Geocache Finds 2020-03-08

Geocache Finds 2020-03-08

Geocache Finds 2020-03-08

Heal the World

The Sketch

An attempt on the “Heal the World” series of 78 puzzle geocaches near Hadstock in Essex. The series forms a piece of geoart that looks much like a globe. Who could resist that, huh? I was accompanied by the Happy Hunter on a long day out.

When they appeared I solved them all fairly quickly – most were jigidi puzzles or simple “look it up” things, so they didn’t take a huge amount of time.

It’s a big enough series to deserve a day out, and also to deserve some company. I’m sort of going off spending all day on my own when there’s the chance to go with someone else. In this case, HHHP20 signed up for a joint mission, with me volunteering to drive from my house. He also created a breakfast event at a nearby fast-food outlet (whose name rhymes with Sack Ronalds). We’d be needing some sustenance before having a go at a big series like this. It turned out to be my last caching trip before the COVID lockdowns came into force.

Pre-Amble

Heal the WorldThe Happy Hunter arrived at my gaff nice and early, so we jumped into my vehicle and set off. We started really early because a) Hadstock is over an hour from home and b) we had a breakfast meeting to get to. But don’t forget c) we planned to find a few caches on the way.

Some time ago I completed the challenge of finding over 1,000 caches placed by ryo62. When someone does that, he honours the achievement by setting a simple “Congratulations” puzzle based on your caching name. My one of these is close to Duxford, so we agreed to head that way so that I could claim it for my Finds list. There’s a group of similar ones around the villages of Fowlmere and Thriplow, so we thought we might as well allow and hour on the way to get them. My one was quite easy to find.

Breakfast

The Happy Hunter set up an event cache at a branch of McDonalds quite close to the Heal the World series. In the preceding week a few people promised to come, and a couple said they might walk the series with us. So we were slightly surprised to sit out the duration alone. We had a hearty breakfast of McComestibles though, which is always recommended for a long day out.

A Long Walk

As nobody else had joined us we were free to approach the “big walk” however we saw fit. We saw fit to park in Hadstock and then start walking north and east. The series forms a big loop on the south side of the village, and we were walking in an anticlockwise direction. This would be bad karma for some, but it’s difficult to know what’s right when the numbered order goes anticlockwise.

The walking and the finding were both going pretty quickly. It was 10:15 when we started walking and by 1:30 we were sitting having a rest and a snack having just finished Heal the World #40. There’s not much to say about the actual caches – they were coming thick and fast and it’s all a bit of a blur. According to the track I uploaded to Garmin, the walk was 20km and took us 6 1/2 hours to complete. We found all 78 from the Heal the World series plus a couple of incidentals that we passed. We were back at the car well before darkness fell.

As a side note, I had some nervousness about my car all day. I noticed in the week that one of the tyres was losing pressure. Not quickly, but enough to notice. So I drove all the way there and back with the tyre pressures displayed on the dashboard, just in case. It was fine, and the car was driving normally, but I was concerned anyway. I had it checked a couple of days later. There was a massive screw stuck right through the sidewall. So new front tyre then.

The Finds

A total of 90 finds over the day, which is a good number given the time we started the main walk.


Leap Day Madness

Leap Day Madness

The Sketch

Leap day is a day when geocachers traditionally lose the plot, as if they hadn’t already. They lose the plot more than usual. Leap day madness is a well-known phenomenon. And this time around, the madness could happen on a Saturday.

Why? Well, because the grid for counting “days on which I’ve been caching” includes February 29th. There’s the “365 Challenge” of doing one cache on every day not including leap day, and then there’s the “366 Challenge” of including leap day as well. As the chance only occurs every four years, people go out caching a lot. And they set themselves various ridiculous targets to get their statistics for February 29th looking as flush as possible.

My stats were already flush with finds on February 29th and they have a good spread of various types and locations. I wasn’t even really planning to go caching but then I saw on Facebook that someone was planning to see how many different events they could attend in one day. That sounded suitably insane, so I started having a look.

Various local cachers had (obviously without colluding at all) set up 11 different events between High Wycombe and Leicester that were all spread apart in time such that a grand tour was feasible. Just. It did look like a lot of driving for one day though, so I asked on FB if anyone was up for a car share. Simply Paul was. Just a matter of figuring out the logistics then.

There were events at midnight at both ends of the day. W attended those in our own cars. SP offered to pick me up and drive the morning stint. The trip from the fourth to fifth event of the day passed my house, so we changed cars and drivers there.

Last Night

We were not the only ones attempting the feat. We may have been the only ones to complete it though. Anyway, SP and me spent the day, essentially, meeting the same group of people in 11 different places.

The leap day madness began just after midnight in Brackley with 00:00-00:30 Leap day – let the madness commence. As it was in Brackley then technically I guess the day began at 11 pm the previous day, as I had to drive there. I arrived far too early and sat in the car park for a while until someone else showed up.

Early Morning

The proverbial morning shift had four events on the radar. We set off from my house at an unearthly hour because we had a bit of a drive to reach the first event.

Enjoy Sunrise On Leap Day was held on top of a hill overlooking Dunstable. The plan was to see the sunrise there – it was scheduled from 6:30 am to 7 am. We didn’t. The weather was foul and the event site was at the top of a big hill. So we were soaked by the time we spotted Pesh, the organiser. It was a matter of signing the logbook and leaving. Story of the day, to some extent, but here it was mainly the weather rather than the need to be elsewhere.

