Welcome! For several years I’ve been blogging under the title Northing & Easting using Google’s blogging service but lately I’ve become dissatisfied with Google’s offerings. Now mind you, what Google offers is a free service so I’m not going to complain too loudly, but as a free service its features are limited. My hope is that WordPress will offer more options not just for blogging, but also for setting up and running a website. We’ll see how it goes.
So what’s the philosophy here? I’m a professional Topographer. That’s a job title you don’t hear any more, but it accurately describes what I do in my daily work. A Topographer, or Topographic Engineer, is someone who studies and describes the shape of the earth and the feature on it. The discipline of Topographic Engineering traditionally incorporates surveying, geodesy, photogrammetry, cartography, geography, geology, soils science, forestry, hydrology, landform analysis, cultural analysis and astronomy. A good Topographer is a true polymath.
Topographic Engineering was not an obscure discipline. Many of our greatest historical figures worked as Topographers at one point or another in their careers. Men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, Robert E. Lee, George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Herbert Hoover all worked as topographers at some point during their professional lives. Topographers working in the service of the US government or US Army mapped the coastlines, rivers, interior lands and natural wealth of the USA, laid out the land survey grid system that facilitated the opening and settling of the vast expanses of the American west, mapped extensive regions of the Pacific, Far East, Europe and Asia, and even mapped the Moon. Topographic Engineering is an old and honorable profession and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Today the discipline has a much fancier high tech 21st Century title: Geospatial Engineer. The term Geospatial Engineer was coined by the US government to describe the role of the traditional Topographer brought forward into the world of computers, GPS, satellite imagery, remote sensors, digital data and the Internet. The biggest difference is that the Topographer walked the land to study, describe and map while the Geospatial Engineer sits at a desktop computer and leverages a world of digital data to accomplish the same mission. But are they the same, these old ground walkers and the wiz kids at the computer terminals? Conceptually, yes. Both are leveraging a broad range of data to study and describe the earth and its features. The difference is in the how. To do their job the old Topographers actually had to leave the office, travel to the ground they were going to study, walk it, measure it, sample it, map it and describe it based on their personal observations. This always resulted in a much more intimate and, I would argue, more accurate and precise evaluation. Today’s Geospatial Engineer has, in most cases, lost that direct contact with the very ground they are studying and describing. While they have complex digital analysis tools and vast digital data holdings at their disposal the final product often tends to be detached, clinical, often imprecise and inaccurate.
I’m no Luddite. I love the technology. I’m lucky to work for an organization that provides me access to the very latest in geospatial information systems (GIS) software, web mapping technology and digital field data collection devices. We maintain vast digital data holdings that cover a very compact space on the Earth’s surface (a large airport) so we are able to develop a wide range of analytic scenarios and quickly field check the results. We are able to effectively evaluate what works, what doesn’t work, and we maintain a direct dialog with industry leading software and hardware developers. This puts me in a perfect position to evaluate current trends against historical precedent.
The central mission of this blog is to celebrate the history of Topographic Engineering and to capture and discuss the fast disappearing technologies and methods used by generations of old Topographers. But we’ll also keep an eye on the current state and trends in the Geospatial Engineering field. Since this is my blog and I get to call the shots I may take occasional forays off to explore other topics, but we’ll always quickly return to the central theme. One of my primary objectives is to keep it interesting, and that’s where you come in. I’ll need your honest feedback on what I post here and any recommendations you may have regarding topics, style or any other features of this blog.
Thanks for your time, and I hope you come back often!