TV Series on History: How the States got their Shapes

How the states got their shapeIf you haven’t seen this already, it’s a great show on the History Channel called “How the States Got their Shapes”, and it is worth watching an episode.  Filled with interesting facts and interviews, the show focuses on a surveyor trying to re-trace the footsteps of the famous surveyors Mason & Dixon.  Click here for more information.

Stuck on the Border

There is one issue that seems to come up consistently when discussing the southern border of the United States – where does American end and Mexico start? Fences do line many areas of the border, but at other intersections of the land there is no barrier because of poor planning. Whether or not you agree with the idea of a fence lining our southern border, it must be understood that surveying this area of land is difficult and that many citizens find it hard to deal with.

That is, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, has become a major concern for people living on the border whose land has not been surveyed correctly:

“The Homeland Security Department last year put up a tall steel barrier across the fields from [Pamela] Taylor’s home. The government calls it the border fence, but it was erected about a quarter-mile north of the Rio Grande, leaving Taylor’s home between the fence and the river. Her two acres now lie on a strip of land that isn’t Mexico but doesn’t really seem like the United States either.”

The issue is one of security for Taylor, according to the article, but it’s also about knowing where her land lies.  With part of America and part of Mexico in her backyard, Taylor’s land is technically in a precarious no man’s land. This occurred because of poor planning by civil engineers and land surveyors.

“But here, where the border’s eastern edge meets the Gulf of Mexico, the urgency of national security met headlong with geographical reality. The Rio Grande twists through Brownsville and surrounding areas, and planners had to avoid building on the flood plain. So the barriers in some places went up more than a mile from the river.While the border fence almost everywhere else divides Mexico and the U.S., here it divides parts of the city.”

Flood Zones Becoming a Bigger Issue

This winter was one of the worst many parts of the United States have ever seen. During one of the blizzards, snow was actually falling in 49 out of the 50 states, excluding only Florida.  Slowly, as it came closer to warm temperatures and the spring season, many town officials, insurance representatives, land surveyors and civil engineers had to assess how much flooding may occur from the meltdown of the many feet of snow in so many places.  One issue being looked at by government officials were the rules about flood insurance boundaries – when homeowners needed flood insurance and how the new flood zones would be drawn.

Thankfully, a congressman from Michigan was looking out for citizens located in precarious areas, according to a report from WILX:

“In a town hall meeting, Congressman Tim Walberg told Michiganders he introduced a new bill, the Floodplain Maps Moratorium Act. The bill would delay homeowners in newly drawn flood zones from having to purchase flood insurance for five years. “It appears they are in great error and people that never had to purchase flood insurance now have to do that at a great cost,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, (R) Michigan.”

Even though the new law and flood zones drawn by surveyors have made the matter of getting flood insurance easier for citizens, some still aren’t happy with what seems like forced insurance:

“One commissioner [sic] of Eaton County now finds his home to be in a new flood zone, meaning it has a 26 percent chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage. The commissioner says all but one of the 22 municipalities in Eaton County are negatively affected by the new maps.

FEMA declined to comment on the propsed [sic] legislation. But a state engineer that works with FEMA says the new maps are more accurate. But in some areas, such as Eaton County, the elevation on the topographic map were drawn to 10 foot contour intervals and could be more precise.”

It still stands to be seen whether or not this law will go into effect, but this story shows how important the zoning plans that land surveyors make can be.

Advances in Surveying

Surveying is an intricate skill that requires the utmost attention to detail and a firm grasp on the mechanics of science, physics and mathematics. Normally, surveying has been done by hand, using stakes and other tools to map out locales. The goal for surveyors is to determine the topography and boundary resolution of the areas that need surveying.

However, this element of surveying has taken a turn towards technology, with computer guided systems becoming the norm. According to an entry in the Construction Blog, global positioning systems have taken over the reins of surveying equipment, making the process simpler for surveyors:

“The premise behind the technology is simple: just like using GPS in your car, a GPS machine control system tells excavators where to drive equipment. Additionally, these systems indicate the grade to excavate at. Depending on which version is being used, machine control systems either provide instruction on where to position the blade or automatically do it for drivers.”

