Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Prospector

Note:  This was selected as one of the top 3 submissions for Fright Week 2012 on I am posting it here for posterity, and for anyone who may have missed it when it ran on cachecrazy. I suppose this means I am a prize winning author now, eh?

It was a fine October day for geocaching in the Klondike mountains, Chris MacDonald thought to himself as he stopped to take in the view of the valley below. This is going to make an excellent blog post was his next thought as he shifted his pack and turned to keep moving. No time to rest, he had a goal to accomplish before the day was over.

He was at the halfway mark of a 9 mile hike to Pikes Pass. His goal was to complete a 6 part multi-cache that promised a tour of an old mining settlement from the Gold Rush era. The cache was published 6 years ago, but has never been found.

A couple hours later he was getting close to ground zero for the first stage. As he approached he saw what he was looking for, an abandoned cottage that a prospector called home during the rush. He took a few steps closer, but what he saw next surprised him.

There was a man sitting on the steps of the cottage. He was not sure what he should do - there should be no one around for at least a days hike.

The man spotted him, looked him over, and smiled. He called out with a heavy mountain accent “Howdy! Are ya on tha hunt too?”. He flashed a GPS, a Magellan eXplorist, to show that he was in fact a geocacher. “I saws your GPS hangin’ from yer pack”, he explained.

“Yeah, I am”, Chris replied. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be up here”. He thought about the situation for a moment and added “So... do you... uh... wanna team up and find the cache?”.

“Sure thang”, said the man, “My names Jim Dunnigan, but most people be callin’ me Hacksaw Jim”.

“Chris. Caching name ChuckleMan134. Pleasure to meet you”, Chris said, shaking hands.

“I already found this here stage”, Jim said, “Why don’tcha find it yerself, and we can move on to the next one together.”

“Sounds good to me!” Chris said, already glancing down at his GPS, a brand new Garmin Montana 600. The arrow pointed him into the building. He entered and quickly found the container he was looking for - an altoids can in the pantry. Inside was the coordinates for the next stage. He entered the numbers into his GPS and moved towards the door. As he was leaving he glanced down and noticed an old newspaper from 1889 sitting on a rickety old table. The headline read “6 Prospectors Missing - Foul Play Suspected”.

Neat! Chris thought, as he went outside. He followed Jim down the trail, and wondered what adventures the day held for him.

For the next hour the pair went from stage to stage. The second stage was a lok’n’lok behind an old outhouse. The third was a film canister near a saw mill. The fourth hidden in some rocks beside an old bridge that crossed a creek. The fifth was hidden in the wooden supports at the entrance to an old mine.

Instead of coordinates to the final location, the fifth cache simply had directions. “Go into the mine 150ft to the first intersection.The cache is on the ground, 20ft down the shaft on the left.”

“This looks like fun!” Chris exclaimed.

“Sure does”, Jim replied. “I need a break tho - why don’tcha go ahead and I’ll catch up”. He pulled a water bottle out of his pack.

“Uh, OK.” Chris thought it was weird, but was anxious to get inside the mine and find the final cache. He pulled out his flashlight and headed into the darkness.

It was spooky in the mine. He could hear the wind howl at the entrance. The wooden support beams cast weird shadows. Water dripped from the ceiling. He was pretty sure he saw a rat. There were old mining equipment - shovels and pickaxes - leaning against the walls. He was surprised none of this stuff had been muggled.

Once he got to the intersection he shone his light down the shaft. Sure enough there was an 50cal. ammo can sitting on the ground. He walked up to the cache, knelt down, and opened it.

“What the...” he called out in surprise. Instead of a log book, the ammo can was full of GPS devices. “Why on earth would these be here?” he wondered aloud.

He heard a noise behind him. He turned around just in time to get a glimpse of Jim swinging a shovel at him. Stunned he fell to the ground. His flashlight shone against the wooden support beam. He blacked out for a minute.

When he awoke, Jim was standing over him. He swung the shovel again, and yelled “No one is gonna take m’treasure! Ya hear? No one!”

As darkness fell over him for the last time he read the words carved into the beam: “Here lies Jim Dunnigan: Murderer of 6 men.”

It was a fine day for geocaching in the Klondike mountains. Bobby Thompson had just arrived at the first stage of a 6 part multi cache that promised a tour of an old mining settlement from the Gold Rush era. It had not been found in 7 years.

He was startled to find someone else sitting on the steps as he approached the old building.

