Cell phones could have been invented for farmers, just to make it possible to get in touch with spouses who are in town on one errand and vector them off on another — for a hundred pounds of chick starter, say. I got my first cell phone after moving back to the country.
Eventually I’ll have an iPhone, but the first rule of rural cell-phones is, “Use the carrier with the strongest signal at your house.” For me, that’s Verizon. For the iPhone, I’d need AT&T, and their signal stinks out here.
But I digress. I was going to talk about the iPod Touch, which pretends to be an MP3 player but is really a PDA, portable Web browser, video player, and many other things.
With the new 2.0 software release, the iPod Touch has suddenly become a very capable machine. It connects easily to the corporate email of my day job at Citrix Systems, so I can check my mail wherever I am, if there’s a wireless signal. And there generally is, these days. And I’m delighted by OmniFocus, a fancy task manager for the iPod Touch and iPhone you can download for twenty bucks.
The iPod Touch uses any available wireless access point to figure out where you are (this works even if you can’t connect to the access point). This is integrated with Google Maps and OmniFocus. Google Maps can give you directions and do location-based searches from where you are. OmniFocus can give you to-do lists (like shopping lists, sorted nearest-first. Very handy.
The technology for this is based on a huge database of wireless access point locations, that were compiled by having people drive up and down every highway and every street in every town. Wireless access points broadcast their Ethernet addresses even when they have been secured in every other way, so every one of them acts as a beacon. If you can hear just one access point, you know where you are in general terms. With three, you can use triangulation to pinpoint your location. All of this is done automatically in the software.
The process is very accurate — so accurate that if I put an access point in my barn, it could probably pinpoint my location on the farm, so if I’m on the back forty, the back-forty to-do items would jump to the top of the list.
Now, if you’re in the country, the drivers haven’t bumped down your road, so your wireless access point isn’t in the database. But this has been taken care of, too. Skyhook Wireless (the people who are doing all the driving and maintaining the location database) has a page where you can submit locations of access points not on their list. I’ve submitted mine! It takes a variable amount of time for the results to show up. My iPod Touch still doesn’t know where it is when I’m home.
If you’re going to use an iPod Touch or iPhone while doing chores, like I do (I listen to audiobooks all the time — right now I’m listening to “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote), get a rubber cover and a screen protector for it so it will bounce instead of breaking, and so it doesn’t get exposed to too much dampness. I use a ShieldZone Top Skin and have been very happy with it.