Friday, December 16, 2011

GSAK 8 and Pocket Queries

I enjoy the pursuit of geocaching.  I particularly enjoy the places it takes me; many of those places are ones I'm not familiar with at all.  Whether it is an unfamiliar park, or the woods, I enjoy the walking that I get and I enjoy the hunt.  I attended Midwest Geobash in Wauseon, Ohio this year and during the event, I went with some other central Ohio cachers.  I discovered that weekend that I don't really enjoy power trails or anything where I can rapidly build my numbers.  I did appreciate the fact that I had about 22 finds that particular day, but the caches (as part of a "Flintstones" power trail) were uninspiring and were spaced every 0.1 miles per the cache saturation guidelines.  Having said that I don't care for power trails and the rapid numbers run, I do appreciate being efficient when I am caching.  I got married about six months ago, and I don't have time to geocache like I previously did.  In order to maximize the number of caches that I should be able to find in a given amount of time, I use a combination of Pocket Queries on, and Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK).

 So the first thing I do is create the pocket query on  For my central Ohio pocket query, I choose the following criteria (and I provide the rationale):

  • 1000 caches:  this provides GSAK with the greatest numbers of geocaches to work with.  It is with GSAK that I do some of the heavy filtering.
  • For the types of caches, I choose traditional, multi, virtual, Earthcaches, and webcam caches.  Up until recently, I had the unknown/mystery cache type, but those typically are puzzles that require you to solve for the coordinates before heading out.  I also used to have the Wherigo cache type selected, but with that type you have to have the cartridge loaded before venturing out.  For solved puzzles or any other cache I find appealing, I always have the option of adding it to My Planned Finds list.  That list gets sent to me as a pocket query.
  • The next choice is the container type.  I just leave that set to Any Container.  I really don't care what size the container is.  Although I really like the ammo cans that are hidden in the woods, the simple fact is that many of my finds are micros.
  • In the next section of the pocket query builder, I have it filter to show those caches that I have not found, that are enabled, and that are not on my ignore list (I do have a handful of caches on that list).
  • I do not filter on difficulty, but I do filter on terrain to those that are 3.5 or lower.  I figure that 4's and higher are probably tree-climbers, and I don't climb trees.  I do have a couple of 4-level terrains in my find history.  They were night caches, though, that probably had the higher terrain level due to the effect that darkness has on walking around.
  • Next I filter on the distance.  The distance is a varying number that maximizes the number of caches listed (up to the limit of 1000, of course).  That way I am presenting the most caches to GSAK.  My centerpoint for the filtering is my home.
  • Finally, I filter out the geocaches that need maintenance.  I really don't want to spend my time looking for caches where logs may be full or wet, or need other TLC.
Now that I have created the pocket query, I have to tell to email me the GPX files.  For a pocket query like my central Ohio, I have to download a ZIP file from the website.  This ZIP files contains two GPX files.  The first GPX file contains the geocaches themselves, along with recent logs, attributes, coordinates, size information, and difficulty and terrain levels.  The second GPX file contains child waypoints such as parking coordinates, and trailhead coordinates.  I extract these two GPX files from the ZIP file, and I copy both of them to my Garmin Oregon 550t GPS receiver.  I then import the ZIP file into GSAK.

