Ten Years Of Tracking My Location
other | location
Aaron Parecki will talk about what he's learned from using extensive continuous location data, based on a decade of experience.
Ten Years of Tracking My LocationThis year marks the tenth anniversary of continuously tracking my location. I have had a fascination with data collection for as long as I can remember. I found these notebooks from when I was in grade school and I have been tracking the commute to school, so writing down what time I left, what time I arrived, who drove, which car we took.
I remember on family road trips down to California taking the giant foldout maps and using a highlighter to trace the route but in real-time, including all the little squiggles like stopping at the rest stops.
And I just wanted to automate that for a long time and this wasn't possible until finally, hardware started catching up to what I wanted to do. And I was using this GPS tracker for only a couple of weeks because it turns out that taking the SD card out and downloading the data was too much work. I needed it to be even easier than that.
So finally, in 2008 smartphones started becoming a thing and there were only three that had GPS in them at the time, and this was one of them a Windows phone. So I started using that in 2008. In 2010 I worked with a friend to write an android app for tracking GPS and sending it to a server that I wrote, and that eventually turned into the startup that I ran for a while.
In 2011, I switched to an iPhone, so I wrote an iPhone version of the app. But then in 2012, the startup was acquired and of course, as always happens the original apps were eventually shut down. It was my own too which is kind of ironic. I had to write a new app at that point, so at that point, I made it possible to change the URL in the app that it sends the data to, so now I can always make sure it's sending it to a place that I can control. And since 2014 I've continued updating and maintaining this app, and it's in the apps store and at least there's a few people using it besides me.
I leave the app on. I leave it tracking my location a hundred percent of the time. It records data every second when I’m moving. And the only time I’m missing data is when I go under a subway, in a tunnel or in some of the airplanes, and ever since I turned on the first tracker in 2008, I’ve kept logging this consistently. I have seventeen million data points and it takes a little over 5 gigabytes to store all that right now.
So I do a bunch of different this with this data, some more obvious than others. I publish each trip on my website. So this is a bike ride from Downtown to home. I also use this to geotag posts on my website, so if you look closely there’s a city I was in when I posted that. It goes and looks up the weather in that location and includes the weather information on the post. It also sets the time zone properly because I’m really particular about time zones.
I’ve also worn a sleep tracker since 2011 so I was able to correlate the location data with my sleep data, and this is a graph showing how much sleep I got in every different city I slept in since 2011. It’s kind of interesting to see which ones are my most relaxing versus where I’m most busy.
But, one of my favorite things to do is to make these images out of the maps, and this is Portland but it’s my Portland and there’s no map tiles onto this. It’s just the streets and the place I’ve been, so we’re up in this corner right now. And the coloring indicates what year the data’s from, so you can see how drastically my patterns shift over time.
If we zoom out a little bit, you can see some highways and some more bridges. That’s the bridge that I haven’t crossed in about four years, ever since I stopped driving a car. And that is the Tilikum Bridge, which is the bike only bridge that was built a couple of years ago, so it’s only showing up in yellow.
If we zoom out even farther then you can see the airport, and all these thin lines that are fairly distinguishing on the projector are airplane flights and yeah, the iPhones can track GPS even in airplane mode now, as long as it’s next to the window.
I thought it would be interesting to see how these patterns change over time and look more closely at that. So I started by dividing up the data by year, and it turns out that the calendar year is actually very arbitrary date and time relative to my actual life and personal events.
So instead it is a better version is dividing it up based on when I moved to a different location in town, so these are now all divided up by where I live and these are more different from each other and the full personal story.
So this image, I was living on Burnside, a little past 39 and I didn't have a bike, so the streets with heavy lines are the car streets, highways, and Burnside. These little loops are to get the car ramps on and off the Marquam Bridge, and you can barely see it, but here is one line that goes through Ladd’s, and apparently, I only went through that position one time in three years.
In 2010, I moved onto Hawthorne Street, and this is also around the beginning of the startup and we were working out of Pie up in the Pearl. These new loops show up on the map this time. These were the ramps that go on and off the Hawthorne Bridge of my bike.
In 2012, I moved to the Pearl, just a few blocks from where we are right here, and shortly before the startup was acquired, we moved the office to Downtown, so now I was able to bike to work really easily. And you can see I spend a lot less time in southeast and more in northwest.
I also started flying a lot more, so the highway to get to the airport is really dark in this image.
In 2014, I moved back to southeast near Division and our office moved again up a few blocks, but I also started biking a lot more this year. So all of a sudden you can see the bike streets get a lot more traffic and the car streets get a lot less. And I was doing a pretty good job of keeping a running routine around that loop in the Laurelhurst neighborhood as well as in the park.
In 2015, I moved into a new apartment on Burnside, near 28th and a few blocks are full of restaurants and bars there, so I am spending a lot of time in the immediate area and much less time elsewhere in the city.
I was still running in Laurelhurst, and at that point, I didn't have a care anymore so I'm pretty much only crossing to Burnside where the Hawthorne bridge is.
Now I live in Hollywood and I work from home, so this has completely changed my map of Portland. And this is the little track at the school nearby where I’ve been running loops. That’s Tillamook, which shows up strongly now because it’s a good bike lane to get into Downtown. And that is the light rail line because again I’m on a transit stop that’s super convenient.
If I had more time, there are so many more stories in here that I can tell. But what I learned is actually a few things that surprised me. First of all, the raw GPS data is very messy, and it takes a lot of work to clean it up into something that can even look like this. But even with this you still see all these spiky bits. My movement changes drastically depending on where I live, and there are places that are not even that far from me that I just haven't gone to because it turns out that my patterns changed drastically.
My location data is also full of stories, so when I look at these, I see a bunch of stories about what I was doing at various points in my life. I see past relationships and a reminder of the reasons I moved from one house to another. But to everyone else, it's just a pretty picture.