Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Animated Schilstra Family Expansion

We recently were back up in Canada to attend the wedding of my youngest sister-in-law.  While there we took a series of photos showing the expansion of my wife's side of the family, starting with her father, and up thru time until the latest addition (heya Bob!).  I made it into an animated gif.

So I present to you, the Schilstra Family Expansion in a 256 colour animated GIF extravaganza:

Note: I didn't realize how much bigger I was than everyone else...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

7 Souvenirs Of August

If you are not aware, the 7 Souvenirs of August is a geocaching challenge put on by Groundspeak.  It requires one to find at least one cache in six different categories.  Each one grants you a geocaching.com souvenir.  When one collects all 6 souvenirs, it unlocks at 7th souvenir.   It is the essence of gamification, so like a good boy I immediately jumped in with both feet - cause, ya know, special pixels would be granted, and I couldn't be the only one without them.  Like most people of the Internet Generation, I'll do anything for special pixels (except Farmville - for even I have standards).

Many folks did the challenge in a day. I did too, tho not intentionally.  I wasn't planning on doing them in a day, and I found 4 of them very early in August, but needed to wait until I got to Canada to finish the rest.  However, during my recent road trip to central Ontario I ended up accidentally finding caches in all 6 categories.

This is the a breakdown of how I did it.
This souvenir requires one to find a regular geocache.  Simple enough, as this is by far the most common geocache.

The cache used to qualify for the challenge is A Little Storage (GC4KWH8) on August 3rd in Charlotte NC.

On the road trip the cache was called Poulin run - Sighting in Hagersville (GC5993P), near Hagersville ON
This souvenir requires one to find a mystery cache.

The cache used to qualify for the challenge is: Time for T (or R or L) (GC1J2MQ), found near Charlotte NC.

On the road trip the cache was: COG goes International (GC48JD9), found at Geneva Park on the eastern shore of Lake Couchiching.
This souvenir requires one to find a multi-cache.

The cache used to qualify for the challenge is: The Hilton Sisters (GC3XQK7)  found near Charlotte NC.

On the road trip the cache was: Cavi-Tree (GC2MF95), found in Penetanguishene ON.
This souvenir requires one to attend a CITO event, or to do an earth cache.

The cache used to qualify for the cache is: Great Rockin’ Combination; Earth Cache (GC4RNGT) near Charlotte NC.

On the road trip the cache was: Tor Thorwald Lithographic Quarry (GC48JDA) found at Geneva Park on the eastern shore of Lake Couchiching.
This souvenir requires one to attend an event - Mega, Giga, or a regular event.

The cache I used for this is: COG's Penetanguishene Souvenir Socializer (GC58E6P) in Penetanguishene ON.

I wasn't planning on an event for the road trip, but this one was published at the exact place and time I expected to be anyway, according to my schedule. (the coincidence is overwhelming).  Gotta love it when a plan comes together
The collector requires one to find one of the following:  virtual, webcam, letterbox hybrid, or WherIGo.

The cache I used for this is: Lest we Forget... (GC322A), which is located at the Korean War memorial in Brampton ON.
Once I had logged these caches I unlocked the 7th souvenir:

I locked it in as the 8805th person to complete the challenge.  As of this writing just over 20,000 cachers have completed it.  If you haven't yet, there is still time.  You have until midnight on August 31st to log your qualifying caches, so stop reading this and go hit the trails!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Notes on Cache Trip Planning - GeoGearHeads Episode 136: Road Caching V

I recently did a guest spot on the GeoGearHeads podcast about road caching, in which I discussed how I plan and execute my geocaching road trips, especially with kids, and while doing challenges like the NC Delorme Challenge. This may be of special interest for those of us that do not run GSAK for whatever reason. There were a couple requests for these notes, so I am adding them here for the record.
The following are from my notes from the show.  I've cleaned them up a bit, but they remain a little rough around the edges. If anything remains unclear, please ask via the comments below.

