), you need to twist it so that the top swings to the right and down to tighten or to the left and down to loosen. Sounds simple, but if you're hanging onto a stuck thing and trying desperately to loosen it, you don't want to be going the wrong way.

4. Generators, trash pumps, and other simple, old tech: These are common and simple enough that they won't come with instructions. They have 2 sliders (the choke, the throttle [usually has a rabbit and turtle symbol]) and 1 on/off switch. To start a cold generator, make sure the throttle's all the way up, the choke is, uh, "off", and it's switched to "on" before yanking the cord (I can never remember which way the choke is supposed to be). If you don't get any response, switch the choke to "on" and try again. The thing will run better once if it's started if you slide the choke back the other way. Once it's been running a while, it will start easier and you just need to make sure the switch is "on".

5. Car/marine batteries: To connect to a battery using clips, attach the black clip to the negative (-) battery post, then attach the red clip to the positive (+) battery post. Reverse when disconnecting. If you're running something off a vehicle battery, either run the vehicle the entire time, or turn it on for a few minutes every half hour or so if you can't do the former.

6. Fumes: Ventilate if you're running a gas-powered thing inside. If sampling, position the gas-powered thing downwind or as far away as possible.

7. Padlocks: Sometimes you need to stick the key in and turn it to be able to push it closed. Try this method before slamming it shut with a hammer. Please.

8. Tool names: We're not mechanics, but we expect a basic tool vocabulary. Flathead screwdrivers look like "-" at the end and phillips head screwdrivers look like "+" at the end. And a few common "gripping" tools:

Adjustable or crescent wrenches (smooth gripper, screw part of the head):

Pipe wrenches (jagged gripper with separate screw mechanism):

Vice grips (technically, jaw-locking pliers, as vice grip is a brand name) - shapes may vary, but they all have an adjusting screw in one handle and a locking mechanism in the second handle:

Any other "common sense" stuff that you had to explain?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

PG test pitfalls

A while back, I discussed how I prepared for the ASBOG tests that are required for the Professional Geologist (PG) license in many US states. I mentioned that I did successfully pass both tests (Fundamentals of Geology and Practice of Geology). But when I was actually in the exam room, which parts did I have the most trouble with?

I didn't have too much trouble with the Practice of Geology - as an environmental geologist, I had all of the hydrogeology down cold. I'd also gone a little overboard on the oil and gas calculations when I was studying, since those were new to me. So even though I didn't have any professional experience with those topics, I was ok with those questions.

I was able to work out some of the obscure vocabulary questions by process of elimination. And I could get through some of the longer form questions (like the ones that referred to a geologic map and asked "which event happened first") also by process of elimination. The parts that tripped me up tended to be the areas of geology that I had some familiarity with through work (like engineering geology and geophysics) but that I don't actually do myself. When I came to specific questions in those topics, it turned out that my vague and minimal studying wasn't quite enough to answer them.

I ended up taking my PG tests with several people I knew personally or by association, and most of them failed the Fundamentals of Geology test. I wasn't comfortable asking them what parts they particularly struggled with, especially considering that I ended up doing ok. So I figured I'd put it to the general readership: if you took either test, how did you do with the material? Did you discover any unexpected gaps in your cramming education?

Friday, November 20, 2015

local hand specimen

I'm not approached to identify rocks very often. Most of the time I'm working in the field, I'm not in a location that's visible to the public, and when I am, I'm usually not doing something that obviously involves rocks. That's fine because rocks aren't actually my thing.

A while back, a maintenance guy working on one of my sites noticed that my business card had a variant of the word "geologist" on it. He mentioned that he lived in an old house, and that while they were renovating it, he found a funny rock tucked behind a wall. Could he bring it in for identification?

I expected him to bring in a piece of slag (often confused for rock around here, and in some places, much easier to find than bedrock), or maybe a rock with some reasonably large chunks of mica.

