Garmin and Groundspeak Officially Talking

Garmin GPSMAP 64It was pointed out to me on Monday by cacher Dr. House that the new announcement from Garmin made no mention of Opencaching.com.    I wondered if it meant that Garmin and Groundspeak were officially working together.   I have since been able to confirm from  Groundspeak that it is indeed true; Groundspeak and Garmin collaborated on the preloading of geocaches for the GPSMAP 64.    My source indicated that this is a first step in what is hoped to be a more cooperative working relationship.

It was a little over three years ago that Garmin launched opencaching.com.     After some initial excitement the Garmin site was unable to attract a significant following.    I have attempted to get a comment from Garmin but they are yet to respond.

The feedback to this move from the geocaching community appears to be positive.  What do you think of this move?

Are Garmin and Groundspeak friends again?

This was pointed out to me me by one of my caching friends today.    Here is an excerpt from the Garmin blog.  Notice that is mentions geocaching.com directly.   Where is the mention of Opencaching?

garmin-groundspeak

The GPSMAP 64 series makes paperless geocaching easier than ever. Each device comes preloaded with the locations of 250,000 geocaches from Geocaching.com. Devices store and display key information to find the cleverly hidden containers including the geocache coordinates, terrain rating, its difficulty, hints and descriptions, so users no longer have to manually enter coordinates or print out geocache info. By going paperless, users are helping the environment, and improving their efficiency. If users would like to continue geocaching beyond the preloaded geocaches, when they register their device they can sign up for the free premium membership trial through Geocaching.com, and download even more geocaches. In addition to the preloaded geocaches, the GPSMAP 64 devices can store millions more, so users will no longer have to pick and choose which geocaches they want to load on their device.

I will check with some sources to see what is going on here.

Do nanos suck?

magnetic nano geocacheI was so amazed the first time I saw magnetic nano cache.   I remember it quite clearly.   I was in a parking lot parked in front of a sign.   Where could the cache be.   Turns out it was in the gap between the sign and the U shaped posed that held the sign.  I think this was a very clever hide.    I also remember the time I almost went crazy looking for a green micro in the middle of the woods, with no hint provide.   The cache could have been anywhere!   I did eventually find the micro but I left very frustrated.  I didn’t feel any sense of reward for having finally found this cache.  I walked away asking – why?

Over the years of doing my own DIY projects I’ve learned that having the right tool for the job makes the job go a lot easier.  This is also true when hiding a geocache.  The right container for the situation makes all the difference.   Whether you are picking a geocache container or camouflaging the one you have there are only two reasons to hide a cache from view:   make it hard for muggles to find it or make it hard for geocachers to find it.   The small magnetic nano the I remember finding was hidden in a very public location.  Muggles would have found that cache for sure if it wasn’t hidden as well as it was.    To me that is a good use of a nano.   The micro that I took forever to find was hard for both cachers and muggles to find.  The difficulty rating for that cache was a bit low considering the available options for where the cache might be hidden.   I didn’t find that a very good implementation of a micro geocache.    I don’t mind micro caches I just liked to be warned in advance.  Magnetic nanos can actually be quite winter friendly if intended to be that way.  It’s my belief that caches are placed in order to be found.

Not everyone is going to agree with how I think nano caches should be deployed.   I have rarely if ever complained about a micro cache in an urban or suburban environment.  Myself and many others just aren’t fond of a “nano in the woods”.   I actually have one multi-cache that has three stages two of which are micro sized containers that contain redirects.   The containers are hidden well enough that a muggle won’t easily find them but not so hard that a cacher won’t find them.  Additionally the final stage has an interesting container.   As a result this cache is fairly well received even though it uses micros in the woods.   The final container typically leaves cachers feeling good about the find.  I think that it’s that last feeling the determines how a nano cache or any cache is received.

If you are going to hide a nano or micro cache I hope you do it in such a way that the finder feels rewarded for the search.

Power to the People

Photo By: Gregory Pleau

Photo By: Gregory Pleau

In the 1960′s there was a counter-culture movement that wanted to spread power over a broader base rather than the “ruling” elite.   This movement was in evidence {again} in the last few years as part of the 1% protests.   I’m not so much a radical that I find myself totally aligned with those movements, but what I do find revolutionary is the ability to collaborate in the social media age.

Much has been said about how Twitter helped with the Arab Spring.  That’s such a big thing that I suspect many people don’t see how it can help them today.   Over the last few years I’ve helped organize an event with about ten other people, give or take a few.   We aren’t an official body, we have no financial consolidation, we are just a group of volunteers trying to do something fun for a broader community.  It flat out amazes me how much we accomplish using free online tools from a variety of suppliers.

Our event usually gets something around 200 people to come out to the woods for an evening of geocaching in late fall.  We just held the eighth installment of BFL Boot Camp this past weekend.  There are other geocaching groups that organize similar events with an even larger turnout.  Admittedly their events are in warmer parts of the year and take place during the day.  We are happy with our turnout.   Our only goal is try to provide some fun for those people that do attend, so that total number of attendees isn’t our goal.  In all cases these events are collaborative endeavors between groups of volunteers. (and a few voluntolds ;-)

In my day job we use commercially supported collaboration tools to help us get our jobs done.   For our volunteer efforts we don’t have the finances to pay for commercial products so we rely on open source or free solutions.   Everything starts with the promotion of our event, for free, on the largest geocaching website in the world.  We don’t pay extra to have our event mentioned on the site.  Having our event listed there gives us exposure to thousands of geocachers that may be interested in our event.  We haven’t tried using Meetup to augment our event.  I don’t know that it would add significant value beyond what we already get.