The next “elsewhere” was Leaping for an early morning coffee? in High Wycombe. Paul drove us around the M25 and M40 and I was surprised we arrived in time for the 8 am start. It was a simple affair in a branch of a well-known coffee shop. We had time to cram in some breakfast whilst using their heating to accelerate the process of drying out.

Next we needed to be in Banbury for Leap Day in Banbury at 9 am. We were a bit late, and this was the shortest of our stops. There were a few people at the famous cross, so we paid for 10 minutes parking and ran over to sign the log. Then we jumped straight back into the car to head towards Towcester for 09:45-10:15 R65: Leaping Labs. This was another one inside a coffee shop, and it allowed us a bit more time to get settled, talk to a few people and imbibe some more caffeine.

Lunchtime near Home

From here we drove back down the A5 towards my house and we did the car swap. I was happy that Paul took the morning stint. SP was carrying a sleeping passenger for most of it.

BBH#144 Bordering on a Ridiculous Day started at 10 am, which would have been tight from the Towcester event, but thankfully it lasted for 90 minutes. We turned up about halfway through. It was in the cafe of a local garden centre in Woburn Sands. They’d redecorated since I last visited, and it was very unfamiliar. We queued for food and then did a couple of laps of the restaurant trying to find the event.

Through the Afternoon

After the early lunch (or maybe late second breakfast) in Woburn Sands we began the longest stretch of driving of the day. The next event was Leaping into the next challenge, starting at midday in a pub in Markfield near Leicester. We arrived after the start and had trouble finding somewhere to sit, but we did manage to have some lunch. We had loads of time before the next meeting, so we took a walk into the centre of the village to grab a couple of “actual” caches. On reflection, it might have been better to take the car, but never mind.

Northants Natters goes Leapy was at a McDonalds outside Wellingborough at 15:30. The drive from Leicester took a lot less than I expected, so we were able to stay at this one from (nearly) start to finish. More liquids escaped and were topped up.

By this time the schedule was looking very easy, unlike in the morning. There was a gap of a whole hour to get from Wellingborough down to 17:00-17:45 Leap Day Celebration day. This was in the car park at Northampton Services. We arrived early enough for a snooze in the car park. There were a few tired looking faces at this one.

Next up was Have A Break From Leaping Around, which began at 6 pm in a pub in Central Milton Keynes. We had time to stop at Newport Pagnell Services to find a puzzle cache before heading to the event. It lasted 2 hours, so we weren’t in much of a hurry. A lot of the Milton Keynes regulars were there, funnily enough. Many of them were people I hadn’t seen since, ooh, mid-morning.

The Witching Hour

After the Milton Keynes event we had a couple of hours to spare, so I drove SP back to my house to get his car, and we parted ways. I grabbed a few zzzzzzzzzzs on the sofa before getting up again to head for the final one. Izzy wanted to come with me, which was good because she kept me awake in the car. 23:15-23:45 Leap Day – did you escape the madness? was a quiet affair in the middle of Buckingham. Only about 6 people turned up, and they were all people we’d been seeing all day.

The drive back was quick but seemed slow, mainly because I’d had enough. I was in bed by 1 am and slept through until quite late.

Still, mission accomplished. 11 events attended, 4 other caches found.


2019 Caching Diary

2019 Caching Diary

Objectives

As another year ends it’s time to write my 2019 Caching Diary. I didn’t really plan anything for this year, because if I’m really honest I was running quite low on enthusiasm. It proved to be my slowest year ever with the exception of the very first (see 2010 Caching Diary).

I enjoyed the caches that I found and the days out that I had, so maybe the slow year wasn’t all bad. I returned a little bit to thinking about why I enjoy caching in the first place. So, no targets, no ambitions, no regrets. Just a bit of caching when the mood took me.

January (No finds)

  • For the first time in several years, I didn’t go caching at all in January. Not once.

Solifluction at it's best

February (20 finds)

  • On February 4th I was on a business trip to Edinburgh and there happened to be an event nearby on the night I arrived – 3 finds
  • On February 23rd we were on a weekend trip to Brighton and spent a sunny afternoon on the South Downs at the rather beautiful Devil’s Dyke (see Devil’s Dyke) – 17 finds

March (1 find)

  • On March 28th there was a “Roundabout MK” event in the evening – 1 find

April (149 finds)

  • On April 14th I headed for Titchmarsh and got my year going (see Titchmarsh) – 83 finds
  • We made a couple of incidental finds whilst up in Sunderland visiting Kas’s folks on April 20th and 22nd – 4 finds
  • On April 28th I headed over towards Cambridge with the Happy Hunter to complete a series shaped like a cartoon rodent’s head (see Mickey’s Mystery Tour) – 62 finds

May (15 finds)

  • On May 13th there was a “Roundabout MK” event in the evening – 1 find
  • Between May 28th and 31st we had a family holiday in the Lake District – 14 finds

June (103 finds)

July (84 finds)

  • July 6th saw an event in the park right outside our house – 1 find
  • On July 21st I headed over towards Cambridge for a big day out (see Eltisley & Caxton) – 79 finds
  • On July 22nd I went for a run in the evening, accompanied by the ladies of the house on their bikes – 2 finds
  • July 29th had another caching event, this time in central Milton Keynes – 2 finds

The Kelpies

August (223 finds)