The man spotted him, looked him over, and smiled. He called out “Hey there! Are you on the hunt too?”. He flashed a GPS, a new Garmin Montana 600, to show that he was also a geocacher. “I already found this stage, but why don’tcha go inside and find it yerself, then we can team up on the rest.”

“OK, sounds good”, said Bobby. He entered the building, found the next coords, and started to leave. As he was leaving he noticed an old newspaper from 1889 sitting on a rickety old table. The headline read “7 Prospectors Missing - Foul Play Suspected”.

“Neat!” thought Bobby, thinking how cool it was to see an old paper like that. He shouldered his pack and followed Jim down the trail, wondering what adventures the day held for him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fun With Pumpkins

I recently found myself with a pile of pumpkins (by 'found myself with' I really mean 'I saw them at the store and I felt the need to take them home with me'.  It seemed like a good idea at the time).

I wasn't sure what to do with them, but I decided to explore and see if I came across any inspiration.  I found some on the Internet (yeah, I know! what are the odds?).

So after a couple hours of decapitating, gutting, carving, making my wife worried about her error prone husband spending so much time with sharp things, reassuring her I was going to be ok, hunting for tools, finding tools, cleaning up tools, and cleaning up evidence of pumpkin murder, I ended up with my masterpiece.

I think I ended up with something fairly unique (except for the one I saw on the Internet) and eye catching (if you are easily impressed).  So without further ado, I give to you, my loyal audience (and people who found me by Googling "Awesome pumpkin carving ideas - sorry about this) , my creation. I call it:

Pumpkin Pi

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ye Olde Ren Faire

Today we took a trip to the local Renaissance Faire near Huntersville NC.

Around Halloween the local faire has trick-or-treating for the kids (and occasionally the adults...). Zeke loved it last year, so we made it a point to go again this year.  He spent the day carrying a shark bucket around, practicing his trick-or-treating, and his thank you's.  Once he got over the stunned "what the heck is this place?" reaction he did quite well.

We all went in (very) simple costumes. Zeke was dressed as Mr. Bruce Wayne, aka Batman.  Debbie went as a pumpkin.  Abigail dressed as a puppy in the morning, and a black cat when it got warmer.

I, of course, went as the Energizer bunny by installing pink bunny ears on my geocaching hat (I even went caching with that hat on, just to confuse the muggles).

We all had a blast at the faire, and Zeke loved trick-or-treating.  We all loved the costumes, and the jousting, and the music.  It was a good time had by all.

I'll leave you with some pics from the day, starting with one of the oddest costumes I saw:

Guiness:  Proof that God does exist, and he loves us.

Some sort of wood nymph/faery person.  She never spoke, but her acting was amazingly expressive.

And now to the joust! We liked the first joust so much we caught another one before we left for the day.

Celtish band - sounded heavy metal with bagpipes... I bought one of their albums.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Geocaching Australia

I got a pathtag in the mail today from to commemorate my first 100 finds on the service.  The service automatically sends out these path tags when milestones, like 100 finds, are logged. is one of many listing services around the world for geocaching.  As you'd expect caters to Australia caches.  Frequent readers of this blog may realize that I have not been outside North America in several years, and putting two and two together are wondering how I was able to make 100 finds on an Austrailian geocaching listing site.

The answer is locationless caches.  These are caches that do not have a container, nor do they have specific coordinates. Most of them require a cacher to find an object in the world, and post a picture and coordinates to claim the find.

I came across the idea of logging caches on during a discussion on Google Plus about my recent encounters with StreetView Cameras (here and here). During the discussion the fact that a locationless cache deals with encounters with StreetView cars.  I was intrigued so I logged the cache.  While I did I noticed that there were hundreds of locationless caches on the site.

At the same time I had a bike accident so I was off my feet for a few days.  I used that time to go through my archive of pictures and claimed locationless caches.  After a couple days I ended up with 100 finds.

From what I understand from discussions with Geocaching Australia, I am the first person overseas to be sent this pathtag, so it is a unique momento of my caching experiences.  Someday I hope to cache in Australia for real, but for now this pathtag will have to do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Geocaching World Interview

Geocaching World is an Internet TV show about Geocaching that is broadcast on the RVNN.TV network.  It is recorded weekly and hosted by my good friend HeadHardHat.

Last week I was the "special" guest on the show, and I was interviewed for about 30 minutes or so about all things geocaching.

So check out the episode below, and when you are done, check out the rest of the episodes here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Geocaching Adventures: The Avengers

You never know what geocaching has in store for you.

