#210 Otterbox - A Case History

 Notice the “donate” button to the right? Donate any amount to the blog and the podcast and I’ll enter you into a drawing for my new book, “Field Archaeologist’s Survival Guide” dou out this April from Left Coast Press. The money will help pay for this website and might send DIGTECH people to CES next year to bring you more great field tech reviews. Thanks in advance! On to the post…

My first Otterbox case was the Defender Series for my iPhone 3GS. That case was so perfect for field work that when the iPad debuted in April of 2010 I couldn't wait to get the Otterbox case for it. It took them a couple months to develop the case, but, when they did, it was awesome. There have been ups and downs since then, but this next round is simply perfect. Let's get into it.

iPhone Defender Series Cases

Until now, I’ve only ever had the Defender Series cases from Otterbox. When I bought my first one, it was the highest level of protection they had. Now, there are two levels above that. The first Defender Series case consisted of hard-moulded plastic wrapped by silicon. It was a solid case and always provided great protection. The only issue I ever had was with the flap over the headphone jack. With a high amount of use the flap started to tear at the hinge point. I would have had the case replaced but it lasted until I replaced my iPhone with the iPhone 4S.

The iPhone 4S Defender case was the most problematic of the cases I've owned. To correspond with Apple's design change from rounded edges to more squared off edges, Otterbox changed the case. The silicon covering they used, however, was way too rigid. If you had to take the phone out of the case more than a few times the silicon became stretched out and never really went on quite right again. It was very frustrating. I had that case replaced once, for free, when I couldn't handle it anymore.

When you buy a case, unless you're made of money, you are probably committed to it until you get a new phone, which for most people is two years. These cases don't come cheap. That's why I didn't buy the Armour Series case when it came out last summer. This case is supposed to be virtually indestructible. I was determined to get it when I got my iPhone 5S in September. Then I saw the Preserver case. 

I was about to switch to Lifeproof Cases because I wanted a waterproof case and one that wasn't as bulky as the Armour Series case. The brand new Preserver series is just that. Also, the Armour Series isn't available for the 5S yet.

 Otterbox Preserver Series Case for iPhone 5S

 Otterbox Preserver Series Case for iPhone 5S

Aside from being solidly built and not bulky,this case is waterproof (submersible to 2 m for 30 min), can take an impact, has IP 68 dust protection (I don't know what that is but it sounds pretty badass!), won't let your phone get scratched, has a built in screen protector, and consists of only two pieces that snap together.

This is the first high-level protection case without a silicon-outside that I've owned. It's slick, but has rubberized areas in all the right spots. That means it won't catch on the fabric in your pocket but it's not too slippery that you'll drop it either. On the base of the case are two very thick, rubber, openings where you can access the headphone jack and the power connector. The openings are extremely robust and this could be a point of breakage down the road. We'll see. Even the fingerprint scanner in the home button works!

Water Protection. Check out the video I made regarding the case’s water protection. I’m impressed! The video won’t play on mobile devices because of licensing restrictions. I used a CCR song for the video and don’t really want to take it off. Enjoy and comment.

The iPad Defender Series Case

The Defender Series case for the iPad 1 consisted of two halves of moulded plastic surrounded by a silicone covering. There was an included, separate, screen protector that you had to install before you put the case on. I never liked the screen saver from Otterbox and quickly replaced it with an Invisible Shield from Zagg.

The iPad cases have always included a separate, plastic, cover for the screen that can double as a two-position stand when the internal lever is raised. On both my iPad 1 and iPad 2 cases something went wrong with the screen cover / stand piece. In the iPad 1, the lever broke. The plastic hinges couldn't take the repeated use. The iPad 2 had a totally redesigned hinge and worked much better. They skimped on the corners of the cover, though, and I had pieces break off from wear on two separate covers. Otterbox always placed them for free.

