#141 Insulated Reservoir Tube

Many of my colleagues are working out in this crazy cold weather that much of the company is experiencing. I imagine that most aren’t surveying since it’s tough to do that when you can’t see the ground through the snow. That is, if you’re out west in the high desert. Others are surely digging shovel tests in the snow. I know some of my Canadian readers are!

Either way, nearly everyone is likely trying to drink water from their hydration packs. Whether you use a Camelbak or a Platypus, they both freeze during freezing temperatures. The easiest way to sort of solve your problem is to do the “Blow Back” method. That is, after you get your drink, take a deep breath and blow the water back into the reservoir. It’s unlikely the reservoir will freeze as quickly as the tube so you’re probably safe for the duration of the shift. 

#139 Merit-Based CRM Bonus Structure

As readers of this blog know, I’m in the process of forming my own CRM firm in the Great Basin. While I plan to start small so I can iron out the wrinkles in owning a business, eventually, I imagine I’ll have a small number of full-time and temporary employees. One of the things I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years is the company bonus structure.

The first bonus I ever received in archaeology was on my second project ever. I was a few days into working for a non-profit firm (aren’t they all?) and it was the end of the calendar year. At the Christmas party the PI gave everyone a card that had a $100 bill inside. He said that as a non-profit they were authorized to have only a certain amount of money at the end of the year. Usually they spend it on gear and other necessities but that year was particularly lucrative so they gave out bonuses. Not a bad first week for me.

At another company, I received a bonus that was based on a very private company algorithm. I had no idea what it was based on, besides a performance review and the company’s profits that year. I wasn’t sure how much was based on input from the PI or other people in the company. It certainly wasn’t based on continuing education, research, or anything else not tied to the bottom line.

Most of the time there are no bonuses for temporary or seasonal employees. The profit-based bonuses are shared by the salaried employees at the end of the year when all the temp help has been dismissed. Doesn’t seem too fair to me.

My idea for a bonus structure is based on a points system. You start with a maximum of, say, 1,000 points for the year. If you get 1,000 points then you get 100% of the bonus. It’s not tied to a dollar figure because the bonuses, of course, are tied into the amount of money available to give out.

I figure that about 25% of the points will be based on a performance review. The entire point structure should also be altered based on the amount of time the employee was there that year. It wouldn’t be fair to get hired in August, reach max points, and get the full bonus in December. Just doesn’t seem right. Maybe the max bonus could be reduced according to the time at the company that year. Start in August and your get a third of the max bonus for the year. Start in June and you get half.

So, after the 250 points for performance review there are 750 remaining points. I’d like there to be many ways the points can be acquired. People have different responsibilities and should be able to earn points according to those responsibilities.

For example, a project manager should be able to earn points for bringing a project to completion under budget, or putting out a research paper based on a company project. They could get points for putting together a poster or paper for a presentation. Things like that.

Field technicians, even temporary ones, could earn points for attending conferences, writing blog posts about archaeology or CRM related topics, contributing to the company podcast, or for presenting on a topic at monthly company training sessions.

I don’t want the ways you can get points to be set in stone. Think Harry Potter. I’d like to be able to see someone really making a great contribution or doing something really noteworthy and have the ability to give them points for that.

At the company holiday party, where these things are usually awarded, it would be great to see people getting their bonuses that they know they earned. Maybe there could even be a video presentation highlighting the things people did throughout the year.

Trying to avoid this attitude!!To me, owning a company means a lot more than earning money. It means having the ability to create a family of trusted people that all enjoy what they do and that enjoy being with the people they spend most of their days with. We need to take the corporate attitude out of archaeology and start treating it like the passion it is. Not just anyone can get these jobs. You have to decide on a major, stick it out, pay your dues, and hopefully land a good job. Nothing stings more than finally getting that job with security and a decent paycheck and finding out that everyone hates everyone else and that they are all just trying to claw over each other on the way to the top of the pile. That’s the attitude in a number of firms and it’s a real shame.

I may not end up running the most successful CRM firm out there but if my employees come to work with smiles on their faces and are willing to put in the hard work and tough days when it’s required then I think I’ll have accomplished my goal.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you on one of my projects some day!

#116 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 8+1

[I got so relaxed during my six days off I forgot to post this!  Here it is...]

That day after the session is different for everyone.  The traveling field tech might stay in town or go camping nearby to save money.  Crew chiefs are likely headed back to the home office to take care of paper work and clean up the session.  Others, like myself, are back at home and are settling in for six days off.

Ideally, I should clean up my gear, wash my clothes, and prepare my things for next session.  If we were camping I’d have even more things to do such as set up and clean my tent and clean the rest of my camping gear.  That’s not always what happens, though.

