Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Price Quote Automation

Price Quote Automation
"As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of
 every situation again and again. The age of automation is going
 to be the age of 'do it yourself.'" -Marshall McLuhan
It's common for companies to develop taglines or slogans to convey a message or an image to potential clients. A tagline that our company uses to convey the message we want our potential clients to receive about our services is the term"data automation"We use the term data automation because it best describes our services. With just a few clicks, users are able to upload and convert that data into infographics used to convey the location, severity, and trends of contamination at their site. We do this by creating graphs, tables, maps, charts, contour maps, and other images in a matter of seconds.

A while back a client called meand asked for a sampling cost proposal he needed for a competitive bid he was preparing (If you don't know, we do both sampling and software). He needed the quote relatively quickly and he needed it in writing. I happened to be traveling at the time with a pretty tight schedule and was wondering how I was going to be able to prepare this quote in the time he needed it. That's when it occurred to me that preparing a quote wasn't much different than what we are already doing with our data automation process. So I put one of our programmers to task creating a page that would automate the proposal quote process. I had to come up with all the variables and algorithms, which already existed in an Excel spreadsheet I used to create cost quotes; I simply made a few adjustments to the spreadsheet and sent that to the programmer.

After couple of iterations back and forth and some modifications and testing, we are now happy to announce the rollout of our QuikQuote form. It's easy to use - you simply fill out eleven fields of information regarding the site you want sampled. If you have the information in front of you when you fill out the form, this task should take you only a minute or two. Once the information is been entered, you hit submit, and a cost quote will be returned to you in a matter of seconds. At this point, your cost quote is anonymous unless you determine you like the price and you want to identify yourself and obtain official documentation. To do that you simply enter your name, company name, e-mail, and phone number at the bottom of the quote and a PDF copy of the cost quote along with other quote particulars will be promptly emailed to you. After that, to initiate the work, simply contact me with the quote number and we will provide a work schedule within 24 hours.

Our hope for this QuikQuote system is that it will automate the quoting process for both us and our potential clients. We're also hoping that it will become obvious to potential clients that they can get their sampling and reporting work done at a fraction of what they're currently paying now. If we are doing the sampling, the use of our data automation and reporting software is included for free.


Substantial discounts for clients with multiple sites, large sites with 40 or more wells, or long-term contracts will also be offered above and beyond the quoted price using the QuikQuote system.

If you're interested in seeing how much money you are currently wasting, go to our QuikQuote page and take a minute to obtain a quote. The process is completely anonymous, unless you decide to proceed with the work.  

We look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve cost efficiency in your business.

- Russell Schindler

A Preview - The In-Situ Aqua TROLL 600 Multi-Meter

A Preview - The In-Situ Aqua TROLL 600 Multi-Meter
"It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty
 if you think you can make a better glass." - Unknown
If you've been reading my newsletters over the years you'll know periodically we review various environmental equipment for environmental sampling.  We've reviewed most of the popular water quality multi-meters on the market. Back in 2014 we reviewed In-Situ's SmarTroll. I concluded at the time that, although it did not meet everything I could wish for in a meter, it was a very good meter and at the time my favorite meter. You can review that article here.

Things have changed, and I now have a new favorite meter. It's the Aqua TROLL 600 meter, also made by In-Situ. Last month we took advantage of In-Situ's "try before you buy" demo program. They told us this would be an "early demo" because although the multi-meter itself was complete in its final form, the software application was still being built and tested. So we would be using an early version of the software. We gave the meter a workout. We used the meter at five different sites for five days straight.

Here's what I think about the meter. One of the most common things overlooked when purchasing a meter is the cost of battery consumption. The Aqua TROLL 600 was still registering at nearly full charge after five days of continuous use. Impressive! One of the other things I liked about the meter was the small volume of the flow-through cell (just barely over 100cc). For those that are not aware of the importance of flow-through cell size, you can read more about that in a past article here.  Another excellent feature for the Aqua TROLL 600 was the lack of cabling between the sonde and the display. The unit connects to a smart device via Bluetooth technology. The Bluetooth transmitter is located in the top of the sonde unit. Having the display separate and unconnected to the sonde eliminates clutter while still allowing the user to be mobile and able to monitor the readings. This means you could get inside the vehicle during inclement weather and still do your job properly.

