March 26, 2011

Geocaching At The Movies

I finally got around to seeing "Splinterheads" last night (better late than never).

I actually watched it online, as it's limited theater run came and went nearly two years ago. It was an enjoyable, funny movie, worth watching if you get the chance. The lead characters play their roles very well. Rachell Taylor plays Galaxy, a strong, independent carnie and geocacher, and Thomas Middleditch plays Justin, a cowardly but lovable dufus (who looks and sounds a lot like Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live). I loved the irony of Justin accusing Galaxy of being a nerd after she explained to him what geocaching is. But I was equally impressed by the strength of the comedic talent of the supporting actors/actresses, including:

  • Christopher McDonald (from Happy Gilmore)
  • Lea Thompson (who doesn't remember her from Back to the Future?)
  • Dean Winters (from 30 Rock and currently in all those All State commercials)
  • John Lutz (Also from 30 Rock)

My favorite line was when Reggie (Dean Winters), Galaxy's mean-spirited, jealous boyfriend, refers to caches as "cashews" when telling Galaxy how much he hates that hobby of hers.

While most of the movie takes place at the carnival site, quite a bit of the film is devoted to geoaching as well. The movie does a fair and accurate job of explaining and showing what geocaching is (the writers did their research). The only problem I had with their portrayal of geocaching was the apparent terrible accuracy of Galaxy's GPS receiver (which appears to be a Garmin eTrex). Either there was a serious mechanical problem with her device or she forgot to turn it on, because in the two main geocaching scenes, she was no where near ground zero when she stopped looking at her receiver and started relying on her geo-senses.

Other than that, it was a decent movie for both the comic relief and for being able to see our beloved hobby portrayed on the big screen.

Cache On!

March 20, 2011

Oldies But Goodies

I admit it. I'm obsessed with challenge caches. A buddy and I recently took a day off work to finish up two challenge caches we had been working on over the last year or so:

  1. The Bushwood Memorial Cache; a wonderfully fun, Caddyshack-themed cache which took us to 18 different  golf courses scattered about the east Bay Area.
  2. The Monterey Bay USGS 15-Minute Quadrangles Challenge; a typical USGS quadrangle challenge cache in one of the most beautiful areas in California.

We also took some time to get a couple of caches that were placed back in the year 2000. That's because we are working on the California's Oldies But Goodies Challenge, which requires the determined cacher to find 10 of the 16 active, oldest caches hidden in the state of California - all 16 were hidden in the year 2000. So far, only two people have completed this challenge.

With the two caches we found on this trip, we are now up to a total of six. Lucky for us, eleven of the sixteen caches are located within a reasonable distance of the San Francisco Bay Area. The green points on the map below represent caches we've found, and the blue show those that we have not yet found. Click on a point to get more detailed information about each cache:

View CA Oldies in a larger map

With any luck, we should be able to finish up this challenge cache sometime this year.

Cache On!

March 12, 2011

Is This The Beginning of The End of Geocaching?

It's barely been 10 years since the US Government discontinued Selective Availability of the Global Positioning System, making GPS signals available to us non-military types. Since then, the use of GPS-based tools, applications, and a little hobby known as geocaching, has taken off like crazy. But recently, some issues have begun to emerge that threaten our ability to use this wonderful multi-billion dollar satellite system that we've come to know and love.

FCC Approves LightSquared's 4G LTE Proposal
A little company known as LightSquared wants to build a a high-speed wireless broadband network using satellite frequencies rather than the traditional terrestrial frequency space that the larger cellular companies (Verizon, Cingular, etc.) typically use. The FCC is responsible for auctioning off, and regulating, the use of the radio frequency spectrum. The problem with the LightSquared proposal is, that they plan to operate at a frequency directly adjacent to the frequency band designated for GPS. If implemented as planned, all current GPS receivers will no longer operate correctly in areas covered by their system, which includes the overwhelming majority of the US population. There's a nicely written post on the Free Geography Tools site that describes the technical aspects of the potential GPS interference issue in layman's terms.

The threat is so real that representatives of a wide variety of industries and companies have started and joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS

So let's say the FCC comes to their senses, and revokes LightSquared's conditional approval. Then we can all continue geocaching as blissfully as ever, right? Well, not so fast. There's another looming, growing element that threatens to turn FTF's into DNF's:

GPS Jamming
It turns out that GPS signals are very weak, and therefore susceptible to interference. But why would anyone want to block a GPS signal, you might ask? Well, believe it or not, GPS jamming devices, while illegal, can be had for a mere $30 on the internet, and have become very popular with truck drivers that don't want their vehicles' movement tracked. These jamming devices can also block GPS-based road tolls that are levied via an on-board receiver (such as FasTrak here in the Bay Area). As our reliance on GPS-based devices and information (plane/ship/car navigation, ATM machines, Cell Phones, etc.) grows, so does the desire by a certain element to block GPS signals. There's a great article in New Scientist that discusses this phenomenon in detail, including a recount of 2007 GPS jamming incident in San Diego that disrupted the airport's air-traffic control system, the Naval Medical Center's emergency pagers, the harbor's traffic-management system, as well as cellphones and ATM machines.

Let's hope this isn't the start of bad things to come for geocaching, not to mention all the other important things that we've come to rely on the Global Positioning System for. My DNF percentages are too high already, as far as I'm concerned...

Cache On (while you still can)!

March 6, 2011

Solving Puzzle Caches

While there's still a little bit of winter left, what better time to solve some puzzle caches so you'll be ready to hit the trail running once the weather starts cooperating. Following are a few resources you might find helpful, especially if you are puzzle-cache-challenged like I am.

Outline of Cryptography
Never hurts to start with information from Wikipedia.

More Cryptology information.

The National Puzzler's League
Puzzle guides and solving Tools. These people even have an annual convention.

Cyphers, Cryptos and Codes; oh my. Links to a variety of different puzzle solving tools.

Practice Makes Perfect
Now that you understand the basics, you should be ready to put your skills to the test. This great series of caches actually helps you improve your puzzle-solving skills as you work your way through the set.

Good luck, and Cache On!