I did put away my gear and wash my clothes.  However, my other plans sort of fell through.  I’d planned to do some yard work and, well, write this post.  After a morning at a coffee shop I went home and watched some of my video podcasts.  Just some techy stuff to keep me on my game.  Later, I unpacked my box from the field and did some laundry.  After dinner with my wife and a nice evening with some wine we went to bed.

So that’s it.  This is the last entry in the series.  Was I accurate?  Is this your experience?  I’m sure it’s not.  Everyone has different and unique experiences before, during, and after the session.  Tell me how you wind down from a session in the comments.

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

#114 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 8

Today is the last day of the session.  For some projects this means a drive day home.  For others it’s a partial day of work and then a drive home.  Since we work ten-hour days and our drive is under four hours we decided to work from 7 am to 12:30, have lunch, then drive home.

The crews split a bit differently this morning because one of our crew members had to leave the session early.  So, It was just me and one other person this morning that were sent to clean up a small area of survey.  Of course, in the Great Basin, nothing is predictable.

For most of the session it’s been in the mid-90s (F) and a bit windy in the afternoon.  This morning we woke up to upper 30s and snow on the mountain peaks.  During our survey it snowed annoying little ice pellets for several hours, off and on.  I know that the weather here can be crazy but I still didn’t expect to be wearing a jacket and gloves in the beginning of June.

That brings up something I should have mentioned in the first post: clothing options.  I almost always have my light, Under Armor gloves in my pack.  They are light and don’t take up much space.  I also usually have a light jacket in the hotel room that I can grab if the forecast suggest that it might cool off.  Usually it doesn’t.  Today, however, was a jacket day and I’d have been in pretty bad shape if I didn’t have it.  Out here, you have to be prepared for anything.  A good, light, rain jacket works well as a wind breaker too.  Luckily for me, the jacket I had was good enough.  The weather out here will certainly keep you on your toes!

Anyway, back to the survey.  We only had a small portion to do and had plenty of time to do it.  When we started our last transect back to the truck we were on course to finish the area by 10:45 or so and be back to the meeting spot about an hour early.  We were looking forward to a hot cup of coffee and a respite from the wind.  So, all you archaeologists out there know what happens next, right?  We found a site!  Of course.  Not a single site in that entire area and we find one on our last pass.  So, we spent about 45 minutes recording it and got to the rendezvous point ten minutes late.  So much for hot coffee.  It was a so-so site for the area and easy to record, at least.

Good bye, old friends.

Today marked the last day for my boots too.  I didn't have them long but they were very good to me.  I've hiked a lot of miles in those boots both on and off the clock.  The boots are light hikers from Keen (I didn't even know Keen made hiking boots before I bought these) and they cost about $200.  Most people get some sort of leather boots for hiking in and I used to as well.  The boots I've had in the past (quality, expensive, boots) were all great for most days.  However, when days started reaching nine or more miles my feet would hurt and sometimes I'd get blisters.  Maybe it's my fat and wide feet.  Who knows.  I never once had a blister from these boots.  They are super comfortable for every mile of every day.  They just don't last too long when you are walking on abrasive rock and are crashing through sagebrush and shadscale all day.  However, my feet are what helps me earn a living so if I have to spend $200-$300 a year on them, it's worth it.

The drive home was windy and we experienced periodic heavy rain and mixed rain/snow.  We also saw another semi-truck accident (see the first post in this series).  Just shows that anything can happen any time.

At the end of a session with this company there is always something to do back at the office.  Some companies do their hours differently and dismiss the field techs in the field.  As a tech you are free to pursue your weekend activities at that point.  As a crew chief or regular employee you usually have to deal with cleaning the trucks, filing paperwork, and putting gear away.  For this company the entire crew usually leaves from, and returns to, the office.  That means there are plenty of people to help clean up at the end of the session and we can all go home a little earlier.

I ended the session by having sushi with my wife at our favorite place in Reno, Ijji 2.  We often have sushi at the end of the session which is about every two weeks.  I like to do that because, well, the sushi is amazing there, and, it’s such a different atmosphere and experience from the field.  When we go to that sushi place it’s almost like my mindset is altered from being in the field to being a member of society again.  You can get caught up in the “field way of life” while you’re out there and forget what everyone else in the world is doing.  In the field you learn to wear dirty clothes day after day and eat food that my be somewhat questionable to others.  You walk for miles in the desert, dodging rabbits, finding thousands of years old projectile points, and abandoned mine shafts with miles of tunnels beneath them and think, “doesn’t everyone do this for a living?”  No, they don’t.  Going to sushi (or your restaurant of choice) is my way of changing my perspective.  In six days everything flips and the cycle begins again.

