The 1980s at COGS – We were Tough Back Then

1980s at COGS - We were tough way back then

COGS programming classes of 82

The following are some humorous anecdotes provided by former Remote Sensing Instructor, Edward Wedler.

I taught Remote Sensing during the 1980s and my specialty was Radar. Actually, come to think of it, I specialized in acronyms and psychiatric counselling.


I think it was unfair students nicknamed me Dr. Death. There was no need to single me out. I would rather have been considered just an anonymous member of the instructor’s group known as the “Death Squad”.


The program was one full semester, 50 weeks long, now that’s REAL boot camp. 50 weeks is long time for students to go without earning any money. To save costs on housing, many students would set out camp in the the spring and summer, back in the forest behind the school, where they lived in tents. Many times students would arrive in class early, tired and full of mosquito bites. Thanks to all these tent students, the school’s shower became a popular place.

To make sure they completed assignments on time, before the school closed for the night, students would either hide themselves in lockers, under the false floor of the computer room, or leave one of the windows unlocked. I think maintenance must have been paid an extra hour trying to hunt down these students and figure out which window was left unlocked.


We had a birder who counted birds while in class. He logged 21 species and counted almost 6,000 birds that year.

There was our class botanist. He placed 30 planter boxes in the windows – top to bottom and end to end. It was like teaching in a greenhouse.

   “Hey Din, now I’m no plant expert … but what type of plants are these?”

    “Mr Wedler, our plants are both ornamental and medicinal”.

One of my students was an amateur taxidermist. On his way to school he could never pass up collecting any roadkill, to dissect in class. When he displayed his year end major co-op project at the open house it was beside his stuffed and mounted collection of roadkill: five squirrels, a crow, raccoon, two porcupines and a red fox.

Students were not as easily distracted back then … well, that’s not quite true. We had a Remote Sensing dart and crokinole league. Crokinole became so popular the vice principal was about to ban it until he stormed into the room one day, only to catch me immersed in heavy combat during matches with the students. Later that day I was called into the VP’s office and reprimanded.

We didn’t have the addictive games like Angry Birds … we had addictive games like Pac Man and Pong [click … click … click click] ooh, THAT was tricky!

And it is really hard to imagine, but there was NO internet. No porn.

And there was no texting. Students passed notes. How quaint was THAT!

Very early one morning I arrived in class. Only two students were in the room. I went to open my office door and saw a huge wad of shaving cream covering the handle. “Very funny”.  I reached in to turn the handle and my hand slipped. I tried again. Again it slipped. When I pulled it out I saw my hand covered in black grease. “OK, who did this?” No answer. “Come ON who did this” No answer. “If you tell me who did this I’ll play a practical joke on them.” Immediately they told me who did it.

I went over to Chris’ drafting table, reached into the drawer, took out his can of shaving crea

m and sprayed it liberally underneath his desk. About 10 minutes into my lecture Chris, pant legs all soaked, yelled out from the back of the class “You Bastard, Wedler”, then ran after me down the hall with the can of shaving cream in hand. The rest of the class quickly gathered in the hallway and cheered us on. Here I was, in front of the office with the large pane of glass behind me. I was trapped, but dodged. Shaving cream sprayed all over the office window. Later that day I was called into the vice principal’s office to be reprimanded.

We studied photographic film colour, near infrared and B&W. We had darkroom labs. We also digitized the film with scanners that cost over $10,000. Today you get a scanner free with a car rental.
We used tape drives and eight inch floppies. The total memory available for use on assignments and projects was about 850 megabytes for the whole school. That’s like one highres image of Lady Gaga.

The Image Processing Lab had one graphics station with one digitizing tablet. Students took shifts. It was an ugly scene when fist fights broke out about conflict of schedules.


25 years of storage in one photo - source: denalimemoryreport.comToday, I understand you have satellite data with pixel size down less than a metre. Back then we worked with images that had 1km resolution. We could study downtown Halifax with five pixels.
Today you generate a billion pixels to do the same thing. Hell, I remember when satellite pixels were shown on printouts as overprint characters of the alphabet, A..B..C…. We used the letter ‘H’ for Halifax. Clever, eh?
Then we upgraded the technology …We began to colour them. “Let’s colour Halifax green.”

I heard that, today, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellite Data (I’ve still kept up with technology), can measure changes in earth movement to within fractions of a centimetre.
“Well satellite data will let us know if those buildings over there are being affected by earth deformation.”
“Really! You mean those cracks in the walls and busted plumbing are not enough of a hint?
Geez Bill, will you get a load of those cracks in the wall. Looks like we might have a problem.
Better call those folks at Radar Central at the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal, just to confirm”.

Any time I go to a training class with ESRI they usually ask what version you started with. I always get to say 1.0. Back when hard drives were the size of cake platters. And nobody touched the computer unless you had a white lab coat and key from Dr. Bob.


It kind of expresses the sentiment of the day

ArcInfo during the 80s

Every Morning, alarm clock blaring,
Up at seven, blank eyes staring.
Get my breakfast, stumble out.
Wond’ring what it’s all about.
Books and Pixels, Landsat 2
“More assignments?” No thank you.

Eight O’clock in digit land
pound the keys with calloused hand.
Glazing blankly at the screen,
Thinking Fortran, want to scream.
Prime and Futil, Greenwood too
“More assignments?” The hell with you.

Now to drafting, morning still,
Thoughts of lettering make me ill.
Fumble clumsily with the squares,
I’ve botched a line .. god damn, who cares?
Mapping, enlargements, logos too,
“Map the Province?” Yeah, F you.



Edward is from prehistoric times but still has eyes on COGS.. Edward is a University of Toronto Engineering Grad who came to COGS, after stints at CCORE in Newfoundland and the Ontario Centre for Remote Sensing. He spent about 25 years as a small business owner in rural Nova Scotia. Today is retired but is willing to make a combat in standup comedy with a technical bent.

Edward was the third ever Remote Sensing instructor at COGS, replacing instructor number one … who quit. Still a puzzle to Edward, he earned the nickname “Dr. Death”. His recollection of his time back in the 1980s has been forever etched into his brain. He cannot let go of those memories. Lord knows he’s tried

1 reply
  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    The Mystery of the First COGS Banner

    I was in the two year Land Surveying program at COGS from 1985 to 1987. That was when the name changed from NSLSI to COGS – I beleive that was in the fall of 1986 or early 1987. The school paid a programmer to create a large paper banner with the new name “COGS”. It was printed on 24 inch fan-fold paper with a dot matrix printer. The Administration proudly taped it to the windows above the main entrance. The windows can be seen in the class photo above. One night somebody, presumably a student, tore down the COGS paper banner. The Administration was not amused. The same night the banner was stolen I was in the school after midnight with a classmate. We were worried about the bi-weekly test the next day and we were hoping to sneak into the instructor’s office to have an early look at the test. It wasn’t easy but we got into the office but we did not find a copy of the test. We also did not notice the missing “COGS” banner or see anybody else in the building that could have been the vandal. We must have been looking guilty the next day when we heard about the missing banner because some fellow students accused us of being the vandals. The accusations did not stick and I don’t recall if the vandal was ever identified.

    Who knows the truth about the “The Mystery of the First COGS Banner”?

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