December 26, 2010

Geocaching.com Delivers

Well, we knew it was coming, and now (most of) it is here.

Statistics
You can now view a nice selection of statistics related to your cache finds, including your finds per day, finds per month, and finds for each day of the year. I like how your stat page updates as soon as you log a new find.


Favorites
This is a nice feature that lets you label any cache as one of your favorites. For every 10 caches you find, you are allowed to "favorite" 1 cache. What I really like is that you can sort a list of caches from "most favorited" to least (by clicking on the blue ribbon). I found a cache in my area that has already received 34 favorite votes, and turns out to be one of the most popular caches in the world. Before now, I never even knew it existed.

Better Mapping
The new mapping tool is still in beta, but is accessible through the regular gc.com mapping page. It really does scroll much faster than the current version, and can display an unlimited number of caches. But the best part is the number of different map types available including all the traditional road, terrain and satellite views, but also options for viewing OpenStreet Maps, OpenCycle Maps, and Bing Maps. The only thing missing (for now) is the ability to turn on and off caches you own or have already found.


Sweet! Cache On!

December 19, 2010

Tis The Season

I suspect this post won't generate the lively discussion that my last post did.

Even so, you may be interested to learn that geocaching.com has some nice holiday upgrades in store for us in the near future. First, as you've probably heard, Groundspeak acquired mygeocachingprofile.com, a great website for creating all sorts of statistics, graphs and maps based on your caching finds. As a result, we should expect to start seeing find statistics in our geocaching.com profiles soon.

In addition, a new and improved geocaching.com mapping tool is in the works that will display an infinite number of caches (not limited to 500), and scroll more smoothly.

Finally, geocaching.com will give users the ability to rate caches.

You can read about these changes in detail over on Firennice's (a geocaching.com reviewer) blog post.

Enjoy the holidays, and the changes in store for us in 2011.

Cache On!

December 13, 2010

Geocaching Smackdown

Lots of buzz on the interwebz last week surrounding the launch of Garmin's new geocaching website, opencaching.com; not to be confused with opencaching.us (a completely separate geocaching listing service that just launched back in October). Accompanying Garmin's geocaching site launch was this blog post which explains what geocaching is, and then goes on to describe what you can do on their new site. Without mentioning Groundspeak or geocaching.com, the folks at Garmin cleverly highlight the two features that opencaching.com offers which geocaching.com does not - the ability to rate caches ("awesomeness scale"), and the fact that there is no premium membership fee - it's free, in other words.




A lot of people seem to think, at least based on what I saw on Twitter last week, that this new effort by Garmin could really cut into Groundspeak's market, or at least offer up some much-needed competition in the geocaching listing services world. Is this the beginning of the end for gecoaching.com? Read on as I discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of Garmin's new service.


The Good
(1) The User Interface
The site is very clean, intuitive and easy to use. The opening page calculates your current location and puts it right in the search box for you. You can accept it, or change it, and click on the big “Search” button to immediately generate a map (using Bing Maps) of all the caches surrounding that location. Two buttons at the bottom of the map allow you to either send the displayed caches directly to your GPS device or download them as a GPX file.





(2) Open Application Programming Interface (API)

This provides developers the ability to create clever applications using information from the cache listing database. I suspect it will only be a matter of time before some clever programmer creates a GSAK-type of program for oc.com. Geocaching.com has also announced plans to open up their API as well.

(3) The Price

Free. Enough said.

The Bad
(1) The Fate of OpenCaching.us.
A lot of people see this as a battle between gc.com and oc.com. I don’t. Not yet anyway. Instead, I see this as more of a detriment to opencaching.us; another open source cache listing service with no commercial ties (truly free). Which is really too bad, as that site also has a great user interface, and a wonderful, built-in cache search, filter, and download tool. Where were all of the open caching supporters, who have suddenly jumped on the Garmin bandwagon, three months ago when oc.us launched? There’s no way opencaching.us can compete with the Garmin PR juggernaut. Was Garmin’s choice for their webiste name merely just a coincidence?

