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Apple iPad: your newest geocaching tool

December 13, 2010
iPad showing OpenStreetMap content

Image via Wikipedia

I recently got my hands on an Apple iPad to use as a work tool and was very interested to see what it was like and could it be used for geocaching.

My first impressions of the iPad were good – it has a fantastic interface and lots of very simple functionality. with over 300,000 apps there is a lot to keep you entertained. Its primary purpose is for work and I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of apps are available to make work more mobile than ever (DocsToGo, FileAppPro and MobileNoter to name just a few). Not to mention the fact that Angry Birds is available on the iPad and it is addictive and totally fun. But my main focus here is geocaching…

At this point I have elected to download three geocaching apps. The first is Geocache Viewer by NZM. This is a very simple application used for viewing geocache information from downloaded GPX files. All of the basic information is there is an easy to read format. The GPX upload tool was a dream to use and how to use the app was very clear. My only complaint is that the app may be a little too simple with not enough information or options. Of course I might be used to using GSAK and having all the power. But that does lead me to ask how much more information, beyond the basic, do we need? (the little addicted geocacher on my shoulder screams “WE NEED ALL THE INFORMATION…YOU STUPID MUGGLES…THE CACHE IS MY PREEECCCCCIIIOOOOUSSSSSSS!!!”.)

Sorry about that, he hasn’t been caching much lately.

The second app I downloaded is the IGCT Geocaching Toolkit. The app boasts a number of very useful tools for out in the field:

Waypoint Calculations
================
– Conversion of degrees, minutes and seconds to other formats
– Conversion between WGS84 and UTM coordinates
– For my Dutch friends the RD coordinates are included
– Also the Swiss grid is supported
– Show the entered Latitude/Longitude using the iPhone map application
– Project a waypoint by specifying distance and bearing
– Calculate distance and bearing between two waypoints
– Intersect two lines using two waypoints and bearings
– Intersect two circles using two waypoints and distances

Text Calculations
=================
– Calculate the sum of the character values in one or more words
– Choose between a=1, b=2 etc., the inverse a=26, b=25 etc. or the phonepad abc=2, def=3 etc.
– Also calculate the sum of all digits of the result
– Repeat summation of digits until 1 digit remains

Hint decryption
===============
– Decrypt encrypted hint text to plain text

Roman numbers
=============
– Convert between roman numbers and decimal values and vice versa

The third app, and my current favourite, is iPlunder HD. For me this was an app that truly delivered and not just because of the awesome pirate theme. It has a great interface and contained more information than Geocache Viewer (like Travel Bugs present in a cache). Best of all it has an excellent mapping function that shows you all of the caches in the filter on a google map. Was surprised me most when I took it out caching was that the app had saved the map data and had it available for me despite having no network access. At the point I looked it up I was a little lost and unsure of whether I was on the right road – using the app very quickly gave me an understanding of the roads in the area and I was back on track. This immediately made me think that this app would be an excellent tool to have on a big day of caching or when travelling along a route. A GPX of caches along the route would be easy to generate in gc.com and then exploring the route in iPlunder would mean that all the mapping you needed would be there. The large display makes it far easier to read than on your GPSr, whose batteries you can then save until you are closer to the cache.

Overall I found the iPad to be a dream to use and iPlunder, along with the Geocaching Toolkit, to be highly useful apps. Geocache Viewer is a little simple for my tastes but may be of use to those who have a basic GPSr and want to cache paperless. If you’re thinking of getting one I can highly recommend it!

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Open for Business

December 13, 2010

Hours after Garmin’s new listing service went live last week, Auckland geocachers Kiwifamily published the city’s – and the country’s* – first opencache.

Though Super Center (Code: OX2K407) has yet to be found at S 37° 00.452 E174° 53.220, its owners say setting up their first opencache was simple. “No dramas at all.”

The drive-by hide is a camoflagued mint tin secreted on the grounds of the sprawling Manukau Surgery Centre, in Auckland’s Manurewa suburb. Using Opencaching’s new rating system, this size 2.6 cache has a difficulty level of 1.6, a handicapped accessible terrain of 1.0 and its awesomeness level is a sweet 3.5.

KiwiFamily patriach Glenn  – who also runs the geocaching website/blog T4TC – says the real reason for listing Super Center on OC.com was that “the reviewer knocked it back from Geocaching.com”.

Originally called Awareness, the cache aimed to be a cancer preventative – after one of his relatives had treatment for breast cancer at GZ – but was deemed unsuitable under Groundspeak’s ‘Caches that Solicit’ rule, which disallows those perceived to be posted for religious, political, charitable or social agendas.