You can listen to the show here: GeoGearHeads Episode 136: Road Caching V

Travelling In General:
I start by figuring out where  I wanted to go - Do I want to do the coast, hit up the mountains, a quick grab in the middle. etc.  Also how much time do I have?  Day trip vs long weekend vs 3 week vacation.  What else do I want to see along the way?  i.e. in NC Cape Hatteras Light House, and KittyHawk were destinations on the coast, Mt. Mitchell was one in the mountains.  For longer vacations, Newfoundland and the Grand Canyon became destinations.   
I look for caches at those destinations, and add them to a bookmark list.  For multi-day trips, I also look for caches near hotels and planned stops.  For long trips I’ll build a spreadsheet (Google Docs for the win) of where I want to go that day, what town I plan on stopping at, and the distance between them.  This gives me an idea of how much spare time I’ll have for the day.  I also share that spreadsheet with my wife so I am sure to include her ideas into the trip.  
Pull a Caches along route PQ that take me to all the places Iwant to see. If its a multi day trip, I tend to pull one cache along route PQ per day.  If I am staying in one place for more than a day I’ll also pull a PQ of the area, centered on the hotel.
Sort all PQs by favourite points, look for interesting highly favourited caches along the route.  If I have kids in tow (both toddlers), or have long journeys, I often limit this to low D/T ratings, and larger containers (smalls or larger) for quick grabs on long sections, however I consider all of them if I have time in the schedule, or I am going sans kids. Note:  Its often this process that leads me to discover interesting places to explore.  Especially take note of virtuals and earth caches as those often lead to interesting things.
I also look at the list of Bucket List caches that I maintain, and see if any of those make sense for attempting on the trip.  If they do, they get added.
Add all the best of caches to a bookmark list. I normally call it Best Of X.  Typically I’ll have 5-10/day.  
At this point I have a great idea of what my trip is like.  I have a list of the caches that look good, and a mental list of the must-do caches - i.e. those caches you’d kick yourself for not doing.  This is an iterative process tho - for a day trip it may take an hour.  For a 3 week vacation, I spend 8-10 hours over the course of weeks and months ahead of time.  The longer the trip, the more tweaking gets done.
Then I generate all the PQs - all caches along routes, all caches at the destination, and the Best Ofs.
I load the All Caches PQs into my GPSr, and I load all of the PQs and Best Of into my phone/tablet/Earth.  I keep the Best Ofs in a separate database/list, so I can quickly map the caches I already curated and are on my todo list.  This allows me to navigate easily.  However having all caches quickly available allows me to do impromptu caching - gas stops, kid maintenance stops etc. I used to use Google Earth on my laptop to manage and plan my trip as I went along, but I have since switched to Locus Pro on my Nexus 7 Android Tablet. Note that *all* caches end up on my GPSr, and the Best Of caches are maintained separately on my Nexus 7.
Specific Delorme planning:
Spent some time mapping out the grid into Google Earth (GSAK users get this for free, I believe. I don’t have the benefit of GSAK, so I do it old school). I colour the grids so I can see at a distance which ones I’ve found, need to find, and can ignore. I personally coded up a separate python script to generate the KML file for this (available if anyone wants it), tho its very rough), but it can also be done manually.,
Do the trip planning as above, but ensure my routes go thru all relevant pages I need to get in that area of the state.
When I select fav caches, I also add the very first two caches along the route on each page that look like they still exist  to my list( import the GPX file into Earth makes this easy).  Why two? So I have a backup in case the first one is a DNF.  Often these are caches I don’t really care if I miss, so if I find the first, I skip the second.  Having the backup cache has saved me multiple times tho.

After that its just a matter of executing the trip (i.e. getting in the car and driving).
Other Tips

