Are We There Yet? Back Seat Navigation From A Distance With Glympse

Being that annoying kid with the map in the car served me well.

I’ve always been excellent at directions and cartography.  Actually I can stare at online maps and wonder about the weird little quirks in boundaries for quite a while.

Sure, how to keep an idiot occupied, hand them a map.

But that does get to be a useful quirk.

When a friend came down from Atlanta back in May, he told me about this service called Glympse.  You install an app on your smartphone, send someone a link, and you get to watch them drive.  They’re represented as a little triangle on Google Maps, and that triangle moves based on the location of the phone.

It gets freaky when they’re sitting next to you and the triangle changes orientation as the person spins in the room.  Just think of what the commercial or law enforcement people have to use.

But that gets very useful when someone is coming to you or heading home. 

You don’t have to call me when you get there.
You don’t have to call at a rest stop to say how you’re going.

Actually, it’s good enough that I already know that you pulled off the road, and that you started slowing down to use the exit because I saw your speed drop from 70 to 50 and you changed lanes.

Yeah, that good.

So as someone got ready to cross into Maryland on US1 I got a phone call. 

“Did you get my Glympse yet?”

I grabbed the link and started watching his progress.

Yep.  How to keep an idiot entertained.

The only drawback he had was he said that it is limited to 4 hours.  When someone is traveling for 2 days, that is a bit of a limitation.

Since he’s taking Autotrain back from Lorton VA to Sanford FL, then driving here, I get to see the holes in the cellphone network.

Just south of Jacksonville, I noticed that his little triangle would get “stuck” then come unstuck and leap forward every so often.  They’re not putting cell towers in the swampy back woods areas because nobody is there, or shouldn’t be, on the railroad tracks anwyay.

Well there goes my next two days.  Watching a blue triangle work its way across a map.

Online Maps Are Going To Get Better Detail

I admit it, I’m a map geek.  I guess, I’m just a geek and maps are another symptom.  I’d be that guy sitting around in a dark office with a big screen and big wide eyes, flying around surveillance cameras and satellite feeds looking at things from outer space.

I’m fascinated with things like borders.  That feeling of “Otherness” that exists because someone drew a line somewhere and said “This is mine, that is yours” always fascinated me.  Growing up in South Jersey, state borders were irrelevant except for car number tags.  TV, Radio, and Media came from Philadelphia, and “local” was Cherry Hill which was too small to ever hit the news when I was small.

The view from the 295 near the baseball fields near where I grew up.

[googlemaps!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d1812.064176861966!2d-75.01585099999998!3d39.87547699999999!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x0%3A0x0!2zMznCsDUyJzMxLjciTiA3NcKwMDAnNTcuMSJX!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1403013032158″ style=”border: 0;” width=”600″>
Franklin Square in Center City Philadelphia.  You never really “went” there.  It’s kind of cut off from the rest of the world in Philly but you can hover over the place.   I don’t remember that fountain from when I was last there, probably in the 90s.!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d257.84338082158666!2d-75.15045499999997!3d39.95567599999998!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x0%3A0x0!2zMznCsDU3JzIwLjQiTiA3NcKwMDknMDEuNiJX!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1403011855517

These days, I can endulge my inner Cartographer by playing with either Google Maps, Bing Maps, or perhaps one of the others.  One of the first things I do when I am trying to find a place is to go online, plot the address and zoom in as tight as possible.  In cities and towns in the US, I have found very few places on a street that I can’t stand virtually on the ground and look at the building and spot in question.

Other places, not so much.

When you zoom in on certain areas outside of an Urban zone, the detail gets fuzzy.  After all, from a satellite, one tree pretty much looks like the next.  You can expect a minimum resolution of 15 meters or 50 feet as a default, roughly.  That means that one of the dots on your computer screen will represent an object or area of 50 feet by 50 feet or 15 meters on a side.


Pretty much anywhere I was thinking to look within anything as small as a small town at random had “useable” resolution.  If I wanted to see the downtown of a small midwest farm town, Stanton, Nebraska, it was easy enough to do.!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d886.2495091221787!2d-97.22398603412068!3d41.950205603692!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x8790491de81187a9%3A0xecc2a8ba6f7d67b6!2s900+Nebraska+57!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1403014238060
In cities it can get better.   The Czech Republic can go as high as 1/10th of a meter on a side which is 3.9 inches.   That’s pretty respectable resolution all things considered.   It gives you the excuse to explore Prague from the comfort of your own easy chair.  A beautiful city, well worth poking around.!1m14!1m12!1m3!1d741.1575545479868!2d14.398900069246372!3d50.09025510100564!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1403011476971

The view of the Prague Castle in central Prague is the above view, and that is without dropping that little man on the street.

The thing is that these graphics are getting much better.   Barring some self-important fool having their property fuzzed out, for the most part you can see just about anywhere from the air to some detail.

Viewing street level things are a different story.  Germany recently said “nein” to street view, and I seem to remember that they turned it off in Google Earth and Maps.

On the other hand, now I’ll have to dust off my older computer that I have Google Earth installed on.  There’s an inherent creepiness about Google’s software that I don’t care for.   You have to basically tell them what you want to look at on the map.  Part of the game.  I’m just not completely sure that all that information is something I’d prefer to share with them. 

While the software and use are free, there is one thing to consider: 

You aren’t the paying customer. 
If you aren’t the customer, you are the product.

So if you are comfortable being a product, your map playground has just gotten a bit more interesting.   You can always do things like walk along the Quays in Port of Spain, Trinidad for no reason at all.