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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 October 28, 2005 1:44 AM

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I may not understand all you gps work or the why's and wherefor's, but when you show pictures of landscape and wildlife, then I really appreciate your post and "wanderings".
ott in sw mo

Posted by: ott at November 3, 2005 4:57 AM

I admire your technical skill or whatever you call it and your photos of the California area were fantastic. You are also a great photographer. Beautiful sunsets! Before this all goes to your head-ha. ha, I wanted to tell you a little story. My Mom is deceased. Well, when she was a little girl of two & lived in Butler, PA., she & my grandfather were out one evening in the country riding in his horse & buggy.He was a general family M.D. A bobcat crossed in front of them & spooked the horse. Well, my grandfather carried a small pistol & shot down on the ground area alongside the bobcat & scared him away. So, my Mom told me this story & so did my Dad who is 90. So, bobcats live in a wide area from California to the eastern & western coast. Just thought I'd tell you the story & you did have the advantage the car was a good way to observe the cat. My Dad said they can get quite nasty & attack you. They do look like a large cat compared to my little Biff who is an American shorthair/old barn cat of 15 years. So, keep up your good work & I hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving. "Happy Turkey Day" to you though it's a few weeks away. Criss

Posted by: Mary Janovick at November 3, 2005 5:30 AM

Cute Kitty...for a bob cat.

Posted by: Poe Cat at November 3, 2005 5:57 AM

I really enjoy your blog. We really do need to know more about the planet we live on and plate tectonics. The photographs that you take are fabulous. I really enjoy looking at the sunsets and the different topography from various parts of the world that I will probably never get to visit. I also liked the pictures of the bob cat.
Thanks for taking the time to send these.

Dot : )

Posted by: Dorothy at November 4, 2005 1:00 AM

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