Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time to come up for air

Today is "study day" at my university. I gave my last lecture of the semester yesterday, and I give my final exam tomorrow. That makes today a good day to work from home and remember some neglected parts of my life. Oh, I vaguely remember having a blog at some point! So here I am, almost two months since my last post.

My caching activity has declined along with my blogging activity, but there are some things to report. I bought a Garmin Oregon sometime in the last two months, and I like using it very much. I like the 60CSx as well, and I intend to keep both. For one thing, my parents will be in town for the holidays, and I plan to take Dad caching while he's here. He'll be happy to use the 60CSx instead of the Vista. The Vista is now third-string. My wife really wants to know why I have three GPS receivers. I don't know how to answer that.

Winter seems to have arrived early. But what do I know? This is only my second winter in Minnesota. It's all fine with me, though, because I like winter caching, and that, coupled with the fact that my university does not begin its "spring" term until January 20, makes me hopeful that I'll get some caching done in the next month and maybe hit the 1K finds mark.

The school term has been hectic, but so has home ownership. We've had much electrical, plumbing, and heating work done to our new old house, including replacing a 40-year-old boiler.

And so I've had to be a little creative with time management, especially when it comes to fitting in some caching. For example: last Saturday I was planning to go to this event, but my six-year-old children made social plans of their own, so I showed up early to the event, and went on an FTF run with Bunganator, Smiling Duo, and DJRHJ. The highlight of that morning run was finally finding joukkusisu's puzzle cache Charles Ammi Cutter and then finding out later from the cache owner that there is a university webcam that has ground zero in its field of vision! If you plan to go for this cache, let me know and I will try to capture a photo of you. It'll be a de facto webcam cache.

The next morning, in another example of creative time management, I was at my office very early grading some exams when Bunganator contacted me, asking if I was interested in a run at The Fun Side of pfalstad, a new meralgia cache in the place of an old pfalstad cache. It turned out to be a nice work break. Here's my log.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

1B blog drives tech innovation

My last post told GPS tech companies "We want speech recognition with our GPS, and we want it now!" The titans of the industry have heard our plaintive cries. As reported in David Pogue's blog, you can say stuff, and the GPS receiver (who knows which ones?!) will understand it. It will also talk back to you, in a variety of voices. As this post went to press, HAL 9000 was not one of the available voices. So we still have our work cut out for us as the tireless vocal advocate for tens and tens of GPS tech consumers. Here at 1B, we will never let your insatiable appetite for soon-to-be-obsolete electronic gadgets go unnoticed.

Garmin recognizes my role as the engine of innovation. Yesterday, at the MnGCA fall event, I won a Garmin T-shirt in a "random drawing". Message received, Garmin, don't mention it, it's the least I can do. Next time, how 'bout an Oregon?

I'm no stranger to recognizing trends in media and technology. I read David Pogue on the back page of Macworld in the late eighties, and I didn't even have a Mac. (My parents didn't understand why I would want a Mac with a 5-inch black-and-white screen and bought me an Apple IIGS with a color screen instead to take to college.) I thought, this guy's good. Someday, he'll write a tech column for the New York Times. And he'll be taking cues from my blog. Yep, I knew what a blog was in 1989.

Often, I'll be watching a college football game with my wife, and I'll say something like, Hey, did you see the middle linebacker pick up the tight end on the crossing pattern, so the quarterback had to check off to the tailback for a screen pass? And then the commentator will say exactly the same thing. My wife will say, You should be on TV! And I'll say, Yes, honey, yes I should.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Watch where you're driving!

I wonder how many motor vehicle accidents were caused by this precision routing instrument, featured on Strange Maps?!

I admit to being a bad boy, thumbing in coordinates and selecting caches on my Garmin 60CSx while driving. I'll turn myself in tomorrow.

But at least using a handheld GPS unit in that way only requires one hand. With this watch, the Magellan ScrollMate 1920, if you were twisting a knob with one hand, the hand with the watch on it had to be on the driving wheel. And, if I had used it, I would have scrolled constantly and VERY SLOWLY, so that it provided real-time information. I wonder if, at the end of the scroll, it said, "When possible, make a U-turn".

This urge to push buttons while driving suggests what could be the newest feature for the Garmin Colorado-Oregon series: voice activation.

"Oregon, find next."


"Yes, please."


"A puzzle? Come on, find next traditional."


"Find next traditional!"


"Find next traditional!!!"


[Long sequence with no dialogue]



Attention, Oregon owners: this was only a dramatization, but you can never be too sure. The true mission is to solve puzzle caches, and your Oregon has been lying about it. Do not dismantle your Oregons, as Brad did above. Send them to me for reprogramming.

Friday, September 19, 2008

GSAK: restoring database and saving corrected coordinates and child waypoints

foundinthewild passed along to me this information he discovered about restoring your GSAK database while retaining changes you've made, such as corrected coordinates and child waypoints for puzzles.

I recently had a database error and ended up reloading my PQ's from gmail.

This should be no big deal, except for those of us who use either corrected waypoints or child waypoints to enter a solved puzzle location. It first appeared they were lost (momentary panic). I did some searching in gsak forums and info gathered might save either you or someone you know a lot of trouble.

Find your latest backup. I actually renamed my old messed up database and ended up using it to update the new one.

1) Two files are in the gsak data folder called correct.dbf and correct.nsx . They contain the corrected coords, and can be copied over the new data base files in the proper folder.

2) A macro called "CopyChildren.gsk" is available on the gsak forum macro page. It copies the child waypoints to a temporary file, then checks for existence of a row and only updates the matched caches.

It took some time to research this but not too long to implement.

Happy Caching.

Here's the link to the CopyChildren macro.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is what gravity is.

One might think that this post is about geocaching, because recently a prolific local cacher was subjected to the unrelenting force of gravity. Well, not exactly the force of gravity. The acceleration of gravity. The same acceleration of gravity that attached my back side to the couch for several hours last night.

No, this post is not about geocaching but is a review of and a complaint about the show Saturday Night Live. Why was I watching SNL after not watching it on purpose for several years? When the Ohio State Buckeyes, my hometown team, embarrass themselves on national television by losing to USC 35-3, a score that could have been MUCH worse, every Buckeye fan increases his or her MBR (minimum beer requirement) for the evening and spends several hours afterward staring blankly at the television screen. Somehow without my approval the channel was changed from ABC to NBC, and Saturday Night Live began -- promisingly, with an adept impersonation of the Republican vice-presidential nominee by Tina Fey.

That's about it. Michael Phelps must have been the worst guest host ever (but how would I know?), stumbling over almost every line, but even the regulars could not be bothered, apparently, to attempt to remember their lines. SNL's idea of funny these days is that some people dance in a silly way, like Napoleon Dynamite or Elaine in Seinfeld. At least two sketches were based entirely on this. I'd rather watch John Cleese.

But here's my main complaint. During the quiz show segment (isn't there one on every SNL?), a question was based on the statement that gravity makes things fall to the ground at a constant rate. Sorry, that's not true. Gravity makes things fall at a constant acceleration, which then means that the speed is increasing linearly. And, to correct my purposeful mistake in the first paragraph, the force (or weight) of an object depends both on its mass and the acceleration due to gravity.

And, finally, as if to prove that every Buckeye's life goes into slow motion after a bad loss, my SNL review gets scooped by a two-sentence Twitter post practically identical in content. I feel like (Ohio State quarterback) Todd Boeckman trying to escape the pocket -- my left tackle missed his assignment, and Monday is about to hit me on the blind side.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Geocaching is a piece of cake. Ha ha!

Ah, I love the internet. (I only wish that the internet was widely available earlier in my life, before 1994, when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Marc Whoever came up with Mosaic, the predecessor to Netscape. But I digress.) One minute you're searching for fun facts about the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and the next minute you're looking at photographs of mistakes on cakes. This one caught my attention:

Yikes. (You're supposed to put that stuff on the INSIDE of the cake before you take it to the prison.) It wouldn't take too much rearranging to make that a geocaching-themed cake. I started looking for one and could only find these, on a page about something called GIS Day:

Is that supposed to be the yellow eTrex? The picture behind the cake looks like a different crappy yellow GPS receiver.