  • On August 8th to 11th I travelled up Aberdeen for the 2019 UK Mega (see Aberdeenshire Mega). I was trying to colour in as many Scottish regions and administrative units as possible – 144 finds
  • From August 16th onwards we were on our family holiday in France (see The French Connection) – 79 finds

September (48 finds)

  • On September 1st we were driving home from Grenoble and there was a cache at one of the places we stopped (see Long Way Home) – 1 find
  • September 11th and 12th were days I spent on a business training course in London and grabbed a few caches on the way there – 5 finds
  • On September 17th I drove around Milton Keynes finding a few local caches – 17 finds
  • September 20th gave me a nearby puzzle that had been solved but unfound for some time – 1 find
  • On September 22nd I hit a load more local caches – 23 finds
  • On September 23rd there was an event in Milton Keynes – 1 find

October (No finds)

  • October was a stressful month at work which overflowed into the weekends, and as a result I made no finds at all.

November (4 finds)

  • On November 16th I was on my lads’ weekend away in the Brecon Beacons and made my only finds of the month – 4 finds

December (2 finds)

  • December saw very few finds also – just a couple of finds on puzzles out in the sticks, that I found whilst walking a part of my series Flags of All Nations and doing some maintenance – 2 finds

Summary

So there we have it, the end of my 2019 Caching Diary. A year of very little caching, by recent standards. There were really only a handful of days when I went out caching. There were a few days with an odd few, but not many biggies.


More Garmin Icons

More Garmin Icons

The Problem at Hand

Over the last few weeks I’ve tried some technological explorations into the presentation of geocaches in various mapping tools. Read my Memory-Map and Back to BaseCamp posts. My success in doing so has lead to a measure of confidence in such things. So I tried to do some more Garmin icons based on the work in other tools. I have a Garmin Montana 650 that I use for long days of caching.

I probably understand such things at a level well above the average geocacher right now. It seemed reasonable to investigate how to extend this work into the display on the Garmin Montana. It was slow work, but I eventually improved upon my previous attempt. It’s better, but not quite as good as I wanted.

Exploration

Not long after I got the Garmin Montana (the first one, which I ultimately lost down a drain in Letchworth) I explored changing the icons to make them more visible against the collection of fairly busy and colourful maps on the device. I was happy with the results (see Garmin Custom Icons) at that point, but a couple of things still irritated me about it.

One irritation was the inability to tell whether a puzzle (or multi, letterbox or wherigo) was solved already or not. Another was the inability to tell which caches are disabled. I regularly spend ages at a site looking for a cache before realizing it had been disabled for some time. Sometimes they are there, so I still want them on the GPSr, but I like to know when I start searching that it might not be there.

Frustration

It proved to be a very frustrating dive into some fairly dark recesses of the internet. After much pain, I eventually found a post on a forum site from a well-known London cacher. I discovered that on the Montana your options are very limited. He suggested the best thing to do, and that’s what I’ve implemented. What he confirmed was :

  • Custom icons on the Montana can only be applied to waypoints, not to geocaches
  • The Montana relies on a fixed relationship between cache type and icon which is embedded in the firmware somewhere, not in a configuration file – the <sym> tag in a GPX file is irrelevant because the Montana doesn’t use it
  • The list of acceptable names for geocache icons is quite limited – it doesn’t cover the full range of geocache types at all, presumably because many of them are rarely available in practice
  • If you provide a Montana with a cache type it doesn’t understand then it defaults to the bucket “Geocache” icon

What this means in practice is that it can’t even represent every single cache type, never mind having variations relating to status. You’ve got to get a bit creative with it. The way to implement your creativity is to amend the cache type in GSAK before downloading to the device. I guess I kind of knew this already, and had previously been using the “Benchmark” cache type to highlight solved puzzles, and the like. I’d been doing this manually, by changing attributes in GSAK one by one. Tedious, and prone to error.

Revelation

I wrote a macro for GSAK that changes the cache type as follows. The custom icons on my Montana to reflect these names. It’s very bespoke, but it does what I want, or at least the closest I’m going to get to it :

  • Cache In Trash Out Event.bmp -> Indicates “owned” caches, represented by something that looks like a star in a green circle
  • Event Cache.bmp -> Used for all event types (CITO, Event, Mega, Giga, GPS Maze, Community Celebration) – there’s never enough to worry what type of event each one is. I always know in advance whether I’m going or not, so having them on the GPS is not necessary really.
  • Webcam Cache.bmp -> Used for Adventure Labs points. There’s so few webcams left that there’s no point in giving them their own icon.
  • Traditional.bmp -> Used for traditionals and for the HQ cache.
  • Geocache.bmp -> Identifies disabled and archived caches, plus random non-caches (like waymarks and benchmarks) that might creep in.
  • Virtual Cache.bmp -> Used for virtuals, webcams and locationless, should one of those fall through the net.
  • Mega-Event Cache.bmp -> Used to highlight caches that have corrected coordinates, represented by an icon that looks like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I use it only for puzzles, multis, letterboxes and wherigos.
  • I use all other icons to display the native cache types if they are uncorrected, active and not mine (Multi, Unknown, Letterbox, Wherigo.
  • Geocache Found.bmp -> Used to display any cache that I found. I normally don’t download them, but sometimes they slip through the net. The Montana checks this before anything else, so it is always used for finds.
  • The six other icons represent the child waypoint types of the same name (Trailhead, Question to Answer, Stages of a Multicache, Reference Point, Parking Area and Final Location).