The silicone on the iPad 2 had the same problem as the one on the iPhone 4S case. After repeated removals it became stretched out and barely fit. I’m sure they would have replaced it, had I asked, but I just sold it and bought an iPad Air instead.

iPad Air Defender Case

This is the best case yet! The plastic is very solid and goes together very well. In the past, the clips on the edges were prone to breaking, but, these have been redesigned and are much more secure. The hole for the camera has been augured out a bit to allow more light to come in. The silicone covering is extremely tight and feels like it won't loosen up over time. The iPad 2 case felt softer from the get-go and eventually loosened up.

The screen cover/stand is especially robust. They reinforced the corners where the iPad 2 case kept breaking and the stand hinge has been reinforced as well. The overall construction of the cover is more robust and should last the life of the iPad. 

There is now a screen protector built in to the case. Previously, the screen protector was a separate piece that you installed prior to putting the case on. It seems like a good screen protector, but, I'll probably still remove it and install one from Zagg.

What case do you use? Still putting your phone in a zip lock? That's what I used to do when I worked in the South, back in the "dumb" phone days. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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

#209 DIGTECH Tablet Program


Still Using Paper? Your Clients Aren't 

We live in a modern age of tablet mobile computing, yet, many archaeology and environmental firms are still recording field data on paper forms and then spending countless hours digitizing them in the office. Now, there's an easier way!

Tech doesn't have to be expensive


Scientists, archaeologists included, employ a number of expensive recording instruments and licensed software to accomplish their goals. These products are great for what they need to do, but the cost is prohibitive for many cash-strapped CRM Firms. There are simpler and cheaper ways to incorporate digital technology into your projects, saving up to 80% of your time in the office, and 80% of your digitizations costs.

Tablet computers come in a variety of sizes and price points. You can get an Android tablet for as little as a couple hundred dollars or go high end and get an iPad for $500 to $800 dollars. DIGTECH is working on an all-in-one archaeology application, but, in the mean time there are some great, cost-effective, third-party applications that are easy to use. 


Much of the cost associated with setting up your tablet for field use comes when project managers who are inexperienced with tablets and setting up forms try to get them ready. At s billable rate of, say, $85 per hour, a project manager can spend several days trying to figure everything out. That could cost the firm over $2000!

DIGTECH personnel are experienced and familiar with both the Android operating system and Apple's iOS operating system. We can set up a tablet for field recording, complete with forms for as little as $200 total cost.

Check out the DIGTECH Tablet Program on our website. Call or email us with your needs and we’ll work out a solution that is right for you.

With a reasonable deposit, we would consider renting tablets and accessories on a limited basis. Call us and we’ll discuss the details and work something out.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you in cyberspace!

#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!


#136 Archaeology 2.0 - Google Glass Concept

Dactyl Nightmare.Do you remember the blocky virtual reality rig that was in malls back in the 90s? You put  this large rig over your head and controlled movement with hand controls. The idea was to walk around while physically turning your body and moving your head. The virtual environment would shift as you moved.

Fast forward to January 9, 2007. Macworld and the unveiling of the iPhone. The iPhone brought augmented reality to the average consumer. Well, a few generations later brought augmented reality. We had to wait for the camera to get better and for the iPhone to get very accurate 3D accelerometers. With these technologies you can look at the world through the lens of the iPhone and have what ever you want projected onto it. The Yelp app can display restaurant reviews over the actual restaurants when viewed through the screen.

Google GlassGoogle Glass. It’s not officially out yet but it’s coming. Google Glass is a device that you wear like sun glasses and they display information in front of you overlaid on the reality that you can see. When tied to a sub-meter GPS (via bluetooth) the possibilities are endless.

For a while now I’ve envisioned recording sites while using Google Glass or some equivalent device. If you have the coordinates and any other information you want in an attribute table that the device can read there is no reason why that information can’t be displayed on the world in front of you. The device would have to know your current position (possible today), your height (possible today), and it’s exact orientation (possible today). That’s it. We can do this right now!

