Tag Archives: GPS

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Plazes And SMS

In the spirit of following through, here’s an update on the auto-location thing I was writing about last week. I asked a question on the Fire Eagle website about how to update via SMS, and I got a helpful email from one of the Fire Eagle team, the man himself, Tom Coates, suggesting I use Nokia’s newly acquired German-based location service, Plazes.

Plazes will allow updates from SMS, and it can update your Fire Eagle location. So after reading the Privacy Policy, I signed up. Another login and password for my list. Still, I’m following Bruce Schneier’s advice on all these passwords, so it’s not too much of a problem.

Once I’d signed up, I asked Plazes to “plaze” me. This used a slightly different method from Fire Eagle, which just asks for your address and then parses it in a similar way to Google Maps. In contrast, Plazes asks for a location name, like “My Office” and then tries to ascertain a location. It then asks you to fill in the address gaps. It calls these location names “plazenames” and stores them, and allows a “plazename” to have a history of who has been there. This location history is something that Fire Eagle doesn’t provide, instead only storing the current location. Plazes allows you to set your locations to public or private, but still, I think I prefer the Fire Eagle model.

“Plaze Me”, “Plazenames”, I’m not sure about these words. They require more effort to say, because of the “Z” sound requiring more pressure in the mouth. It makes me want to say “plazenamez” and you end up sounding like Timothy West in that Tales of the Unexpected where he turns into a bee.

Making up new words for your users to adopt is a bit awkward. “Google” has become common due to it’s simple ubiquity. I use Twitter, but I don’t like saying “my tweets” preferring “my twitter updates”. “My Tweets” sound like something Fergie would sign about. It reminds me of that extremely irritating series of adverts for NatWest bank in the UK, which kept saying that other banks’ branches were being closed and turned into “trendy wine bars”. They kept repeating this in the hope it would become a catchphrase. They even went as far as having an actor (playing another banks customer) say to camera, “…and now my branch has been turned into – you got it! A trendy wine bar“, at which point he was joined by a huge mob of extras yelling the catchphrase like this was a margarine commercial or something. If enough people yell it, it becomes a catchphrase? Nope, doesn’t work like that, sorry. Never mind the fact that wine bars weren’t trendy any more at that time. Ad companies. So wrong. So smug. (end of ranty digression)

The idea was to set my location in Plazes by SMS, then have Plazes update Fire Eagle. I set this up easily with the Fire Eagle authorization.

I first updated my Plazes location from the web. I called the location “PB San Diego” and gave it the address. I set my location as this place, and it showed up as 401 B Street, San Diego. Correct.

NB: this is a published address for PB, and the fact I work there is in the public domain. No-one cares, but it’s out there.

I then checked my location on Fire Eagle, and something was wrong. The location was set to 1198 4th Avenue, which is the same intersection (4th & B), but the wrong building. It’s across the street, and not where I am.

Next I tried an update to Plazes via SMS. I texted “at pb office on 401 b street in san diego” to the Plazes SMS number. I got an SMS response after a few seconds (I wonder if I can turn that off?) which read, “You’ve been placed at PB San Diego on 401 B Street”. I checked the Plazes website location, and it’s correct, with the exact correct address. But when I checked Fire Eagle again, I found the same problem. It’s shifted me across the intersection.

Plazes integration to Fire Eagle is broken. Something about how Plazes communicates addresses to other sites is mixing the address up, or “paraphrasing” it in a way I don’t like. I’ll perhaps try some other addresses, but at the moment, I won’t be using this method.

Peter made a good comment about the previous post on this subject.  He said that this was like “voluntary tagging” in reference to the tags they attach to criminals to track them. Big Brother and all that. It’s a good point, but not a worry for me in this case. Centroid will only send the location SMS when I set it to, and only when I specifically tell it what address to send. Fire Eagle doesn’t keep a log of locations, and can be set to forget your location after a period. The privacy policy is sound, as one would expect from a member of the Open Rights Group Advisory Council.

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Palm Centroid

Image by Dan Taylor (CC licensed)Yahoo!’s new location-aware service, Fire Eagle (named after the marvellous Ze Frank’s Ride the Fire Eagle Danger Day segment of his year-long the show) is now available to the public. Being the sort of person that signs up for new webby stuff, I had joined a while back out of curiosity, using some freebie invite that was floating around. I used my existing Yahoo! account to sign in and get going. The system basically lets you tell it where you are, and then makes that information available to third-party developed applications that you choose. Various applications are already available, allowing you to contact friends when you’re in the vicinity, plan trips, find services, and various other meatspace trickery.

It was immediately clear that I don’t have much use for it at the moment, not being a particularly mobile type of person. I have about 3 or 4 main locations, and the rest of the time I’m in transit, and do not wish to be disturbed. I also don’t have many friends or colleagues who would use it. People who flit back and forth from London to San Francisco may get more mileage.

You can update your Fire Eagle location using a web interface, GPS with the right tools, and for while you could use popular microblogging site Twitter. By sending a direct message to Twitter user firebot, you could update your location in much the same way as you can be sending a message to gcal to add events to your Google Calendar. Unfortunately, firebot is apparently down because of Twitters IM service being down. I would like to find a way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. If the Twitter firebot worked, it would be possible to update Fire Eagle via firebot, because you can update Twitter via SMS.

I’ve been playing around using a new program on my Palm Centro called Centroid (formerly called TreoSpot) which is a clever bit of freeware that uses the GSM cells to figure out where you are. As you roam around, Centroid records the GSM cell IDs (aka GIDs), and allows you to set alerts to appear when you enter or leave a particular cell. In busy areas, you change cells a lot, sometimes even bouncing between two or more GIDs just while sitting at your desk (as is happening now to me). The software deals with this by allowing you to assign several GIDs to a Zone, which you can assign alerts to instead. I have about 5 GIDs grouped together into a Zone called ‘Work’, and when I enter this Zone I get an alert saying “Welcome to work”. Well, I don’t really, but you get the idea.

A key point here is that the GIDs themselves don’t fix your location – this is not a triangulation system. You can set physical locations for GIDs and Zones, but this information is not used in this case. Centroid just knows what you tell it – this set of GIDs is known as “Work”, this one is known as “Home”.

As well as set alerts to appear, you can also tell Centroid to send an SMS based on your location. So, the idea was as follows:

  1. Set a Centroid Zone with a number of GIDs around a location, e.g. Home
  2. Set Centroid to send an SMS to Twitter when you enter this Zone.
  3. The body of the SMS would be a direct message to firebot, updating your location: “d firebot u 999 Letsby Avenue”* (u means update)
  4. Repeat for any other Zones you might want.
  5. Profit!

If all went well, Centroid would spot that I was in the Home Zone, and send an SMS to firebot on Twitter, which would then update Fire Eagle. This would be accepable with a few updates per day, with a cellphone plan including lots of free messages, but any more than that and it scould get expensive. Again, I think I would be a light user of this service.

I currently can’t see another way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. I’ll keep looking.

*The policeman’s house, geddit? And there’s more: Lancashire Hotpot in the name of the law!No dammit, Irish Stew! Irish Stew in the name of the law!