A Guide to Geocaching

As many of the regular readers of this site and my Twitter account will know, I’ve very much integrated GeoCaching into my daily life. Just like pringles you won’t be able to stop once you’ve started. GeoCaching is a very simple premise that is similar in principle to the old idea of letter-boxing. You can sign up at geocaching.com for an account an begin looking for GeoCaches in your area straight away. You will need some form of GPS receiver such as a Garmin. This article provides a little information on how to find a GeoCache and the best ways to hide your own caches.

 

Finding a GeoCache

When attempting to find a GeoCache there is no particular set of rules that you need to adhere to. The following is a list of how I’d recommend you start looking for a GeoCache.

  1. Look for something out of place, or something placed deliberately as its extremely difficult to make a hide look natural.
  2. Be aware of the container you’re looking for, look for a gap or hole that the container could fit in.
  3. Caches are often covered in leaves, rocks, sticks or a camouflage bag.
  4. If you’re new to GeoCaching, then read the hint provided, look at the photos posted and read recent logs of the cache to see what other people have said when looking around for it.
  5. Have a little patience. Sometimes it can take a while to find a cache, even experienced GeoCaches will have times when they don’t find a cache quickly.
  6. Try to be discreet. You’re often in public areas and no one wants caches to get trashed/muggled. At times, you will need to use stealth.

 

How to Hide a GeoCache

After you’ve made your first finds you’ll have a better understanding of what makes a great GeoCache. I usually recommend that people consider hiding caches after they’ve made 50 or so finds as you have a better knowledge of the sport. The list below provides some tips on placing a GeoCache and things to avoid doing.

  1. Cross check your co-ordinates with other devices. iPhones and smart-phones do *not* provide good co-ordinates under any form of tree cover. If you have difficulty in getting co-ordinate accuracy, please note this in your cache listing. People won’t mind, they just want to know the right areas to search and finders are happy to post their co-ordinates.
  2. Make your cache hide as natural as possible. If you’re using rocks at the base of a tree, or sticks in a rock formation then it will be too easy for the GeoCachers to find.
  3. Holes make great hiding places.
  4. If there is more than one way to approach your cache, make sure you’ve hidden it from all approaches.
  5. If you need to use a lot of camouflage then consider a different location.
  6. If its on the bank of a waterway, use “East Bank” for descriptions and hints. Using “Its on the other side” is almost useless in these situations.
  7. Try to get permission before placing your cache. Places like Peak District, National Park, Forestry Commission are all happy to give permission for caches. They just like to know where they are.
  8. Try to place caches in areas of interest that people will enjoy seeing. Would you like to go here yourself?
  9. Remember, people love a challenge. Be inventive.
  10. Don’t forget that you need to maintain a cache. If for some reason you can no longer maintain it, say so and usually someone is happy to adopt it.

 

Other Tips

  • Wear long trousers and take gloves as you’ll most likely encounter nettles and hawthorns.
  • Always take a drink/bag of crisps with you, you’ll nearly always be out for longer than you expect.

 

If you have any other tips or comments then please add them in the comment section for others to read.

Stoke-on-Trent DIY

After living in Stoke-on-Trent for quite a while again now I’ve come to realise like many others that when needing to find something out about local government – generally you head to stoke.gov.uk. This is an old site that has been online for a number of years without too much improvement. For a lot of topics you can actually find the information you’re looking for eventually, but the problem is that the lack of updated information throughout the site and its lack of usefulness to the general public are just two points on a list of problems for the site.

In the age of open data and big society, local government websites need to work differently. For example, folks such as the bccdiy.com team have taken the challenge up themselves to provide a better service to local residents through the creation of a better online service to give news, information and data to local people in a more straightforward and usable manner.

There are a large amount of local people with the talent to create a new site and platform to provide a better service for the residents — but do we really think they’ll invest the money to do so? not in a million years. As Mike Rawlins recently stated in his blog, there seems to be the good, the bad and the need to improve.

At present, Mike, Matt, Mark and more are discussing the best way to go ahead with our own DIY project to provide a better set of services. When we’re ready to start testing, you’ll be the first to know.

Parsing GeoCache GPX with PHP

While working on the new cache pages for this site I came across the interesting task of parsing GPX files with PHP. SimpleXML is quite easy to use and with the children() function you can use namespace extensions – for example with GeoCaching exported GPX files. You can get an awful lot more information from a GeoCache GPX than with standard XML parsing.

The following is an example of a GPX file from the Geocaching site:

Now, as you can see there is a large amount of data contained within this file. Using PHP and SimpleXML you can extract this data quite easily, by doing something similar to this:

Local Businesses Should Harness Locality Services

There is an emerging trend that local business won’t be able to ignore for too long. At the moment, all the rage with mobile devices seems to be location based services and games with Gowalla, FourSquare and Yelp being the primary platforms although Facebook is to launch its own version shortly which may comprise of an amalgamation of all three. These platforms reward users with points, prizes and badges the more they ‘check in’. I haven’t had chance to test out Yelp more yet, so I’ll exclude that from the results below.