Come on, everybody knows there are 24 satellites. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT, BAKER!

I also found the page for a geocaching event last month in Georgia called Let Them Eat Cake!! No pictures of cakes on the page, but a promise to hold a Yankee Swap, which in my experience turns every holiday party into a rollicking disaster of screaming toddlers and uptight parents muttering under their breath.

So, geocachers, I know you've got photos out there of birthday cakes with a geocaching theme. Admit it. Let's see 'em. Also, let's hear your most outlandish ideas for a cake with a geocaching theme. I'll have it made, bring it to the MnGCA Fall Event (no screaming! no muttering under your breath!), and we'll get that [appetizing dessert] on Cake Wrecks.

Now, what was I looking for?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Anti-geocaching measures


Since I've been paying attention (that is, since I've been geocaching), I have never seen a lamp skirt so securely fastened to the base as this one, found in the parking lot of Gordon Parks High School in Saint Paul. Notice the extra concrete around the bottom edge and the soldering around the top edge. In fact, I can't remember many lamp skirts that are fastened to their bases at all.

This might not be an anti-geocaching measure; it may be an anti-micro measure perpetrated by a geocacher!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

GSAK geek alert: how do you prune archived caches?

As far as I can tell, there is no automatic way for pocket queries from to tell GSAK which caches have been archived.

I have pocket queries set up to pull all caches from the state of Minnesota throughout the week. When I go out caching, I load my GPSr from GSAK, usually after running one PQ in the area where I'll be caching, to catch all the late-breaking developments not caught by my weekly PQs. I have started to notice that archived caches appear as active in my database and hence in my GPSr. It was really an issue yesterday over in Grayhook-land in Minneapolis, where lots of caches have been recently archived.

I sorted all the caches in my database by "Last GPX update", figuring that if a cache hasn't been updated in a while, then it must have been archived. (I also get one PQ per week containing temporarily disabled caches.) I started to check each cache page by hand to see if it had been archived, but that got old fast. Yes, yes, yes, yes... I changed my plan of attack and just deleted every cache that had not been updated in a month. About 900 caches, roughly 10% of my default database.

I see two problems with this immediately. First, it leaves some archived caches in there -- the caches that were archived between one week and one month ago. Second, I may have deleted caches that are not archived -- for example, out-of-state caches that I have found but whose GPX files have not been updated since the last time I ran the My Finds query.

Hey, GSAK geeks, how do you deal with this issue?

[Edit: Thanks, Bill, for pointing out this thread started by sir_zman on the MnGCA forums. In that thread, zman links to this thread on the forums.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm not house poor, but I'm trying to be cache poor.

When life gets in the way, blogging about caching suffers before caching itself suffers. I'm back now with a renewed commitment to increased quantity and decreased quality, if that is possible.

C and I bought a house in the Merriam Park neighborhood of Saint Paul, after renting for a year and, luckily, selling our house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the house market is even worse than it is everywhere else.

I can see already that the greatest threat to my geocaching career is not my job, or my commitment to spend time with my children, or even potential MnGCA board service, but the infinite list of home improvements that is accumulating. What makes that list manageable is the rat-in-the-boiling-water effect -- if you just accept the fact that certain things are wrong with your house, the problems magically go away. No water out of the 2nd floor sink? There are other sinks! Dryer doesn't heat up? Tie a rope around the birdhouse for a clothesline! Seriously, it is a great education, and I find myself watching The Learning Channel, where all the experts are in great moods, unlike me. I repair things with a constant stream of words that start with s and f. HBO needs a home improvement show.

I have to admit, one of my favorite parts of moving was changing my home coordinates on and watching the changes in my list of closest unfound caches. Candy Apple Green's multi-cache Mountain Goat became my closest unfound cache, until I found it with LucidOndine and magicite on Sunday evening.

Hey, I have an idea. I'll publish the exact distance from Mountain Goat (M) to my new house (N), the exact distance from M to my old house (O), and the exact distance from N to O, and let you guess where I live and where I lived. It's not a completely determined system, but you could fiddle with a satellite map and probably figure it out.

I'll have to think about the security issues before I do that. And by "security" I mean, will my geocaching "friends" hide a cache in my front yard? Oh wait, they already know where I live. Hey fellas, there's a big pile of bark near the rotted-out pillar on my front porch... it'd make a great hiding spot.

In the meantime, my new closest unfound cache, GC1EFY6, has posted coordinates 1.4 miles away from my new home coordinates. (OH! That information would determine the system above!) I need to find nine caches to push my cleared-out radius above two miles.

Ah, there's a strategy that C could use to motivate me: "Your nearest undone task is 20 yards away. Get up on a ladder and scrape the peeling paint off the window trim."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Recruiting new members to our disturbing little cult

C and I met up with our friend TJ from Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Tuesday night, and at the end of the evening, TJ asked me, "Would you like to go geocaching in the morning?" Of course!

The last time TJ was in the Twin Cities, I had been a geocacher for about a week, and her sole exposure to geocaching, thanks to me, was walking down to the Summit Avenue Stroll caches, looking around for about a half-hour in the dark, and finally giving up. Not the most exciting introduction to geocaching.

Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to reintroduce her to geocaching, and along the way I learned about all the things that I take for granted as a year-old geocacher. I don't consider myself a veteran geocacher by any means, but it was great fun to view the hunt through the eyes of a complete newbie.

When I took TJ out last year, I had a Garmin Vista. Now I have a 60CSx and the Vista, and I loaded up both with geocaches in the neighborhood of Minnetonka where she was staying. 80% of the time we were geocaching, the Vista was Locating Satellites. I don't know how I found a single geocache with that thing in the first two months of my career!

On the hunt for our first geocache of the morning, the Vista was working, and it was interesting to see how "arrow-bound" TJ was. She quickly learned, as the morning went on, that once she was within 20 feet or so of ground zero, it was time to put away the Vista and start looking for geo-beacons. (The second step was becoming geo-beacon-bound!)

Our first cache of the morning was a magnetic camo'ed pill bottle behind a metal traffic sign. After we signed the log, TJ said, "Should we go look for another geocache?" Uh, yeah! She was appalled that I recently found 27 caches in one day (and I'm sure most of you have found many more than that in one day). Finding one geocache is a bit like eating one potato chip for a snack.

We ultimately found 11 caches that morning, including the first puzzle that I've ever completely brute-forced. I knew there was a puzzle in the area, so I just felt around some typical places, and TJ was completely amazed when I pulled a cache, coordinate-free, out of its hiding spot.

For the last couple caches, TJ turned off the Vista and made me give her the 60CSx so that she could be in charge. By the end of the morning, TJ was ready to break out on her own. When we said our goodbyes, I gave her one of the 40%-off coupons from Best Buy. I think we may have a new Michigan geocacher.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Would that be the plastic anniversary?

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of geocaching, and I celebrated by doing... absolutely nothing relating to geocaching. I created my account on July 17, 2007, found 19 caches in the first month, then disappeared for a month while I got acquainted with my new job at the University of Minnesota. Then, somehow, between then and now I ran my total of cache finds up to today's number of 783.

Seven hundred eighty three. That number, while not as large as some others I've seen in a shorter time period, still represents a lot of solitary, obsessive caching and several Sunday trips out with the guys. Now, a year in, I'm thinking about how to make geocaching a part of a more balanced life. In particular, how can I incorporate geocaching into family trips in a way that satisfies my insatiable need to fondle my unit (Garmin GPSMap 60CSx!) and also does not bore my wife and children to death?

Last weekend gave a good template. Saturday I took W&H, mini-double-bass, to Centris' Hello Minnesota! event, and they were happy to meet lots of other kids of cachers. Afterward, sir_zman and fingon and their families met us at Fort Snelling State Park to find the history challenge cache there. We also met the Ramsey63 pair there and met another family that is new to geocaching at the cache site. A total of 17 people at the cache when we found it.

