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October 28, 2005


After Fright Flight and a G. Love and Special Sauce concert, I got up and out early on Monday to catch a flight to Oakland, California. This time, I was working for the Northern California office, headed up by Brian Coyle. My mission: Upgrade as many sites as possible. A glitch in the GPS receiver we're using calls for swapping new, non-glitchy receivers for the old. Also, many sites needed some work done on their comms. As in communications. All the sites I visited send their data to Boulder via the Verizon cell network via a CDMA modem. But not all the sites were sending data reliably, so I had to change some settings.

The work at each site was only about 1/2 and hour's worth. Most of the week, then, was spent driving from one site to the next. My biggest challenge was finding the sites. I ended up hitting four sites a day over the course of three days, which wasn't so bad.

By the end of it, I had it down pretty well.

[Drive-through GPS.]

What a funny job. I drove, crashed in a hotel, woke up, drove to the first site. The directions said, 'be careful not to disturb the bees nearby.' The site was on private land, and the owner apparently keeps bees. The bees were far enough from the site to not be an issue, but my visit happened to coincide with bee delivery. So a big ol' truck with a bed full of bee boxes pulls up and I have to hurry my work so these guys can unload the bees without worrying about me getting stung.

Here's a photo essay of my work at each site:



Yeah. So. The yellow thing is actually the GPS receiver, and if you're really observant you might notice that the one in the first photo looks different from the one in the second, but only in that it has different numbers written on it. That's the equipment I was swapping out. The black box underneath it is the CDMA modem.

I also did observe some other interesting things.

Some sites needed a little cleaning up, for example.

Also, I got to one site and found cracks in the ground everywhere.

[Note that the enclosure boxes do actually have doors on them. They come off for convenience, and then can easily be put back on and locked.]

The cracking is the result of drying and heating, and is not actually a problem for us. This is a deep drilled brace monument, which means the legs go down 30 or so feet. The legs are drilled in deep so that motions of the GPS antenna reflects regional motion, not surface motion resulting from things like drying and cracking.

Most sites I visited were by the road.

Some, however, were a bit challenging to get to.

It doesn't look that bad, but the water on my tire isn't all from the rain. (It was steaming. Cool.)

I won't even go into the story of this site, but it took me three hours to get there. Okay, I'll go into the story a little bit. It was actually the second site pictured up there under the 'most sites were by the road' bit. I could see the site from the highway as I was driving by, but didn't know how to get there. I tried some interesting options, like the one pictured above. Yeah, yeah, I know--your saying, 'But the site is right by some houses! How hard can it be?' Not hard at all if you have good directions and/or great map/air photo software. But I had crappy directions and only decent software, and got sucked into the land of cul-de-sacs. Tons of them, everywhere I turned. Webbing suburbia, anyway. When I finally figured out how to get to the site, it turned out to get me there but to be the wrong way. The good news is that I found the right way. The better news is that it was kind of a cool site, despite being sandwiched between the highway and an incipient neighborhood, and that there was a lovely sunset.

At one of the sites, I got my first heckle. The site was the closest to the road, alongside an off-ramp, and a truck containing two men stopped alongside the road. "Hey, how's it going?" one called. "What is that?" I proceeded to explain a bit, stand-offish at first but then thinking I should be more informative, on the idea that the better folks understand these things the more they'll respect (and not vandalize) them. I don't know that this was the case this time. After I'd explained briefly, plate motion and earthquakes and yadda yadda, the man said, "It's a waste of government money, is what it is." Huh. "Where's the money going to be when an earthquake happens and the people don't got anything?" There's understanding, and there's reacting, and you've got to have both. Different pools of money, I said. I understand your view, he said, but I don't think he did. They drove off. After they left, of course, I thought of the cancer analogy, which seems more tangeable than earthquakes, since I can't guarantee that we'll ever be able to predict earthquakes. Of course it takes money to treat people with cancer, and this money should be spent. But it would be ridiculous to not also be spending money to research cancer to better understand its causes and cures. Anyway, in case you're concerned, the truck was a good distance away from me and the men never made any motions towards getting out, so no, I never felt threatened. They just wanted a roadside heckle, I guess.

There were also some less offensive visitors.

[Um.... there are cows in the background.]

And some just downright nice sites. I just barely made it before closing to a park which locks up at dusk, which was a real treat. The lighting was great, and the view breathtaking.

[Detail of above.]

[Detail of above.]

And, best of all, surrounded by the putrid, sweet smell of decaying garlic in the fields just outside of Gilroy, California, I saw my first wild cat. A bobcat.