Be flexible.  Sometimes you want to spend more time at a location because its more awesome than you thought.  One reason for keeping the best of list is so I know where the caches I *could* do and the caches I *must* do are.  I seldom grab all of the Best Of caches - but I always seem to grab the must-do’s
Consider the kids endurance:  I try to keep car time to < 6hrs per day.  When the kids were really young I used Zekey time (cause my son is named Zeke), which was to add 30 minutes to every 2 hours of time expected in the car, which accounts for feeding schedules.  Picking kid friendly caches.  Note parks etc.  When going to parks, cache first, play second. Once the kids are on the playground, its hard to get them away to cache.
A tip Save time:  At fast food places, let kids play in the play place while parents eat.  Kids will happily eat in the car.  Kids take more time to eat. What is a 10 minute stop for an adult can easily become an hour.  Letting them play while the parents eat can cut this down dramatically.
I like to be at the hotel for supper time with the kids.  This gives them some time to settle, and to play before bed.  Generally leave in the morning at 7-8, depending on the schedule. My kids bed time is 7:30, so this gives them a relatively normal sleep schedule - adjust for your own kids particular sleep patterns
Plan for nap times - kids need naps, and nap at different times.  I try to schedule caches to match their nap time needs.  Mine kids tend to nap in mid-afternoon, so exploring in the morning, and scheduling longer drives during the afternoon often works best.
Be prepared with snacks, water, etc. Have plenty easily accessible in the car, and carry kid friendly snacks in your geo-pack.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Road Trip in Central Ontario

A few days ago while I was back up in Canada visiting my in-laws, I went on a mini road trip to explore parts of central Ontario.  

This post covers the basics of that trip, and I will cover some significant sights I saw in more depth in follow up posts. 

I started my day by getting up at 5:30 AM, driving to Tim Hortons for breakfast, then getting some miles in.  I am based in Haldimand County, right along Lake Erie, so I had a couple hours drive ahead of me.

My first stop was at a virtual cache at a Korean War Memorial in Brampton.  There was a box of poppies there, so I stocked up for my own personal stash since they are hard to come by in the US where I now live.  

My next stop was in Newmarket Ontario, where I was born and raised for the first 6 years of my life( I quasi-covered that visit in the post Origin Stories). 

I then headed to a YMCA park on Lake Couchaching to visit an old limestone quarry. According to the earth cache at this location, the limestone from this quarry was extra pure and smooth, and was prized by lithographers world wide as excellent material for making printing plates.
While I was near Lake Couchaching I did a multi-cache on an elevated walkway that leads out over wetlands.
I then worked my way northward to Penetanguishene (heck of a town name, eh?) to do some more caching, and attend an event.  Hanging out with local cachers is always a treat, wherever I go.  Along the way I got this panoramic shot of the town from the highest park in the area.

The next day I headed west to the southern shoreline of Georgian Bay.  I started the day by doing a cache at the ruins of a castle (not something normally one can say in Canada - we're not really castle folk - that deserves its own post).  

I then checked out the Georgian Bay shoreline from an awesome park in Collingwood.  I brought my bike with me, and I took extra time to ride it up and down the excellent bike paths they have running along the shore.  They also have an inukshuk, which I am always a sucker for. This one was rather large and impressive.

From there I visited an earth cache at artesian well that boasts the cleanest water in the world (something to do with the unique ground formations causing extra awesome filtration).

I then did the second oldest active cache in Ontario, Bending Tree (another post coming).

Next up was a visit to an old church (covered up, assuming for its own protection), that was used by the first black settlers from the US, who came to Canada to avoid the slavery issues in the US.  Those black folk also helped defend us in the War of 1812 - just goes to show it pays to be nice to folks.
My next stop was at an old ghost town called Josephine (yet another post coming up!).

I finished my trip by doing an earth cache at The Devils Punchbowl in Hamilton Ontario, at which I captured this panoramic shot of the Hamilton skyline.
After that I headed back to my in-laws place.  It was a quick trip, but a fun one, and I ended up seeing a lot of history I didn't know existed - all in an area of the world that was essentially my backyard-at-large for the first 33 years of my life.

Stay tuned for more posts about the castle, ghost town, and second oldest cache in Ontario - coming soon to a blog near you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Origin Stories

The following is a true story.

They say every super hero needs an origin story.  This one is mine.  

I started life here, in the usual way.  To protect my secret identity the name of the hospital has since been changed.  No one knows why.
I lived here.  It is where I kept my socks, Legos and Hot Wheels.  It also acted as my home base and my first secret lair while I roamed the neighbourhood, getting into mischief, and perfecting my adventuring skills.  MacGuyver and the A-Team were influential during this time (as were the Duke boys - yee haw).
My education began here.  From the very beginning I demonstrated a penchant for imitating fire trucks.  That fact is in no way relevant, but does add some nice colour to the story, doesn't it?
I got my hockey cards here.  I got 3 Wayne Gretzky's in one pack.  I didn't keep any of them.  Foresight was not my finest attribute in the first grade.
Eventually I entered these doors and joined a secret fraternity known only as HWOps.  Thusly, I disappeared into the murky depths of a corporation bent on organizing the information of the world, and in the process, building an artificial intelligence so advanced that the worlds cat video needs are met at the speed of light, before anyone even knows they want them. You are welcome.
What happened to me after this is unknown, but there are theories.