On Sunday, knowschad, shoestorm, meralgia, Millah, and Simursmack headed down to Cannon Falls for kayaking and geocaching, but C and I decided that it wasn't the best time for a day away with my buddies. For one thing, C was giving a talk at the Star Tribune the next day and wanted to spend some time Sunday preparing. So instead, I took W&H down to Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area to find the history challenge cache there. After that find, I now have two metro area caches left -- Lake Maria and Wild River -- before going for the final metro challenge cache at Afton. Getting that MN Valley cache took some work, though.

For one thing, W&H didn't want to go. I fixed that by offering to do Something That I Never Thought I'd Do. I strapped dual DVD screens to the back of the headrests in our 1999 Honda Accord and allowed them to watch The Aristocats and Cars on the way down and the way back. And, yes, the DVD player is a Disney brand DVD player. I am such a tool.

The Other Thing I Thought I'd Never Do, but happens more often than I care to admit: I asked them where they'd like to stop for lunch, and of course W requested Chicken McNuggets.

Oh, that reminds me. In John Hodgson's book Areas of My Expertise, he lists something like 500 Top Names of Hoboes, and one of them is Chicken Nugget Will. There, now you know my son's name. Don't steal his identity or anything like that. Also, apologies to anyone who is offended by the use of the word "hobo". Jon Stewart says it more often than I do, so go get on his case.

Anyway, we went through the drive-thru, and the employee asked me to pull over to wait for the McNuggets. So we waited, and waited, and waited. After about 15 minutes of wondering how long it takes to make a chicken nugget, I went inside looking like I was going to open fire, and the manager gave me our McNuggets, refunded my money, and reprimanded the drive-thru employees all at the same time. I did not get any satisfaction from that. It was the McDonald's at US 169 and Bloomington Road, in case you were wondering. I doubt that four geocachers, my entire readership, boycotting one McDonald's restaurant will make much difference, though.

Refreshed with fast food and convenient entertainment, we arrived at the SRA, and W&H did not want to get out of the car. I convinced them that it would be a short walk, but it wasn't, because I chose the wrong path around the lake -- the one with the mud and the horse excrement. We saw ponies, though!

Finally, we made it to the cache, and thankfully this multi-cache was not a multi. The cache was at the posted coordinates. I took three travel bugs out of the cache, none of which were logged into the cache, and the six travel bugs that were logged into the cache were not there. My policy is to take every traveler I find out of the state park caches and not put any in, except for the state park travel bugs. These state park caches seem to be travel bug black holes. I can understand; I wasn't very clear on the mechanics of travelers at the beginning.

Funny, before this trip started, I thought we might continue up to Lake Maria, but this trip southwest provided enough excitement for one day. C gets her alone time, I make incremental progress toward a random geocaching goal, and the kids get outside for a walk in Beautiful Minnesota, even if they're complaining about it every step of the way.

On to another year of geocaching. I predict that this year my number of cache finds will be greater than 0 and less than 783.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

60CSx, I'm losing patience with you. No, 1B, I'm losing patience with YOU.

Maybe it's because I have this 40%-off coupon in my handy waist pack that my 60CSx is having performance anxiety issues. No, I now realize that it was user error causing my problems. Big surprise there.

Earlier in the week, my 60CSx stopped acquiring satellites, and it took a software update to correct the problem.

On Friday, Independence Day, during my family's trip to O'Brien and Interstate State Parks, I changed my batteries and suddenly my 60CSx could not find my City Navigator maps or my custom points of interest. At the same time, while I could "find" a geocache, the unit would not tell me my distance to the destination or show me a comforting red arrow. I assumed that both problems were related to the software update earlier in the week.

In a humiliating moment for the 60CSx, a moment it won't soon forget, I motioned to the bullpen and brought in the Garmin Vista, no H, no C, no S, no x, and found the Interstate History cache with that unit.

Then, on Saturday, I was free to get out with Millah for some caches, but I was in a panic. Once you have maps, you can't go back to having no maps, and my entire quality of life seems to hinge on whether my 60CSx is operating properly.

Cue the frantic, random attempts to fix things. Once, I heard Bus&Betty, or Bus&NotBetty, or NotBus&Betty, describing how sometimes their microSD card is not situated properly in the card holder of their 60CSx. I removed and replaced the card, and -- voilĂ ! -- life is worth living again.

Which raises questions: the voices inside my head might say I deserve a Colorado, but could it be that, actually, the 60CSx deserves a better cacher? Has my relationship with my 60CSx become co-dependent? Well, not if the 60CSx doesn't need me. I can see it now... one day I wake up, press that familiar, black, nubby button on the 60CSx's forehead and say "Good morning, sunshine, how are you? Show me those multicolor satellites!" There's an uncomfortable pause, and then those words I've feared but never thought I'd see:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hobby deathmatch: geocaching v. golf

A sure sign of delusions of grandeur is quoting oneself. Another is referring to oneself in the third person. Back when sir_zman interviewed firstbass for the Twin Cities Geocaching Podcast, and Silent Bob recorded the whole thing on video, firstbass said, in paraphrase:

My life is a graveyard of hobbies. Geocaching is the first thing that has held my attention this long. I'm waiting for the day when I will wake up and say I never want to do this again.

That day has come and gone, another hobby rose briefly from the dead, and I have lived to cache another day. Here is my story.

Back around the turn of the century, I played golf avidly. Before my wife and I had kids, I held about a 14 handicap -- simply having a handicap indicates a certain seriousness -- which means that I pretty reliably scored in the mid- to high-80s for 18 holes. Better than bogey golf. I was not a natural player, though. My childhood training in golf consisted of Beating The Living S*** out of the ball, and so I could maintain that adequate level of proficiency only through constant practice and vigilance against those childhood tendencies. If I came home with an 85, I was happy. If I came home with a 90, I was miserable. Non-stop torment for a perfectionist.

Once the twins came along, I accepted the fact that I would have to set golf aside. It was not difficult to give up, because it's expensive and because it's so time-consuming. But here's the thing that keeps me coming back to golf, aside from the fact that it's an activity that my dad and I can do together: a well-struck golf shot, translating effortless and free-flowing motion into a curling parabola, is pure pleasure. It doesn't happen often enough, but when it does, it's easy to get hooked.

A work colleague invited me along for a round of golf, and I enjoy spending time with him, so I agreed, and a visit to the driving range felt promising. I was already doing the depressing calculation in my head...

I must play golf, so I must play golf well, so I must spend lots of time on it, so I must give up geocaching, because I also have a family and don't have time for two consuming hobbies.

Add to that the fact that some things about the "local politics of geocaching" were bothering me (Oh, goodness, imagine if I blogged on the "local politics of geocaching"! Would my readership increase?), and that all added up to waking up a week ago Thursday with no desire to think about geocaching. And the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Uh oh. Is it over?

No. What got me back into geocaching?

1. My golf game has got a long way to go, that's putting it politely, and it's just too expensive and time-consuming to pursue. Plus, I think I hurt my hand.

2. Last week I worked with sir_zman on a geocaching presentation for a math camp at the University of St. Thomas, and it was fun getting some teenage girls interested in geocaching.

3. Over the weekend, knowschad, shoestorm, LucidOndine and I headed down through Red Wing to Lake City and hit some nice caches. I got home way late, and once C was done being upset with me, she said, "Do you realize how different your moods are when you come home from geocaching and when you come home from golf?"

4. The family and I visited Boomsite and then, the next weekend, Afton State Park, and C seems keen on the idea of visiting some other state parks with the kids. Sounds good to me! Metro challenge!

I am fully aware that it is hard to have any sympathy for a person who is saying, basically, "Boo hoo, it's so hard for me to decide how to spend my ample leisure time." But, come on, this is a blog. A blog about a hobby. A certain amount of navel-gazing must be tolerated. But golf? Now that's something, I bet, that no geocaching reader of this blog would tolerate!

Monday, June 30, 2008

I think my chipset needs a software update, too.

My Garmin GPSmap 60CSx betrayed me this afternoon, but only briefly. I wasn't geocaching at the time, only driving back from an errand, but I turned on the 60 and realized at home that it was still Acquiring Satellites. Off, on, off, on, batteries out, batteries in, system reset, SD card out, SD card in, nothing. I could hear the voices...

"Chuck it in the trash... 40% off Best Buy coupon... Colorado 400t... you deserve it!"

