Thursday, December 23, 2010


On October 10, 2010, some 78,313 Found It! logs were posted to Without me, there would have been only 78,309. Like many, I had the goal of finding 10, but it just didn't happen. I had a feeling the iPhone app would be slow or dead (it was spotty at best), so I spent a lot of time planning, which contributed to a late start. Anyway, I did my part.

I started with a newly-posted cache by my house. If you're local, it's part of the Princess Anna series. For some reason, this one took me forever to finally see. Neon blue blends in so well with the trees.

Next, I revisited a cache I'd attempted earlier in the week. Shortly after arriving home from work one night, I got the onimous cache-posted email. Instead of making dinner, I grabbed a flashlight and headed for the door. I parked in front of EyeoftheSeeker's house, debated telling him I was there for about 3 seconds, and then went to find the cache by myself. He showed up about 2 minutes later, which was good because I needed someone to blaze a trail. Heels and a skirt weren't really the best choice for a level 2 terrain. Seeker8 joined the hunt and we waded into the waist-high ferns togethr. We searched for at least 30 minutes, but we came up with nothing. It was much easier to find in the daylight.

Two finds down, I headed for phase 2 of the Princess Anna series. The cache is located on the Cross Seminole Trail near an elementary school. Since this was Sunday afternoon, I parked at the trailhead (in the grass, not in a parking space) and walked to the cache. After a few minutes of stealthy-ish searching, I looked back up the trail to see a police car parked behind my car. I briefly contemplated ignoring it and continuing the search, but then I figured I might be able to avoid the ticket if I just offered to there was the possibility they would tow my car. So, I walked back, grudgingly. As I approached, the cop got out of his car and started talking into the mic on his shoulder. Here comes the SWAT team.

"Is this your vehicle?" he said, clearly addressing me.
"Yeeeeah," I said, in shame.
"Is everything alright?" he said.
"Yeah," I gestured back down the trail, "I was just geocaching...heh." My shoulders gave a mini-shrug. As I was preparing for the geo-whatnow conversation, he cut me off--
"Oh! There's one of those down there? I see people all the time looking for them. We must have a bunch in Winter Springs. Especially at the golf course, you know the one that's closed. These people come out of the woods with just a GPS and a pen. My partner and I, we think it's pretty cool."
My thoughts at that moment ranged from awesome to whoa. I replied, "Yeah! It's a blast. There are sooo many around here." [insert awkward silence] "Do I need to move my car?"
"No, you're fine. The school is closed today and you're off the road."
"So it's ok if I go back and find it?"
"Oh yeah, go find it! I just wanted to make sure you were ok. Have a nice day, now."
And that was it. I walked back to GZ and resumed my search. But that's not all - a minute or two later I saw this thing dart out from under the bridge I was standing on. It turned back and looked me straight in the eyes. We just stared at each other, until I had the presence of mind to take a photo. The clicking sound scared him off, so unfortunately I didn't get a second chance. The pic I took sucks, thanks to a combination of the distance (about 30 feet) and me being a spaz.

The picture below is a better representation of what I saw, but it's not mine. Anyway, I've thought about this moment a lot. It was part wonder, part terror. Wonder because I had no idea those things were around here, and terror because it challenged every notion I had about the nice kitties of my childhood. The look in its eyes said "I will munch your brains and bathe in your intestines!" I realize now that lot of his mean look comes from the "eyebrows". Those are textbook angry cartoon eyebrows.

I didn't realize until later that in the minutes before I saw it, I heard it. I kept hearing this bleating sound, like a sheep. I assumed that there was a farm nearby, or a sheep got loose, but it turns out that it was the bobcat. Fascinating.

After this little episode, I finally spotted the cache. Now I had the coordinates I needed for the final stage of the Princess Anna series.

This last piece seemed to take forever. I'm not sure which was worse - the tree cover or the swarms of mosquitos. Either way, it made for a miserable experience. When I signed the log I didn't really care what was in the cache, I just wanted it to be over. Now that I look again, there was some cute junk in there. Oh well.

Thus concludes my 10-10-10 caching experience. If you haven't seen it yet, here is Groundspeak's commemorative video.

The video was originally published on Latitude 47, the official geocaching blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Evelev's Review of the iPhone4 for Geocaching

Some geocachers use a map and compass, others carry a GPSr and clipboard. I am the type of geocacher that does everything with my iPhone. I plan, locate, and document all from the palm of my hand. You can imagine my sheer joy at the announcement of the iPhone 4. They promised faster processing, multitasking, better GPS accuracy, and a range of photographic enhancements (two cameras, flash, and a whopping 5 megapixels).