Come back tomorrow for the final installment in this series.

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

#113 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 7

This was the last full day of survey and it was challenging.  We started the day with a nearly 1000 foot elevation gain in less than half a mile.  It only got worse from there.  We had to contour around several large hills for most of the day.

The weather kept us on our toes today.  In typical Great Basin fashion it went from the low 60s to the low 90s to the low 50s.  Tomorrow should be about 30-35 degrees F when we start work.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the cold!  I would much rather survey while freezing my ass off rather than be super hot and trudging up hills.

Enough about the weather...My crew is pretty great.  I’ve got one of our project managers on my crew and another kid who’s been doing this for about a year but learns quickly.  We don’t even really need to discuss what to do when we get to a site.  Everyone knows their responsibilities and they just go to work.  The same thing happens when we record a feature.  We all just do our jobs and move on.  I’ve been so impressed with the crew this rotation that I treated them to slushies at the gas station on the way back to the hotel today.  It’s not much but it’s still a small token of appreciation.  We’d have gone out for beers but everyone was pretty wiped out.

Since we are leaving tomorrow to go home, tonight was spent packing.  I usually remove all the little plastic signs, the coffee maker, the phone, and the ice bucket and put them out of the way when I get to a hotel.  I also unplug and move the alarm clock.  The set up has to be to my liking or I won’t feel at “home” as much as that is possible.  I feel that it’s only courteous to the staff that I put all that back when I’m ready to leave.  The only thing I don’t put back is the comforter sitting in the corner of the room.  I touch that as little as possible.

I tried out a new piece of gear this session and now I’m ready to talk about it.  When we are camping we typically don’t get regular showers.  As a consequence, your sleeping bag can get a bit nasty.  Since sleeping bags are difficult to wash properly I searched around for a solution and I think I’ve found it.  The gear I bought at REI was a Cocoon Cool-Max Travel Sheet.  It’s in the sleeping bag liner section and cost about $45.  There are many types and price points for this type of gear and I went with something simple to start.

On the packaging for the “travel sheet” it suggested using it in hotel rooms so you don’t have to break out the black light on your sheets.  I tried it and loved it.  It’s very stretchy, thin, and warm all at the same time.  I didn’t even use the hotel blankets.  I think this is going to work really well in my sleeping bag, too.  I might just use the travel sheet instead of a sleeping bag when it gets really warm.  Of course, nights in the high desert are typically cold no matter what time of year it is.

So, onto the packing.  It’s been a great session.  I’ve had a good time with my awesome crew and we recorded many features and sites.

Come back tomorrow for Day 8, the half day and drive home.

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

#111 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 6

The days are certainly getting longer.  We started out with about seven miles of survey in easy to moderately-crapy terrain.  The weather was nice in the morning starting at about 65 degrees F.  By early afternoon it was in the low 90s.  I still didn’t think it was that bad, though.  The wind was pretty much constant all day and that kept the temps to a manageable level.

Out here you have to force yourself to drink water sometimes.  On hot, windy, days it’s especially important.  As you burn calories and your body consumes water you seem to sweat very little due to the quick evaporation of the sweat and the wind.  You are sweating, though.  I went through my first three liters of water by about 1:30.  We were about 500 meters from the truck and I figured I’d just refill my water at that point.  We were going to have lunch then anyway.  I actually had two more liters in my pack that I was going to pour in my reservoir but I got lazy.  Even though we didn’t find any sites along that 500 meters, and it only took about 25 minutes, I still felt extremely parched by the time we reached the trucks.  Luckily, I had an icy cold Gatorade waiting in the cooler.  Nice.

We have some really challenging terrain out here and your quality of life can really be affected by the decisions made by your crew leaders as to how you are going to proceed with the survey.  I’ve certainly worked for people that would just blindly do north/south or east/west transects regardless of terrain or the time of day.  Out here, I would never send someone up a steep slope to check out the mesa or ridge line if it were past about noon and over 90 degrees.  That’s the kind of thing you save for first thing in the morning.  Also, why go up a steep hill when you can contour around it?  There’s no need to be a hero and charge up the hill causing fatigue and a lack of concern for the archaeology among the crew.  I guarantee that when you are trudging up a hill for the third or fourth time the only thing you are concentrating on is putting one foot in front of the other and not falling.  Archaeology is secondary.

So, instead of not thinking, contour the hill.  For those that work in the mid-west and are topographically challenged, I’ll explain what contouring means :) .  Contouring is when you line up on the side of a hill and walk at a constant elevation rather than a certain direction or heading.  Contouring can be detrimental if the terrain isn’t suitable for it.  For example, contouring can be dangerous in loose rock or on a talus slope.  Actually, walking up or down a talus slope is dangerous too.  Essentially, if you can make your life easier, you should.  Your crew will be less fatigued and you’ll get more work out of them.  