[Detail of above.]

[Detail of above.]

[Detail of above.]

That was the coolest. It was pretty chill, taking me in but not sprinting away. Moreso just acting annoyed that I wouldn't just move on and leave it alone.

Twelve sites visited, eleven sites collecting data. (I won't go into the odd one out--except to say that it's the one that took me three hours to find.) All in all, a successful week. Then, I even got to visit with a couple friends from college that I haven't seen in ages. But that's another story.

Posted by beth at 1:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

On the Road

I'm heading off tonight. Didn't quite make it out of the office today, but I'll try to make some ground tonight, ideally making it close to the first station I want to do tomorrow. I've got the equipment loaded up, have a variety of tools and software and cables, and directions to the sites. Hopefully I don't need anything else, because that's all I've got.

So the goal for tonight is to make it to Colusa, California, which you've probably never heard of. As far as dots on the map go, it's a pretty small one.

Hope you're all well. Thanks so much for your comments--sorry to those of you that I haven't responded to! I still plan to, I swear.

Posted by beth at 2:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2005


I'm iiiiiiiiin Calfornia! I was here all last week, then back in Colorado for the weekend, and now back in California. Kind of crazy. I meant to post all sorts of great blog entries, but... the road to hell, as the saying goes...

But here I am, killing some time while the folks I'm working with organize. UNAVCO has a main office in Boulder, and also five additional regional offices for a project we are in charge of (which more than tripled our size), called PBO (Plate Boundary Observatory) which consists of installing over 800 permanent GPS stations and a handful of strainmeters throughout the western US, including Alaska. Last week, I was working for the regional office based in southern California. This week, I'm in northern California. Two staffmembers from Boulder and two from So. Cal were also in town here for a meeting, so tonight we barbequed elk steaks brought out from Colorado by Kyle, our permitting guy, and we gorged ourselves. Good stuff.

I'm going to back-fill, so stay tuned.

Posted by beth at 3:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 23, 2005

Fright Flight

I worked with Chris to finish the site on Friday, but had to abandon him halfway through the day. That was a big bummer, since we weren't done with the site yet, because in my experience it takes more like three times (rather than just two) as long to do field work alone. So while Chris was left to finish the site alone--Anza doesn't really contribute much, the brat--I headed off to get stuck in indefinately stopped traffic behind an accident on 395 and ended up missing my flight anyway. I caught a later one on standby and made it into the Denver airport around midnight. Which means I got home to my apartment around 1:30. Which means, after getting ready for the next day, I got to sleep around 2:30.

My friend Kevin picked me up at 7 AM. We drove to Larry's house and ironed fun things on our tee-shirts. Kevin's said, "I'm stupid!" Mine had a view into a tiger's jaw on the front and a threatening-looking tiger on the back. That, and Kevin burned holes in his shirt and I put slashes in mine with a razor, and smeared fake blood along them. And put fake skin on my face and neck in long slashes, filling in an indentation down the middle of each with fake blood. I don't have a good picture of it, but my opponents and teammates alike said I looked really creepy. And gross. Sweet.

[Kevin and me.]

Right. So why did we do this? Fright Flight, a costume tournament held in Fort Collins, CO every year. Ultimate frisbee. Each team has a theme. Ours was Darwin Awards (although our team name was, officially, Hold Muh Beer and Watch This--also fitting with the theme, if you think about it). You know, the 'award' given in recognition of people who die doing stupid things. I was dressed as a guy who, with a friend, thought it would be a good idea to (while drunk) try to put a garland around a tiger's neck at the zoo. Turned out to *not* be such a good idea. Kevin was a guy who tested the water level in a tanker truck with, not having a flashlight, a lighter. The water clears the tank of flammable gas. Turns out the water level was not high enough yet.

Justin (AKA Chicken Bone) dressed as a guy who had been told in his martial arts class that with his new skills he'd be able to take on wild animals, and he decided to try it on a lion at the zoo. But the lion wasn't alone, and all that was found of the guy was two arms. It's hard to play frisbee just as two arms, so Justin left himself intact and just tucked a stuffed lion into his belt.

[Another team theme was the Titans. I just thought it was funny to watch a Greek soldier put on sunblock.]

Our team motivating cheers were things like, "Stupid stupid stupid!"

[Team Zezo (sp?), taking their theme from "Life Aquatic", treated each team with a pinata after the game. Ours was filled with chocolates and nasty lemon-vodka shots.]

We played frisbee some, but we were really bad, or I guess maybe just everybody else was a lot better, so we focused on other things.

[Gin swish. A little gin, a little tonic, a lime if you've got one, and a little swish.]

