Green Gabbro

Dear Environmental Geologists, Engineers, and Technical Illustrators of 20 Years Ago:

Please remember that the real audience for your work – the mind-numbingly detailed technical reports over which you have slaved many hours – is not the board of petty bureaucrats who commissioned your investigation. The real audience is someone like me: A data-entry and verification cog in a giant lawsuit that will one day, far in the future, bring your paperwork out of cryogenic storage.

I mean, you were working on a project at a large industrial facility. Did you really expect your figures to snooze contentedly on a dusty shelf while all the potential contaminants at the site frolicked peacefully in a land of rainbows?

While you probably don’t need to plan for technical communication spanning multiple civilizations, your work is likely to remain relevant over 30-50 year urban planning timescales. It is also likely to become separated from its accompanying text, and quite possibly its fellow figures. It will be folded, spindled, mutilated, faxed, photocopied, and scanned at an inappropriately low resolution. Meanwhile, your field site will be built up, knocked down, jackhammered, and regraded. It would be nice if you could provide site location maps that will remain useful under those circumstances, instead of the following:

i-547e65c5f5503d9cab3e6f685b16396d-awesome-site-map.png

Love and snuggles,

Maria

Comments

  1. #1 ScienceSealedDelivered
    February 11, 2009

    Hah!

  2. #2 Chris Rowan
    February 11, 2009

    I’m sure that I’ve read scientific papers with a similar approach to site documentation…

  3. #3 Kim
    February 11, 2009

    May I share this with my Tech Writing class when we discuss technical illustrations? It’s a fantastic point.

  4. #4 Maria Brumm
    February 11, 2009

    Kim: Please please please do!

  5. #5 Elisa
    February 11, 2009

    Here is another Amen ! Nothing like wandering around a defunct landfill full of weeds and goodness only knows what else looking for well casings that were referenced to a chain-link fence that no longer exists and a dirt road that has long since been taken over by the mutant weeds. At least your drawing had some cement structures with some slim chance of surviving for a while.

  6. #6 Maria Brumm
    February 11, 2009

    Dirt roads will at least show up on an aerial photo, though, for quite a while after they’re invisible from the ground. Not that that does field personnel much good…. The cement has the opposite problem, when seen from the sky it tends to be pretty well camoflauged (mostly by its tininess).

  7. #7 ScienceSealedDelivered
    February 11, 2009

    Cement? Surely you all mean concrete?!

    Anyhow, it’s obviously unfair to hold the era of manual reports and drawings to the same standard as today, but your point is very well taken and, cough, illustrative.

  8. #8 Miss Cellania
    February 11, 2009

    This reminds me of the language in my deed, which is just as useful.

  9. #9 Paul Murray
    February 12, 2009

    In computing, we often have much the same problem.

  10. #10 Dean W. Armstrong
    February 14, 2009

    In twenty years, will your secondhand report of the map of the complex be scrutinized as the only text on the subject?

  11. #11 Chaz
    February 24, 2009

    Heck, what do you want from us? The budget’s used up to the point where I have half an hour to sketch the map to submit it to the drafting department, and another fifteen minutes to review the result. The excavation’s in a parking lot, with no other reference points beyond the corner of a building that will be demolished in ten years and a cement pad that will be destroyed before anyone notices, let alone cares. I’ve got a site location map, based on a 7.5 minute USGS quad, but taht could very well get seperated from it’s fellow figures.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.