Saturday, September 27, 2014

ALS Virtual Ice munzees

The ALS Virtual Ice icon

Anybody miss the ice bucket challenge videos yet? I confess I grew tired of those pretty quickly, but there is no denying that the viral campaign was hugely successful at raising money and awareness for ALS. Munzee had a successful campaign supporting Ronald McDonald House with the RMH Virtuals, and so they ran a similar campaign for ALS this month. Virtual Ice cubes appeared in the Munzee store in early September and for a few bucks you could buy four of them (with a significant donation to ALS). A player earned 32 points for the deploy and each cap split 32 points between the capper and deployer, so they were high point value munzees. Being a virtual, they could be placed anywhere in the world, and between these two factors, they became very popular. They were also included as prizes for the lower levels in the clan war this month, so there was also ample opportunity to win them.

Thousands of ALS Ice Cubes near McKinney, TX
I bought eight of them early on (and wond three in the clan war) and placed a couple in San Diego. The rest I sprinkled around the world at proven virtual hot spots... Cologne, Hamburg, London, and in a little town in Texas called McKinney. McKinney, of course, is the site of the big Octoberfest Munzee Bash, which is happening today. With hundreds of munzers coming together for beer and capping, these virtuals were almost guaranteed a ton of caps. I deployed early in the month, so my virtual ice is located pretty close to the site of the party. Clearly, others had the same idea, and soon it became the largest virtual ice field in the world!

As September comes to an end, it is clear the placements have paid off. Three of my ALS Virtual Ice munzees are in my top ten deployment list (one has 86 caps). I've scored almost 15,000 cap on points, have jumped 15 levels (to level 96 and counting), and cracked the top 2000 in the world (currently at 1892). I can't imagine what the cappers in McKinney are scoring! It's been a lot of fun watching the points roll in and there is no question that the ALS Ice have contributed greatly to individual scoring. I have to give major kudos to all of those at the Munzee Bash who capped my munzees!! I wish I could have been there!!! As the Virtual Ice melts away and the munzees disappear at the end of the month, I think it is safe to say that the ALS campaign was one of the most successful munzees yet!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Munzee Virtual Gardens

First official Munzee virtual garden in McKinney, TX
Over the past six months, there has been an explosion in the number of virtual gardens around the world. With the addition of the virtual mystery munzee and a rainbow of colors that can be applied to virtuals, some incredibly impressive works of geoart have been created. Just a few days ago, Munzee deployed the first "official" munzee garden using the new emerald virtual. This geoart is located just outside McKinney, TX and is not far from the new Munzee Marketplace. I was incredibly fortunate to get one of these (they sold out in less than an hour) and am very proud to have contributed to this historical garden (you can see my munzee in the letter n).

Flags in Copenhagen, Denmark
I'm not sure when the first munzee geoart was made, but the first one I contributed to was the flag project in Copenhagen. I travel to Copenhagen on occasion for business (and I'll eventually have a post about some of my geo-adventures there), so when this came up I felt compelled to help build the American flag. You can see from the picture that the American flag has about 60 spots for munzees, and required (obviously) red, white, and blue ones. When this started being built a few months ago, I had some regular virtual munzees, which are white, so I deployed one there. It appears as the grey munzee in the center white stripe of the flag.

Rubik's Cube in Budapest, Hungary
I have also deployed virtuals in a Rubik's Cube in Hungary, an American flag in TN, and in a few unfinished projects. There are also virtual fields that are more ad hoc in nature. These huge congregations of virtuals are placed haphazardly anywhere the user can find a space. These often become colorful explosions of virtuals, special munzees and regular greenies. If you want to try your hand at creating some munzee geoart, here is a good tool by Hinklenator (virtual grid generator)