I used the iDraw App for iPad to sketch up some ideas. It seems reasonable that eventually we should be able to send real-time information while recording a site directly to the device wirelessly. As the GIS person completes a point or a polygon that information could go directly to the Crew Chief’s augmented reality device. I’m imagining walking around doing feature descriptions, looking up, and seeing a virtual representation of what’s been done. Check out the representation below.

(c)2012 Chris Webster. iDraw Sketch of Google Glass Previously Recorded Site Location

(c)2012 Chris Webster. iDraw Sketch of Google Glass Previously Recorded Site Location

Now, keep in mind that this is possible now. Or, well, when Google releases the glasses anyway. I heard the Google Glass SDK (software development kit) costs $1,000. So, if someone had that money, and the time, and of course the knowledge, they could develop this right now. It could be ready for when the glasses deploy.

To quote a song from the 80s, “My future’s so bright, I’ve got to wear shades.” The future of archaeology is so bright that we might be wearing augmented reality sun glasses before you know it. Are you ready? You’d better be.

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

#134 The Future of the Past

(Real quick...could you occasionally click on one of the ads? They're from Google and are safe. Just need to generate a little revenue for this site so I can keep it on Squarespace. Thanks!)

There’s an article out today from a professor at Western University in Ontario Canada named Elizabeth Greene. She is a Classical Studies professor in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The article is entitled “The Future of the Past”.

Greene mentions that students always ask her whether everything has already been found. Of course she tells them that there are still many things to find and many questions to answer. The part of the article I want to talk about concerns the following:

Forty years ago, archaeologists weren’t too concerned to take a soil sample of every square meter (sic) of earth they removed the way we are today; or to consider microscopic data such as seeds and pollen analysis to discover new info about landscape and diet of people in the past; nor did they use isotope analysis of teeth to discover where an individual spent their childhood.

Pueblo BonitoA few years ago my wife and I went to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The central feature of Chaco Canyon is Pueblo Bonito. It’s a massive, semi-circular, residential Native American complex (~850 AD to ~1100 AD). When the site was visited by explorers over 100 years ago they built fires next to some of the walls where fires had been prehistorically. Of course, they had no idea that the carbon being deposited on the walls would ruin the radiocarbon dating potential of the deposits that were already there. Radiocarbon dating was still at least 60-70 years off.

When I record sites here in the Great Basin they usually aren’t as glamorous as Pueblo Bonito or as full of data potential, however, there is still a lot that can be learned. At my last company there was a tendency to only record what was necessary to determine whether the site was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) or not. There are people there now that will essentially guess at attributes and quantities for large can dumps and complex features. They feel that the site is not important enough to give a detailed recording effort to. I disagree (one of the reasons I was laid off, I’m sure).

Can Scatter, Nevada.When someone determines that a site is not eligible for listing on the NRHP they give the client the go ahead to destroy the site at will. That’s especially true here in the Great Basin where the site will likely be consumed by a massive open pit mine at some point. So, when I record a site, I record as many attributes about the artifacts and features that I can. My feeling is that even though I may not be able to get much out of an artifact right now there may be analytical methods or techniques in the future that will be able to benefit from my recording. Unlike Pueblo Bonito, you can’t go back to many of these sites and record additional information since it will likely have been destroyed.

This is one of the reasons why I want to reduce the cost of site record preparation and report writing time by utilizing digital recording methods. It will allow people to spend more time in the field and less time in the office without charging the client more for the same product. The client can be happy while the archaeologist is ethically satisfied that they did their scientific duty.

We aren’t going to get clients to pay more for our work. They already see us as an impediment to getting their permits and to completing their projects. So, it’s up to us to change the way we do our jobs with the use of technology so we can maintain high ethical and scientific standards while charging the client a fair price at the same time.

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


Greene, Elizabeth M.

