new job

#135 The Status of DIGTECH

That’s right. DIGTECH. I asked for name suggestions based on certain criteria on a recent blog post. There were some great suggestions in the blog comments and in some LinkedIn groups. The best one, however, came from Dona in one of the comments on the blog. She suggested, “Digital Technologies in Archaeological Research”. I’m changing that only slightly to:

Digital Technologies in Archaeological Consultation


I like it. Now I just have to build a company around it. Anyone want to design a logo?

The first thing I did was get the paperwork started for my permits. To operate in Nevada a company needs at a minimum a Nevada State Museum Antiquities Permit (to work on state and some private land) and a Cultural Resource Use Permit (To work on the rest of the land in this state).

To get the CRUP you need a curation agreement from a curatorial facility. It can be any facility legally able to curate artifacts. Now, I don’t plan to collect artifacts right off the bat. It’s going to be strictly a survey and recording operation. That’s what most archaeology in Nevada is anyway. Conveniently, you can get a curation agreement from the Nevada State Museum. I sent my request in with my request for a permit.

Now, I have to wait for the NSM Curation Agreement to come through. I have to send that in with the CRUP application. In the mean time I’ve been getting other documents in order.

Nevada State Museum DocumentsI also need to officially form the company and get a business license. A business license is a pretty simple thing in Nevada and costs $200 annually. Officially naming the company and creating something like an LLC or incorporating, or something, is another matter. I’m still looking into it. To start looking for clients I’m going to need a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ). It’s basically a document that says I’m awesome, here’s what I’ve done, hire me. Oh, and I need insurance. Probably several million dollars worth. It’s required by most clients and is just a good idea.

The more I think about working for myself the more I realize that there is nothing simple about a “simple survey”. First, I’m going to have to rent a Trimble sub-meter GPS. They cost about $5,000 new and I can’t afford that right now. I can get a cheaper Magellan Mobile Mapper or something similar for as little as $1,000 but I’d rather use a Trimble. Fortunately I found someone in Reno that rents them by the day for about $70.

Next, I’m going to need GIS support. Sure, I can use the free Quantum GIS program in the short term. However, I’m not a GIS guy. I can do the basics but if I do a bigger job it’s just going to be way more efficient if I have someone else do it. That goes along with my philosophy for operating a company. I don’t plan to have formal offices. I plan to have people work from home, or the beach, for that matter, which will greatly reduce costs. The GIS person almost never goes in the field so can really work from anywhere. With a secure DropBox account all I need to do upload the files (which is as simple as dragging them to the shared DropBox folder on my desktop) and they will almost instantly be available to my GIS person. They do the work, save the files in DropBox, and I pay them. Sweet and simple. I put out a request on LinkedIn and received a number of response from exactly they type of people I want: those that can work from home and have the software to do so.

I’ll also need a truck. Eventually I’d like to have a few hybrid SUVs with 10-ply tires. Not yet, though. In the interim I’ll have to rent from Enterprise. They have offices across the state and will do business accounts. I’ve worked for a few companies that used rental trucks and it seems to work out. The cost is passed on to the client but I hope that my digital recording techniques defray that a bit.

Most of the things I’ll need to survey as far as gear goes I already have. I have a digital camera (minimum 10 MP in Nevada), flagging tape, and the other usual supplies. I need to pick up some pin flags, though. I can get those at Home Depot at a good cost.

Even when I have all that together it won’t mean a whole lot if I don’t have any clients. Well, I’m working on that too. That’ll probably go in another post, though.

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

#132 What's in a Name?

(c) 2012 Chris Webster Miner's Tent House, Central Nevada Museum, Tonapah, NVMy new-found freedom has inspired me to pursue a dream I’ve had for a while now. I’ve always wanted to own my own business. Maybe it’s part of the American dream but I really just want to be able to call the shots, make my own mistakes, and be responsible for my own success. I think everyone does, really.

