​#268 The Driver - Pedestrian Problem


You all know what I'm talking about. You've done it. You've been on both sides of the problem. I'm talking about what I call the Driver-Pedestrian problem. I'll explain how this relates to archaeology later. First, what is it?

The Driver

You're in a university parking lot -- or a supermarket -- or a mall -- and you're looking for a spot. You're late. You don't have time for this. All you want to do is park. It would be easier to find a spot if not for only one thing: THOSE DAMN PEDESTRIANS. Get out of the way! I have 2000 pounds of car and I know how to use it! Why are there so many people in the world? I just want to park!!

The Pedestrian

SLAM! You shut the door and become a pedestrian. All you want is to get to class; get to the front door; get out of the parking lot. Why are these people driving so slow? Why are so many cars in this parking lot? GET OUT OF MY WAY!!

How This Relates to Archaeology

I've told the story above to illustrate how our perceptions of a situation change as we change our roles. This is important for archaeological fieldwork in several ways. First, when resurveying previously recorded sites and second when going back to a site during a current project to either finish the recording or update your data in some way.

Previously Recorded Sites

How many crews have you been on where the crew discovers a previously recorded site on a survey and where you know which company recorded it? Probably more than a few times if you work in the West. What's always said, almost without fail? "This company does shit work." "This company doesn't  have a clue." It's often that people think sites were shoddily recorded or that they likely "missed a bunch of stuff." Sometimes this is true. Most of the time, though, the archaeologists probably did the best they could; just like you would.

It's important to remember that different sites are recorded in different ways. Sometimes, if their job is to evaluate the site under Section 106, archaeologists will limit a recording in the interest of time if it is very apparent that the site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This isn't necessarily what everyone does, or should do, but we live in a world where limited funds and time are available for projects and sometimes we don't get to spend the time on sites that we'd like to.

When I record a site I try to record as much information as possible and as is feasible. When I write the site record, I imagine another archaeologist coming to this site and trying to piece together what I did. Are they able to figure out the site and my determinations based on what I wrote? If they are, then I did my job. Is it likely, or even possible, that I recorded EVERYTHING on the site? Probably not. So, if you go back to the site, are you going to find something I didn't? Possibly. That's not a bad thing; it's a reality.

Revisiting Sites on a Project

This is an entirely different problem. I'll give you a scenario and then we'll talk about it.

Let's say you're on a project where you can't take pictures of ANYTHING without a representative of the client present. There are probably many ways to deal with this. One way is to record the sites while you have your full crew. For the photos, take photo points in the GPS device and, if you're digital, record the photo information on your tablet. You could do this on paper too. This way, if someone goes back out to take the photos, someone that wasn't on the site initially, they can quickly find what they need and move on to the next site.

Now, if I get to a complicated site and choose to cut corners by not taking photo points or by not writing up the records, then I'm doing my future self, or my colleague, a disservice and I'm causing them to waste needless time. In this case, I'm the Driver.

As the pedestrian, I come to a site and I've got to recreate what happened and figure out where everything is. I'm on the other side now and I'm looking at everything my colleagues did and I'm trying to reconstruct what happened. How do I react if there are inconsistencies?

On the one hand we have archaeologists trying to record a site as quick and as accurately as possible. Perhaps taking the photo points on a large site is too much. Perhaps there isn't time. "Ah, they can handle it when they come back to take photos." On the other hand we have someone coming back to the site, possibly months later, that has to find everything and take the photos. I assure you, there are good ways to do this and bad ways.

What does this all mean?

Essentially, think of your colleagues when you either record a site or re-record a site. Is what you're doing going to make sense to someone else? Maybe have someone else on your crew read your site record before you leave. Make sure it makes sense. Also, give someone the benefit of the doubt when you go back to a site. Remember those tough days you've had and remember that everyone has tough days. Also, remember that the earth and the earth's weather move things around. Things get covered up and other things get uncovered. Archaeology is fluid.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field!!

