Sunday, July 24, 2011

Something about work

It turns out that I'm actually up here specifically to do good work for the National Parks Service, not just run around in the hills (though that is a neat side-benefit).

If you'd spoken to me about this appointment before I took off, you probably have a very loose and vague understanding (if at all) of what I would actually be doing at my desk. This is mainly because I had next to no idea of what I would be doing. Now, as you'd imagine, I have a much clearer picture to present.

The basic idea is that over the year, my boss puts together task assignments and plops them into a folder on the office server, where I can access them*. At the start of the summer, there were about 12, and no expectation that I would finish all of them before the end of the summer, and that's pretty-much true.

Here's an example of a task sheet for the Government Hill photo work (the last set in this post):Pretty neat huh? If the text is too small to read, the point here is that everything in the government as boring associated paperwork.

These task assignments range in size, scope, and fun-factor. One task is making digital records in the office spreadsheet of old construction drawing numbers (when you make a construction drawing, it has an ID #, and there is now a digital record of all of them). Another is formulating a statistical record of how parks count visitors; that is, some use vehicle counts, some count people at the visitor center. My task here is to then go through all the park records (for all 394 park units in the NPS system) and see what they're doing. Beyond that there are also grading plans that I'm doing (figuring out specific topography for building sites) and traffic circulation studies at some park entrances.

Beyond these task assignments, I also field some work that simply comes up in the summer business of the Environmental Planning and Design team, of which I'm a part. Since I'm the new, young intern armed with knowledge of all the latest Adobe products (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to be precise), I often get requests for the digital work that the old-timers don't have the patients or computer knowledge to execute.

The examples below are of some visual impact studies where there is an existing condition, and an idea of what the same view would be like after some sort of intervention.

This first one was from a guy working with an Alaskan pipeline company that is proposing a natural gas pipe alignment along the Parks Highway, which passes right by Denali NP. So this guy, we'll call him Steve, saunters over to my desk one fine day and hands me this image:

This is near the Denali park entrance, and Steve tells me that the pipeline might be going in 20' off the right side of the road edge, and he wants me to produce an image of what clearing of the trees and brush would look like ~5 years after re-vegetation. No other imagery, no examples of plant materials to be used, no other photos from around the site. Just this image, that explanation, and no understanding of what it takes to make a good rendering from Photoshop.

After 8-12 hours of clicking in the Photoshops, this is what I bounced back to him:

Apparently to people at whatever meeting this was for were excited by the rendering, because I was tasked with another, similar project.

In the following instance, my boss got ahold of some historic imagery of views from the Denali park entrance road. This is within the first few miles of the road, looking at the river and an old trestle bridge from 1938:The fun part about this assignment, was that we actually went out to the park to collect images from the same spot to see how re-vegetation has changed the view. The idea is that my boss sees this spot as a good place for a scenic view pull-out (considering that tourists are stopping all over the road near here to snap photos, the park has identified a safety concern, and would like the people to have a place to get out of traffic).

This is what that same view looks like now:

As you can see, the view is pretty well obscured by early-succession forest growth (the veg type around here is Birch-Aspen-Spruce forest). The following is the product that my boss eventually used in conversations with the Denali park staff. Again, scored some points with my boss.
Note that these are not to be taken as literal interpretations of what these sites will look like, but rather as representations of what the site may end up looking like.

Finally, as I stumble through the servers at work, I sometimes come across data or documents that are extremely interesting. For example, in almost every nook and cranny of my office building there are old documents, maps and/or images, historic and modern, tracking the last ~100+ years of Alaskan history. From people and culture to geology and vegetation, the material that can be found in the cabinets and files in my office building represent a huge body of interesting old crap.

The following example is flight data that I found on our GIS database server. warning: this is about to get art-nerdy: The lines represent the flight paths for both high and low altitude local flights from cities, towns, and rural airstrips across the state. What this does is render an image that is an abstract representation of the state's extent. This is neat because small-aircraft flight is a huge part of Alaska's culture, and when you put all the lines together, it looks like a modernist abstraction of the state. Pretty cool.

That's all I have the patience to type-out on this dreary Anchorage afternoon, but I hope that paints a clearer picture of what, exactly, I'm up here to do.


*NERD NOTE: I have access to 5 servers with my security clearance, including all GIS data for all the parks in the AK region, all the programs and license codes for all the software in the AK region, and all the administrative and logistical files for each individual park unit in AK. Hundreds of terabytes of info!

Also, for the GIS users out there: AK covers 9 UTM zones, so the state has formulated it's own projection, called Alaskan Albers, which ALL the GIS data is projected in. So, for any data gotten off the servers for any reason is all projected with the same system, with the same coordinate system. No re-projections, ever!

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