BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for March 2012

Why does Facebook think Birmingham is a small village in Worcestershire?

David Gregory | 13:32 UK time, Thursday, 15 March 2012

Facebook on a mobile phone

We're having a bit of fun with Facebook today and its apparent inability to correctly locate users. It's pretty common if you update your status in Birmingham to find it labelled as coming from Chaddesley Corbett a lovely village in Worcestershire about 16 miles away.

It's a problem experienced by viewers on our Facebook page too. You told us that the website often puts you anything between 20 and 187 miles away from their true location.

So why does it happen? Well anything connected to the internet has an IP address which as you might expect allows other computers to work out where it is, at least in cyberspace. Trouble is using an IP address for a physical location may lead you to the sort of problems Facebook is experiencing.

When I post from Facebook at work (in my break obviously) then I'm often tagged in Bloomsbury in London. And by using an online tool like "What is my" you can see that's where my work computer has it's IP address. Some BBC server in London. Makes sense in cyberspace, produces a bit of a disconnect in the real world.

Facebook told us;

"Facebook's mobile app uses positioning data provided by the phone's operating system. This is compared to a database of place names. Occasionally, inaccurate results will be returned. We are constantly working to refine the technology."

And given our apparent insatiable desire to tell Facebook everything about us sooner or later things will certainly improve. Which of course will allow Facebook to target us with ads even more effectively.

Which just leaves one puzzle. I can understand how an IP address in Birmingham leads to a server in London. What I really don't understand is why Birmingham sometimes becomes Chaddesley Corbett? Is there some massive server farm or internet node I don't know about in the sleep Worcestershire village? If you know more hit me up in the comments.

Monkey movement

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David Gregory | 17:10 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

So today I've been filming at the University of Birmingham where they've been simulating treetops and monkeys. Using experts in parkour or "free running" to pretend to be orangutans who then have to navigate the university gym while wearing scientific equipment.

Turns out real apes don't like wearing masks and computers to monitor their CO2 and oxygen levels and hence energy used swinging through the trees. But Brendon from EMP Parkour is happy to oblige and also to mimic monkey movement. Turns out he tries to copy what gibbons do for some moves anyway.

In the past researchers have used rock climbers for this sort of study, but the movement of parkour is a closer fit to how apes really behave.

The aim is to understand how the behaviour of orangutans is shaped by the energy needed for some movement which is in turn shaped by the environment and available food. It might also reveal something about how our evolutionary ancestors moved as well.

It was certainly an entertaining morning and there's some great footage from the minicam Brendon wore on his head during one run. Watch it here.

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