I’m sitting in a Sichuan bar in Philadelphia.
This is what I text my friend Hannah, who is in Leeds. I’ve just had lunch, she’s burrowed into work for the evening but is procrastinating, had texted for help in focusing. We chat via text message. And she asks me what I can see, in fact to send her a picture.
So I send this.
We carry on chatting. But a short while later, she drops into the conversation:
By the way, the restaurant you’re in is very aptly named.
Which makes me start. The restaurant is called Han Dynasty, but however apt, how can Hannah know this? I know she’s good at this kind of thing, one of the very best in fact, but I can’t see the tell. I’m looking at the view from the seat where I took the photo. Are there any menus in view? Is the name of the restaurant in the menu? Or is she just blagging? I quiz her but she won’t reveal her methods.
So I test her by dropping in the wrong name.
I can’t see anything in the photo that gives away it’s called Hannu.
No response, that was a bit clumsy anyway. And then she asks me what I ordered. I tell her what I ate – mapo tofu, scallion pancake, spicy crispy cucumber – missing out one meaty ingredient as a further test (she’s vegetarian).
Mapo tofu with minced pork? she asks
You’ve bloody got a menu open…
She denies it, but a little dig back at her about the meaty 4th item in the cold appetisers – rabbit with a chilli peanut sauce – and I know she can see it, which means she knows which restaurant. But how the hell has she worked out I’m here? I’m wondering about metadata. I ask her where I should walk from here.
Definitely the Independence Seaport Museum. Since it’s only 8mins walk away.
She knows my location. There are a number of branches of Han Dynasty in Philadelphia, but she knows I’m in the Chestnut Street branch, a short walk from the river. Which means that somehow she knows my location. It’s not just the words Han Dynasty somewhere in the photo that I missed.
It must be metadata, I decide. I google “geolocation data iPhone photo” and I find a page that makes my head spin and want to check my phone settings. But I’m pretty sure that’s how she’s done it.
I’ve walked down Chestnut to a bridge over a highway, and then down towards the river. The museum is on Penn’s Landing.
She’s been quiet. I send a picture of my progress.
And she replies.
Sorry battery died. Anyway, there’s a lovely exhibition about candy at the Seaport Museum. Go get me a souvenir 🙂
I don’t go into the museum itself, time pressing, but to the shop. No candy to match the contents of the exhibition, but I buy and bag a few small things and start walking back towards town. She’s curious as to what I’ve bought her.
I say: I’m just relieved you didn’t hack the CCTV.
She replies: There’s a boat shop webcam. Sadly can’t see you. In the boat shop, where they build the boats.
I google for myself and sure enough.
It’s just a snap a minute or something
If you stayed in front of one of the cams for 2 mins I would see you haha
But I’m not sure this is public access. There might be a way though.
I walk back to the museum and approach the man on the gate. He turns out to be the manager, C. I tell him I’ve a pretty peculiar request, and I understand if it’s out of the question, but a friend of mine back in the UK has been texting me, has found the online webcam for the boat shop, and asked me if I can wave to her from it.
He screws up his face to take it all in. Then grins and beckons me to follow. As we go, C explains that he is an Anglophile and a Beatles fan, and has been to England on a pilgrimage to Liverpool.
The boat shop is in the back of the museum. There are several boats in process of construction. C asks the staff where the webcam is and they point to a beam up above. I think I’m in shot.
I can see legs!
I check the webcam myself and there are what look like my legs. So I make my way into the middle and carry on chatting to C and the other staff for a few minutes. These are skiffs, made from cedar wood, being built as part of a schools project – how amazing is that…
And a buzz.
Got ya! Haha best thing ever!
Is that for me in that bag?!;)
I check the webcam again. Not my best shot, but it will do. She’s tweeted it already.
Five days later I’m in Leeds. I’d flown back from Philly, gone straight to Bradford for a workshop, and stopped off to see Hannah and hand over her presents, but on condition she reveals her method for pinning me in the Han Dynasty on Chestnut Street. I’m ready to bet on the geolocation metadata but I’m wrong; what she eventually confesses is to me even more astounding –
– and if you want to take a guess as to how, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Right or no, I’ll tell you.