Because of advancements in sensor technology, In-Situ indicates daily calibration isn't necessary, which for the user means more reliability and cost savings in terms of time spent and calibration fluid consumed. During our demo we conducted daily calibration because that is the current industry standard and it's also what our clients currently expect. This traditional industry calibration frequency is based on old sensors that historically had significant drift and other fouling issues. These newer sensors seem to be more consistent and have longer reading stability. I think as the industry becomes more confident in sensor reliability these standard calibration frequency practices will likely be adjusted to reflect manufacture reliability testing and recommendations.

We found the Aqua TROLL 600 
The In-Situ Aqua TROLL® 600 Multiparameter Sonde
calibration instructions to be straightforward. Calibration was quick and guided by the software which was simple to use. We did a full calibration every day although the meter gave no indication that it needed it.

As mentioned earlier, the version of the software we were using was not the final version, but even in its preliminary form, the software was intuitive and responsive (I'll write more about this aspect once the final version of the software is released). One thing I liked about the software was the ability to sort the readings in the same order as the paper forms we were using to record the data. The meter will electronically record your data and has the ability to email your data to whomever you choose in both an Excel file and as a PDF. The final version of the software will calculate your stability parameters automatically in a nice color-coded fashion and give you an audible alarm once stability has been achieved in all parameters.

Currently the industry seems to be stuck on paper. Most meters these days, including the Aqua TROLL 600, allow the user to either download the data to a desktop or, in this case, email the information via Wi-Fi connection. Even with this ability most firms, not all, are still manually recording the stability readings on paper.  The younger generation tends to be more comfortable with conveying data electronically. It's the people that have been around a while who have grown up in the environmental industry using field books and paper to document daily events and data, they are the ones who seem less comfortable using strictly electronic record keeping.  Many of our clients still insist on recording data on forms that were created 20 years ago. Old habits die hard. As electronic recording becomes more standard and people feel more comfortable with its reliability, there will be an inevitable shift. The shift will also be motivated by the cost savings and direct usability, upload ability and convertibility of electronic data. We are looking forward to the ability to upload stability data and groundwater elevation data directly to our web software right from the mobile device.

The Aqua TROLL 600 meter is not the cheapest meter on the market right now in terms of initial purchase price. However, the daily operational costs on this meter seem to be significantly less than other meters. Most multi-meters we currently have require a full set of batteries every other day; batteries are not cheap. The time to do a calibration on this meter was minimal and the documentation of the calibration was done within the software itself. Calibration takes time, and time ismoney. The faster an employee can calibrate and document, the less it costs me. The small calibration cup means I use less calibration fluid, and calibration fluid isn't cheap either. The small flow-through cell size also means stability readings are able to be recorded more frequently, cutting down on overall sampling time without cutting quality. The life expectancy of these sensors is also expected to be significantly longer than other meters we've used in the past. The longer the meter can be reliably used, the lower the long-term operational costs. Finally, the ability to quickly transfer the data electronically means less time spent on data entry.

As stated, the Aqua TROLL 600 is my new favorite groundwater quality meter and, when considering all the costs associated with operating a meter, I suggest it will be the cheapest meter I'll own long-term as well.

If you're in the market for a new multi-meter, I would suggest taking advantage of In-Situ's free "try before you buy" demo. In-Situ also has a rental program if you're looking for a more extended demo.

I'm not affiliated with In-Situ or the Aqua TROLL 600 in any way other than as a customer. I'm simply offering you my experience, perspective and opinion.

- Russell Schindler

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Changing an Industry. First by accident and then by design.

Changing an Industry. First by accident 
and then by design.

"There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second." - Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

When first started back in 2001, the goals we had for the company were completely different than the goals we have now.  Back then the internet was just gaining momentum and not everyone was comfortable having their data online.  As a matter of fact, some people were actually outright opposed to it. 