(2) Limited Cache Types

Only Traditionals, Multis and Puzzles available here. Where are the EarthCaches and Event Caches?

(3) Trackables?

So far, no support for Travel Bugs or GeoCoins.

(4) Mobile Apps?

Will there be an iPhone or Android app.? I guess we'll have to wait for someone to delve into the API, because as of now, Garmin doesn't seem anxious to support mobile devices (other than their own, of course).

(5) It’s Still In Beta
This is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that there are still a lot of bugs, as a quick visit to the forums will reveal. And good in that there is acknowledged room, and plans, for improvement.

The Ugly
(1)No Reviewers

The nice thing about geocachinig.com is that there is an army of dedicated voulnuteers who must pre-approve any cache hide before it gets listed. That's not the case with oc.com, and I've already heard stories about caches literally being placed on top of each other.

(2)Maintaining Multiple Data Sets
To quote Liz Lemon, "It's a deal breaker, ladies". This is the same problem I had with some of the other cache listing services, such as Navicache, Terracaching, and sadly, opencaching.us.  I'm just too lazy to maintain my cache finds and hides on more than one listing service. It's too much work to keep everything up-to-date and synchronized (9 out of 10 DBA's would agree). 



I admit that it is nice how easy oc.com makes it to upload your hides and finds from "those other services", but even so, it's still extra work. In addition, every cacher on geocaching.com would have to be vigilant about keeping their data up-to-date on oc.com to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, you'll never have a true picture as to how many caches are really in any given area unless you check both services every time you go caching. 


And even for the caches that are listed on both services, the number of finds would never be accurate unless every person who found a given cache logged it on both sites. For example, a cache called, "My First "Regular" Cache", near San Ramon, California is listed on both sites. On geocaching.com it's listed as GC18QYA, and shows 49 people have found it. But on opencaching.com, it's listed as OX18QYA, and shows only 2 people have found it. 


And finally, many of us have invested way too much time and energy into maintaining our geocaching stats from geocaching.com, and we're not about to even try and duplicate that effort on another site.


The Bottom Line
New cachers may be drawn to opencaching.com initially, especially those buying their first Garmin GPS receivers, who may be “gently persuaded” to visit the site. But I can't see the  millions of cachers on geocaching.com switching to oc.com, or even spending the time required  to use both services. Competition is good, but duplication of effort is bad.

Full Disclosure: This may sound like I’m staunchly anti-Garmin and basically a grumpy old man who doesn’t like change. Nothing could be further from the truth (well, the anti-Garmin part isn't true, anyway). My first GPS receiver was a Garmin GPS 12 which I got before geocaching was even invented, and I absolutely adored; up until a bike accident put it out of commission. My next GPSr, after a lot of research (and saving up), was a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, which I now wonder how I ever lived without. If it ever breaks (or more likely, I break it), I will likely turn right around and buy another. If not a 60CSx, definitely another Garmin. If it weren’t for Garmin, I probably wouldn’t be geocaching.



Cache On!


December 4, 2010

Google Earth 6

I write a lot about Google Earth in this blog, as it is still one of my favorite mapping visualization tools, especially for geocaching. This post is no exception, as I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Google Earth 6 was released this week. One of the enhancements in this new version is the inclusion of 3D trees and easier access to historical imagery:


But the best part is the new and much improved Street View interface. As stated on the Google Earth website,  "Fly from outer space down to the streets with the new Street View and easily navigate your way around. Switch to ground-level view to see the same location in 3D." The following video describes the enhancements better than words can:




Once you've loaded your caches into Google Earth (using either a GSAK macro if you have it, or simply loading a downloaded GPX file right from geocaching.com), you can virtually drive right up to a cache and do everything but sign the log:




Cache On!

November 27, 2010

Spending Black Friday Outdoors

While most people like to spend Black Friday fighting for parking spaces, enduring traffic jams, and locked in elbow to elbow combat with masses of people in climate controlled shopping malls, my friends and I opt for the antithesis. We spent this Black Friday hiking and geocaching in the gorgeous Las Trampas Regional Wilderness near San Ramon, California. The details of our hike are available below through Everytrail.

