How to Stumble into Geocaching

Jay Oyster's picture

I've recently taken up the hobby/game/interest/waste-of-time/pursuit(?) of geocaching. So how did this happen? Yet another thing to occupy my already endangered spare time? In hindsight, it seems only natural. It involves technology, being out in the woods, conservationism, exploration, and a childlike sense of wonder. What's truly a wonder is that I didn't stumble into this sooner.  But in my case, it took a nudge from my son and a conversation with my wife to get me off my duff to try it. My son got a treasure map from one of his friend. His father had given him a treasure map a couple of years ago, which led him to a treasure box on their property that was just chock full of gems and doubloons. Liam and his cousin were bouncing off the walls one Saturday about this map, because, you see, the map was BIGGER than just his friend's yard. It also showed areas all the way down to Florida . . and there were other treasures on it! We just about had to tackle them as they were headed out to hitchhike to the Sunshine State. (Not really, they're nine. But I wouldn't have put it past them if they had gotten any more worked up about that map.)

Just about to go down a slippery slope

My wife and I were talking about how fun it was to see Liam and Aidan so excited. I said something about how there's nothing better in the world than that sense of wonder you have as a child. And then my wife said those fateful words, "You know, we could take them geocaching or something, so they can at least find something."  One of our former neighbors had been into this hippy-thing called 'geocaching' and was always going on and on about it. That came to mind, so I looked into it. And a giant, bemusing, out-of-control slippery slope opened up under me and down I went . . . like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in 'Romancing the Stone'.

What is geocaching? Basically, it's a glorified global scavenger hunt, using any GPS-enabled device to guide you. It was started about fifteen years ago by a couple of people in Oregon (naturally) who were into GPS and exploring the natural world. It has now evolved into a global passion followed by millions of people in search of more than 2.6 million individual secret stashes of stuff. Mostly the stuff doesn't matter, it's the hunt that matters. The game is to log into one of the two or three cache tracking websites, find one in the area where you will be travelling, use your iPhone or Garmen to track it down, FIND IT (not always a simple taask), open it, trade stuff for stuff, sign the logbook, put it back where you found it (hopefully hidden even better than when you found it), and finally log your find online. To get the most out of it, you have to pick one of the geocaching communities. There is an Open Caching site and movement, mostly pushed by the GPS maker Garmin, which is sort of like the wild west of geocaching. But 99% of all geocachers use the ones that started it all: Geocaching.com, which is run out of Portland, Oregon by several of the originators of the activity, with their company Groundspeak, Inc. But all of the things you need are at Geocaching.com.

This is the Geocaching.com logo. The symbol often shows up on the side of a cache . . . if you can ever find the damned thingI'm just a baby at this. My score is only 6. That means I've located 6 geocaches, all in my local area, all within the last two weeks. There seem to be thousands in the Atlanta area alone. Heck, I found one less than 1000 feet from our house, and another less than 500 feet from my office. The fun of it is that once you get within about 50 feet of a cache, GPS isn't going to help you much. It isn't that precise . . . and frankly, lots of the people who create these caches are just evil. They go out of their way to make it hard to find them. (Don't get me wrong, most of them aren't that hard. Many of them are obvious once you get nearby. It depends on what the cacher is going for . . . a tricky, clever hide, or just to get you to a beautiful spot out in nature.)

Our two and their three cousins locating their first geocacheLast Sunday, I conned all five boys, our two plus their three cousins, to walk down our street and across Riverside Drive where there is a big wooded 'park'. It's sort of attached to the Roswell Community park system, but not really. It's just a low lying area near the Chattahoochie River. They looked like the cast of Stand By Me. And we went hunting for three geocaches I found on the Geocaching iPhone app. We found two, couldn't find the other. The last one was truly out in the woods, and it was getting kind of late, and the boys were freaking out because . . .well, there's lots of spiders in the woods in Georgia. hee hee hee.

But finding them, especially when their hiding spot is tricky or clever, is just a joy to experience. It's especially fun to see kids come upon a location and run around looking for the cache. And then when you open the cache, you get to see them pour over the contents. Usually, as long as it hasn't been muggled, there a logbook, a pen that probably doesn't work (take your own at all times, that seems to be the rule), some swag, maybe a couple of geotagged items, and very rarely, some real treasure.

It's NOT 'AT'!!

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I asked my wife this morning, "Do you think I'm a Sheldon? Sometimes, I worry that I'm a Sheldon."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, it's just  . . . the stuff I worry about. It's crazy. Why do I care about this stuff?!"

"No, you're not a Sheldon. But what kind of stuff?"