Quirks

Some icons represent more than one cache type. In this case I just add the cache type onto the end of the name. It’s rarely a thing of significance, to be honest.

If Garmin ever changes the firmware to allow more of the standard geocache types or to allow a “corrected” modifier then I’ll revise this scheme, but it doesn’t seem to be high on their priority list.

Downloads

To implement this, I created yet another pack of icons (shown above), and two macros for GSAK. One macro changes the cache type in GSAK, recording the original settings into the “User Data” fields. The second macro restores the original settings from User Data so that the GSAK database is as it was previously. This is necessary because the GSAK menu option to download to a Montana doesn’t allow any configuration. I assume this is because the device won’t implement it properly.

The little bits of magenta in the icons are because the Montana translates magenta (RGB 255:0:255 or #ff00ff) into “transparent”. The icons look a little neater on the Montana than on the PC.

So to execute this method, install the pack of icons onto the \Garmin\CustomSymbols folder of the Montana’s onboard storage. Don’t put them onto any installed microSD card. In GSAK, run the SetSymbols macro, then download caches to the GPSr using the Send Waypoints option. Finally, run the RestoreSymbols macro to reset GSAK.


Back to Basecamp

Back to Basecamp

Having spent a week or so getting Memory-Map to display custom icons (see Memory-Map), I went back to Basecamp. Basecamp is a preferred technology for some locations. You can get good-quality, free, vector maps that can be mimicked on the GPSr.

Garmin doesn’t publish a lot of documentation about customization. They must assume that most users don’t delve deeply enough for this to be an issue. The fact that there is little internet chat supports that assertion. Most people aren’t in the game for heavy customisation. A few people are, and I’m one of those. So this post is very much in the “niche” category. I make no apology for that.

Objectives

GSAK MenuAs a geocacher, most of my dislike for Basecamp stems from the fact that there are only two on-screen symbols. They are a locked treasure chest and an open treasure chest brimming with gold. These represent an unfound cache and a found cache respectively. So by default there is no method of telling different types of cache from one-another. There is no way of indicating whether those caches are mine or someone else’s, or whether I corrected the coordinates. And finally, there is no way or highlighting disabled or archived ones. That makes the tool of limited use for planning journeys.

So my objective was to figure out how to make it more useful by being able to use custom icons to display those various status flags. Simple, really.

Planning

Garmin advises that you can use custom icons (see Garmin Support – Custom Icons). This page gives some basics about what custom icon files need to look like and where you have to put them. What it doesn’t tell you is how to use them.

I did some research and discovered that the symbol displayed by Basecamp is whatever is defined in the <sym> tag of the input GPX file. GSAK has a number of different ways of producing a GPX file, depending on what you’re intending to do. Put another way, GSAK outputs GPX files using different tags according to what the destination application wants to see. There are options for Garmin POI files, generic GPX files, Basecamp specific files, and so on. My focus was on the generic “GPX/GGZ/LOC File…” and the “Garmin MapSource/BaseCamp File…” options. You can see the dialogs that those options spawn in the pictures below.

GSAK Export

The key points to observe on these two diagrams are :

  • On the Basecamp export (right side) there’s a list of cache types and associated symbols which are placed in the output file – these can be altered by pressing the Change button
  • Also on the Basecamp export you can see checkboxes labelled Override with database symbol name… and Use a macro for symbol generation – the meaning of the second one is obvious but the first caused me to go looking – there is a database field called Symbol
  • On the generic export dialog (left side) you can see there’s various controls that talk about symbols, but not at the level of granularity that’s on the Basecamp specific one – experimentation showed that with the Force use of Geocache symbols only and Make symbols same as last GPS send checkboxes both off, the <sym> tag in the output takes the value of the database Symbol field

The net result of this investigation is that it’s possible to select various methods of setting the symbol to a custom value, and that they can be achieved using macros. My plan was therefore clear – draw up a map of the custom symbols I want to use, and then figure out how to implement that in a macro in GSAK.

Implementation

The steps to implement the solution turned out to be rather straightforward. There are just 3 things to do :

Firstly, configure GSAK so it knows about the custom icons. Download the configuration file, unzip it and move it to the local data folder for GSAK. In my case (on Windows 10) this is C:\Users\’Me’\AppData\Roaming\gsak where ‘Me’ is the folder for the current user. Look at the Export to MapSource dialog above. If you press the Change button you get a further dialog in which you can assign individual custom icons to each set of statuses.

We only need to do this for child waypoints, because for geocaches we’re going to use a macro to populate the database and then use the Override with database symbol method. Once you’ve installed the config file and restarted GSAK you should see the new icon numbers and names in the dropdown lists on this dialog. Go to the Child Waypoints tab and configure the six child waypoint types with custom icon numbers 58 thru 63 as per the picture below.


Secondly, set up GSAK. Download the Macro file and install it into GSAK as normal. Change your display of columns in GSAK so that you can see the Symbol field. Try running the macro – you should see the value of the Symbol field changing as you do so.

Finally, install some icons for Basecamp to use. Download the icons file and unzip the contents into the folder where Basecamp expects to find them. On my Windows 10 PC this is at C:\Users\’Me’\Documents\My Garmin\Custom Waypoint Symbols.