One of the main reasons I use GSAK is so that I can compile a list of geocaches that should be relatively easy.  So here are some of the filters I set in GSAK under the Search/Filter menu item:
  • On the General tab of the filter, if I am looking for easier caches, I will filter the difficulty and terrain levels down to 2 or less.
  • On the Other tab, I usually set the filter to only show Traditional and Multi caches.  Of course, if I want really easy ones, I can filter out the Multis.  They will almost always take longer that a Traditional one.  Occasionally I have filtered based on compass direction.  Maybe I only want to look for caches that are east of town.  Filtering by size is another way to eliminate caches that may take longer.  Many times a micro in an urban setting is going to take a little while to find (perhaps because of the muggle factor).
  • On the Attributes tab, I set it up to filter on all attributes checked.  The two attributes I usually check are the Needs Maintenance and Stealth Required.  Both of these are set to none.  This ensures that the cache neither requires maintenance or requires me to be stealthy.
  • Another tab that I adjust is the Dates tab.  In here I only use the option to filter on the Last Found Date.  I will typically insist that the geocache was found within the past two weeks.  If it has been a while since the cache was last found that may mean that the cache is difficult to find.  Of course, previous cachers would have probably recorded a DNF.  Old logs also don't provide recent data on the status of the cache.
  • The final tab that I use is the Logs tab.  In my opinion the options I choose here tend to have the strongest effect on the number of caches that are displayed.  I tell GSAK to look at the last five logs.  One of the reasons that I look at only five logs is that I believe that only provides the five most recent logs.  I then tell GSAK to show me only the geocaches where at least four of the last five logs are Finds.  If I want to increase the likelihood of finding the cache, I'll filter so that all five of the last five cache logs were finds.
Sometimes I will end up setting the filters so tight that no geocaches will be displayed at all.  Of course I will have to back off several of the filters.  I usually start with the Last Found Date, but sometimes I will have to adjust the filters on the Logs tab, so that only four of the last five logs were finds and not all five.  All of these filters may shrink a pocket query down to about 50 caches instead of 1000, but even 50 caches are more than I am going to look for or have time for in a day.

This all sounds like a lot of work, but the pocket query only needs to be set up once.  I just need to download it from the website whenever I want to work with fresh data.  I import the pocket query into a empty database.  I then open up the last active filter.  Depending on how recently I used the GSAK filters, I may have to do some tweaking.  From the downloading to the importing to the setting of filters only takes about five minutes.  With the release of GSAK version 8 and its access to the API, I can refresh the filtered list of geocaches in the database so that a cache's number of favorites is displayed.  That way I can sort the final list by number of favorites.  However, many times I keep it sorted by distance from my centerpoint.

Pocket Queries and GSAK provide a quick way to maximize the likely of having finds instead of DNFs.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    My Geocaching Tools of the Trade

    I've been geocaching for about three months now, but technically speaking I've been geocaching for over eight years.  I started in August of 2002 with about five finds and then dropped the pursuit almost entirely.  The only things I did that pertained to geocaching in those intervening eight years were to keep up my premium membership and to visit the website from time to time.  I think one of the reasons why I dropped geocaching was that I was frustrated with some of the "did not finds" (DNFs) I had, and I believe also that one of my last finds was muggled shortly after I recorded the find.  I always had some guilt that I hadn't been stealthy enough.  I realize now that geocaches do get muggled from time to time, and somebody has to be the last one to find it before the muggling occurs.  I also realize that DNFs will occur for various reasons and the only way to counteract that is to have many more fnds than DNFs.  I now have 126 finds total, so I'm actually averaging about 40 per geocaching month.  I'm enjoying the hobby more than ever.

    In the past three months I've collected or purchased various tools to help me during my trips.  I'll try to list some of those tools here and the reasons that I have them.

