2006-02-20

Numb3rs, GPS, Apollogy and More

So this past week's episode of Numb3rs seemed to be designed specifically to refute my previous log entry where I said GPS is not part of cell phones.

It seems I was wrong. I am sorry Numb3rs for my misunderstanding.

According to the show, it seems that when the decided that for emergency purposes, that cell phones should be trackable, the didn't use triangulation from cell towers. The actually put a tiny GPS chip inside all modern cell phones.

Wow.

So I guess they were right when they said they used GPS with the phone. Of course, in the episode, the person was in a library. Inside buildings is a very poor place for GPS reception, so I still have some doubts.

Then a very short while later it hit me. There is a GPS inside most everyone cell phone. And they don't let you use it! It would be so simple to show locations and do some simple coordinates on a cell phone. The data is already there. It would only take a simple program! Man - think of all the people who could be geocaching!!

2006-02-08

Dish Rant

I opened my Dish (satellite TV) bill last night. In the last year it has jumped $10.00.

First it went from $21.99 for the low-end channel package to $23.99. Suddenly the package has a new name, and costs $31.99.

This is the same crap the cable companies pulled, and why we wound up going with Dish. One of Dish's major selling strategies was to point out how the cable companies were treating people badly. Now they are doing the exact same thing.

We will have to talk to them and let them know that we are not pleased. If they cannot drop the cost way back down, I think it is time to get rid of dish.

I don't watch much broadcast TV. I am pretty sure I can get most of what I watch with an antenna. I'll miss MythBusters. But I could buy the season DVD for MythBusters and have a whole lot of money left over after canceling Dish.

And MythBusters is neat to watch. But they have so many repeats. And spend a bunch of new episodes filled with old material. It is like they only show new episodes during sweep months.

Of course that means the PVR would no longer work, as it is dish-only. Frustrating.

NUMB3RS, GPS and Cell-Phones

I've been watching the last few episodes of the TV show Numb3rs. It is pretty good. It is nice to see a positive view of techy stuff on TV. We need to promote the sciences. And they do a very good job of not getting way too techy. If anything, they are pretty good at explaining some advanced math concepts so that an average person can get a feel for the concepts. I think I get to thank my sister for recommending the show :)

Watching the last episode, from this past Friday, I was taken a bit back. Here is a show that is trying to tech about the science of math, and they made a really careless error. They were talking about tracking a cell-phone. The cell-phone in question was used right near the investigators - and they say the GPS showed it was on campus.

The GPS? Cell phones don't have GPS! GPS isn't how they track where cell phones are!

They both use a similar methodology - triangulation. But a GPS receiver listens to 3 or more satellites in orbit to calculate it's position, and does not transmit anything.

A cell phone is tracked by what cell it is in - and if 3 cells can pick up a cell phone, that information can be used to triangulate the position of the cell phone. The ability was added mostly due to wanting to be able to pinpoint emergency calls.

The fact is that a cell phone does not have to make a call to be tracked. A cell phone will register itself when on to local cell towers. That is how the cell companies can immediately route a call to a specific cell-phone.

And more, this triangulation is being used for more than emergency use. Some cities are subscribing to cell-phone data to help track traffic. It seems many cars on the roads have cell-phones on board. Not making calls, just turned on. And they can use the data from the cell phones to calculate the speed of a significant fraction of the cars from this data. And they can tell when traffic is slowing or stopped - just because so many people have cell phones.

This is not the kind of mistake I would expect from a techy show. Of course, they would probably blame it on the fact that the character that said it is not one of the geeks.

It is interesting that people are worried that a GPS will rat on where they are, and never realize that their cell phone already does it. Yet a normal GPS cannot report on where you have been, unless you link it and download the data afterwards.

But there is a GPS device that does report back where you are. And it uses a cell-phone to report on you. The on-star system in 'select' GM cars. The core part of the on-star system is a GPS that uses an old analog cell-phone built in to report on your position.

And some rental cars are starting to have GPS units that can report in, either live, or as a report when you check-in.

Technology is wild. Big brother *is* watching! But what is he watching, and what is he doing with that data.

I noticed online that there is a horror movie coming out soon. It is based on GPS and geocaching - and is supposed to be based on a true story. I get the feeling that this will put a dark blotch on geocaching and GPS. Shame.