US flag and partial TN flag near Franklin, TN
Here in San Diego, we recently had our first ad hoc virtual field appear, deployed in large part by H2OKLAN and Habu. You can see from the picture below that I have already captured about half of the munzees in this area (mainly mystery virtuals) and have deployed a bunch myself. This area of Fiesta Island is special to me because when I first started playing Munzee two years ago, there were very few munzees down here. I love the area and it is near SeaWorld, so I thought it might be a good place to start growing the map. For months, I would swing by here when I had time and deploy a few munzees. People would come cap them and deploy some more and then I would return to cap the new ones and so on. Eventually, the area exploded and is now the highest concentration of munzees in the greater San Diego area. It's great for me as well because I don't have to travel to LA as often to score points for the clan wars. I can't compete with the power players, who have come to dominate the area, but this is a great example of a situation where a few players (jayterho, patnanz, JOK, habu, and razztazzzz were also early deployers in the area) can have a big impact on growing the map.

San Diego's first major virtual cluster on Fiesta Island

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Nirvana Avenue

An appropriate street name combo
A few weeks ago, I had to drive one of my kids down to the Sleeptrain Amphitheater for a concert (Slightly Stoopid). The venue is in Chula Vista, a few miles from the border, and so it is an area chock full of caches I have not found yet. I had some time to kill waiting for the concert to end, and I passed Nirvana Avenue. As a fan of many of these great alternative bands of the late 80's and early 90's, I felt obliged to see if there was a cache on this road. Not only were there several caches, but they paid homage to this great band. So, naturally, I had to stop.

The road itself was lined with office buildings and, oddly enough, junked car lots. It was a strange area, especially at night, and was very quiet. Too quiet, actually. The first stop was a cache named Dave Grohl by user ÂŃÔŃ¥MÔÜŠ (GC46ENW). It looked like your standard magnetic hide on one of those big green electrical boxes. Those green boxes are affectionately known as 'boogers' out here, and it took me awhile when I was first caching in SoCal to understand these hints (the cache is on a booger?). Anyhow, I checked a couple of places and then noticed a security guard in the neighboring parking lot. He hadn't spotted me, so I went back the car and waited until he had passed. Returning to my search, I checked out a few other areas before the guard returned. He had spotted me this time, and I figured it was time to move on. I've had run-ins with security before and they are usually pretty cool about caches, but I don't like pushing my luck. So, I left good ol' Dave unfound.

Next up was Krist Novoselic (GC46EP4). This hide was more or less what I was expecting before. Magnetic Altoids tin hidden in a likely spot. However, I ran into a security guard at this hide too -- an eight-legged one!! The cache was right in the middle of a huge black widow's web. Black Widow's are a serious hazard while night caching, but after the DNF at Dave's hide, I wasn't about to DNF Krist! I found a stick and attempted to remove the cache, but the magnet was too strong. I now had a cache that was further away and a very angry spider. Undaunted, I tried using the stick with a little more oompf and BAZINGA! The cache went flying into the darkness!  After a brief search, I had logged Krist and returned the cache to the area of the angry spider.

Then it was time for the big kahuna... Kurt Cobain (GC46EP9). According to the GPSr, I parked right on top of poor ol' Kurt, so I knew it was close. Searched a few likely spots with my cell phone flashlight and was getting worried that this was going to be another dreaded DNF. Finally had an 'aha' moment (more like a D'oh moment) and the cache was mine. Hidden in plain sight... I think Kurt would have liked that hide.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A pre-4th of July Cache/Munzee quest