Conclusion

And that should, theoretically, be the end of it. Having tested it, you can now either use the generic GPX output or the Basecamp one. Both place the content of the Symbol database field into the <sym> tag of the output file, and that seems to be all that Basecamp uses. Browse to an output file through Basecamp and install it, and you should see the new icons straight away. You’ll notice also that they have been imported into Basecamp as geocaches, not waypoints, so when you double-click you’ll still get the geocache dialog.

The macro allocates custom symbols as per the rules shown in the GarminOther.txt configuration file. You are free to change these, and the icons, as you see fit. The convention for naming the icon files is 000.bmp, 001.bmp, etc. This convention automatically associates the <sym> tag “Custom 1” with the icon file 001.bmp. You can use any of the other standard Garmin icon names if you want, but you’d need to change the macro to match what you’re setting up.

Note also the specifics of how I wanted to see the icons. I’ve used little indicators in the icons to show corrected coordinates and active/disabled. Ones I own have a totally different icon style, as do ones which are archived or found.

Final Annoyance

Surely, there can be no more annoyances! There are. One stands out.

Basecamp, by default, shows a text name alongside each cache or waypoint. Whether this is displayed or not is controlled by a tag in the GPX file, but there is no way in GSAK to set that tag, as far as I can tell. It is contained within an extension to GPX that GSAK doesn’t use.

You can open each item in the cache/waypoint list and suppress display of the name by changing “Symbol and Name” to “Symbol Only”, but for some reason in Basecamp you can bring up an “Open” dialog for multiple waypoints but not for multiple caches. For caches you have to do it one-by-one, which is tedious in the extreme.

The quick way is to select all caches and waypoints and then “Export Selection” in Basecamp to produce a new GPX file. This contains the relevant tag, so you can edit it and substitute all instances of “SymbolandName” with “SymbolOnly”, save it, and import that one back into Basecamp. Bob’s yer proverbial uncle. It’s irritating that I didn’t figure out how to programme that, but it’s a fairly small irritation, and to be honest, unless you’re loading thousands of caches into Basecamp you might find the labels useful.

Show me some pictures then

Pictures below show a few examples of how this looks in Basecamp.

On the left you can see a picture of my current list of caches to do in Milton Keynes. The small cyan coloured dot on some of the icons is how I represent a puzzle, multi, letterbox or wherigo when I’ve added some corrected coordinates. You can also see a few of the trads have a white bar through them, indicating that they are temporarily disabled.

In the centre you can see what the area of my Flags of All Nations series looks like. The circular stars are “owned” caches. The red boxes with crosses are archived. I’m using the pink benchmark icon (“Benchmark” cache type in GSAK) for planning locations to replace the archived ones. The circle with star is a bit bigger than the other icons, so I might change that one.

On the right you can see a bunch of smiley-face icons with corrected coordinates. These represent a massive puzzle series I did in France in 2018 (see Val D’Oise Madness).

All of these examples are shown with Freizeitkarte maps, but obviously the icons will superimpose over whatever maps you choose to use.


Memory-Map

Memory-Map

After several years of trying to use Garmin’s Basecamp tool to plan the layout of caches, I finally got to wondering what else was available, and I started exploring Memory-Map (see Memory-Map). I spent a while doing it, but now I’m finished I really like it.

It’s no good without maps

The first step in any new venture into geocaching applications is to figure out what the maps are like. In Memory-Map’s case, the maps are whatever you buy. You can get a free trial for the UK Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale maps. These look much like the OS Explorer “Orange Top” printed maps. I guess the printed maps are just a rendering on paper of the electronic versions. Anyway, these electronic maps have the problem that they are raster maps so they get blurry at fine detail. At the sort of scale you need for planning a geocaching trip (which is wanting to see between 2 and 10 km of map across the width of your screen) the resolution is fine and the maps look lovely.

When your trial period runs out they will sting you for about £100 for the full Great Britain mapping. That’s cheaper than buying the whole country for Garmin Basecamp though, despite being the same thing. They look nice, as you can see in the samples below.

This leads me quite naturally into a discussion about the main weakness of using Memory-Map though. They don’t sell up-to-date maps for very many places apart from Great Britain (the 1:25,000 OS Explorer maps), France (the IGN 1:25,000 map) and the USA (DeLorme 1:24,000 topo maps). There’s a bunch of free ones for much of the world but they aren’t detailed enough for planning caching trips. Coverage of the world seems patchy. I also failed to find any reasonable way of making Memory-Map compatible maps from other inputs like Freizeitkarte. That’s not to say you can’t do it, it’s just to say I’ve not had the patience to do it.

Memory-Map Sample
Memory-Map Sample
Memory-Map Sample

You need some geocaches too

So, moving on, the second thing you need to make a decent geocaching planning tool is a way of uploading shed-loads of geocaches onto the map. In this case I wasn’t quite sure where to go until I stumbled across some documentation on Google about a macro written for GSAK. I use GSAK a lot. The macro outputs content for Memory-Map based on caches stored in GSAK. It was written by rutson and is one of the standard downloadable macros from GSAK on their online macro index. I won’t explain how to get there – if you don’t use GSAK you don’t need to know, and if you do use GSAK you’ll know where it is. It’s in the online list as “rMMe” (rutson’s Memory Map export).

When I tried this the first time it was fully functional, but I had two issues with it :

  • I didn’t like the way it allocated icons to cache types. Some cache types were missing and the selection criterion for various parameters like “Found”, “Archived”, “Owned” and so on didn’t seem to be complete (Yes, I have some caches that I have found and that I now own, and which have corrected coordinates. The macro wouldn’t allow all of those in one icon).
  • I wasn’t particularly keen on the icons. If you’ve seen the post about Garmin Custom Icons you’ll know I like big, bold and clear colours and geometric shapes. They are easily discernible against the background of a busy map.