What he actually brought me was a fist-sized, perfectly formed crystal that I could have used as a type example for a mineralogy class. It also happened to be rare enough that I could give him a short list of local mines that it most likely came from. I'm not going to show the actual mineral here because it was so locally specific, but picture something like this (from here):
(Franklinite, pictured above, is a tad more rare than the mineral I identified, but you get the point)

So I got to tell him that his "funny rock" was actually a historically and geologically valuable specimen, and that with a bit more research (mine years of operation vs. house renovation/build years), he may be able to ferret out a very small list of places it actually came from. He could sell it for a reasonably high price, but I hope he holds onto it - it would make a great family/house heirloom.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Non-academic bloggery

Jeremy Fox has a recent post that discusses reasons for starting a science blog... or for not starting a science blog. The Dynamic Ecology blog is a group effort, but the group consists of academics. As a non-academic (industry) blogger, I had a different set of issues to contend with when starting to put my ideas out for public consumption.

Public outreach: I don't have any metrics or get any "points" for public outreach. I like public outreach, and I enjoy being out there in the field as a visible lady scientist, and I'm happy to answer any and all questions while I'm working (to the extent possible). But my job doesn't have any components at all related to educating the general population about scientific topics. It would occupy the same space on my résumé as volunteering for the local food bank - a nice do-gooder hobby that would only be useful in that it could be thought of as a form of networking. So, blogging wouldn't help my career that way.

Research publicity: One of the big differences between academia and industry is the focus of the science/research. In academia, I could work on my own thing and (at least in theory) be beholden only to Science. I work for a client, and my work product is owned by the firm. Depending on what I'm doing, my work may end up in the public domain in the form of public documents/filings. But the actual intellectual work - the arguing over cause/effect, the loose ends that need to be explained, the division of the workload, the polishing of the text? All that messy stuff is hashed out in private among a group of scientists prior to document finalization, whether that document is a memo to the file, a letter to a regulator/opposing counsel, or a big report. For me, there is no upside and a whole world of hurt if I publish internal deliberations for a recognizable product.

That's ok. I'm having fun over here even though my blogging will likely never have a positive career impact - it isn't intended to.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Billable hours

A comment on this recent post reminded me that I haven't directly addressed one of the most intimidating parts of the consulting biz: being billable.

Because consultants are mostly paid by the hour (and even for lump-sum projects, I've always billed hourly to the project so that internal management can see if the project's on track), we need to track what we're working on. And if we're not billing to a project, we bill to some sort of administrative project.

The tracking of hours really isn't that complicated - it just becomes a habit. I keep a running tally of what I'm doing throughout the day, and then at the end of the day, I figure out how many hours I've billed to each project. Fieldwork is easy because it's usually one project all day. I used to use a flurry of post-it notes and scrap paper, but now I have a notebook-based system so I can go back and check. Other non-luddites may use tracking software, but I like the ability to jot things down on paper while I'm going from one task to another.

Of course, the big fear for newbies is not having billable work. Here's the thing: having billable hours merely quantifies what would be happening anyway. If I never have a project to work on and I'm just twiddling my thumbs all day, a firm would have a problem with that regardless. Having it in numbers just makes it more obvious. A reasonable firm will have an understanding that nobody will spend their time entirely on billable work - people go on vacation, have mandatory training, work on proposals, etc. And sometimes work is slow and after you go through the round-robin of all the people who may have work for you, and you can't find anything billable, you end up reorganizing the equipment room or watching some webinars. That's life.

Entry-level staff have the least agency, and are less likely to have long-term projects that they can pull out and work on when work slows down. However, those people often have extremely high billability overall, because they tend to do the bulk of the fieldwork. Also, they're cheap. It's really not a hardship for them to be temporarily non-billable. Higher level staff (like me) aren't expected to be quite as billable, because we're more likely to work on proposals, train other staff, and have explicitly non project-related management work. In my experience, higher level staff are also expected to "eat" more hours and not charge as many hours to administrative tasks as they actually work, but this varies so much that I can't really generalize.

Switching from a non-billable environment (academia, oil and gas, etc.) can be an adjustment, but I don't think it's intrinsically more stressful than other work. But maybe I've just gotten used to it...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

management accessibility

Most environmental projects with a field component have an office-based project manager (PM), who works out the budget and schedule, deals with the client, and bargains with the other managers for appropriate personnel.

Then the field crew goes to work. The crew has a dedicated field team lead, who's responsible for getting the work done and communicating any issues/changes to the PM, who will notify other stakeholders (including the client) and adjust the overall project accordingly.

