S&C: processes and products in a divided world

Techniques, equipment and issues. Also visit the NSS Survey & Cartography Section.

Moderator: Moderators

S&C: processes and products in a divided world

Postby GroundquestMSA » Feb 3, 2015 2:23 pm

It is coincidental that, during my composition of this discourse, Dave Riggs announced on this forum the creation of a Python survey data language library. I don’t know what that is, nor can I comprehend even the first paragraph of his post. Clearly Mr. Riggs is a talented advocate for advanced survey and cartography technology. His world, and most of the modern world, seems so cut off from my consciousness that I sometimes feel like a mentally retarded person. Unable to communicate with society on its terms, I am sometimes unable to ignore questions of my own viability. However, the joy I receive from my life, and the unmistakable bonds I can create with the natural world and with some humans convinces me that a good man, or a happy one, does not have to be a “modern one”. Despite my fear that soon society will have to communicate with me as with an animal, with grunts and whistles and waving of the arms, I retain my ability to communicate with myself, and with my chosen surroundings. In talking from this standpoint to a foreign audience, I ask that you consider our activities as cavers from the most fundamental basis.


Like most other things, cave surveying is changing. You will say that, like other little-minded people, or people who cannot or do not wish to “keep up with the times,” I am opposing change only because it is change, not because it is negative. That point may be arguable, but the only tools I have to measure the merit of advancing cave survey are my observations and my feelings. In this case, feelings may be the most important.

I have been exploring caves since I was a small child, but it was not until some time in the winter of 2010 that I learned that caves could be mapped, and not until June 2011 that I surveyed my first cave. Before I ever set out to survey anything, I asked myself that hard question that all cave surveyors and cartographers hopefully ask themselves at some point; Why? The answers I gave myself then are as good as any I have heard since. I told myself that I wanted to see a cave that I knew, spread out on paper, given the honor of documentation. I thought that I would see the cave in a new way if I were forced to draw it. I would see more things. I would become a more reflective person. And I would get to draw the finished map, which was very appealing to me. As a kid I wanted to be an artist, but I had no skill. I drew elaborate blueprints for imaginary houses, with symbols for this and that. I drew mazes and obstacle courses for imaginary people. This allowed me to handle the materials of an artist, and to create something that engaged the mind, without the interpretive or technical skill of an artist. A cave map would do the same thing, plus it had the benefit of representing an actual thing, and a splendid thing, a cave! So I bought a Suunto from a satellite guy and my wife and I sneaked through the woods and up the hill to a cave, and we surveyed it. I drew the map on my coffee table, referring constantly to the battered copy of On Station that I found on Ebay. I enjoyed the process, and so kept at it.

Since then I have been exposed to a lot of discussions about cave surveying, and have grown confused. It seems that cave surveying is no more about joy, but about productivity, accuracy, and detail. It seems that cave surveyors believe (and have long believed) that cave surveying matters. Forgetting their original motivations, they are now afraid to spend so much time and effort working for something that is only a hobby. And so every opportunity to increase speed and accuracy is pursued, as if the work being done is Work. The data is collected with increasingly complex devices, which make surveying fast and accurate, unless something goes wrong. Modern maps are often sterile, soulless things that betray no relation to the hand that made them (with a stylus, of course, dragging out its auto-smoothed lines and trails of pre-prepared symbols). They look professional, yes. That is one of the goals of the modern cartographer. But this is not a profession.

As professional-looking maps and rapid survey techniques become the norm, what right do I have to complain? Is there something wrong with faster surveying, or a nice-looking map? No. In acknowledging the changes in cave surveying, I am not attacking new techniques, but asking that we see them for what they are, that we see cave surveying for what it is, and that we see honestly our ideal place in it. I am asking that we look to the future with more than shallow goals based on manifest results. If we can accept that cave surveying and cartography are primarily hobbies that serve little practical purpose (some, I know, cannot accept this, and there are exceptions), then it becomes immediately obvious that the only important standards of speed and accuracy are those that satisfy the individuals directly involved. If this is true, then it follows that ever-advancing means of survey threaten to be a trap by which the surveyor can forget that his responsibility is only to satisfy himself. By substituting joyful communion and artistic interpretation for productivity and professionalism, a cave surveyor may find himself wondering just why he isn’t having fun anymore, but with no dignified way to escape both the tedium and the pressure from his advanced peers. I do not mean to say that even the most advanced methods must suck the fun out of caving, only that they can.

