About? How does one go about capturing a meandering life in an About? Here is a short Profile version if your curiosity is short: Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
Curriculum Vitae, means the “course of one’s life”. Mine has not been a linear course. Rather, it has been a random walk – composed of big meandering life lurches with several memorable detours, as sketched here.
UK: I was born in the United Kingdom. I spent my very early years in Wales but for the most part I was a Londoner. At age 11 or 12 I started part-time work on Saturday and during holidays, delivering groceries on a bicycle. For several years I also had part-time jobs as a wine/beer delivery boy, a sales clerk in a book store, a cheese counter assistant, a bookkeeper, and a laundry worker.
My parents separated when I was about 13 and I became the “man of the house”. In 1966, at age 17, I left Southall Grammar School with GCE “A” Levels in Economics and Geography (both with “D” grades), and six GCE “O” levels in English Language, English Literature, History, Geography, Geology and Economics. With these puny qualifications I was still offered a place at Leicester University to study Economics. but I decided not to go to university since I detested the graphs and the dry textbooks of Economics.
I left home in the summer of 1966 and found a job producing sales statistics for Chesebrough-Ponds, an odd job considering I did not understand statistics. (But I have been a dedicated daily user of Ponds Dry Skin Cream for over 55 years). I then took a job as a trainee Systems Analyst at Cerebos Foods in Willesden, London. That was mysterious work too, since I had to learn some basic computer skills. This was in the days when computers were room-sized majesties fed spools of punched paper tape by druids in white lab coats. The job also introduced me to time-and-motion studies. I was good at measuring quality stop watch data for segments of work tasks, known innocently as “elements”. Since I honestly and charmingly won the trust of unfriendly, suspicious truck drivers and elderly bookkeeping ladies, I was later much distressed when those same elemental data were used to justify staff reductions, some of the reduced folk being staff I had observed.
I had other part-time work while working my day jobs. One was as an occasional Special Effects Assistant at the BBC on the game show “Crossword On Two”. I much enjoyed working at the BBC White City Studios. There was the occasional glamor: I met stars like Marty Feldman, Tony Bennett and Lulu, a pop singer famous at the time. I watched theatrical productions and proudly took friends to “Top of the Pops”, a very popular weekly dance/pop music show.
My mother killed herself in March 1967. I had just been granted a Canadian visa and had arranged a job with Cerebos in Vancouver. But I put emigration plans aside and stayed in the UK for almost two years while I kept an eye on my 4 younger siblings, who were stowed in foster homes. I left Cerebos in late 1968 to work as a warehouseman operating pallet forklift trucks at British American Tobacco near Harrow, Middlesex.
Canada: In February 1969 I emigrated to Halifax, Canada, working my passage from the London Docks for about two weeks as a pantry boy/dishwasher/cabin steward to the Officers’ Mess on the Norwegian cargo ship M/S. Lundefjell. From Halifax, I made my way to Toronto. Virtually broke, I applied for a job as a miner at the International Nickel mines in Sudbury, Ontario but was turned down at the medical exam because I had a severe hearing loss – which was the first time I had been told of my disability. Interested in the idea of mining (even though I knew nothing about it except for a smattering of geology words) I stumbled upon the Annual Prospectors and Developers Convention in Toronto, where I accosted whoever I could for a job in mining. The only people who tried to quell my enthusiasm seemed to be embarrassed fellow Brits.
At the Convention, I received many invitations to talk to people afterward. I was very lucky to be hired by Siegel Associates (shortly to become Scintrex) to help on one of their mineral exploration geophysical crews. I did not know anything about geophysics or mineral exploration but the Siegel geophysicists included many hard-working immigrants, and their culture was to take a chance on promising hires regardless of their accents, qualifications or class. That Canadian trait endured me to my new country. Seigel Associates paid me about $400 per month and I was given a Woods 5 Star sleeping bag, designed to keep me comfortable at – 30 degrees. I was impressed with the salary and benefits – I was after all a poor immigrant! Seigel folk taught me what I had to know and I learned quickly.
During spring to fall 1969 I was a data man and navigator with a helicopter geophysics crew performing airborne EM, magnetometer, and radiometric surveys in northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That summer was the start of several years’ relationship with jet helicopters, the high frequency whine of which did not help my hearing at all. I got my first hearing aid at Eaton’s main department store on Yonge Street in Toronto in late 1969. The world became much louder, if not much clearer.
I had been told many times in my teens that I was “good with people” and so I imagined that Public Relations would be the best career for me. I went to school during the winter of 1969-1979 studying Public Relations at Humber College in Etobicoke, Ontario. I did well at the courses- except for the typing; and, crafting words into persuasive copy seemed straightforward, if unadventurous. I found a room near the school by picking a nice neighborhood and knocking on doors until a retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Irvine Brown, happily took me in as a full board lodger.
