Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Internship with Forsyth County Schools

Right before I graduated in December, I saw an internship posting at Forsyth County Schools, so I sent them my resume.  Shorty after, I received a phone call to come in for an interview.  We actually had to reschedule the interview three times, but they finally got me in before Christmas break.  It was my first "official" interview with my job-field.  I was nervous at first, but the interview went really well.  They told me they would make the decision today, but wouldn't call until after Christmas break.

After the interview, I began my search for graduate schools; if you have done this before, you know how stressful this can be.  It was almost a month until Forsyth Schools called me-- they offered me one of the two internship positions, and I accepted it.  I still had to fill out some paper work and get a background check, which almost took another two weeks itself.  I didn't actually start working until the very end of January. 

A school displaying the floor plan polygons (orange) and some
outside GPS attributes
When my co-worker, Mackenzie, and I first started, all we did was digitize in ArcMap.  A majority of the schools had been done by the previous interns, so we mostly did the support buildings and new schools.  The plans were already scanned in, so we just had to georeference them (give a picture coordinates to see where it is on Earth), and then trace their features.  In terms of GIS jargon, we had to add to the structure shapefile by digitizing all of the walls, windows, interior and exterior doors.  The way we did it, we would create the large wall, then split the line when a new feature showed up (like a window).  
Collecting Storm Water-
Single Wing Catch Basin

Once all of the structures were digitized, we added to the floor plan shapefile-- we would create a polygon of the outside of the school and snap it to the outer-most structure (so that all of the line features were in the big polygon).  After we created our huge school polygon, it was time to split that polygon into smaller polygons.  From the edit toolbar, we used the cut-polygon tool.  You would select the large school polygon, then trace around the structure features to create a classroom (or gym, or closet, or mechanical area, etc.).  
Storm Water- Drop Inlet Catch Basin

After each classroom had its own polygon, it was time to attribute it.  Each feature in the floor plan shapefile has attributes for room type, room number, square feet, comments, administrative area, etc.  Sometimes this information was on the scanned plan, but sometimes it wasn't.  Doing this whole procedure took some time to do-- and a little longer if the school had two floors.

Storm Water- Curb Inlet Catch Basin
We did this for almost two months until we finally got the new GPS unit (and the weather was a little warmer).  We wanted to have all of the outside attributes on our maps as well.  A majority of the schools were done, but needed to be verified, while the newer schools weren't done at all.  We had to find the civil plan which would have all of the sewer, storm water, water, gas, electric, etc. information.  We would pick one dictionary (storm water), and trace that on a copy of the plan.  One of us would have the GPS unit, while the other had the map.  We would walk around the school finding the features (headwalls, outlet control structures, junction boxes, catch basins).  Storm water, sewer, fire hydrants, electric poles, and fence posts are all easy to do since you can find these things above ground.  To find the gas, water, or electric lines, we need the locator that the maintenance people use (it sounds like you're talking to aliens).  
Storm Water-
Single Wing Catch Basin
Storm Water- Yard Inlet Catch Basin

We would spend days outside collecting all of this data.  Then, we would go back to the office and transfer it to the computer.  Even though we have SBASS turned on for the GPS (real-time correction), we would still run the differential correction tool to see if we can post process the points.  Once we are confident, we would export the data out into a geodatabase, and then import it into ArcMap with our huge GPS database.  We would copy the data from the exported geodatabase, then paste it into the right layer.  

Finding a Headwall
We would make sure that it looks right.  With objects like storm water and sewer, we would then have to connect them and follow the plan to see where they go.  With items like fence posts, we move the points a little bit to make them a little straighter, then connect them with a fence line.  Even though we are taking these points with a sub-foot GPS, tree coverage still is a factor when trying to collect points.  
Storm Water -Headwall

Our supervisor says that we are going at a nice pace, and not to worry about running out of stuff to do.  I'm glad this internship is paid-- it's not a whole lot and only 20 hours a week, but I get to do something that I like, and it's in my field.  I will have this internship until I move for graduate school. 

We collected 2,085 fence post points for one high school in a month

Friday, May 1, 2015

My MegaBus Experience

Have you ever thought about riding a charter bus to a different city in the United States? 

Well, I never gave it a thought until I decided I wanted to visit my grandmother during my Spring Break.  I haven't heard about the MegaBus company until I saw it on the highway during a trip.  It was a huge blue double-decker bus with a advertisement for $1 fares.  I just stored it in my mind until about two months ago when I wanted to make a trip from Atlanta, GA to Memphis, TN.

I drive a 1997 Toyota 4-Runner....not the best vehicle since I get maybe 18 miles per gallon on a good tank.  Not to mention that the drive is 440 miles one way.....

My first instinct was to look at plane tickets.  I searched on Google Flights and couldn't find a thing!  Actually, everything that I did find was around $400!  Definitely not worth it.  But was it worth the wear & tear on my car?  I finally remembered about MegaBus and looked up their prices.