Last weekend I took the family eastward to the beach for a four day vacation.  When I go on such trips I always check to see what caches are along our route and make plans to grab the most favourited ones.  When I was researching the caches along this particular  route I saw a 7 part cache series based on the comic characters in The Avengers come up so I added it to my 'maybe' list. We are travelling with two small kids (3 years, 6 months) and are driving across the state so one never knows how much time one has to do caching, and how much time will be taken up with feeding and diaper change stops.

The series in question revolves around this puzzle cache: Avengers Series Finale: Nick Fury. The other 6 caches, themed one per action hero (Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man), each contains a piece of information used to solve the puzzle.  Some of the stages also have a thematic prop for that character and the cacher is encouraged to take a picture with it and post it with the online log.

 I wasn't sure what to expect from this series. The idea is intriguing  but I wasn't sure how much time I wanted to invest into a series I would likely not have time to finish. I also am injured. I fell off my bike the week before and still am suffering from bruised ribs and some nasty road rash, so I wasn't sure if I would have the stamina to tackle this. The final mentioned having to reach high (it recommends bringing a ladder or a small child to help retrieve the cache) so it is likely that even if I do complete the series I may not have the physical ability to grab the final.

Often cache series like this over promise and underperform, so I was skeptical.

All of this doubt was in my mind when I pulled up to the first cache (Hawkeye). I was ready for a disappointment, or at best to have met expectations. Then I got to GZ and saw the cache...

 HOLY COW! That cache was awesome! Well above expectations, and completely unexpected. Right then and there I decided I would do my very, very best to complete this series.  I will refrain from describing it except to say that it was 100% original, and completely thematic to the character.  If you go check it out I am sure your reaction will be the same. Trust me.

I took some pics of the vital bits of information I needed for the puzzle, signed the log, and rushed back to the Geovan of Destiny to get to the next cache.

I was still unsure of the final, and its promise of having to climb for the container. With my injuries I wouldn't be up for a climb. However I knew, based on this cache, that even if I found just a few in this series, I was going to have a great day caching.

So I went from cache to cache. Each time wondering how the character was going to be portrayed in cache form, and each time being duly impressed.  Even Zeke got into the act (when I could pull him away from watching Cars 2 on the tablet in the van).

As you can tell I also took self portraits with the super-hero props found at each cache (cause that is how I roll).

When I got to the sixth cache (Iron Man) I was finally armed with all of the vital information I needed to solve the puzzle and get the final coordinates.  I then drove off  (well, technically my wife drove, I navigated) to the parking coordinates (more vital information found while finding the caches in this series).

So here I found myself near the end. I was expecting more awesomeness, but I was concerned about my ability to reach the cache itself. I had over-extended myself a bit already today so my bruised ribs and road rashed shoulder was aching, and my ability to climb, or even stretch to reach high places, was seriously inhibited.

Since I had come this far already, I headed off to the GZ anyway. Just a 500 foot walk, but in my condition it felt like a mile.  It would be worth it just to see where this awesome series would finally take me.

When I eventually arrived at GZ, I found the prop, which was in a large tree crotch about 7 feet up, and I was just barely able to reach it (thank the maker for my 6'2" frame). However there was no logbook. Crap!

I did some recon via camera by taking pictures of the spot I found the prop in, and sure enough there was a container a bit deeper in the tree.  I used my walking stick to fish the cache closer to the edge. Eventually it was close enough that I could just get my fingertips on it. A bit of blind groping (for the cache!) later I had the container in hand.

The log book is full of awesome surprises, and I spent a good deal of time looking at them. I took a bunch of pics of the logbook (what other log can I say I did that with?).

Finally I packed everything back up, placed it back as best I could, and with a huge smile on my face I walked back to the Geovan of Destiny.  When I got back I popped two extra strength tylenol, fell into the passenger seat, and pulled out my laptop - I couldn't wait to log this one.

This was a great cache by itself. As the finale to the series it was fantastic. The entire series is geocaching gold. I gave each cache in the series a favourite point.  I just wish I could give them 10.

If you are ever in the area I highly recommend checking out this series. A healthy Dave would have had no issues tackling the terrain, and kids should have no issues either.  All around an amazing adventure.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ripley's Aquarium

This weekend we (wife, kids, grandparents) took a trip to Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach SC.

I brought along my camera, which I am still learning, and I think I got a few decent shots off (I took 200+ photos, but barely had enough good ones for this post - fish are tricky).

The following are the ones that made the cut.

