Surveying, Mapping and GIS

Exploring all aspects of mapping and geography, from field data collection, to mapping and analysis, to integration, applications development and enterprise architecture...

  • Geospatial Technology, End to End...

    Exploring all aspects of mapping and geography, from field data collection, to mapping and analysis, to integration, applications development, enterprise architecture and policy

To The Bard...

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/25/2008 11:00:00 PM 0 comments

A Bard's Epitaph

Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Owre fast for thought, owre hot for rule,
Owre blate to seek, owre proud to snool,
Let him draw near;
And owre this grassy heap sing dool,
And drap a tear.

Is there a bard of rustic song,
Who, noteless, steals the crowds among,
That weekly this area throng,
O, pass not by!
But, with a frater-feeling strong,
Here, heave a sigh.

Is there a man, whose judgment clear
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs, himself, life's mad career,
Wild as the wave,
Here pause-and, thro' the starting tear,
Survey this grave.

The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn the wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name!

Reader, attend! whether thy soul
Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole,
Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,
In low pursuit:
Know, prudent, cautious, self-control
Is wisdom's root.

Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796)

Pennsylvania Surveyors Conference Wrapup

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/24/2008 07:48:00 AM 3 comments

Finally back home, after spending a week on the road for a few meetings around the country, including the NCEES Uniform Procedures and Legislative Guidelines committee meeting, to which I was recently appointed, to discuss the 5-year review of the NCEES Model Law and Rules and other associated charges, and a couple of days at the Pennsylvania Surveyors Conference.

Amazingly, during the course of one week, US Airways managed to lose one of my bags not once, but twice, on my way down to Florida and then on the way back. The bag did finally show up, but not after it took me a few trips to the store to restock on a few sundries, and not without finally arriving with a trashed wheel.

At any rate, it was a great trip, but I am happy to be home again.

The PSLS Conference was particularly enjoyable, I got to see a lot of old friends and colleagues from around the state, with a great turnout from our PSLS Pocono Chapter, as well as a few friends from the RPLS.COM message board, a few folks from PAMAGIC, and there were a bunch of great sessions to attend...

The sessions I attended:

  • Introduction to FEMA National Flood Insurance, presented by Wendy Lathrop PLS, CFM - this was a great session, giving an overview of the DFIRM flood maps and data, versus Q3, discussion of the zones and base flood elevations and processes for submitting map amendments, for working with instances of fill and development within a flood zone, and other associated issues - will post more on FEMA, "Map Modernization" and the DFIRM process in the very near future, as it raises a huge, longstanding concern of mine regarding DFIRM data. Umm, on second thought, NO, I won't post more on my issues and concerns on DFIRMs and MapMod - at least until AFTER the upcoming RFP response...

    Surveyors use floodplain maps to identify flood-prone areas of sites and to determine the extent of those hazards. We will look at how first Housing and
    Urban Development (HUD) and later the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began mapping flood hazard areas, how the process has changed over the years, and the surveyor’s role in updating and correcting those maps. Regulations and use of the appropriate forms provide practical background when serving our clients and protecting ourselves from liability
  • Records Research, presented by Lionel "Buck" Alexander PLS & Charles Colony PE PLS - this was a great session on cadastral research and locating legal records from a variety of sources, not just deed books, but registers of wills, orphans' court, road dockets, and many other sources.

    This workshop will cover how a deed research is started and completed. It will look at indexing systems, reading and interpreting deeds for chain of title, and the use of plats and plans in deed research, wills, estates, and tax sales as related to deed research will be discussed.
  • Survey Measurement Analysis, presented by Chuck Ghilani, Ph.D. - this one featured analysis and propagation of error, and adjustment of error via least squares.

    This workshop will present and demonstrate the basic statistical analysis necessary to perform least squares adjustments. It will describe methods for
    analyzing and adjusting measurements to account for their errors. This workshop seeks to furnish theoretical understanding and demonstrate computer-aided application to common survey types including level networks, horizontal survey measurement networks, and GPS baseline networks.
  • Easements and Rights of Way, presented by Gary Kent - this session gave a great overview of some of the legal aspects of easements and rights-of-way, in how easements and rights-of-way can be formed either through written or unwritten means (such as by necessity), along with case law and other great info.

    This workshop has the overall objective of helping surveyors more fully understand the types, elements and nature of easements, both written and
    unwritten. Specific performance objectives include improving participants'
    knowledge base such that after attending this workshop, they are able to: define what is an easement, outline the various types of easements, explain the difference between appurtenant easements and easements in gross, explain the difference between an easement and a license, identify the ways in which easements can be created and terminated, identify the types of unwritten easements and explain the nature of each type of unwritten easement.
  • Dendrology & Forest Ecology, presented by Tim Pierson Ph.D. & Ken Comstock PLS
    This session provided a great overview of forestry - types of trees, mensuration and valuation of trees, forest growth and sustainability and history of Pennsylvania's forests and forest stewardship.

