Tracking Maps

Google Map

I’ve had a few people ask how I create the maps showing where I’ve been recently, so here’s a quick tutorial on the process.

I’ve got Google Latitude installed on my phone, and it runs constantly tracking my location, and the data is saved to Google’s servers. (Note: If you’re paranoid about being tracked, you can stop reading now.)

Google Latitude

Every now and then I log into using my desktop browser, click on ‘View location History’ to get a map of my travels, and then choose the date and a time frame.


I’ll often do the last 30 days (which is the maximum) but for this map I did just two days to show all the traveling I did over a weekend. (Minneapolis and back!)

Once you’ve got the date and time frame set, you’ll see your map. Just resize it, position it, and do a screen capture, and you’re all set!

Wikipedia has a good write-up about Google Latitude.

Update: It seems Latitude will be shut down on August 9th, 2013. Sorry, kids! I’ll be investigating other ways of doing this.


Bad Date Data

Bad Dates

And people wonder why I complain so much about date formatting… (See Also: raster’s rants on 4-digit years.)

Take this example from Nikon’s web site, captured lovingly in the screen shot above.

If you’re in a hurry, and don’t have time to read everything (I hear that covers 75% of the people who use the Internet) you might need info on the D4 and see that it’s at the top of the list, and hey… looks like it was updated December 4, 2010! At least that may be your assumption by seeing 12/04/10.

You also need info on the D40, and you see 08/04/04 and think “Wow, it was last updated in 2004!” which is weird, because the D40 didn’t come out until 2006. (And yeah, the D4 wasn’t around in 2010 either.)

If you scan the whole column, you’ll see that first part of the date is the year, followed by the month, and then the day. While I do prefer year, month, day, I definitely prefer YYYY-MM-DD.

This isn’t 1975, you’re not saving vast amounts of computer memory by typing “08” instead of “2008” and all your really doing is creating opportunities for people to get confused.

Yes, I know people should actually read things in a critical fashion especially if it has to do with an SDK for hardware, but this is just one example of many.


More Tracking (Please!)


Remember last year when I wrote about how your iPhone tracks your location? (Sort of.) Some people find this stuff creepy, but I’m a fan of geo-tracking, and I want more of this data. It’s part of the reason I use things like Foursquare and Google Latitude. A fellow Milwaukee Makerspace member is even working on a device to seamlessly let your office mates know which office you are in. (See Marco.)

Last 30 Days
Last 30 days of tracking, via Google Latitude

The fact that Google Latitude only shows the last 30 days is (to me) a bug, not a feature, and it means that if I want to save that data, I probably need to dig into the API and write my own code to do it. I wrote some code to grab and save all my Foursquare data, and it worked great until they deprecated the API. I haven’t upgrade my code to use new API because it’s an OAuthMess, which I haven’t wanted to deal with yet.

A sad list of choices for hardcore geo-nerds

I understand that many (most?) people don’t want this data public, or shared, or kept, or all of those things. I mean, look at the options: Show timestamps, Export to KML, Delete history from this time period, Delete all history. Half of your choices involve deleting data.

When I look at some of the mapping crazy-geo stuff that Aaron has done… I’m floored by it, and I want to see more of that, not less. Again, it’s not for everyone, but for the people who want their own data, or the ability to share/republish their own data, there’s some good potential there… and I hope to see more of it in the future.


Pachube Learning

Pachube I first heard of Pachube shortly after it launched, and took a look at it, but didn’t really have any data to feed it. Then they started charging for the service, so I never pursued it, and then they got acquired by LogMeIn, and became free again, so I figured I’d check it out.

If you’ve seem my posts about logging the temperature and humidity, then you can guess what data I started feeding into Pachube.

Take a look at the feed Environment for a constantly-updated view of my office. We’re tracking the temperature and the humidity, but I’d also like to add a photocell (light sensor) and occupancy sensor (PIR) at some point.

I dabbled in Processing code, but ended up going back to Perl after some instability. There’s still some issues with bad data I need to sort out. (See below.)

Bad Data

There’s not a lot of amazing code in place yet, as it’s all learn-as-I-go experimental, but that’s fine with me…

Pachube iPhone

I mean, as it stands right now, I can quickly see the status of my office from anywhere in the world as long as I’ve got a mobile phone and an Internet connection. That alone should be worth something…

I’ve been adding updates along the way over at the project page on the Milwaukee Makerspace wiki. I’m sure I’ll have more blog posts on this, but smaller updates will probably just show up on the wiki.


Safe Nuclear Disaster

Help Fund Community Radiation Sensors

After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident happened, I made a comment about the safety of nuclear energy. I’ll freely admit I am not an expert on such things, and a few friends called me out with some numbers, pointing out that more people died from coal mining disasters. (Though I’m still not sure that long-term, that’s true.) The difference in my mind, was that typically coal miners (and their families) are affected by coal mining disasters, while nuclear disasters have a greater chance of affecting the environment more, not just people, but animals, plants, and the world we live in.

After reading How I spent my Sunday in Fukushima by Sean Bonner, and seeing the fallout from this nuclear accident, I don’t know how anyone can think that nuclear energy is safe.

Again, I’m no expert, so if I’m missing something, please let me know.

The only good to come out of this disaster is the rise of Safecast, which is a global project working to empower people with data, primarily by building a sensor network and enabling people to both contribute and freely use the data collected. I’m a fan of data, and sensors, and sharing information, and if it can help people live safer lives, then all the better.