The way to get rid of these issues, as you would expect, was a bit time-consuming.

Cache Processing

The solution to the first of the two problems is evidently to rewrite the processing macro in GSAK to produce a different range of settings that equated to the items I wished to see. I started off with maintaining rMMe’s approach of marking caches that contain a trackable, but ultimately decided that I generally don’t plan on the basis of whether caches contain a trackable or not, so I decided to ignore that parameter. The things I thought to be important to include in the model were :

  • Found Status – this takes priority over the type of cache, as it does on the Groundspeak website – if I’ve found it, I don’t care what type it was any more. Found caches are always shown as smileys.
  • Cache type – Traditional, Unknown, Multi, Virtual, etc – There’s more different types than you think, so I contented myself with all the key types and then use a bucket “other” type for ones that will never occur frequently enough to be of concern (like “Project APE” and “Lost and Found Celebration”) – I chose to represent the type on the icons by using different colours and letters in a square box.
  • Active Status – is it Active, Disabled or Archived? – I represent this status on the icons by adding a grey diagonal bar for Disabled and a red diagonal bar for Archived, but I didn’t bother with Disabled for a “Found” cache
  • Ownership – For caches I own, I add a small green circle to the bottom right side of each icon, including on smileys. There was no need to create an “Owned” variant for some types, because I’ll never own a Virtual, a Webcam, a GPS Maze, a Mega Event or a Giga Event, for instance.
  • Corrected Coordinates – for types where the cache isn’t at the given coordinates (like Unknown, Multi, Letterbox and WherIGo) I add a small cyan circle at the top right when those corrected coordinates have been added to the cache, and not when it hasn’t. This identifies which caches are available to be found and which need some work (either now or in the field). You can add corrected coordinates to any cache on the Groundspeak site, but it’s meaningless on types other than the four listed here.

More Customisation

Once I’d been through the process of deciding what different icons were needed for each cache, I also included some extra parameters which make the macro more useful for one of my purposes – blogging about historical days out. I often write blog posts well after the actual day. Sometimes that means the caches are in varying states of disrepair or are archived. I therefore included a “Show All Caches as Active” flag, which makes the macro ignore all the settings about status and just forces use of the “Active” variant of each icon. Occasionally I might like to draw a picture of all caches that someone else might see, i.e. ignoring my finds, so I added another flag to perform a “Show All Caches as Unfound” function.

You can update coordinates directly on the Groundspeak website. This isn’t great if the whole point of the trip was to create some GeoArt (see Val D’Oise Madness, for instance). In that instance the Groundspeak website displays found caches at the given coordinates, so GeoArt restores itself. To make Memory-Map do that you have to tell it to. The original coordinates are available in GSAK, but you have to choose to use those rather than the corrected ones. So, I added a “GeoArt Mode” flag, which forces use of the original rather than the corrected coordinates – see the third picture above – the one with the Mickey Mouse ears.

The original rMMe.gsk macro file already had the right structure for performing a loop over all of the displayed caches in GSAK and including an output line for them. It also had a small block for drawing the child waypoints out. This meant that all I had to do was to figure out how to change the core of the module to assign a different set of icons, and to apply the various control flags I wanted. That proved to be fairly easy once I’d read through the example a few times. The structure and meaning was quite apparent and quite simple to understand. Result!

Icons

You can use as many different icons as you can be bothered with creating and programming for. There are some limits to how you do it, but the number can be quite large. The constraints on the icons are as follows :

  • They must be 32×32 pixels in size
  • They must be saved as 256-color bitmaps (.BMP)
  • Pure white (RGB 255.255.255) is treated by Memory-Map as a transparent layer, so if you need something white, pick a light cream colour instead. I found that RGB 255.251.240 gives a decent looking shade

I chose to edit them using MS Paint – it’s easy to use and clear enough for these very simple files. One issue is that MS Paint always allows you to edit in the full 256x256x256 RGB colour-space. It’s a bit of a lottery whether the colours you’re using are actually available in the 256 colour palette (I couldn’t find a reliable source). The way around that is to pick a colour you like, then save the file as a 256-colour file, and then reopen it. MS Paint corrects any colour you’ve used to something that’s compatible with the 256-colour palette.

Somewhere in the configuration for Memory-Map is an entry which determines which pixel in the icon is placed over coordinates. In mine, it’s set to about 16,16 and I drew icons that are about 20 pixels square in size (always at the top right of a 32×32 frame. This means that the icon is mainly to the top-left of the coordinates when you see it in Memory-Map. For caches that are directly on a public footpath that’s advantageous, because the icon mainly covers the whitespace above the path on the map rather than covering the path.

Enough with the chat, how do I use this for myself

Here are the things you need to do to set this up.

There are two downloads here. One contains the GSAK macro, the other contains all the icon and configuration files.

