Thursday, July 31, 2008

Five Minutes

She took my credit card and asked, "Do you have a Borders Member Card?"


"Well, if you get one, you get a discount on every purchase, and all I need is an email to register you in the computer. You'll get coupons in your mailbox. Oh, and I will also need a phone number."

She stood behind her register, looking at me through her tortoise shell frame glasses. I thought about yet another card in my wallet. I could take a shot from a medium caliber pistol back there and be oblivious until somebody asked about the hole in my pocket...

"Do you release the phone number to other businesses, or will Borders ever use it to contact me?"

"No and No."

So I agree to become one with the database. Home phone and email.

"What's 'tmj' about? Initials?"

"Sort of. Back in the day when surveyors ruled the battlefield, the communicators never put us on the call sign lists. The firing batteries all had call signs. The supply guys had call signs. Forward observers, infantry platoons, even the chaplain's jeep driver, all had their own assigned alpha-numeric code that changed every twelve hours, or on command. But not surveyors, so we got tagged. I was The Man Jones... which evolved into Tango Mike Juliet inside our battalion, or Echo Four (later Five) Juliet, for regimental traffic."

"Surveyors? Vests and tripods?"

I slid the bag with my new book in it between us on the counter. I put four pieces of change on the counter on my side of the bag. I moved a stapler from beside the register to the counter in front of her.

"Helmets and flack jackets. These coins are batteries of howitzers. They lob shells a long way, and can fire over mountains, like the bag here. Your stapler is a large convoy on the move, and all the batteries have to compute different firing solutions to try to hit it. Without survey, the commanders of each battery have to make their best guess map spot, and could easily be off hundreds of meters, or more, if they or the map is off.

In the desired scenario the surveyors have already gone through and measured, then staked out each battery position, as well as providing another stake defining a known direction - which means that the batteries are all within inches of where they think they are on the map, and share a common grid and azimuth relationship. Now if the Forward Observers up on the crest of the mountain correctly locate and describe the target, the batteries will have effect without having to shoot a bunch of adjustment rounds".

Her eyes are not glazed over. I am surprised.

"They use GPS for this, don't they?"

"Today? Absolutely. I'm a land surveyor still, and GPS is indeed slicker than sliced bread.

"Cool. Here's your book, and your card is in the back. Thanks for the history lesson, Tango Mike."

There is hope for our young people yet.

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