In the summer of 1970, I hitch-hiked to Northern Ontario looking for work and was hired by Maurice Hibbard of Ingemar Explorations. For Ingemar I worked cutting survey lines and claim-staking near Timmins, Ontario. After a few weeks, Scintrex tracked me down and paying Maurice a “finder’s fee” hired me to work in the High Arctic and Labrador working with one of their airborne geophysics systems installed in a noisy de Havilland Otter.
For several weeks we were based at Repulse Bay, an Inuit village; then we moved to a remote site where we had to wait for the ice break up and the caribou to stop migrating through camp. In Labrador we stayed at a strict Mennonite community in the hamlet of Postville. In the late fall, I returned to Toronto via a long coastal steamer trip from Postville, and many flights.
I resumed Public Relations at Humber College. For fun I hosted a lunchtime FM radio show Medley’s Magnificently Melodious Musical Medley, and was also the Assistant Station Manager at CHBR, Canada’s first college FM radio station.
I quit school in about January 1971, disenchanted with the commercial aspects of Public Relations. It seemed like so much bullshit, and I wanted more adventure, doing manly work. During the next 2-3 years, I prospected in the remotest areas of Canada with Scintrex, McIntyre Porcupine, TexasGulf Minerals, Kaiser Resources, Union Miniere, Geosearch Consultants and other mineral exploration firms. I was variously a geophysical operator (EM, Turam, IP, VLF, magnetometer), blaster, line-cutter, geochemical soil and stream sampler. I was at all times an inhabitant of tents, in rain, sun, snow.
I became an all-round prospector, proficient with a geological hammer, even if I did not know what type of rock I was whacking or how it got to be that way, I could recognize sparkling mineralization of copper, lead and zinc. I thrived on the adventure, silence and remoteness of wilderness Canada and developed an abiding fondness for bears and helicopters. Those years were the most physically arduous, hazardous, and romantic of my career. Every geologist should prospect for a while!
Between January and June 1973 I traveled in North Africa, Europe and the UK with my girlfriend Barbara. I spent the summer and fall of 1973 in the Stikine Range of British Columbia as a blaster and geological assistant. Turning 25, encouraged by my boss Arne Birkeland, PEng, I realized that I had to earn a geology degree if I was going to advance my career in mineral exploration. With Arne’s support, I applied to Albert “Moose” Manifold, head of the Mining Technology program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology at Burnaby, BC. He accepted me as a “mature student” on the understanding that I had learn the necessary math and science. I had no math beyond 4th Form UK (age 14) and virtually no physics or chemistry at all. I married Barbara the weekend I started school; and spent a challenging year of the two-year program, finished top of my class that year and then transferred to the four year Geological Engineering Program at the University of British Columbia.
The BCIT/UBC passage was the hardest project of my career.
I graduated in 1978 with a B. Applied Sc. in Geological Engineering (Geotechnical Engineering Option) and was awarded the first Aro A. Aho Medal given to a Geological Engineering student for academic excellence. In my last two years, I specialized in oceanography, hydraulics, fluvial geomorphology and coastal engineering. My thesis was focused on the effects of river training structures on the development of dendritic drainage patterns on the enormous Fraser River Delta. That research was supported by two summers spent working mapping the sediment distributions of the Fraser River and Kitimat River deltas with Dr. John Luternauer and Dr. John Clague of the Geological Survey of Canada.
In the fall of 1978 I started work with Dames & Moore , a then well-known geotechnical engineering consultancy in Vancouver, but which is long gone now. But instead of enjoying geotechnical engineering work in the Vancouver area, I had to work away from home at the Syncrude oil sands project in northern Alberta, and at various mine tailings dams projects in Canada and Idaho.
Hawaii: To take a break from my constant working away from home, Barbara and I moved to Hawaii in October 1979 for a short transfer with Dames & Moore in Honolulu. Within a couple of days of arriving in Honolulu, I took a half-day assignment to Maui – and we stayed there over 3 years, starting an office and growing a small Maui geotechnical practice.
In 1982 I became field project manager for a geological engineering project at the Ok Tedi gold mine in the remote Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea. In 1983 I was hired by PSC Associates, a California geotechnical engineering firm, for their new Honolulu office.
Hither and Thither: In early 1985, I had a magnificent midlife drama, with attendant divorce, job/life dissatisfaction and wanderlust, and began what became an almost 2-year trip around the world. I traveled by plane, bus, train, (with bicycle and foot excursions) through Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Scandinavia, Poland, most countries in Europe, Canada and the US. Whenever I needed money I took short engineering contracts, one of which took me to Iran and Kuwait during the Iran/Iraq war.