No known current pictures exist.  The following is an artists rendition based on slightly delusional eye-witness accounts.

According to the almost non-existent myth and legend that surrounds the story of my life, my whereabouts are currently unknown.  They say I am still out here, roaming the earth.  Lurking in the shadows.  Waiting for the next opportunity to engage in awesome, and delusions of grandeur.

They say that, if one is lucky, one may cross my path and become a part of an epic adventure.  They say a lot of things. Some of which are fiction, some are myth, some are legend, some are too good to believe.

Some are true.

They say every super hero needs an origin story.

This was mine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Merritville Speedway

Merritville Speedway is a small local dirt track located in the heart of the Niagara Region in southern Ontario.

The last time we were in Ontario my in-laws took the kids, and myself, to go see the races.

I am not much of a race guy, but they did seem to have quite a wide a variety of racing categories:

- small sized cars
- medium sized cars
- another kind of medium sized cars
- large sized cars

Each qualifier  race lasted 6 laps, and each final race lasted 20-25, with the grand finale race lasting 35 laps. The whole thing took about 3 hours.

Here are some more pics from our adventures as a moto-sport enthusiast. It was hard to take pics due to the gigantic fence in the way, but at least you are now getting the authentic Merritville Speedway experience (minus the dirt in your hair, and abusive amounts of engine noise in your ears).

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Virtual Reality On A Budget

In what is possibly the coolest merging of low tech and high tech, one can now get a very passable virtual reality headset for your Android phone, for approximately $10.

Best part: it is made out of cardboard, with two simple lenses, and a magnet.

It sounds like something an 8 year old would build, but it was actually designed by Google engineers, and it actually works as advertised. Almost like magic.

It is called Google Cardboard, and is basically a cardboard box that holds your phone in front of your eyes in just the right way to allow for a 3D effect.  It then uses your phone display and sensors to show you 3D images that respond to your movements.

To use it you need to download the Cardboard app (free from the Play Store), which has several demos included, such as (among others):  YouTube, Street View, PhotoSphere viewer, and a Google Earth Viewer.

The amazing thing is that it works fantastically well (especially considering it is made from the stuff most other things are shipped in).  I tried out the Google Earth viewer, and you can navigate the world in 3D simply by moving your head around.  This is pretty much what you would expect from any VR headset - but the effect is astoundingly effective.  The resolution is a tad lower than a normal Android display because you are splitting the equivalent of an HD display, however, half an HD display is still a lot of pixels to play with.

Icing on the cake is that it works while wearing glasses, so there are no focus issues for us weak-sighted folk.

It works by splitting the phones display into two halves with the correct parallax distortion between the two to simulate 3D.  You can see how it looks in the screenshot below (looking at the Chicago skyline in the Google Earth demo).

So far the only downside I can see is that it eats your cell phone battery like a fat man at a Chinese buffet, so you'll want to keep your charger handy.

It is impossible to show you what the experience looks like, so you'll have to simply go check it out for yourself.  For $10 it is quite possibly the cheapest entertainment going so you have little to lose. You won't regret it (just make sure you have a compatible Android phone - only a few models are proven to work so far).

You can check out the details for yourself here: https://developers.google.com/cardboard/, and either build your own viewer, or buy one off Amazon.

Tech is finally mind blowing again, and it is awesome.

Disclaimer: As a Google employee I try to stay away from mentioning Google products on this blog - partly to avoid any conflict of interest issues, and partly because this isn't really a tech blog. All opinions are my own, and may not represent Google Inc's stance etc. Aside from sharing a CEO, I have no contact or connection with the folks that built this technology. I didn't really knew it existed until a Cardboard set was handed to me this morning. I am, however, a freshly minted fanboy of the whole idea of VR on the cheap.