Monday, February 24. 2014
Last week I drew the blue line from Sudbury to Ottawa you see in the above map by running MozStumbler on my phone as we headed out to celebrate Winterlude. One day, that line might help you figure out where you are on your FirefoxOS phone! Here's what's going on:
GPS triangulates your position based on satellites, requires a line of sight to those satellites, and can take minutes to get a lock on your location. If you have a smartphone, you've probably noticed that running a maps application will return your location in seconds, not minutes; that's because modern smartphones use cell towers and wifi routers for triangulation purposes. Unlike GPS, your phone is usually continuously scanning for cell and wifi routers, so the data is immediately available at no extra cost to your phone's battery or CPU.
However, while the major smartphone operating system manufacturers have built databases that correlate cell towers and wifi routers with coordinates (and raised some privacy concerns while they were at it - Apple, Google), this data is not openly available. A new operating system, such as Mozilla's FirefoxOS, must licence a service such as Skyhook's, or build their own.
True to its open principles, Mozilla is building its own database of location information--the Mozilla Location Service--that aims "to provide an open service to provide location data" (that page needs wordsmithing but I digress). To collect the data, Mozilla offers an Android application called MozStumbler that you can run while you're out and about; it will build a collection of coordinates with wifi access points and cell towers, and then upload it to Mozilla (either via your data connection, or later when you have wifi connectivity if you prefer). Currently you have to sideload the APK onto your phone; it is not available on the Google Play Store (although it is on F-Droid).
While the fledgling location API is already available, it remains to be seen how Mozilla will run this service: if, for example, it will make data dumps available, or if it will rate-limit calls to the service. But given Mozilla's long and laudable track record, it seems worthwhile to trust that they will do the right thing and help them build their database. They have a long way to go. Comparing Mozilla's stats to Skyhook's, Mozilla has collected observations about 0.7 million cell towers and 17.5 million wifi access points, vs. Skyhook's 30 million and 1 billion respectively.
So why not fire up MozStumbler on your phone? Hey, if a lowly guy from
Sudbury can, in a little over a week, get into the top 200 data
contributors (me =
Sunday, June 27. 2010
This conversation on identi.ca has prompted me to publish the rough notes I had prepared for a proposed discussion on making the Android operating system experience more free-as-in-freedom at the Google I/O 2010 Conference Bootcamp "unconference". Unfortunately, my proposal was not one of the top vote-getters (it missed the cut by two votes), so we didn't get to have the discussion there, even though I'm sure we would have had an interesting discussion. But perhaps there's something worthwhile in the roughly formed thoughts that follow...
Making Android more "Free as in Freedom"
What do I mean?
We have opportunities to win interesting development investments on Android over proprietary platforms; see the Wockets - open source effort to create very low cost motion measurement devices for hobbyists, researchers, and developers interesting in creating software and devices that measure or respond to movement that is developing with Windows Mobile first, and Android second. It's a shame to see an "open" research project being built on a closed base, but there might be some clues in these researchers' rationale that suggest ways that the freedom of Android could be improved.
Friday, May 28. 2010
I'm one of those people who actually keeps different passwords for every site and service I use. So far I'm up to over 400 passwords, so I'm dependent on a password manager. For a long, long time I have used Figaro's Password Manager (FPM) (and KedPM and most recently FPM2 as continuations of FPM), but now that I have an Android smartphone on which I can browse without wanting to die, I've been itching to get access to my passwords on that. I noticed that KeePassDroid was available, and that KeePassX would work on my desktop. I just had to get from FPM's password export format to one of KeePass's import formats. It turns out that nobody had made that particular leap before (or hadn't shared their conversion script).
Thus... I bring you the FPM to KeePass converter. A straightfoward Python script licensed under the GPL v3 that does a passable job of converting an FPM XML export to a KeePass 1.x or 2.x XML import file. It worked for me, and that's all that I needed; but maybe it will work for you, too.
Saturday, May 15. 2010
For some reason, I keep having trouble finding this handy free-as-in-freedom list of Android applications when searching Google. So if I blog it for myself, I know I'll be able to track it down easily in the future. I'm sure there are more applications to add to that wiki, by the way, so if you know of some, go ahead and edit. LinPhone, a nice VOIP application, was my contribution to the list (where "contribution" means "added the pertinent links to the wiki").
Update: 2010-05-18 Of course the Replicant effort to create a 100% free software stack to run on HTC mobile phones has another list of free-as-in-freedom Android apps. The two lists have significant overlap but neither one appears to be a superset of the other; they also appear to be tracking slightly different metadata about each app. Seems like it would be a nice job for someone to build a database-backed list of free software Android apps that could generate whatever format was desired (e.g. A-Z list by app name, limit by categories / license, etc) and just replicate that data to the various sites of interest.
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