On Thursday, I had a rare day off from work in which I had a large chunk of time for my geo-addictions. I was primarily interested in hitting some Munzees, as I was recruited by an Australian Clan to join them this month. The clan wars for July have three levels: Baby Chuck, Chuck, and Super-Chuck. The requirements for the Super-Chuck, although do-able, are beyond what I can commit to in an average month. However, the number of Munzees in San Diego have grown rapidly in the last six months, and so I do have the ability to get the Chuck without having to make too many trips to LA (where the Munzee density is very high). Anyhow, there were a group of Munzees in Temecula that I wanted to get in order to make a jump start on the month's requirements. I was also hoping to hit some geocaches in the area. So, I sent a text to Unknown_2_You, one of the few people in San Diego that are active in both Geo-games, and asked if he was up for a quest.
Lake Harveston
   The first stop was a group of munzees at Harveston Lake in Temecula. There were a number of mysteries here, as well as some virtual caches and a couple of motels. My experience with Munzee so far has not taken me to many extraordinary places (mainly parking lots) but this was a really beautiful lake. We parked on one end and followed the trail of munzees the whole way around. It was early morning, so the weather was still cool and there were a LOT of people out enjoying the area. Unfortunately, U2U and I had numerous technical problems. My phone kept re-booting (about every other munzee) and each reboot took 3-5 minutes to get back to the map. Not cool. The phone was lucky it didn't wind up in the lake!! U2U had problems with the sun. It was hard to see what he was scanning and so it took numerous tries to finally get a scan. These issues, coupled with our leisurely pace, made the round trip take much longer than I had planned. On the bright side, I did win a Blast Cap (as part of Munzee's third birthday celebration) and I also leveled up to Level 63, so it was worth it. I also got a First-to-Cap on one of the virtuals (U2U got the others as it seemed every time we got near one, my phone wigged out).
Mission San Luis Rey
     My phone battery was shot after all the scanning and re-booting, so we decided to move on to geocaching. In our haste, I forgot to use one of my Blast Caps to get the large group of regular munzees nearby. There is a rumor of a 3X point weekend this month... perhaps I'll come back then. We headed back to 76 and crossed over towards Oceanside and hit a few caches and then had lunch at In-N-Out. During lunch, we eyed a group of caches near an old Mission and decided we would work our way there. This turned out to be a fantastic choice, as the Mission was very cool! Mission San Luis Rey is a beautiful building, along with the remains of what was once the original Mission. The two caches here took us to some cool spots with great views of the Mission. It was the third cache in this group and was my favorite of the day (as well as cache #1700 for me... woot!). I have a soft spot for cemetery hides, and this one was at a cool pioneer cemetery across the street from the Mission. Reading about who was buried here and the history behind the cemetery was really cool, and the place itself was spooky enough in the daytime, I can't imagine what it must be like at night! I recently capped a quiz munzee in El Campo Santo in Old Town at around midnight. Yeah, you want creepy, go cap that one when the spirits are restless.
The cemetery across the street from the Mission
  U2U and I ended up with about 400 points on Munzee and about a dozen caches. The adventure took us to the lake and the Mission, but also to an abandoned drive-in movie theater and part of the SLURRT (the San Luis Rey River Trail). We DNF'd a couple of caches, chatted with a couple of homeless muggles, and got lost roaming around shopping center parking lots. All in all, it was a fantastic day off!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Geocaching leads you to the most amazing things...

The basin at sunset with the State House in the background
Another month and yet another trip for work.  This time, I was in downtown Providence, RI for a peptide drug development conference.  I was excited about this trip not only for the great science, but also because I would find my first cache in Rhode Island. Woot!! As it turned out, I had very little time for caching, so my choices were limited to the ones around the hotel. There were several nanos down by the Waterfront, so on my last night I ventured out to find them. The first one was Providence Nano Series #12: Waterplace Park by Aerial (GC2RG5C), a tough to find but very well-placed nano near a well-populated basin. As you can see from the picture above, it is a gorgeous place to see the river, shopping, and the State House. In the basin were a bunch of baskets of firewood, which I thought was strange (you can see them in the picture).
Closer view of the State House in Providence

