Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Using aprs.fi for SAR, ARES or other public service work? Let me know!

I know some of you use aprs.fi while doing volunteer search-and-rescue operations, ARES or other public service work.

If you wish to keep doing so as before, with the convenience of Google Maps, I need you to tell me and everyone else about your use. In writing. Please.

Put up a blog post or write about it on your volunteer organisation's web page. Send me an email pointing to the document. Write about what you are doing, where, when, and how aprs.fi is useful in what you do. Practical examples of real events are probably most useful.

This is important, since Google is going to start charging for the usage of their Maps API, which until now has been free for sites which are open and free to use (like aprs.fi). 

The charging is based on the amount of map loads. aprs.fi currently opens up the real-time map almost 42,000 times per day (when nothing special  happens). According to the new Google Maps terms, up to 25,000 map loads  per day is free, the rest will cost $4 per 1000 map loads. That amounts up to $68 per day, $2040 per month for me. No, I don't make that much from the advertisements. And there are some other costs involved in running such a site too (computer hardware, hosting, domain names, programming beer, to name a few).

"We will then start billing excess usage to your credit card when we begin enforcing the usage limits in early 2012." (the blog post)

The only real options seem to switching away from Google Maps to something else, or getting aprs.fi to qualify as being "in the public interest":

"Non-profits and applications deemed in the public interest (as determined by Google at its discretion) are not subject to these usage limits. For example, a disaster relief map is not subject to the usage limits even if it has been developed and/or is hosted by a commercial entity." (FAQ)

A lot of you will probably suggest switching to OSM. This is one option, but it has a few drawbacks:
  • Address/place search isn't as good
  • No  Street View, worse Satellite view, no Terrain view
  • Less coverage in the countryside
  • Takes a lot of work from me to switch from Google's API to OSM's API (aprs.fi uses the Google Maps API for a lot of things, like drawing lines & circles and placing car symbols on the map and presenting menus and pop-up balloons)
  • OSM's map tile servers can't take the load - Lynn just got a note from OSM folks that APRSISCE/32 should make "other arrangements" and not download the maps directly from OSM. I would expect aprs.fi to generate even more load, and I'd probably have to run my own map server (which would take a significant amount of work and money, and it'd be much slower than Google's map servers).
This, and other options, are discussed on the aprs.fi discussion group.

So, I'll have to try to get in the "public interest" category. It might help if you could document your real usage in "disaster relief" and other public service work in writing. You can find my email address from the blogger profile (on the right side, scroll down to "about me", view my complete profile, contact, email).

Thank you!

9 comments:

Dan, KK7DS said...

Aiee! I think that aprs.fi is ubiquitous enough that you'll likely get the consideration that you need to keep it running. If not:

1. I would donate

2. I think we should consider crowdsourcing a "OSM tile pool service" of some sort, like the NTP pool. I too use OSM in my application (D-RATS) and would like to see their tile service become more robust. I (and I'm sure others) would contribute server space and bandwidth to host the tiles and be included in a weighted round-robin scheme that I think would work quite nicely.

-KK7DS

KT5TK said...

Is there a way to distribute the aprs.fi user interface to multiple servers around the world? There are enough radio amateurs out there that may be willing to supply a server hardware and each may have his own personal Google key that splits up the usage below the 25 k limit.
Just a thought. Anyways, good luck with getting the consideration approved!

KT5TK

oh7lzb said...

Dan: (1) I don't think there would be enough donations in the long run.
(2) Yeah. There are currently a lot of people looking for OSM tile pools, so we'll need to evaluate whether we (ham software developers like yourself, Lynn and I) should run a pool of our own and somehow restrict access to it, or whether we should join some other pool which would be managed by somebody else. The latter might save some management work, if there would be a good server community to join.

KT5K: I did think of that, and it was suggested on the discussion group. I don't think that's a good idea, as it would be:

(1) cumbersome for the users, "what's up with these 10 different sites which are almost the same but not quite"

(2) cumbersome for me to maintain a large amount of installations all around

(3) it might not gain anything, as it would be just a technical trick to try and get around Google's terms wording, and they might see it as such, and just treat the pool as a single service anyway.

Here's the discussion.

KB3QLD said...

Here is how I use APRS in Search & Rescue (SAR), ARES and RACE-

SAR- I utilize this digital format and the associated map on Google to keep logs and determine my status when traveling to and from trainings, searches, and other events. I do know of some volunteer teams who cannot afford to purchase expensive software have their members get amateur radio license and then use APRS with Google Maps to track their team while in the field training and on SAR calls.

ARES/RACE-
1. Each year many hams volunteer for regional MS 150 events (bible event that raises money for Multiple Sclerosis). During this event, we utilize APRS and Google maps to track our support vehicles, ride leaders and other race officials.
2. I have not personally volunteered but I know the Pittsburgh Marathon and Great Race uses many Ham operators with APRS and Google to track the top runners, aid stations, and other officials.
3. During disaster training and drills many of our county ARES/RACE members run APRS with Google to track our stations and where we all are at during the drill. We are an evacuation county for the neighboring county that has a nuclear facility and APRS along with NBEMS are tools that are essential to our plans and operations if we ever have to help with an evacuation of the neighboring county.

Michael said...

Can we collectively and individually appeal on your (an our) behalf to Google? A petition or some such in addition to the reports of public service use you are soliciting?

AC0G

Sparqi said...

Maybe you can route your Google API queries through an proxy service like TOR. This would spread the load while still giving you central control.

Another alternative would be to set up via volunteers in the ham community a form of TOR proxy, but limited to queries from aprs.fi.

oh7lzb said...

A few hams from within Google have already responded, and it seems very likely that aprs.fi will get whitelisted as a "public service for the common good" and get a larger free quota.

I have also received a few good testimonials about SAR use, which will also be useful for the above to happen.

So no public petition should be necessary at this point.

Sparqi: My servers actually do not make any API queries to Google at all. That's now how it works. It's the end user's web browsers talking to google to get the maps and other API functions, and the web browsers tell Google (in the Referer header) that they're using the API while using aprs.fi. So no, TOR would not help at all. Besides, this goes to the same category of doing ugly technical tricks to get around the technical limits, which would in no way change the fact that aprs.fi *is* using Google's Maps API and is subject to the legal terms. And TOR's performance sucks too much for serious use. :)

Parker said...

As a Public Service, I'd suggest encouraging students to pursue careers in science and engineering. For example, my students in our college's "Near Space Exploration Club" have been very turned-on by following K6RPT-11 on aprs.fi. FYI, here's a link to our website: http://elearning.linnbenton.edu/course/view.php?id=1110
73, Parker KO7Q

JCS said...

I'm writing an extensive letter of support from Wright State University on behalf of the great number of educators using aprs.fi for high altitude ballooning as an educational tool. WHere do I send it, and to whom do I address it?