#117 Add Magnets to Your Metal Clipboard

Hot glue the magnets to the inside of the clipboard.My clipboard is the type that opens up and lays flat on your lap.  The clipboard inside is difficult for me to use when I need to do an artifact inventory that is in landscape.  So, I’ve been putting the form on the outside of my clipboard and securing the top with the large binder clip I use to keep my clipboard closed.  The bottom of the page still flaps helplessly in the wind and risks ripping at the binder clip or flying off altogether.

My solution: magnets.

I bought a set of magnets at Staples for about $2.50 US.  Since the clipboard is aluminum, and I have yet to invent an aluminum magnet, I had to glue two magnets to the inside of the clipboard.  These are fairly low profile magnets so I’m not worried about space inside the clipboard.  I used a hot glue gun to secure the magnets.

An inventory form attached to the OUTSIDE of the clipboard!Now, all I have to do to secure a form to my clipboard is put down two more magnets over the locations for the interior magnets and my form is secure.  When I’m not using the magnets I attach them to the clip inside of the clipboard.

Magnet storage on the internal, iron-based, clip.

I used this system today and it worked fairly well.  In a strong wind the magnets failed to hold the paper down, however, I think I can get some more powerful magnets for the outside.  I tried this out with some cheap small ones just to see if it would work.  I think this is a great solution for using a landscape form with the profile style clipboard.  What do you think?

Oh, and I bought 0.5 mm pencil lead that is blended with nano diamonds.  That’s right: nano diamonds.  Through away that chunky 0.7 mm and use the strength of nano diamonds.  They also have 0.3 mm.  How small can I write?  I think I’m about to find out.

Thanks for reading, stay smart, and I'll see you in the field.

#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.

#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.

#109 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 4

 If you read my post from yesterday you are aware of the GPS we destroyed. Well, instead of turning three crews into two large crews, two of us stayed in today and worked on some paperwork. I basically spent the day typing up site forms and that’s what I’m going to talk about for a second.

I’ve had conversations with others about how much money could be saved if we could teach people how to write nearly finished products in the field on tablet computers (i.e. the iPad) and then essentially transfer that information to a Word Doc with one click. Some editing would have to be done and references would have to be added. Most people don’t think that would save any money or time. I spent 10 hours simply typing up forms today. I typed up the bulk of the site form and created the artifact tables. I didn’t add any new information and I didn’t have to change the wording from the site form too much. The forms were simply transcribed into a Word document. I could have accomplished the same thing in under an hour if the sites were recorded on tablets. Guaranteed.

This isn’t the post to really get into all of that so I’ll move on.

When I heard that we were just going to be staying in and doing paperwork today I was initially somewhat excited. A day in from the field when it’s hot out is usually a nice break from everything. However, after a few hours of typing up site forms in my room I start wishing I’d just gone into the field. The old saying, “your worst day in the field is better that your best day in an office” is sometimes true. I’m not saying I had a bad time. I just can’t stand doing something that I know isn’t really necessary and that there is a more efficient way. Here I go again. No, No. I’ll stop.

The good part about being relatively close to Reno this time is that my wife can come and visit me now! She works Monday through Friday and came up after work. She stopped in Winnemucca at the Winnemucca Pizzeria and picked up a rosemary potato pizza on the way. I don’t know what it is about that place but that pizza is kind of amazing. And, so is she for coming to visit and bringing it to me! She even made a lasagna and brought that! Guess I’ll need a few more bike rides.

It’s difficult doing this alone now. For those that don’t know, my wife was an archaeologist until about seven months ago. We worked together and lived together on every single project going back almost to my first project. Now, it’s just me and we talk on the phone in the evenings. When the internet is really good, which is never, we try to Skype or Facetime (an Apple thing). I would certainly say, without doing any sort of formal survey, that being single and always being alone would be a motivating factor in getting out of this field for a lot of people. We, as humans, need companionship, whether we admit it or not. It’s in our nature to be together. I need my alone time as much as the next person but when you add it up and you’re gone more than you’re home then it’s time to re-think some things. Of course, we live in an age when you are never more than a few electrons away from seeing and talking to someone. Hell, with quantum tunneling they’re practically occupying the same space as you! Wow, geeked out for a minute. Sorry.

Anyway, my point is that you have to find ways to make this job agreeable to your lifestyle. Don’t expect it to conform to you. It takes constant work to be able to be happy and content but in the end, it’s worth it. If you do it right, CRM will provide. Sounds goofy, but I think it’s true. I’ll let you know in twenty years with blog post number 10,000.