But, no, I love my 60CSx! After some searching around the internet, I came across this post on the forums, installed Webupdater from the website, updated the system software and the chipset software, and once again everything works like a charm. It was startling to see my old piece of s*** Vista gobbling up those satellite signals while the 60CSx looked around, saying, "Huh? What satellites? Where are we?"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Look, kids, ice cream cones!

C and I don't often hire a babysitter and get out for a nice dinner, but yesterday we had two reasons built into one day -- C finished her second book and sent it off to the publisher, and she wanted to do so by my birthday, my 38th.

We went to W.A. Frost in the Cathedral Hill area of Saint Paul. The patio area was packed on such a nice evening, so we sat in the dining room, even though we ordered bar food. I wanted a burger to go with my beer -- in an effort to become a Beer Geek I aim to have a different beer every time I order one... for the rest of my life. We'll see.

I took my wedding band off in the car somehow, and C made me walk back to retrieve it. While I did, she ordered an appetizer that was amusing enough for me to take a photograph of it.

Look, kids, ice cream cones!

This was the Tasting of Savory Cones, featuring, left-to-right, wild acres duck rillette and lingonberry with chive batons, red snapper ceviche with local corn and avocado, and smoked salmon mousse with dill. (I plagiarized that description from the W.A. Frost website.)

Very tasty, if a little precious for my tastes, and it definitely met our Rule #1 of ordering in restaurants: Don't order something you're likely to make for yourself at home. Anything in a cone at my house is going to come out of a 5-gallon tub of Neapolitan.

I ordered a pint of Flat Earth Cygnus X-1 (my favorite beer -- I know, I already broke my promise) and a sample of the Surly Bitter Brewer, which according to the Surly website they only made 30 barrels of. I wasn't particularly impressed, but it's not my favorite style anyway.

We had some other stuff, but I'm not doing a restaurant review here. We then went over to Muddy Pig, where I had a glass of the Belhaven Wee Heavy scotch ale and picked up a free copy of Beer Advocate magazine to continue my Beer Geekification.

C drove home, we sent the babysitter on her way, and we discovered raw sewage backing up into the basement. Happy birthday! Plumber on the way.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This blog post is not plagiarized.

At the risk of turning this blog into the "Central Ohio News Source", I have more news to report from my childhood home.

The 2008 valedictorian from my alma mater, Circleville High School, has been stripped of his status after admitting that he plagiarized his valedictory speech from another graduation speech that used Beatles lyrics. Now, he is threatening a lawsuit against the school district if he is not reinstated.

The YouTube video from which he apparently stole the idea and words has been taken down (as has an AOL video version), but it appears that graduation speech was patterned after an earlier graduation speech that can be seen in this blog post about the chain of speeches.

These events interest me because I, too, was a valedictorian at Circleville High School in 1988. Well, whoop-de-ding-dong-dandy, you might be saying, especially if you're from Circleville, Ohio, where folks say stuff like that.

Notice that I said "a" valedictorian, not "the" valedictorian. There were five valedictorians that year. It wasn't that hard to be valedictorian at Circleville High School, was it?! There were 168 students in my graduating class, which means that nearly 3% of the graduating class were valedictorians. Two of them went to Ohio State, one went to Miami University (in Ohio), one went to Princeton, and I went to Ohio University.

In case you'd like to call my status as valedictorian into question, you can look at this older post about how I maintained my grade point average in drivers' education.

I'm particularly amused by this quote from his lawyer that appears in the Chillicothe Gazette: "He had the highest G.P.A. in the history of the school." Well, sure, that's easy to do when you can earn 5's in courses when formerly only 4's were possible. When they start awarding 6's for students who suck up extra hard, then the Fifth Beatle's record will be surpassed.

This all might sound like I'm defensive and still hung up on things like this, but to tell the truth I think being a high school valedictorian actually hindered my education. When I went to college, I chose courses based on whether I thought I could maintain my grade point average rather than whether I thought I could learn and grow in that course. I turned away from learning opportunities out of fear.

Well, everyone has to learn that these things are not that important. It took me a while down the road to learn. It's unfortunate that the Fifth Beatle has to learn in a particularly public and painful way.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My uncle is a hero!

My uncle, a dentist in Columbus, Ohio, saved the life of a two-year-old girl. (And, no, I'm not posting this for the purposes of "damage control".) How must it feel to save a life? How must the parents feel? And what memories, conscious or not, of the event will the little girl have?

Video from Columbus ABC affiliate

I'm so proud that I'm willing to give the hack local reporter a pass for his lame attempt at pulling heartstrings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An "incredible cacher"?!

In his most recent episode of the Twin Cities Geocaching Podcast, sir_zman refers to me as an incredible cacher. What? By "incredible", he must have meant "It's incredible to me that firstbass was willing to act like a fool in front of my microphone. This is Podcast Comedy Gold!" (That's gold, Jerry, GOLD!)

The TCGCPC is always wide-ranging in its choice of topics, but from my self-centered point of view, the main ideas from this episode were:

1. firstbass is often drunk,

2. firstbass uses profanity liberally,

3. firstbass tells stories about decapitated farm animals, AND

4. firstbass has volunteered to work with YOUR UNSUSPECTING DAUGHTERS at a math camp. Sign up now!

My wife, a media scholar and also my PR consultant, has suggested that some "damage control" may be necessary and that I should "re-frame the conversation".

Therefore, stay tuned for videos of 1B and his adorable five-year-old twins enjoying wholesome activities -- riding bikes at the park, reading stories (about live farm animals), and learning valuable life lessons...

"Now, kids, this is a micro-cache. In the woods. Don't you think that a much larger cache could have been placed here?"

"Be honest, kids. When you get home, make sure you log your DNF."

"Kids, if you're going to take that plastic dinosaur, then we need to place something of equal value in that cache."

"Who solved this puzzle, kids? That's right, I did. Don't forget that. So before you go logging this find, think about whether that's the right thing to do."

Monday, June 9, 2008

More streaming 1B content

In January 1997 I lived in Lincoln Park on the north side of Chicago. Here is the story of how I received the head of a cow in the mail.

Listen to the audio here.

Thanks to sir_zman for hosting the audio, even though this audio clip is not suitable for or relevant to his podcast.

This incident foreshadows my interest in opening up boxes to find treasures hidden inside. I don't think the guidelines explicitly forbid heads of cows in caches, but I'm sure it would be frowned upon.

One part of this story I didn't tell: after the ex-roommates moved away, their dog Cheeto ran away from home and showed up on my back porch to live with me. Now, if I was a much more evil person than I already am, maybe my ex-roommates would have received a little surprise in the mail!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The A/V 1B

I know you're asking yourself, How can I get more exciting 1B content? Sure, essays and anecdotes about geocaching and geocachers are fine, but where are the podcasts and videos? Where is the multimedia 1B experience?

Well, wait no longer. After WeekNIGHT caching last night, sir_zman of the Twin Cities Geocaching Podcast interviewed me, and Silent Bob (Bill Roehl) of the Lazy Lightning blog made a video of the interview. Here is the link to Bill's post, and here is the video, somewhat NSFW:

Originally uploaded by Bill Roehl

sir_zman's podcast version, cleaned up for family consumption, should be available soon.

If this is my youtube gotcha moment, then I can deal with it. I mean, I didn't kick any cats or start break-dancing or pick my nose or scream at any co-workers. And I was not drunk. In the interest of full disclosure, during the two hours before this interview, I ate a Panino Brothers Von Braun sandwich (very good, but I did not photograph it) and drank a Guinness (that I bought) and a Pabst Blue Ribbon that Bill bought me (Gee, thanks!) because I walked into a lake up to my chest with my clothes on. So my blood alcohol level was positive but negligible.

Good thing my wife and I are getting a mortgage on some new home coordinates -- there'll be more room to store my ever-expanding head.

I know, I know, this only whets the appetite for the A/V 1B. Stay tuned for an outtake from the Twin Cities Geocaching Podcast in which I tell the story of receiving the head of a cow in the mail.