Hawaii again: In spring 1987, I resumed geotechnical engineering as an independent contractor in Honolulu. I succeeded in earning my Hawaii Professional Engineer license in civil Engineering in 1988, which joined my 1980 Professional Registration as a Geological Engineer in British Columbia. I supplemented my income by tutoring and teaching math, English, and science to middle, high and adult students, and volunteered at a hospice to help several men dying of AIDS and cancer. My last patient was a prisoner dying at the Federal Penitentiary at Halawa Valley. He was a born-again Christian committed to trying to convert me. Working with him and trying to patiently understand his homophobic, angry cell mates, was emotionally exhausting. I burned out. It was time to leave Hawaii for a break…
San Francisco: In 1989 I took a short assignment in South San Francisco, California, for the Terrabay project on San Bruno mountain, which was the largest residential development in the San Francisco area at that time. The project was fraught with environmental, geotechnical and geological challenges.
I was particularly frustrated by a chaotic, heterogeneous geological material I had never before encountered: Franciscan Complex melange (“mélange” is French for “mixture”). Melange, Terrabay and a new girlfriend, Julie, combined to decide me to move to California. The project was made much more difficult than a typical earthwork project in Hawaii because of much higher technical standard of geotechnical engineering than I had encountered up to that time. I felt vulnerable and ignorant about my once-adequate geotechnical engineering knowledge. It was not helpful that several of the people I often argued with were PhDs.
In 1990 I started on a MS degree in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. I married Julie in 1991 and continued my studies toward a 1994 Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering, supervised by Professor Richard Goodman. Working with Eric Lindquist, I researched the fundamental geotechnical and geological engineering aspects of melanges and other bimrocks. This was pioneering work.
UK: In 1994 I was a post-graduate Academic Visitor, working with Dr. Michael de Freitas at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, University of London. I continued research on bimrocks, and did some teaching at Imperial and Cambridge University. Lecturing at Imperial and Cambridge was ironic – if I had stayed in the UK instead of going to Canada in 1969, I would almost certainly not have progressed in my career to the point that I would be invited to lecture to graduate engineering and geology students…
San Francisco again: Julie and I returned to California in 1995. Between 1995 and 2005 I worked in Menlo Park at Failure Analysis Associates (now Exponent, Inc), a world-famous engineering and science consultancy that specializes in failure investigations. My most memorable failure investigation at Exponent was the 1995 Sea Cliff Incident in San Francisco, in which a mysterious “sinkhole” swallowed one prestigious home, and damaged several others. The story has been televised a number of times, most recently as a half-hour show (paper here). I traveled often: to the Lihir Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea, the Golden Cross Mine landslide in New Zealand and to Ankara, Turkey to teach a Short Course on bimrocks. I recruited about 30 people for Exponent and helped to grow the geotechnical/geology practice. In 2005 I left Exponent as a Principal Engineer.
Between June 2005 and June 2009 I was a Senior Consultant in the Oakland, California office of Geosyntec Consultants, a multi-disciplinary geoengineering firm.
In 2006, I worked on one of the most interesting projects in my career as a Court Appointed Expert for the US District Court in Honolulu. The world-famous Forbes Collection of Hawaiian cultural artifacts, had been borrowed from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and then buried and sealed the artefacts in lave tube burial caves. I advised the Court on lava tube cave stability and, with the help of Julien Cohen -Waeber (now Dr. Cohen-Waeber – a Geological Engineer) retrieved the Forbes Collection.
Between October 2008 and October 2009 I was the Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lecturer in Engineering Geology. I presented 85 Lectures at Universities, professional groups and consultancies across North America. The Jahns Jaunts during this rewarding Jahns “Jahr” were sometimes exhausting, but always memorable experiences.
Despite the glories of the Forbes Cave project and the Jahn’s Lectureship, I was fired in 2009 for not making enough money – but, to our mutual benefit, stayed in the Geosyntec office for another 18 months as a Consultant. During my time at Geosyntec, I also performed investigations of rock slope stability in bimrocks.
In 2010, I became an Independent Consulting Geological Engineer, often working with Terraphase Engineering in Oakland, California. I still have an association with Terraphase.
I am proud to be a Geological Engineer – because of my vagabond career I have experience in many “geo” fields. I am a Geopractitioner. You can read about my work at my professional website of the same name.
I write the occasional article now and again, and present infrequent lectures, generally on ground failures and my research hobby horse – bimrocks and the characterization of geological chaos. My published research, some presentations, and Short Courses are freely available to interested researchers and practitioners at my bimrocks website.
Julie and I enjoy peace, quiet and walking. I still thrive on adventure and travel. I much enjoy reading. And I love words: I am probably the only person I know who can say, in the same breath: “llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch”, (the second-longest railway station name in the world, in Anglesey, North Wales); and “humuhumunukunukuapua’a,” (the name of the Hawaii state fish).