I was backing up old images recently and I ran across a bunch I took while surveying trails for the Forest Service in 2001 and 2002. Suddenly, like a church bell in the distance, I recalled some of the really cool projects that I’ve been fortunate to be part of. Each one leading down a circuitous path to the next. I’m so thankful that the work I pursued and loved a decade ago is amazingly similar to the work I pursue and love today. I’m working on project right now that absolutely couldn’t be done without the knowledge and concepts gained from a dozen other projects along these lines.
In 2001 & 2002, while working on my B.S. in Geography, I worked for the US Forest Service, surveying trails with huge a backpack Trimble GPS unit. Working in pairs, we would plan week long hiking trips through networks of trails, weaving across wilderness and deeply remote mountain areas. We carried a new 3.2 megapixel camera to capture images of trail features like bridges, water berms, retaining walls and anything beautiful along the way. I felt spoiled with the fancy new digital camera, a huge upgrade from my Kodak DC120 1.2 megapixel Kodak camera I purchased in 1997 while in the Army. Connecting the images to the GPS data was a time consuming but simple process, requiring us to manually record the image number within the huge brick of a GPS data logger, connected with a thick cord to the 20 pound GPS backpack and antenna.
Coming back to the office, we would load the images and GPS information into a database, manually associating the images to GPS points with the image file name we wrote in the GPS point comment field while when we took the picture. We accessed the database through a workstation connected to a UNIX mainframe computer. In fact, the Global Positioning System was so new, the data captured in the field was encrypted, we had to download a correction file released by the government days after to correct the intentional error transmitted with the GPS signal.
When not in the field, I would spend the evenings in a forest service cabin photoshopping panorama on a desktop computer I took with me. Truly, it was the best job I’ve ever had in my life and I have always been deeply thankful for the experience.
Today, I’m thrilled to still be capturing information about our world and publishing it digitally for others to experience, but instead of low resolution snapshots, it is photorealistic virtual realities.