Black Friday Hike



Find trail maps for California

Hope you all had as nice of a Thanksgiving, and day after, as we did.

Cache On!

November 21, 2010

News Flash Mob

Here's a quick burst of random, geocaching-related current events:


And finally, a shout out to my buddy Jeff who just added his 7,000th unique beer bottle to his collection (you should see his garage). That's over three times as many cache finds as I have. Quite a feat, considering he has to travel further and further to find bottles he doesn't already own - kind of similar to the dilemma long-time cachers face.

Cache On!

November 13, 2010

Release Notes

A few days ago, Groundspeak added some significant feature upgrades to the geocaching.com website. You can see the entire list here, or read my abbreviated summary below.


  • Souvenirs will be awarded retroactively.
  • You can now run your "My Finds" pocket query every 3 days instead of every 7.
  • A new Trackable Type has been added for trackable tattoos.
  • You can now mass delete caches on your watch list, rather than having to do one at a time.
  • Reformatted Coordinate Change Logs for clarity.
  • Added a new link on the cache page; "you logged this as found on..." if it is a cache you found.

In addition, there have been a number of bug fixes as well.
And finally, the promise of Stats, Ratings and Maps "coming soon".

And last but not least, the Windows Phone 7 Geocaching Application is now available. You can read more about it and download the application from Groundspeak's Windows Phone 7 Application page.


Cache On!

November 6, 2010

Badges, Badges Everywhere

I'm starting to think everyone is going badge-crazy. It all started with Foursquare and the nice little badges they add to your profile for your "check-ins". And, with all the different types of badges available, the more likely people are to do things they perhaps wouldn't normally do just to score another badge.


Well, it wasn't long before we started seeing badges infiltrate the geocaching world. One of the most notable examples, yet not the first, was the recent launch of "Souvenirs" on Geocaching.com. Souvenirs are virtual pieces of art that you can discover and display on your gc.com profile page.


As I mentioned, gc.com was not the first site to offer geocaching badges. The statistics generating website, mygeocachingprofile.com, has been providing a variety of "geoachievement badges" since its inception.


But in case you crave way, way more geocaching badges than these two sites currently offer, your prayers have been answered by BadgeGenBadgeGen is a GSAK add-in (called a macro) that analyzes your databases, and generates badges based on various criteria. Just take a look at all of the different badges available here. This should keep you busy for a while.


Cache On!





October 31, 2010

Happy Cache-O-Ween

Wishing you all a safe, happy, and cachetastic Halloween. There should be plenty of Halloween-themed caches and events to keep you busy today. A quick search of gc.com of keyword, "Halloween" revealed 578 such caches near me.

Try This Search to see what you come up with for your area.

And if that doesn't generate enough caches for you, try other keywords like, "spooky", "creepy", or "haunted", for example.

Cache On!

October 23, 2010

OpenCaching


You may have heard or noticed that a new geocaching web service recently launched in the U.S., called Opencaching. According to the site's wiki page,

"The goal is to provide a higher quality cache listing service in a user friendly format with features that members of the geocaching community have requested. The main difference between opencaching and traditional listing sites is that all services are open to the users at no cost. Additionally, Opencaching sites allow users to rate and report on existing geocaches."

You can listen to an interview with Opencaching moderator, Dudley Grant, on both the PodCacher show #289.0, and on the Geocaching Podcast show #174, for a detailed discussion about what the site has to offer.

In my second post ever on this blog (I'm sure you remember), I identified some of the other geocache listing services out there, but explained that this blog would primarily focus on caches from geocaching.com, since that site has the largest database of caches and the most features. I am impressed, however, with the opencaching site (free is good, and the cache search page is excellent), but I think they have an uphill battle on their hands. 