    Tree identification and understanding of the uses and values of our timber heritage. Also, the study of forest growth and the relationship of trees to our environment, and to our work as surveyors.

Pennsylvania Surveyor's Conference 2008

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/20/2008 09:36:00 AM 0 comments

I am looking forward to going to the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors' 2008 Conference. It kicks off tomorrow in Hershey, PA... There I will catch up with some of my old surveying colleagues and friends, as well as ping them on many of the other things that I've been dealing with, such as work on updating the NCEES Model Law via their Uniform Procedures and Legislative Guidelines Committee (UPLG) and Continuing Professional Competency for Land Surveyors as recently introduced via legislation in Pennsylvania - and potentially subject to an updated legislative effort, as well as many of the other things I work toward, such as data standards and geodesy, and many other plates spinning and hats I wear.
I am presently wrapping up a weekend spent with the UPLG Committee in Florida - which again raises some of the questions of defining practice, as regulated by law - with particular, sensitive crossover issues in Surveying being GIS and Photogrammetry, but also Engineering and other fields.

Hotels and Water Conservation

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/20/2008 09:14:00 AM 2 comments

While I would applaud hotels and businesses for their efforts toward conservation, I still have to wonder about this "save the planet, don't wash towels and linens" thing that I've been noticing in my travels over the years.

I have no problem with reusing towels and linens at home, but in hotels, it tends to instead come across more as cost-cutting and corner-cutting.

I would be a lot more convinced to see a hotel engaged in such water conservation measures as rooftop gardens, rainwater harvesting and greywater reclamation for landscape irrigation and nonpotable uses. Additionally, implementation of water saving measures through efficient fixtures and design throughout should also certainly be encouraged.

Some resources:

Water Conservation

Sustainable Transportation

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/14/2008 07:24:00 PM 0 comments

Seems cars and transportation have been a hot topic this week... Some big items in the news were the Tata Motors Nano car, targeted to make family transportation affordable in India at $2,500, and the AFS Trinity, a hybrid SUV capable of 150 miles per gallon.

The first of these, the Tata Nano, notable as it was cited as bridging the affordability gap between a motorcycle and an automobile. For families, passenger capability on a motorcycle is an issue... However, while a boon, this is bound to increase petro demand, emissions impact, and come bundled with a host of other environmental tradeoffs in India and other parts of the world with similar economies. It would be interesting to see development of affordable, yet safe and efficient mass transit to go concurrent with this, however tradeoffs between urban and regional transportation demand create other wrinkles. Hopefully the developing world does not fall into the trap of pedestrian-unfriendly, mass-transit-unfriendly, highway-oriented development models, as the United States has.

The second of these, the AFS Trinity is announced as an "extreme hybrid" - it essentially gets much of its power via overnight charging, while also having gasoline-powered hybrid capability. It tremendously reduces dependency on gasoline, and also allows alternative electric sources to be utilized via the grid - whether solar, wind, hydro or more conventional power sources. The size (similar to a smaller SUV), range (400 miles), acceleration (0-60 in 6.9 secs in full hybrid mode), top speed (87 MPH) and low operating cost ($15.49 for combined electric and gasoline cost for 340 miles a week, vs. $47.60 for comparable vehicles in gasoline cost) make it quite respectable on the road. The company also suggested they are planning to target a 250MPG sedan in the future.

Finally, some interesting approaches toward sustainability and transportation have been featured on the Science Channel's Invention Nation series. Here, the show's three young hosts travel cross-country in a bus, which they initially powered with processed biodiesel, then converted it over to a dual-fuel system which also accomodates scavenged vegetable oil from restaurants via a heated tank and fuel line, along with a filtration bank to capture impurities. They also installed a solar panel and a garden on the roof of the bus. In the show, the team visit various inventors, including an individual making house-scale wind generators, a guy building human-powered cars, as well as company making bicycle frames from bamboo and hemp fiber as an alternative to high-tech carbon fiber. Truly, a great series showing innovative approaches toward conservation, stewardship and sustainability.

Social Networking

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/14/2008 06:22:00 PM 1 comments

I have been getting thoroughly inundated in social networking... in the last week or two, I got Twitterized, LinkedIn and Facebooked.