If you're a PM and your field crew is working outrageous hours, you need to be available for those hours. You may not need to be in the office, but you need to be on-call. Sure, it sucks to be chained to your phone in the evening or get rousted out of bed early in the morning, but the field crew doing your work is out there in the (potentially lousy) weather, doing physical and possibly stressful work.

Also, if the crew comes back from working long hours in the field and needs to spend another several hours in the office processing and shipping samples, and the PM is going to spend the rest of the afternoon at a golf tournament, the PM shouldn't be surprised if the field crew is a little... testy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

more documentation woes

It's been a while since I complained about documentation (see here), so here goes...

Sometimes the form just doesn't contain everything you need to say, or you drop it in a puddle, or you've been poking at a clay-rich mud while logging a sample and you smear it across the paper as you write. So you put the other half of the data on the back of the logsheet, or squash it vertically down the edge of the page.

That's ok. Your critical information is there somewhere, right?

Well, what often happens is that the dirty page gets shuffled in with all the other paperwork bits associated with the project and handed off to an intern to scan and then everybody forgets about it and the originals get lost. And then six months or a year later, I'm writing the report and need that critical information and it's gone because the scanner didn't catch the far edge of the page or nobody noticed the writing on the back.

Take the two minutes out of your life before the paperwork leaves your control to check this stuff and make sure that everything is filled out and legible. Or make sure that it's scanned and that it's still legible. Or refrain from shredding the original paperwork until the project's done. Whatever. Just don't leave me out to dry here!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

wild conferences?

I was comparing conference notes with a marketing person within the environmental industry, and boy, did he have different conference experiences from me. Mr. Marketing was all about the sort of conferences where contractors are playing matchmaker with each other and angling for clients, and they (used to?) turn into booze-soaked parties.

I... haven't experienced that. I go to scientific, boring conferences where grad students and industry tech people compare notes about new research and techniques, and then we load up on passed appetizers and drink beer. Maybe those scientific conferences do turn into wild bacchanals after hours/elsewhere, and I just wasn't invited?

So I don't have any wild and crazy geology/environmental conference stories. Are they out there, or did they go out of style with the big christmas party blowouts in the 80s?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

do as I say...

Regular readers will probably remember that I have a bit of an obsession with clear, concise writing.

And it's nice to commiserate with other reviewing types who also believe in clear, concise writing. Hey, if you come across something like "The subsurface soil sample was collected by the sampler within a discrete zone at the 2 to 4 foot depth interval in the soil column", feel free to call me and we can have a good giggle at the author's expense.

However, if you have spent a significant amount of time raging about the redundancies and general sloppiness of the poor schmo who started a report, and I find that all of your inserted text is either missing punctuation or has obvious factual errors, I start to get annoyed.

Sure, it's good to be concise.You know what matters more? Being correct. And I really don't want to hear about how terrible someone else's writing is when when you can't actually produce readable copy yourself.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

expired sunscreen use

As I mentioned a while back, I use a ton of sunscreen. I am also a bit scatterbrained and tend to lose things like sunscreen, so over the years, I have bought and squirreled away innumerable bottles of both "regular" and "face" sunscreen (critical to prevent serious pain from sweat + sunscreen running into my eyes).

I am also cavalier about expiration dates.

This isn't usually a problem, but I recently found an old bottle of sunscreen and in a pinch, applied it to my face. Two days later, I had a horrifying rash + acne breakout, and checked out the offending sunscreen.

It expired in 2009.

In hindsight, the fact that the sunscreen was not white (or even sort of yellow) but a light brown color should have tipped me off that perhaps the stuff was not trustworthy. I think I've used it relatively recently (like, a year ago) with no ill effects, but I may have restricted it just to non-sensitive areas like my arms.

So I actually went through and pitched everything that expired more than 3 years ago. In the future, I'll try to keep my purchases of new sunscreen to a minimum, and keep my sunscreen storage places to a few safe locations (i.e. not in the car, where they alternately cook and freeze). I would like to avoid looking like a dermatology case study.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"free" conference

I was still technically part of a research group after I'd finished grad school. The primary grant that I had worked under had a few stipulations, one of which was that the research group would present the findings of the work at x number of national/international conferences. The grant-giving organization had money set aside specifically for the conference attendance, and to make a long story short, I was the only one available to give the presentation.

I had just started a new job. Conference attendance wouldn't be a problem, right? After all, my travel and conference costs were entirely covered. Plus, as a newly-minted employee, I would be representing my new firm as a technical expert at big conference (related to that industry).

