Who’s Your Data?

By Doug Aaberg • May 9th, 2018
tags:    •    •    •  

More accurately, “how’s your data” but that doesn’t sound quite as catchy.

While working with a variety of clients over the years I have been able to come up with somewhat of a list of their “most common problems,” most of which stem from keeping track of and managing their data.

One of the yin/yang qualities of Carlson Software is that it does not “box you in” or force you to work in a specified manner. Instead, it allows each user to fit Carlson into their workflow, which allows for the greatest flexibility, but in turn, responsibility. This “freedom of movement” that Carlson allows does have some users creating problems for themselves. In this blog, I will focus on the three most common problems that I have seen affect users.

  1. Project Management (Names and Locations)

Carlson saves much of its data in files that are external to the base CAD drawing (DWG file) that can be shared across networks, uploaded or downloaded to or from data collectors, archived for project management or reformatted to accommodate industry common hardware and software. That data, however, must be managed. The use of “projects” is a choice with Carlson. Essentially, the use of the Project Settings allows users to dictate the location of each external file based upon the file extension of each.

There are three methods of storing the external data files:

  • Fixed Folder stores all data files for all projects in a set folder
  • Drawing Folder stores all data files in the same folder as the initial or “base” CAD file (DWG) is stored
  • Project Folder allows you to create user-defined folders and dictate which external files will be stored in which location.

The files that will be created vary upon which programs you use, but almost every project will at least have a coordinate file (CRD or CRDB). If you create a surface model, you will likely create a TIN file. Profiles, centerlines, raw data files are all other examples of files that may be created.

The important thing to remember is where those files are located and since they are created by the user, the name of the file is important as well. What happens often is files are created and saved by one user in the office without any type of communication with other users. A project is often copied onto a laptop, taken home and worked on over the weekend and then copied back onto the network server on Monday. The problem occurs when that user neglects to copy all of the support files back onto the server or places them in a different location. The next time the project is worked on, it appears that all the work from the weekend was lost and has to be recreated.

Renaming files can also create a headache. When revisions need to be made to a project, it is commonplace to rename a file and/or perform a “Save As” and then begin work. Oftentimes the new file name is quickly decided with names like REV1 and REV2….Months later when another user tries to step in and lend a hand during a tight deadline, he or she has to assume which file is current. Neither the named revision nor the windows file date is necessarily going to reflect the most current version of the project. Remember also that the external files created by Carlson are associated with the drawing file by name. You can see in the INI files that reside in the drawing folder that information for that project is kept with paths associated with file names.

Renaming a drawing file may require you to reassign some of the external files for that project. This is usually a simple step of selecting the proper file when prompted but it can cause confusion and lends itself to potentially selecting the wrong file. My personal process is to establish an internal naming convention, maintain a current base file and rename and archive any previous version. That way all current projects along with the associated data files are easily recognized.

When copying a project to work on, consider using the Store Project Archive option. This will create a ZIP File of all the drawings and associated data files. To access this file use the pull-down menu File→Project →Store Project Archive.  
If you are using projects, try the Project Explorer to visually see all the files associated with the project as well as the ability to remove and add files as needed.


I always hesitate to make a recommendation as to how people should be handling their data since everyone has a somewhat different workflow. But in general, I find that the Fixed Folder option only works well for those who have a single project such as a mine, or campus etc. For most small firms that primarily just survey, using the Drawing Folder option works very well. They are not really creating that many external files and it makes managing them very easy. Larger firms with multiple disciplines, the Project Folder option seems to be preferable because they like to separate data types such as survey and engineering.

  1. Coordinate Files and Data Linking

The default coordinate file format for Carlson is an Alpha-Numeric CRD and for most users, that suits just fine. For those looking to add some GIS attribute data, you may want to switch to the CRDB format. Both work fine with Carlson SurvCE and SurvPC and all of the office software so your functionality will not change. With the CRDB, however, you have the option of adding GIS attribute information to your point data.

One of the choices a user can make is whether or not to link their coordinate file with their drawing. To enable or disable this option go to Settings→Carlson Configure→General Settings.

When enabled, a link is established between the external coordinate file and the points in the drawing. If you manipulate the points from either the drawing or coordinate file, they will automatically be reflected in the respective files. For example, if you move and/or rotate points in the drawing using the standard CAD move or rotate command, the coordinate file will be automatically updated to reflect their new positions. Likewise, if you edit the points using the Edit Points command and alter the coordinates or descriptions, the points will be immediately altered in the drawing upon a save and exit. The erase command is exempt from this link. If you use the standard erase command it will NOT erase the points from the coordinate file. You must use the Erase Points command from the Points menu for this to occur. This is a common misconception of users.

When disabled, manipulating points in either the drawing or coordinate files will not automatically be updated in their counter location. When using this option, the user must manually update either the drawing or coordinate file using one of the update options found in the Coordinate File Utilities dialog box.