I don't see a lot of people dropping their existing geocaching.com memberships and switching to opencaching, nor does it seem likely that new geocachers would choose opencaching over gc.com, when there are so many geocaches available through the Groundspeak site, and so few on opencaching (or the other sites like Navicache and Terracaching). That's not to say that people can't enjoy both, and initially, you might see cache owners from gc.com list their existing caches on opencaching.com too. But for now and the foreseeable future, gc.com has the advantage by way of sheer numbers:

Cache Listing Site
Inception
Total US Caches
Caches w/in 10-mile Radius of Geojoe HQ
Geocaching.com
 2000
 1,221,513 (worldwide)
 1,645
Opencaching.us
 2010
 302
 0 (3 w/in 100 mi.)
Navicache.com
 2001
 3,608
 6
Terracaching.com
 2004
 ? (see map)
 1

One thing worth noting, however, is that Opencaching offers many features that are currently not available or not allowed on geocaching.com, such as virtual caches and a cache rating system. Interestingly, these are some of the features that gc.com is currently considering bringing back and/or adding. Coincidence?

In spite of the relatively few caches currently available on opencaching.us, I did create an account (if, for no other reason, than to secure the user id name, "geojoe"), and will probably list some of my existing gc.com caches on the site just to see what happens. Take a look at the site and see what you think.

Cache On (and Go Giants)!

October 16, 2010

Garmin Chirp

Garmin released The Chirp yesterday, a wireless beacon device that can communicate with, and be programmed by, any compatible wireless-enabled Garmin handheld (such as the Dakota, Oregon and GPSMAP 62 and 78 series devices). Chirp can be used to store hints, multicache coordinates, count visitors and confirm the cache is nearby. 


Apparently you would use this to load cache hints and/or coordinates for stages of multi-cache, and place it inside your cache container. Then, anyone with a compatible device can access those hints and coordinates when they are within range (32 feet) of the cache. 


I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this one, as it raises a number of questions: mainly,  "Why?".  $22.95 seems like a lot of money to pay for a device that will only help a small minority of cachers who own compatible devices to not have to manually type in the coordinate pairs of a multi-cache stage. Also, it would seem that Chirps, or entire caches containing Chirps, would be much more likely to go "missing" from the field. I'd hate to have to continually replace it at 23 bucks a pop.


Maybe there's more to it than I'm seeing at first glance. If you are using a Chirp, or plan to, I'd love to hear from you. GPSFix has a pretty detailed review of the device, and even though they seem to like it, I'm still not convinced. Some of the commenter's on this GPSTracklog review are equally as skeptical. In addition, apparently Groundspeak is not approving any Chirp-only caches due to the exclusivity of the equipment required, which could be problematic for Chirp-owners.


Cache On!

October 10, 2010

Ten - Ten - Ten

Leatherman Variant of the Public Domain Geocac...Image via Wikipedia
Don't forget to find and log a cache today, as part of Groundspeak's 10th anniversary celebration/promotion on 10/10/10:

"Plan to Go Geocaching on 10-10-10 We want to see how many geocachers can go geocaching on a single day! We've chosen 10-10-10, since the date represents 10 years of geocaching and 10 years of Groundspeak in 2010. Bring your friends, bring your family, bring your worst enemy (if that's what it takes) and let's see if we can beat the previous record of 56,654 accounts logging on April 18, 2010. Even one log counts since we are counting how many accounts log a cache rather than the number of caches logged."

Judging by how incredibly slow the geocaching.com servers are running today, however, I suspect today's promotion has already been a success. You may want to wait to log your finds until later tonight.

Cache On!

Enhanced by Zemanta

October 2, 2010

Before And After

Sorry for the late post, but I was busy collecting DeLorme rectangles last week. My buddy Rohrerboy and I spent a few days driving through the upper reaches of northwestern California. Now I see why people up here call this part of the state "the real Northern California." It's an incredibly expansive and mostly undeveloped area full of nothing but old-growth redwood trees and numerous rivers. Not to mention it being absolutely gorgeous.