    • an advanced GPS receiver (GPSr):  I have the Garmin Oregon 550t.  This GPSr supports paperless geocaching, which I absolutely love.  The only geocaches that I print out now are some of the puzzle caches that I want to solve.  This GPSr also has a 3.2 megapixel digital camera.  I normally use a Canon PowerShot digital camera (since I like to take pictures of my finds), but it is nice to have this camera as a spare.  I've used it on at least two different geocaches.
    • a digital camera:  as I indicated earlier, I like to take pictures of my finds, but I also like to take pictures of the interesting and beautiful areas that geocaching has taken me to.  On at least one geocache a camera was required.  I found an earthcache that required me to be in the picture along with my GPSr.  I have two digital cameras, but my primary geocaching one is a Canon PowerShot SX210IS.  It has 14 megapixels.
    • a flashlight:  I now have three for geocaching.  One is a high-power (3-watt) white LED flashlight, another is a lower-power (1-watt) LED flashlight that also has a red mode and a green mode, besides the white mode.  Finally, I have a UV LED flashlight.  I've been reading about some of the geocaches that require a UV light to read clues or the final coordinates.  I have yet to use this flashlight for any actual caches, though.  The "lower power" flashlight is my favorite at the present time.  Most of the time I use the white light, but I've had a couple of night caches where I wanted to be a little more discreet, so I switched to red or green.  One of these geocaches was near a bike path and the red light was bright enough to find the micro hidden in the pine tree.
    • a small mirror:  I had never thought much about this item, but I had read about other geocachers using them, so I bought one.  About a week and a half or two weeks ago, I used it for the first time (in conjunction with my flashlight).  I suspected that the cache was hidden in the rafters of a picnic shelter at a local park, so I used the mirror to help look in the cracks and crevices.  Unfortunately that cache was logged as a DNF by me, at least for now.
    • tweezers:  this was another item I hadn't thought much about, but I picked them up at a Wal-mart or some other grocery store for about $1.25.  I picked them up shortly after I had to borrow a set from some geocachers that I ran into at a cemetery cache.  Now I had one or two solo finds where I have needed them as well, including one magnetic nano.
    • a magnetic pickup tool:  I haven't used this yet, but I carry one as it could come in handy on a future geocache.  I bought one because I read a fellow geocacher's blog, or saw a picture where the geocacher had one of these in his bag.  Maybe I'll need to use it in the future.
    • a lanyard:  My GPSr has a lanyard attachment.  It sure is convenient to hang the GPSr around my neck.  There have been a number of times when I've parked a ways from the geocache and then have to walk across a field to get close the cache site.  I can get my heading every so often and then let go of the GPSr knowing that it is really easy to get to.
    • walking stick or trekking pole:  I recently bought a pair of Leki hiking poles but I have yet to use them.  I suspect that they will come in handy on some of the higher terrain geocaches.  But lately, after reading some blogs and watching some YouTube videos, and on advice (regarding geocaching in Florida) from my parents, I may start bringing one of the trekking poles with me, just to poke around as I look for the hidden caches.  I've never given much thought to snakes, spiders, and other creatures, but it is probably better that I stick my hiking pole in a hole rather than my hand if there is a creature waiting for me.
    • Gloves and a hat:  I would like to continue geocaching in the winter.  I realize that it will be at a slower pace, but in Ohio it can get quite cold in the winter, so I'll protect myself by wearing a hat and gloves.
    • a pack to carry the gear in:  I used to call them fanny packs, but I guess the proper term is a lumbar pack.  That is what I carry my geocaching gear in.
    • a pen:  I carry several pens, but the kind that I like is a Rite-in-the-Rain pen.  It isn't cheap, but it works every time.  I will use the pen that the cache owner has left from time to time, but many times I use my pen anyway.  Of course, many caches are of the "bring your own pen" (BYOP) variety.
    • a notepad:  I carry a couple of these.  They are useful for writing the answers during a puzzle cache or the coordinates to the next stage on a multi cache.
    • my Blackberry:  whether I need it for the cellphone or whether I want to use the Geocache Navigator application, it is handy to have in the field.  One thing I have learned though:  leave the Bluetooth headset in the car.  I lost one on an attempted find about six weeks ago.  My headset is so small and with the leaves on the ground, and knowing that I had already over the area many times, I did not even attempt to look for it.  I just wrote it off, and ordered a replacement. 
    • tape measure:  I've run across at least one geocache (a multi) that required me to measure a memorial plaque, and use the measurements to solve the coordinates.  I guess that one would not need an actual tape measure but a tape such as the kind to measure your waistline could be used too.
    • the StickPic:  this is a teflon or similar material that has been machined so that one part of it fits on the end of a hiking pole, and the other end has a plastic bolt that screws into the tripod socket of a pocket digital camera.  With the StickPic you can then extend the hiking pole to its full length, and get yourself in a picture.  I've been on one Earthcache that required me to be in the photo along with the waterfowl blind that was near the Earthcache, and also show my GPS receiver in the picture.  At the time, I just held the camera and arm's length and got the picture, but the StickPic is more elegant.
    • hiking boots:  I used to have a pair of hiking boots, but they were worn out and I threw them away a few years ago.  I'm in the market for a new pair.  With a good pair of boots, I should be to tackle some of the higher terrain geocaches, but you still won't catch me climbing up a tree.
    I do carry a couple of other things on my hunts, but they stay in the car while I'm out.  I carry an iPad.  I've only had it a short time, but I like to record my field notes right after I make the find.  With the Geocaching application on my iPad and having 3G, I'm able to record those finds right away.  Before I bought the iPad, I used my iPod Touch and a Verizon Wireless MiFi mobile hotspot to connect to the website from the field and post the field notes.  I also keep various adapters in the car to keep the various electronics charged up.