Point of Beginning

Letters to the Editor

June 1, 2000
Readers speak out on industry topics.

“Back to Basics”

February 2000

Regarding checking distances by pacing, the military tries to teach its recruits a 30-inch step(60-inch pace). If a person really masters that 30-inch step, it can be a great tool for pacing distances. Just count by fives every time the right foot hits the ground (5, 10, 15, etc.). Fast, easy and accurate, it saves a lot of multiplying and dividing. Incidentally, the highlighted formula on page 61 is wrong. It should be distance paced divided by number of paces equals length of pace.

Earl Johnston

via E-mail

Editor’s Note: Mr. Johnston is correct about the highlighted formula on page 61 in the February issue. We regret the error.

"Public Image of Surveyors"

March 2000

I just read the letter from B.J. Tucker, PE, LS, concerning our public image as surveyors. I agree with his assessment of the “wannabes” in our profession.

I recently received a business letter that introduced a new survey firm in our area. The letter described the services offered and the fees charged. What was interesting was the fact that the person who prepared and signed the letter was known to me as a former party chief who had been terminated from another local firm for unacceptable field practices. This individual was not then and is not now licensed to practice land surveying.

Knowing all of this, I contacted our State Board of Professional Regulation and filed a formal complaint. Imagine my surprise several weeks later when the Board’s investigator informed me that this individual had done “nothing significantly in violation of any survey regulations.” This individual convinced the investigator that he simply provided a service to licensed surveyors who needed an extra crew from time to time. He’s still out there and several firms have told me they use him regularly.

I am now the local pariah for turning in an “innocent” man just trying to make a living. What can you do?

Ken Thompson, PLS

Bartow, Fla.

This is in response to a “Public Image of Surveyors” by B.J. Tucker. I get a little tired of reading and hearing from “crybabies” in my profession complaining about how to raise the standards of the profession. Higher fees, college degree requirements, etc. Mr. Tucker claims one should have a larger office and a plotter to be considered a “proper” land surveyor. I know he is referring to those unlicensed men who portray themselves as surveyors. But that, although improper, is the responsibility of the client and the employer of the imposter. I, myself, have at times been looked down upon as a surveyor who only works out of his basement or trunk of his car.

Let me try to inform you guys (and gals) out there that none of these requirements makes a surveyor a professional. It’s how you treat your client and present yourself.

  • Don’t drink on the job. Nothing is worse than a member of a survey crew with alcohol on his or her breath.

  • Hand a business card to a neighbor who may ask what you’re doing in the area and explain what you’re doing without invading your client’s privacy. (Keep the conversation short, of course, or you’ll never get the job done!)

  • Hire people who sound intelligent and dress accordingly.

  • Don’t get greedy.

  • Stick to your quotes. Make that quote fair, and if you run over a little or a lot, stick to it and don’t cry about it or hold any resentment toward your client. I’ve lost jobs (not many) to surveyors who have quoted a fee lower than mine, were awarded the job, then billed a higher fee than I had quoted. The result was an understandably upset client who was told by the surveyor “because of certain weather conditions, etc., we had to adjust our fee.” A professional? (How comforting to have that privilege.)

  • Share your information with your colleagues (unless of course you find you’re in a bidding game against them).

  • If you’re working with or adjacent to a map and that map proves to be correct, hold it and its information instead of wasting time and money producing your own dataÑsometimes showing only a few seconds in a bearing or a couple of hundredths of a distance different. It’s no wonder title searchers and attorneys get confused over the land records when they see discrepancies in maps. This practice does not help the profession as a whole. I’ve seen outright resentment displayed between surveyors refusing to contact each other, the result of which are these maps with conflicting information. The later map is of course looked upon as the “newer” and therefore “more accurate” map. This does not help the profession either.

  • Explain to your client what exactly is necessary to accomplish his/her goal (even if you don’t get the job).

  • Be cheerful.

  • Be friendly.

  • Be accommodating. For example, I usually give my clients one “free shot” in changing their minds on the size of an addition to an existing residence on a plot plan for building permit. They’re spending a lot of money for that construction; bend a little. Make the client feel comfortable.