Anyone want to sell me a Wii? I might be the only person in the Twin Cities who owns a Wii Fit but no Wii. I own an expensive slab of useless plastic. I thought I might have to hide this inexplicable purchase from my wife, but, bless her heart, she's more excited about Wii Fit than I am. Now if we could only play it!

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Minnesota State Parks Geocaching History Challenge, brought to you by... GSAK!

My first trip up north, tons of great caches and beautiful views, great MnGCA event, meeting lots of old and new cachers, encounters with law enforcement, getting kicked out of state parks, almost breaking my kneecaps, figuring out what cornhole is, blowing a caching competition out of stupidity... all that, and what do I choose to post about? A neat feature of GSAK that I just learned about for this trip.

LucidOndine offered to give me a ride up to the north shore for the event at Gooseberry Falls as long as I would figure out which caches to find. My vague plans were to (1) find a cache in every new county on the way up (I'd never been north of Ham Lake before Friday), (2) grab some of the state park history caches, and (3) find some of the challenging caches on the north shore that Millah suggested, like this and this and this and this.

But I still like to be prepared to be flexible, so I wanted to be able to load about 1000 caches that were in the vicinity of our route. I've used's Cache Along A Route feature successfully (computer-wise, not caching-wise... I found one cache in Wisconsin on that trip.), but that was before GSAK came into my life. For the first time last Friday I used GSAK's Arc/Poly filter, and it worked like a dream. I used Google Earth to find driving directions from the point where the 35's come together north of the Cities to Lutsen, where we were staying, saved it as a .kml file, and then asked GSAK to filter for all available caches that I haven't found that are within about 13.5 miles of that route. It was enjoyable to load the resulting sausage of about 1000 caches on to my 60CSx.

So that's my technological triumph of the weekend. Now for the failure: my Palm and Cachemate have been demoted to Piece of S*** status. Now that I have the entire state of Minnesota loaded into GSAK and Cachemate via 17 pocket queries from, Cachemate is choking like a dog. It rebooted the operating software on my Palm 12 times in three days. I plan to clear it all and then load only a small subset of those caches on to the Palm, because I like to make notes on the caches I find on the Palm, but I don't want to wait five minutes every time I do it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Take [the nerd] out to the ball game

Take [the nerd] out to the ball game

My mother-in-law, my wife, my five-year-old twins, and I went to our first St. Paul Saints game last night. Cue the reminiscing and the tenuous connection to geocaching...

I made the varsity baseball team at my high school as a sophomore. That was a big deal at the time, but anyone who has played baseball knows that the young folks on the team get hazed -- carrying all the equipment, stupid nicknames, emotional and physical abuse, all that fun team-building stuff.

I hit a grand-slam home run in my first varsity at-bat, but it was a humiliating experience, because the seniors had nicknamed me "E=MC^2" and were chanting it on my trip around the bases -- I sprinted around to get it over with as quickly as possible. They were yelling "Look at that TRAJECTORY!" and "Calculate the INITIAL VELOCITY!"

Between then and my second at-bat, I wondered if it was really possible for me to hit a home run every time to the plate for my entire career. So the next time to the plate, I uppercut the first two pitches... 0-2. On the third pitch I hit a weak pop-up to the pitcher, and my coach at third base yelled, so that everyone could hear, "Jesus Christ, Bryan, you're not going to hit a home run every time!" The chanting resumed. MC^2! MC^2!


When I was in college, our dream road trip was to visit all 26 (at that time) major league ball parks, and the list expanded to include all minor league ball parks. Now if that kind of road trip could be combined with geocaching...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

GPS, linear algebra, and fractals in computer graphics

Fellow math guy Bunganator called to my attention this article about the linear algebra that is used by the Global Positioning System to determine location.

My puzzle cache Where's Yoda? is a simplified version of this -- think of the data from each guess in the Yoda game as the input from one satellite. Finding Yoda's location amounts to solving the system of equations that results from the information given by each guess.

The article Bunganator sent includes a reference to a book called Linear Algebra, Geodesy, and GPS by Gilbert Strang and Kai Borre. I'll have to check this book out -- I've wondered how to incorporate GPS topics into my courses (rather than the other way 'round... Gah!) -- but I note that the first 274 pages appear to be straight linear algebra that can be found in other books, including other Gilbert Strang books that I've taught out of before. I wonder why the publisher or the author felt the need to pad out this title with a introductory linear algebra treatment that is readily available elsewhere.


I have a question for the computer people out there. I have a programmer friend who, in the context of 3D virtual environments, came across the term "2 1/2 dimensional space". This has a specific meaning in mathematics: the Hausdorff dimension of a set can be a non-integer when it has fractal properties. For example, a set resembling a shoreline could have a Hausdorff dimension between 1 and 2, or a set resembling the face of a mountain could have a Hausdorff dimension between 2 and 3.

I remember vaguely that there are algorithms involving fractals or randomization for realistically rendering natural features like these, but don't know much about them. Does anyone else? And, when people in 3D graphics use the term "2 1/2 dimensional", are they using it in an informal sense, or does Hausdorff dimension actually arise in the description of these rendering algorithms?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

He won't rest in peace if he hears this composition!

You may be able to tell from my most recent post that I derive great pleasure when a cache log is more than a simple "TFTC". This morning, incrediblemagpie was not the only creative cache finder. sparkyfry found my cache Rest in peace, Jaco Pastorius, a puzzle cache for which the hint is embedded in a piece of music that I "wrote". sparkyfry made a video of himself playing that piece of music on the piano, and I have been laughing about it all day. Take seven seconds out of your day to experience cache coordinates set to music, and be on the lookout for a version on bass guitar:

The End of (Mathematical) Days

As a mathevangelist, I am often asked, "Will I be among the Chosen when The End of Mathematical Days is upon us? Will I be carried into Pythagoras' Inner Circle for the rest of Eternity, or at least a Sufficiently Large Finite Approximation Thereof, and experience Pure Platonic Love?"

I reply, "It is true that not everyone can experience Pure Platonic Love. At the End of Mathematical Days, when the Reign of Mathematical Terror is lifted from Highland Park, Saint Paul, the Die will be checked, and to the Chosen Twenty will be revealed a mathematical truth beyond their wildest imaginings -- a sixth Platonic solid unlocking the mysteries of the universe."

Are you among the Chosen Twenty? Listen to the words of the recently admitted (thanks to incrediblemagpie):

Plato's Five Gems: Icosahedron

Verily as I enter the Valley Mathematical Terror,
I shall fear no equations:
For I have been endowed with the magical numbers.
Thy additions and subtractions, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a cache for me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou annointest my head with clarity; my caches runneth over.

Surley keen vision and stamina shall lead me to all the caches of my life,
and I will dwell in the parks and fields forever.


The park is 1B's and all that cache in it,
the world, and those that hide in it;
for he has hidden it among the slabs,
and established it on slopes.

Who shall descend the slopes of 1B?
and who shall stand in his hiding place?
Those who have dirty hands and soiled knees,
who do not lift up their eyes to which is false, (decoys)
and do not swear deceitfully. (well at least not very loudly.)


To you, Oh 1B, I lift my pen.
Oh my 1B, in mathematics I trust:
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let caluclations exult over me;
Do not let those who wait be put to shame;
let them be ashamed those who are wantonly treacherous.(hehe)


Make me to know your ways, Oh 1B;
teach me your tracings,
lead me on your paths, and teach me,
for you are the 1B;
for you I cache all day.


Judge me, Oh 1B; for I have walked in the Valley of Mathematics;
I have trusted the numbers; therefore I did not slide.

Sometimes, I must remind the most eager seekers: "The park and the slopes and all that cache on them belong not to me but to mathematics. Lift your pen not to me but to mathematics. Endeavor to know not my ways but the ways of mathematics. It is for the tracings and paths of mathematics, and not I, that you cache all day. It is the austere logic of mathematics, and not mine, that judges."

Will you join the Chosen Twenty? Look within yourself, but also look here and here, for the signposts along your Platonic path.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Deciphering Dad

I grabbed a cheesy men's magazine at the gym this morning, thumbed past the ads for clothes I wouldn't wear in a million years, and stumbled upon an excerpt of Augusten Burroughs' new book A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of my Father. Later in the magazine was an essay by Michael Chabon, whose writing I prefer to Burroughs', but what caught my attention in the excerpt was Burroughs' mention of his father's interest in ham radio and the Q-codes that amateur radio enthusiasts use. His father chatted with strangers from far away, while right next to him his young son yearned for the same connection.