Not so much. New employer was fixated on the three days of admin/non-billable work that they'd need to pay me to fly out and give the presentation, so I ended up promising that I would squash three days of overtime into two weeks to avoid any extra admin charges.

I was wiped out by that overtime, plus the presentation prep time (also not allowed to be charged to the firm), and so I didn't do any actual conference networking to support my new employer.

I thought that the firm was outrageously short-sighted for not wanting to take advantage of a (mostly) free conference. I eventually figured out the office politics around having a brand-new employee jet off to a fancy conference (even though it was my research), and considered myself lucky to be allowed to go.

Now if I have a conference I'd like to attend, I make sure to have a business case for going and not just argue that I can give a cool presentation. I do miss grad school in that respect - as a grad student, I'd be able to take a free conference in a heartbeat, and not worry about more complicated financial/business development considerations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

weight and fieldwork

I discussed this a while back, but I tend to lose weight if I'm doing a significant chunk of fieldwork (say, more than 2 months) and gain weight when I'm back in the office. When I'm in the field, I'm constantly in motion - pacing while on the phone, scurrying back to the truck/trailer/storage unit to grab something, hauling stuff around. When I'm not doing fieldwork, I'm mostly sedentary at the office and then I come home and do maybe an hour of exercise one or twice a week.

I thought that most people lost weight in the field like I do, but when I asked around, I found that many of my coworkers gain weight. This is usually for a few reasons:

1. Regular exercise: unlike me, lots of other people who do fieldwork like physical activity/exercise, and when they're not in the field, they're on an adult rec league or they hike six mountains every weekend or they go on long bike rides/runs. When they're working long days, they don't have the time or facilities/equipment to exercise like they normally would.

2. Alcohol. This really deserves its own post, but briefly, we tend to drink more in the field than when we're at home.

3. Eating outside food: some people are diligent about cooking for themselves, either for their own enjoyment/interest in saving money or because they have dietary restrictions. The rest of us eat out. A lot.

I have no idea whether it's more common to gain or lose weight in the field. Readers, do you gain? lose? or can you actually maintain a steady weight regardless of where you're working?

Friday, August 21, 2015

blogroll update

It's been about 2 years since my last blogroll update. I've rearranged some of the headings and made a few other changes. Notably:

Deletions: Diamictite and The Happy Scientist have been post-free for more than a year, and sporadic before then. I'll keep an eye out, and if posts reappear, I'll add them back in.


The field experiences of ecologists and geologists are pretty damn close, and I've found myself using Dynamic Ecology many times for post inspiration.

I'm also adding a paleontology blog to round out the geology list - check out Fossils and Other Living Things.

Feel free to poke through the blogs!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

restarting transmission

So, that was a big gap. I got hit with a whole bunch of issues (personal and professional) that sucked up all my time, and then my posting fell by the wayside when my newfangled "write on weekends, post on weekdays" schedule hit a snag.

However, I do have a big pile of post-it notes with blog post ideas, which I kept accumulating in my posting absence. Let's see how it goes...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

outside office work

As I've moved into more analysis/inside technical work, I've occasionally had to work long hours inside. Whenever I need to do this, I'm reminded of how much more draining office work is. Sure, in the field I'll work 10-11 hour days with no ill effects, but a lot of that time is running around, collecting measurements, taking notes, and watching contractors.

I fit the extra office-type work in the office. I'm not the sort of person who can work well at home - I prefer to have a clean break from whatever is stressing me out. Even in grad school, where my setup for my apartment and my office at school was essentially the same, I would still make the trek in to do my homework. That means that in a pinch, I'll haul myself all the way to the office on a weekend to work. And because I'm a morning person, and if I'm stressed/under deadline, I will tend to go to bed early in an attempt to get more sleep and then wake up extremely early, I do all my extra office work before hours. By the time close of business rolls around, I may have already put in 10 hours and am wiped out.

I have coworkers who prefer to work extremely late, and ones who prefer to hide out at home to avoid distractions. I also used to work with someone who would take his stuff to a local bar to catch up on work. Of course, the best alternative would be to have a reasonable schedule and not have to work a ton of hours to catch up, but with project-based work, we rarely have the luxury of spreading out the workload.

