Monday, December 31, 2012

Tracking others on your phone

When you go out to meet your friends at a unfamiliar place, you would like to find out exactly where is your friend. When you go out with your friend on a trip, you may find yourself separated from your friend and wish to find out exactly where is your friend. You may be a parent trying to find out where is your child. Instead of calling the other person/child, wouldn't it be good to just send a SMS and get the location of the other person?

There were just this kind of app that could do just this. All you need is just a map and the other person install the app with the understanding that they could be tracked by you. Alternatively, you can use an app to send SMS of your location to your friend or parent. However, that is not interactive. You need to actively send the SMS or set a constant schedule to send it. Thus, the on-demand-automatic-reply way is still the best.

One example of such app is "Wheres my Droid" by Alienman Tech. This app can also be used as a Android finder.

The app have the ability to intercept SMS to your Messaging. When your friend/parent send a code word, it can read the SMS and respond by automatic reply with a GPS location location. The recipient can then use a map app to display the location. This is best used when the tracked does not have a data plan or is in a place without mobile data.

The tracked person can actually set who can get the automatic respond. A list of phone numbers can be set so that only the keyword from this list of phones can get the reply.

Obviously, parents might want to lock the program with a passkey so that the child is not able to change the settings. I usually suggest to get the child's consent instead of enforcing it against their wish. This feature is also good when your phone is in stranger's possession (lost).

The app has other features that could prove useful. However, that is beyond the scope of this post.



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Android Memory

As time goes along, we tends to load a lot of apps in our Android. At times, you will suddenly gets message "out of memory". Even with the addition of 16GB of sd card, it still keep popping up the same message. What is the problem?

Actually, there are four types of memory that is available in Android.

1. Phone Ram. This is the place where all your apps run.
2. Phone Rom. This is the default place where your apps are stored.
3. SD Card Ram. This is the additional memory where apps are stored and some times use for running.
4. SIM card memory. This is generally used for phone number storage.

Rams are essentially the place where your program is run. Unfortunately, unlike PC and Laptop, this area of memory is not user expandable. Older phones generally have much smaller Phone Ram. This will prevent some apps from running.

Even with plenty of Ram, you will still find "out of memory" message appearing when you try to install apps. This is largely due to the fact that all programs has to be stored in Phone Rom. Despite the fact that in Android 2.2 (Froyo) onward, many apps can be stored in SD Card. However, it still uses some Phone Rom to register its presence. That is to say, every program uses some memory in Phone Rom. New phones has now greatly increased this memory. While older phones generally have much less. The number of app that could be installed is thus limited by this memory. Again this memory is not user expandable.

SD Card memory are generally used to store photos. Many apps uses SD card to store their app data. It is good to install as much memory as possible. Even when the hand phone dies, your data will not be lost. Obviously if your SD Card is damaged, everything goes with it. It is always good to save the data in SD card to computer.

SIM card are generally not use for Apps. It is the place to store phone numbers. However, most phone also stores the phone numbers in Phone Rom. It ends up that you may get 2 same number appearing in phone list. Always try to store phone numbers in SIM card. Should you change the hand phone, your phone number will not be lost. Generally, newly added numbers usually get stored in Phone Rom.

SIM card memory does not have the facility to store other phone number related information than the Phone Rom. You should weight your preference as to what you want to do with the number. If you are the type that stores much more information than just phone numbers, then you should store it in Phone Ram. You should always keep a copy of your client information in PC so that you could transfer the information to new phones.



Monday, December 03, 2012

Voice Navigation on OsmAnd

For a direction idiot like me, having a navigation aid is a must in order not to get lost even in my own country.  I have evaluated quite a number of navigation app in Android and have selected OsmAnd for this purpose. It is free and its voice navigation guide is quite acceptable.