Taking arguments to extremes is a common rhetorical ploy, and is often obnoxious and fallacious, but in this case the extremes are not impossible to imagine. Given the technology that currently exists, and the rapidity of modern technological advancement, it is not unrealistic to envision a time when unmanned crawling and flying things could explore caves and gather data, which could then be used to create a 3D virtual replica. This could be faster, easier, more accurate, precise, and detailed than any current methods. Would it be better? For those whose hobby is technology, sure. Already, cave surveying and cartography is becoming a process of pushing buttons and clicking icons and plugging things into other things. What though, if your hobbies are caves, and art? Then there is still room for the employment of whatever advances are developed. But there is also room for declining them.

We each have the right and the responsibility to decide our own standards and our own methods. This is a hobby. If it brings us joy, then we can positively be said to be doing it right. Though I cannot imagine anyone receiving joy from the production of a map that was grossly inaccurate (unless for purely devious reasons) or horrendously sloppy, there is room for an extremely wide range of surveys and maps to be viewed with legitimacy and admiration. I’m not talking about the admiration of others, though that is certainly nice. I am talking about the admiration a man has for his own product. We have the power, through a mindless, headlong, forgetful plowing into the sorcery of modern technology, to mock the man with a pencil and tape, protractor and pens and a light box. Don’t do it. Don’t tempt anyone to abandon what is making them happy and chase after unnecessary refinements. This is a hobby, and belittling one another over differences in our practice of a hobby would be unfortunate. Despite what I view to be some negative aspects of technological “advancement,” I would not dare to deprecate the efforts of cavers like Dave Riggs, and their ongoing pursuit of sophistication. In asking for reciprocal respect for those of us opposite the scale, I am only asking for basic decency, which, you never know, may become useful again one day.
User avatar
GroundquestMSA
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 1342
Joined: May 5, 2011 1:32 pm
  

Re: S&C: processes and products in a divided world

Postby driggs » Feb 3, 2015 3:16 pm

I am flattered to serve as your exhibit of incomprehensible techno-babble. :big grin: Compared to your eloquent written word, my posting is the geek equivalent of "grunts and whistles and waving of the arms".

It sounds like you're defending yourself from some unmentioned criticism. I can't speak directly to that, but I'll point out that we all have our own unique interests regarding caving and cave survey.

While you clearly don't share this in common with me, my non-caving hobbies and interests involve writing computer software, data science, geospatial analysis. Naturally, my caving interests are strongest where these two worlds overlap. Likewise, your own interests involve literature, history, the artistic side of technical drawing [please replace that list with your actual interests and pardon my guess]; naturally, you are most interested in the aspects of caving and cave survey where these personal interests intersect.

I can't speak for others, but I'm certainly not trying to drag anyone kicking and screaming into the 21st century of cave survey. If you find that distos or 3D-hover-bots take the fun out of caving for you... great! I'm glad you're there to hand ink the map that I'll never force myself to finish since I'd rather crunch data. Everybody wins!

Implying that I live my life in the "pursuit of sophistication" is far, far from the truth! I just like to waste my time where my interests lie. But it's certainly not the case that I disrespect those who don't share my same geekly inclinations.

Drop me a line the next time you can make a WVACS weekend! We'll survey some sloppy cave with compass and tape, you can draw the map, and I'll crunch the data. Sound like the perfect survey trip to me. You can write the cave narrative, and I'll plug it into the database for posterity. It takes all kinds.
User avatar
driggs
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 495
Joined: Sep 12, 2005 9:40 pm
Location: State of Jefferson
Name: David A. Riggs
NSS #: 56189
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Monongahela
  

Re: S&C: processes and products in a divided world

Postby GroundquestMSA » Feb 3, 2015 4:27 pm

driggs wrote:Implying that I live my life in the "pursuit of sophistication" is far, far from the truth! I just like to waste my time where my interests lie.


I appreciate that, and apologize for the oversimplification. I understand too that it is the personal interests of some individuals that have brought cave surveying to such an advanced state, and I say good for them! While I am defending myself to some extent (it's hard for me to write without some sort of internal or external conflict) from unmentioned criticism, I'm also trying to protect myself and other Neanderthals from unspoken criticism, dismissal, and condescension. And I am mourning the loss of something. This loss is obvious to anyone who compares grotto newsletters of 15 or 20 or 40 years ago to those produced now. Taken along with internet posts, the NSS News, and conversation among cavers, they reveal a loss of zeal, excitement, and simple joy. I'm not blaming technology alone, but it seems that it always comes at a cost. Pausing to count those costs might lead us to consider what kind of a deal we got, or even ask for a refund (though I've not seen that happen).

WVACS sounds good. I just might make it down there in February. I thought you were a GVKS man? But you've moved, I think.
User avatar
GroundquestMSA
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 1342
Joined: May 5, 2011 1:32 pm
  


Return to Survey and Cartography Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users