Cars, Tech, Transport

We’re Jammin’

Traffic Jam

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

Or not, perhaps.

I’ve just been reading an old Aircraft Annual from 1962 I picked up for a couple of quid in a charity shop a couple of years ago – I have quite a backlog of such books – and in it was an article about the latest developments in traffic monitoring from the UK’s Automobile Association (today’s AA). They were using light aircraft to fly over various main roads, the approaches to special events and so on to then help patrols and local government organise the traffic and provide warnings of delays.

Since then of course we’ve had, the world over, aerial traffic reports, most famously in US cities where the “eye in the sky” reporter is part of news programmes, often as an aside filming crimes and car chases. There are also police and highways agency cameras monitoring certain stretches of motorways, feeding reports to local and national radio stations, which became even more useful with the advent of RDS (Radio Data System) radios which could not only tell you what you were listening to but automatically re-tune to another station giving traffic reports while you were driving. This was fine if you needed it but annoying if you were part way through a favourite song or perhaps a drama like The Archers and suddenly find yourself redirected… “So what happened to Matt’s cows then, was it aliens? Well, you see.. There’s heavy tailbacks leading onto the A45…”

Now of course we’re streaming our favourite music and the often derided “snooping” of Google and Apple’s servers, beaming back our phones’ GPS and mobile signal based locations to HQ allows their Maps software to determine if the phones are on a road, moving, likely to be in a car and how many of them are within, say, twenty feet of each other. Once it sees a big group of slow moving hardware going the same way it can determine that there’s a bit of a hold up and plots it on the maps it sends back to you as a red line on the road. This seamless collection and analysis of crowdsourced data is another one of the wonders of our connected times.

Who’d have though back in 1962 that fifty years later you could have a small box in your pocket that could tell you where to go, how long it’ll take and if there’s a big queue in your way. I wonder if they could, one day, do the same for supermarkets.


Cat Tracking

cat on wooden fence

cat on wooden fence (Photo credit: (Sascha Uding) Arternative-Design)

Smaller GPS chips have made it possible for even the cheapest smartphone to be a satnav, locator of local takeaways and be able to give its location away to its owner if stolen or, if the proverbial tin-foil-hat wearers turn out to be right, the government.

They’ve also allowed us to plot our runs or cycle rides, places we’ve been, seen, been seen in, rather we’d not been seen in or forgotten we’d been to.

Cats though have been feeling left out of this techy tracky Endomodo-y goodness.  Until now.  This month’s T3 magazine reports on a device invented by Dave Evans called G-Paws which enables your furry friend to be tracked day and night.  Though with you average cat there would be much time spent located “on the sofa/most desirable chair in the living room” or “in the sun by the french doors”.  For about £50 you get an 11g multi-channel GPS with flash memory which can attach to any standard collar.  There’s even a social network so humans can share their cat’s wanderings online.

Combine this with a small camera and your moggy could be geotagging its way around your neighbourhood from sometime in May.



Be Careful What You Search For


Watching (Photo credit: Laddir)

You are being watched.  No, calm down, I didn’t mean in the real world, sit back down and stop looking behind your sofa.

For many years people have simultaneously worried about how their browsing habits were being tracked and perhaps used to monitor their activities while marvelled at how Amazon suggests new products for them based on their previous choices  – online data collection really is a double-edged sword.  In the UK we have a law where websites have to visibly inform you about browser cookie use and give you either a choice or instructions on how to enable them or otherwise.

The data collected by browsers is not always sent to advertisers, much is used today to improve services, make useful suggestions for stuff to buy, places to visit, people to friend on Facebook etc.  The data collected when you’re logged into Google’s many and varied services, for example, can be used by their Google Now service to provide real-time information relevant to you.  I was impressed when without being told my Nexus 7 knew where I worked and how long it would take to get there, giving me weather and travel information too.  My first reaction was “how did it know?”  I don’t take it to work, has it been talking to my phone?  Well, in a way, it used my contacts information, I think, I hope.  These computerised personal assistants like Google Now and Apple’s Siri are a wonder of our time, intelligently finding, collating and presenting information in truly intuitive ways, I’m still impressed whenever I ask my Nexus 7 what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow.

But the other day I discovered something about Google Now that could, in the right, or wrong circumstances be interesting or awkward.  I searched for Cromwell Weir on Google Maps on my laptop and later that evening noticed that my Nexus 7 was giving me, like the helpful little soul it is, travel information to Cromwell.  Later still I searched for a shop in Lincoln and again it was there saying “are you wanting to go there now?  I can show you where to go.”

Which is all very helpful until you’re searching for a hotel for a surprise weekend away for you and your other half on your PC while your tablet, in the hands of your beloved in the room next door is happily giving the game away.

So if you don’t want Google, or for that matter Siri if Apple’s assistant has similar abilities blabbing about your plans remember to log out before browsing.

Science, Society, Tech

Cataloguing The World

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008...

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008 Subaru Impreza Five Door) showcased on Google campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. taken by myself [User:Kowloonese] using a Canon digital camera. The picture was taken on Google Campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. Release for Public Domain. Kowloonese (talk) 04:53, 18 November 2010 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is big, lots of land, rivers, seas.  Our history is vast too.  The internet contains ever growing volumes of information about both.  And videos of kittens.

Search engines help with finding things on the internet of course, and even the history part as more historical documents are digitized and more history is recorded digitally, whether it be art, music, myth and legend or epic tales.

Google though continues to go beyond its core business, using search ad revenues to actually benefit people – providing free services such as YouTube (which it bought in 2006), Google Translate, Google Docs, Google Maps and so on – which are also available from Microsoft and other providers too – as well as the Android operating system which in its Ice Cream Sandwich version (4.0) is maturing into a very nice OS.  Then there’s the suite of desktop apps including Sketchup, Google Earth,  Picasa and more.  The company even looked skyward, producing Sky Map which is now an open source product.

One wonderfully useful thing Google gave us, via their fleets of cars with Johnny Five wannabees strapped to the roofs, is Street View.  It’s so useful to be able to actually see what the place you’re going to looks like, to see your route, turn by turn at street level because using our visual memory is far better that trying to remember an abstract set of directions on a top-down map alone. They even added traffic information to their Maps product recently.

Even this though was not the end as they’ve Street Viewed railway journeys, cycle routes, footpaths and walking trails and now they’re going to be photographing towpaths along rivers and canals in the UK too.  There will no doubt be privacy complaints again and parts of riversides across the country will become strangely hazy when viewed online but it will also give us more strange and funny discoveries in the images as we’ve had from the roadgoing cameras.

Another new Google project revealed this week sees the search behemoth collecting and documenting languages from around the world that are on the verge of extinction via videos, audio recordings and other documentation. The result will be presented via an interactive website.

Some people however won’t like their other announcement – a service that allows companies to track their employees’ movements via their work phones.  Well, two out of three’s not bad.