The trip was a lot of fun. Among other things, we saw a herd of elk grazing by the freeway, black sand beaches, historic landmarks, and some very clever cache hides including one inside a toilet bowl in the middle of a field:

Logging My Find

When all was said and done we ended up driving 1,227 miles and finding 24 new qualifying caches for the Northern California DeLorme Challenge, 16 new qualifying caches for the Golden State DeLorme Challenge, and 6 new qualifying caches for the California County Challenge.

BEFORE


AFTER

This was my first taste of a real geocaching road trip, and it was well worth all the work that went into. In fact, we're already planning our next trip.

Cache On!

September 19, 2010

Road Trip

They say planning a trip is half the fun of the actual trip itself. So far, that seems to be true. A caching buddy of mine and I will be taking a few days off work soon to head north to try and find as many new caches as we can that fall within the boundaries of the individual pages of the Northern California DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer


For years, we've had this long-term goal of completing the California DeLorme Challenge (Northern) cache. And we figured while we're at it, why not simultaneously work on fulfilling the similar requirements of the Golden State DeLorme Challenge as well? Note that the latter cache does not allow you to claim caches found for the former, so we'll need to find a separate cache for each page of each DeLorme Atlas book.


To plan our little adventure, we're making use of every tool imaginable, including of course, the DeLorme Atlases themselves, GSAK and the handy little Challenge2 macro (that analyzes your cahce find data and reports/displays your progress on various DeLorme Challenges and USGS Quad Challenges for a range of geographic areas), Google Earth and the Geocaching Google Earth Viewer, and Google Maps to plan our route.


With just a few exceptions, my buddy and I need to find caches in roughly the same polygons as each other. But it becomes a logistical challenge trying to decide the best approach given our limited time frame. For example, should we do a big east and west zig zag across the state, or take more of an up and down approach? The more we delve into this, the more we realize that a straight shot up one route and down another is not an option, as we're going to be forced to venture out, and then double back, to the main trunk line just to make sure we cover as many DeLorme pages as possible. 


And then of course there is the dreaded page 62 to deal with - a DeLorme page that is about 95% Pacific Ocean and 5% land, and is home to a mere two caches:




Regardless, if the actual trip is half as much fun as the planning of the trip, then we're in for one sweet adventure.


Cache On!


Enhanced by Zemanta

September 11, 2010

Schmoozing With Geocaching Superheroes

Well, I was completely out of my element last weekend when I attended a couple of geocaching get-togethers, and found myself surrounded by caching superheroes. 


First up was the Castro Valley Meet and Greet, hosted by one of the nicest geocachers you'll ever meet, IrishJen. The event attracted a virtual who's-who of East Bay Area geocaching lore, including the likes of oneangrypuppy (11698 found), Materus (22882 found),  BuckyD (3700 found), frivlas (11697 found), and the top dog,  Alamogul (45162 found). It was great listening to the exploits of such fabled geocachers while munching on pizza and enjoying the raffling off of a variety of top-notch schwag items.


Speaking of Alamogul, as if being in the presence of such legendary cachers wasn't enough already, many of us (and many others) were invited to descend upon Alamogul headquarters for barbeque and more story-telling and socializing. I wasn't sure what to expect as I stepped through the front doors of the Alamogul fortress - would I see walls lined with cache containers and cabinets full of GPS receivers? To my surprise, it was simply a nice, typical home. But then again, I didn't see what was hidden in the basement...


But as I stepped out onto the patio, it wasn't long before I realized I was truly in the presence of the upper echelon of the caching elite, many who traveled from far away to be here. I got to meet hynr, the author of some of the best GSAK macros anywhere, and Berkeley Boomers, author of the wildly popular Fifty Parks Challenge cache. Many other geo-studs and studettes were present, and it was a pleasure meeting them all. The food was pretty darn good, as well.


Cache On!



September 4, 2010

Why A Blinky?

Often times you'll run across a cache description or hint that states something like, "you're looking for a well-camouflaged blinky". Okay, fine. What does that mean? Am I looking for something that lights up, a reflector, or a traffic signal? 