 2012 The Future of the Past. Western News 16 November: London, Ontario, Canada.

#119 Re-imagining Archaeological Site Recording

Recording a site in the Great Basin a few years ago.As my readers know, I’m an archaeologist in the Great Basin.  As you also know, I’m a huge tech geek.  My wife and I shut off our cable back in January because all we were watching was crap.  Well, I really enjoyed pretty much everything on HGTV.  That’s right.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I love watching House Hunters (International included) and Holmes on Homes.  However, now instead of watching cable TV I now watch video podcasts.

Most of the podcasts I watch are technology related.  Most of those are related to new products and new apps for iOS and Android.  I also watch the TED Talks podcast.  Every day one talk, ranging from several minutes to about twenty minutes, from TED conferences and TEDx conferences from around the world is put into the feed.  I don’t often get to watch everyday so the first day of my weekend is often spent drinking coffee and watching TED talks.

For those of you that don’t know TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  TED talks started in 1984 and they are devoted to “ideas worth spreading”.  There are two annual conferences and numerous independently organized TED conferences called TEDx.  The talks are inspiring and are given by people with ideas that will change the world.  They are strong and confident and nothing is more inspiring than watching TED talks.  What does this have to do with CRM archaeology?

I’ve been having more and more conversations with co-workers and other CRM professionals regarding the use of tablets in the field for site recording.  I’m starting to feel like a broken record when I talk about this but I truly believe that a paradigm shift is coming in archaeology.  Maybe the TED talks are convincing me that recording a two-can site with an iPad will change the world but I don’t care.

The fundamental problem with the conversations I’m having lies with the thinking process of the people I’m talking to.  In the IMACS states (see my post here) we type up site forms in an MS Word document.  Most people I talk to seem to think that recording via a tablet would mean typing up that Word document in the field.  Let me say that again: people think we should be filling out Word documents in the field.  That is the worst possible solution and I’ll tell you why.

Tablets represent a shift in the way we create and consume electronic media.  We need to have a corresponding shift in the way we record sites.  No longer are we restricted to the state site form template or the template that our companies have created.  We no longer have to jump around the paper site form to record a site in an efficient way.  Most Crew Chiefs have a certain way they record every site.  They have a particular order of operations.  Having a plan of action is a good way to ensure that you’ve covered everything and that you didn’t miss anything.  With a tablet you are able to adjust the form on the fly to suit your needs and the needs of the site.  With a tablet you are able to freely record the site in the most efficient way.

I’m currently using the TapFormsHD app (link to the App) for iPad to record sites.  Eventually I’d like to use an app created specifically for recording sites using the Nevada IMACS Site Form or the full IMACS site form.  The app would be designed to collect every single piece of information required on the form quickly and efficiently.  It would output in a variety of ways including as an MS Word document that would need minimal editing in the office to complete.  The editing should take no more than 30 minutes for the average site.  That’s pretty quick compared to the three hours required for digitizing and editing that most companies budget for.

So, will tablets change the world as far as archaeological site recording is concerned?  Maybe.  One thing I’m certain of, though, is that we need to move to a place where we are digitally recording sites because that is where the world is going.  We have the opportunity right now to choose to be innovators in this area or to play catch up five years (or less) down the road when clients expect us to be fully digital.  Archaeology has always played catch-up where technology is concerned.  Let’s help the next generation come into a field that is as technologically advanced as the world they grew up in was.

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

#118 Day of Archaeology 2012

Disclaimer: The thoughts, opinions, and outright genius, presented in this blog are solely the responsibility of the author and in no way represent any archaeology firm or company.  That should cover it.

June 29, 2012 is this year’s Day of Archaeology.  I was supposed to be in the field but as I’m not this post is going to be slightly different.  Last year (Part 1 and Part 2) I was monitoring for another company and I was in a very different place.  What a difference a year can make.  On to my day.

