Hands On: ptbase by CBI Systems, LTD
Professional Surveyor Magazine - January 2004
James White, PLS
ptbase, by CBI Systems, Ltd. is a self-contained program used to track and archive multiple survey projects. The need to access and recover past projects efficiently is essential for a surveyor. This software provides a graphic, map-based interface for the surveyor to find not only what projects are in the vicinity, but also the actual traverse points, monuments, or corners that were established by each project. It also provides an effective means to graphically see any published NGS control in an area.
The main screen of the program displays a map of the United States, which can be zoomed in to show more and more detail. This mapping is based on the Federal Census TIGER data. The user initially selects states of interest during the installation process, but can add additional states later, if required. The speed of the map display is fast, allowing for quick zooms and pans to find the actual area of interest.
The software allows the user to import a variety of data, organized by individual projects, and then extract that data at a later date by selecting it off the map displayed on the computer screen. Coordinates can be extracted for use in a data collector, or printed out for use in the office or field.
Two Types of Data
Data pertaining to survey projects is classified in two ways: it is sorted onto layers according to the data type, (i.e., monuments, control points, corners, benchmarks, or NGS data sheets) and also by the project in which the data was imported from. There are two basic types of data that are handled independently: NGS data sheets and your own project data. As the two data types are handled by similar but independent tools, here is an overview of both.
NGS data can be imported into ptbase via the www.ngs.noaa.gov website. Using step by step instructions in the manual, you access the Web page, find the data of interest, download it onto your computer, and then import it into ptbase. This data can then be displayed one county at a time, as little symbols on the map (see Figure 1). When you select the symbol, the classic NGS data sheet appears on your screen for you to review and print.
The process of importing a county is fast and painless, taking maybe five minutes to download and import, but the speed may be dependent upon the speed of your Internet connection. Data can also be updated from the monthly archives available at the same website.
Several tools are available for use with your own survey data. Data is imported from a coordinate list in a text file, as a named project in ptbase. Coordinates can be expressed as latitude and longitude or as state plane coordinates, but must also have a point number and description. As the points are imported in, they are filtered by their description into the correct data type. Any point with a description "MON" or "MONUMENT" is classified as a monument, a "STAKE," "IRON," or "CAPPED ROD" would be classified as a corner, and a "STATION," "SPIKE," or "HUB" would be a station. There is a screen that allows you to specify what descriptions you wish to use for each classification. Any points that are not recognized by the filtering are lumped into an unclassified group, which you can then edit and classify manually. If your project is not on state plane coordinates, you can also click the correct location on the screen and type in the information.
There are many additional types of data that can be added to each point, such as a reference book and page, photographs and a description. (see Figure 2) With a little creativity, you could scan in the tie sketch from your field book for each base line station as a photo, to simplify future recovery in the field.
Each project also has a variety of information that can be attached to it, such as client information, your internal file number or filing information.
Once the data is in, you can now look at the array of points on the map, and pick and choose the existing control you have in the vicinity to use on your next project. (See Figure 3)
The documentation for ptbase comes as a ".pdf" file on the CD-ROM. You can read the entire manual if you wish on screen, print it out, or call up individual relevant sections from many screens in the program. While the documentation is not interactive, it is understandable and leads you through important processes step by step. The copy I received did not have any installation instructions, but it installed automatically without a problem when inserted into the CD-ROM drive. The first window that comes up is a "select your state" window, which had little explanation, and required some experimentation the first time through.
Quick and Responsive
As for technical data, I reviewed ptbase on a modest 1.0GHz Celeron-based computer, running Windows XP with 126MB of memory. It was quick and responsive, although I only loaded several hundred points into it, which probably was a very small test run. The documentation explains the internal Microsoft Access Database in some detail, so an experienced database programmer could probably import or use the data in other ways, as well. The user interface is fairly intuitive, but during longer data editing sessions, some of the editing tools required several mouse clicks to perform each operation.
ptbase has backup and restore routines that are essential for any long term archiving project. The version I reviewed (2.2) is installed entirely on your local hard drive, but CBI Systems, Ltd indicates there is a network friendly version coming soon that will also include a data "viewer," without editing capabilities, to increase data security and allow for a data administrator.
From a business point of view, ptbase is inexpensive, and being self-contained, does not require an expensive CAD or GIS-based engine. It has a short learning curve, and I felt comfortable importing meaningful data into it after only a few hours. As this is a long term archiving tool, it may be desirable to evaluate your office procedures and assess your available data sources before you start archiving your projects, to ensure a consistent approach over time. A free 30-day demonstration is available from CBI Systems, Ltd, which can be upgraded to a full licensed version.
Overall, the program appears to be an interesting and powerful tool for handling and archiving your existing survey field data for future use. I know from my years in surveying how difficult it can be to keep track of former projects, especially if they are completed by another surveyor in the same office. Here is a tool to help coordinate all of that information, and for those of us in snow country, it might even be a good winter project.
CBI Systems, LTD can be contacted for a free 30-day demonstration package at www.cbi-systems.com.
About the Author
James White, PLSJim White owns a private practice in Schenectady, New York that provides surveying and software development services.
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