In the beginning we wanted to be a "field services" company. In 2002 we developed an online data management tool to facilitate our own sampling. Being efficiency minded, we wanted to be able to lay out a project and print chain of custody's, sample bottle label's and sample location 
maps ahead of time so that our own field staff could sample quicker and with fewer mistakes.  The client access function where the client could log in and generate their own reports if they wanted too, was a byproduct of our own logistical needs.  It was actually one of our programmers at the time that suggested having the client login and print out some of their own tables. I said, "Great Idea! The data is already there, why not?"  So we added it.

Unfortunately, not much happened with for a while, largely because I was busy doing other things.  In 2008 when I decided to give it my full attention again, things started taking off. The software was revamped and the selling went full force. The goal was still to be a "field services" company.  Again, the software was meant to be a "value added" to the client and something that separated us from other companies.

It was in early 2011 while meeting with a large nationwide engineering company to discuss their sampling needs when they said, "Well, we really want to keep doing our own sampling, but we really like your software.  
Can we just use your software?"  I had actually heard that question a few times previously, but this time it struck home. It occurred to me that we should be a software company also. It took about a year to revamp the software to allow clients access to the ability to set up their own projects (i.e. print their own chain of custodies and sample bottle labels, etc..) but when complete, we were officially a software company.

We've been moving along and continually improving our software since then but now it's time for the next iteration of  Just for grins, I'm calling it SampleServe 2.0.

SampleServe 2.0 is still in field services, that's been our bread and butter, but now we're emphasizing software and developing our own tablet/smart phone application. People have asked why we don't get out of the field services business if we want to be a software company. My answer is that laboratory services and the testing and analysis function will soon be moving into the field and we want to be in a position to take advantage of that market as the technology developments.

Mobile smart devices and sensor technologies like this onethat can detect lung cancer using a breathalyzer like device and other technologies being developed like this one, are being developed all the time. I imagine a time in the
not to distance future were the results from sampling of any kind are displayed almost instantly on a mobile device (Think Star Trek Tricorder).  So the question now is, is it better to be a laboratory trying to move into the field services arena or a field services company trying to provide lab services?

Here is how SampleServe 2.0 will be the same.
  • We will still do field sampling for clients that want the service (using "tricorders" as they become available).
  • We will still allow clients that do their own sampling access our project management and reporting functions.
Here is how SampleServe 2.0 will be different:
  • SampleServe 2.0 will be able to be accessed directly through your current participating laboratory's website. I have one poll question for those that are interested here: Lab Data Reporting Poll
  • We will have improved project set up and project management functions. Many functions that are repetitive will be automated.
  • Project management and reporting for other media will be available (e.g. soil, air, surface water, sediment, soil vapor, asbestos, mold and radon). 
  • Sampling instructions and access to the system will be available through a tablet/smartphone application.  Data will be able to be collected and uploaded directly from the application.  Photos and GPS coordinates and sampling details will be able to be input through the applications features.
  • Sample bottle labels will be able to be printed in the field with QR Codes and text that identifies all sampling details using a small inexpensive simple 12-volt label printer.
  • Electronic "Chains of Custody" will be automatically generated and e-mailed to the lab ahead of the samples for efficient automated sample login by laboratories using the sample bottle label QR Codes.  
I'd like to say exactly when SampleServe 2.0 will be completed, however, currently the timeline is inversely proportional to the budget. If you're interested in partnering on this industry changing project, I can be contacted directly at 231-218-7955 or via e-mail.  Ideal partners would be software programmers, laboratories or other venture stakeholders.

Your comments and questions about anything I've written are appreciated.

- Russell Schindler

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Laboratory Data Deliverables

Laboratory Data Deliverables
Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." 
-Alfred North Whitehead

I may be dating myself, but when I started working in the environmental industry, the fax machine was just becoming standard office equipment. They were slow, used thermal paper that came on a roll, and you had to cut the paper into the right size yourself. The paper was difficult to work with as it wanted to roll back up on itself. When we needed results from a laboratory in a hurry, we would ask them to "fax it over." Otherwise, laboratory 
reports were always printed on paper and mailed via US Postal service. Once the paper or fax reports were received, we would take the data and "maybe" put it into a table. We would have to re-type the data ourselves into whatever format we wanted it in. We didn't always do tables because I'm talking about a time before Microsoft Excel. Tables I worked on back then were mostly rudimentary tables constructed in a software called "WordPerfect". We would, however, always discuss the data, trends, exceedances, etc. in the text of the report. Full lab reports were always included as an appendix to the report and reports were always printed out and delivered on paper.