Beginning of the Waterfire event!
Fire in the basin during Waterfire
I was able to get a closer view of the State House with another cache in this series, #11 Station Park (GC2RG42). This was another well-placed cache that took me awhile to find. I then got a call from the family back home in San Diego, who were dealing with serious wild fires, so by the time I was ready for the next hide, it was almost dark. A number of people were amassing near the basin, and music was being piped into the area, so I decided to return. What I saw was a true treat, and something I would have missed if it were not for geocaching. Waterfire! I started chatting with the guy standing next to me about what was going on, and apparently his son is a volunteer for this event, which happens a number of times each summer. A group of people with torches walk silently through the crowd to the dock, where skiffs filled with people dressed in black (and a lot of wood) pass by and take the torches out to light the wood in the river. Between the ceremony, the music, and the fire, it was a really, really cool event. I'm so lucky to have caught this as I had no idea this was going to happen this night.  Apparently, this was the first one of the year, and had been rescheduled based on the weather and the tides through the river. I wound up hanging out down at the basin for over an hour, watching the boats tend to the fires, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, and enjoying the company of a few hundred locals.

Near H. P. Lovecraft's grave

My last geocache in Rhode Island was also pretty special. As I was looking for caches near the hotel, I saw a virtual cache called H.P. Lovecraft by Julia (GC9497). I'm a huge fan of cemetery hides, and a fan of Lovecraft, so when I saw what this cache was all about, I had to find it. I drove out to this one on my way back to Logan airport. GZ is in Swan Point cemetery, and is located near Lovecraft's grave. I had no idea that he was buried here and so I took an extra 45 minutes getting lost in the south side of Pawtucket looking for this place. What I found was one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen. A truly peaceful place, with interesting markers, blooming trees, and a true sense of reverence. It took me a bit to zero in on where his grave was, and apparently the cemetery folks monitor people who venture into this area. By the time I parked and walked over to where his tombstone was, I saw the security people coming my way. I got the info I needed to log the virtual cache, but was reminded by the security people that no pictures were allowed. Fortunately, I took one before I got to GZ, so this gives you an idea of what the general area looks like. I never would have seen his grave if it were not for this cache, so I got two memorable experiences on this trip.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conference and caching: Ventura, California

On the way to Ventura
It's been a couple months since my last post. Work has been super busy and I have been preparing for two talks I had to give in Copenhagen. Yes, there was some good geocaching there, but first was a trip to Ventura, California for the Gordon Research Conference on the Chemistry and Biology of Peptides.  Great conference, but
Artwork near the Ventura Rocks cache
after sitting around in a conference room for two days, I needed to get out. I have cached in Ventura before, in fact, some of my favorite caches are there. One area that had been on my to-do list was Grant Park. The first stop was a cache called Ventura Rocks (link), a cache by MaxGold with a 4.5 star terrain rating. Reading the description and past logs made it sound like a doable 4.5 stars, so I decided to check it out on the way to the park. GZ brought me to a nice neighborhood adjacent to a deep canyon. there was a convenient trailhead right next to parking so I followed the arrow down the steep trail to the bottom, then up a pile of rocks. With good hiking boots (I brought my trusty Ahnus!), it wasn't too bad, although maneuvering around the rock pile was tricky at times.

View from the top of Grant Park
The next stop was the top of the hill in Grant Park. I had planned to use the trailhead here as a starting point for my hike across the ridge, but the trail was closed at the gun range, so I had to backtrack. The view from up here was well worth it, even with the hazy conditions. There were a number of interesting characters in the parking lot at the top. A few urban campers were hanging around, as well as some obvious tourists in small campers. There were also a couple of cars blaring some kind of club music. I swear the bass was so loud it was interfering with my GPS! A construction worker was eating a late lunch in his truck, and a 40-something guy wearing dark shades looked like he was plotting a way to kill us all.