Ever since I got into archaeology I’ve worked for numerous people that had no business being in a leadership position. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked for some really great people too. The main problem is that I have standards that are way too high. I always expect more out of people, and companies, and I’m disappointed when they don’t live up to those standards. I just feel that the archaeology deserves only the best treatment. 

We are responsible for the heritage and history of the people of the world. It’s an intense responsibility and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. When I see people mistreating an archaeological site and being disrespectful it really pisses me off. We don’t have a nine to five job where we punch a clock and look forward to Friday. No. We have a great responsibility and we should respect that. I may have swerved off track.

My point is that the only way I can ensure that my standards are met are if I’m the one setting the standards. So, I started the paperwork required here in Nevada to pursue contracts on my own. It’s actually a simple process as long as you’re qualified. I just need to come up with a name.

I have three basic requirements for a name. I also need a catchy slogan but I can come up with that later. But first, the name.

(c) 2012 Chris Webster - Using an iPhone as a Line Level. Not having much success.I’ve always wanted to have a business with my name on it. I’m not sure archaeology is the place for it, though. I’d like to build a business that can grow and expand to include other principle players. I’d rather they felt welcome to put forth ideas at will and that might not be the case for some if my name was on the stationary. So, the first requirement for a name is one that does not include my last name and is inclusive of others in the company. I’d also like to keep regional titles out of the name. I don’t want to take “Reno Archaeological Services” to Colorado. You get the idea.

The second requirement concerns my commitment to technology. I’d really like to see the word “digital” in the name. This company will not be like other companies in that we would do as much without paper and offices as possible. I think it can be done. I’d like the name to convey that principle as much as possible.

The final requirement is that the name have a good acronym. Companies, archaeology and otherwise, are more memorable when they either have one word titles or catchy acronyms. Prove me wrong! Look at some of the successful companies in this country: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Walmart (I hate them but they’re still successful), Walgreens, and others. You get the point. Alliteration aside “Hank’s House of Hammers” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Here are a few of the ideas I’ve had:


  • Digital Archaeological Research
  • Next Generation Archaeology: Bringing Consulting into the 21st Century
  • Digital Archaeological Consulting
  • We Do Archaeology Good; even Gooder than the Other Guys!


I’m not too sure about one of those. It would be great to have a name with an acronym of “DIG” or something like that. I can’t come up with anything, though.

OK. So, if you have any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments. Also, if you feel that I have no business doing archaeology and that I should just go get a job a Starbucks, you can leave those comments at the Chambers Group, Inc., Facebook page.

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

#131 Fun Times in the Field

Random sheep near one of the sites at the mine mentioned later.This is a long story but I hope it’s entertaining and instructive. I usually don’t go over 1,000 words and this is one exception.

Last week my PI told me about a project that we have been doing every year for the past couple years. He said it was a photo monitoring project. I’d honestly never heard of such a thing and was intrigued. Turns out the client has land leased from the Forest Service and there are three sites that we are monitoring from year to year. We simply have to go out, take photos in the same direction from certain GPS points and write down any adverse conditions such as erosion, cattle trails, and looting. Pretty simple really. Turns out that was the last simple thing about this project.

We ended up waiting several days for a response from the Forest Service representative giving us clearance to work out there. They wanted us out there prior to October 31st and ended up giving us the clearance on October 29th. Nice. Thanks for the notice.

Since I didn’t know when I’d be going in the field it was difficult to find someone to go with me (for safety) on such short notice. I called someone on Friday whom we have on the books but she never called me back. I called someone on Monday that usually works for us and he said he was never working for the company again. We have someone on the staff that keeps alienating people but somehow he is loved by corporate. It’s truly baffling. I ended up finding someone to go with me but we had to delay to Tuesday.