Previously, I had played around with a few things, but other than my blog, nothing really seemed to have utility other than single-purpose content... and the social interaction was marginal, at best. As an example, Plaxo was useful to an extent, but I ended up dumping their Outlook software after it repeatedly created multiple folders and duplicate contacts on me. And then, they actually wanted to sell me the upgraded version that has the duplicate remover utility... BZZZT!! Not paying someone to solve a problem that they were responsible for creating.

At any rate, I can see how Facebook has really taken off - with their Facebook Platform, there is a lot of rich functionality that can be integrated, with AJAX-based Web 2.0 goodness. Thus far, I have found it leaps and bounds more advanced, capable and actually useful than any of the others, such as myspace - it goes beyond simple personal space to community and can genuinely form the glue toward holding an array of functionalities together in one dynamic space.

Still some limitations here and there, but ultimately, seeing things like tweet content being used to update status or being consumed from one framework to the next starting to emerge, they begin to get woven into a rich tapestry to keep friends, family, colleagues involved, interacting and so on, beyond the usual physical constraints of distance.

Treasured Maps of New York City

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/14/2008 12:41:00 PM 0 comments

The New York Post has an article today, titled "Treasured Maps" - highlighting the work of Scott Stringer, who is charged with preserving historic maps of New York City - among them, the Randel Farm map, which laid out the grid of Manhattan Island from Houston to 155th St.

These historic maps show many features of streams, wetlands, lakes and other things which have since been reshaped through development - a timeline of the good, bad, and the ugly contained in a map repository going back to 1748.

The world needs more Scott Stringers - he is steward for New York County's maps - I unfortunately hear periodically of plenty of other instances where maps lie crumbling, for lack of proper preservation.

Open Source Community Resources for Aerial Imagery

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/12/2008 08:57:00 AM 1 comments

I was just in a conversation with a friend of mine - I found that he's been wrestling with some homebrew code for managing large aerial photos - and the usual issues of performance, memory management, caching, and multiresolution data came up. A number of useful resources in the Open Source community are available in that arena, and I thought I would share some of them:

OSSIM - Open Source Software Image Map

From the OSSIM site:

OSSIM is a high performance software system for remote sensing, image processing, geographical information systems and photogrammetry. It is an open source software project maintained at and has been under active development since 1996. The lead developers for the project have years of experience in commercial and government remote sensing systems and applications.

OSSIM has been funded by several US government agencies in the intelligence and defense community and the technology is currently deployed in research and operational sites. The name OSSIM is a contrived acronym (Open Source Software Image Map) that is pronounced “awesome” – the acronym was established by our first government customer.

Another interesting effort ongoing is the Open Aerial Map project, spearheaded by the prodigiously prolific MetaCarta map ninja and OpenLayers/TileCache developer Christopher Schmidt:

OAM - Open Aerial Map

From the OAM site:

This project is an attempt to gather data from various free and open aerial imagery datasources around the world, and use them to create a single, coherent open world view.

If you are interested in seeing your data here, please email

Both of these sites contain code repositories, documentation, and other community resources are available, such as IRC chat channels.

Sustainable Zoning and Development

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/06/2008 04:22:00 PM 0 comments

Jeff Thurston at Vector One has another great post speaking to one of his passions - sustainability.

He touches on the issues of infrastructure and zoning - and here, I wholly agree, we need to rethink our approaches to land use and infrastructure.

In antiquity, our approaches were geared toward communities, where people were able to work, live, buy, sell, trade, interact, worship, and essentially conduct all the activities they needed on convenient terms - typically one could traverse a small town on foot with ease, finding grocers, butchers, bakers, and any other needs handy. With the introduction of factories and mass production, along with mass transit, such as trolleys and buses, manufacturing and heavy industry was able to make an upsurge.

With the automobile, our definition of "convenience" began to shift, and our towns and cities became increasingly pedestrian-unfriendly. Add to this, the increasing pressures and consequences of the heavy industry and other uses which were less compatible with residential use, which ultimately led to segregation of land uses.

Ultimately, folks escaped from the cities, only to bring the cities with them, in the form of row after row of identical, cookie-cutter subdivision homes, spread over mile after mile of what had once been prime farmland.

Consequently, the pendulum has swung, from small, intimate community, to the scattered, impersonal, suburban sprawl of today. Perhaps the time has come for the pendulum to swing back - we have seen the rise of gasoline costs, and along with it, an increase in telecommuting and infrastructure alternatives.

The economic and cultural drivers are in place, however the regulatory and governance aspect still lags behind - with reforms to zoning and land use planning needed, along with different models for dealing with infrastructure relating to the "convenience factor"... Here is a place where I anticipate GIS having a definite and distinct role in demonstrating the cases and scenarios for future land use and development paradigms - and along with it, principles of land conservation and open space preservation.