Yes, I'm going to hike to the top of this ridge!
Steeper than it looks...
 I was able to find an alternative trailhead the the ridge on the map and drove there. I parked in a slightly sketch neighborhood that was filled with the smells of spicy beef and marijuana. I followed the trail parallel to the ridgeline and looked for a way up. The place was peppered with signs banning any kind of activity (off-roading, hiking, dogs, etc) but also had signs marking the trail. It was a confusing maze over the flats until I finally found the trail heading up. The ascent was very steep. According to my GPSr, it was a little over 1000' of elevation change in just under 1.5 miles. Once on top of the ridge, the caches were fun to find and the views were phenomenal! The sun was on its way into the sea, and it lit up the ocean like it was filled with gold. I stopped at My Kind of Trail: Bushed Yet? by InsideVC (link) to enjoy the view. It was cache number 1600 for me and I had brought a couple of beverages along to celebrate this minor milestone. It turned out to be a truly relaxing moment, decompressing from the hike up to the cache and soaking in the gorgeous view. I grabbed about ten caches from the trailhead up to the fence that ended the ridge trail, most with (well-deserved) 3.5 terrain stars.
Late afternoon in Ventura

The Last Internationale at Hemingway's in Hollywood
After the hike, I rested for a bit, grabbed some dinner and went to the evening session of talks. I was pretty tired, but I had one more activity planned. I had managed to get on the guest list for a very small show at Hemingway's in Hollywood. The Last Internationale was tuning up for a tour with Weezer and put on a great show. After the long hike and the long drive back to Hollywood, I was pretty wiped, but it was a great day of science, geocaching, and rock-n-roll!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Munzee Olympics

      Now that the Olympic games in Sochi are underway, Munzee has come up with a new game for us to get into the Olympic spirit. The Munzee Olympics are an interesting new twist to the traditional clan wars (which are also going on... see below). The basic idea is that you pledge your allegiance to a country and then enter into up to five events. As munzees are captured, they count towards your individual event goals and rankings. Should your country rank in the top three at the end of the day, your country gets points which count towards the overall country rankings. I play Munzee for Ireland and as a country we are doing about as well as the Irish figure skating team (Ireland has a figure skating team??). In other words, we aren't going to be bringing home any gold for the Motherland!
A more detailed description of the game can be found on the Munzee blog (here), but the various events are as follows:

Freestyle: Overall points for all activity during the Munzee Olympics
Greenies: # of Greenies capped
Academic: # of Quiz and Quiz virtuals capped
Social: # of Socials capped
Badge: # of Badges earned during the Munzee Olympics (includes ALL badges)
Visitor: # of Motels capped (sum of Motels and Motel Rooms)
Virtual Olympian: # of Virtuals and Mystery Virtuals capped (sum of both)
Ice: # of Diamonds capped

Grow the Map: # of Greenies deployed (may not be converted during Olympics)
Unicorn: # of Business caps
Level Up: # of Levels gained
Triathlon: # of times you cap a complete cycle of 1 green, 1 virtual, 1 mystery
Webbed: # of Virts and Mystery Virtuals deployed (sum of both)
Perfect 100: # of days with exactly 100 points
    Go For the Gold: # of premium caps (goldies)

I signed up for the events in red. I won't be competitive in any of these (stupid day job!) but the Olympics aren't about winning the medals, it's about the spirit of competition. Right? RIGHT!
   In addition to the innovative Olympic game Munzee is running this month, a more traditional Clan War is also active. The clan I've been a member of recently has not been very active, and several players were not really contributing at all.  So, I decided to leave the Mixed DohNutz clan and go to the free agent market (aka the Munzee Clan FB group). With only about two days between Clan wars to get on a clan, it becomes a crazy place! Clans are scrambling to get the required ten members to compete, and individual players are trying to get placed on a Clan that will give them the best chance of success to win the special Clan Weapon munzees. After a few FB posts, I wound up on the short list of several clans and it was an anxious evening waiting to see how the final rosters would shake out. With only a couple hours until the deadline, I got a request from a clan in Wisconsin, so I am a member of the Wisconsin Munzee clan. We have already secured the first weapon and are closing in on the Mace Munzee. So in the spirit of the Sochi games... Go Ireland! Go Wisconsin!