The very first thing you need to do is to get a map. Obviously, if you have data plan, it should not be a problem at all. However, I would recommend a offline map as you may end up in places without data connection. The bad side of offline maps is that you would not be able to get the latest traffic condition. If you are rushing for time, offline maps will not be suitable. If you are planning a trip that you know and the traffic condition is no a concern, this is one application that is suitable.

OsmAnd allows you to download maps for offline use. It obtains map from OpenStreeMap. Just go to Settings, Offline data (download) and download the country in which you will be travelling.

In settings, click on "Navigation". Choose the mode of travel. You may have to repeat the setting if you need to travel by more than one mode. Under "Navigation service", make sure you choose "OsmAnd (offline)". Under "Voice Guidance", choose "en-tts". If you do not see a tts available, then click "install more" and follow the instruction to download tts.

Go back to maps view. You just need to scroll the map to the destination point and then point and hold on the spot till the map shows a location popup. You can click on the "x" mark to close it if you choose wrongly. Click on the popup itself will popup another menu. There are a number of choices. If you are simply going to a single place then click "Direction to here". The route will be plotted for you and a voice will tell you how far is the distance.

When you start to go along the planned route, it will tell you how far before you need to make the next turn. At the point of turning, it will again tell you to make the turn. On experience, the instruction to make the turn may come too late. It is good to listen to the anticipated turn and watch out for the turn rather than wait for the actual turn instruction.

If you are going to multiple places in a fixed order or you are actually planning a route of travel (for example a cycling route), you should plot the route in a route planner like mapometer.com. Export the route into OsmAnd in a directory called "tracks" (create one if it hasn't exist). On OsmAnd, press "menu" then "Directions". Choose the mode of travel then click "GPX route". You can then choose the route you downloaded. Click on "Pass along entire track". Click "Reverse GPX direction" if you are returning from the destination. Proceed to the starting point and the voice guidance will start.

If you missed a turn, the navigation system will re-plot a route for you. If you are using the plotted route, it will plan a new route to the nearest point to your predefined route.

One nice thing is that if you happened to stop and start again on the route, it will repeat the instruction to the next turn. It will also warn you if the GPS is lost.

I do experience silence during navigation. You may need to activate the map screen and click "menu", "Where am I?" to get back to the navigation. Wait till the gps fix is done and it will continue the navigation.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adding markers that shows picture in Google Maps

Previously I posted a blog about putting pictures in Google Map. It requires the pictures to be geotagged. What if you have a picture in Picasa but does not have geotagging? Here is how to go about adding bookmarks into Google Maps that shows a picture.

Assuming you are using Chrome for this purpose. Open Picasa and navigate to the picture you want to add to Google Maps (Gmaps henceforth).  Right click on the picture itself and choose "copy image url" ("Copy Image Location" in Firefox"). On Gmap, create a marker. Add a title. On the "Description" choose "Rich Text". You will be presented with a list of icons just above the text box. Choose "insert image" (icon that looks like a picture). On the URL input box, just "paste" (CTRL_V). Click "OK" and you get your picture as a marker.

The default markers have a "Camera" icon. Use that instead. Just click on the icon after you placed a marker. It is on the top left corner. Scroll down and you can choose the "camera" icon.

If you are more venturous, You could add your picture as icon. While choosing the icon, you can click on "Add an icon". On the URL prompt just "paste" again. I would not advice to do this as pictures are not icons. Moreover, you don't really see much of the picture when it is squeezed into an icon size.



Friday, November 16, 2012

GPS on mobile phones

GPS devices used to be specialized device that could be used for finding your location and to navigate from point to point.

Another use of it is for sports enthusiasts to record their workouts. It can record tracks, altitude, speed, and duration.

One other use of GPS is to GeoTag Gif files in what we called Exif information. You don't have to remember where you took the pictures. They remember it for you. There are applications that could show you the exact location where the pictures were taken.

When Android included it in its design, every Android now comes with GPS. The default use is Google Maps. It showed the location of the Android in maps. The camera in Android has the ability to GeoTag photos you take.