  1. Download and unpack the GSAK macro. Install it in GSAK by taking the Macros -> Run/Manage menu option and then hitting the Install button – this produces another dialog where you can browse to this macro file and upload it
  2. Select a database in GSAK that has some caches in it and then Run the GSAK macro for the first time. This will, amongst other things, hunt for an installed version of Memory Map and create the relevant folders for later use. It installs rutson’s original icons into the directory but doesn’t use them.
  3. Navigate to C:\Users\’Me’\AppData\Roaming\gsak\MemoryMap\icons (where ‘Me’ is the current user) – You should see a bunch of icons and config files. You can delete all of them if you want. rutson’s original version has his icon data embedded in the macro and I didn’t remove this.
  4. Download the .ZIP file with the icons in
  5. Unpack the icons .ZIP into C:\Users\’Me’\AppData\Roaming\gsak\MemoryMap\icons

You’ve now installed everything, so you’re good to go. The key file for this bit of configuration is header.txt – This makes the association between the icon file name and the integer number used to represent it in the Memory-Map upload.

How do I use it?

It’s quite easy. When you run the macro it brings up the dialog below. You can tell I didn’t spend much time tidying it up. I may do that at a later date. The result is that some of rutson’s original features don’t work now (as I didn’t want them).

Key areas of the dialog :

  • At the top left, select the folder to put the output files into. I  create them in the same folder that I keep the icons and input config files.
  • Below that, you can define the name for the output file – it creates a .CSV file. You can use the last name, or the GSAK database name, or choose a custom name.
  • Below this, there’s a number of checkboxes which control the outputs. The names make it fairly obvious what will happen. “Add route?” adds a simple straight-line route from one cache to the next (but as far as I can tell the means of doing this is uncontrollable). “Display Spiders?” shows original and corrected coordinates separately and draws a straight line between the two on a cache-by-cache basis. “Display All as Unfound?” and “Display All as Active?” override the GSAK status for found and active/disabled/archived statuses. “GeoArt Mode?” ignores corrected coordinates and displays caches at the original coordinates (where there’s a difference).
  • On the top right is a group of controls “Links To” which I ignored and don’t use.
  • Below that are three flags to control child waypoints. I removed clutter by suppressing child waypoints if they’re at the same place as a cache. You can also choose to suppress output of children for found caches or for disabled/archived ones.

Hitting the Go button on the dialog takes the selected parameters and creates an output file. It then invokes Memory-Map and uploads the created file.

Quirks

Memory-Map isn’t clever enough to figure out whether there’s already a waypoint with the same name. You’ll get duplicates if you reload the same caches. I’ve noticed this causing some strange behaviours and it certainly clutters the whole shebang. My recommendation is that you should delete all the current caches before you run the GSAK macro.

The Overlay Objects panel in Memory-Map shows the caches grouped by cache type and find status. You can double-click items in the side-panel to get the map to centre on that item.

As a final act, I also figured out what to post into the input file so that you can use Right-Click->Open File to invoke a browser with the cache details in it. It took a couple of attempts to get it right and at the moment it’s kind of hard-coded to my own PC setup. In the original macro it simply tried to post a “http://coord.info/…” string. This doesn’t work because MemoryMap doesn’t know that you use a browser to open an http link. The solution is to change that string so it begins with the full file location of the browser executable file (chrome.exe in my case) followed by “coord.info/GC…” as a parameter to the executable. Works a treat, and if your browser is already open it just starts a new tab. #jobsagoodun

Waivers and Restrictions

The downloads above are, to the best of my knowledge, free of malware. However, I take no responsibility for that. Please scan anything you download (from anywhere, not just from me).

You may make copies whenever and wherever you want. However, if you break it then you own both pieces.

There is no copyright on any of the downloadable material. If you are going to rework it, I would appreciate it if you could credit myself and rutson when you do so. You may not use this material as the basis for a commercial offering. It’s free shareware – please keep it that way.

These materials are for personal use by myself. You use them at your own risk and I don’t provide a helpdesk. I may update the features and repost occasionally. There is no warranty and I take no liability, under any circumstances.


Long Way Home

Long Way Home

Mr Google advised that it was a very long way home. We were in the car by 6 am because we supposedly had at least 9 hours of actual driving to do and needed to cover 870km just to get to Calais, so with the need to make stops we back-calculated that 12 hours would be our minimum journey time. The reality proved somewhat different, but fundamentally we spent all day travelling.

Early Morning Autoroutes

AutoroutesGetting out of Grenoble at 6am on a Sunday morning was very easy and there was pretty much nothing on the road. I’d planned not to make stops for caches during the day as timings looked tight. I didn’t want geocaching to be the reason for any failure. As a result we proceeded directly through Rhône and Metropolis de Lyon without stopping for a cache, and we found ourselves all the way up at the Saint Ambreuil services near Chalon-sur-Saône at 8am, having already covered 225 of the 870km. That sounded like time for breakfast. We gave ourselves a decent break, filled the car up with fuel, and had something to eat and drink.

Kas took over the driving here and drove a massively long but very quick stint which got us all the way to Sommesous in another 2 ½ hours. It was only 11:30 am and we’d already done nearly ⅔ of the distance.

None of us fancied a proper meal, so we found a cache and grabbed some thoroughly unhealthy sweet snacks in the garage. We ate these whilst sitting outside, and then we got back into the car for another stint. We were very early, but we chose to go to Calais as soon as we could. There was always the option of getting an earlier train, or so we thought.

We were 350km away from the tunnel still. This should be around 3 hours, we thought. Even with another impromptu toilet stop, we made it to the terminal at 3 pm. That was three full hours less than Google suggested.

