This project really began in early 2011 with a conversation something like this:
(some details removed to protect the innocent, and the not so innocent)
The door bell rings. My wife has returned from three weeks of fieldwork.
“Hey hon, I’m back” she says, over the cursing of a taxi driver who is struggling to unload five beat-up suitcases. He is mumbling something “…eels like they are full of bloody rocks…Ungh!” . Trish smiles at me sheepishly because…well…they actually are full of rocks… and about 100 Nalgenes of water to boot. You see my wife is a hydro-geologist, who’s never seen a piece of karst limestone that she didn’t like.
“How was the field work?” I ask
“Oh, pretty good. We met some wonderful people from (insert university name here), and put some new equipment in (cave system there). The monitors in (another cave) are still there, but the recent (hurricane/flood/tidal anomaly/etc) threw them all over the place so we had to set them up again. Interesting data though. The new undergrad student, (student name here), survived their first real trip into the wild…mostly. (grad student name here) continues their work on (thesis Y) more slowly than I would hope, but there is progress. Unfortunately we did have one real casualty on the trip”
“Uh Oh…”, I say, “Not again”
..a bit later…
“Sorry dear, but I’m not sure we are going to be able to revive this one.” as I examine the salt corrosion on the motherboard. “From the looks of things I’d say the whole unit flooded. Didn’t they see bubbles or something”
“Yes…”she says, through gritted teeth. “They saw the bubbles, but (grad student name) decided to continue their dive anyway and deal with it later…”
At this point, I am slowly backing away, as my normally sweet tempered wife is emitting a low growling noises, and her hair is starting to move on its own, in a very strange way…
“Well” I say, trying to be positive, ” the sensor heads may be salvageable, and I think the battery compartment stayed dry. Why don’t I just take it down to the workshop…” as I beat a hasty retreat to the basement. I know that we can probably pick up a used one on ebay and cobble something together, but even if we do, five grand just evaporated. In the furnace storage room, I place the dead Hydrolab in a box with other fallen soldiers, all waiting for one repair or another, if we are lucky.
Now I know caves are harsh environments, and cave diving is tough on equipment, but a young academic doesn’t bring in monster grants, so each loss like this really hurts, especially when the unit is brand spanking new. There has to be a cheaper way to get equipment into student hands because, well, everybody makes mistakes like this when they are just learning the ropes…I know because “ahem” I have seen more than my fair share of failed O-rings.
So I thought this over for a while…