Tuesday, June 14, 2016

More DeBaere Challenge Tinkering

Well... fleshed out my coordinate generating code a bit more - and got it to generate the format I need to test out the challenge concept within the Project-GC challenge checkers.

And, sad to say, it turns out I can't publish the Level 1 for my state quite yet.  I'm two quads short.

All but the Eastern Shore & Virginia Beach.
Honestly, I was pretty sure I would be - I still need that same area to finish my DeLorme & City/County challenges as well. But, I am planning to attend the Geocaching Hampton Roads picnic this year, so hopefully I can use that time to pick up these quads/pages/counties/city as well.

So, yeah... I might actually turn this into a real challenge this fall.

I also played around to see if Dave DeBaeremaeker, the challenge's namesake, qualifies... and it turns out, he's one quad shy of earning his state's NC Level 1 challenge.

So close...

Time to take the wife & kids to the beach!

Friday, June 10, 2016

DeBaere Challenges!

Okay, for the background on this, or why I chose the name I did, go back and read my previous post.  Because I'm getting straight to the meat here.  [And apologies to Dave, I'm sure I misspelled his name at least once along the way.]

I want to throw an idea out there for the community to comment on - a new type of challenge cache, to replace the (grandfathered, but possibly no longer listable) DeLorme challenge caches.

First off, let me say I don't think this is anything amazingly original - it's just a small refinement of existing ideas, tailored to fit the new guidelines.

A DeBaere challenge is very similar to a DeLorme, in general concept.  A state will be broken into rectangular grids, and cachers will be asked to find at least one cache in each grid square.

However, rather than have the squares defined by a mapmaker that's no longer publishing maps, we'll base the squares purely off of latitude & longitude coordinates.  Coordinates for caches are obviously available on the Geocaching.com website, so it becomes almost trivially easily to decide "okay, which grid square does this cache fall in?"

It also allows for making multiple levels of a challenge -- each with their own cache listing, and their own final.  The higher the level, the more difficult the challenge, and most likely the fewer people who could complete it.

The Level 1 DeBaere challenge for a state requires you to find at least one cache in each 1-degree square. Here's a Virginia sample level 1 map I mocked up in Google Earth.  A Level 1 challenge would likely be easier than the existing DeLorme challenges (fewer, larger, squares), so we may even see more geocachers getting interested in taking them on.
Virginia DeBaere Challenge, Level 1.
North Carolina DeBaere Challenge, Level 1

A Level 2 challenge is almost the same, but we split the squares at the half-degree mark, instead of the degree mark.  So roughly, that would mean finding four times as many caches.
Virginia DeBaere Challenge, Level 2
North Carolina DeBaere Challenge, Level 2

And obviously, if there were actually cachers who wanted to take this down farther, you could build a Level 4 (broken on quarter-degrees), or even a Level 8... but I'm pretty sure that at that point, you're getting to the point of absurdity.

So - advantages of this idea over the existing DeLorme challenges?

  1. As far as I can tell, these could still be published with the now-current guidelines on challenge caches.
  2. It's very straightforward and mathematical, so should eliminate a lot of the vagueness and questions that have caused questions for DeLorme challenge owners.
  3. It's just about trivial to look at a cache listing, and determine "this cache, which is really close to a border between square, should count for THIS square for the challenge."  There really isn't a good way to do that now for DeLorme caches, without owning the printed atlas.
  4. Multiple levels of challenge, with the starting point quite a bit simpler to achieve.
  5. A cool name.
So what's the disadvantages?
  1. You have more issues with squares that just barely touch the state.  When DeLorme designed and published their atlases, they could hand-adjust the coordinates they used to define a page to best fit the political borders of a state.  By relying on pure math, we can't do that.  So you do end up with more squares like in the image below (a zoom-in on the NC Level 2, far SE edge of North Carolina), where only a very small strip of the square is actually within the state border.

    Three NC Level 2 squares.  Only the bright-painted areas are actually within state borders.
    I'd think the cache owner should be allowed to ignore quads like these, when listing the challenge... DeLorme cache owners do this at times.

  2. It may be rather difficult to find willing cachers who can publish these, since the new guidelines say you must be able to pass the challenge before you publish it.

So - consider this just a way of starting a discussion.  What do you folks think?  Good, bad, or indifferent?  Things I haven't thought of?  Do you feel they'd be seen as publishable, given the current GC.COM guidelines?

What kind of challenges?

So.. a couple weeks ago, the day Geocaching.com published their new guidelines for challenge caches, I got into a Google+ conversation with Darryl Wattenburg & Dave DeBaeremaeker.  Darryl pointed out that one of the new restrictions:
Challenge cache criteria
  • must come from information broadly available on Geocaching.com
may well mean that new DeLorme challenges could no longer be published.

Okay, a quick pause to catch everyone up.  DeLorme is a company that for many many years has, among other things, published paper atlas books that cover every square mile of the U.S.  These atlases pre-date geocaching by a long ways, and they were popular for motorists and outdoor enthusiasts for years.

