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Letters to the Editor

October 18, 2000
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The buzz from our readers.

"The Grammar Police" June 2000

I read with great interest your "Editor's Note" in the June issue of POB Magazine and could not agree with you more. It shocks me to see some of the proposals, letters and most importantly, resumes from prospective employees, which appear to be written by someone with little or no communication skills. I am by no means a language or grammar expert but over the years have come to realize that how the public perceives us is based wholly on how we present ourselves—writing, speaking and also the way we dress. We could prepare the most accurate, concise survey possible, but if we are unable to explain what we have done verbally or intelligently write that surveyor's report, we have accomplished nothing.

I almost always have anything I write proofread by someone else. How many times have you sent out a letter or proposal only to read it two weeks later and wonder how some error got through? We have all done that at some point.

Dress is another factor. We need to dress for the occasion. Boots, flannel shirts, tee shirts—smelling of insect repellent—is acceptable in the field but not when meeting a client. A professional knows when certain dress is called for. For example we may not necessarily meet the construction manager in the field in a shirt and tie, but if we are trying to sell ourselves in order to get the big contract, we would most definitely be dressed out. When we meet someone in our office, we need to carry ourselves as the professionals we are and not appear in our "other work clothes." An example I heard once was: " If your surgeon came to consult with you right from surgery in his bloody surgical scrubs, would you use his services or look for another doctor who was dressed accordingly?" The same holds true for us. If you greet a major client dressed in muddy boots, jeans and a sweaty shirt, would you get that contract? If the public's perception of us surveyors is that of "blue collar" workers and not that of "professionals," how do we expect to get the fees we deserve as professional land surveyors?

Raymond B. Dawber, PLS via E-mail

I totally agree with your editorial comments regarding proper grammar and punctuation. How can we get those in the news media (newspapers, radio and TV) to understand this importance? People learn by what they read, hear and see. I don't think the media are taking sufficient steps to set a good example.

Gregory C. Bell PLS via E-Mail

"Tree Savvy" July 2000

The article written by Mike Aimonetti is very valuable and timely. Our bachelor's of science surveying curriculum had a required course in dendrology or "tree identification" since the inception of the program in 1978. Our graduates keep reminding us that this is one of the most valuable courses in the curriculum, since their knowledge of trees help them in everyday surveying whether it is retracing old boundaries, searching for old corners or witnessing new corners.

Indrajith Wijayratne Associate Professor and Surveying Program Coordinator Michigan Technological University

"Bench Mark—Two Words!"

Last evening I finally had a chance to read the July 2000 issue of POB. And I was really enjoying "The Definition of Success," Letters and News. Then I turned to page 20 and saw a subtitle—"Benchmarks." I suggest you edit the dictionary your word processor uses for spell check. Please DELETE the word "benchmark."

Benchmark (one word) means a standard or basis for comparison; e.g., a benchmark study. Bench mark (two words) means a permanent object with an elevation.

Using "benchmark" incorrectly is not a new problem. I have explained the difference between "bench mark" and "benchmark" to others including some people at NGS and editors of other survey journals. All have agreed with me and have blamed it on their word processor.

As I wrote above, I enjoy your publication. Please continue with the variety of informative articles.

Glen Schaefer, PE, RLS Wisconsin DOT

"The Soap Box: Do-it-Yourself Surveyors" February 2000

In POB’s Soap Box, February 2000: “yes,” it’s finally happened, I am a do-it-yourself surveyor, or at least that is what I hope to become.

Before I begin my story to comment on the article in the February issue of Soap Box, I would like to give a little bit of background. I graduated from M.I.T. in the 1950's and have two advanced degrees. I have had a stroke a few years ago and could not speak when I got out of the hospital. Unfortunately, my profession was lost and disbanded. To make ends meet, I am now studying surveying, GPS, and astronomical surveying operations. My next profession is, hopefully, to conduct surveys on my own.

The legislation in Connecticut (and most other states) states that I must do surveying work for four years before I can even get a "surveyors in training" license – initially being a rod man and then working my way up. Then, to get a LS license, it would take another 12 years, if I read the legislation correctly. (I’ll be past 80, which, as the Ct. State Board of Land Surveyors states, effectively disallows my aspiring profession.) For reasons discussed below, I think this is unacceptable. I could received a medical doctor’s license in less time! My feeling is that a “surveyors in training” license really should be an incentive. If one passes the exam (or, perhaps, a toughed-up exam), regardless of years of experience, a “surveyors in training” license should be issued in conjunction with working for a LS. What can be the legislative harm of that? It would get qualified people into your profession!

