Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where's Waldo: A look at cell phones, GPS, and MapMyRun

Get Smart shoe phone.
Image from Slice of SciFi.
There was a time that the idea of people talking over long distances was the stuff of fantasy, science fiction, or even witchcraft.  Who would have imagined a telephone in every house?  But science fiction became reality.  Later, a telephone was something confined to one place, connected to a wall.  The idea of a portable phone, one you could take with you, was still the realm of fiction, like Agent Smart's "shoe phone".  Who would imagine the world of today, where almost everyone has a cell phone, even children?

First Motorola mobile phone.
Image from TechPin.
The first cell phones were bulky affairs, not that portable by today's standards.  And it was just a phone.  It didn't have today's staples of text messaging and a camera.  This things were long off.

Cell phones have evolved a long way since those early days.  Who would imagined Internet on a phone, let alone Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr?  The cell phones of today, especially the smart phones, are way more powerful than the desktop computers when I was a kid.  They are faster, have more memory, have more storage, and have many features unheard of or dreamed of then.

iPhone browsing the Web.
Image from last100.
Today, people use cell phones more for apps, text (email and SMS text messaging), and as a camera than for talking.  In fact, I'm currently writing this post as an email on my phone and my wife us looking up information on the game she's playing on the computer using the web browser on her phone.

GPS satellite in space.
Image from howstuffworks.
When GPS (Global Positioning System) was first created, it was a purely military project (as was DARPA net which became ARPA net, which, together with other networks, became the Internet) to allow ships, planes, and personnel to be able to locate themselves and their destinations and targets without calculations and estimates.  Eventually, the military released it to the public, but with limited accuracy.  Since then, they have released more and more accurate algorithms.

Cell tower.
Image from eHow.
When GPS was first released, you had to buy a specific devise to use it.  Integration came later.  When cell phones first started using location services, they used cell tower locations to triangulate an estimated location.  In areas with lots of towers, this was pretty accurate, but in Wyoming with only one tower within reach most places, it was far off.  My old pre-GPS Blackberry had accuracy of 500 feet down in Colorado, but 9000 here in Laramie.  But now many cell phones have GPS using the newest, most accurate algorithm, and 911 centres can use it to find someone who makes a call.

Route for a 15K race mapped
using a GPS device.
Image from South Shore
High School
GPS can be used for more than just locating you on an X,Y axis, longitude and latitude.  It can place in you in four dimensions.  Because it uses multiple satellites at different angles from where you are, it can pinpoint your elevation, giving X,Y,Z coordinates.  It also gives a timestamp, synced from the GPS satellite network.  A series of X,Y,Z,T coordinate points give you the route you took and the direction you went, and the distance between the points combined with the time gives you your speed.

MapMyRun running on a
Blackberry.  Image from
Cythi Construction.
My Blackberry Storm 2 has a built-in GPS and there are many apps out there that take advantage of it.  One such app that I tried out is MapMyRun.  It's simple to use.  You just press start and it starts recording your workout.  Press stop and it asks you if you want to save it.

I got my dog, Juneau, all hooked up for canicross, with my belt, the towline, and gee harness and we headed out.  I pressed start on the app.

Juneau intent on the
trail ahead.
It was a nice walk, not too cold and definitely not too hot.  She did good most of the walk, pulling nicely, though she did get distracted.  I think it was a fairly normal walk and represented our daily walk pretty well.  The program seemed to record my average speed, current speed, distance, and elapsed time pretty accurately.

Juneau carrying a stick.
I got back and pressed stop and saved it.  I got my husky and myself disconnected, then took my phone back out to look at it.  I went to the workout screen where it's supposed to show the last twenty recorded workouts, but the list was empty.  No matter what I did, even rebooting the phone, nothing shows.  I don't know if the app failed to save it or if there's an issue with the program.

I tried viewing my workouts on the website instead, but it uses something the Blackberry Browser in Blackberry OS 5 doesn't support, so I couldn't see if it was saved.  When I get on a computer, I will check and then finish this post.


I'm now on my computer and the walk was saved to their servers, but it's saved as a "Run" not a "Work Out".  There's no way to view "Runs" on the Blackberry after you press stop.  You have to go to the website and see it there.

It appears we walked 3.9 kilometers, hence 2.4 miles.  I can't seem to get any other data except the route, though.  I found a place where it is supposed to "Time Series / Graphs" which I hoped would show them, but it just says "Loading Time Series Data" and never loads it.  I tried it on several browsers.  What I remember was averaging about 20 minutes per mile, so three miles per hour, and that the trip took about 50 minutes.  Calculating it, I get about 48 minutes.

A tired dog is almost home.
After the messing around I had done on the website, the app on the phone now shows the trip in the Workout screen.  It doesn't give average speed, but does say that it took 59:59 minutes and was 2.4 miles long.  I think the last time I had checked the duration was back a bit before finishing the walk.  I'm guessing the difference between the reported time and my calculated time above is that the average speed probably doesn't incorporate when we were stopped, but that these periods were included in the recorded duration.

My end analysis?  The app is a good idea and does what it intends to.  It shows what you can do with the GPS in your phone, records what it needs to, and saves it correctly, online where you can access it anywhere, ie, cloud based.  However, you can't just use the phone.  You have to go to the website and edit things before it will show up on the phone.  Also, the website isn't very intuitive if you recorded your trip using the phone and takes a bit to figure out.  I'm not sure I could repeat what I did except by trial and error again.  Also, the Time Series page on the website needs to be fixed.

Good concept, but the implementation post-save needs some work.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

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