“In all fairness, though, I guess it was for a valid reason – although my personal thoughts had been I didn’t intend this to be for my own personal gain.”

With an altered description, it has now been published on GC.com too, under the code GC2K407. And although still unlogged as an opencache, it has been found four times in its geocache form.

However, Glenn’s hoping for a FTF log on OC.com very soon. “Here in Auckland there are hard-core bunch of people that love the FTF so I’m a little surprised they haven’t yet logged it!”

He and the rest of the KiwiFamily began caching in October 2009 and, despite owning four Garmin GPSr units between them, they haven’t yet decided whether they’ll switch permanently to the new site. The lack of membership fees appeal. “If people use the service, I would certainly look at switching.

“Seeing as the service is only new, I’m hoping there will be a lot more to come in the near future. Being able to add photos will be a bonus. It will be interesting to see how  it goes, as I assume a lot of the geocachers enjoy seeing there stats go up and their count really count.

“With the new service, I gather [the tally] won’t count as your total due to the different services. I haven’t followed the saga between the two companies but I’m guessing they’re locking horns so to speak. I keep getting reminded that geocaching is a fun thing so why is there a need for the two services to get upset with each?

“Good healthy competition is all it is!”

Five other Auckland opencaches have since been listed since last Wednesday, four by Kev’s Team and the other by TRIPODTIM.

UPDATE: Manawatu, Nelson, Christchurch and Central Otago also have at least one each now. If you’ve found or seen any other Kiwi opencaches, let us know.

* if you discount Cumbyrocks’ test Newbie cache.

Okay, who narked to opencaching?

December 9, 2010

I blogged yesterday about the potential for over-saturation of caches to occur in opencaching as no reviewer meant I was able to publish two caches with the same coordinates. Now either someone has dobbed me into opencaching.com or Garmin are avid readers of It’s Not About The Numbers as both have been pushed back to draft stage. At this point I prefer to think the later, though I have my suspects for the former.

I don’t care that they were pushed back to drafts. However, I am a little bugged that there is no note or log telling me why. That’s another example of why we need reviewers – they tend to communicate about these problems and let you know about them so you can fix what you did wrong. Ultimately I should never have been able to publish two in the same place to start with!

GPS Systems May Not Be Good For Your Brain

December 9, 2010
PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Image via Wikipedia

From My Fox Boston:

A new study suggests that, for memory’s sake, it may be wiser to slow down and smell the roses than rush to a destination using a GPS.

Three studies by McGill University assistant professor of psychiatry Veronique Bohbot suggest active GPS users have a higher risk of suffering memory problems as they get older

Oh no, as a completely addicted Geocacher I’m doomed to have dementia!

The studies focused on how people navigate. One method, spatial navigation strategy, forces people to rely on landmarks to build cognitive maps. This is how a lost person stays aware of landmarks or how long it’s been since they left a place in order to find their way.

Another, a stimulus-response strategy, is when people use a form of auto-pilot, turning at specific places because they have so many times before. This is similar to using a GPS device.

Okay, there maybe some light here. I would argue that GPS use in geocaching was actually more like spatial navigation strategy as we don’t just follow the GPS we have to move around things and work out the best route to the cache. We also have to take note of our surroundings to spot the thing that is out of place – that surely uses spatial navigation.

However, urban caching may cause people to jump a little into auto-pilot and thus be stimulus-response.

those who used the GPS-like stimulus-response could be at risk of showing atrophy of the hippocampus, which is of concern because memory loss including Alzheimer’s disease affects that area of the brain first.

MSNBC.com said older adults who used spatial strategies more have a larger hippocampus and scored higher on a test used to help diagnose mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

So, potentially, geocachers may be less at risk of suffering memory problems due to greater use of spatial strategies. However, urban cachers may be more at risk if they delve into stimulus-response more. 😉

In light of the reviewerless Opencaching.com – An ode to the gc.com reviewers…

December 8, 2010

sseegars made the following comment on my post about the potential over-saturation problem with opencaching.com.  I thought it was so well done that I wanted to ensure everyone reading the blog got to see it: (for the full comment follow the link above)

Garmin NEEDS that human component in there if they are serious.

Film poster for A Few Good Men - Copyright 199...

Image via Wikipedia

Reminds me of the line in “A Few Good Men”.