DeLorme atlases.  [Image from Cabella's website]
A geocacher under the name "Haicoole" got the idea to use these as the basis of a geocaching challenge, and published the first DeLorme Challenge (for the state of California) on January 1st 2004, requiring cachers to find at least one geocache at a location on each page of the California atlas.  Since then, others have posted similar caches for nearly every state in the country.

Now, with the advent of cellphone mapping, widely-available GPS, etc., atlas sales have plummeted, and DeLorme was recently purchased by Garmin (the GPS manuafacturer), who has announced that they will be ending publication of the paper atlases.

Okay - back to the potential dilemma here.  The challenge is based on the atlas, and you need info from the paper book (the coordinates of each page, as well as details on any smaller "inset" maps that sometimes appear to check your progress.  And while Project-GC and mygeocachingprofile.com both have the necessary data, and provide electronic progress checking for these challenges... it still doesn't meet the rules any longer.  And, as Darryl mentioned, the grid coordinates just aren't "broadly available on geocaching.com".

So... sure, the challenges will get grandfathered in.  And they'll continue for as long as someone decides to maintain them.  But... there aren't DeLorme challenges for a couple states (seems like Hawaii's never had one, and Wisconsin's was archived).  And they've definitely caused a good bit of confusion because of vagueness around how to handle inset maps, pages that just don't have published caches on them, etc.

So... I got to thinking.  An idea popped into my head, and I threw out a comment that said something like "if we're going to eventually lose DeLorme challenges, we should come up with some DeBaere challenges instead."  I just liked the parallelism of the names.

And, well, he said I could.
The pixels don't lie.

So... that was a ridiculously long-winded introduction.  So I think I'll split this into a second post to detail my new recommendation - DeBaere Challenges.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

West Virginia Panhandle

I went on an overnight caching trip for on the first part of Memorial Day weekend, to the West Virginia panhandle (Berkeley & Jefferson counties).  My first goal was to tackle a piece of Geo-Art, the West Virginia Star.

This is a series of 51 caches, hidden such that the "posted location" forms a pattern on the geocaching map.  Since they're all Unknown type caches, the actual location is different from the posted location.  Each cache is listed with a simple multiple choice question, related to WV history; picking the correct answer gives you the actual coordinates.

I picked up 40 of the 51 caches.  None of them were particularly notable - most were either film canisters at signs, guardrail hides, or lamp-post caches.  I did have a few DNFs, and I took a pass on a handful that were hidden along one road that had non-stop traffic going by.  I just didn't see how I could possibly look nonchalant poking around on the backs & bases of the traffic signs with all the cars going by.  In retrospect, Memorial Day weekend might not be the best time to look for those.

Nonetheless, it contributed to raising my "most caches in a single day" statistic, and it made me recant a bit on some anti-template logging opinions.  For cache series like this, most folks will make up a single bit of template log, and just repeat that across all the caches.  And I broke down and did the same thing, after realizing there really isn't any way to write "This particular LPC was a great find and uniquely different from the other twelve I just logged."

Please note, I don't mean to disparage this series or it's hider - it's the nature of series like this, and I pretty much knew I'd be finding this sort of cache in the series.

There are similar Star geoart cache series in most of the US States.  Virginia's series is hidden along a "rails-to-trails" walking trail in Southside Virginia -- and I'd like to give that one a shot, maybe this fall.  It's a 5.5 mile one-way trip though, so I need to shed a few pounds and coordinate a ride back (otherwise, it's an 11 mile hike and that's pushing my limits).

So after doing most of the Star, I drifted over one county, and looked at wrapping up some WVTim caches.  WVTim does a great job building unique sorts of hides, and frequently publishes "how-to" videos on particular caches so other folks can replicate his style.

WVTim cache GC5QJK2: MCBC 8 In the Vineyard
This is actually my third visit to Martinsburg, specifically to try out his caches.   I was hoping to finish off the "Mystery Caches of Berkeley County" series, which requires you to get a code word from the logs in 13 of 15 caches.  While I was there, I also picked up a couple of the "Smart Caches" series he's posting as well.

Probably my favorite of WVTim's caches this trip was GC5WY1P: MCBC 5 battery powered.  This cache asked you to use the provided 9V battery to figure out the combination of the lock on the bottom of the birdhouse.  There are a series of screws on one side, which the 9V can be held against to make a circuit; on the other side are a series of multi-colored LEDs.  Depending on which screws you connect, different lights glow.  You have to try combinations until you find a particular light pattern.

GC5WY1P - photo from the GC.COM image gallery
My caching day got cut short when I ran into a hazard.  One of the caches had a bunch of bumblebees flying around, investigating an old barn, right at the location of MCBC 9 at the Museum.  Now, I'm not "carry an epipen all the time" type allergic to bee-stings or anything, but I really don't go out of my way to annoy them either.  And after a few minutes of watching them fly around, I decided to walk away in defeat.  Turns out, some other folks came by later that day and had no such problem, so maybe it was just a bad time to stop in.

So, all in all, I picked up 47 new finds, set a few new statistic records, found some cool gadget caches. and drove a LOT of miles.  And I have an excuse to head back there to finish out the two Berkeley county series.