Monday, March 16, 2015

paying speakers

Thee was some grumbling last week in the comments for this AAM post regarding payment to speakers. Some people were upset that the original poster was trying to get free speakers, and implied that this was similar to not paying interns.

I've been both a free speaker, and the person trying to arrange other free presentations. Here's the thing: in both situations, at least in my line of work, the speaker is getting paid, just not by the organization they're presenting to. A technical presentation is a form of marketing, and is usually budgeted as such.

My vendors love to give sales pitches presentations, and I'm ok with that, as long as the presentation has some reasonable technical meat. Making it a "lunch presentation" and having the vendor spring for pizza also works.

Because I'm on the consulting side of things, I'm not usually selling a particular product in my presentations. But if I've worked on a cool project and learned something useful, and I share it in some sort of public forum, I'm educating others and also keep my name out there as a smart person who does interesting stuff. Sometimes I present at conferences, and sometimes a big client will request a presentation for their own technical staff. I'm paid for my time (more or less) by my organization, and I may get a conference discount, but I'm not getting anything more.

Of course, sometimes I do volunteer. Maybe it's for a science career fair at the nearby high school, or they're short a speaker for the local branch of a geological/environmental society meeting. But it's not something that's keeping me from my paying job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

a rough project...

I haven't told any nightmare field stories in a while...

I was in charge of a big field project that was just a big mess. Budget, politics, technical requirements, personality conflicts... everything was hard. And on top of that, we had epically bad luck. Things broke that nobody knew could even break. If there was a utility line located anywhere on the property line, we would find it the hard way. Maybe not by drilling (because soon I was utterly paranoid and had the drillers hand digging to 5 feet), but by driving over it, running into it - you name it, it got damaged.

Sometimes projects are lousy. But this project was not only terrible, but it dragged on and on. The core field people (those who were in the project for the duration), who had a combined 80+ years of field experience, all responded differently to the stress.

One person slowly built up a bottomless pit of rage, to the point at which he started pacing and muttering incoherently. He never actually released it (he did that on the next project), but he got so bad, with anger just radiating out of him, that even the client representative and regulators were afraid to approach him. Another broke in a different way: he got so sick of stupid interruptions and changes in direction that his repressed sarcasm boiled over and he got booted off site (permanently) for insubordination. When I heard about that, I yelled at him, "you were supposed to direct them to me when they're being ridiculous! It's my job to debase myself and agree to outrageous demands so that we can keep this job moving forward and end it!"

Me, I became The Girl who Cries in the Trailer.

I would get screamed at, or I'd have to referee a fight between subcontractors, or something would break, or the oversight person would announce that we had broken another of a million little rules and the job was shut down until I could fix it, and I would go into crisis management mode at the scene. Then, I would drive off to the trailer, start the incident report or the updated schedule or the work plan modification, and I would cry over my paperwork. Or, I'd close the door behind whoever had just made my life miserable and bury my face in my hands for a few minutes.

We survived, Mr. Insubordinate and Mr. Rage and me. We went on to do other difficult and technically challenging jobs. But we all agreed that we would not work on another project as bad as that one again.

Friday, March 6, 2015

too much review/little review?

I was reading a simple long-term monitoring report by another consultant, and the level of review/non-review was...odd.

I don't expect much from a long-term monitoring report. It's a lot of boilerplate and "yep, nothing much is changing, just like the last 17 reports", and that's fine. But I came across a report that was decorated with four review signatures, including signatures of some high-level staff. And the report had a collection of typos, weird formatting (tables ending up illegible because they'd been shrunken down to the equivalent of 6-point font), and lousy interpretations of things like water level and contaminant contours.

Did any of the reviewers actually review the thing? I mean, sure, contour interpretations aren't earth-shattering, and I can just eyeball the numbers they're based on and mentally create my own if they're bogus. But illegible tables? Super-obvious typos? They're the sort of thing that it would take a reviewer (well, me anyway) about 5 minutes to scan through and flag for revision.

Reports that the one of the corporate officers and two technical experts is signing off on should at least look respectable to someone who glances through it.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Field folks/road warriors, when you're going out on a multi-day trip, what do you bring?

I use one of two suitcases: one is small, for just a couple days in the field in the summer or for a conference. The other is reasonably large (but not gigantic). Both are a color that's relatively popular, but they're not black and I never have a problem recognizing them at the baggage claim.

