© Gregory Pleau
It’s hot, it’s sunny and it’s a long weekend. What should I do? Well I’m in Huntsville so I guess now would be a good time to visit the Screaming Skulls. What are the Screaming Skulls? It is an art installation of Peter Camani. You can find this hidden gem on the Midlothian Ridge -just west of Burk’s Falls. In addition to the sculptures you’ll find in this improbably location there is also that artist’s home dubbed “Midlothian Castle“.
As much as I enjoyed the art what I found most interesting was that absolute lack of signage. There are no arrows pointing you this way and that. There are no descriptions of what you are looking at. Living near Toronto I’ve been to some of our country’s largest and best funded museums. Those facilities provide all kinds of clues on what to do so that even the dimmest of visitors will get something out of their visit. This installation is nothing like those. The whole place has an organic feel. When visiting this site you really feel like you are visiting the artist’s studio and well, yes, you are actually visiting his studio at least the part of it open to the public.
The location is popular among geocachers and was featured in Latitude 47 as the cache of the month.
On my way back from a bike ride this morning I stopped by my buddy’s place to show him my latest modification. He immediately dubbed it another Robbification. He’s seen me build or modify a few things over the years. Those that have known me since I was a kid know that I don’t mind tinkering with something to make it work better for me. This tinkering has sometimes led to destruction and other times lead to helpful enhancements.
My latest Robbification is the creation of a clip for my GPSr. Turns out the manufacturer decided to change their mounting technology when they brought out a new line of GPS receivers. The cynic in me says they did that to force upgrades. I don’t know if that’s the case or not but the end result is the same.
The clip worked fine on my 10km test ride. There didn’t appear to be any signs of weakness. This isn’t the first modification I’ve made for my GPSr. I also added a pull tab to the power cable. That change was a bit late for my Garmin 60 series as I’d already broke the strain relief. I added the pull tab to avoid future problems. When I upgraded to a Garmin Colorado I made a similar modification to that cable in hopes of avoiding future problems.
A few weeks ago a friend invited me to learn more about the “makers community“. I didn’t know what that was. Turns out those of us that like to tinker have a new moniker – makers. When I didn’t know what it meant I wasn’t sure I was one. With this last Robbifcation I’m pretty sure I fall into the category of maker.
While I’m out on the trails the GPS receiver displays the shortest distance to the geocache. This frequently causes me to do what geocachers call bushwhacking which is where you make a beeline for the geocache through the brush. This is neither environmentally sound or necessarily the easiest path to the geocache. What I need is a way to display the trail on my GPS receiver. This is where Gregory Pleau comes in. Gregory is an avid geocacher with over 3800 finds. After one too many bushwhacking excursions Gregory decided to put his technical abilities to good use and create trail maps for his GPSr.
There are a number of commercially available trail map solutions for popular GPSr but this trail map is different. These maps are created by the geocaching user community in something that has be referred to as crowdsourcing. This is where a large group of interest parties get together and share information, resources or skills, in order to create something new. Wikipedia is a more popular example of a crowdsourced solution.
The maps made available through Gregory’s Ontario Trails Project are free. There are a variety of ways to get the maps for the various GPSr units that are out there. Visit his site for full instructions.
Here is a case where members of a community can contribute a small piece of information that their GPS captures anyway and contribute to the creation of a useful tool. What other helpful tools can be created when passion meets expertise and is supported by a like-minded crowd?
In case you haven’t heard of it before Geocaching is an activity that is part treasure hunt, part social web. The tagline at geocaching.com is: “The game were you are the search engine.” What I find most interesting about participating in Geocaching is it’s ability to to bring people together in realspace via an application in cyberspace.
In order to find a geocache someone first has to place it, so right out of the gate you get a kind of a social interaction. It takes at a minimum two people to make geocaching work. If it was just two people you wouldn’t really need a website now would you? The process works something like this: place geocache and post it on the web, participants go to the web to find available geocaches, go outside and look for the geocache, come home and post a log about your experience. As it turns out there are a lot of Geocachers. There have been almost 700,000 logs written in the last 7 days by almost 87,000 members. This is an active community.
Not only is the community active in cyberspace it is also active in real-space. There are many geocaching events going on in a given month. These events are an opportunity for geocachers to get together and share experiences and in some cases make exciting new ones. My trip to Ishpatina Ridge was one such event. For that event me and my geocaching buddy Bakers Dozen along with four other people flew to within 4 km of the cache. There were other’s that boated or hiked in. It was a diverse group that is for sure. It was also a ton of fun. We celebrated our hike to Ontario’s Highest point with a glass of wine brought along for the occasion by Zoeker Bill.
Geocaching is an excellent example of how the social web increases real contact between people. The more events you attend the more people you will meet. All of this is enabled and facilitated by a social application in cyberspace.
If you’ve never done it you should try it! The weather this week has been awesome and I’ve been itching to get out geocaching. I haven’t had the opportunity, maybe this weekend.
If you’re not sure this is an activity for you then you might want to check out these websites for personal accounts of other people’s experiences.