The article goes as far as to say that GPS machine control systems “replace surveyors’ old jobs – especially staking.” The machine control relays the necessary data faster and more efficiently than the old process. However, this does not mean that your local CT engineering firm’s surveying team isn’t needed anymore – the opposite is actually the case:

“So if staking is no longer necessary, are surveyors still necessary? Absolutely. Historical roles like boundary resolution and topographic survey work cannot be automated, so surveyors will always be needed for these. But they are also the best people to take on more modern duties, such as managing the GPS machine control system.”

Some may think that this advancement in technology has taken a certain role away from the traditional surveyor, but it has actually given that surveyor more opportunity. With these technologies in place, surveying has become more than just staking properties – it has become an area of professional and mechanical growth!

Students to Learn from New Surveying Equipment

Land surveying should be considered an art form of sorts, instead of just a means of determining the level of land in certain areas. At a base level, surveying is a technique wherein terrestrial position of points and the angles and distance between them help establish land maps, the perimeter of areas and other ownership and/or governmental purposes. Many times, this blog has referenced the amount of skills that a land surveyor must have to complete this task, from a knowledge of mathematics to physics to law and everything in between.

According to Opti-cal, some engineering students in Ireland are going to be able to use some new, high tech surveying equipment to make their measurements and estimations more accurate:

“The Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has taken delivery of a Leica Viva TS15 Robotic Total Station, which will allow students to learn how to undertake high-end surveys on the exact equipment that is used by professionals the world over. The students will be able to use the total station to take laser distance measurements of up to 3.5 kilometres. It is the latest addition to the institute’s advanced surveying equipment, having had a GPS station installed on the Dublin Road campus last year.”

This type of technology will be able to integrate with computer aided drawing software, the kind which locally based CT engineering firms use to model buildings and the area surrounding them. By syncing this type of software up with the new tools, surveying students can complete some architectural navigation of a buildings, land masses and other necessary areas. This type of technology helps immensely with efficiency as well – because the 3D models that are made are so accurate, return trips to the project site are rarely needed.

New Haven Proposing Runoff Tax

Lately, there has been a rash of nasty winter storms unleashing havoc on the roads of Connecticut. This is par for the course in the Northwest, so it’s really no surprise to anyone who has lived up here for longer than a few years. Although snow storms immediately affect most of us by making road conditions difficult, we never really think about how much snow storms affect our sewer systems. As blizzards end and the sun begins to melt snow, the sewers can easily become flooded and overwhelmed by the amount of water surging underground.

The city of New Haven has proposed a controversial measure to deal with the aftermath of storms. According to a story in the New Haven Register, the city has planned a new commission to enforce possible storm taxes:

“The city wants to create a Stormwater Authority, a plan that involves charging a new user fee to homeowners, businesses and nonprofits based on the amount of runoff they generate.

Under the proposed plan, residents would pay a small flat fee, while properties with parking lots and big buildings would pay more. The idea is to switch from a taxpayer-funded system to a user fee-funded system to pay for storm water services such as maintenance, street sweeping, catch basin cleaning and other costs.”

The tax would appropriately tax big corporations and businesses that cause more runoff than regular homes. The article says that the current cost of managing runoff is $2.5 million and apparently this tax would make up for a large amount of that cost.

If this measure passes, it might be wise to hire a CT engineering firm to take a look at your property and find ways to augment the runoff from your business. You might save some money in the long run.

Surveying Equipment Uncovers Artifacts

Surveying is a very particular and essential part of any kind of land development. This can be for local projects like building a house in the suburbs or for restructuring a large bridge in a metropolitan area. No matter what kind of building or structure needs to be put up, surveyors can determine how and where it can be done. At its base, surveying is the science of determining three dimensional points and the angles / distance between them as accurately as possible.

However, surveying isn’t always used for aiding in the construction of buildings and other structures, it can be used as a means for discovery. This is precisely what is occurring in Zacatecas, Mexico, where archaeologists are excavating in El Teul Archeological Zone. El Teul is known for its wealth of artifacts, according to an article in Opti-Cal:

“El Teul, in Zacatecas, is one of the few Mesoamerican sites that was occupied continuously for as long as 18 centuries. Excavations so far have unearthed items including an enormous Prehispanic sculpture of a ballgame player that is thought to have been deliberately created without a head. Historians of the era believe its lack of head could have meant it was used as a pedestal to display the real heads of sacrificed players of the ritual ballgame. Archaeologist Peter Jimenez Betts, who is co-director of the El Teul Archaeological Project, said the abundance of objects is the result from a continued occupation that the hill presented for at least 1,800 years.”

