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Antisocial Activity Tracking

A GPS track provides useful a useful log of physical activities. Beyond simply recording a route, the series of coordinate and time mappings allow statistics like distance, speed, elevation, and time to be calculated. I recently decided that I wanted to start recording this information, but I was not interested in any of the plethora of social, cloud-based services that are hip these days. A simple GPX track gives me all the information I care about, and I don’t have a strong desire to share them with a third party provider or a social network.

Recording Tracks

The discovery of GPSLogger is what made me excited to start this project. A simple but powerful Android application, GPSLogger will log to a number of different formats and, when a track is complete, automatically distribute it. This can be done by uploading the file to a storage provider, emailing it, or posting it to a custom URL. It always logs in metric units but optionally displays in Imperial.

What makes GPSLogger really stand out are its performance features. It allows very fine-grained control over GPS use, which allows tracks to be recorded for extended periods of times (such as days) with a negligible impact on battery usage.

For activities like running, shorter hikes and bicycle rides I tend to err on the side of accuracy. I set GPSLogger to log a coordinate every 10 seconds, with a minimum distance of 5 meters between points and a minimum accuracy of 10 meters. It will try to get a fix for 120 seconds before timing out, and attempt to meet the accuracy requirement for 60 seconds before giving up.

For a longer day-hike, the time between points could be increased to something in the neighborhood of 60 seconds. For a multi-day backpacking trip, a setting of 10 minutes or more would still provide great enough accuracy to make for a useful record of the route. I’ve found that being able to control these settings really opens up a lot of tracking possibilities that I would otherwise not consider for fear of battery drain.

GPSLogger

Storing Tracks

After a track has been recorded, I transfer it to my computer and store it with git-annex.

Everything in my home directory that is not a temporary file is stored either in git or git-annex. By keeping my tracks in an annex rather than directly in git, I can take advantage of git-annex’s powerful metadata support. GPSLogger automatically names tracks with a time stamp, but the annex for my tracks is also configured to automatically set the year and month when adding files.

$ cd ~/tracks
$ git config annex.genmetadata true

After moving a track into the annex, I’ll tag it with a custom activity field, with values like run, hike, or bike.

$ git annex metadata --set activity=bike 20150725110839.gpx

I also find it useful to tag tracks with a gross location value so that I can get an idea of where they were recorded without loading them on a map. Counties tend to work well for this.

$ git annex metadata --set county=sanfrancisco 20150725110839.gpx

Of course, a track may span multiple counties. This is easily handled by git-annex.

$ git annex metadata --set county+=marin 20150725110839.gpx

One could also use fields to store location values such as National Park, National Forest or Wilderness Area.

Metadata Views

The reason for storing metadata is the ability to use metadata driven views. This allows me to alter the directory structure of the annex based on the metadata. For instance, I can tell git-annex to show me all tracks grouped by year followed by activity.

$ git annex view "year=*" "activity=*"
$ tree -d
.
└── 2015
    ├── bike
    ├── hike
    └── run

Or, I could ask to see all the runs I went on this July.

$ git annex view year=2015 month=07 activity=run

I’ve found this to be a super powerful tool. It gives me the simplicity and flexibility of storing the tracks as plain-text on the filesystem, with some of the querying possibilities of a database. Its usefulness is only limited by the metadata stored.

Viewing Tracks

For simple statistics, I’ll use the gpxinfo command provided by gpxpy. This gives me the basics of time, distance and speed, which is generally all I care about for something like a weekly run.

