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GPS Fun January 22, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Unintended Consequences.
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gps   Geocaching is a popular activity for many people. Some involve their whole families. In a nutshell, geocaching makes use of a tool, a GPS locator, to help you to find an object placed somewhere in the world by another geocacher. Often it is a bucket or a box that is largely invisible to a casual viewer, perhaps out in the middle of an empty field, so it will be generally undisturbed. The box is to contain trinkets you can exchange with trinkets of your own to prove you found it. It also often contains a log book so you can date when you found it. The log book is essential for people trying to accumulate as many geocashes as they can.

Sounds fun if you have a Global Positioning Device, which I do not, but sometimes things can go awry. Last week, Scot Tintsman of Boise, Idaho, was returning to fill his dark green bucket with geocache trinkets when he encountered a police barricade. You can read the rest of the story in the Sunday papers today (and here). Bridge maintenance crews found the bucket and called it into police as a suspicious object. When Scot tried to explain that the object was his he almost got himself shot when he took out his MP3 player in an attempt to turn it off. Police thought he was about to detonate what might have been a bomb.

All is well now and the police in Boise got to teach a lesson about how one should not play games at, in, or near critical infrastructures like bridges, government buildings, or nuclear power plants. This information should not have been news to the many thousands of regular geocachers around the world. Their web site, Geocaching, specifically warns their members about safety.

For those unfamiliar with the devices, they are enormously helpful tools and have been in light aircraft, for example for almost two decades. I would have benefited from having one with me the week I was abandoned in Northern Ontario when the plane that was supposed to pick me up went missing. The pilot was fine. He had a bad alternator, a good radio, and a map so he just walked out of the bush to the highway. My work partner and I had no radio or map besides the small scales ones needed for our work as tree counters. A GPS device might have gotten us out of the forest a little faster.

I wonder if they will even before inexpensive enough to change the face of orienteering, a great sport where you have to run long distances to locate key points in a forest using topological maps and a compass. “Okay, class, you have your ten location points pre-entered into your GPS device, you and your partners have one hour to find as many as you can, and return to the base. Have fun.?

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