Field Work Fail
October 22, 2015 6:05 AM   Subscribe

 
Mr. Flappy was a valuable lesson for those children. That was no failure, that was Nature.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on October 22, 2015


Send a drone...

Sigh. Drones are a distressingly combination of a significant fraction of grant money and highly fragile/easy to lose, as it turns out. Every group seems to do it at least once. It's kind of a rite of passage. On the other hand, they're still an order of magnitude (or more) less cost than a helicopter campaign.
posted by bonehead at 6:18 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


TIL fieldworkers lick fossils. And, if it was me, swallowing them would be the inevitable consequence rather than an unexpected event.
posted by billiebee at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mr. Flappy was a valuable lesson for those children. That was no failure, that was Nature.

i saw something like that once at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden - the pond in the Japanese Garden is stocked with foot-long koi and a bunch of turtles, and so you often get people on the gazebo on one shore doing a lot of fish-watching.

However, there is also a hawk that lives either in the garden itself, or in Prospect Park just nearby. And once day, as I as strolling around the pond, suddenly the hawk dove down into the pond with a splash and came back up with a huge koi wriggling in its talons. I watched it circle the pond once, flying past the kids on the gazebo at least twice, and they all were absolutely silent with shock as they watched it circle and then fly away.

Another woman who was also watching the whole thing turned to me after it flew off, and our eyes met and the two of us absolutely lost our shit laughing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2015 [22 favorites]


Previously.
posted by The Bellman at 6:46 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


And, if it was me, swallowing them would be the inevitable consequence rather than an unexpected event.

This is a feature, not a bug. How else do you think paleontologists gain their crazy trilobite powers?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I wanted to know more about licking potential fossils. Apparently your tongue will stick to a fossilized bone (because the fossilized bone structure absorbs your saliva, I guess) but not to a regular old rock.
posted by pracowity at 7:06 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yep! I've licked very few fossils, but a lot of rocks. Being a novice paleontologist was hard. I try not to think about all the goats who've peed on the rocks I licked.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:17 AM on October 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I assume the person who came up with that test either got paleontology's highest honor or was summarily drummed out of the field forever.
posted by Etrigan at 7:34 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


So far my favorite thing so far is where the elephant blood researcher describes her son as a "3.5 year-old". With one significant figure after the decimal I wonder if the kid gets mini-birthdays when he turns 3.6, 3,7, 3.8, etc..
posted by benito.strauss at 7:52 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


BTW I love these and the illustrations are great and of course "The Sexiest Damn Beetle in All of Skåne" is my favorite as-yet-unwritten Mountain Goats song.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:57 AM on October 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Good time to remind everyone about lolmythesis, in case you haven't taken a look at it recently . . .
posted by flug at 8:34 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


[Deleted as a double, and then undeleted because this version has more in-depth stories and illustrations. Carry on!]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:02 AM on October 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


My worst day in the field might have been the day I stepped on a ground-based nest of wasps and dropped my data notebook and radio telemetry antenna in surprise while running from the wasps. I lost my monkey group, got a lot of stings, and then had to go disturb the nest a second time to get my notebook and antenna back.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:26 AM on October 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah but you should start a blog called "Field Work Win" that's all like "I just saw a TON of monkey butts" and "Today the monkeys helpfully pooped right front of me so I could match the specimen with the donor" and "Big pink genitals exactly on schedule! All is right with the primate world!" and stuff like that.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:04 AM on October 22, 2015 [17 favorites]


MetaFilter: I lost my monkey group
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:04 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I assume the person who came up with that test either got paleontology's highest honor or was summarily drummed out of the field forever.

I'm not sure how it came about, but it seems logical it resulted from:

--silt vs. clay field tests
Out in the field when you're describing rocks you need to differentiate between silt and clay for rock description and classification. It's not easy to do visually due to the smallness of the grain size, so a really common way is to take a small bite of the rock. (Or scrape some of the surface away and lick it.) Silt will taste super grainy on your tongue while clay is kind of creamy and melts away. Even a little bit of silt in a very clay rich rock will be recognizable. Right away you have a very useful data point. It's such a good test that when you check clay/silt percentages back in the lab, not often will your field description from that simple test differ in the basic composition. I've met older sedimentologists whose teeth show signs of having done this for 40 years.

or/and

--Wet rocks
Minerals, fossils, and structures are often easier to see in a rock that's wet. Sometimes you pour some water on it; sometimes you're lazy and just lick it. This is particular useful when the sun is high and bleaches everything out. (Fossil work, like photography, is best done with good light.)

Somewhere along the way people noticed that fossils stick to your tongue. And they really do! It's got the additional bonus that walking up to a giant dino bone and licking it is just a terrific way to horrify a group of kids.
posted by barchan at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


clay is kind of creamy and melts away.

Coffeemate is clay.

(partially)
posted by bonehead at 10:37 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stories like this always make me simultaneously grateful and kind of sad that I only went on one field season, never to return. (One of my colleagues specializes in the field aspect of our work now.) About the worst thing that happened to me was the time my labmate accidentally drove the field truck a little bit off a cliff. Or the time our field truck refused to start and we had to call in a mechanic and have them break the ignition column with a hammer so we could drive it somewhere that could actually fix it.

...really, most of our problems that summer were truck-related.

