June 28, 2008

Productivity Drop

I've got a productivity problem. Ever since I started geocaching nearly 5 years ago, my total finds each year have been higher than each previous year. But as we approach the mid-point of 2008, I'm embarrassed to report that my monthly find totals so far are less than they were in 2007, on average. I'm currently on pace to find 20 fewer caches this year than last, and that's just not acceptable.

I think part of the problem is that up until several months ago, my work schedule was such that I had every other Friday off; and as it turned out, I did most of my geocaching on Fridays:

I no longer enjoy such a cache-friendly work schedule, and unfortunately, I still spend most of my Saturdays and Sundays tending to my never-ending honey-do list. So something's gotta give, because somewhere between work, home and geocaching, my priorities have gotten out of whack. On the bright side, I've still got 6 months to rectify this situation.

If you are interested in checking your own caching statistics, visit "It'sNotAboutTheNumbers" and see this earlier post about it. If you use GSAK, you can also generate your stats with this handy little macro (which I used to create pie chart above).

Now I've got to go have a little chat with my boss and my wife. Cache On!

June 21, 2008

Tragedy on the Trail

It was like a scene from an old war movie. Two soldiers, best friends who had been through countless adventures and challenges together, lying injured on the trail next to each other. One in much worse shape than the other. Realizing his friend may not make it back alive, his mind begins replaying all the great times they've had together over the years...

I guess it was bound to happen. After nearly five years and just over 1,000 cache finds, a particularly steep trail descent got the best of us. A trail so steep, I had to walk my bike down it. Suddenly, I hit a soft patch of dirt, lost my footing, and the three of us; bike, GPSr, and I finished off the descent rolling head over heels until we hit bottom.

I stood up slowly, glad to only have a bruised back side and ego. I felt even more relieved as I picked up and inspected my bike and found no major damage. But then I saw a sight that made my heart sink. My trusty Garmin GPS 12 lay helpless and motionless on the ground. I barely recognized it, with it's inner workings exposed in the hot, noon-day sun:

Was this the end of my trusted friend and companion? Had it lead me to it's last cache? I picked it up gingerly, trying my best to minimize any possible further damage. And as I glanced at the screen, I couldn't believe my eyes. Even in it's dreadful state, it was still showing me the way to the next cache, still tracking our position, as if nothing was wrong or any different than any previous outing.

Now this little guy has been dropped, kicked, rained on, and endured it's fair share of tough situations, but never anything like this. Incredibly, I was able to hold the pieces together long enough to find 3 more caches that afternoon and then get it home, apply a little epoxy, and reattach the case. Since then, it's been working as good as the day I got it. Will it see me through my next 1,000 finds? Only time will tell...

Cache On!

June 10, 2008

Google Earth Now In Google Maps

I know I talk a lot about Google Earth and Google Maps in this blog (maybe a little too much), but I find both applications very convenient and powerful for viewing cache sites before I head out on a cache hunt, as well as afterwards for viewing my GPSr tracks and cache finds. If you like Google Earth's ability to view terrain in 3D, but the convenience and accessibility of the web-based Google Maps, and wished there was a web version of Google Earth; your wait is over!

Google recently announced the release of a Google Earth Browser Plug-in, which now brings the full power of Google Earth to the web. You can download the plug-in from the Google Earth API site. Soon, you will start to see more Map "Mash-ups" that incorporate the 3D terrain effect of Google Earth. In fact, here's a fun one called Monster Milktruck that someone already put together (note: you need to install the Google Earth plug-in for it to work).

I am by no means even remotely a programmer, but I was able to throw together a simple little Google Maps mash-up with a Google Earth interface showing a few local cache sites in my web browser:

If I can do that, I can't wait to see what real programmer-types start to come up with. Here's a few early creations to wet your whistle:

Every Trail
Geo Whiz
Map Projections
First Person Camera
Bouncing Earth

Enjoy, and Cache On!

June 3, 2008

View Your Personal Cache Data In Google Maps

While Google continues to make it easier to add your own custom data to their maps using their Google Maps API, there's an even easier way to see your cache data in Google Maps without writing a single line of code. All you need is some on-line storage space (which you probably already have through your Internet Service Provider or web-mail account) to store a single Google Earth KML file.

The first thing you need to do is decide which caches you want to view in Google Maps, and then convert that list of caches into a KML file. We've talked about the versatility of the geocaching database program, GSAK before. Well, it also allows you to export your cache data into KML format. Then, just copy that file to your a web site, and then enter the http address of that site, with the .kml file name at the end, into the Google Maps search box, and presto, your caches appear on the map.

Let's take an example. Say you want to see all the caches, in map form, available in my favorite summer vacation spot, Lake Tahoe. First, import your previously defined Lake Tahoe pocket query from Geocaching.com into GSAK. Then, still using GSAK, export the Tahoe cache list to a Google Earth file that we'll call Tahoe.kml. Now, upload that file to an online server storage site, such as Google Page Creator, which provides free web storage space to Google account holders. Finally, just open Google Maps and in the search box, enter the http address of the kml file you just uploaded (in my case it's http://username.googlepages.com/Tahoe.kml:

That's it! Very cool. Also, if you keep the left pane open, you'll see a list of all your caches sorted by cache type. You can click on any link, and the map will scroll to that cache and provide a pop-up box with the cache information:

This is great stuff, and nice because you can view your stored caches on any computer/laptop with internet access and a web browser. Give it a try - it's well worth the minimal effort that it takes to set up.

Cache On!