Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today's Walk

Today's walk was an interesting one. Now that I have a working GPS, I decided to contribute a little to OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is an open source mapping project. See, the problem with most maps is that they are proprietary, owned by someone or another. And most of these proprietary maps even have intentional errors that prove if someone steals their data. The goal of OpenStreetMap is to collect real data and provide it free of charge to anyone who needs it.

What good is this? Well, the experienced mappers who have been working on this project for years jumped in when a couple of companies provided high quality satellite images of Haiti, and mapped the disaster area quickly with data good for the GPS units of rescue workers on the ground. The result was lives saved.

On a less dramatic level, mappers in Europe have put in local restaurants and other points of interest so that people can find their way around. Some places are so detailed that they even include the location of streetlights. Other people have mapped hiking trails and riding trails, giving people good information on where they can safely wander. In short, the maps are useful to lots of people, free to use, and can be quickly updated by users on the ground if there is a mistake.

The hardcore mappers all have GPS devices that connect to their computers and can upload tracks of their progress. My GPS doesn't connect, I can only get location information and enter it manually. But they've made it possible to enter information even if you can't upload, using a Flash application. The learning curve isn't exactly simple, but I played with it for awhile and figured it out. In fact, if I have one complaint about the project in general, it's that all the information is focused on people who have a GPS unit that can upload. But you don't need a GPS to contribute. Street name correction and adding of local points of interest is needed for just about every town. Just as long as you only add data you confirm, not information from other maps. If you have a GPS, you can contribute a lot more, including exact locations of roadways and intersections.

In the United States, there is a whole bunch of information already added. The data is from the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system (TIGER) which is used by the US Census Bureau to find homes. It's public domain, but it's also full of errors. So one of my tasks is to go through and check the TIGER data against what I see while walking around. The TIGER data is also a bit out-of-date, so I plan to add new roads. And adding the rest of the Stepford Neighborhood I live in was today's walk.

I walked zigzag through the streets of the newer half of Stepford Neighborhood, and the GPS tells me that I walked 1.18 miles with an average speed of 2.9 miles an hour. I suspect I actually walked faster than that, however, because I stopped repeatedly to take GPS coordinates and it takes a few seconds for the GPS to register that I've stopped. Gmaps Pedometer tells me that I walked 1.19 miles, which is close enough to the GPS data that I'm less worried. Tomorrow I plan on adding a pedestrian shortcut that I found but didn't mark on my walk today (because I didn't take it). And after that I'll try to find one piece of data to check or confirm each day.

It's a better goal than going to a store and spending money, particularly on food.


Roger Owen Green said...

Good luck with the exercise thing.

Antithetical to that, I mentioned your M&M challenge.