$ gpxinfo 20150725110839.gpx
File: 20150725110839.gpx
    Length 2D: 6.081km
    Length 3D: 6.123km
    Moving time: 00:35:05
    Stopped time: n/a
    Max speed: 3.54m/s = 12.74km/h
    Total uphill: 96.50m
    Total downhill: 130.50m
    Started: 2015-07-25 18:08:45
    Ended: 2015-07-25 18:43:50
    Points: 188
    Avg distance between points: 32.35m

    Track #0, Segment #0
        Length 2D: 6.081km
        Length 3D: 6.123km
        Moving time: 00:35:05
        Stopped time: n/a
        Max speed: 3.54m/s = 12.74km/h
        Total uphill: 96.50m
        Total downhill: 130.50m
        Started: 2015-07-25 18:08:45
        Ended: 2015-07-25 18:43:50
        Points: 188
        Avg distance between points: 32.35m

For a more detailed inspection of the tracks, I opt for Viking. This allows me to load the tracks and view the route on a OpenStreetMap map (or any number of other map layers, such as USGS quads or Bing aerial photography). It includes all the detailed statistics you could care about extracting from a GPX track, including pretty charts of elevation, distance, time and speed.

If I want to view the track on my phone before I’ve transferred it to my computer, I’ll load it in either BackCountry Navigator or OsmAnd, depending on what kind of map layers I am interested in seeing. For simply viewing the statistics of a track on the phone, I go with GPS Visualizer (by the same author as GPSLogger).

Rucksack Run

Yesterday I felt that I was becoming too complacent on my runs. I needed something to increase the challenge. So, this morning I tossed 20 lbs. into the FAST Pack and strapped it on. That made things interesting.

Rucksack Run

Dry heaving is a measure of success.

Motivation

Occasionally I get asked what motivates me to run on a regular basis. For me, running is fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. During the run, I take pleasure in partaking in an activity that I believe Homo sapien sapien was designed to do, and after the run my body feels better.

If that’s not enough, try this: In his autobiography Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Sir Ranulph Fiennes said that, now in his late sixties, the only way he can manage to keep up a decent level of fitness is to run at least 2 hours every other day. I’ll not be physically bested by an old man, even one such as Fiennes!

Spring Training

Last February I began a training ritual in preparation for my anticipated journey to Spain. Every weekend that I could, up to the very time of my departure, I would load up my Kifaru ZXR with the heaviest books I owned till it reached something in the range of 70-80 lbs, then head out the door and hike 15-20 miles. In reality, this is far more weight than I usually carry while traveling and I tend not to walk much more than 15 miles a day. But by pushing my body and mind further than where I actually require it to go, the pleasure, serenity, and ease of travel is heightened.

I find that no amount of running, biking, or light-weight day hiking adequately prepares the body for the weight of the ruck and life on The Road. So, this year, I’m continuing the training. Yesterday was day one. I hadn’t walked under my heavy rucksack for a couple of months, so I started out with something probably closer to 50 lbs and did a 15 mile trip that lacked much elevation change.

It felt good to dust off the rucksack and move around some. At the end of the day, I could feel the strain in my gluteal muscles. Today I’m only a little bit sore. The exercise works and I’m glad of my starting weight and mileage.

In the coming weeks, I’ll increase the weight and mileage until I reach stability. At that point, I’ll keep things interesting by using my GPS to clock my speed and see what I can do about cutting down on time.

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. Henry David Thoreau

My Morning Triathlon

I always run on Saturday morning. When my schedule allows it, I try to get in at least one additional run at some point during the week. The past few months, this didn’t happen very often. Since the new year, my schedule now allows me to run on both Tuesday and Thursday mornings, in addition to the usual Saturdays.

This morning was the first run I had taken in close to a month where it wasn’t raining (or snowing). It was so enjoyable that I decided to add something extra: at the park that marks my half-way point, I stopped and did 45 elevated push-ups off one of the benches before continuing on home. When I first started running again, it actually felt a little easier, since my legs and lungs had gotten about a minute break from the running, but soon after I discovered that my abdominal muscles weren’t too happy with me.

After running on weekdays, I only have about a 20 minute break to take a shower and break-fast before jumping on my bike and pedaling off to work. My morning commute is all up a hill that gets progressively steeper as one gets higher. Over the winter holidays, my office was moved about another half mile up the hill. Rather than riding my bike all the way up, I’ve taken to going up only about halfway, then walking up 55 stairs with the bike on my shoulder.