Here's the thing. Something linguistic has been bugging the HELL out of me for about 10 years now, and I'm just about reaching a breaking point with this one. It's about the '@' symbol. You know . . . the one in all of your email addresses. The one that starts off all of your Twitter handles?  Yeah, that thing. It is NOT, I repeat, FREAKING NOT . ."the AT symbol"! It is, quite obviously and quite emphatically, an 'EACH AT symbol! It's a rate, not a location, dammit! How do I know this? Because I saw it when I was a boy. If you went into a grocery store or a farmer's market, anything priced by the piece, such as fruit or cans or canteloupes, they were all priced for 'each'. The normal abbreviation on signs was 'ea.'  So, apples were 10¢ ea.  Watermelons would be 20¢ ea.

And the '@' symbol didn't exist on most old typewriters of the time. It started out as an accounting symbol . . . and let's be clear: 14 white wall tires @ $25 means something quite different if @ means 'at' rather than 'each at'. If it's the former, you only have to pay $25 and you get 14 tires. That's quite a deal! However, if you actually know what you're talking about, and you know that it's actually the latter, you realize that you must pay $350 to get those 14 tires. And I guarantee, back in 1972, NOBODY thought it meant 'AT'. . . except, evidently, the computer nerds who were busily inventing network protocols such as email and TCP/IP.

You saw the symbol mostly on hand-lettered signs, so the lack of a typewriter key didn't matter, and the shortening of 'each at' by placing the 'a' inside the giant 'e' was a great shorthand. Of course '@' means 'each at'! What are you all thinking?!

But now, it's sort of a lost cause. To quote one of my favorite philosophers, 'When the avalanche has started, it's too late for the pebbles to vote.'  So now that every email is joe.schmoe AT blahblahblah DOT com, and there's a show on television actually called '@Midnight', I just shake my head in astonishment. And you send messages to your Twitter mates by sending it '@JoeSchmoe', which frankly sounds kind of rude and boorish. Wouldn't you want to send it 'TO' Joe Schmoe? But I guess we're just wingin' those messages AT each other's faces now. So I guess AT is what you do these days. It's just . . . I do not think that word means what you think it means. But you're all so certain of it. You silly gits.


New Shop Cam

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Live picture of my home woodshopI've finally publicly posted the page for my three home cameras. I put them out here mostly for my own amusement, and also as a way to share what I'm working on and what the weather is in my parts with members of my extended family. I've currently got three cameras:

  • a shop camera
  • a camera pointed out the back window of my shop at the woods behind our house
  • a camera aimed out our front window at our sidewalk and yard

Honestly,  this is mostly an excuse to play around with webcams, home security software, and the ins-and-outs of my home wifi network.  It's been an education . . . to which I will soon subject my boys.  (evil laugh)

I'm sorry, but learning routing, IP networking standards, and how to deal with wifi devices is just going to be a right-of-passage for children of this coming generation . . . just like when kids had to learn how to milk a cow by hand and fix an internal combustion engine back in the hazy days of the mid-20th century. 

My shop cam page can be found here.


Pixar's Film History - One Subjective Assessment

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Cars is severely underrated, no matter what your criteriaI don't write much here about movies. I'm not really sure why. I've been a devout fan of cinema for a long time, up to and including running the movie theater at my college while I was an undergrad. I took quite a few classes on film, including several with the respected film theorist and historian Louis Giannetti. I guess it's been because everyone and his brother has become an 'internet film reviewer' in the last two decades. So I usually stay out of it. But I'm still passionate about watching movies. And as my wife often somewhat bemusedly notes, while completly lacking any interest in this particular genre, I am a complete sucker for an animated film.

Chronological list of the Pixar films released over the past 20 years

Something's been picking at my brain recently. As I said, I love animation. Always have. From early Disney, through experimental shorts in the 70s and 80s, all the way up to the latest computer generated stuff. And I feel a bit out of sync with the world when it comes to the flicks of the greatest of all animation houses . . .Pixar.

I mean, yes, I agree that their films are, in general, among the best ever made in animation. They've released 15 feature films in 20 years. And their consistent level of quality has been astonishing. But when people talk about Pixar movies, they never seem to quite think the same ones that I do are truly the greats. It's disconcerting at times. I mean, why wouldn't everyone agree with my opinion. I'm just so . . . correct. Sigh. You are all very clearly confused.


First Woodwork in Six Months

Jay Oyster's picture

As you can tell from my posts here, I've not taken much time to woodwork the last few months. We were disappointed in March by our inability to get a mortgage. The banks changed the rules on us and will basically not allow us to buy a house this year. That disappointment and the fact that I'm stuck again in a temporary home shop caused me to, albeit temporarily, give up on the whole idea of working wood in my home.

