Before the mine, a forest. With a bit of luck, after the mine, a forest. We need trees aplenty to counteract global warming. What better to do with a reclaimed mine than plant trees or erect windmills? Go wind-mining, young man!

These dreams of forests and wind-mines and the opportunities open to young men, crowded my mind as I listened to the now thirty-something fellow who was just a kid when first we came to Canada. He went back to South Africa, provided GIS services to the forestry industry there, and is now in Vancouver, Washington and ready to take his place as a decent hard-working, tax-paying American, just like I did so many years ago. Serves him right, so all I can do is help him by posting this short piece.

First I took a look at his website. It is so South African. Apart from the spelling, punctuation, word use, the metric system for measurements, and company address, there is that easy attribution of ability to others one seldom finds in US websites. There is that self-effacing absence of emphasis on the person—no resumes, no personal or personnel credentials, and no indication of who is the possessor of the skills that provide the services.

I met with him twice over the festive season and questioned him as deeply as the time and my knowledge of the topic—GIS—allowed. I have worked with and against GIS over the years and would rather leave it all to somebody my judgment tells me I can trust. And he is one my judgment tells me I can trust. Maybe I can even get him to take over and update my puny writings on the topic?

But what does he do? The best summary I can cull is this: “Take a commercial GIS that extra ten percent to make it work for your situation.

This ten-percent-add-on ability comes from people (unnamed) and two suites of proprietary software:

  • IntelliGIS: “A powerful GIS database explorer.”
  • ClarkeWGS Coordinate Converter: This does something to data required by the Surveyor-Generals office in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Is there an equivalent in the USA?

The commercial opportunity that most intrigued me, was his suggestion that he could get low-paid workers in South Africa to do GIS for North American mining companies at rates much lower than in the USA or Canada. Replication of Indian practices throughout the Commonwealth. When he was a kid, his father and I smuggled drawings across the USA-Canada border. Now he will e-mail drawings from one end of the earth to the other perfectly legally and to everybody’s benefit. Good luck to him.

By the way his name is Greg Houlding and you can contact him at