As time goes on, more and more developers wrote apps that make use of GPS. There are now numerous apps that is related to GPS.

One use of GPS in Android has evolved such that somebody else can track your Android from their mobile or even web. It can be user initiated or remote requested tracking.

User initiated tracking is usually the user that manually or automatically send the location information to another user. This is primary used for informing the remote person on your location. Automatic sending of the location information is used for sending the information without the user's intervention. Sometimes it is even done without the user's knowledge.

Remote initiated tracking is usually done with the app already installed in the user's Android. Some developer even use the rights of user's Google account to install the tracking app remotely and to set various functionality like GPS, Wifi, BT etc to on or off. They can even wipe your phone clean remotely. Scary huh?

Let's just concentrate on our GPS tracking business. With the app installed, remote monitoring person can simply use email, internet access or SMS to remotely control the Android to send out the location information via the same or another channel.

Not all Android users subscribes to mobile data. This is especially true for Prepaid Card users. Therefore, certain app are specially written just to use SMS as the controlling channel. Usually it is done by sending to the Android a certain predefined code word. The app inside the Android will be activated and will send back to the remote person the location information as a SMS. It is usually in url form so that remote person can click on the url in the SMS and view the address in Google maps or browser or which ever app that could read the GPS format.

What is the use of having another person know your location? It actually have a number of users. It is primarily used to find out the location of the Android or the person using it. This means that if you lost your handphone, you can actually send a SMS to the phone to locate it. If it is the person that is your interest, it is most probably for tracking/finding the whereabouts of your spouse, children, colleagues, old folks, pets or just between friends.

Some social/business app even use the method to track a group of people and display all the tracked information in one map.

Do you know that there are actually many Android users that does not know what is the use of the GPS? By turning the GPS on, it actually saps your battery. If you don't have a need for GPS, turn it off to give your handphone a bit of extra juice to last the day.




Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to show pictures along tracks in Google Maps

I have a number of pictures in Picasa. All of them have been geotagged. The maps in Picasa can show the pictures but it does not have the route that I have gone through while taking the pictures.

Sports-Tracker app did allow the showing of the routes with the pictures. I was thinking in the same line and thus was scratching my head as to how should I go about doing it.

By trial and error, I found in Picasa a link that says "View in Google Earth". Clicking on it actually create a kml file in my local directory. It then occur me to import this into the maps that I create in "My Places". When I did this, the pictures actually showed in the map exactly as in Picasa's map. Clicking on the picture icons will show a larger picture as a pop up.

First go to your particular album. Click on the "View Map" at the bottom right hand corner. When the map with the pictures are shown, click on "View in Google Earth". A KML will be saved in your directory.

I then export my route as "tracks" gpx. Using gpx2kml.com, I converted it to kml and imported this also into the same map I created earlier. And what you know? It appears exactly as in Sports-tracker.

Even if I do not have the GPS track recorded while in the trip. I could easily create the tracks by manually plotting the route. It worked just fine.

With the pictures and the route. The next thing is to add Markers where you can state when you were at that spot and a description of the spot. This makes a perfect Trip Logger record.

A word of caution. If you have way too many pictures, your map will become paged thus spoiling the fun. See my earlier post about showing such paged map in one place.

Finally, you may have to delete the "description". Google may complain that the string is too long. Anyhow, the html cannot be displayed properly thus deleting it is always a sensible thing to do.

You may want to put titles in Picasa for individual pictures. It will be imported as marker title.


Cycling in PCN

PCN is the short form of Park Connector Network by Nparks. It is a trail for walkers and cyclists. Some of it are actually off road trails for hikers and mountain bikers. Some of the scenery along the route are spectacularly nice.

Although there are plans to have a Round Island PC. At this moment it is still not yet complete. That does not stop me from using it for round island cycling.

