Thursday, July 22, 2010

diploma display

Congrats to EcoGeoFemme for recently receiving her diploma.

I got my diploma several months after I finished all my degree requirements. I got the fancy frame for it (actually, that was my parents' graduation present) and hung it in a place of honor in my office.

I was debating adding my undergraduate diploma to my collection, but my undergraduate institution has the world's largest diplomas. It's completely ridiculous. So I just have the grad degree hanging up.

Do you have any degrees used as decoration in your office? Or do you think it looks a little silly/pretentious?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

information levels

Folks at RealClimate are having an energetic discussion about the technical levels at which public communication (i.e. scientific info for the general public) should be written. (via highly allochthonous).

I've run into this issue a lot in environmental work. Local residents and community action groups may have a limited scientific vocabulary, and most reports are geared to an industry audience (regulatory or otherwise). How much technical explanation is necessary?

I won't sacrifice the scientific vocabulary, because the language is precise. For example, contaminants may get bound up with the soil by adsorption or absorption, but they're two different processes. That's why we say "sorbed" and leave it at that.

At the same time, we don't need to complicate the matter by using multiple terms for the same thing, cluttering up our sentences with a lot of junk like "whereas" and "herein"...or making every sentence into a paragraph. Some clarity goes a long way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

random meme

I got this from Silver Fox. My last post...

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Cory Who?
I don't know that it says very much about my writing abilities...So I picked a much longer post.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Ah. Someone who writes incredibly complicated stuff that's stuffed with asides and endnotes. I guess that works...

ETA: I just tried my published paper, and I still write like David Foster Wallace. I'm guessing the software thinks citations are random asides.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

semi-log paper

The light table I mentioned earlier is a bit of a dinosaur. But it’s a reliable dinosaur. It sits in the corner and is forgotten about 99.9% of the time. You don’t need another light table, you just need to keep (unearth?) the one you have tucked away somewhere.

Semi-log paper is consumable. It’s getting harder and harder to find, too.

You may ask, “Why the hell would anyone need semi-log paper? Doesn’t everyone have a spreadsheet/graphing program?”

There are some problems with computer-only semi-log graphing:

1. When you graph something in excel, the points are immutable unless you actually track down the point in the spreadsheet and adjust it. In order to see patterns in the data (for example, what slope you need to use to analyze the time-drawdown data for an aquifer test), it’s often easier to adjust points so that you can figure out what actually happened.

2. If you’re in the field and you’re trying to decide if you have enough data to continue a drawdown test, it’s often easiest to do a quick sketch of your manual measurements rather than reconnecting multiple transducers to a laptop or hand-held device and fiddling with the data so you can put everything together.

3. Excel is becoming a black box. Does a student actually understand what a logarithmic scale is? If they’re using a published graph of data, can they compare their results and see what they have? In both my instructing gig and my TA days in grad school, I’ve found that students are stymied by creating simple graphs by hand. If you can’t put points on a graph, how can you interpret the graphs that excel made for you?

Maybe I’m old and too suspicious of computer gadgetry. But I can plot something up and figure out trends to bolster an argument in 30 seconds using my trusty semi-log paper.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

the light table

The humble light table is getting harder to find. The place I’m working at now has a light table, but when I arrived, it was in a corner, buried under about 10 years’ worth of old maps and papers. I’m fairly sure I am the only person who ever uses the light table here.

In an ideal world, I would be a GIS whiz and I would have a full license for GIS and a computer with the capacity to run it without having each change take more than a couple of seconds. And I would have a really big, really light tablet (sort of like…a piece of paper) so I could draw stuff electronically and pull various layers around and see the relationships between site features and the geology/contamination.

What I usually end up with is a selection of fuzzy aerials, maps done by other contractors (no shapefiles for you!), a USGS quadrangle I’ve blown up to almost the right scale, sample points that haven’t been entered into a basemap yet, and maybe some giant copies of as-builts from 1952.

How are these two different contaminant plumes related? Can we figure out what that odd structure is, and what sort of impact does it have? The water table’s doing something funny over here – do we have any evidence for why it looks odd, or is the well just screwed up? Often, the best way to figure out what’s going on is to fire up the light table and start shuffling paper around.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

not obsolete yet

In the grand march of technology (i-pods for compasses!) some items are bound to be left behind as the next big technology takes root. But are they really replaced?

I haven’t done a themed week since last year, so here’s another: do you have any items/equipment that have fallen out of favor but which are still essential?

I’m a big contrarian, so I have a few that I’ll describe in the next few days, but do my readers have any favorites? Maybe you’ll mention some of mine…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

job search juggling

I'm still catching up on my blog reading, so this is a late response to Brazen Hussy's post about the disappointing result of her job search.

Brazen Hussy had a pretty epic job search that ended in...not a new job. I've been keeping the details quiet, but as I implied here, I've spent a chunk of this year trying to move in a different direction for my career. And I've had about as much luck as Brazen Hussy.

It is so hard trying to do job searches and go on interviews when you're spending all your working time either in the field or in frantic preparations for more fieldwork. Hell, it's hard enough trying to fit in dentist appointments.