Many of my coworkers tend to use giant duffel bags. I will bring along a smaller duffel in the winter for the multitude of clothing I may need (sweater, fleece, jacket, coveralls, mittens, etc). But for the stuff I'll change into or out of at the hotel, I much prefer a suitcase, because it has a lot more "top space" to rummage around. Also, I can add a laptop or other heavy stuff and wheel it around.

The worst of both worlds is the rolling duffel. I used to cart around a gigantic, rigid-bottomed duffel with two wheels, and it was impossible to wheel around and the wheel/bottom made it less suitable for stuffing and tended to whack you painfully when hoisted. Now it sits on the floor of a closet and is used only as out of season storage.

I got my two-suitcase set about 5 years ago, and it's a "rugged" soft-top line of a pretty good brand (Samsonite), but both suitcases have seen a lot of hard usage. Say, 100 flights? And then they've been chucked in and out of various vehicles for probably 100 weeks of non-airline travel. The open bed of a pickup truck in the rain/snow? Check. Crammed into a car with pointy, metal equipment? Check. So they're starting to show their age. Nothing catastrophic, but lots of frayed bits and chewed-up edges and iffy wheels.

I'll keep my luggage going for a while (another few years at least), but maybe the problem is that I'm picking luggage that isn't rugged enough? Is it worth paying more for bulletproof luggage, or is it better just to get reasonably cheap stuff and expect to replace it on a regular basis?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Temporary hiatus

I've had a bunch of stuff come up (professional and personal) that has been completely draining, and I  fell off the posting wagon. I'm not expecting things to get better for another few weeks. So we'll reconvene in March!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

non-geology spam

Environmental geology is a pretty small corner of the scientific world, I know. And the vast majority of applied scientists out working in industry today are likely in some corner of the (human) biology world.

I get more biological spam than I do environmental or geology spam. And I've been to enough conferences that I'm on just about every environmental mailing list out there. Today, it was an international (very prestigious, they swear) journal of medical science that wanted submissions from me. Earlier this week, it was a firm selling high-end biotech equipment. And the at least 3/4 of the job listings I get from linkedin are for biology positions: microbiology lab tech. Pharmaceutical rep. Cognitive psychologist. Process engineer for a big regional biotech firm.

Sure, there are corners of geology and biology that do intersect. Paleontology. Geomicrobiology. But big pharma R&D? Not so much.

Friday, January 16, 2015

collar color?

I  was having a discussion with someone recently who said they left an outdoor job (forestry, in their case) because they were tired of being dirty and they wanted to have a white-collar job.

It's funny - when I was in the environmental consulting biz, I always thought that I did have a white-collar job. One that involved a fairly extensive travel schedule and fieldwork, sure. But I wrote reports and did analyses, and I had an advanced degree as well.

Maybe convenient job classifications don't work as well for scientists...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

cold adaptation

I finally have this cold weather thing figured out. It took ages, but now I can do fieldwork in both absolute cold (well below freezing) and wet cold (deep snow, temperature just below freezing, pouring rain) all day without misery or risking hypothermia. The factors that keep me warm, from easy to adjust to... not:


1. Breakfast is critical. I cannot have too many complex carb/protein/fat calories the morning of a long day of fieldwork in the cold. I need to get all that energy in early because...
2. If I eat anything more than a snack during the day, my body works on digestion instead of keeping me warm, and my core temperature crashes. This is backwards and strange, but I am the sort of person who will start shivering after a big meal.
3. I'm better off staying out in the cold, rather than warming up. If I get toasty at any point, my system goes, "oh good, we don't need to worry about dealing with cold any more" and then I'm miserable the rest of the day.
4. Keep active. Sometimes I'm just watching other people do work, and if I just sit there, my circulation goes down and then I have a serious extremity problem. I have no shame doing "the cold dance" - bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet in place (so I'm not in danger of slipping) if my feet start to get cold.


Many of my "gear" posts are about the stuff I wear. It took a lot of experimenting to figure out what keeps me warm, but not overheated, in all sorts of conditions. How many layers are too many? Is there a possibility of getting wet? Will I be fighting through brambles? Maybe the knits and high-tech outer layers need to be replaced with something sturdier. How can I fit the PPE (personal protective equipment) I'm required to wear in with the cold-weather gear?