GMC TerrainThe luck I was having on the project continued at Enterprise Car Rentals. All the company trucks were out so I had to get a rental. We asked, as we always do, for a four wheel drive truck. They had a Hyundai Tucson waiting for me. That wouldn’t do. It’s too small and it’s not 4WD. They had another vehicle, a GMC Terrain, but had to drive me to the southern end of Reno to get it, making me late getting back to the office.

Now, the keys for this SUV are the switch-blade style. That means there is a large remote with a key that flips out with the push of a button. The unit, with the key closed, is large and bulky. Not only that but there were two of them and a large Enterprise ID tag all attached together. They were attached with an impenetrable Enterprise key ring that I usually have clipped. That way I can put the keys in different places for safety. Usually. I didn’t do it this time. That will come into play later in our story.

One of the keys to the TerrainWe left Reno shortly after getting the vehicle and stayed the night in Elko, Nevada. The trip out and the evening were uneventful.

Joan, the Environmental Rep at the mine wanted us out there by 6 am to have site specific training. We had to leave Elko by 4:30 am just to get out there on time. It turns out that the “site specific” training was a sheet of paper with safety topics listed on it. Many of the mines in the area have a three to four hour safety training program. Not this mine. None of those pesky safety concerns for them. No indeed. After sitting at the mine office for over an hour waiting for the sun to come up we headed out to do our jobs.

The Brunton EclipseThe three sites were on the other side of the 125 square mile mine property and took about 30-40 minutes to get to. The first site went pretty smoothly. My colleague was finding the points, taking the photos, and giving me the information which I was keeping on my iPad. As a side note, I had to show him how to use my Brunton Eclipse compass since it’s not initially intuitive but I had a problem. When I was trying to get it to point north, the needle wouldn’t move. Then, I realized that my fingerless mitten-ended gloves had magnets in them. Nice.

The second site ended up having a locked gate on the access road right off the haul road. So, we hopped the gate and proceeded up the road. I realized a few hundred feet up the road that I’d forgotten some reference material and headed back for it. I grabbed the binder from the truck, locked the door, and hopped back over the gate.

We had about a 1,000 m walk to the site over some rough terrain and mostly on a two-track road. We cut through some brush near the beginning of the hike but the rest of the journey went smoothly. Dendroglyph. Likely Basque.The photos at the second site went well and there were some great dendroglyphs as well. The one in this post is likely a Basque production. They liked to carve naked women into trees and peck them onto boulders. I’m not really sure why, although, lonely sheepherders out in the mountains probably made their own fun.

About half way up the steep hill to the truck I realized the keys weren’t in my pocket anymore. We decided to keep going because we figured they fell out when I’d hopped the gate near the truck. They weren’t at the gate. They weren’t at the truck. They weren’t on the road to the site and they weren’t on the site, at each photo point, checked several times. They weren’t anywhere, in fact. We looked for at least two hours and then for another hour when Joan showed back up. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. They were just gone.

In 37 years I’ve never lost a set of keys to anything. My guess is that the bulky keys on the huge key ring must have worked their way up my pocket and been snagged by some brush. The brush likely flung the keys some distance. It’s the only theory that makes sense.

About an hour before we gave up I’d called Enterprise and their Roadside Assistance line. Their first thought was to try to open the doors with OnStar. It didn’t work. We were in too remote a location. Also, they thought the keys might actually be inside the truck. I, as a scientist, could’t rule out the possibility. However, I was about 99 percent sure the keys weren’t in there. Either way, Enterprise said they were sending a tow truck that we’d have to meet at the entrance to the mine and then escort to the truck.

In the mean time, I had Joan drive us to the third site so we could at least finish the project on time. I felt bad enough wasting time looking for the keys that I at least wanted to finish the field work without coming back a second day. We finished the site and Joan took us to the main gate.

After about 30 minutes the guy from the tow truck company showed up. He wasn’t, however, driving a tow truck. He was in a regular truck. See, Enterprise told him to go get the doors unlocked because they were convinced the keys were inside. Ha! Well, we drove all the way out to the truck and he got the doors open. Of course, the keys were not inside. What was inside was the water and food that we’d left. It was about 4pm and neither of us had eaten or drank anything since 5 am. After he got the doors open the tow company owner called his son and told him to bring the flatbed out.