On the other hand, then I listen to my good friend and his stories of being used as a dinner plate by local cats (and narrowly escaping being the cats' litter box) and feel grateful again. So y'know, it evens out in the end.
posted by sciatrix at 10:48 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's quite clear that anybody who works with animals have the best fieldwork stories as well as fieldwork fails.

All of my fieldwork fails are less fails and more "I'm a mess of a human being." Like the time I, bored while listening to a colleague teaching some students, nonchalantly hooked my hammer into a sharp edged flake of granite; it came off the wall onto my foot and sliced off the tip of my big toe. But it's usually falls, catastrophic pant rippage, peeing on my boots, falls in front of colleagues, and in the grandest of human messes, the time I fell over while peeing because I backed my bare butt into a sagebrush; alas, I was on a slope so I went ass over teakettle down the hill, catastrophically ripping my pants, my bare butt, and my beautiful face. While on a field trip with colleagues because OF COURSE.
posted by barchan at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2015 [23 favorites]


Oh, ugh, that reminds me of the time I crouched to pee without realizing this placed the tail of my shirt in the middle of a line of army ants, who promptly climbed up my shirt and down into my tank top, and then I had to strip down to my sports bra so my field assistant (who spent a lot of time trying to convince me to sleep with him, which is a whole nother branch of fieldwork failure) could help me pull off the ants that were embedded in my torso. This taught me to always carefully inspect the area I choose to pee in, which prevented me from peeing on a viper once!
posted by ChuraChura at 11:34 AM on October 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I agree. Too many survey and monitoring ones end with "...and then they spent six months in P/T." (or worse)
posted by bonehead at 11:34 AM on October 22, 2015


In another kind of fieldwork fail, one hasn't quite lived until you've fallen hard enough on your back to pop your full Camelbak.

And by lived, I mean experiencing that moment of terror when you think that pop! was your neck and all that liquid on your back must be blood.
posted by barchan at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


the time I fell over while peeing because I backed my bare butt into a sagebrush; alas, I was on a slope so I went ass over teakettle down the hill, catastrophically ripping my pants, my bare butt, and my beautiful face. While on a field trip with colleagues because OF COURSE.

There's this category of events my husband refers to as "Things that aren't Mrs. Pterodactyl's fault but only happen to her" (and "I was bored so I started poking/picking at/playing with" is the beginning of about a third of these, like with the big toe slicing) and this is like an especially fantastic one of those stories. I don't do fieldwork but I feel a great sense of both solidarity and awe.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:11 PM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


*adds Mrs. Pterodactyl to list of participants for Dream Metafilter Science Adventure Trip*
posted by barchan at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


You also bite soil if you're testing for either fine volcanic glass or sawgrass silica. Both have a distinctive broken-glass feeling between the molars.
posted by clew at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Given how many scars I have on my hands and knees from just, you know, life, it's probably a very good thing I do my science in a lab.
posted by shelleycat at 2:41 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Avoid the word "shrinkage" when doing winter aquatic work, unless you want people smirking at you for the rest of the day.
posted by bonehead at 3:09 PM on October 22, 2015


Metafilter: prevented me from peeing on a viper once!
posted by Hypatia at 3:13 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want to find out of pearls are real, you rub them on your teeth! Glass "pearls" feel like glass. Real pearls feel like ... well, just go borrow a pair of earrings from a friend and try it. It won't damage the pearl. I don't want to ruin the surprise of what it feels like for your tooth. (My husband was mad at me for showing him this for like half an hour.)

I have a few politician field-work (door-to-door canvassing) fails, but they all fall into the categories of "people complaining you knock like a cop when you are not, in fact a cop," "people answering the door naked," "people who appear to have serious brain damage and large untrained dogs who may actually murder you and feed you to said dogs," and "people who think you're your opponent and offer their opinions on real-your lack of competency before you can disabuse them of their confusion, awkward!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:37 PM on October 22, 2015


#drylabfail: My computer froze, so I restarted it.

Hmm. Not quite the same.
posted by tickingclock at 4:29 PM on October 22, 2015


The tooth test is a real thing! That's how we check if vintage pearl jewelry is real at work. But it's awkward if I'm at, like, a thrift store because I can't exactly clean it off first.
posted by nonasuch at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2015


I don't know if being a volunteer hawkwatcher in the hills above the Golden Gate Bridge counts as "fieldwork," but it is something that meant* I occasionally peed outdoors (because I was too lazy to walk all the down to where the portapotties are). One time I did not sufficiently check the brush I was peeing near and oh boy that covey of quail and I were really startled by each other! I still managed to not pee on my pants or boots somehow.

* Past tense because the park service cut down all the trees that had been on the west side of the hill because they weren't there pre-WW 2. Now I walk down to the portapotties because there's nowhere to take cover from tourists.
posted by rtha at 6:16 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


...really, most of our problems that summer were truck-related.

the time I fell over while peeing because I backed my bare butt into a sagebrush


I don't do research but I do spend a lot of time in the field. Every failure story I can think of was either equipment-related or peeing/pooping-related, and the best (read: worst) ones combined both.

In open areas where there are no trees or bushes, the only bathroom privacy is next to the vehicles and equipment. Heavy equipment and materials can provide enough cover for pooping if they have been parked correctly, but for peeing all a guy needs to do is kind of hump up on the rear tire of a pickup -- even in super public areas, this usually gives enough pretense of privacy to get by. Failure ensues when someone drives off in a truck exposing the pee-er, or when someone doesn't know that peeing on the top of the tire guarantees runoff onto their foot. I've done both.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


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