December 10, 2004
Final Report: GPS Mapping at the Whitman Mission
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
In response to the gradual shift from traditional paper maps to the generation of maps using GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, the National Park Service (NPS) at the Whitman Mission decided to invest in GPS technology to start upgrading their own personal mapping system. To begin this process they created my internship position, which allowed a student to learn about GPS technology and its applications in collaboration with Roger Trick, an employee of the NPS at the Whitman Mission and the internship supervisor. They also purchased a Hollux Bluetooth GPS Receiver GR-230, a Bluetooth compatible Dell Pocket PC, and a copy of the GPS mapping program ArcPad (version 6).
The NPS only purchased ArcPad 6 weeks into my internship. For the first 6 weeks Roger and I tried to find a free downloadable GPS mapping program so the NPS could avoid buying one (he didn't state that part about avoiding the purchase to me, but it was pretty clear). We did find a ton of free programs, but because Bluetooth technology is so new, it wasn't compatible with any of the programs we downloaded. Also, when they finally bought ArcPad I'm not sure why they bought version 6 when version 9 is already out for purchase. I'm assuming it has to do with price also, but I'm not positive.
I began by configuring the GPS receiver to communicate with the Pocket PC so that it would take basic location readings. Then I began to slowly decipher what all these readings and numbers meant and which ones I would need to pay the most attention to. The first six weeks of the internship progressed very slowly because I didn't have the right tools (a mapping program) to do anything with the data I'd collected. I thought that once they bought the right program that my time would be spent putting together intricate maps with lots of detailed layers and everything would progress smoothly. In reality, my frustrations didn't lessen very much when I finally did get the right software to use.
Once the NPS purchased ArcPad in mid-October, my task became sorting through the very confusing 300+ page user manual to try and figure out how to actually create my own maps and map layers using the program. By the end of the internship, I could use the program to track a path I walked with the GPS Tracklog function in ArcPad, which takes GPS readings on a regular time interval. With this function I began creating basic map layers of the Whitman Mission site. I also learned to create multi-layered maps with coordinate grids, but I could not figure out how to view these images in any program other than ArcPad, which kept me from presenting maps with these gridlines on my internship poster.
I really would have liked to continue with this internship next semester if I had the time. I enjoyed the puzzle-like nature of the work, even if it did frustrate me tremendously. Whoever does continue this internship should be able to get all the technical instruction about how to use the program from Roger. Actually, Roger can only inform them about the discoveries he and I made while trying to use ArcPad, but there's actually much more to learn regarding ArcPad that the NPS needs to decide how to teach its interns.
Although I didn't manage to create the intricate maps I'd envisioned myself producing at the start of the internship, I did still thoroughly enjoy my time spent on this project. I accomplished more than half my goals and learned a tremendous amount about GPS technology and its accompanying mapping software. I also learned about the functions of the National Park Service and an invaluable lesson about how to reassess my goals midway through a project (once I realized the feasibility of achieving the goals I'd set for myself at the start of my term).
FRUSTRATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The main frustration to arise during this internship dealt with the mapping software – ArcPad 6 – that I used. The user manual for the program consists of 300+ pages and to me seemed very badly organized regarding the order it listed the components of the program. Of course, it might have seemed that way to me because I had no prior knowledge of GPS mapping technology when I began trying to navigate my way through ArcPad. Each week I arrived at the Whitman Mission feeling confident that I would create a new map layer by the end of the afternoon, but I repeatedly ran into little problems or confusions about ArcPad that took me an hour or so to figure out, only to run into another frustration of the same kind the following week.
I also think that if I'd had a longer block of time to dedicate to this internship each week that I would have accomplished many more of my mapping goals. I usually felt that once I figured out what button or function I needed to complete a given task that it was time for me to return to campus. I found it very difficult to begin my internship the next week with the same momentum I'd left with the week before.
In the future, I think it would be in the National Park Service's best interest to either invest in the services of someone to teach the intern how to use the mapping technology, or to simply buy a book explaining the basics and how to use ArcPad efficiently.
IN THE END . . .
It was a pleasure interning at the Whitman Mission and working with Roger Trick. Roger was extremely accommodating and very easy to work with. Although Roger was my supervisor, neither of us knew more than each other about the material we dealt with. This relationship lent a unique characteristic to the internship. I eagerly anticipated escaping from campus every Monday afternoon and driving west towards the windmills. It provided a great opportunity to work outside in terrain still unfamiliar to a native Georgian like myself. Thanks to this internship experience, I look forward to many endeavors involving GPS technology in my future!