Tunnelling

The day went downhill at a rapid rate after this. We weren’t getting an earlier train. Why not? Because the terminal was so busy that they wouldn’t even let you drive up to the check-in gate unless you were within two hours of your scheduled departure time. So we were sent off site, around the houses a bit, and onto a massive holding area where we were segregated out in approximately one-hour lots.

Tunnel TrainWe sat there for 90 minutes before being allowed through, and then spent another hour getting checked in and passing through the two passport controls. At least we were on the train I’d booked (or so we thought, again).

The terminal building was heaving, as ever. We queued up to grab some pizzas for dinner and then killed a further 20 minutes not buying anything in the duty-free shop. Then we went to sit in the car. 20 minutes later we thought we might be able to blag our way into the holding pen. We were early, so it was a risk, but we trundled round for a look. We failed. They sent us into a separate lane for our allotted train. And that’s where we stayed for another 90 minutes.

The trains were all running late. I think they fill them up to the gunwales rather than sending them off on time. On Sunday nights in summer the trains fill up quickly with flexiplus tickets, which means everyone else gets bounced back.  Anyway, whatever the reason, we got a train about an hour later than originally booked.

The Last Leg

All of this put us back into the UK somewhat after 8 pm. We realised that we weren’t going to be getting home in time for the Co-Op still to be open. Also, I’d been in the driver’s seat since we left Sommesous, so it was time for a driver change. We stopped at the first lot of services out of the tunnel. I missed the lane as we entered the motorway so we ended up taking a circuitous route to get in. We grabbed a few snacks and drinks to eat at home and then set off again.

The motorways home were busy, like they always are. We eventually made it home at around 10:30 pm. We’d driven 1,080km (or 670 miles) over the course of the day. I thought it took a long time to get home from Aberdeen when I’d done it three weeks previously. The journey took 18 hours and we’d been out of bed for 19. It was indeed a very long way home. After a quick snack, Kas and me went straight to bed because we’d both got work in the morning.


France 2019 Day 16

Vizille

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Breakfast in Grenoble

We started our day out fairly late on this day. We weren’t in a rush. The previous night we’d decided we’d go and try the castle down at Vizille. It’s not far from Grenoble, and the kind of places where an afternoon should be enough.

Kas decided that going up to the Bastille on the téléphérique the previous day wasn’t strenuous enough, so in the morning she decided to run up it as part of a long morning run. While she was doing that, the girls and me went to “Paul” in Caserne de Bonne for some breakfast. Now we knew the form it was a better experience than the previous morning. Kas joined us as we were finishing, having done her run and been for a shower.

Moby Dick, Geocaching Style

VizilleWhile we were there, I took the opportunity to go and find a geocache in the gardens outside Caserne de Bonne. I’d been unable to find it previously due to it being in a very busy spot. Even this morning a guy was sitting right on top of the location. It should have been under the end of a bridge. I tried looking from the other side.  I could see the location, but I couldn’t reach it from where I was.

The guy seemed in no hurry to move. Rather than miss it, I decided to ask him ( or tell him ) what I was doing. I didn’t want to freak him out. He didn’t respond. He didn’t seem bothered, to be honest, so I went for it and did the doings. Throughout the whole process he didn’t so much as look. After leaving the site it became clear this lack of communication was related to him later turning into “shouty” bloke. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to go so close to someone who obviously wasn’t entirely there.

By the time we were all done it was approaching midday. We’d thought a little about going up into the “proper” mountains but I think by the time we got here we’d done our share of long days in the car, and as a result, the enthusiasm for spending a couple of hours each way driving to the mountains was pretty much missing.

An Afternoon in Vizille

Vizille promised to be no more than half an hour away. It also had the advantage of being somewhere I hadn’t visited previously on three visits to the city forty years previously, so I had no idea what to expect.

It was easy to park and there was a cache in the back of the car park. I managed to squeeze that in while one of the kids was farting about with footwear. The chateau is quite impressive – the biggest in the Dauphiné, apparently, and it’s been kept (or restored) in good condition. A great dollop of irony was introduced in 1984 when a wing of the Chateau was redeveloped as a Museum to the French Revolution (see Musée de la Révolution française), after the castle became government property and was donated to the Community Council of Isère in 1973.

The castle has extensive gardens and that’s where we focussed our attention. There are false canals (part of an early water-powered scheme for the town and castle), a parterre and lots of lawns. There was a kids’ playground but it was full of children, so neither of ours bothered. I guess we probably spend an hour and a half walking around before deciding to retire for an ice cream. It was a bit cloudy but still very warm and humid.

To get ice-creams we walked out of the front gate of the castle into the town. We found a place that sold granités – we developed a taste for these in Italy on last year’s holidays but it was the first time our eye had been drawn to one in France.

After sitting outside for a bit we decided we’d had enough for the day. We drove back to the apartment and camped down for a while. I think we were starting to get the “going home” feeling. Vizille was nice enough, but our hearts weren’t really with it.

A Final Night on the Town

We went out for dinner at about 6 pm and found a boutique burger joint – nicer than McDonald’s but not really a restaurant as such. The burgers were good. From here we moved next door and had a beer. The kids started running in and out of a fountain in the street, with predictable results.

We walked back home again and got most of the packing done. We had an early start in the morning and didn’t want to be late to bed. I also didn’t want to drink much. According to Google, we’d got 870km to drive just to get to Calais and we needed to be there by about 6 pm, so we’d planned an early start. Google reckoned we should allow 12 hours. We were in bed by 9:30 pm.