I joined the iPhone 4 zombie mob late in the game and did not pre-order online like I should have. It was only a few days before release when I tried to get my name on a waiting list. In order to accomplish this, Brian suggested I help my chances by being…flirty. I won’t confirm or deny if I used this tactic, but I found myself in the #4 spot on the waiting list at a nationwide chain electronics store. Oh, Apple, what have we become?

While the guy set up my phone, I jabbered moronically about how awesome it would be. Soon he handed me the phone like a delivery nurse hands a newborn to its mother. Angels sang, trumpets sounded, and the guy behind the counter let out a sigh of relief that I was leaving. In the following days, almost every one of my apps released an update to catch up with the new technology. Groundspeak was among them.

Groundspeak has released several updates over the past few months, but the first iPhone 4 version was terrible. Despite the improved GPS technology, the current location dot was extremely slow to update. This made it difficult to pinpoint a parking spot, let alone the actual GZ. I spent a lot of time driving in circles and the maps only compounded this issue. They were slow to zoom and the resolution was horrible, making it hard to read the street names. Back then we also had to choose between satellite and street view. It was barbaric.

I give credit to Groundspeak, they have addressed all of these issues. At the writing of this blog post, we are on version 4.2.1 and the app is pretty darn functional. The satellite and street maps have been integrated, meaning I can view a satellite map (which offers vital clues to a cache’s location) AND see the streets names (which tells me where to start looking). The maps load faster and seem to be more accurate, but I can’t say for sure. Maybe I’m just better at finding.

Another bonus of the iPhone 4 is the button that rotates the map according to the finder’s point of view. Instead of having to shift the phone around to see where I am in relation to the cache, the map moves for me so that all I have to do is walk forward. I use this function almost every time I look for a cache.

The new app also includes a bunch of new features on the home screen. For one, we now get an indicator of whether the app is working – a little dot that turns green when online or red when offline. Let me tell you, that little red dot is infuriating because there is nothing the user can do except look at it (Edit: I hear that logging out and then logging back in helps). Luckily, this rarely occurs. In keeping with their attempt at giving the user more info, Groundspeak also gives us a box dedicated to the device’s current location. It includes the current location’s coordinates, a map of those coordinates, and estimated accuracy (in feet). As I write this, my estimated accuracy is fluctuating between 98 and 213 feet, but the map looks dead on. I may finally be able to hide a cache and use the coordinates from my iPhone.

The search function has improved significantly. When I click “Find Nearby Geocaches”, each listing now includes the cache name, difficulty and terrain ratings, distance, size, and type (traditional, mystery, etc). I also have an option to sort the list by distance, GC code, title or type. I would assume that if you just pressed the “Find Nearby Geocaches” button, you would probably want them sorted by location, but it's nice to have options. Personally, I don't find this function particularly useful because I kept the option to see only 10 caches at a time.  I don't need to see the 30 closest caches unless I'm looking for something in particular. 
One of the lesser-known functions is the ability to add your own waypoints.  I'm not sure how long this function has been available, but someone at FTF Geocacher had to point it out to me, and I have shown several people since.  If I just blew your mind, here's how it works: Look-up a cache and view the map by pressing "Navigate to Geocache", click the little flag in the upper right corner, and enter the coordinates.  You can even name the waypoint, in case, say, you want to add actual coords for a mystery cache and the coords of your car.  Speaking of which, if you want to add the coords of your car, simply stand by it and click "Set to Current Location", which will auto-populate your current coordinates.  Just make sure that your iPhone's signal is somewhat accurate at that point in time.

I found a wonderful use for this feature yesterday.  I was at an event and the hosts had placed several "temporary" (i.e. not published or assigned GC codes) caches for us to hunt.  At the sign-in table there was a sheet with all of the coordinates.  It only took me a few minutes to plot them all out.

My only gripe with the app right now is how slow it can be at times, especially on the weekends.  Sometimes I press a button and have to wait a full 60 or 90 seconds for it to respond, or I get the error "No caches found" when I know I'm standing within a few feet of one.  I don't know if the servers over-loaded, or maybe the cell network in Orlando just sucks, but whatever it is, it's really annoying.

The app as it exists today is full of neat features and easy to use. Groundspeak has obviously put in a lot of work to make it that way. They continue to take feedback from the users and make improvements, which is really all that we can ask for. I eagerly await the next update.