When we’d arrived at the gate I sent my colleague back to Elko and the hotel with the tow truck guy. There was no reason for both of us to stay a few more hours. Also, we had a crew on a different project in Elko and he could hang out with them. I waited another hour for the flatbed to show up. In the mean time I finished the report for the project so all was not lost.

Going up on the flatbed.I ended up getting back to the hotel at about 9 pm after a 16.5 hour day. I felt like crap and never intended to even bill all of my hours for the day. The next day we waited for several hours for Enterprise to get us a new vehicle and we went home. We only made one stop because I didn’t want to waste any more of the company’s or the client’s time. I knew I was going to get flack for this for quite some time.

When I got back to the office we unloaded the truck and put the gear away. I’d learned a lesson about getting those keys separated and will never leave Enterprise without having them separate the keys again. At least I’d finished the report, the photo log, and the photo pages before ever getting back to the office thanks to my iPad.

Since I’d never intended to spend so much time away and since I’d spent an extra night in a hotel I feel I did the ethical thing by sacrificing some of my time to the company. It was only right.

Oh, and they laid me off within 20 minutes of coming through the door. Said the company was restructuring and that my skill set did not fit the future of the office. Jack asses. I guess they don’t need someone that can lead crews, run projects, write reports, is a master at MS Word, is organized, and is not a drunk.

Thanks for sticking through this one and I’ll see you in the field.

#130 33rd GBAC, Day 2 (Part 2 of 2)

(This is the last of the GBAC2012 posts and the second part of day 2. Part 1 of Day 2 is here.)

Modern Costly Signaling. Although, this signaling is costly in more ways than one.

Costly signaling, artiodactyl DNA, and behavioral ecology, Oh my!

The day included a series of papers regarding ancient populations and “costly signaling”. Signaling, for those that are unaware, is essentially bragging. If you bring back a difficult to find resource it increases your image and status in the group. That “signal” was costly and your status is proportionally increased. It’s like when someone walks into the room with an Apple product. That’s right.

Fisher said that when hunting is used as a costly signal, “Good” hunters will have a higher reproductive success. That’s not always true, however. Fisher related a story from a Native American (the tribe name escapes me and I was too concerned with the image I was presenting with my iPad to write it down) where the individual had tried to increase his visibility to a certain girl using costly signaling. It didn’t work for him: “I thought that now the girls mother would send her to me at night. For many nights I waited and she did not come”. Nice. Fisher also suggested that non-local resources could have been used as costly signals due to the difficulty in acquiring them. In contrast to the other papers, Jones presented a paper that he started with, “The only costly signaling presented in our paper will be the presentation of the paper.” Nice.

Broughton is using ancient sources of DNA to determine the sizes of Artiodactyl populations. Those animals include pronghorn antelope, among others. He says that a decrease in population size over time should equal a decrease in genetic diversity. That has implications for human populations that use those resources.

George Jones discussed tools and life at Smith Creek Cave. Micro tools at the sit were expedient, simple, and used for game processing. There is evidence consistent with tool repair and caracas processing functions.

The last few papers of the day were about behavioral ecology and it’s applications to anthropology. Metcalfe mentioned that when archaeologists fail to get the results that were predicted then tend to see it as a failure in the theory, not a failure in the model. DH Thomas began is behavioral ecology paper by quoting Carl Sagan. He was talking about how scientists can hold a belief for many years then just change it or update with the discovery of new evidence. I don’t know if that’s entirely true for some scientists. Kuhn said that the only time a paradigm shift happens is when old scientists die and take their ideas with them.

That's it for GBAC2012 posts. I encourage everyone that attends a conference to blog about it and share the knowledge.

This one was just for fun.Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field.