One thing I can’t stand is the crew chief, or crew member, that is more mountain goat than human and likes to show off that fact to others.  There is no gain in leaving everyone behind while you bound up the hills with wild abandon.  Good for you.  You are a great hiker.  I’m proud.  It’s akin to twenty-year-olds in these mining towns driving lifted, loud, 4x4 Fords.  They’re compensating for something.  Get over yourself and be respectful of others.  How about hanging back and providing some words of encouragement?  Think about it.

After work I somehow mustered the energy to go on a twenty mile bike ride.  The strong tail wind certainly helped.  I might try to get a final ride in tomorrow after work.  I do have to pack, though.  I might be quite tired because I’m going to try to get up at 3:50 to watch the partial eclipse of the moon.  Crazy.  I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow.

Check back tomorrow for Day 7.

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


#110 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 5

I don't know about "America's BEST Value" but it's OK. Except for the WiFi, which is virtually unusable.
Today is Saturday. It’s the first day of a sad little two-day weekend for most people. For thousands of archaeologists it’s just another work day. Our weekend starts in a few days and lasts for at least four days. Just one more reason I like this schedule.

For those of you that are single, or at least don’t work with your significant other, I’ll mention some of the difficulties, and niceties, that can arise when living with someone in a hotel room. If you read yesterday’s post you know that my wife came out to visit on Friday night and won’t be leaving until Sunday morning. Since she’s here now, I had some special considerations to think of when I woke up this morning.

This morning was much like it was when we used to work together. When we have a 7 am start time I usually get up around 5:30, make my coffee, and just get prepared, mentally, for my day. I like to either, write a blog post, read some blogs, read some news, or do some other mental activity that will allow me to be alert when the time comes to start. I’m usually at least a crew chief so when I get to the trucks I don’t have the luxury of being half awake and going to sleep in the truck when we get going. So, I like to be awake and alert. My crew deserves at least that level of safety.

As I was saying, I usually get up early. My wife, however, is like many people I know in CRM and will get up by 6:30, or later, get dressed, get a lunch together, and head out to the truck. She doesn’t usually sleep when she gets to the truck like a lot of people do. No, she knits or reads. In fact, she got out of archaeology to knit and read full time! Actually, she buys yarn for a major yarn supplier for a living.

So, even though my wife wasn’t going to work, my day started much like it used to. I leave the bathroom light on because it usually shines on the sink area in most hotels. That way I can see. Sometimes I just wear my headlamp but it shines in her eyes when I swing over that way. I try to not make any noise because I don’t want to wake her. You learn to get dressed and get ready for work in the dark. Once I’m settled and ready I don’t need more lighting to read or be on my computer since all of my devices light up on there own. This particular hotel room has an east-facing window so quite a bit of light comes through even with the blackout curtains drawn. That’s what one version of a morning can be like when you have a partner that you travel with. What’s your story? Do you get up together? When you both get up 30 minutes before the day starts is it chaos? Let me know in the comments.

My little friend. He didn't see too angry...Our work day was pretty chill. We finished recording one large site and moved on to another. They could’t have been more different from each other and they each had their own challenges.

As far as historics go, I don’t know whether I prefer a site loaded with artifacts or a site loaded with features and almost no artifacts. Many mining sites are like that. There can be dozens of features, including prospect pits, cairns, adits, shafts, stopes, etc., and absolutely no artifacts. They were either very tidy, which is doubtful, or, they were living somewhere else and traveled to that location for work everyday. On some mining complexes you find tent platforms and domestic items. On some you don’t. Sometimes it just depends on how remote the site is.

When you get a couple of sites that are all artifacts and features you end up writing all day. A lot. The amount of writing is quite absurd, actually. By the end of the day my hand hurts from all the writing, and, because I’m left-handed, I have nice pencil stains on my left hand. Also, I tend to write more than some people. When I write a description in the field I write it as I’d like it typed up. Chances are that someone not familiar with the site will be typing up what I wrote and I don’t want them to have to interpret what I was saying. I just want them to type it as they see it and correct my horrible spelling errors. If everyone wrote that way we could save a lot of time in the office.

At the end of the day I came home to a great wife and some home made lasagna. We sat down for the evening and enjoyed some wine and later some ice cream. It was a good evening and is in no way typical of what usually happens on a Saturday night in the field. This crew is pretty tame and doesn’t seem to go out partying much. I’ve been on crews that would go out more than a few nights during the session. By the end, though, no one really wants to go anywhere.

That’s the end of Day 5. Check back tomorrow for Day 6.

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