24 May 2008

Fun with Satellites

Drew prides itself on its incorporation of technology into learning. Me too...or maybe it's more accurate to say that I just like playing with computer stuff.

In any case, I'm incorporating a few fun technologies into the dig and courses for this summer, mainly to do with mapping. The first one relies on all those satellites the U.S. has put around the planet in order to provide itself (and incidentally the rest of us) with a fairly good idea of our position on the globe. These Global Positioning Satellites provide a constant stream of data that can be read with all sorts of GPS devices, and now I've got three of these babies: the GT-31 from Locosys. (I got mine from The Midwest Speed Quest link on that page. This is a windsurfing site: these units are waterproof and float.)

They don't show maps like the units found in cars, but they do track and store your position so that you can download it later. In fact you can create multiple tracks and save them onto an internal SD card for transfer to your computer. On your computer, you can run some free software that converts these files into numerous formats, including Google Earth's native kml and the file format for OpenStreetMap.org, which is how we're going to use them in Italy, but more on that another time.

Meanwhile, here's a screen shot from Google Earth. I got hungry and went to get some hot-and-sour soup (gratuitous unnecessary personal information, just like a real blog!), and took along the GPS unit. You can see that my path isn't perfectly mapped - I didn't stagger all over the street on my way there - but it isn't bad either. (Click on it to download the Google Earth file.)