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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A momentous occasion

Sometimes you just know you'll remember something for the rest of your life. That happened to me Sunday.

No, I'm not referring to my 500th cache find, though that did happen Sunday. Not sure what that signifies, other than a celebration of the base 10 number system. Did have a great time with fellow cachers, though.

I'm talking about what happened after that. After my "play date" out geocaching, it was time for me to hang with the mini-double-bass for the rest of the day while secondbass (oh she would love that! so paternalistic) got her time. At the park, W. (mini-bass 1) and H. (mini-bass 2) asked me to take the training wheels off their bikes. It usually takes several shouted requests to get me to go to the tool box, but on Sunday I practically sprinted to grab the wrench.

I only found out afterwards why H. suggested taking off the training wheels and why she insisted on calling them "stabilizers". H. watches a cartoon called "Charlie and Lola" (link warning: extreme animated cuteness). The characters are from England, so the show fits my Anglophile Education Program. Yes, I have shamelessly told H. that Lola is an Arsenal supporter. In fact, W. and H. think that every person who wears a red shirt with white sleeves plays for Arsenal. Come to think of it, who wears such a shirt and doesn't play for Arsenal?

Anyway, in one episode Lola has the "stabilizers" removed from her bike, and in the course of 22 minutes she goes from being afraid to riding her bike happily. This also explains why H. was so frustrated when it didn't happen so quickly for her. H. is a bit of a perfectionist -- it's nice to know that I gave H. my perfectionism and W. my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so that neither of them has to deal with both at the same time.


Grey Wolf took two of my geocoins to the Bahamas! I thought initially that he was taking them to Key West, because he thinks "math sucks" like Jimmy Buffett. I realized that I have no idea what "The Bahamas" are, so I will repeat here what I learned on Wikipedia: it is an independent country, having earned full independence from the United Kingdom in 1973, but QEII is still the Head of State.


Who knew? Not all blogs are about geocaching. I like to read UniWatch, a blog about athletic uniforms. [Aside: shoestorm was wearing something on Sunday that looked suspiciously like a geocaching uniform.] The obsessive attention to detail on the blog is very appealing to me, but there is so much there that I find it a hard blog-slog sometimes. Two things led to my uniform interest: (1) being in thrall of TBDBITL and the greatest uniform tradition in college sports: the Ohio State Buckeye helmets;
and (2) the fact that in 1981 the Cincinnati Bengals changed their helmets from the worst helmets in the history of American football
to the coolest helmets (in the eyes of an 11-year-old) EVER.

Then, the Bengals went to their first Super Bowl, and I was convinced that it was because of the helmets. I had to admit that the 49ers may have ultimately had superior helmets to win the Super Bowl.

My history with football helmets also foreshadows my move to the Twin Cities. I used to collect the football helmets that came out of grocery store vending machines, and at one point I had 25 of the 26 helmets, and no matter how many quarters I wasted, I could not get that last helmet. And then, in one of the most memorable moments of my young life, my dad returned from the late night milk run and placed on my desk, in its correct position in the NFC Central Division standings, the helmet of the Minnesota Vikings. A momentous occasion indeed. About a week later, I found in the drawer of my father's nightstand EIGHT Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmets.

I have been an affiliate fan of the Vikings because of this ever since. Not to mention several (infamous?) Buckeye-Vikings, such as Cris Carter and Robert Smith. Ask me to do the Ickey Shuffle, though, and you'll see where my true loyalties are.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yoda (and his blogging owner) is back in action

I need to post more often. If I wait a week, then there are so many possible topics bouncing around in my brain that I can't remember them all.

  • After being disabled for a week, my puzzle cache Where's Yoda? (I like puzzles) is back in action. A couple weeks ago, after three consecutive (and compelling) DNFs I walked over to GZ from work. I saw the camouflage, but the cache container was missing. Extra disappointing because there are three TBs logged into it. I got a new container together and found a much better nearby hiding location. This cache has been doomed from the start -- allegations of malware, being banned by Blogger, container (probably) chucked into the Mississippi River -- but Yoda keeps coming back. You wouldn't expect anything less of a Jedi master.
  • Stumbled across two Twin Cities blogs -- Sokratz and Lazy Lightning (Silent Bob's blog not just about geocaching) -- and noticed on the MnGCA forums that minnesotabrad is writing a newsletter. meralgia -- who has been keeping up with geocaching virtually but who is coming out of hibernation for hiding and finding -- told me about Sokratz's blog, and his post about cache containers caught my attention because I have a puzzle cache container (I like puzzles) that is a large polyhedral die and may have slipped through the cracks of the reviewing process. If I go out there and put it in a ziploc bag, is it OK then?
  • Interesting discussion on the MnGCA forums about the effect of puzzle caches on the proximity guideline. I like puzzles.
  • Shoestorm drove Bunganator and me up to Fridley Weeknight caching on Wednesday, where we met Millah for a couple pre-caching puzzles. Interesting discussion on the MnGCA forums (and here) about the integrity of puzzle solvers. I like puzzles. Also was nice to see broken_tooth, Bus&Betty, cstjohn, minnesotabrad (whom I pestered until he finally gave me his 2nd pathtag), sir_zman, MN_Cavepeople, fireman121, Red_Devil35, oneied_cooky. It was also nice to meet mall security at this cache.
  • Finally solved Millah's fun puzzle About Time. I like puzzles.
  • I have an important piece of the solution to Shoestorm's puzzle cache Dr. Strangecache. I like puzzles. I'll take cash offers for that piece of the solution via email.
  • Shoestorm, Millah, and I are planning a suite of three caches about football (the beautiful game), specifically the rivalry between Manchester United (shoestorm's club) and Arsenal (mine). They'll be "unknown" caches, but not necessarily puzzles. I like puzzles. Too bad Arsenal mucked things up by almost sealing a trip to the semifinals of the Champions League with a late, late goal against Liverpool in their quarterfinal second leg, only to give it away on a B***S*** penalty about 30 seconds later.
  • Millah and I tried to go to Cottage Grove Ravine Park last Sunday for all the Party caches, but we never got there because there were too many interesting things along the way. Maybe we'll crash that Party tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fools!

Read the note I posted on the cache page for Millah's baseball-themed puzzle cache. Though I didn't intend it, this note had the effect (assuming that INATN counts words in notes) of pushing me back on to the list of Top Ten Wordiest Cachers in Minnesota. Once again, geocaching achievements attained by cheating...