I spent hours and hours re-typing data from paper to a computer only to print it back out on paper again. It was a good thing both I and my employer were getting paid by the hour.

It was around the time that e-mail became mainstream in the late 1990s to early 2000s that the laboratories started giving you the option of having your data delivered via fax machine or e-mail, but it was still just on paper. It wasn't until the early to mid-2000s that most labs started giving you the option of having your data delivered as an Excel file.

Thus went the getting paid to re-type data. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved collectively across the country over the years by end-user environmental clients simply by not having to re-type data because the file could be delivered electronically. Seems like a small thing now that we are all used to using the technology, but it was a huge savings overall. Laboratories that embraced the e-mail delivery early on gave themselves a competitive advantage over late adopters of the email delivery method. Although not having to re-type data cut into the billable hours of the engineering consulting firms previously re-typing the data, it ultimately made them more price competitive in the eyes of their end-user clients.

The disheartening thing is that it's been nearly 14 years since the first delivery of data via e-mail in an Excel file, and that's where the technology largely stands today. Some laboratories will send you an Excel file customized to your exact specifications, but it's still just a fraction of what the end user, the entity ultimately paying the bills, actually needs.

The end user (the regulated oil companies, manufacturing firms, developers, etc.) need full reports with all the full color data, graphs, and maps completed well beyond just simple Excel tables. The future I see is a scenario where the laboratory is providing the mechanism for the client to get all
those required full color reports as an electronic deliverables. It's the next logical technological progression in data deliverables. I've had conversations with numerous laboratories about taking the next step, as SampleServe's software has been developed for just this purpose. The resistance to date by many of the laboratories to the concept is somewhat baffling to me. The response I hear most often is "The consulting engineering firms will perceive that we are competing with them and might not use us anymore." At first glance I can understand this initial reaction, but it doesn't stand up to the history of technological advancements. If a technology delivers a comparable product, saves time, and saves money, it will ultimately win in the market place. The situation is similar to the days when Excel files were first delivered. I personally remember making the decision not to use a particular lab because they couldn't deliver data as an Excel file. Most labs wouldn't even think of not delivering data via Excel these days. No one would use them. There will be a day in the not too distant future when delivering data means delivering the data in as many formats and fashions as the client can think of. Not doing so will mean not getting the business.

If you would like to talk to about your data deliverables potential, please contact me.

As always, your comments and questions about anything I've written are appreciated.

- Russell Schindler

Technological Unemployment

Technological Unemployment

"Technology... is a peculiar thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." 
-C.P. Snow

Wikipedia defines Technological Unemployment as "unemploymentprimarily caused by technological change," or more accurately technological innovation. In industries were "technological unemployment" occurs, productivity and profitability tend to increase. We don't generally think of increased unemployment as causing increased productivity.

Most "technological unemployment" tends to happen in industries and work scenarios that are easily automated like assembly and manufacturing. Think robots. 
 However, automation is occurring in more and more sectors not previously thought to be automatable. Fast food restaurants are starting to experiment with automation. I've personally seen robotic beverage machines. A machine that grabs the right size cup and fills it with the cold drink I've ordered. I've also seen a computer touch screen for placing your order, which replaces the fast food worker who used to take your order. Some restaurants are experimenting with replacing wait staff by placing iPad like devices on restaurant tables and you just order your food from there with a simple pull down menu when you're ready. No wait staff coming out to take your order. Need another beer? Just punch it in and someone will bring it out.