I thought of Wilco's 2002 masterpiece album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The climactic track on that album, "Poor Places", begins with Jeff Tweedy's words

It's my father's voice trailin' off
Sailors sailing off in the morning

and ends with a big knot of noise and a captured radio transmission of a woman's voice repeating Yankee... Hotel... Foxtrot... Yankee... Hotel... Foxtrot...

A meditation on the physical and interpersonal obstacles to communication.


After my grandfather's funeral, we returned to the line of cars with purple flags. My dad put his knurled hands on the steering wheel, exhaled, and opened the valve on emotions that he'd bottled for the previous weeks, months, years. I put my left hand on his shoulder, and he tensed -- an involuntary message that said "not now". The moment was too direct and too raw.

What's the comfortable language with my father? Golf, sports on TV, politics, and -- lately -- geocaching. Facts and tasks and made-up goals and little triumphs that serve as a sort of Q-code for underlying messages that are too direct and too raw to say out loud.


I found LucidOndine's puzzle cache Topsy Turvy after two failed attempts. I'll let the logs tell that story.

FSU*Noles' event Cup of Joe (Puzzle Edition) - Maple Grove! is Saturday morning. I'll be there at the Panera with close to 100 other geocachers and the muggles who love them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Endangering the lives of children... put me in the Star Tribune!

My wife and I have a nickname for the Star Tribune: "Dumb S*** Parents Do To Their Kids". Check it: every other day, someone is leaving their six-month-old kid in a parked car or a bathtub to go to a strip club or play video poker or shop online for shoes.

The dumb s*** I do, at least I do it to other people's kids. In 2002 I taught in a summer program at my former university. My course was called Geometry and the Imagination, and I thought it would help my ninth-grade students imagine some geometry if we built an icosahedron. That's a 3D shape with 20 triangular sides. Now, if I'm going to build the thing, I'm going to do it up right, with 2x2 lumber and bolts and nuts. OK, here come the pictures. It gives me shivers to look at these again.

Do you see any work gloves or goggles in this photo?

Somewhere there's a photograph of two 14-year-old girls grinning and holding 3/8" drills above their heads like it's the Wild Wild West, but luckily I couldn't find a copy of that photograph on the Wayback Machine.

Anyone who wasn't an oblivious mathematician like me looked at the structure and said, "You let ninth-graders use power tools?"

There's a mathematical mystery for you -- why did these parents let me near their children?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On embedded links and ticks

Last night I removed an embedded dog tick from my daughter's scalp. For an hour afterwards, I planned a blog post announcing that I was quitting geocaching forever, out of penance for exposing my children to harm. I went geocaching in Bloomington Sunday with Millah and LucidOndine and on the way home flicked four ticks off my own body. I assumed that she picked up a tick because I carried one into the house on my clothes.

But then I realized that she must have picked it up while she was doing somersaults in the grass outside the Roseville REI, and so for now geocaching need not be the fall guy.

I removed the tick with tweezers, gripping very close to the skin, pulling firmly and steadily. I verified that it was a dog tick and not a deer tick, verified that I removed the entire critter, and then cleaned the area with alcohol and killed the tick with alcohol -- and some gratuitous violence -- How dare you come into my house and attack my daughter like that?!

I have a small amount of tick experience: my wife and I celebrated our honeymoon in the spring of 2000 in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and I removed ticks from her on that trip. How romantic.

Is this what I have to look forward to during my first full Minnesota summer? My skin is crawling constantly. I think about ticks all the time. It hasn't been this bad since that unfortunate episode with chiggers when I was 15.

I have tentative spousal approval to go north for the MnGCA spring event the weekend of May 31. I haven't thought it out, though... nowhere to stay, no gear -- I sold it all or gave it all away when the kids came along -- and now I have this image of ticks up in the arrowhead driving their own pickup trucks and preying on soft city boys like me.


Silent Bob owned me. I present this story as a public service to others who, like me, have blogging aspirations and good intentions but a lack of knowledge about copyright issues.

Last Wednesday I attended WeekNIGHT Caching: 4 year anniversary and met Silent Bob among others. He took a picture of a beer glass pyramid that he made. I expressed regret at not getting a picture of it, and he said that I could use the one he took. At issue here is what exactly "use" means.

First I'll tell you what I did. The technical term for what I did is GANK. I ganked his photo. I downloaded a copy of his photo from his Flickr site and re-hosted it from my Blogger site. I thought that was okay, as long as I cited the photo as being from SB.

It is not. It is my very good fortune that SB chooses to spend some small amount of time looking at my blog, because he noticed my error and kindly pointed out the proper way to cite ownership of a photo. Much better that an acquaintance do this than a complete stranger. Let me see if I can describe this correctly.

SB uses the Creative Commons license specifying Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works, which means roughly that I can use his photo, as long as I attribute it to him (in the way I'll describe below) and do not mash it up and do not use it for commercial purposes.

Instead of re-hosting the photo on my site, I should instead link to the original hosting site and state that the photo was originally uploaded by him. Look at the page source of the post in question for an example of how to do this.

(A quick question as an aside: I've heard the practice of linking to content offsite called "stealing bandwidth". Is this a lesser transgression than ganking the photo? I guess it is. That asked, I didn't gank the photo with that in mind. I just plain didn't know.)

I removed some other photos from my site and in the future I will either search for photos that carry the Attribution or Public Domain CC license or I will think about how a photo of my own may enhance my post. Time to clean up my cache pages, too.

SB also alerted me to this much higher profile version, on Aaron Landry's blog, of what I did. Interesting reading, especially in the comments, and especially if you're a reader of Boing Boing, which you probably are. Or should be.

So, a big public hats-off to SB for schooling me gently and introducing me to CC. It's about time I learned, because I encounter a lot of content in my academic job that is licensed under Creative Commons.


Heading out to Chanhassen for Weeknight tonight. After I tried to intimidate everyone on the MnGCA forum mathematically, and Lucid tried to intimidate me as a moderator, we'll see who is more intimidating in person! It's on!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Geek Summit

I was a lonely fifth-grader. Intricate, baffling, and scary social patterns were developing in front of my eyes. I liked girls, and apparently some liked me, but I couldn't understand how I could receive a note at the beginning of recess saying

"Will you go with Hilary? Circle YES or NO."

and after circling yes and wondering what I should do next -- How do you "go with" someone? Should I go say hello to her? -- receive another note 15 minutes later saying

"Hilary doesn't want to go with you anymore."

So long, Hilary. "We'll always have Recess".

But a benevolent teacher recognized that I had different interests from most of my classmates and that another student at the neighboring elementary had different interests, and so she organized a Geek Summit. I went to Scott's house to play trumpet and clarinet and role-playing games and historical-simulation games and talk about Star Trek -- I never understood the appeal, and still don't, but I secretly admired that he continued to wear his Star Trek logo T-shirt to school every day despite endless ridicule.

Thus began my pursuit of social connections based on interest rather than happenstance geography, and I view my time spent on the internet -- blogging, forums, logging caches -- as a more efficient environment for that.

I'm not here to become a local authority on geocaching. In fact, I would love to see many more active blogs added to the mix. I'm not here to make money. In fact, it could be argued that this hobby results in a net loss in income. I'm here instead to hang a sign that says: here's a little bit of who I am and what my interests are. Take it or leave it. Maybe it will result in a new social connection. Maybe it won't.

All internet content either conveys factual information -- such as Wikipedia (and before the joke forms in your head, it's factual even if it's wrong) -- or conveys opinion and personal information -- such as Facebook pages and Twitter posts.

That's why it's a bit confusing to see this debate over the role of sports bloggers become so heated. It's disappointing to see Buzz Bissinger act so bitter and defensive, because his book Friday Night Lights about high-school football in Texas is so well-written. What's a sports blog? It's a virtual bar, basically. You go there to share opinions about something you're all interested in, and it turns out that most of the people are dips***s, but that's the price of the efficiency of the social environment. It doesn't threaten sports journalism; it sustains the need for it.


