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!