I couldn't believe what I saw.  $47 round trip on the megabus... $47!!!!  Now, I couldn't get gas that cheap with my car.  I made sure the dates and times were good with my grandma and purchased the tickets from the megabus website.  The actual price was $24 from ATL to MEM, and $21 from MEM to ATL with a $1.50 fee for both trips, so it ended up being $47.  I looked at greyhound as well, but I didn't like the times they were offering, and megabus was a few bucks cheaper.


My dad was kind enough to drop me off at the Atlanta MegaBus stop at 6am in the morning.  When we arrived at the stop, it was like the airport-- people jumping out of cars and grabbing their bags and going to the side of the road.  Traffic was definitely a little crazy since the road the stop is off of is a active street with a stop light.  I jumped out of the car and walked towards the MARTA area.  I asked one of the megabus workers where my bus was, and they told me that it wasn't here yet.  They then pointed me in the direction where to wait.  
There were two lines waiting-- one for Charlotte, NC and the other for Memphis, TN.  Now, the bus wasn't suppose to leave until 6:20, and it was only 6:00....
We waited a little longer, then the bus arrived.  The riders were respectful to each other-- there was no "line-jumping."  I finally got on the bus, and the lower section was full.  I went to the upper level, and grabbed a seat by the window.  I had my jacket and bag with me that had a book and snacks for the ride.  Shortly after, the bus began to start and a lady jumped in the empty seat that was next to mine-- you could tell she was running late.  The bus left at 6:27am and was going directly to Birmingham, AL.  Once we got on the road, the driver gave us a quick safety lesson and kept the overhead lights on; once he was finished, he turned the lights off, and most everyone went to sleep.  
We arrived in Birmingham too early, the bus driver said, in fact, a whole hour early!  He was kind enough to stop at a Love's gas station for us to walk around for 20 minutes.  The Love's had a McDonald's inside so I grabbed myself a biscuit since it was only 9:30am EST.  We got back on the bus and stopped at Birmingham.  It took about ten minutes for the people to get off and the new passengers to get on.  Once we got on the road again, the driver told us that we were going to stop in Tupelo, MS for a thirty minute lunch break-- something I wasn't expecting.
If you haven't been at a Love's gas station, they have pretty much everything.  They had a McDonald's and Subway attached.  They also sold fresh fruit, vegetable drinks, granola, chips, and soda pop.  I didn't eat anything during that break since we were only 1hr 30min away from Memphis, but I did walk around outside.
We arrived in Memphis about ten minutes early.  My grandma was there waiting for me.  It took the driver a good 5 minutes to unload some of the bags, then dismissed us from the bus.  

The ride was about 7hr 30mins total.  I spent most of the time reading, looking out the window, and playing games on my phone.  The bus had wifi-- it worked for the most part, but it did get slow when a lot of people were using it.  The seats also had power plugs directly in front of you.  Both of them worked at my seat, but I didn't need to use them.  I do wish there was a cup holder-- there is a small mesh pocket on the seat in front of you, but it's not made for bottles.  I didn't talk to my seat mate-- she slept the entire trip.  And all of the passengers on my bus were all types of ages and ethnicities.  The bus was pretty full, which I think a single mega bus holds 88 people!  The ride was pretty smooth.  I wish that I brought a pillow and some headphones, but hey, rookie mistake! 


I left Memphis at 9:30am on a Friday.  The bus was definitely packed, and I once again sat on the upper level next to the window.  While waiting for the bus, another passenger told me to never waste my money on the lower level table seat (which is an extra $1), and to always try to get a reserved seat on the upper level (extra $5).  She said that the seats are a little bigger, you get the front row window view, and more leg room (which is big enough to set her guitar).  Maybe next time I go I'll buy the upgraded seat, but I really didn't know if it was worth it or not. 
Anyways, I thought I was going to get the row to myself, until an older lady (in her 40s?) sat next to me.  She was jamming out to some gospel music and browsing her ipad the whole time.  On the way back, the megabus had very spotty wifi.  I actually never got it to work.  Both of the power plus worked, but my seatmate used them both for herself.  I ended up reading the whole time and looking out the window.  We once again stopped in Tupelo for lunch.  We got back on the bus and started heading to Birmingham.  It was raining and some traffic, but it didn't delay our time.  We actually arrived in Atlanta 30 minutes early; however, a majority of the passenger's rides weren't there yet.
It felt like the ride back home was slower, but I think that was because I was going home.

MegaBus route map from Wikipedia


-I had a good experience both ways.  The bus back to ATL didn't have good wifi so that sorta stunk, but I did have a book and games to keep me busy.
-The bus only stopped twice- at Birmingham and Tupelo.
-The bus stayed on schedule which was nice.
-I didn't use the restroom that was on the bus, so I don't know how clean it was.

-For $47, I would definitely ride it again.  Riding the MegaBus is a great eco-friendly way to travel.  Some trips have overnight rides if you're into that; you could also save on a hotel this way.  I think more people should consider travelling with the MegaBus.  It does cut down on the fossil fuels you use when you travel long distance.  If you have someone to pick you up at the bus stop, that's great!  Otherwise taxis will come and go at the bus stops.   

** I think I covered everything.  Please let me know if you have any other questions about my experience!

MegaBus Website
MegaBus Wikipedia
Google Flights