Latest Geek Summit: weekNIGHT Caching: 4 year anniversary on Wednesday. Was in close geographic proximity to -- no chance I'm hyperlinking all these -- TheCollector (the event's organizer), Millah, shoestorm, Plem45, DogSoft, MN_Cavepeople, topgear, broken tooth, bflentje, casinoman, sir_zman, two of hearts, Oneied Cooky, minnesotabrad, TECGeoJim, MSPMatt, speedysk1, Arcticabn, Good-Boy, and ultimately LucidOndine, Celticwulf, and Silent Bob.

Just like fifth grade, except with beer. Lots of beer.

Beer glass pyramid
(originally uploaded by Bill Roehl) (L-R: LucidOndine, SB's pyramid, Celticwulf's left shoulder)

Monday, April 28, 2008

I hate you, Paul Douglas.

Saturday was the first time all winter -- admit it, it's still winter -- I really hated Minnesota weather. When my family moved here in July 2007, I was determined to confront the winter with a positive attitude, and it worked, thanks to two things:

1. Geocaching. Everyone told us that you have to "Embrace the Winter" and get outside and do things. We moved here July 1, I began geocaching on July 17, and it didn't take me too long to realize that geocaching would be my winter thing. It took longer to realize that winter caching especially rocks because you can walk on lakes, and there are no ticks or stinging nettles.

I thought that part of "Embrace the Winter" was not to complain about the weather, but I think that my lack of complaining (until now) identifies me as a newcomer, as if my pronunciations of Woodbury, Edina, and Mahtomedi don't already do that. Next winter, I will complain more, and I will say city names correctly.

2. The Twin Cities are much sunnier than Ann Arbor, Michigan. Look for my upcoming series of posts, 50 Reasons I Hate Ann Arbor. It is gray. All the time. I'll take -10 + sun anytime.

So now my Cylon-like death rays of hatred -- let's hear it for Battlestar Ga-Frak-tica! -- are directed not at Ann Arbor but at Paul Douglas, because, as you know, meteorologists cause bad weather. Ha ha ha! That's a funny joke! Maybe they cause global warming, too... Oh no, what have I done...

Saturday minibass and I met shoestorm and his cache kids at the Mall of America park-n-ride to grab the train north to the Mpls Public Library and, of course, grab some caches on the way to and from. The brutal temperature and wind caused some crying, but I won't say who, in order to protect five masculine egos. shoestorm's jr. cache kid is the most natural nano-cache finder I have ever seen.

shoestorm's sr. cache kid -- a future architect -- is interested in the shapes of buildings, and so I suggested to them a website called geoGreeting. It was started by a graduate student at the U, and it creates electronic greetings with letters that are aerial photos of buildings. Pretty cool. Reminds me a bit of this cache.

Come out to Weeknight on Wednesday!

Friday, April 25, 2008

My geocoins travel so that I don't have to. Plus, how I almost got an A- in driver's ed.

I'm too busy editing my GSAK macros to travel, so I'm outsourcing that part of my life to my geocoins.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Grey Wolf took two of my geocoins to the Bahamas. The coins have made their way to Rhode Island, and Grey Wolf is back from the Bahamas. He passed along to me a website with some information about Eleuthera, the out-of-the-way island the coins visited.

Good thing none of my geocoins tried to bring a replica sword back from vacation, or else they'd be expelled from geocoin school. See this Star Tribune article that Silent Bob referenced on his Lazy Lightning blog. I have a replica sword, brought back from a school trip -- purchased in Toledo, Spain, in 1987. Ah, pre-9/11 days. How did those kids even get the sword back into the country? Hey, does anyone want my sword? I'll bundle it with some Starplate hub connectors for a deep discount.

Another of my geocoins fulfilled its goal to go to Bellevue, Washington, where my brother and sister-in-law and sister live. Now I have to convince them, very occasional geocachers, to go root around in the back of a Saturn dealership near the Microsoft campus to grab my coin.

I'm a little irked about that geocoin: the cacher who took it from California to Washington was very nice for doing so and all, but on the way he dropped a bunch of coins at the tribute to the Original Stash, but chose not to leave my coin there. How did that decision get made? "Hey, kids, we're going to Disneyland. Except you, Tommy. Stay in the car. Don't cry, Tommy. If you were a little more handsome or smarter, things might be different. Hope you enjoy the putt-putt course."


An eventful Wednesday night out geocaching with and without the Weeknight crew.

1. I stopped to fix a nagging DNF and along the way met NOSNOW and Shadow's Friend, whom I've almost crossed paths with several times, and Sipidation. NOSNOW was very generous to make a straight-up trade -- my pathtag for their geocoin. (My pathtag is nice, but not that nice.)

2. On to Weeknight caching at Sunfish Lake Park in Lake Elmo. Good timing, because last Sunday Millah and I were out there and didn't quite have time to close out the entire park -- we had an obligation at another cache. It was nice to meet tesser at the restaurant afterwards, in part because she now has an obligation at that same cache.

It was also nice to meet LucidOndine for the first time and to hear about his (money-making, non-geocaching) occupation, which makes use of a lot of applied mathematics, and his (non-money-making, geocaching) occupation, being on the board of the MnGCA.

3. Between the Weeknight caching and the Weeknight beer drinking, I stopped off to do some cache maintenance here. Last Sunday, I found this cache with Millah and posted a Needs Maintenance log. Without going into details, this cache has a history that I didn't know then but now know, and so it was a pleasure and a relief to do that maintenance and then ask Our Local Cache Reviewer to remove the maintenance attribute.


Gotta love those Ohio school teachers, burning symbols into kids' arms with lab equipment. After telling you about my computer science teacher leaving profane tirades in BASIC code, I'll now tell you about my driver's education teacher.

I took driver's education the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. The course was graded and part of the calculation of my GPA, which at the time was extremely important to me. I just assumed that I got an A in driver's ed -- I earned all the possible points on all the exercises. At the end of the fall term of my junior year, though, I realized that I got an A- in driver's ed. So I went to Mr. Redacted's office, and I discovered that although I earned all the points in the classroom and in the practice car, I failed to...(prepare yourself) BALE HAY ON HIS FARM like everyone else in the class did, hence I did not receive those extra credit points. Now, it embarrasses me a little bit to admit it publicly, because it was not a fierce sense of justice that made me do this but rather fear that I wouldn't have a chance to be valedictorian, but I subtly threatened to expose his child labor scheme to the authorities. That A- quietly molted its minus into an A.

So now you know. I only do geocaching so that I can put the extra-curricular on my college application.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Geocaching: cross-training for computer geeks

When I was in eighth grade in 1983, I joined the new computer club at my junior high school. All we did was try tricks out of the Beagle Bros. catalog and play Escape From Rungistan on the Apple II's. But one of those Beagle Bros. tricks was to hide code in a BASIC program, and in one of the formative experiences of my life, I found a hidden comment in an exercise that our club advisor wrote. It said:


I was hooked.


foundinthewild's tips for loading custom POIs into the 60CSx via GSAK worked like an absolute charm, and so in the last 12 hours I have loaded my entire database of caches into my microSD card about 40 different times. (Hm... let's see, can I edit the macro so that the description of every cache says "BOOYA!"? Yes, I can!)

But I don't want to go down the custom POI route simply because I can and because it's something else to toy with. There's something comfortable about just loading one pocket query of 500 caches (guh! 1000 fit.), labelled with %drop2, and keeping all the extra information in the PDA. It's great to have all this flexibility, but it's tough to break out of old habits. I'd like to hear how others' caching and waypoint-managing routines have evolved.

