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Monday, June 20, 2011

Spot On! [pretty much, anyway]

One of the things I've been wrestling with regarding my upcoming ride (two days and counting) has been how to share it online... in real time.

Obviously I'm not going to be live blogging the ride. Yes, I will have my iPad with me, but that will be a navigation tool for when I stop to refuel (great real-time maps showing my location), but I won't have time to start writing posts or sending out email blasts.

A close friend and I were discussing the merits of various online programs such as Google Latitude, Glimpse, etc... apps that you install on your cell phone that use the cell towers to estimate your position.  Then they allow you to share your location with others via the web.

Sounds like exactly what I wanted, right?

The problem is that some of the areas where I'll be riding will have really spotty cell coverage.  Not only that, but my phone is not the most advanced technology (/understatement) so it wasn't clear if it could even accept these programs.

Then this friend called me up yesterday to tell me that he had just remembered that before his son went on his post-army back-packing trek around South America, he'd bought him a satellite tracking device called a SPOT Personal Tracker.  In fact, if memory serves, it was one of the conditions of letting the kid go.

The way this thing works is once it's turned on, so long as it can see the sky, it bounces a signal off of the GPS satellites every ten minutes or so, and provides an online track of where it has been.

There are also buttons on the SPOT device that allow the user to send an 'OK' message... as well as a 911 button that will notify predetermined friends/relatives via email... as well as emergency personnel.

I tested the SPOT device on my way to work this morning and it seemed to work well.  Only one problem... none of Israel's roads or cities show up on the online map. 

You can use the satellite view or topography view, but on the map view, you see only the outline of the country (and the west bank)... nothing else but white.

I zoomed out to see if any other countries in the region had road and city details... and sure enough, they all did. 

I zoomed out even further, and it seems that Israel is the only country in the world that shows up as blank (i.e. with no road or city details).

My first thought was, 'those anti-Semitic bastards!  How dare they leave Israel off the map!!!

But then my friend and I started doing a little checking around.  And it seems that the problem is on the Israeli side.  You can go into Google Maps and Google Earth and see every last detail of every neighborhood in Israel.  But when it comes to releasing the necessary API interface between 3d party applications (such as the SPOT tracker) and the Israeli map details, the Israeli authorities have refused to let it happen.

They haven't said as much, but if you think about it for a moment, allowing third party apps to interface in real time with detailed Israeli maps would allow missile guidance systems, unmanned ground and aerial vehicles and even explosive devices placed in public transportation, to be sent to harm specific locations.

It sucks that Israel is the only country that has to worry about such things... but until the reality changes, there's nothing to be done about it.

So when I leave on my ride this Wednesday... you will be able to track my progress on the Satellite map view... but you won't be able to see the road outlines, street numbers or place names that you would see anywhere else in the world.

Here's a link to the track from this morning's commute.

And for those who are wondering about such things... here is how much time is left before I set out:


Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2011 | Permalink


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You mentioned about us being able to call you on your blue tooth helmet. Could you email me your number please?

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Jun 20, 2011 12:47:24 PM

Is it really that difficult to overlay the Spot On tracker signal on a map with roads and towns?

Posted by: aparatchik | Jun 20, 2011 2:38:08 PM

enjoy your ride, and may it be a safe one! (and raise lots of money as well.....0

Posted by: rickismom | Jun 20, 2011 2:55:09 PM

Yes, someone enterprising with the right know-how could easily overlay the coordinates onto a regular Google map so you can see roads, etc. Unfortunately, I don't have that know-how.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 20, 2011 3:06:31 PM

Hi David
I had the same problem finding street level maps to use with my Garmin Edge 705 for road biking in Israel this summer. Instead I have to use topo maps with limited road information and turn by turn capabilities. This limitation will surely keep spandex clad road cycling evil-doers at bay. Good luck with your ride. Chedva and I are proud supporters.

Posted by: Alan T | Jun 20, 2011 3:56:03 PM

My birthday's on June 24th which, in the UK is Midsummer's Day, so I'm extremely keen to sponsor you in this endeavour, particularly as it's an adventure that my medical condition (and age, ssh) precludes me from having.

Please let me know how to do this at such a late stage.

Posted by: chairwoman | Jun 20, 2011 4:41:13 PM

Best wishes on your adventure, David.

In regard to the mapping issue, I think Israel has it right. I remember my grandmother worked in a munitions factory during W.W. II and the road maps (when I was a kid) had a gray rectangular area which only said "U.S. Government - Restricted Area". That was it. Now I look on Google maps and if I search for "Iowa Army Ammunition Plant" I can get detailed views down to 100 ft resolution! Hmm, that seems more helpful to potential terrorists than the average U.S. citizen... why do we do that??

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Jun 20, 2011 5:50:25 PM

Bonne chance!

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 21, 2011 7:34:48 AM

It's the same with Geocaching, when you look at the geocaching maps in Israel, it won't show the roads and all in Israel. You can swap the map with others, and Open Street Map does work in Israel. Maybe Spot can figure a way to do that.

Also, probably a little late now (I've been busy, haven't kept up with blogs), but you might want to look at SpotWalla. http://spotwalla.com/ It manages the points generated in SPOT, keeps the maps available much longer (as long as you want) and you can set it not to display points within (for example) 5 miles of your home or work for privacy if desired.

Posted by: JDMDad | Jun 21, 2011 11:40:09 PM

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