#230 - Bad Businessman

So, I might be just a bad businessman, or, I’m going to change the world. Either way, here are some thoughts on business and pricing in CRM and, really, everything.

There is a pretty good chance that DIGTECH is going to be merging with another company soon. We’re joining forces because the leadership of the other company are getting on in age and are looking to keep their legacy going. First, I really respect them for making this decision. There is no reason to let something you’ve built for the past 30+ years just die. That being said, there are some decisions that will have to be made.

DIGTECH Pricing Schedule

When I first started my company I was really stressing out over what to charge for my services. There are essentially four levels that need to be priced: Principal Investigator, Project Manager, Crew Chief, and Field Technician. The price you put on proposals is called the billable rate and it’s intended to cover all of your operating expenses (overhead) and is the source of your profit.

A number of companies I’ve worked for have a billable rate for PI that ranges from $85 to $150 per hour. I’ve seen an average for field technician of about $50-$60 per hour. Some companies charge more, some less. The rate is often decided by using a multiple of 2.0 to 3.0. For example, if you want to pay your field technicians $18 per hour, then multiply that by 2.5, for example, to get the billable rate ($45 in this example). Again, that rate should cover overhead and give you some profit at the same time.

Of course, I don’t really have much overhead. I’m completely digital and don’t have offices to pay for. So, do I use a multiplier that’s under 2, or, do I use a standard multiplier so I can stay up with everyone else and just make more money? That’s the big question, isn’t it?

Undercutting, or, Efficiency?

My big question is: what is the price point I can choose that pays my people well, gives the client a fair price, turns a profit, and is respectable? That last one is tricky. If your prices are too low you won’t be taken seriously; too high and you won’t win any projects.  The prices need to be somewhere in the middle.

If my prices are too low I could also be seen as undercutting by the competition. That’s a sore point with me too. Is it undercutting to work more efficiently by completely rethinking the entire business and how we do it? I don’t think so. If I’m paying my people well and growing the company while giving my clients a fair price then I’m happy. If other companies can’t compete with that then that’s not really my problem. Sounds harsh, but, times are changing and you either adapt and overcome or move out of the way.

Joint Venture Pricing

So, If I join forces with a company that’s been in business for 30+ years, what do we charge? Also, we’ll be working in both California and Nevada. Do multi-state companies have different pricing structures for different areas? You would think they do to remain competitive, but, they still have the same overhead to pay. Bringing in another, established, company will give me some of the experience I simply don’t have.

I’ve been building DIGTECH by the seat of my pants. In reality, I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to business development. I’ve simply never done it before. What I do have is drive, ambition, and a desire to do things better and more efficiently than they’ve been done in the past.

On the last episode of the CRM Archaeology Podcast (Episode 36) we interviewed firm owner Sonia Hutmacher. Sonia said that she recommends you start a company with $30-$50k. I started with $7k and a credit card. Still in business, though.

Anyway, we have some decisions to make over the next few months. In the end I think it will be great for both companies.

That’s about it for now. I’ve been a bit absent since my other company, Field Tech Designs LLC, has been taking up a massive amount of my time. We’re creating digital field forms for other companies and our application for Android, and eventually iOS, is well underway with development. Since the dev company is in India there are a lot of late night calls so I can work with the development team. There will be many more details to come.

Also, I'm likely starting a new business for aerial drone surveys. We'll be taking aerial photos for large mine complexes, pipelines, utility lines, archaeological excavations, road surveys, and everything else. Sure, it's illegal now, but, hopefully the FAA gets their head out of their collective...well, you know.

From XKCD, of course.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#218 #BlogArch Carnival January: Best Posts


We’re moving forward with Doug’s Archaeology Carnival and this is my January post. I like to wait until the end of the month so I can wait for everyone else to post. That way I can see what they do that I like, what I don’t like, and take all the good parts and call them my own. Sort of like Apple does with technology. And, like Apple, I make take those ideas and make them iAwesome! Right.

