I have been excited by GPS for years: basically ever since I heard of it. My first contact with it was when my dad asked me to pick up a (standalone) GPS device for him when I went into Manchester with a friend, and we held it out of the train window on the way home, trying to get a fix. That device, despite being a dedicated GPS device, took around a minute to get a fix (in the open), and all it could really do was tell you your latitude / longitude. Well, you could store bookmarks too, and it would point you to them: I remember another expedition with a friend, picking a bookmark at random and trying to locate it. If only I'd discovered geocaching
Things have come a long way since. The first GPS device I personally owned was my PocketLOOX
, and that was my first real pocket computer. I loved to play with GPS on it, for example I used it on the train
from St Pancras to St Albans to discover its speed peaked at around 100mph. My memory is a little hazy, but I think it could show you where you are on a map too: the only problem with that was that it only has wifi: the utility of something that shows you where you are is limited when you need to be near a wifi hotspot (even more 5 years ago). Also, not being a dedicated device, the GPS wasn't particularly well looked after: when I got it, it could take ten minutes to get a fix. Even after upgrading the OS, it still took around a minute
. All these times are for outside, with a clear view of the sky.
I was therefore stunned and amazed when my dad announced that his sat nav (I'd heard of them, but not seen one in the wild) could get a GPS fix indoors! It was only then that I realized the quality of the GPS receiver really mattered. Thankfully even the rubbish ones nowadays are orders of magnitude better than the one in my old pocketloox.
GPS really invaded my life when I got my first smartphone
: a GPS device with a decent receiver (a few seconds to get a fix, tops), and masses of apps available in the Play Store
to use the functionality. I found My Tracks
fairly soon, but only used it occasionally. It was a few months later, partly inspired by a blog post that I'm afraid I've since mislaid, that I started tracking everywhere I went.
I say everywhere: that's not entirely true. I have to manually start and stop tracking, so I track every journey that I don't make very regularly. My daily commute is only tracked very occasionally (usually to test a new version of My Tracks), and if making a journey that I know I've tracked many times, I may well not bother. I've thought about getting a GPS box that will just track constantly, and I can download them weekly or whatever, but (a) that would produce way more data than I need (even if it was clever enough to know when I was stationary, it would be recording my commute for 3h per work day), and (b) I would have to deliberately take it everywhere. Unless it was super-tiny, that would get annoying very quickly. Also, it can be useful having human-segregated tracks: for example, the Legoland one at the bottom of the page would have had to be cut out of a much longer track.
I've wondered in the past what to do with my tracks. For a while (well, quite a while), I uploaded them to Google's My Maps
, but they look rubbish and are almost impossible to manage (if you upload multiple pages worth to one map (like I generally do), each page you are on will tell you there are a different number of total pages, for example). Google's Fusion Tables
is less bug-ridden, but can only really cope with one track, as far as I can see (as can http://www.gpsvisualizer.com
). So I ended up writing trackinggeek
. It does exactly what I want it to: trawls a directory for gpx files, then draws then to an image, with lots of configurable settings.
The maps that I've created are mostly of areas I visit regularly or to which I have been on holiday. The one exception to this would be Legoland (well, you could describe it as holiday I guess). I included it because I thought it was a particularly pretty track, and I think that would probably be true of all theme parks. I now have another excuse to go to them!
I've never had a very good eye for colour, so I took advantage of the wonderfully generous people at colourlovers.com
who create beautiful palettes just for the love of it. The creator of each palette is credited next to the map I used it in.
In the examples on this page, and all the examples I uploaded to flickr
, I varied the colour with elevation, and in particular cases it shows how inaccurate the elevation is via GPS. I can see why the latest phones have barometers in them.
There are things I'd like to add to trackinggeek if I get time: I plan to add colour variation with speed, and also I've had a request for the ability to output 3D tracks that Maya can read. I'd also love to put a map backdrop in, probably from openstreetmap. We'll see how many of these things I get round to doing.