GPS and GIS with Gina

Gina writes:

Though our last three posts have been about another vacation, we've actually been back at work in Koraput, working hard for the last 2 weeks. Really! It's just not always that interesting to write about. But that is one of the primary reasons why we're in India, so here's a little about an ongoing project at work that I am excited about.

Background of the Issue

From 1951 to 1964, the state government conducted a land survey for the whole state of Orissa. The government chose to use the cheaper plane-table method of surveying, rather than the more accurate chain method. Basically, they surveyed as though they were looking from the sky instead of taking chains and measuring the boundaries of land plots. To be honest, it doesn't make 100% sense to me, but I know that the plane table surveys do not record slopes greater than 9 degrees, so any land more sloped than that assumed to be unused and was classified as government land.

A lot of that land was actually being farmed by the rural villagers of Orissa. Due to a government act passed in the early 1900's, they were entitled to official land titles if they'd farmed the land for a certain number of years. However, since it was classified as government land, they were and still are unable to obtain these rights.

The hills of Koraput

My Task

In November, my boss told me the basics of the project. He wants to measure plots of land with a hand-held GPS unit and then map them using GIS software. The map that we create would replace the official government map and allow the people to claim their land titles. At the time, I wasn't totally sure what he meant by all this, but he was looking to me to educate myself, talk to the right people, and eventually make recommendations on how to proceed, what to buy, etc. Now, after hours and hours of research and paperwork, I sort of understand...sort of.

My Progress

Corey found out about a grant program through the provider of commercial GIS software, ESRI. After gathering as much background knowledge about the issue as I could, I applied for the grant in January. Just one week later and the grant was awarded! We got over $5,000 worth of software, books, and training for only a small administrative cost ($100). Now we're ready to plot the data that we collect to make a map. A coworker and I still have to complete training, but we're ready to go for that portion of the project.

The other part of the preparation for the project is the purchase of a GPS device. We're pretty much set on a Garmin device, since the brand is highly regarded in India. However, the sheer number and variety and price range of devices is daunting. In March, I settled on a model that was sturdy and precise (eTrex Vista HCx) and fit our budget.

Following purchasing regulations, I collected 3 quotes for the model. Then I collected them again, in the name of SPREAD and not me (argh!). I volunteered to pick up the unit in person when I was in Mumbai in mid-March, so before I left, the accountant and the salesman had the appropriate information to complete the transaction and have the unit ready for pick-up. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I took time out of my Mumbai vacation to take a taxi to the office only to find out that the money had not yet been transferred from SPREAD and that there was no way I could take the unit with me. I seethed with anger during the taxi ride back to Corey and our friends, then soothed my frustration with ice cream. What can you do, it's India.

The Next Steps

When I returned from my vacation a week later, my boss had gotten a recommendation from someone else regarding which unit to purchase. It happened to be a discontinued model. Then he heard that the satellite signal over Orissa is bad, so the eTrex HCx unit isn't a good choice. Then...then...then

My point is, we moved from being ready to purchase what I still think is a great choice for the project, to not even deciding on a model, let alone a supplier. I think we've reached the point that Corey likes to call "paralysis by analysis".

If you've read this far and have some knowledge about what GPS device is the best choice if accuracy is the most important feature, please let me know! Let's get this show on the road!