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Monday, 11 June 2007

Geeking out

I tried to find a map of the national fietsroutsen. First I went to the fnac. A thought occurred to me. They have GPSes! I made a mental list of the features I want:

  • small
  • light
  • tough - crash resistant and weather proof
  • mounts on handlebars
  • has color graphic of a map
  • has map of national bike routes

But wait, why am I carrying around this giant computer if I could have a tiny one? A cheaper one that's not also my musical instrument?

  • USB in for a real keyboard
  • drivers to get data from my digital camera
  • a text editor (feature set for this to follow)
  • wifi - so I can upload my text and pictures to my blog
  • bluetooth to talk to my cell phone (or USB is also ok)

When I was a kid, my dad worked as a hardware engineer in silicon valley. He told stories about many interesting folks he met through his work. One of the guys he met was one of the first mobile computing people. He rode his bicycle around the US, towing a computer. This was in the 1980's, before things were overly mobile. He had a wireless connection via satellite. And instead of blogging, he wrote tech columns. While biking. He had an awesome keyboard: seven switches on his handlebars. He memorized the ascii code sequence for the alphabet and for punctuation marks and typed in the code directly via the switches. I want this keyboard. I acknowledge that I will have to build it myself.

But if you can type and bike at the same time, why not make a text editor especially suited to this? First of all, if you're typing like this, you don't want to have to hit save, so you shouldn't have to. It should just save diffs automatically. And those diffs should have a time stamp and also a location stamp. Because it's a GPS. If you write something about how lovely the wildflowers look, it would know where you wrote that. I acknowledge that I may have to write it myself, so the computer better take third party applications.

In fact, why not correlate the GPS coordinates with all your data? If you synch the time between the bike computer and your camera, you can put an exact location on every photo.

So I flagged down a fnac clerk and explained that I wanted a small computer for my bike that had maps, knew where I was, would talk to my phone, and could have a keyboard attached. He told me no such thing exists. I don't believe him because I went later into a travel store to find a compass (the McGyver method of finding north with an anlog watch doesn't work so well on cloudy days) and I saw they had a CD ROM of all the bike routes in Belgium.

While I'm thinking of the bike computer of d00m, it should have other features, like remembering my route, knowing witch way is north, calculating my speed and distance for the day and other, probably standard GPS features. But why stop there? It should communicate with Google Earth / Google maps and be able to download and deal with third party content from these services. If I want to make out a fietsroute myself, I should be able to mark every sign on the route with the device and then upload it to google maps or online bicycle communities.

So, any of you geeks out there, what should I get? A Palm with a GPS attachment? I don't want to break the bank, but I don't want to break my mac either. I'm really lucky it still works after I crashed the other day. I will make certain to always cushion it with bread and oranges, but it's too useful to me to risk in this way. I mean, why do I need a super-powerful computer to catalog photos, create text and surf the internet? A tiny, smaller thing should be fine. I'm taking suggestions.

1 comment:

Graham said...

Fantastic story, about the silicon valley text editing bike engineer. Not sure what would match it in this day and age, but I'm sure there is something. Mobile computing has come a long way.