An Open Letter to the Environmental Geologists of the Past

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:


Love and snuggles,


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

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.

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).

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.

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.