I almost called this "grit", but that's not quite accurate. What I mean is, I've had lots of practice being cold. I shiver and turn funny colors easily, but there's a difference between "brrr!" and dangerous. I've learned to adapt to the cold, and I can stay comfortable (or uncomfortable but safe) for longer and at much lower temperatures than when I first started out.


I matured super late, physically, and was still in "colts years" into my early 20s. I've gained 30 pounds on a small frame (and remember, I'm a short woman!) since I started working in the environmental biz. Where did that weight go? Big muscles in my shoulders, upper arms, and back, from hauling coolers and other equipment. Same thing with my legs and butt, from hiking around all day with said equipment. My hips and boobs, from general weight gain and finally developing a "womanly figure" after spending what felt like an eternity (middle school, high school, early college) with no assets in that department. And yeah, I do have a pooh belly. That extra mass - everywhere - really does help.

I wouldn't say that I enjoy spending the day outside when it's miserable out. But I can do it for weeks on end without any ill effects, and then I have a bounty of war stories to impress newbies/scare my parents/negotiate for raises in the future.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

so dirty!

I don't know what it is, but I cannot keep my clothes clean when I'm in the field. Everyone else on the field crew will leave the site looking like they've spent a day working hard, sure. But I leave the site looking like Pigpen. So why the mess?

1. As a geologist, I have to really get into the soil. I'm logging cores, or venturing close to the drilling operations to collect cuttings. So I have more contact with dirt, or with drill rigs spewing stuff in general.

2. I finally have all my field clothing that's sized appropriately and works for me. Everything else I have to wear? Not so much. Traffic vests billow out and catch on things, or just drag down across the table when I'm bent over to log something. Hard hats and safety glasses slide down, and I push them back up with dirty hands or the back of a dirty sleeve.

3. If I'm primarily observing contractors or others, it would be nice to kick back with a camp chair in the shade. But the appearance of laziness doesn't go over well with the general public, clients or other stakeholders who drop in, and the people you're overseeing. Besides, I'm far too twitchy to just hang out. Instead, when I've been on my feet for ages and need a break, I tend to lean against/perch on whatever's handy: a tailgate, a fender, a pile of core boxes, etc. And those are invariably dirty.

4. I'm just not that fastidious, and I'm usually in a hurry. So I lean in to yell something at the driller over the noise of the drill rig, and my shoulder brushes against a glop of grease on the rig. Or I round the corner of a truck and snag part of my jacket on it. Or I grab a mud-covered pipe wrench that the driller can't quite reach, and transfer some of that to my sleeve. Or I'm fighting through undergrowth to locate something, and I get a colony of burrs stuck to...everything.

This is why I need lots of pants and field shirts - I run through them faster than anyone else I know.

Monday, January 5, 2015

12 months of AR

It's time for my annual recap of 12 months of Accidental Remediation! Silver Fox also included links to her previous versions of this meme, so I thought I'd add that in, after an absence last year. See 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Unlike Silver Fox, I mostly don't have illustrations.

Same rules as before: first sentence of the first post of every blog, plus a link. This year, I didn't really have any "filler" posts or big apologies for being an irregular blogger, so no cheating!

January: In a recent post, I mentioned that the HAZWOPER course can be tremendously useful for getting interns out into the field.

February: I have used this particular computer to add posts to blogspot with no problem.

March: I was asked about review courses here and figured the topic needed more than just a short answer.

April: A while back, I mentioned that I needed a replacement camera.

May: AAM recently had a post from someone who was frustrated with a manager who would only give vague (but extremely negative) feedback about her writing.

June: A few months ago, I visited an area with very stinky tap water (stinky groundwater) from naturally-occurring hydrogen sulfide, which produces a rotten-egg odor.

July: A comment on the previous post raised the issue of "firing" drillers/drilling companies.

August: This recent post on AAM regarding writing for free (for an established for-profit publisher) collected a big pile of comments.

September: One of the signs I'm getting older is that I need to keep a better eye on my diet.

October: Another writing pet peeve to add to the pile:

November: When I'm overseeing contractors, I am generally easygoing.

December: Geologists/scientists, did you have any terrible grades in a science class?

Bloggers, consider yourselves tagged...