Monday, December 5, 2011

Follow the Navigation Trail

The paradox of planning a trip like this is that you need to try and predict the unpredictable - the only alternative to planning is a deep breath, eyes clenched shut, a prayer and leap. If you need a bit more piece of mind then sooner or later there are questions which require you to go through the immensely dull process of working out contingencies within contingencies. To this end we will map the questions "what is the best way to navigate through the Caucasus on a motorbike?" from beginning to a point where we are satisfied one option is far superior to the rest. It will show how an apparently simple question leads to further questions which lead to more questions and so on. In other words you start tugging on a single thread and the roof falls in. Eventually things get very complicated and you're liable to miss something, or forget it laterif you don't write it down somewhere. The method below is a brute force and thoroughly unsexy way of mapping out all your options. The process is basically continuous refinement:
  1. Begin with a question
  2. List possible answers
  3. Work out questions that need to be answered for each possibility, phrase these questions so they can be answered as Yes , No or I don't know. The answers must also be phrased so an answer of "Yes" is an answer that this would make you more inclined to pick the possibility that it is relevant for while "No" would mean you are less inclined to choose it.
  4. Work out the questions you can answer, and do so with a "YES" or a "NO" if you can't find a definitive answer to one - write "UNKNOWN" next to it. By the end each question must have an answer - this is called completing the tree.
  5. In order to complete the tree you can perform tests which are just a way of answering the question you have posed not through research but by your own experience. Sometimes you might need multiple tests to answer a question.
  • What is the best way to navigate around the Caucasus on a motorbike?
    • by Road Map
      • Is it possible to get road maps of all the areas or do we need do we need to get separate ones for each place we enter?
    • by Mobile Phone
      • Will mobile phones have access in all the countries?
        • YES -
        • Is it necessary that they do / can I use the GPS on my phone in offline mode?
          • Will Google Maps be smart enough to not send us into a shitstorm?
            • TEST 1 - YES
      • Can I work out a way to secure a phone when riding so it doesn't fall apart or get wet?
        • Will mobile phones have access in all the countries?
          • Can I get a new phone (my one now is unreliable) on a contract that I can pause?
            • YES
            • Will this contract be cheap if I get it now before I leave?
              • NO - I rang them up and I can pause paying for 3 months
            • Will it be possible to charge my phone while riding my bike?
          • by GPS
            • Which brand GPSs have coverage for the Caucasus?
              • TomTom
                  • Do Tom-Tom maps cover the entire Caucasus?
                    • NO
                • Strike Genius
                    • Do Strike Genius maps cover the entire Caucasus?
                      • UNKNOWN - Can't find anywhere if they do or not
                  • Garmin
                      • Do Garmin maps cover the entire Caucasus?
                        • YES - Official ones must be bought separately but would most likely be pretty good judging by their effort in Mexico
                      • Are there any alternatives to official maps?
                        • Are they any good?
                          • TEST 2 - Will need to do at home
              TEST 1

              Time to put Google maps through it's paces. Plan a trip like this:

              1. Poti, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Georgia (where we could land)
              2. Gavar, Gegharkunik, Armenia
              3. nogorno-karabakh
              4. Baku, Azerbaijan
              This is actually quite an indepth trip for Google Maps to work out because it must have sufficient information about the geopolitical situation to know that Armenia and Azerbaijan have their borders closed to one another and despite this there is still a way into the Armenian landlocked enclave of Nogorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan - the Lachin Corridor.

              I am pleased to announce that it passed with flying colours. I also tried to see what happens if we navigate to the disputed zone, South Ossetia. Despite the fact that the border would be difficult to cross - it is not technically closed - so a successful route by Google Maps is not a false positive.

              View Larger Map

              Test 2

              To be done later.

              I guess that because I'm not totally convinced on one way or the other it shows not to use science to create an art. Even so, I know a great deal more about each option that I did before.

              Plus although though this approach is extremely boring - it's thoroughness means your research will take you way beyond simple . For example - I learnt about OpenStreetMap an open-source version of the cartographic industry - where you can get free maps, there is such thing as an international SIM card and it is easy and cheap to hook up phone and GPS chargers to your motorbike's battery. More importantly though is that there is an account of the trail of research.

              UPDATE: Ended up later deciding to use my old GPS even though it was not water resistent - have downloaded the maps to check them out. I will also buy a new phone and use both these in concert.

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