#2 Digital Tool Box

When I worked on the Ruby Pipeline in Northern Nevada a couple of years ago I was astonished at the amount of paper that we carried in the field. We had a three ring binder for IMACS forms (standardized site recording forms used in several western states) and associated supporting forms, and a binder for reference material. We were recording a fair number of historic sites and had glass and can identification material. Fortunately, many of our sites were near access roads which limited the need for packing that material into the site. It did happen, albeit occasionally. I needed a change.

During my various careers I have strived to find ways to make my job more efficient. My approach to archaeology is no different. The solution to my paperwork problem came with the purchase of my first smartphone: an iPhone 3GS. I instantly embraced the technology. All of the reference material that we had was already in PDF form, with a few exceptions, and the IMACS Guide, which also has good reference material, can be found online. I began using Apple's MobileMe service which gave me online storage and cloud syncing. I still kept the reference binders in the truck but that is where they stayed, in the truck. Using the iPhone made everything much more efficient for me. The iPhone's small size was the only limitation. Enter the iPad.

Only a couple weeks after it's debut I purchased my first iPad. Immediately, I saw the applicability of this device to field archaeology and site recording. I moved my PDFs to the iAnnotate App for the iPad which is a great reader and annotator for papers. I also use Pages, Numbers, and DocsToGo for spreadsheet creation and editing and document creation and editing. I'm not done yet...

I'm currently teaching myself how to program and develop apps for the iOS platform. My initial idea is for an IMACS site recording app. The IMACS form has a minimum of two parts, more if the site is multi-component. The app could be used not only for just filling out the fields but could have the reference material linked to appropriate fields and could have the ability to add the references to the end of the document as well. All this would be done in real time, as opposed to later in my hotel room or by someone in the office later on. With multiple tablet devices on the site the different parts of the form could be electronically delegated to other crew members via Bluetooth or onsite wifi technology. Upon completion of all requisite parts of the form it could be uploaded to a server and/or printed out in any format desired.

Now, a common complaint I hear to my ideas is what happens when the battery fails, or when I drop the iPad down a mine shaft, or when I drop it on a rock. As for the battery, the iPad can easily run for an entire work shift and then some, as long as you aren't watching video all day. In 2011, battery life is becoming less and less of a concern as battery technology improves. Also, there are energy storage devices that can charge devices in the field (Zagg Sparq). The other two issues that involve destruction of the device are also solved by evolving technology.  My iPad and my iPhone are both in cases made by Otter Box (iPad case, iPhone case) As of right now, there are large parts of the west that do not have access to cell service. For those areas, the data within the iPad would have to be uploaded at end of each day. This is similar to what most companies currently do with GPSs and digital cameras. In areas with service, the data can be backed up in real time to a dropbox, cloud server, or company server. How great would it be to tell your PI that the form is on their computer right now and that they can provide input and feedback instantaneously?

The last piece of equipment in my tool box is my BlueAnt T1 Bluetooth Headset.  This thing is great!  It has two microphones, one for talking and one for extraneous noise cancelation (i.e. wind).  It will also do bluetooth streaming from a smartphone which means I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks during those long surveys in the desert.  The benefit to using bluetooth is, first, that I still have one ear out and can interact with others.  Second, I can shovel test, excavate, survey, climb up boulders and steep hills, and whatever else is needed with out pesky wires getting in the way.  Also, most older project managers don't yet understand bluetooth and don't put it in the "headphones" category.

A short side note on headphones.  Generally, unless safety and heavy equipment is a concern, I don't think headphones are all that bad of an idea.  Just don't have both ears in and don't listen to blasting music.  If you can't interact then it's unsafe.  Podcasts and audiobooks are much less intrusive and let you learn at the same time.

I've only just begun to incorporate this type of technology into the field of archaeology. I hope that others can provide their experiences and concerns regarding this shift. I'm not arrogant enough to think that I've thought of everything and welcome suggestions.