Some essential tools on my field trips – iPhone apps

I was Lim Chu Kang East mangrove with a bunch of teachers and on the journey there, I talked about essential tools for a field trip – on my iPhone, and the list wasn’t short:

  1. Google Maps – which I use to determine my present location, intersecting streams along the way cursed to eternity as monsoon canals, as well as a measurement of the distance my route and approximate arrival time, and an indication of traffic conditions, which I monitored to see if we needed to divert the driver,
  2. Runkeeper – an easy interface with which to initiate a plot of my route which I did, in case I need to share a location with someone, or simply remember it, or to add and tag a photo to a location, which I did of the new Kranj Countryside marker no. 4 below. There are also more sophisticated tools like Motion-X GPS
  3. iPhone’s compass – I didn’t talk about this but when I’m in a dense patch of secondary forest, I have used the iPhone’s compass to reorientate myself. I do keep a proper compass in my field pack always but I’ve not had to use that in a long time. Explore the iTunes Store for more nice interfaces like Digital Compass Free, Free HD Compass and so do explore Apps Store!
  4. WeatherLah – this helpfully projected a sound of crackling thunder and loud enough to alert me despite my focus on the class. The early warning about the possibility of an oncoming storm and its attendant dangers of lightning strike on the mudflats, or falling branches and trees in the mangrove prevented me from being caught off guard.
  5. SG Weather – this projects NEA’s rain cloud radar map which I used to determine the size of the thundercloud, its speed and angle of approach. In this case it was enough for me to determine that the scary dark clouds would fade away, so I could proceed safely with the coastal cleanup demonstration and ntohave to evacuate them.
  6. Dengue Lah – early warning if there is a dengue cluster in an area I might venture into. If there are two cases in a 150m radius within 14 days, I alert students and volunteers to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Most times it is the densely populated urban areas with enough of trash catching rain water which pose a bigger threat.
  7. Twitter – because photos and comments can be shared on twitter immediately (like the photo of trash on the stream below) as well as comments like the fact that I had filled three trash bags in 15 minutes (which I had counted and categorised using the ICCS data card). The tweet was ported to Facebook immediately and there friends were more comfortable to comment, raising awareness in the process.
  8. Twitter in combination with BackUpMyTweets, provides for a virtual and brief field notebook.
  9. All that technology (especially the GPS) needs juice and I have a Choiix Power Fort 5600mAh external battery charger which keeps the iPhone going for two additional charge cycles.

This is why I finally bought an iPhone, it is really cheap for a mobile computer. What else do you bring along on your field trip?

Update (10 Oct 2012), a couple more to add:

  • CleanLah for photo-reports of trash and other problems direct to NEA
  • St. John’s Ambulance First Aid for quick information on First Aid, it’s a good way to get or stay familiar with procedures
  • Pocket OneMap, which uses the Singapore government’s map, critical when iOS6 messed up access to Google Maps. OneMap keeps improving and agencies all use this.
LCK East coastal cleanup
Where I walked in Lim Chu Kang East mangrove on 26 Jun 2012.

Kranji Heritage Trail No 4
A new marker – Kranji Heritage Trail marker No. 4,
courtesy of the Kranji Countryside Association.

All that technology…in the end it still requires human motivation to do something about the accumulated trash in the mangrove. This was a 30-minute demo exercise for a class of MOE teachers and we discussed pollution, urbanisation, maps, impact to ecosystems, causes and solutions back in NUS later.

I’ll return to Lim Chu Kang East mangrove in September with a veritable army for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, but I feel like going back there right now to finish the job. We have such few precious patches of mangrove that I feel uncomfortable about the bulk of the mess still lying there, barely floating in that choked up mangrove stream.

Twitter - LCK East mangrove stream
Mother Nature all choked to the brim – no really,
there’ a mangrove stream beneath all this!
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