I have put in some effort to retrace the existing PC in PCN on Bike. It showed the routes as well as information that is of interest to cyclists. It also contains temporarily routes that goes on road to connect between the PCs.

I have plotted a round island route which uses mostly PCN routes and some part on road. This is the route in MapOmeter Round Island mostly on PCN. I will be going on the route next month.

I really hope the round island route will be complete soon.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Maps.google.com distance in Metric

It is very irritating to see imperial distance measure system every time you check the distance in Google Maps. There seems to be no way to set locale.

Actually there is. Just switch to Google Maps in a country that uses Metric system. For example I use maps.google.com.sg instead of maps.google.com.




Thursday, November 08, 2012

Displaying routes and Markers in Google Earth

I used Google Maps to define routes and Markers. Only problem with it is that the Markers and routes are related. Upon creating hundreds of Markers and routes, Google Map start to truncate the list and make it into two page. This caused discontinuation of my Markers in relation to the routes. There is no way to show all the data at once.

One way out is to use Google Earth (not the browser version) to display. However, I noticed that there is a bug. Some of the routes have remarks. If you move the mouse over it, it will change to an arrow and you can click to view the comments. The bug caused some of the routes to stop showing the remarks.

The solution is to convert the KML to KMZ. I go to gpsvisualizer.com to do the conversion. Upon opening it in Google Earth. Everything worked just fine.

One guy suggested to do it in Google map itself. Just copy the KML address in the Google Map page. Open a new google map then paste the link into the search. Perform the search then copy the link address by clicking the link icon. Paste this in a new tab then book mark the page. It sure feel stupid just to view my own creation in this way but it worked. The whole list will appear in one page.

It is mighty weird that by posting the link in Facebook, the link will fail unless you convert it into a short URL. The conversion facility is in the link window itself. Just check it and you get the short URL.

Since I am an advocate for one touch easy access, it is deemed very low efficiency for me to create the link through the various steps every time I want to share a map., Thus, I created a custom map to do that. gmaps.js programmer provided this excellent library to create custom maps with various features.

What I did is simply remove the unnecessary elements from the html and modified the style to show the map full page plus replacing the sample KML link with the KML link of my map. I don't even have to post it on line to test the html. It is much slower to display the map. But it sure kills the boredom of generating the link to the map. I could even put all my maps in a selection list and share all the maps in one single map selecting page.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Microsoft Mouse left click sluggish

I bought a M$ mouse for my win7 laptop. It often failed the left click action when I tried to move the mouse fast and click on link. If I slowed down to a halt then click on the link, it worked fine.

A simple way to correct that sluggishness is to go to Control Panel, Mouse,  pointer options, motion and set "enhanced pointer precision" to "checked".




Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Posting Links in FaceBook

When posting links in FB, it is usual for users to just post the link in "Update Status". You will find an excerpt of the page you linked appearing below your message area. After posting it, you will find two links. One is the link you post another is the excerpt. It is actually a repeat of the link. 

Do you know that after the link excerpt appears, you can actually delete the link that you just pasted. You can then type your own message or just leave it blank. It will look nicer this way.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Handphone camera view turns black on Landscape mode

You might not be aware about this fact. If you happened to have HTC Desire and wears polarized sunglasses, whenever you turn the handphone side ways, your screen will start to dim then turn black at the horizontal position.

The issue is that the HTC Desire screen is partially polarized too. Actually, the screen does not turn totally black. If you are at a dark place and points your camera towards a bright area, you can still see a bit of the display.

To take good Landscape pictures with your HTC desire, never wears polarized glasses.

After reading more on polarized screen in Android, It seems like all LCD screens are polarized. AMOLED screens are spared this problem.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Win 7 Closed popup window not repainted properly

Go to "My Computer", right click and choose "properties","Advanced System Settings", "Performance", choose anything other than "Let Windows choose what's best for my computer". I choose "Custom" and get rid of items that start with "Animate..." and "Fade..." plus some of the "Show shadow.." (all these are nice but unnecessary effects).