This tank has over 1000 fish in it. The viewing window is 8ft high, 40-50-ft long.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Little Bit of Spice

The cache description said that the hide was a micro in an urban environment - not in any bushes or trees.  Also it says that the cacher is often near by so be on the look out for a TB on his truck.

Armed with this information I found myself with the family on a side street near downtown Charlotte North Carolina.

We (my wife, who is in the drivers seat, myself, and two kids in the back) drive up in the Geovan Of Destiny and scout out the area.  We notice a muggle in the nearby parking lot, getting out of his car and talking on his cell phone. Beside him is a white truck with a man inside.

 We go around the block and come back and park on the other side of the street.   I looked at the trucks I could see and didn't see a travel bug.  CO must not be around.

I get out of the van, cross the road, and start the hunt.  Given that the description says the cache is not in vegetation my only hide options is an electrical pole (not an LPC, but a wooden pole with some equipment hanging off of it).

"I witnessed the whole thing... from my car seat... between naps...
true story!"
I start my hunt.  As I do I notice that the person on the cell phone has started walking towards me, with a lage case on wheels in tow, still talking intently on his phone.  I immediately stop my search, stand straight and look across the street, trying to look 'normal'.  I need not have bothered.

As the muggle approached he turned to me and said "geocaching?".  I responded, with a "yep".  Without breaking stride he reaches over and taps a spot on one of the boxes on the pole, and keeps going. "Thanks!" I say, and check that spot. Sure enough there was the cache.  That was one question answered, but who was that drive-by muggle?  Was he a cacher too? Was he perhaps the CO in a hurry?

On a hunch I walked over to the parking lot where the cell phone guy came from, and sure enough there was a truck with a trackable on it.

As we drove away, I started putting this story into the log (don't worry, my wife was driving).  Before we left city limits the CO responded.  The muggle in question worked in the business next door to the CO.  Also the CO was the person who was in the white truck when we drove by the first time.  We missed each other by mere seconds.

Why am I telling you this?  It is simple.  We were on a mission that day to get across the state to the coast.  Instead of spending 5 boring hours in the car, we spent 8 hours on the road, and had several adventures, each of which added a lot of spice to what would otherwise be a dull day.

For example, we ran across this old victorian house that has been decked out in Halloween decorations. A simple thing, but we'd miss it if there wasn't a geocache nearby. We'd have also missed a nice walk through the woods to see a faery door.  We'd also miss the single best cache series I have ever done (it deserves its own post - stay tuned!)

I'll leave you with some more pics from the day...

 ... and if you are wondering, we did accomplish our mission.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Google Data Centers: An Inside Look

This morning Google has released unprecedented images of the inside of their datacenters, something that they have kept very secret until now.

They also released a Street View tour of the Lenoir Datacenter, where I work.

Google doesn't often give out this sort of information.  As someone who has worked in the company for almost 8 years I am actually stunned by the level of openness here, but I am also thrilled to be able to share some of the amazing things we've been working on.

So check out these links:

The official Google blog post - including links to the Street View tour:
Google's data centers: an inside look  (if you take the Street View tour, look out for easter eggs!)

This is a lengthy article by Wired's Steven Levy that goes into much more detail about life inside the data centers:

Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center

And finally a segment on CBS: This Morning:
Behind the cloud: A tour of Google's secretive data facilities

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tell Me Your Stories Contest Winner

I have been holding a contest on my blog, and now the winner is in.

By random drawing, the winner is

(drum roll please)


Congrats!  I'll be in touch via your profile to get you your prize.

Thanks to everyone who submitted stories!

For those that have asked, the winning story is here.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

International Earthcache Day 2012

Today is International Earthcache Day.

 If you are not familiar, an earthcache is a special type of geocache. The object of the cache is not to find a container, but to learn something about the geology that surrounds us. Most of the time an earthcache contains some sort of geology or earth science lesson, and to solve the cache one must send answers to various questions to the cache owner. The answers to these questions are found at the posted coordinates.

I have been on the mend lately (if you don't follow me on Google Plus you may not have heard that I had a bike accident so I have been off my geocaching feet for the last 4 days), and today after church I felt a calling to get out and get some adventuring in.

Since it is International Earthcache Day, I loaded up the three closest earthcaches with easy terrain ratings and jumped into the Geo-van of Destiny.

Luckily all of the caches were in the same general direction, and that direction led me up the mountains (aww shucks!)

The following are some pictures from my day, starting with my first earthcache at Fireman's Falls, which was about rock formation:

Some of the fall colours along the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the earthcaches was on mineral identification.  This is one sample, dolomite.

Some fall flowers.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national park.