Ikea four drawer cabinet converted into a stained-glass storage cabinetBut the last few weeks I've been hankerin' for some sawdust on my hands. Adriana gave me a concrete excuse this past Friday by asking that I 'repurpose' an old Ikea dresser. It seems fitting, no, to re-establish some woodworking skills by tearing apart and rebuilding a piece built by the custom woodworker's scourge of the North? I'll need to post a full project page, although it's not really much of a project. Still, it resulted in a custom piece of furniture that just exactly meets the needs of someone in our house.

My wife is a really talented worker in glass. She's made quite a few pieces in stained glass, and she's developed almost as large a collection of glass as I have collected wood. Currently, she's storing it, wrapped in paper, and piled in cardboard boxes. Needless to say, this makes it hard to know what she has and harder still to make design decisions. This kind of shelving is quite common in stained glass supply houses. It's not meant to be pretty, but functional, and she seems quite happy with its function.

Project page: Glass Cabinet Conversion from Ikea Chest of Drawers


Got my PMP

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PMP Certificate #1813855After thinking about it long and hard, I finally decided I needed to go out and get the formal project management certfication. So after preparing for about two months, taking a course that WellStar very kindly paid for, and studying like a mad man for about three weeks, I took the PMP test yesterday. It was the hardest test I've taken since I had undergraduate Thermodynamics in 1989. The biggest thing that most people going into the PMP exam don't realize is that it isn't a case of studying the facts. PMI, the company that owns and runs the PMP certfication process, assumes you know the project management rules and terminology. No, the point of the test is to see how you apply them. In particular, they want you to answer with the interpretation of how all of that is applied that they themselves would use. It's a test of situational judgement . . . and you should NOT USE YOUR OWN JUDGEMENT. To pass the test, you have to put on the persona of a PMI certification author and answer with what *they* would do in that situation. And even with that, there are quite a few questions on the exam that seem to be judgement calls that even PMI isn't consistent on. I'd say, to get a perfect score on the PMP exam, you either need to have a psychic link back in time to the mind of the PMI question writer at the time they were writing the question, or you need to be plugged into some sort of PMI zeitgeist that must flow just under the surface of reality, like a Platonic project management reality of pure PMI reason. (a somewhat oxymoronic term, that last.)

Tension in Design - Pure Design versus Practicality

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David Getts glass home designI ran across this image today, from David Getts. The image is his and I'm using it out of Fair Use to discuss the concept. 

I suppose it's important to separate the photo from the design. The photo, or I suppose I should more properly call it a render, is dramatic in composition, lighting and setting. The image itself is a great image. But what of the design?

I'm not one to eschew whimsy or the breaking of conventions in design. In fact, I love such things in general. Such things, after all, are why I love the Muppets and the work of Antoni Gaudi and Frank Gehri. But as the son of a dairy farmer, my eye always runs up against something else . . . does it make sense in the real world? Will it work if I had to use it?

This is a case where I suspect the design has overwhelmed the reason for the building. By calling it a home, the designer short circuits a case where it might be practical . . . as an office or museum. But as a home, the design suffers from a couple of crippling practical flaws. The key to this design, the negative space between the ground and the structure, means that it would either be a) cold or b) incredibly energy inefficient. The biggest passive tool for energy efficiency is to use the thermal load of the ground to even out the temperature in a structure. But this home is insulated from the ground. And there is nothing to stop heat loss from all of that surrounding glass. Which brings up the second issue.

War in Arduino World

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I just happened to be on Google+ today when a posting came across the wire about Massimo Banzi's recent blog post on the Arduino blog. Massimo Banzi is, as most people know, one of the five founders of the Arduino open-source hardware movement. I first learned about the Arduino board by listening to a FLOSS Weekly episode in which he was interviewed. I truly believe he really is a  believer in open source and the democratization of technology. So it's sad to hear that the core of the Arduino world is in the midst of a civil war. It seems that one of the other five founding members, Gianluca Martino, has gone and run off with a key Arduino trademark and started claiming the name through his company.

Although sad, it doesn't strike me as very surprising. Any time humans attempt to create a truly altruistic community, there are times when some of the baser instincts of human nature show up and start mucking things up. Now, reading his blog post, and a longer article on Make that details the history of the conflict, my immediate reaction was, "Well, that's clear. It's obvious who's in the wrong." I was hopeful that it would be cleared up quickly. But reading the comments under the Make article, which was posted over 24 hours ago, I should have known better. Some, possibly trolls for the other side, immediately skewered the article and Mr. Banzi as one-sided and unfair. Possibly. I agree that it is important to hear the other side of the argument. 

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