I figured a post that essentially boils down to a popularity contest should start with a little bombastic ego boosting. Feel free to comment your ass off so this can be the post I talk about next year.


It can be difficult to measure the “worth” of a particular post. Some posts receive comments, some don’t . Some get a lot of “page views” and some don’t. Then there are the unique views. Those are supposedly the views that count only once per person visit. That means you get counted only once even if you use the same device to check out a post several times in one day. Many bloggers say the unique views are the ones that count. Apparently the bots the troll the internet, such as Google Search, hit sites multiple times which inflates your page view count. I don’t know whether that’s true, and frankly, I don’t care much.

I don’t have any hard numbers on comments, views, or unique views because I switched from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6 last March. When I did that I lost my metrics for Squarespace 5 which accounted for my first 115 or so blog posts. I can tell you, however, which posts were more popular.

By far, my most popular post was the one I made about getting fired for blogging. It happend soon after I started my blog and I’m pretty sure I had over 600 unique views on that post in just a couple days. I keep getting hits on it so I’m sure it’s over several thousand by now.

My most popular series is my “Shovelbums Guide”. It seems that people like this stuff. I named the posts so they are highly searchable as well, so, I think a lot of non-archaeologists end up finding them on Google. The posts were so popular, in fact, that I decided to make an eBook out of them. I happened to have a rough draft of the book on my iPad at the SAAs in Hawai’i last year when I stopped by the Left Coast Press booth. My plan was to ask one of the editors, Caryn Berg, if she thought it would make a good book. I had no intention of publishing it traditionally. She told me that it was a great idea and encouraged me to put in a proposal. I did…the book will be out in April, just in time for a book signing at the SAAs in Austin!

Right now I get between 2500 and 3500 unique hits per month on my blog. It’s pretty steady, even though I don’t blog on a strict schedule. I think I’ve created enough content that I get a lot of hits from people just searching terms on search engines.

I hope to expand on the blog in the future. What I really want is to have a community of CRM bloggers that blog for the DIGTECH CRM Archaeology Blogging Network. That sounds ambitious, I know, but some many people blog so infrequently that they never get exposure. I’d love to see a number of bloggers blogging on here about CRM topics so there is always something good and no one feels pressured by a schedule. What do you think? If you want to joint me and blog on the Random Acts of Science blog, let me know!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#195 #SAA2014 - Blogging Archaeology, Again

The second Blogging Archaeology session is in the bag. Well, it’s in the digital file that the SAA people have for reviewing and printing into the programs. For those of you that don’t know, the first Blogging Archaeology Session (page 19) took place in 2011 at the Annual Meeting in Sacramento. I attended the session and my online life was forever changed...

#187 CRMArch LCP Book Deal Part 1

 Readers of this blog may be aware of the ongoing, although recently ignored, series I have called the Shovelbums Guide. Search it on this page just to the right of here if you want to see some of the posts. Well, I’ve thought for a while that those posts would be a great resource for CRM Archaeologists, especially those new ones entering the field every year.

#184 DIGTECH’s First Field Project

Logo - D 180x180.png

The first field project for DIGTECH was only a couple days and my only crew member was my wife. It was fun and efficient, nonetheless. This was also the first time using the Samsung Galaxy Camera in the field.

The Project

This was a unique project. It’s an annual project and I’ve actually done it before. In fact, I was the last one to do it. It was the last project I did for my last company before they laid me off. Actually, they laid me off within 15 minutes of getting back to the office. I hadn't even unpacked my field gear yet. Luckily for them I’m supper efficient and had already completed the letter report. So, what is the project?

Figure: Arborglyph on one of the sites. Common amongst Basque sheepherders. 

