Tuesday, April 26, 2011

iPhone Tracking

This story blew up on the internet last week. In brief, any iPhone running iOS 4.0 or later is maintaining a record of the cell towers it connects with, and storing that record locally on the iPhone. There's been a lot of out-cry about invasion of privacy, to the point that Senator Al Franken sent a letter to Apple for answers.

This entire issue aligns very closely with what I'm doing with this website and Google Latitude. For instance, here's a visualization a reporter put together from the data stored in his iPhone:

Source: Orielly.com
And here's my Google Latitude map of a recent trip to California:

View Larger Map

The important difference here is that I knew I was being tracked. And I'm in a very small minority when it comes to acknowledging that fact.

Criticizing Apple is practically an internet sport, but it's important to keep in mind that all this data is stored locally on the phone. It cannot be accessed without physical possession of the device or the computer with the iPhone backup file. And Apple devices are not alone in this: Android devices also keep track of your location, though it appears they cull location data after a duration.

This news story should really serve as a wakeup call to consumers. If you are carrying a phone or a device with a cellular connection, you are being tracked. Even if the device itself does not maintain a record, the phone companies know every cell tower to which your device has connected. Wired connections are not any better today, as geolocation based on IP addresses is becoming extremely accurate. And that's just talking about your physical location. Think you know what web services like Google and Facebook know about you? Think again. If you have a Google account, check out your Google history sometime.

The danger here is not from data collection itself, but from people being unaware of it. If you want privacy, ditch your phone and computer and visit a library. Otherwise, recognize that some computer out there is aware of what you're doing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Google Map Maker

Today Google opened up their Map Maker service to the US. This tool allows users to make changes and additions to Google's already incredible map database, and these edits will be made available through both the Google Maps and Google Earth interfaces after they've been vetted.

I'm currently in the process of adding my project's lease roads to the system. Once they've been approved, a map of our field (currently a mess of unlabeled roads) will actually be navigable with a simple printout: a fantastic improvement for new employees, visitors and contractors.

A small section of the project I work at:

View Larger Map

One part of this new tool I particularly like is being able to see edits made in real time, all over the world.

The only drawback I can see is that all information uploaded to Map Maker becomes proprietary Google information, not open sourced. But hey, I've been using the free maps for years now, so if I can contribute back a little bit and improve my personal experience at the same time, I'm all for it.

If you're interested in improving Google Maps around your area, head over to google.com/mapmaker.

Via Google Lat-Long Blog.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lego Rube Goldberg Machine

I'm totally jealous that someone out there has A) this many Legos and B) this much spare time:

Via GeekDad.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Filming begins on "The Hobbit"

Glad to hear they've gotten under way!
Jackson's First "The Hobbit" Behind the Scenes Video: "As promised, Sir Peter Jackson has posted the first video blog from The Hobbit production on his Facebook page. The behind the scenes video is introduced by Peter Jackson on the Bag End set. From there the 10 minute video shows snippets of lot of events having around the production with weapons, costumes, stunt prep, Elrond's chamber and a whole lot more. Best part is seeing the entire core cast (not in makeup), including Sir Ian McKellen around Bilbo's table as they block a scene. The end is especially a moment for The Lord of the Rings fans to geek out on.

Via The Hobbit Movie Blog.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wildfires in Texas

West Texas hasn't had actual rain in the last six months or so. Contrast that to my home state of Washington, which hasn't had an actual dry day in the last six months or so. Recently, Texas Parks and Wildlife posted this picture on their facebook page:

Shot of the fires on the night of April 9th from the catwalk of the 82" Otto Struve Telescope dome looking east. 107" Harlan J. Smith Telescope at left. (Credit: Frank Cianiolo/McDonald Observatory)
Wild fires have been a real problem during the last couple weeks. It hasn't been as bad in Midland as it has in other places, but one wildfire actual swept into the city proper before they got it under control.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Wedding in California

I flew out to California to go camping and attend a wedding at the same time.

The wedding was pretty unique - it took place at the Selby Campground on Carrizo Plain about an hour west of Bakersfield.

We camped out the day before and the day of the wedding, and both the ceremony and the reception were held outside. And if that weren't unusual enough, here's a shot of what they served for dinner:

Yep, they slaughtered, cleaned and cooked their own main course. Crazy. But pretty cool at the same time.

Before leaving California, we stopped at an ice cream parlour as a large group and had some fun:

The bride and groom were getting married, changing jobs and moving all at the same time. As a result, their cars and possessions needed to be moved from California to Colorado while they were on their honeymoon. I wound up helping to drive one of the vehicles over the 18-hour journey. One of the options for Google Latitude is the "history" function. This map shows where I was during the course of this trip:

View Larger Map

By the time we got in to Colorado, we all pretty much crashed. And the next day, I flew back to Midland. Next trip - Washington State!

As usual, more pictures are on my Picasa page.