Saturday night, there's a party. I was super tired. I was so tired that I resorted to cuddling up to Larry's JATO which he made out of foam to compliment his costume as a guy who attached jato (jet-assisted take-off, little rockets used to assist C-130s taking off from e.g. soft snow or short runways) to his Impala and jetted into a cliff (urban myth, but still funny). Larry's JATO looked suspiciously--actually, blatantly, although it was never the intention--like something else.

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October 20, 2005

Site 2

Chris and I moved on on Thursday to site #2. Another install, just like we'd done Monday and Tuesday.

[Me drilling a hole for one of the four monument legs. Photo: Chris.]

We worked through the day, taking a break at sunset to take in the surroundings.

[Photo: Chris.]

[My shadow. I look like I'm eating an apple (as Chris pointed out), but I'm taking a pictue. Ummm....this one.]

The coolest this about this area is the tufa towers. You know, tufa towers. Okay. So.... this whole valley used to be one big lake, up to over 600 ft deep I think, and the area was hydrothermal besides. So mineral-rich fluids leaked up through the lake floor and deposited their minerals, building up big towers over the vents. The lake drained away, leaving the towers behind. So now rather than being several hundred feet under water, they rise up to 100 ft or more towards the sky.

[Tufa towers in the distance.]

We worked until after sunset, but then got ourselves some snacks and headed out to check out the towers by moonlight since I'd be leaving the next day. Very, very cool.

Posted by beth at 5:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

Site Maintenance

It's very rare that I see a sunrise. I'm not an early morning person. But the light was distinctively morning light when I got up and headed out of the hotel to load up my rented SUV, and as I turned the corner of the hotel towards my car I saw that burning ball of red just rising up over the low hills. And then, heading back to the hotel to get my breakfast, there was the moon. Paper-thin and big and translucent white, stuck up there in the lightening blue sky.

We headed off to a site in need of a bit of a face-lift. We needed to relocate the solar panels (moving them from ridiculously high to a more managable height) and swap out the receiver.

[Dain and I work to remove the old solar panels.]

When it became clear that I was (for the time being) superfluous, I hopped the barbed-wire fence and went for a little walk.

[View back at the site.]

[View out away from the site.]

[Swirly rock. It's volcanic.]

[I became fixated on the shadows of the grasses on the rocks.]

We finished up our work there later than anticipated, and Dain's time was out. He needed to be back west for a meeting that afternoon. So, he took off and Chris and I headed to the next site to weld on the solar panel mounts so that Dain could do the rest at his leisure.

The site, as was already known, had been completely vandalized.

The only thing of interest left in the enclosure box (normally housing the receiver) was a bird's nest.

The dome protecting the GPS antenna had been broken off the mount and the antenna removed.

Nearly everything was stolen or destroyed. But, the site is in a good location as far as data go, so we're going to rebuild it and hope for the best.

It was also a nice spot to take a break and watch the sunset.

[Boy and dog.]

After the sun had set, we saw a glow over the hill in the opposite direction. So we headed up that hill and watched the moon rise as we climbed. It was a sunful-moonful day.

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October 18, 2005

Sunny Day

The second day was beautiful. Sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.

And a little tarantula.

Work continued. I got to try new things.

[I'm welding. I know it's not a great picture, but..... I'm welding. I won't show you a picture of my welds. Photo: Chris.]

The roads had mostly dried up from the day before, but not completely.

By the end of the day, we'd finished the site.

And stood back to admire our work.

[Photo: Chris.]

[Dain, Anza, me, Chris.]

After cleaning up and documenting the site, we headed off to wherever we spent the night. 'Where in California are you?' asked my friend Elizabeth, on the phone. 'That's not the fun part,' she said. Oh, but it's beautiful, I told her. Driving along in the evening sun.

We checked in to a generic hotel (no ghosts, no Mexican food) and Chris and I hit the hot tub while Dain crashed. Next stop: Site maintenance.

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October 17, 2005

Rainy Day


Here I go back-filling.

I was tasked to the trip on Thursday evening and I flew out to Ontario, California (not Canada) on Sunday, October 16, right after my frisbee games.

[Flying over.... Arizona?]

I stayed in a hotel by the airport and headed out early the next morning to meet up with Chris Walls, the UNAVCO regional engineer for Southern California, at our first site. I arrived at the site almost on time and chatted with Scott, our local contact, until Chris arrived. He didn't arrive alone. At first I thought he'd brought a person, but it turned out to be way better. He brought his dog.

[Anza keeping out of the rain.]