In this special case, land surveying is helping archaeologists discover new elements in the fabric of Mesoamerican history. Artifacts that will potentially be discovered using three dimensional models from total stations might open up new avenues of study in this historic people.

Massive Shortfall of Engineers in India

The job market is tough out there across North America, especially in the United States.  Although some types of jobs are opening up – medical, engineering and food service fields specifically – it has still been difficult for many to find places to work in this hard economic state.  However, if an engineer is finding no open positions in his/her area, they may want to look towards Asia.

Recently, there has been a construction boom out in India that is seeking civil engineers and designers for help in building high rise apartment buildings and the like.  The shortage has developed out of a lack of Indian graduates moving into those fields – instead graduates are working in the information technology field, which is always seeking in India.  According to the Economic Times the salary for someone in civil engineering versus someone in information technology is roughly half, causing a serious shortage:

“Infrastructure problems ranging from dirt roads to power cuts are a major obstacle to India’s future growth, and the government plans to spend one trillion dollars on upgrades between 2012 and 2017. India has jealously watched China’s remarkable economic development over the last 20 years, which has been made possible by huge and successful public construction projects. Experts however warn that India faces a massive shortfall of qualified civil engineers. Delhi’s new metro system is one shining example of the type of project that would be welcomed across India. But when a new stretch of track opened before the Commonwealth Games, the chief of the project E. Sreedharan complained bitterly about a ‘severe shortage of architectural and civil engineers.’”

This story highlights the importance of all kinds of engineers across the world.  Not having enough civil engineers may stall India’s movement towards growth in years to come and that would be a shame.

3D Laser Scanning Saves Time

Laser technology in the fields of engineering and land surveying is sweeping across the country. By using lasers to map coordinates, shapes and elements of an area that will be constructed upon, engineers can quickly, accurately and effectively capture the full breadth of an area. Laser scanners produce point clouds that can be turned into 3D or even 2D models of buildings and landscapes that can be used for planning and other data collection. Laser technology is definitely the future of engineering and surveying and schools are jumping on the bandwagon with high tech engineering firms.

For instance, this technology is being taught at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, according to The Chronicle Herald. Students at the school are learning how to use the laser scanning tools to create models of structures automatically from hard resin, instead of paper. The article explains the process:

“Brandon Smith, a mechanical engineering instructor, waves a laser wand around an angular piece of metal in a workshop at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth. A few metres away, the information from the laser sensor appears on a computer screen, slowly building into a three-dimensional replica of the object, which was once part of an airplane. That computer image will be fed into a large “printer” on the other side of the room and in a matter of hours, an exact three-dimensional replica of the part — made of a hard resin material, not paper — will be produced for the aviation company IMP.”

This type of process would have taken weeks without the technology now available to students studying engineering in schools all over the world. The article goes on to say that the skills associated with using these types of tools will help students get acclimated with real-world “customers, deadlines and engineering challenges.”

Wooden Whaling Ship Back in the Water

In this blog, we have discussed the usage of laser technology to create 3-D models of buildings to help aid engineers with recommendations for land that is complex and time consuming to survey with standard engineering tools. Technology is one of the major backbones of engineering and 3-D imagery is just one of the newest techniques for making the science of engineering more precise and accurate.

Using lasers as the “eyes of an engineer” can be a very effective way of determining how a structure needs to be fixed in order to achieve maximum stability and long lasting structural integrity. A 3-D scan provides engineers with a model that looks very similar to the computer generated imagery used in the classic movie “Tron.” Using this technology paired with the engineering skills gained from the study of math and science, engineers can interpret a model and make recommendations to clients. This process also saves a massive amount of time for engineers, who would normally have to manually make measurements on difficult pieces of land.

This process isn’t just used for scanning areas of land and current building structures, but also used for restoring old ships, according to this blog entry from Gizmodo. The entry speaks about the restoration of the world’s last great whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan. The wooden ship was scanned with lasers and X-ray technology to determine where its weak spots are, so that a $10 million restoration could begin.

According to the piece, the boat should be restored by 2012, but that whaling will not be possible. At this point, the boat will be preserved for history’s sake. Without 3-D scanning technology, the last whaling boat in the world would be gone forever.