“Garmin, we live in a world that has caches separated by a minimum of 0.1 miles , and those caches have to be guarded by men and women who volunteer. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Cacher? They have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for the micro under the bridge, and you curse the reviewers. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what they know. That the micros denial of placement, while tragic, probably saved the bomb squad and the local government time and money. And the existence of those reviewers, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves geocaching. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want them at that computer, you need them at that computer. They use words like saturation, guidelines, local laws. They use these words as the backbone of a decade watching out for geocaching. You use them as a punchline. They have neither the time nor the inclination to explain themselves to a cacher who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom to list caches in GC.com that $30 a year provides, and then questions the manner in which they provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, otherwise, I suggest you become a reviewer, and give up your time. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”

Or something like that.

I love Garmin. I am a loyal Garminite! But they build the machine and do it damned well. I ALWAYS know where I am. I think that this might be a major failure without that human component.

OpenCaching.com: An over-saturation nightmare waiting to happen?

December 8, 2010

Like many I have been having fun playing with OpenCaching.com today and seeing what it can do. There is lots to like about this site but I also have a nagging feeling that it maybe more problematic than good. I noticed a comment on the new opencaching.com forums that expressed concern over geocaching.com caches being listed on the site and the inability to easily filter these out. As your find count increases it becomes more difficult to remember whether you have found a cache and that will make it very hard to use opencaching.com if functionality in this area is not added.

Perhaps the most concerning thing for me is the ability to completely over saturated an area with geocaches. I uploaded one of my existing geocaching.com caches, A Cross to Bare No More, into opencaching.com. The opencaching.com listing can be seen here. I also created a new cache called Newbie with exactly the same coordinates. The absence of reviewers made me think they must have an automated tool to say this area was taken as their guidelines state caches should not be hidden within 0.1 mile of each other. But it appears they don’t and as a result I now have two listings in exactly the same place.

I can only imagine what problems can be caused because of this. It’s one thing to have different caches on different listing services near each other but to have caches listed in the same service having the same coordinates is quite unacceptable.

Game On: Garmin’s OpenCaching.com Beta is launched

December 8, 2010

Rich over at GPStracklog.com was one of the first to notice that Opencaching.com Beta has gone live this morning. When I read the post I immediately had the Imperial March theme from Star Wars pop into my head. Watch the Imperial March on youtube

Garmin have blogged on the launch and the following is a few select bites from that:

Today we’re excited to announce the creation of OpenCaching.com, a completely free online community for creating, sharing and finding geocaches around the world.

With the announcement of OpenCaching.com, we’re also introducing Opie, our helpful and fun-loving mascot, and a new Twitter home@OpenCache – for all things OpenCaching.

“Garmin is extending its reputation for ease of use even further into geocaching, creating the most intuitive experience possible,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin’s vice president of worldwide sales. “By making it free and easy to download every detail of every cache, Opencaching.com will introduce more people to this great activity and show them just how fun, easy and rewarding it can be. OpenCaching.com gives us a chance to go beyond the development of hardware and software and interact directly with the vibrant global community of cachers.”

Cachers can quickly get credit for cross-listed caches found on other sites and easily add existing caches they own to OpenCaching.com, where they can also be tagged and enhanced with more helpful information.

OpenCaching.com will work with any device or software package that can read GPX files, regardless of manufacturer.

They have also introduced their new mascot:

With the announcement of OpenCaching.com, we’re also introducing Opie, our helpful and fun-loving mascot, and a new Twitter home@OpenCache – for all things OpenCaching.

I’ve signed up to opencaching.com to take a look and see what was on offer. I was immediately impressed by the look of the site and the simplicity of it:

The OpenCaching.com home screen

Remembering that the site is still in BETA phase there do seem to be a few kinks to iron out. At times the site is fairly slow and some pages seem to need a refresh to get user information to show up. I’m sure these will be ironed out in time. Uploading my finds from a GPX file was simple and within a few minutes my finds where all showing on my Opencaching.com profile. I also imported a number of my own caches to see how the process worked. It is quite simple but some work will be required making it all look pretty again – here is a good example (link may not be accessible until it is published). Having edited and published the caches keep popping back up in my draft list – so I don’t know if they are happening or not. There is also no easy way to review a listing before sending it off for publishing (that I can see). I’m also slightly concerned about what will stop someone uploading the details of someone else’s cache – there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping this at present. But the listing page looks good and the rating system is kinda cool:

Pineapple Rock (Otago) by Cumbyrocks

 

It will certainly be interesting to see how the site develops over time. I’ve spent the last couple of hours using it and whilst the simplicity is good I’ve found it too simple and yearned for all the other options that geocaching.com brings. It will possibly be a very good way to introduce newbies to the game, as gc.com can be a little overwhelming at first. The concept of a place for any cache from any listing service to be found is a good one but I suspect this will only be of value if everyone embraces the site and loads their caches into it.

Right now I’m going to spend a little more time playing with the site and will report back later.