In the book, Surveying Practice, by Nathanson and Kissam, “The use of state coordinates in property descriptions is strongly recommended by the American Congress for Surveying and Mapping, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and other professional organizations. . . . Sometimes an astronomical observation is made to determine the true bearing of one of the lines.” Incredibly, there are essentially no homes in my area that have the Geodetic System Coordinates, or for that matter, astronomical observations or grid north. Property lines are, at best, arbitrary without the Geodetic System Coordinates, because metes and bounds plats have accumulation of error due to the shape of the earth. Property bearings are not definitive. Many property surveys do not have a bearing marked either as magnetic north, true north or grid azimuth north. Maybe legislation should be instituted in the other direction.

I met with the county’s Manager of Field Operations, a licensed LS. He was very helpful, but remarked that the State Geodetic Survey Markers are really old and out-of-date. He implied that they do not exist, and why would a non-surveyor, like myself, want them? As far I could determine from a field trip, the few he gave me were destroyed. I then telephoned the Manager of the Geodetic Surveying Operations, D.O.T., and he was kind enough to e-mail me the exact locations of four Geodetic Survey Markers in my area. They exist. I question: “Should county land information and mapping personnel release coordinates to the public . . . ” for whatever activity? It seems to me that I have a right to know the Geodetic Survey Markers, especially for property bounds surveys. No licensed surveyor in my area does this type of home-property survey.

I wrote to a number of surveying firms to do my home on the Geodetic System Coordinates. In Greenwich, Ct., I received estimates of $10,000 and a $7,000, both of which seemed ridiculously high. Further away, from the bedroom community of N.Y. city, I received a legitimate $1,000 estimate, providing the property monuments can be found. It turns out, only the surveyor knows where the property boundaries exist, “because” (reference the fore-mentioned article in POB) “nobody ever told him [me!] where the lot lines were” and “my neighbor couldn’t care less that I was a licensed surveyor who knows where the lots corners are.” They must be hidden! One survey firm remarked the competing surveyors kept the markers secret; hiding them 6" below the surface; and have a few miscellaneous plum-bob marks on property monuments, one of which is “true.” This is done so that firms can “keep out competition” and do more resurveys as property passes from owner to owner . To quote, “Will professional surveyors find a way to elevate their methods …” I sure hope so!

Before Selective Availability (SA) was removed, real accuracies were about 100 ft and could be even larger. Accuracies now, with SA removed, are at about 10-15 ft (3-5meters). DGPS assisted receivers have sub-meter accuracies. Dual receiver systems are typically 1 cm. What you may have seen as higher accuracy was a short-term effect - a slow drift in position calculation. Handheld units can measure relative position much more accurately than absolute position as long as the measurements occur over a relatively short period of time. SA introduced a deliberate error that resulted in a slow positional drift. With SA off, the primary error is now attributable to the clock drift in the receiver (quartz oscillator).

The new WAAS system (Wide Area Augmentation System) provides sub-meter accuracy in a single receiver and is just now becoming available. This will make location of known points, such as geodetic markers, very easy with a single receiver. Though I haven't seen any inexpensive WAAS receivers on the market yet, if they are not already out there somewhere, they will be shortly. Initially, I would expect them to be just a few hundred dollars more expensive than existing units.

GPS ties everything together, surveying-wise. A $10,000 GPS unit is a lot more accurate for doing property corners with their respective Geodetic System Coordinates than the $10,000 total station, especially when the state markers are many miles away (which they usually are). Additionally, one has a true grid azimuth north, making astronomical observations a thing of the past (and getting rid of the arbitrary bearings). How many surveyors use the lost-art of astronomical observations? From my experience, I would estimate very few.

Lastly, I have studied property boundaries around the Philadelphia area of the early 1700’s. The intent of deed holders takes precedent, rather than the property boundaries of the deed itself. When a plane-surveyed, metes-and-bounds property line had accumulated errors due to the shape of the earth, how important would property boundaries become? In the age of surveying sophistication, using GPS and the Geodetic System Coordinates, I believe that metes and bounds property boundaries, implicitly, are less useful. Certainly, a judge, not a land surveyor as the author in Soap Box says, has the final say.

I wrote to two Connecticut State Board Members of the Land Surveyors and, respectfully, asked them, “What can I do in surveying work, and what can I not do?” and offered to buy them dinner. As of writing this commentary, neither has replied. Next, I talked to real-estate lawyers (friends of mine), and they indicate that quite a few non-licensed surveyors play an important role in real-estate transactions, especially in GPS surveying.