Our event is spearheaded by northernpenguin.  Even though he’s the final arbiter of our decision making process it is actually a very consensus driven process.   As of this writing we are working on selecting a theme for BFL9.   We started by posting ideas on in a private Facebook group.   We collected up those ideas and put them in a poll on Facebook.   The organizing group then casts some votes and we go with the most popular theme.   That’s collaboration and it’s all free.  As another example this year one of the organizers needed to find an articulated skeleton.  He posted what he was looking for on Facebook and later that week when I saw a skeleton in store I posted a reply.  I bought the skeleton for him.  I even left it in the woods and sent him the coordinates on where to find it.  (you gotta love GPS).  None of us pay to use Facebook.  [We pay with our personal information John] Facebook allows our group the ability to post ideas and get feedback in near real time from a geographically disparate group.   From end to end our group spans a distance of about 100 kilometres yet we are able to stay in constant contact.

Another facet of Facebook that we use is the ability to post pictures.   During our build process we share pictures of what we are building and ask for feedback.  We also get a lot of encouragement from posting the pictures which helps give us the energy we need to complete our work.   It can get stressful as event day approaches and being positive about the work really helps keep spirits up.

All of our online work culminates in the creation of our “launch kit”.  This is a 20 page document that lists general and specific details about the caches placed as part of the event.  The launch kit is drafted online using Google Docs.   Each organizer has access to the Google Document and contributes their portion.   Everyone supports the document creation through edits to what has been submitted.   This spreads the workload around making it easier for everyone to contribute.   The completed document is then made available on the event website which is a hosted WordPress site.  There is a fee for the hosting but the website software is free.

To really help make our event enjoyable we encourage attendees to load the Ontario Trails Project (OTP) map.   The OTP is a crowdsourced project that aims to include all of the trails of Ontario.   The data is supplied by geocachers and non-geocachers that walk the trails of Ontario.   northernpenguin collects, filters and manipulates the data to produce a free, crowdsourced map of the trails of Ontario.   There are over 14,000km of trails in the OTP.  This is another collaborative solution made possible with modern technology and social media.

The feedback from our BFL Boot Camp is overwhelmingly positive.  It is incredibly rewarding to read the comments and know that the work we have done is appreciated.   It takes a good six months of efforts to put the BFL Boot Camp together.  At the size it is now it would be nearly impossible to put this event on without access to collaboration tools.   To buy access to comparable commercial tools would easily cost into the thousands of dollars.  Our event and the tools we use to put it on is just one example of how social/collaboration tools are giving more Power to the People!

5 Mistakes I Made

fractured-ankleThe title says mistakes but that’s just because it’s easy to write.   The 5 mistakes I’m talking about are the five things I wish I started caching with instead learning as I went.   The other night I was out caching with Bakers Dozen and we were discussing head lamps.   During our conversation it dawned on me that I’ve spent more in cheap head lamp than the cost of my current, and hopefully last, head lamp.  Where do you go to learn about the right kind of gear for geocaching?   I”m going to start by creating this little list.

  1. Hiking boots!   In the spring of 2010 I fractured my ankle while reaching for a cache.  I spent the next six weeks in a cast.  I’m not sure that hiking boots would have prevented me from fracturing my ankle but I’m not taking any chances.  Today I don’t go caching unless I’m wearing my hiking boots.
  2. Water Shoes.   These are a simple and reasonably small weight penalty to carry in my large geocaching bag.   I used them to traverse creeks and rivers and sometimes just a flooded trail.   A quick change of footwear ensures you’ll spend the rest of your geocaching day with your feet dry.   (I keep a small cloth in my bag to dry my feet. )
  3. A small and a large geocaching bag.   The small bag is for quick caching trips, grab and goes and the like.   The larger pack includes additional clothing and other supplies that I might night on a longer trip.  I tried for a long time to use just one pack but I’d leave it in the car for quick trips.  By having a large and a small pack I can take the one that is most appropriate.
  4. Yak Trax.  You will not need these if you geocache in a warm climate but for where I live these are essential.   Yak Trax are a traction aid that you put on over your footwear.   I might only use them once or twice a year but on those days I use them I keep my feet under me.  That is worth it to me.
  5. Buy the best lighting equipment you can afford and maybe even spend a bit more than you can afford.   Since I started caching I’ve owned four head lamps.   I spent over $100 dollars on my first four head lamps and only $65 on my current head lamp.   The same applies to flashlights.  I currently have three flashlights that I use on a regular basis.  When I started caching I used whatever flashlight I had handy.  After doing a few night caches I spent $18 on what I thought at the time was an “expensive” light.  I’ve come to realize that $18 is an inexpensive light.   The lights I use now cost between $30-50.   Still not the most expensive lights.  I think these lights strike the right balance of price and performance.   I know one cacher that has a $1600 flashlight or “portable sun” as we like to call it.

These are the five things I wish I started with.   You might have a different list.   What would you change about this list?