This Tool Creates a Heat Map of All the Places You've Visited

Screenshot of the Location History Visualizer tool
Screenshot of the Location History Visualizer tool

Can’t remember the address of that cafe you visited five years ago? Want to keep track of all the places you’ve visited around the world? Perhaps you just want to know how much Google knows about your whereabouts. (Hint: It’s a lot.)

A tool spotted by Lifehacker lets you download your entire Google location history and neatly present it in a “heat map,” with different colored blobs representing the places you’ve been. It’s called the Location History Visualizer, and although the company charges a one-time fee for premium features, the heat map tool is free.

“Everyone deserves to know what data is being collected about them, without having to fiddle with cryptic pieces of software,” according to the description on GitHub, where the data for the open-source project is being hosted. The steps are simple to follow, but it may take a while to download your location history, depending on how far and wide you’ve traveled.

You’ll want to keep two tabs open: the Google Takeout website and the Location History Visualizer site. On Google Takeout, choose “select none” at the top of the page, then toggle “location history” only. After hitting “next,” you’ll be prompted to choose the file type, archive size, and delivery method, but the default settings are suitable for most people’s needs. Finally, click “create archive” and download the file.

When it’s ready, you’ll click the Location History folder, then drag the LocationHistory.json file and drop it onto the Location History Visualizer page (alternately, you can upload it). Simply submit your email and your personalized heat map will be ready to view. You can drag and zoom in just like you would use Google Maps, but keep in mind that any places you visited in foreign countries will be presented in the local language.

As Lifehacker notes, you (and Google, of course) are the only ones that will be able to see your location data. According to an AP investigation, Google tracks the location of those with Android phones, as well as iPhone users who have Google Maps installed. Turning off Location History doesn’t stop you from being tracked, either. If you feel a little weirded out after seeing how much data Google has on you, you can put an end to it by changing the Web & App Activity settings in your Google Account. Check out this step-by-step guide from Wired for detailed instructions.

[h/t Lifehacker]

10 Simple Tricks for Charging Your Smartphone Faster

Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images
Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images

Smartphones always seem to reach low power at the least convenient moments possible. If you've ever urged your device to charge faster in the minutes before a phone interview or when you're about to board a plane, you can relate. While the easiest way to avoid this scenario is to plug in your device before the battery dips into the danger zone, if you've already reached this point, there are simple ways to speed up the charging process.

Some hacks for charging a phone faster involve steps you can take in anticipation of the next time you're surviving on minimum energy. Certain gadgets, like special chargers and battery packs, will power-up your device more efficiently than others. For moments when your phone is dying and all you have is your regular charging cable, adjusting your phone's settings to minimize the power it consumes also works in a pinch.

You can find some specific ways to charge your phone quickly below: 

  1. Plug it into a wall outlet instead of a USB port.
  1. Use a portable battery pack.
  1. Buy a special "fast" phone charger.
  1. Switch to low power mode.
  1. Switch to airplane mode.
  1. Let your phone drain completely on its own once a month to the extend the battery life.
  1. Close any background apps.
  1. Stop automatic app updates.
  1. Don't check your phone while it's charging
  1. Keep your phone out of the heat.

For more tricks for making your phone usage more efficient, check out these tips for typing faster.

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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