If you think robots caused "technological unemployment," wait until 3D printing (learn more here) becomes mainstream. Several 3D printing patents expired last year, which had been holding the 3D printer market back. Many others patents still exist, however, and with the innovation that is occurring in the 3D printer market and with the software and material science technology ever advancing, 3D printing is going to cause "technological unemployment" like we've never seen before. It will not just affect the manufacturing sectors, but also shipping, warehousing, and even construction and housing. Need a bridge? Print it. Need a house? Print it. 3D printers are cheaper than Chinese labor and there is no need to warehouse or ship parts and other various items across oceans. They will be able to be printed on-site or right next door in every hometown.

The explosion of software and mobile applications is also causing "technological unemployment." Ride sharing applications like Uberand Lyft have caused decreased revenues among taxicab companies. Room rental software like Airbnb, where you can rent a room at bed and breakfasts and hotels all over the world, is hitting large hotel chains with decreased revenues. The smart capitalist understands that productivity and profitability don't have to be tied to the number of employees a company has. As it's always been since the beginning of tool making, technology that lets you do what you have been doing with a lower overall cost is going to win in the market place.'s own software is loathed by AutoCAD Technicians all over the country. It all but eliminates the need for AutoCAD technician time, significantly impacting their pocket books. Project management time is about 10-20% of 
what it used to be. The typical monitoring project is mostly data crunching and mapping. With our software, what used to take two days now takes about 10-20 seconds. The vast majority of the environmental industry bills by the hour, so there is this inherent subliminal resistance to technologies that cut into billable hours. It's an "It's working now, why would I want to change" mentality. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "How am I supposed to make any money if I use your software?" from a potential client.

Resistance to change is inherent in humans; we are all creatures of habit. Many of us however, are also curious, inventive, and competitive. In today's technological world and with the ever-increasing rate at which technology is advancing, if you don't want to become one of the "technologically unemployed," you had better make learning and embracing new proven technology a daily habit.

As always, your comments and questions about anything I've written are appreciated.

- Russell Schindler

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Electronic Chain of Custody and Matching Bar Code Sample Bottle Labels. Arriving Summer 2014!

Electronic Chain of Custody and Matching 
Bar Code Sample Bottle Labels. 
Arriving Summer 2014!

"Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways 
or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or 
because they realized something that shoots holes in how 
we've  been thinking about a problem" - Steve Jobs

In our endless - and I do mean endless - pursuit of improving our application, we have begun work on the "next big thing." We call it our electronic chain of custody (ECOC). I mentioned this concept about a year ago and now we have begun programming work on this new feature.

Here's how it works: The project manager defines the project sampling scope, just as they have done in the past. Once the scope is agreed upon by the pertinent parties, the scope will be finalized, and at that point sample bottle labels with unique identifying bar codes can be printed along with an associated preliminary chain of custody. Once sample bottles are filled and sample bottle labels with the bar code are applied, the ECOC can be completed online using a laptop, tablet, or cell phone. At this point, any changes to the sample IDs can be made along with the sample dates, times, special notes etc. Once the ECOC is complete, the data file is automatically e-mailed to the respective laboratory. The lab can then sync this data file with its sample receiving system without having to manually enter sample data from a paper chain of custody. Once the sample bottle arrives at the laboratory the next day, the sample bottles are scanned in using a bar code reader, and the relevant data from that sample is finalized as received within the lab's data reporting system.

The benefits of the system for laboratories are fourfold. 1) It saves labs time and money on data entry, as all data is entered by the field personnel while in the field. 2) It minimizes the opportunity for data entry errors; sampling data is only entered one time. 3) It allows the lab to know exactly which samples are arriving the next day, allowing for staffing and equipment planning. 4) This bar coding ECOC feature is tied to our current sample project management application and allows a smooth transition from project planning to sampling to lab receiving and reporting, and then to completing the final reports with all the tables, charts, graphs, maps, and contouring needed. The entire application from planning to reporting can be uniquely customized and licensed for use directly by the laboratories themselves and can be re-offered to their clients as a customer service enhancement and source of additional lab revenue if desired. This allows the lab to take data reporting to the next level and beyond. Don't just give them the data - allow them to complete the entire report.