Well, after finding enough of these things, I finally figured out that a blinky is another name for a nano cache (I tend to be a little slow on the uptake). But I've always been bothered as to why that is. Well, I finally found a decent definition from GeoLex that satisfied my curiosity: 


Blinky – Often used as another word for Nano. In reality, a “blinky” is a small light, using a button battery and micro LEDs. They are intended to be attached to clothing, or even as earrings. They come with a powerful base magnet, and a similar removable magnet, to allow it to be attached to clothing without the need of puncturing the fabric. The electronics and battery can be removed in order to create a Nano cache with a magnetic base.


Sounds like the perfect accessory from the 1980's. Glad to see they've found new life in the geocaching world.


Cache On!


(image courtesy of http://saminc.ca/tradingco/) 

August 28, 2010

More Numbers

Geocache used in the Geocaching sport. (Image via Wikipedia)
Groundspeak is encouraging all able-bodied cachers to get out there and cache on Sunday, October 10th, to celebrate 10-10-10 and 10 years of geocaching. The following item was taken  from the weekly Groundspeak newsletter:





Plan to Go Geocaching on 10-10-10


We want to see how many geocachers can go geocaching on a single day! We've chosen 10-10-10, since the date represents 10 years of geocaching and 10 years of Groundspeak in 2010. Bring your friends, bring your family, bring your worst enemy (if that's what it takes) and let's see if we can beat the previous record of 56,654 accounts logging on April 18, 2010. Even one log counts since we are counting how many accounts log a cache rather than the number of caches logged.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Cache On!

August 21, 2010

Getting Out

I'm afraid I don't have any good techno tips this week, so instead, I decided just to share my recent cache outing in Anthony Chabot Regional Park, which is nestled away in the hills of Oakland, California. This park is chock full of caches, and it has the added bonus of being very mountain bike friendly. So I packed up my bike and my GPSr, and off I went.

Hard to believe you are smack-dab in the middle of a densely populated urban region of more than 7 million people when you are in this park.



One of the few trails in this park not accessible to bikes. And they're serious.



While looking for a cache, I accidentally found this letterbox hide. The cache and the letterbox were hidden in the same tree.



Snake Crossing



View from the trail

Cache, and Ride, On!

August 14, 2010

Challenges Galore

A while ago, I posted an overview of Challenge Caches, and listed some of  the old standbys like the USGS Quadrangle Challenges, DeLorme Challenges, County Challenges, and the Fizzy Challenge. These were, and still are, the hallmarks of Challenge Caches, which may be one reason they continue to be so popular and enduring.


Recently, however, I've started noticing new types of Challenge Caches emerging that are more geographically confined than those listed above, and some that even incorporate pop culture elements into them. 


For example, the Fifty Parks Challenge (posted 8/3/10) requires the cacher to find fifty caches in fifty parks or regional trails administered by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). And the Las Trampas Challenge (posted 6/22/10) asks each cacher to find and log all the caches within the boundaries of Las Trampas Regional Park, which is just one park in the EBRPD system. Las Trampas contained a total of 79 caches when this challenge was posted, but that number appears to be growing daily.


The nice part about these challenge caches having all of the hides in the same regional area is that they can generally be completed in a day or two, and don't require putting thousands of miles on your vehicle.


One of my favorite, recent Challenge Caches posted in our area is the Bushwood Country Club Challenge, which combines caching and Caddyshack into one geocaching extravaganza. I'm happy to report that I have now completed all 18 holes, and have the coordinates for the final, Caddyshack cache. That's me, tied for 9th place with my buddy Rohrerboy on the leaderboard:






Following closely on the heels of the Bushwood Challenge is the Kingpin Challenge that just went live. Instead of visiting local golf courses to find caches, however, you are required to search ten east bay bowling alleys to complete the challenge.


Not to be outdone, I can report, without giving away too much information, that a new challenge cache is already in the works in the greater east bay area. That's all I can say for now, but stay tuned for more info. after publication.


So be sure to check out the challenge caches in your area. They may seem a little intimidating at first; but once you get into them, I guarantee you'll be hooked.


Cache On!