And so it's a good thing that geocaching involves stepping away from the computer and getting outside, albeit for activity that must later be logged (and blogged) on the computer. If it were not for that part of geocaching, the get-out-and-walk-around part, this is all we'd have to look forward to:

KB's Challenge of a Century: 100 GSAK Macro Edits!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

GSAK: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

foundinthewild sent me some helpful hints about using Garmin's POI Loader to add custom icons and custom points of interest to the microSD card of the 60CSx. [Edit: Here they are:]

I am attaching a zip file of the modified versions of the gsak macros and my icon set. I have some duplicate icons, but the important ones, found, not found, multi, puzzle, virtual, disabled, and final locations are there. I made some mods to the macro code, like drop2, mark the found caches with * (when I choose to include them), and use the difficulty/terrain rating system of 1,A,2,B,3,C,4,D,5. You can find the mods by searching [for my initials] since I comment the code. I also increased my smartnames in gsak by 2 characters to give me a better sense of the cache names.

It takes a few minutes to run on my older machine for about 6800 caches for the state of MN. It will use around 1.2 MB on the memory card i.e. not very much.

One time:
The original / latest gsak macro (untouched by me) can be found at: My version is attached to this email.

Download and install of the poiloader from Garmin:

Set up your POI folder and unzip the CustomPoiIcons zip or from my file . My version is attached.

Go to your cache database, choose Macro /Run/Manage and install the macro GarminCsvPoiExport.gsk if it's not already installed. This file is in the file, too.
File update and replacement:

Set the GPS to USB connected drive. (Menu, menu, setup, interface, USB). Using windows explorer, find k:\garmin\poi (k: is your usb mapped drive). The folder will start out blank or with a file called "poi.gpi" but you can put more than one file there.

After the gsak macro is done running on your database, run POI loader program from windows, finding the usb connected drive. I choose not to use proximity alerts in the options. You run through each type of file it finds in your POI folder or use express. When it is done, check your folder with windows explorer and you should see a file called 'poi.gpi'. I RENAME that file to something like 'minn080131.gpi' which means you can rerun the export macro on a different database, load the next gpi file as poi.gpi, rename it, say "Florida.gpi" or something, and repeat for many databases. It needs the .gpi extension.

Remember to "Safely Remove" your hardware, and the gpsr restarts in standard mode. Find / 'Custom Points of Interest' defaults to closest but you can search by smartname or the drop2. Once you find a cache, use find/find/select waypoint and "save" the waypoint as a geocache. This should place it in the calendar if needed for later review.

The symbols show up when you are zoomed in to about 0.8 miles or closer. This is supposed to help with the clutter. I set up my garmin map from the map display: menu/setup map/map points/ max zoom at 0.8mi.

I have an intermittent micro SD card, so I always verify a good poi load before heading out and re-running poiloader usually fixes it.

I have used several different poi folders for unique locations. I just copy all of the icons from the main poi files folder to the new one.

Let me know how this works for you.

Haven't tackled that project yet, though I did download the loader and check that I could browse around the card as a USB mass storage unit. It appears that the maps take up about 1GB and change, so I'm assuming that's a 2GB card I've got in there and so there's room to add some POIs.

I set up a dedicated email account to collect pocket query emails from Groundspeak so that GSAK can process them automatically.

Then I changed how GSAK writes the waypoint description to the GPSr. Now I'm using


which gives a shortened version of the cache name, the first four letters of the name of the hider, and one-letter codes for the cache type, container, difficulty, and terrain.

I am reluctant to start using custom icons and custom points of interest, because my favorite feature of the 60CSx is the Geocaching Mode, in which you can press a Found button so that the cache is saved to your calendar for easy logging later. Would be interested to hear your workarounds on this if you do use a bunch of custom POIs. [Update: foundinthewild tells me that when he finds a cache that is not a traditional, he changes the icon and find it again in order to save it to the calendar. Good enough for me. I'm on it!]


Time to change Plato's Five Gems: Dodecahedron to a large container! See this post on Boing Boing.

When I take my old laptop to the hospital to recover some lost data, I'll try to retrieve a photograph of the huge icosahedron I made with some ninth graders during a summer math camp a few years back. It was about fifteen feet high, and it was made out of 10-foot lengths of 2x2 lumber and these special Starplate connector joints.

[Shameless commerce division: Anyone want these at a discount? I'm still dragging them around from basement to basement.]
Reaction was mixed. My mathematical colleagues said "Spectacular!" My administrative colleagues were not happy. Something about giving ninth graders power tools without their parents' permission...

Let me tell you something though: those kids couldn't help but leave camp knowing V - E + F = 2!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blogging, geocaching, and blogging about geocaching

This blog post at the saintpaulitan describes at least as well why I started geocaching once I moved to the Twin Cities as why I blog about geocaching.

Millah and I went out to Sunfish Lake Park for a bunch of new Mutsley&Crew caches Sunday morning -- our last big weekend trip before the mini-Millah arrives. Congratulations to Millah for hitting 700 some short time after that. I was able to help him celebrate the round numbers beforehand, though, with a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. Though the Rogue Mocha Porter later is little more to my taste, the shandy fit Sunday's weather. Because of that weather, I talked to more neighbors yesterday than I think I have in my entire life. Now that's April in Minnesota!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The devil (in the form of GSAK) made me do it.

I am running Windows XP on my Mac laptop. There, I said it. Such was the level of my dissatisfaction with MacCaching. Get out of my dreams, GSAK, and get in to my car.

I installed VMware Fusion and Windows XP and it works like a charm -- dragging files between operating systems is nice, especially when GSAK generates a .pdb file for my Centro and I drag it over to my Hotsync manager on the Mac side of the fence. (I can't run everything in Windows, or else there'd be no reason to have a Mac.)

Now I have to deal with that pleasant but dissonant feeling that I don't know 10% of what GSAK can do. But I did do this for fun, now that I have all this waypoint-managing power:

I set up pocket queries by cache release date to get all caches within 50 miles of home. (Why 50? Because I realized very quickly that 100 would take forever.) It took 10 PQs.

Using GSAK solves these small but irritating problems: now, cache records in CacheMate will contain the name of the cache owner and the size of the container; for some reason, MacCaching left those things out of the .pdb file. Also, I like the profile page stats that the FindStatGen macro for GSAK creates better than the INATN stats; plus, ITATN was down the last time I checked.

For some reason, I only realized two days ago that my 60CSx holds 1000 waypoints. I think it may have been because a PQ contains at most 500 waypoints that I thought that the 60 held only 500.

All together, using GSAK with my (mentally) upgraded 60CSx makes it less likely that I'll be caught out without coordinates or PDA information.

I'd like to hear how you use GSAK!

Last Sunday knowschad, meralgia, Millah, and I met up to hide the container for B2K: Bobcam's 2000th find. By the end of the day Friday, Bobcam had 1988 finds, so Saturday morning was time to submit.

In a nice coincidence, Bobcam called me this afternoon to thank me for the cache as I was leaving a cache of his in Marydale Park in Saint Paul.

(L-R: knowschad, firstbass, meralgia, Millah)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Input sought on puzzle cache series

I have a series of six caches in Highland Park in Saint Paul called Plato's Five Gems. Four of them are puzzles, one is a two-stage multi that has a puzzle at the first stage (by the way, this post by Spinowner suggests to me that I am correct, or at least justified, in classifying this one as a multi and not a puzzle), and one is a traditional.

Some recent posts on the MnGCA forums have given me an idea about this series. First, Silent Bob suggests in this post that there should be an 18 month time limit on caches. Second, pfalstad suggests in this post that hard puzzles should not be taking up space in city parks in cache-dense areas.

Some folks have had trouble with these puzzles, so I guess they're hard in some sense, and Highland Park is indeed a city park, and this series takes up a good fraction of that entire park's cache-able area.

Here's my idea: the "container" for the cache that ties them all together, Plato's Five Gems: Bunganator's Grand Slam, is a large icosahedral die, and the finder signs one of the 20 faces to log it. (See this blog post by Sokratz for a discussion on whether this is a proper cache container.) At this moment, there are 10 finders, and so there are 10 faces left to sign. I propose that when there are 20 logs on the grand slam cache, I will archive the entire series.

The only thing that gives me pause is the expectation of cache permanence in the guidelines. And I don't want to archive the series simply because some people don't do or hate or ignore puzzles. But still, it might be fun to create a sort of race for the last 10 finders, and then the icosahedral die would be a keepsake (or potential travel bug?) containing the names of 20 puzzlers.

Input welcome.