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Adding GPS tracking to your Android phone with Google My Tracks

Did you see the squirrel? I’ve recently switched over from my iPhone to an HTC Dream phone running Google’s Android operating system, otherwise known as the G1.  One of the main reasons I switched was because my older iPhone didn’t have a real GPS, and the cell-tower triangulation just didn’t cut it in many parts of the country.

Google just released an app that makes the GPS really useful, called My Tracks.  I’m not the first to write about it, and there’s a pretty thorough review at AndroidGuys, but I thought I’d share my first experience.  This is also an excuse to post more pictures of my cute kid on my supposedly technology-focused blog, since she came along for the walk.

To use My Tracks you’ll need to download it for free from the Android Market. Once you have it installed it’s just a matter of starting up and hitting the menu button and then Record Track.  You can put your phone in your pocket and forget about it while you hike or even surf the web and use other apps – it will keep running in the background.  Multitasking is another advantage that Android has over the iPhone.

Here’s my walk with my internet-famous firstborn:


View Larger Map

It’s fairly accurate, and you can even tell which side of the street I walked on most of the time. Mountain View is no metropolis but walking near tallish buildings downtown did seem to throw it off a bit. I promise I was not staggering from side to side as I walked down Castro Street.

You also get summary data about the duration, traveling speed, and even elevation changes of your trip.

On the trail at Rancho San Antonio The best thing about My Tracks is that it uses Google Maps and makes it easy to share your route with people. One note – you’ll have the click the little down arrow button on the map screen and choose “Send to Google…” before it shows up in your “My Maps” list in Google Maps. To embed the result in the blog post (like I did above), click the “Link” link in Google Maps and you’ll get code for an iframe.

You can also share some route details with Google Docs but to be honest I was hoping for more data – I’d like to get the point-by-point GPS data so I can use it to automatically geotag photos. I am an obsessive geotagger on Flickr but it’s just too time-consuming to do it manually if the data already exists somewhere. You can access Google Docs spreadsheet data with Python, after all.

Another similar Google product I haven’t signed up for yet is Latitude – I’m not so much worried about privacy as I am unlikely to be traveling around enough for it to be interesting at this point. Athena likes to go for walks but we aren’t roaming too far yet.

Map Apps of the Day: Islands of Music and the Continental Zodiac

Two interesting uses of maps today, one is a completely non-geographical map that illustrtaes data while the other is a completely artistic use of geography.

Islands of Music

Last.fm is  a great service – I’ve written about it before.  The best thing about it is the copious and collection of interesting data on music tastes (you can even see how geeky your taste in music is).

Like many other web sites Last.fm has a tagging system, and so it interesting to see how different tags relate to each other – are hip-hop fans more likely to listen to ambient or heavy metal?  One very cool way to do this is with a map.

islands of music from last.fm

See the orginal version here, complete with mouseover descriptions of the different islands.  Visualizing music tatses as a map makes some interesting findings pop out – the long continent of folk, psychadelic, and metal in the northeast, for example.  Deathcore and emo are on the same continent, just on opposite sides of what I call You-Don’t-Understand-Me-Dad Bay.

This is an alternative to more conventional tag cloud or word cloud representations, though I’m not sure which presents information more clearly.

Another thing that strikes me is the similarity to video game maps – perhaps because of the iconic color palate.  Though we might think of them geographically, video game maps are equally artificial ways to relate to a big pile of numerical data.

World maps as Chinese zodiac

Artist Kentaro Nagai has used the continents (and major islands) as a medium to create the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.  See all of them here.

I particularly like the economy of arrangement in the rooster:

Rooster from Chinese zodiac

…and the sheep for it’s nice use of negative space.

The sheep from the Chinese zodiac

Thanks to Chris for the link to the Zodiac