This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land (Editor's Window)

31 Aug, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

The digital world presents challenges for some and opportunities for others, but one thing is certain: We're all in it together.

On the last morning of the GeoWeb conference (July 21–25, Vancouver, British Columbia), I decided to spend the few remaining hours sightseeing. Even though I'd never been to this part of Canada, I was confident I could find my way on foot from the hotel to Stanley Park, the 1,000 acres of green on the city's shoulder. I also knew that, along the way, I would come across at least three Starbucks where I could get my caffeine fix. I owed this cartographic knowledge, in part, to someone who'd given a conference keynote speech 24 hours prior — Michael Jones, Google's chief technology officer for Google Earth and Google Maps.

Kenneth Wong
Kenneth Wong

I used to do this type of navigation with a combination of foldout maps and tourist guidebooks. I suspect many of you did the same. But the introduction of Web-based maps changed all that. Similarly, I now consult Wikipedia and other online repositories to do the type of research I once did in a public library. If I want to find out how Parsons Brinckerhoff is planning to erect a 108-floor tower in Dubai, I go straight to the firm's Web site and delve into its archived press releases. With some luck, I might even unearth a nice 3ds Max rendering of the design.

Our ability to instantaneously search and retrieve information comes largely from the digitization of the world. Slowly but surely, the rolls of blueprints collecting dust in an architecture firm's cobwebbed basement, the mechanical principles recorded in two-inch-thick textbooks, and the familiar cityscapes are resurfacing in bits and bytes, as DWG, DXF, and PDF files; building information models; executable software code; and geospatial datasets. The process is taking place in the background, like an automatic Windows update. Most of us don't pay too much attention to it.

But the digital world is not the creation of a single entity. Like Wikipedia, everyone contributes to its digital infrastructure. It's stitched together from the SketchUp objects we upload to Google 3D Warehouse, the Revit models we deliver to the clients, the eDrawings we send to our suppliers, and the AutoLISP routines we share with our peers. The digital world — with all its beauty and imperfections — is ours.

And our efforts are not confined to merely taking stock of the present. We are, in fact, resurrecting the past too. Those of you who attended the SIGGRAPH computer graphics event last month discovered that, right in the middle of sunny Los Angeles, you could travel back to 320 A.D. through the Rome Reborn exhibit, a virtual reconstruction of the classical landscape. Cadalyst contributing editor Heather Livingston discovered Rome wasn't built in a day, but rather in less than two hours. (Read this feature from Cadalyst's AEC Tech News e-newsletter in our SIGGRAPH 2008 coverage at

This month, reviewer Ron LaFon looks at wide-format scanners and printers for CAD and GIS applications — the must-have hardware to convert your legacy drawings and maps into editable, searchable digital files. As world building is not a solitary task, Robert Green shows in "CAD Manager" how to keep your data synchronized while you and your remote collaborators pass large chunks of design data back and forth. And in "AEC Insight," Jerry Laiserin ponders the importance of software interoperability standards; after all, we can't build together unless we agree on some ground rules.

Whether you realize it or not, you — dear reader — are part of the world reconstruction, our generation's Herculean labor. So on this Labor Day, I salute you for all that you have done, for all that you plan to do next.

Kenneth Wong
Executive Editor, Cadalyst

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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