There are three historic sites located on a mine’s property in northern Nevada. The sites are under the jurisdiction of one of the Forest Service offices here in Nevada. The Forest Service doesn’t want the sites damaged by mining activity or any other activity. So, to keep the mine honest they require an archaeologist to go out and take pictures of the sites on an annual basis.

When I did the project last year I was given a three-ring binder with the previous year’s letter report, the site records for the three sites, a map showing where the spots to take pictures were, and the photos from the year before. We walked around to each point, which were also on the GPS, matched up the photo orientation with the previous year’s photo, and took a picture. We also recorded the current GPS point coordinates.

It was somewhat frustrating trying to carry around that binder and having to flip through it and find the photos. It didn’t help that my company didn’t put the photos in order either. I’m not sure what order they decided to put them in but the photos, which were numbered P-1 through P-38, were in some sort of random order. That’s what happens when you have the office secretary do your photo pages. She doesn’t know what went on out there and just put them in in the order they are listed on the photo log. That was an on going problem at that company and no one seemed to care. I’d better not get off on that tangent or we’ll be here forever.

The Project - Digitally

This time out I had the information from last year and the year before, since they never bothered to check my personal computer where I had it stored. I created maps with the photo points in QGIS and then PDF’d them. I also had the previous photos as PDFs and the site records as PDFs.

As we approached each point on the GPS I would look at the photo on my iPad (caution: corporation being mentioned) and get the orientation just right. While I was doing that my wife was starting a new record in the photolog using the Momento App on the Samsung Galaxy Camera. She had already updated the form to reflect her initials and the site number so those were already entered. She didn’t have to do the date either because I had that set to automatically enter when you open a new record. After taking the picture right in the app she entered the description, orientation, coordinates, and photo number. It was easy to type on the back of the camera with her thumbs and she said that utilizing the words that the Android operating system automatically generates greatly increased her efficiency.

As we took photos I used iAnnotate on the iPad to check off the photos that we took both on the photo pages from last year and on the maps of the photo points for this year. It was a windy day but we didn’t have a single scrap of paper blow away, get dirty, or get ripped up in a binder. Awesome. Welcome to archaeology 2.0!

Importing Information

There are a number of ways to get the database out of the Momento App on the camera. You can export the database as a CSV file and then access that using a file manager app and by plugging the camera into the computer. You can also transfer that file to a micro SD card in the camera, pull out the card, and insert it into your computer. If you have an internet connection you can send the file and the photos to a Dropbox account, email, Evernote, an FTP server, or a variety of other services.

Figure: The merge form for photo pages. The page is a table and the lines are only there so you can see that. For the final form the lines are removed. Using a table ensures that everything is uniform and in its place.

Figure: The merge form for photo pages. The page is a table and the lines are only there so you can see that. For the final form the lines are removed. Using a table ensures that everything is uniform and in its place.

One problem with the Momento export is that it doesn’t export the photographs with the file. It just exports the file name it assigned to the photograph. The file name Momento asigns has nothing to do with the camera and includes the date and time. I had to get creative with my text import into the photopage word document I had set up.

I was using MS Word for the photopage. My template is essentially a table with a placeholder for the picture and cells down the right side with merge fields for the mail merge from the CSV file. In order to be able to insert the right picture I insert the photo name from the Momento database as well. I delete that after putting in the photo.

Since I use placeholders for the photos all I have to do is drag the photo in from the directory. The photos are already sized and have the appropriate outline. That’s the benefit of using a placeholder.

Lessons Learned

It looks like this method is going to work and saves a lot of time in the office. One advantage to merging from a CSV file is you can sort by any column first, then import. For example, you can sort by site number and move only one site at a time.

The camera is going to work out too. Probably any camera running the Android operating system will work. I chose the Samsung Galaxy Camera because of the large, easy to type on, screen on the back. Also, it takes amazing pictures.

Well, that’s it. If you use mail merge or have tried other Android cameras, let me know in the comments. If you think I’m an overstuffed jackass, let me know that too.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!