Come back tomorrow for Day 5 (over the hump!).

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field (unless I’m stuck in a hotel room all day).

#108 10 Days of Archaeology: Day 3

(To anyone that this applies too: this blog is in no way tied to the company I work for.  My real name and the company name appear no where. All the opinions expressed in  this blog are my own and not anyone else's.  Also, I try really hard not to divulge any information regarding clients and project specific details.  The things I discuss could be taking place anywhere in the Great Basin and are not specific.  My goal is to simply bring the joy of archaeology, and the bad times in archaeology, to anyone that cares to read it.  Disclaimer over.  Onto the blog…)

Well, today started with a game plan that involved my crew basically site recording all day.  This means an easy day with all archaeology all the time.  I like these sorts of days.

Iodine bottle with a solid core glass drip.We arrived at the first site, a road, by 7:30 am.  Here, I have a question for my readers.  I’ve recorded roads in different ways over the years.  With some companies we’ve surveyed the road independently of the rest of the project area and recorded everything within 15 m of the center line as part of the general site inventory or, in the case of trash dumps, as a locus or feature.  With other companies, the road was simply recorded as a line and all artifacts were treated separately as individual sites or isolated artifacts.  Out here in Nevada the way you record a road largely depends on the whims of the BLM district you are working in.  Sometimes it depends on a specific project area and how they want that area recorded.  What do you think?  How to you record roads?  Keep in mind, when I talk about roads I mean everything from a two-track to a haul road to a paved highway.  Let me know in the comments.

On one of the sites we recorded today there were a lot of fun bottles.  I never used to like historics because the “weren’t old enough”.  I’ve since learned how fun they can be.  I think what I like is that I can look at a bottle base and know, almost to the year in some cases, how old that bottle is.  Not only do I know how old it is, but, if I have enough of it, I can know how it was made and what it was used for.  Try getting that level of detail out of a projectile point.  Points are still cool, don’t get me wrong.  Nothing will ever be more cool than picking an 8,000 year old point off the ground on survey.

There was a little drama on the aforementioned site this afternoon.  The crew member that was in charge of doing the GPS work on a Trimble unit had some fun.  We use sub-meter Trimble GPS units to record sites (as most good companies out here do).  They run from $5,000 to $7,000, depending on your options.  Well, as we were recording today, I heard a weird sounding yell from my right.  I looked up the drainage to see the tail end of a fall from my GPS guy.  It looked like it didn’t feel so good so I asked if he was OK.  He said he was.  That’s when we both saw the Trimble laying face-down on the rocks he’d slipped on.  As he picked up the unit I could see his jaw drop and the blood drain from his face.  Now, this guy likes to play jokes on people quite often so I asked if it was cracked.  He said yes as he shook his head.  I didn’t believe it until I saw the unit for myself.  Sure enough, it was cracked in several places on the screen.

Now most modern displays like this have an outer glass and then the inner display.  If the glass is cracked you can often still read the display.  Some of you may only have to look at your cell phone to know what I’m talking about.  This unit has that configuration but it was cracked all the way through. We could only make out some symbols on the right margin of the screen.

As the initial shock of breaking the unit waned we then became concerned as to whether the data we’d collected thus far was still there.  We had no idea how damaged the unit was internally.  I still don’t know.  Tomorrow I’ll find out whether the unit was able to be downloaded or not.

Now, you might stress out and be concerned for your job if you were to break a unit that is that expensive.  Remember, though, that a good crew chief or supervisor will be more concerned with your well being than with the unit.  Units are replaceable but the training we put into you is not.  Your safety and welfare is paramount.  As it turns out, we have insurance on the Trimbles and it will be fixed or replaced before too long.

The day ended with the crew mingling at a local bar and casino for drinks.  Overall it was a rather light day with some good archaeology.

Podcasting from a quiet hotel room on the western frontier, or, next to a major interstate highway.I spent the evening, after we got back from the bar at around 7 pm, recording and editing segments for my podcast, The CRM News Weekly, Episode 17.  It’s nearly done.  I just have to complete the show notes but it’s difficult to do when the internet keeps going down.  Guess I’ll have to get up at 5 am again.  Keeping up with this blog and with the podcast is difficult while I’m in the field.  Usually I don’t want to do much of anything.  The desire to bring news items and my blog to you and whomever else is still strong in me, though, so I keep doing it.

That’s it for Day 3.  Come back tomorrow for Day 4.

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