Friday, September 21, 2012

Plotting a route using MapOmeter

It has similar feature as Google Maps except it can view OSM maps too. Its "follow road" feature, while plotting the point, is excellent although it sometimes have the same problem as Google Maps like certain part of the screen turn blue as you plot along the way.

What I like the most is its ability to export the route to GPX whereas Google Maps only export to KML. This is surely a plus as I use OsmAnd (for navigation) which only imports GPX. Also the exported route follows the road exactly as plotted using "follow road" method. This means I could plot quickly and accurately the entire route (on road only).



Monday, September 17, 2012

ViewRanger

I am speaking on the point view of a sports tracking user not for this particular app. It just happened to have almost all the features that is required for a proper sports tracking. Therefore, I take this app as the reference.

Tracking sports activity is basic for all sports tracker. It keeps a log of your activity. How well and how accurate the tracking actually depends on the GPS that you have. At times it is accurate while it really foul up at other times. It once reported that I traveled at 600Kph on my bicycle. However basic it is, VR(ViewRanger) has it. Only problem is that the button appears on the map itself. It is easy to touch it by accident. It has no pause but it will prompt you to continue, start new or cancel. It does have auto pause and has a few threshold settings.

Maps is useful if you need to know where you are along the way. Those who have unlimited mobile data plan have no problem showing the maps during tracking. However, if the place is really out of range then you will simply get a blank background. Thus, it is vital that up-to-date offline maps are available. VR have both online, cache and offline maps.

Cached maps are dangerous as it will be automatically erased. Offline map is the preferred choice. This especially critical if you have a number of tracks at different part of the world. You could always go online to download but people without mobile data plans have to pre-load the map before commencing their journey. Therefore, offline map is the best choice. VR even have update feature for the downloaded maps. This means you need not define the map area every time you need an updated map.

Routes are vital if you need to travel through unknown areas or the route has too many twists and turns. Sometimes you need to move through a number of waypoints in a particular order. Routes will allow you to do that. Showing the route on maps is available on some sports trackers.

"Follow route" is one feature that is very useful. It is like navigation. You just follow along the pre-planned route and it worked like a charm. A good navigation app will automatically points to the next waypoint as you go along the route. Some even show you the new plotted route to the nearest waypoint if you went out of the way. VR does not replot the route to the nearest waypoint. It only plot a straight line from your current location to the nearest waypoint. That is one point I am not so happy about. However, if you are off road, no sports tracker will be able to give you any guide any way.

Direction idiots like me have problem reading the map. I am always confused as to which direction I am heading or moving. Good navigation program will provide you a heading direction indicator. It will show the rough direction where your device is pointing at. This will allow you to align your route to your heading direction. This is a feature that is very useful. VR does not have heading direction indicator. It does have a movement direction indicator. When you move, it will show the direction of your movement. Although this is not the best choice, it does help to align user back to the route. You will simply do trial and error by moving and realign yourself.

Voice navigation is a plus for map navigation especially if you don't have time to look at the device. So far none of the sports-tracker have voice synthesized navigation. VR does not have it too. Normally, I would use OsmAnd for voice navigation. It has offline maps too but is not for sports tracking use.

Social media linkage is one optional features which many user likes. VR does allow you to update your activity to Facebook and Twitter.

View routes/tracks published by other is also one feature that may prove useful. Instead of plotting my own route, you could use other's route for my own activity. Viewing the tracks done by others also allow us to gauge ourselves as to how fit we were compared to others (possibly of same age). VR does not show tracks done by others. It does show published routes by others. I personally find that routes are better than tracks as individual have repeated tracks that may not be useful as a route. Like other trackers, VR did allow users to convert tracks to routes.

VR does not automatically centers the map to the GPS location. If you turn off the screen and back on later, the GPS location may go off the map. Just tap the "lock GPS" button will solve the problem.