In the book, Surveyors and Statesmen, Land Measuring in Colonial Virginia, by Sarah S. Hughes, she comments that the “17th-century Virginia surveyors spoke of the calling not as a profession, trade and craft, but as ‘the mystery of surveying’.” This “mystery” was derived from the restrictive practices of the science of surveying in the 17th century which “sought to keep secret their technical knowledge and operations.” In the 21st-century, things have not changed a lot. The now obsolete usage of the word “mystery” has taken on a new meaning, that of a self-perpertuating guild designed to protect the interest of its members.

Yes, it’s finally happened, do-it-yourself surveyors. I disagree with “new legislation that . . . clearly disqualifies the non-licensed surveyors.” The opposite is true. Legislation should be passed that makes surveyors’ work more transparent and a surveyors’ job more in tune with the Geodetic System Coordinates and less on metes and bounds. I think there is great opportunity for the LS, or a non-licensed surveyor, in this area. And the State Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors should let more qualified people, quickly, into their ranks. One thing that I learned from reading the Soap Box article, courtesy the National Resources Conservation Service, “This does not constitute a survey description or a survey plat nor are they intended to be the same.” Maybe I have hope!

"From Out in Left Field" September 2000

I truly enjoyed the editorial on left-handed people. I compliment you on approaching a serious subject (Internet) in such a wonderfully light-hearted way.

Thanks for making me laugh. And I am neither left-handed, alcoholic, architectural, dyslexic, blonde, criminal, eczematic, epileptic, a stutterer nor a lawyer. (Is it a coincidence that lawyers and criminals are on the same list?) Some people would question my being a surveyor, too, but that's beside the point.

Charles W. Brown, PE, PLS NC Dept. of Transportation

"Working on the Railroad" September 2000

Mr. Baudendistel discusses typical railroad right of way widths stating that some surveyors assume a default width of 50 feet. While he correctly points out that railroads often increased right of way widths to accommodate roadbed construction and other facilities, there is not an accepted "common" or "typical" width in the railroad industry. There are some areas of the country where common widths were purchased; however, these widths varied from railroad to railroad and were dependent upon terrain and desired track elevations. No surveyor should ever make an assumption that there is a "common" or "typical" right of way width. And when surveying adjoining property, railroad rights of way should be treated as any other property—no matter what type of document was used for the purchase. Most railroad's were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, therefore, could have unwritten rights as well as those documented.

It has been my experience in 30 years of working as a surveyor in the rail industry that the best place to look for records concerning railroad property is to the railroad itself. Granted this has become more of a problem in recent years due to mergers and downsizing of railroad engineering staffs; however, most railroads still do a good job of maintaining their property records. The quality and quantity of railroad records found in courthouses across the country vary. Some only have the deeds, while others may have the deeds and a copy of the railroad's property maps (known as valuation maps).

Also, the surveyor should keep in mind that the railroad's right of way is private property and should treat it as such. Most railroads require a right of entry and will have to send a flagman to provide protection against train movements. This is not a free service. The flagman requirement is a result of a new federal law recently passed concerning safety on and in vicinity of railroad tracks. The law is commonly referred to as "The Roadway Workers Safety Act" and covers railroad employees, contractors and others that work on or within 4 feet of a rail on an active railroad line. It is designed to prevent people from being hit by trains. So, before entering railroad property, a surveyor should contact the railroad and make arrangements for the required protection.

John E. Porter, PLS via E-mail

"Professional Surveyors"

I have been surveying since 1965. The change in the industry has been dramatic and tragic. In 1965 a party chief used a Curta ( or was it Kurta) and book of tables to figure everything. If you did not have a Curta, you used a slide rule, or the chief and both his chainmen did the calculation longhand and compared results. Today very little responsibility is left to the " field surveyor." Many companies send their men to the field with what they consider to be "all the calculations" made for them. I have seen one company that even tried to have their office-pro set slope stakes from the comfort of his air-conditioned office. The results were predictable.

With the advent of the data collector, GPS, robotics, etc., it has become possible to send men into the field with no real knowledge of what surveying is and where it comes from. Without understanding of your job, it is only drudgery. As a man grows in knowledge, so does his interest in his task. Who can be proud of a job that is just work ? Who would call it a profession? When a client is paying over $100 per hour, does he want to see disinterested laborers performing that work?

Firms doing engineering and surveying need to return the responsibility for the field work to those working in the field. Because I have mud on my boots and ticks in my hide does not mean that I am not a professional and proud of my work.

D.R. Lee via E-Mail

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