There are a few subtle differences between the two platforms, which I’ll detail below. I’ve found that most people seem to use both Gowalla and FourSquare. At the moment, I’m leaning more towards being a Gowalla permanent user. I’ll outline a few differences with the platforms below.

 

Feature / Terminology
Foursquare

Gowalla

Brightkite

Marking as Present Check In Check In Check In
Most Frequent Visitor Mayor Leader TBC
Media Uploads
API
Userbase TBC TBC TBC
Push Notices TBC

 

The way in which people interact with business has changed. The entire customer service model is slowly changing and those who do not update their methods and ways will be left behind. In the US, the adoption of FourSquare and Gowalla has been picking up rapidly whereas in the UK its seen a slower adoption pace. One thing is for definite though, if you decide to provide offers to your customers/users of these services then you will drive traffic to your business and promote a better reputation with the digitalrati of the modern age.

This can provide to be key in the way in which your business is viewed. Trendy coffee bars in town centres are interested in seeing how they can use Gowalla and Foursquare to promote their business better. Promoting via one of these online services is like word-of-mouth on steroids. It’ll quickly get around the services and attract new people when they see their friends at your business.

Cafe’s in the larger cities have already started offering free coffee and a muffin for the Mayor of their location. Believe me, no one will refuse a free muffin.

Moving Forward for Tweekly.fm

In January this year when I first undertook the Tweekly.fm project in ran in a very different way than what it does now. I’ve completely rewrote the code base that the system works from. It now runs a lot faster and we can support more users than previous. I now run both statistics for Twitter (tweekly.fm) and for Facebook (laststat.us). The past few days I’ve pushed changes out that change the way the system interacts with Last.fm and how we store your data.

A major change in the way the system works has been added. Instead of providing your Last.fm username to us now we use the Last.fm Webauth (very similar to OAUTH in fact) to interact with your Last.fm data. Even if you protect your data within Last.fm we can collect and publish your data for you (should you wish to do so). Protected user support is now live within the Facebook application and will be coming to the Twitter version very soon.

The larger problem that we encounter now is capacity. We’re taking on average between 280 and 550 new users per day. Over our platform we currently sit at just over 55,000 users. The entire platform is being financed independently by me which isn’t the best form of business model. Simon and I have discussed recruiting for venture capital but to do that we would need to develop a sound model to work from that could provide a return on any investment. Anyone interested in discussing this, please get in touch.

Steve & Friends

Hi Scott,
Really glad you emailed, as I didn’t have any details to send a thank you, we love Steve and his mates, and such a lovely surprise to receive on a dreary Tuesday morning! If we feel a bit stressed we give Steve a squeeze and then all’s well with the world, it’s better than cake.

Thank you, again.

Regards,
Jane, Justin, Sandra, Iran, Luke, Sam, H, Ian & Sophie.

I received this email the other day, after we sent down Steve and some bits ‘n bobs to the wonderful Pinky Murphy’s café in Fowey which truly should be one of the wonders of the world.

Unified Reward Point System

The system of rewarding customers with points, cards or discounts is a fairly standard practice amongst today’s modern business. This reward model is based around rewarding for purchases of goods and services and then allow these customers to choose a gift in return to reward their loyalty. The existing implementation are this reward network is singular in nature except for organisations such as Sainsbury’s nectar.

I believe that modern customers would be more beneficial to a system that was shared between businesses and then allowed the customer to take reward points to another company should they wish to do so. Providing the spread of reward was equal or near to equal over all participating organisations, then this model would be extremely beneficial to the customer who may for example not wish to have a gift from shop A, instead choosing a gift from shop B.

The new age innovations that customers have access to such as the Internet, mobile phones and smart phones provide rich platforms for interaction with business. Devices such as mobile phones or smart phones that have Bluetooth could be registered against a user record and then through transmitters in store, promotional adverts or messages could be delivered via OBEX push when the user is nearby, as shown in the diagram below.

The transmitters shown above would be looking for known Bluetooth devices. Of course this would only happen if the handsets were configured to allow OBEX items to be pushed. Alternatively, an email could be sent to the user (taken at opt-in) with discounts coupons for that day. Bluetooth’s proximity would allow tracking up to around 10 metres for most handsets which would be close enough for interaction. This would then drive customers to pursue interesting offers and lead to more sales.

In the diagram below, relationships are displayed in colours so that it makes it easier to indicate what they represent. The yellow arrows show the relationships between a customer or group of customers and the businesses that they frequent. The purple arrows show the intranet-based or Internet-based link up to a central system. The blue arrow and read our indicate a link between the customer of being at home or on a smart device and interacting with the central system. This could be to engage in choosing a reward gift or simply updating their account details.

This system would also allow for flexibility and grouping users so that they may work together and obtain larger gifts. The biggest challenge in implementing a better, more advanced system would be gaining the participation of the larger organisations from which people choose to purchase their goods from. I do honestly believe that gap could be bridged then it would not be too far from the future to implement such a new system.