Also, the screen time out feature of Android will keep turning off your screen. VR does not have "keep awake" feature yet. To solve this problem, you just have to install a "keep awake" app so that could easily turn off/on "keep awake".

Don't even think of importing tracks into VR. Many sports tracker allow you to import tracks. This is one thing which I don't like about VR. I have only one activity, why do I need two devices to record it? You can only import routes in GPX format.

VR site allows you to import GPX as routes. Some route creating web output is not compatible with it. GeoPlanner, MapOmeter generated routes are not possible to import. VR have its own route creating facility but it has only straight line. No "follow road" plotting possible.

One last reminder. Please be aware that VR does a lot of calculations plotting your track on map and navigation (if you turn "follow route" on). Your battery will drain extra fast.


How to use ViewRanger on Android to follow a track offline

The first thing you need to do is to ensure that your GPS is set to on. Download the app from Google Play. It will then prompt you to register yourself on my.viewranger.com.

Zoom out by touching the "-" button so that it showed at least the local area of your interest. Wait patiently as it start to locate itself and download the map into cache. Do this at home where you have your home wifi turned on and your phone connected to it otherwise ensure that you have unlimited data plan as the cache is preset to 100MB.

Touch the map area. A top bar and a bottom bar will appear. Touch the right most bottom bar icon that looked like a list. Select "Create Saved map". Select "street" regardless of whether it is selected already. You can now touch the map and select the areas. Press the "+" or "-" icon to zoom in and out. When you are sure all the area you needed is selected, click "download". It may take a long time to download depending on the area you selected. If I am not wrong, there is a maximum limit to the size of the area. Wait till download is completed.

Touch the screen and choose "list" button again. This time choose "offline". Touch the screen again and cliick on the "map" icon and select "organizer". Choose "Maps", "online maps", "openstreetmap" (unless you choose another map while creating your map), "my saved maps". Select the map that you saved and click "view". You are now on offline mode.

Next go to my.viewranger.com and create your track or download a track (you may need to pay to download a track). After creating and saving the track, go hack to your Android and click on "menu","options","settings","synchronize", Go back to "organizer", "Routes" and  click on the "down arrow" icon. Click "follow route" and you can start follow the route.

If your position is not at the route, there will be a black line from your location to the nearest waypoint. Just follow the direction. You may need to move around a bit to see where you are heading as it does not show your heading direction unlike other navigation program. However it does have movement direction indicator. Heading direction shows you the direction you (your handphone) are facing whereas movement direction show the direction you are moving. The former is better as you don't have to move to know where you are heading to.

If you have unlimited data plan and your route is always within the range, don't bother to use the offline method. This note is for people who don't have mobile data plan or the route is out of mobile data range.

IF you want to track your performance then there is a "rec" button at the bottom right side of the map. Click on it and you can track your performance. Make sure you don't touch the button again while navigating.




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Insert Exif into existing picture

If you have pictures that is already taken but does not have EXIF (geotag) information? Well, there is a windows program that will allow you to insert the geotag information. The program is called GeoSetter. You can just locate from the map (Google Maps or OSM) the exact location (that is if you know) and the information will be inserted into the picture itself (only for GIF). Multiple selection is possible. 

You will need a free account from geonames.org if you want to insert the location name. I think it is not necessary to have it (its not very accurate anyway). Just ignore the warning and the geotag (long and lat) will be inserted.



Update latest OSM in OSMAnd

OSM data can be outdated in OSMAnd. Rather than wait for OSMAnd to post its update. You could download the data yourself to get the latest copy of the area concerned.

The first thing you need is OsmAndMapCreator from OsmAnd itself. Next, you need to download the daily update from geofabrik.de/osm. Singapore map is included in "Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei" map. Download and unzip the osm file and use the MapCreator to convert to obf file. Upload the obf file into Android \osmand directory. 

OsmAnd will automatically choose the map if your location is within the map area.