Monday, February 24, 2014

How to map your FourSquare data

I use FourSquare, not for the mayor-ships, or the points (although they are fun) but as a bit of history in my travels.  It’s easier to check in somewhere, then write it down the location and map it later.  My goal has always been to get some form of map with push pins in it.  Sure FourSquare provides a bit of history, but the map is SUPER tiny, and very hard to use

FourSquare activity - actual size

I’ve tried a bunch of solutions, usually provided by LifeHacker (one of my favourite websites), and they’ve all been just ok.  I think I’ve finally found a solution, that based on my check-in frequency, works for me.  LifeHacker posted a link to Billy Burle’s blog (follow BillyBurle here).  Billy had a blog post on How to Create a Heat Map of your FourSquare check-ins using Google Fusion Tables.  It’s quite frankly, awesome, but needed some adjustments.  I can get push-pins, or heat maps with this approach!  For example, here is my push-pin history for 2013:

Pushpin history

Or a Heat map of my travels to Seattle

Heat Map

Are you a map geek and want to do this?  So here is how…

Step 1: Obtain your check-in history from FourSquare

First you need to get your FourSquare check in history.  For this I browsed to my FourSquare Feeds, and got the URL for my KML feed.  It has a unique character set in it, because that’s your private feed.

Clicking the link will give you the last 50 or so check-ins.  what I did was right click on the link and say “Copy” url, pasted it into the address bar, then at the end of the URL I added the text “?count=1000” to get the last 1000 items (1000 is a key number in a lower step).  This will download a .kml file with the file name patching that crazy string character set in the URL.  I renamed mine to “Foursquare Data 2013”, just to make it easier to find.  Since I stored the .kml files for use if a better solution comes up down the road.

Step 2: Prepare the KML file to have only the years data

It’s pretty unlikely that you checked in exactly 1000 times in a given year, but in Step 1 we downloaded exactly 1000 historical check-ins.  So let’s make that exactly the year.  What I did (and I’m trying to figure out how to automated some of this) is to open the .kml file I downloaded in Notepad (I also turned on “word wrap”, since the file is one line, that’s 1000s of characters long).  I searched for “31 Dec” (or “30 Dec” or the last day you checked in on the previous year).  Then I scanned backwards in the file from that last check-in from the previous year until I found the “</Placemark><Placemark>”.  This is the end of the first check in of the current year, and the start of the last check in of the previous year.  I put my cursor between “><” characters and scrolled to the bottom of the document.  I then held shift and clicked between the “><” of the “</Placemark></Folder>”.  I then hit delete.  The end of the file should still look like “</Placemark></Folder></kml>”, but now everthing from the beginning of the document to the end of the document is exactly the current year you wish to display. 

The reason you need to do this, is because the Fusion Tables (at least as far as I can tell) have a hard coded limit of 1000 objects in them. So by limiting it to the year, I noticed in 2013, I had 783 check-ins, which is well under the 1000 limit.  But if I included 2010-2014 (my entire life of FourSquare check ins (obtained by adding to the URL: ?Count=10000”), I had 1723 check ins, and I was missing a bunch of data, hence my decision to break it up by year.  You may have to break it up further if you’re a FourSquare fanatic.

Step 3: Prepare Google Drive if you haven’t already

This was my first time using Google Drive, and as such, this is a one-time step I did for each year I imported.  I have OneDrive, where most of my online data is stored and I have a Home Server where my local data is stored, so I haven’t needed it. So I logged into my Google Drive account, and needed to add Fusion tables.  I clicked the down arrow on the settings gear ( Gear) and chose Manage Apps, then clicked on Connect more apps in the pop-up window.  In the search box I typed “fusion table”, and it was the only one I could install.  I installed it.  At the time of writing it is an experimental app…. which I figure is just typical of Google.  Is anything ever really out of Beta with them? ;o)

Step 4: Importing the data into a Fusion Table

This is where Billy Burle’s blog post really shines (I had to figure out all the above), and even helped in the comment section of Billy’s post with the data.  So here is the fun part

  1. Click on the Create Button
  2. Choose to create a new Fusion Table (experimental) Create / Fusion Table
  3. Choose to upload a file from your computer by clicking Choose File and select the file that you created and edited in step 1 and 2, then click Next Choose File
  4. On the import new table row, I just click Next again and leave the columns as is Column Headers
  5. On the final page, I give it a good friendly Table Name, and click Finish Import Finish

That’s it, now you have a new Fusion table.  Ready to see your check-in history?  Check out the Map of Geometry page, and now you can play around with the map, and choose the Feature Map (default) which is the push-pin view, or the Heatmap view:

Map of Geometry

Last but not least, if you ever want to revisit your data, just hit up your Google Drive and select the fusion table and it’s all saved there for you for that year.  So you can quickly pull it up at a map-tastic party.  What’s also awesome, is if you have a Windows 8.1 tablet (Like a Surface 2) then you can also just get the Windows Google Drive Client, and show it there instantly.  Works like it does on the web!

Enjoy and have fun with your data!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Backing up your Contacts from the Cloud

I can’t stress how important backing up is, I even have a special tag just for tips and tricks with backup, across various technology. 

So you might think, well, my contacts are *in* the cloud, so they are safe right?  Wrong!  If you don’t take backups into your own hands, you can have issues down the road, even with all the resiliency built into these Cloud services, you can loose data, here are just a few ways:

  • The Delete key could get stuck on your wireless keyboard and end up deleting a majority of your contacts in an instant, which then syncs to your service and then instantly to all your devices (this happens in my inbox all the time when my keyboard battery is low). (don’t have this? learn how to set it up here)
  • You could get hacked, be that @Matt or @N style, or simply by a script kiddy (you’ve enabled 2-factor authentication for your account already right? (,
  • You could get a virus that deletes, corrupts or worse (encrypts) your data so you can’t access it
  • You could cause yourself to get locked out of your account, maybe because you broke the Terms of Use?
  • The cloud service can make a mistake and delete your files (although it’s likely they can get it back, this is hours of support calls)

So, it’s in your best interest to do your own backup, and manage your data on your own, even in a cloud service.  I keep my Contacts in the cloud and I backup periodically (manually, but all the same, it’s periodically).  What would be great if these services did this monthly and emailed it to you…. a request in progress!

This is how I do it with

  • Browse on over to and log in
  • On the title bar at the top, choose Manage and click on Export for use with and other services. People Export
  • This will prompt you to download (or automatically download) a file called OutlookContacts.csv. which is a coma separated values file that contains pretty much every important field that is in your contacts.  This is what you have to save in a safe place.

If you loose your contacts for whatever reason, you can use this file to work on importing them into another app or the same service but different account, etc.

This is how I do it with

  • Browse on over to and log in
  • On the More drop down, select Export… to start the process Contacts Export
  • Choose the best format that you want to export in.  I think that Outlook CSV is the most widely used format, but you may wish to export in all formats, or specific formats to meet your needs. Export Contacts
  • This will prompt you to download a contacts.csv (or automatically download it), and this is the file you want to keep safe. 

There are multiple ways to import these files if your data is lost… more on that to come, but at least you doing this if only once a year, will save you a lot of hassle if you run into trouble.