  • Get this one: Be at the site as promised (some people may have taken that day off to meet with you).

  • And this one especially: Get the survey done when promised or before!

These and other factors present a true “professional.” Some of us don’t have the resources to attend college. Some of us are blessed with a good drafting hand and are able to present a nice looking map, perhaps enhanced with some graphics software.

A dear friend, surveyor, engineer, partner, mentor and all-around nice guy once said to me with a definite twinkle in his eye when he heard I was leaving the partnership: “You know, it’s nice working out of the trunk of your car.” He loved his work, too.

So, in partial answer to Mr. Tucker and you other guys out there, I’ve taken a lot of jobs in my office, in my home and on my portable phone. I have always said, it’s not the size or location of your office or staff or how many secretaries you have or whether you have a plotter or total station that will shoot to Mars and beyond. Give the client a quality product, timely service, a fair fee and you too, after a time, will enjoy the benefits of being considered “professional.” You will have earned their trust and earned your reputation.

I’ve been doing my work for 43 years and loving it. I’ve had partnerships, offices on a main drag in town, secretaries, staff and all the goodies. Now I’m working out of the trunk of my car. Don’t resent me. We all have the ability to choose for the most part how we live our lives.

Richard W. Plain Sr., RLS

via E-mail

"A Lost Opportunity"

March 2000

I have been following in your magazine with some interest the discussion on the role of surveyors in the GPS/GIS arena and felt a response was warranted in light of the editor's latest opine in "A Lost Opportunity." I am a professional GIS analyst with 10 years of experience, and I must admit I am not certain if I should be concerned, appalled, amused or if in fact this is some inside surveyor joke that I just didn't get.

I have served as the state of Idaho GPS chair for resource-grade GPS for a number of years and have a close working relationship with a number of surveyors in the area. I am amazed at some of the comments, including the bonehead statement by the editor which states that "surveyors Ãä establish themselves as GIS expertsÃä" In all of Idaho, I doubt there are five licensed practicing land surveyors who have my level of expertise in the field of GIS. Before you begin your collective snickering you have to understand that surveyors simply do not have time to become GIS experts while at the same time practicing their first profession.

GIS and GPS are tools in a variety of professional arenas including natural resource management, environmental monitoring, vehicle and aircraft tracking, E911, search and rescue, precision farming; the list is growing endlessly. I am amazed at the brazen comments in this magazine regarding the implied assertion that surveyors are somehow endowed with a sense of ownership of these technologies and subsequently a responsibility to guide their use and development. Surveyors are simply one of many users of this technology and need to recognize that this technology has been embraced by a much larger segment of society who will determine its useful applications. GIS is a rapidly expanding field that is moving towards very sophisticated spatial analysis while at the same time moving towards easier-to-use interfaces. Conceptually, this can be said of GPS as well; the technology is becoming easier to use and as such, more people are using it.

What the survey community needs to recognize is that they need to concentrate on the core processes that define their profession, which is the accurate determination of spatial location. It is true that more and more individuals will purchase recreational GPS receivers and attempt to do all kinds of silly things including surveying; this is inevitable. However, if laws are needed to insure the integrity of the survey profession, then write the laws which address only the quality of the final product.

I work with a number of GPS surveyors and resource-grade users, and in all of those years we have never held a discussion similar to ones printed in your magazine. Idaho GIS/GPS users are intelligent enough to recognize the limitations of their work and would never present themselves or their data as anything else. I have been involved in a GIS/GPS project with a local high school, and when the school suggested they would like to have a surveyed monument buried on the school grounds, I contacted a local surveyor who instantly agreed to provide those services free of charge.

With all due respect to the survey profession, you are setting yourself up for a major catastrophe if you continue to present yourselves as the "experts" in fields which you are not. There are a great number of GIS/GPS users out there who have considerable knowledge and contribute daily in numerous ways to its application and development. If the survey community cannot figure out what is important in their profession and if they continue to make these asinine statements, then I can assure you that the survey profession will in fact become the inside joke.

John Courtright

GIS Analyst

Boise, Idaho