If you represent a laboratory and are interested in talking about this new application, please contact Russell Schindler at 231-218-7955 or by e-mail at

- Russell Schindler

Groundwater Elevation and Contaminant Levels, Correlation, or Causation.How can you tell?

Groundwater Elevation and Contaminant
Levels, Correlation, or Causation.   
How can you tell?

"The obvious is that which is never seen until someone 
expresses it simply." -Kahlil Gibran

Over the years I've heard a lot of explanations regarding groundwater elevations and subsequent increases and/or decreases in contaminant levels and the presence and disappearance of free product. I've heard people argue that increasing water levels increase contamination, and I've also heard the opposite. Some people believe that increasing water levels causes free product to disappear and that decreasing levels cause it to re-appear (which is counter-intuitive to a lay person). The question or debate is (all other things being equal): does groundwater elevation have an effect on contaminant levels? Furthermore, does groundwater elevation have an effect on the presence or absence of free product? These are a question of correlation or causation.

I've been doing this kind of work for about 26 years now, and I've learned enough to know that it all depends on the specific site and even the specific well.

Webster's Dictionary defines correlation as: "a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone." Webster's defines causation as: "the relationship between an event or situation and a possible reason or cause."

Determining correlation, in most cases, is pretty simple. We tend to use graphs to visually plot and identify correlations. In the example to the right, you can see a strong correlation between the two variables; however, the graph implies a causation, which is ridiculous. Organic food doesn't cause autism. It was Mark Twain who said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." Determining causation requires a bit more thought and reason, and can be tricky to plot on a graph.

With regards to groundwater
Graph A
elevation and contamination, in Graph A you can see that groundwater contamination seems to go up and down in concert with the groundwater elevation. This is a strong correlation which implies causation. However, in Graph B, the correlation appears to be the exact opposite. Contaminant levels seem to go down with increasing groundwater elevations. The two causation conclusions implied by the graphs seem to
Graph B
conflict with each other. One of the interesting things about the data from these two wells is that they are taken from the same site across the same date range.

The explanation for the differing correlations is that one well is located in a source area and the higher groundwater elevations expose the groundwater to remaining residual source material in the soils and capillary fringe. This exposure thus causes increased contaminant leaching and migration to the groundwater. The down gradient well is subject to the dilution effects of the increase in clean water entering the aquifer at that well location.

The point of this article is not to argue the significance of these effects or whether there is any other explanation as to the cause, but instead to illustrate that simply visualizing the data correlations is important in evaluating and eventually determining causation. In this example case, seeing the correlation of the source well increase as compared to the down gradient well decrease, made it obvious source soil material existed. It was determined that the presence of existing source soils needed to be investigated and removed, which it was.

In the case of the free product, being able to see the interaction of groundwater elevations and presence of absence of free product is also important. One often overlooked but equally important feature is the intersection of the groundwater
Graph C
interface within the well's screened interval. If the screen is submerged completely beneath the groundwater interface, free product cannot flow into the well, giving the unaware project manager the impression that free product is not present at this well location. In the Graph C, the black line represents the top of the well, the orange line represents the bottom of the well and the blue line represents the groundwater elevation. The only opportunity for product to flow into this well is on 11-21-2008, when water elevation was beneath the top of the screened interval. In the event that this well had free product, you would see a red line on top of the blue water table elevation line. These types of graphs are quick and effective at illustrating information like this.

If you have high contaminant concentrations in groundwater, you may have free product in your source soils, but if your screens are too deep, then you will not see that free product and may actually think you don't have any. I've seen this mistake many, many times. These types of visual graphs quickly and effectively illustrate whether your screen placement prevents the identification of the presence of free product. Additionally, the correlation of groundwater elevation, up or down, and the presence of free product can also be quickly identified.

Good graphics allow a project manager to not only determine correlations and thereby conclude causation; it also allows a good project manager to convey that information and conclusions in a simple fashion to a client or a regulator.

All these graphics can be generated using existing site data in about 3-5 seconds using SampleServe's groundwater project management application. Using traditional methods such as Excel would take several hours.

To learn more about our groundwater project management application and how you can use it for your own projects go to

- Russell Schindler