In most CRM (Cultural Resource Management) firms in the United States, well, the Great Basin anyway, there is a lot of time spent typing up site records.  We generate a mountain of paperwork when we record a site in the field.  Let’s break down a simple site.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used to have a minimum four page form for filling out site records in several intermountain states.  It’s called the IMACS form and it stands for “InterMountain Antiquities Computer System”.  Odd name for a form, I know.  It was designed to have codes for each entry that could be entered into a database (using an encoding form) with the intent that the information could be recalled more efficiently.  Side note: people here sometimes refer to a single form as an “IMAC" form.  That, as you can see, is incorrect.  The “S” stands for system and is not a pluralizer (what?) of IMAC.  Back on track.

The form consisted of two pages of administrative and environmental data (i.e. Landform, location, sediments, vegetation, etc.) and then additional pages depending on the type of site you have.  There are two pages for prehistoric sites (Page 1 and Page 2) and two pages for historic sites (Page 1 and Page 2).  There are even more pages for things like rock art.  As you can see, I’ve mentioned all of this as being in the past.  The BLM came out with a new form, sort of, in October of last year.

The new form is one page.  All the data you were expected to collect on the old forms now goes on one page and if you forgot something because you are new then, I guess, you weren’t trained properly.  I like having one page because it’s less paper and I know how to fill out a form but I wonder about the next generation of users that are unsure of what to put on the form.  Everyone records a site by themselves at least once and, unless the training was really good, which it usually isn’t, then something will get missed.

What does this have to do with what I did today?  Well, I was typing up site forms from the field all day.  One site with few artifacts and over twenty features took me several hours.  I didn’t do any interpretation or research.  I simply typed up what was recorded and made the record digital.  This procedure is not unique to the company I currently work for by any means.  Most companies have armies of field techs typing up site records.  The process really slows the project down and is often the reason projects go over budget.

Instead of manually digitizing site information in the field we should be collecting it in a digital form to begin with.  I don’t know how long it took archaeologists to trust those newfangled GPS devices back in the day but I’m sure it was longer than the rest of the scientific community.  The same is true for digital site recording.  I feel that we are behind the curve on this one and need to catch up.  I’m attempting to do just that one step at a time.  A few weeks ago I finally convinced a field supervisor to let me record at least my portion of the sites on my iPad.  Since I’m a Crew Chief that means I do the bulk of the writing.  We figured that when calculated at the rate for office work I probably saved about $3-4000 during one 8-day session.  If all the crew chiefs were doing what I did we would have saved $9-12,000.  If the entire crew were doing that we would have saved at least $20,000.  That’s for one session.  I don’t know what the budget for that project was but I’m guessing we could have cut it in half.

There are naysayers out there that say tablets are too fragile and they are too expensive.  What if you drop it and break it?  What if you loose all of your data?  What if the battery dies?  Good questions, all.  And, they all have answers.

First, what if you drop it and break it?  Assuming the other questions are answered satisfactorily you are out a tablet.  Well, there is insurance that would replace the tablet.  Also, with as much money as you are saving you could just about afford to buy new ones every time you went out.  What about losing data?  When I used my iPad to record sites I tethered it to my iPhone periodically and uploaded the data, securely and encrypted, to my DropBox account.  The data was encrypted so even if the DropBox account were hacked it would take a super computer to break the code.  What’s that you say?  You don’t have cell service in the middle of no where?  No problem.  Get a rugged external hard drive that lives in your backpack.  Seagate makes one that is 250GB, has its own battery, generates a WiFI signal, and can be transferred to and from using any tablet or smartphone.  As far as the battery goes, it’s generally not an issue.  The iPad battery will more than last through a work day of any length, and generally longer.  If it does die there are external battery backs of different types (here, here, and here) that will provide a few charges should you need them.

So, what I did today was type up site records while fighting to stay alert and focused.  I also daydreamed about a day in the, hopefully, not to distant future, where we spend more time in the field than in the office.

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