Anza is a rotweiler-doberman mix, and we became fast friends. She's a princess. She's a sucker for love and Chris is a sucker for her, as was I--how could you not be?, so she gets pampered. After giving her an ample amount of attention and head- and butt-rubbing, I shook hands with Chris. Right. We're here to work.

It rained. We installed. The goal was to install a short-drilled brace permanent GPS monument as part of the Plate Boundary Observatory's network of over 800 permanent, continuous sites. I need to lead installation of two similar sites in Socorro, New Mexico, in November, but both my boss and I figured it would be good to have a little experience before doing so. Thus, the trip to Cali.

Chris and I were joined by Dain, another GPS-er who is affiliated with the USGS and U. of So Cal (I think), and who is paid partly by one of the programs headed up by UNAVCO to upgrade existing permanent GPS sites. So a deal was made: Dain helps us with this installation, we help him with two upgrades.

[I worked mostly on the enclosure housing the receiver and the power system. Check out my stylie rainpants-pants length misfit.]

At one point, lightnight and thunder drove us inside the building from which the TV broadcasting for the town is controlled.

[Scott had the coolest tee-shirt ever: SIMON SAYS YOU SUCK. I have the coolest rainpants ever, compliments of Chris. Anything to look pregnant.]

It's kind of a powerful feeling, controlling the local TV access. At one point, in trying to figure out why we'd lost power to our drill (we plugged into the TV towers' power with a very long extension cord), Chris and I managed to kill one of the TV stations. Well, I did. I bumped a wire. The station cut out right in the middle of a soap. I'm sure tons of people were wondering what happended when Julie saw Bennie for the first time since she thought she killed him back in high school, or whatever was going on. Bummer. I told Scott about it later somewhat sheepishly, after we had been able to get the station back up, and he didn't seem too concerned.

[Work continues: Dain drills, I work on the enclosure box. Chris takes pictures. Who do you think is the manager...?]

As the rain broke, we saw a killer rainbow. Huge and bright and complete, and a double besides, although you can't tell most of that from this picture.

[Chris, stoked.]

That night, Chris dropped Dain and I off at the Ace Motel in.... whatever town we were close to. The decor was '60s, with nothing matching--which was cool--and I had dreams all night that someone was in my room. Haunted? Or the effects of the Mexican food ordered from the caucasian server who claimed she couldn't eat Mexican food?

I also burned my butt on the heater I'd cranked up in my room to dry out my wet clothes. I know I burned myself on the heater because, besides feeling the lasting pain, I ended up with a series of evenly spaced red stripes on my skin. And the spacing, as it turns out, exactly matches that of the grate on the heater...

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October 10, 2005


It's fall, and I love it. It's fall, and I'm here for it, and rather than willing myself away down south before more change occurs I'm welcoming the change, getting ready to hunker down for winter. I'm not leaving in a week, and that's nice.

This weekend, I went car-camping for a night with my friend John to check out the leaves.

John's dog, Bruce, joined us. Bruce is a hot dog.

At night, we built a fire.

And we roasted smores and drank beer.

Bruce slept in the tent with us all night long. Crazy dog. He was my pillow.

In the morning, we lounged a bit before heading back down.

Car camping. Every once in a while, it's a good thing.

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October 1, 2005

Old Friends

My good friend Tanja came into town for the Great American Beer Festival, held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Tanj works for Otter Creek Brewery in Vermont. Well, the brewery's in Vermont, but Tanja lives in Rhode Island. She's in sales. As she likes to say, she sells beer.

Tanja came in on Wednesday, and I planned to take Thursday off to hang out with her. I had actually decided to work Thursday morning before calling her to check in. "You'd better not be working tomorrow morning," she said, "because I have something fun for us to do." Uh-oh. "Uhhhhhh.... what is it?" "We're going to a wedding," she said. "What?" "Julie Lamy's getting married."

Holy cow.

It so happened that our friend and ex-housemate from 712 E. Cottage Grove in Bloomington, Indiana, was having a marriage ceremony in Estes Park, Colorado. And she happened to be doing it that Thursday. So what could I do? I got out of my work commitments, and Tanja and I drove up early Thursday morning to join the crew. We all hiked about 45 minutes to a beautiful spot called Moraine Park or something similar, and witnessed the marriage of Julie Lamy to Ramunus. I don't know Ramunus' last name, but they met in Lithuania, where Julie was in the Peace Corp, and she calls him Moon for short, which is cool, so that's all I really need to know.

Tanja and I wore dresses. We were over-dressed. (Get it?)

Congratulations Julie and Ramunus!

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