If you have Point Protect enabled and you do move a point that is linked to a coordinate file, the program will warn you that the coordinates for that point are about to update.




However, this linking feature does not work retroactively. If you draw/locate points in your drawing and then select the above option to Link Points with CRD File, it’s too late. The linking process occurs when you draw points into the drawing via Draw/Locate Points, Field to Finish, the Point Group Manager, etc. Likewise, if you copy and paste points from one drawing to another via the clipboard method, the program will not automatically add them to the coordinate file. Merging points in this manner require the manual update mentioned above.

One of the features that Carlson has is to allow more than one coordinate file for a project. This becomes a serious point of discussion especially in firms with multiple users. The freedom to create and manipulate several coordinate files is great but needs to be approached with caution. I have seen surveyors who create a different CRD file for each day of work. This allows them to draft an ongoing project while field data is still being collected. They then merge the files together to create a final plan. Some of the inherent problems with this methodology are self-apparent. If a traverse adjustment is made or a rotation onto a different bearing system, the next days’ worth of fieldwork may be on a different coordinate system. If the final plan is created via copy and paste as mentioned above, there may not be a coordinate file that represents all of the current data. The user then has to constantly remember that some points come from different coordinate files. If one of those CRD files is misplaced, altered or corrupted, the headaches begin.

Carlson does manage multiple coordinate files and if properly processed, will keep track of the points in each. To see and edit those file links, go to Points→Coordinate File Utilities→Point Entity CRD File Links Manager.

If you see something like this, you are linked to more than one coordinate file.

These files can be linked (Assigned) or unlinked through this dialog box.

So is this a good idea?

I can’t answer that question for you but I will have to say that I do not prefer to operate that way. My preferred workflow is to have one base CRD file for each project and maintain that file to ensure it is always current. It is OK to call me “Old School.”

Temporary CRD files throughout a project are fine, but I prefer to merge all into the base CRD file via the Copy/Merge CRD File in the Coordinate File Utilities

This feature has point protection and steps you through a merge process finding any duplicate points and prompts you to rectify each. It is very safe. I then bring the points from that CRD file into the drawing via point groups or range usually through Field to Finish.


If you double-click on any point, the General tab in the point dialog box will display the name of the coordinate file that it originated from.
Also in Carlson Survey 2018, there is an option to automatically compare the location of the points in the drawing with the points in the CAD file.  


  1. User Coordinate Systems

The discussion over using a UCS can actually be quite contentious especially for a long time AutoCAD users who routinely set a UCS as part of their workflow. The most common use of a UCS is to aid in drafting, mostly text. The user will set a UCS to their current view which may be at a random rotation, and add text, Mtext, and leaders parallel to that view. It is a useful feature for sure, but when a UCS is set, the base point of the drawing, as well as the x and y-axis, is not in sync with the surveyed coordinates or the bearings.

Carlson does not use a UCS. If you wish to rotate the view of a project to make it more appealing to the eye or fit better on a standard sheet, Carlson uses the command Twist Screen, which sets a Dview.

This command can be found in the View Menu.  

A Dview twist does NOT affect the coordinates. It simply twists your perspective. If you attempt to use any Carlson commands that access point data, line work, bearings, distances or just about anything, you will get unwanted results. Furthermore, drawing while in a UCS can create all kinds of bad geometry. A user could potentially set their UCS with a random Z value included and draft entities that appear to be correct but are out of position with the world coordinate system. Imagine the problem if property lines are drawn 0.5’ out of location and it goes unnoticed.

The issue for users is that drawing in a Dview world is difficult because text entities by default are placed parallel to the x-axis which will appear crooked on the screen. Carlson offers some help in this regard:

The Twist Screen command resets your crosshairs to be perpendicular to the view so functions like Ortho still operate as expected.  
There are several commands in the Edit menu that specifically deal with text and the relationship to the Twist Screen.

My “go to” command is Move Text with Leader which moves selected text and automatically adds a leader.


The Text Wizard command in the Draw menu places text with respect to the Twist Screen view.  

Of course, you can still use a UCS if desired. It is just very important to make sure and set back to the World Coordinate System prior to invoking any Carlson commands. For an experienced user, this is not usually a problem. Many companies, however, have a large divide when it comes to the experience level of those entering data or drafting with CAD. It is crucial therefore to keep in mind the lesser experienced operators and keep the pitfalls out of their pathway.

So watch your data and communicate with others. It is not that hard to ensure accurate surveys and drawings. You just need to follow some basic standards and share information with each other so that everyone is on the same page.

I’ve posted this link in many of these blogs and it is still generating a lot of interest. If you want help getting up and running with your Field to Finish effort, click here.


Let’s Grow Together.

Douglas L. Aaberg, PLS

Survey Product Manager