Sunday, August 28, 2016

Geocaching: The Difficulty/Terrain Matrix (and my place on it)

Every geocache has two numeric attributes that range from 1 to 5: difficult and terrain. It wouldn't be too far off to say that terrain is how hard it is to get to the geocache, and difficulty is how hard it is to complete the find once you are there. Let's look at where my finds place on that matrix:
So I definitely tend towards the easier caches. I've talked in the past about finding new D/T combos to fill out this matrix, but I haven't made any progress there since April. Hard geocaches are, well, hard, and I haven't had a ton of time to seek out the more adventurous ones lately.

But let's focus on something else -- the average. As you can see above, my average cache isn't too far off a 1.5/1.5 cache. (For reference, that's the hardest cache that can be found with the official Geocaching app if you don't spring for a premium membership.) In my last post, I looked at what percentile I am in terms of number of counties. What percentile am I in difficulty and terrain? (Keeping in mind that the people I'm comparing with have necessarily had to pay for premium in order to generate the stats.

Well, my average difficulty puts me 8019/8048, or the 0.36th percentile. My average terrain puts me 7991/8048, or the 0.7th percentile. Wow -- I think there'd at least be enough geocachers in wheelchairs to bump me higher than that.

Combined, and restricting to those who have found at least 100 caches, 7865/7881, or the 0.2nd percentile. That's pretty bad! And with things like cache rate, where I can say that I'm unusual in that I've kept at it over the years without being obsessed by it, that's one thing. But this just indicates that I'm not particularly good at it!

So, how can I get better? Well, if I knew that... Let's look at my found caches by combined D/T score:
  • 2.0: 51 caches
  • 2.5: 21 caches
  • 3.0: 43 caches
  • 3.5: 19 caches
  • 4.0: 15 caches
  • 4.5: 8 caches
  • 5.0: 3 caches
  • 5.5: 2 caches
So, certainly, 3.0 caches are findable. If I brought my average ever-so-slightly up to that, I would be up to the 0.64th percentile, which is slightly less embarrassing. 3.5 is also doable, and it would bring me all the way up to the 51st percentile -- slightly better than the median cacher. So, clearly, most cachers are between 3.0 and 3.5. If I make it a point to favor caches with a combined rating of 3.5 and above, I can certainly bring up my average (and track it here).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Geocaching: California County Caching

After adding a new Arizona county last month, I added two more counties on our trip to California.

The first was a virtual cache inside of Disneyland (Orange County). It's also the 9th oldest cache I've found. (More on cache ages in a future post.)
The next day, we went to see friends in LA County. On one of the many bathroom stops on the way home, I found another one outside a Starbucks. Well, despite the fact it was almost identical to the one I found in my parents' retirement community, Christina found it for me. So that's now 4 counties in California.
That's still 54 I haven't found. Maybe three of those are within a couple hours of a future trip to San Diego, but the rest would wait for trips to other parts of California. Still, I enjoy seeing the map changing. California is only one of three states (with Maryland and Arizona) that I've actually caches in multiple counties. But I still enjoy the maps!
25 total counties. How does that compare? Well, one way to look at it is My Geocaching Profile has a ranking page. As with similar pages I've mentioned in the past, this only represents people who have used that site in the past year. I am currently 4716/5798. That's the 18.7th percentile, which is pretty low, but I am 7724/8074, the 4.3rd percentile in number of finds. (I assume the difference in total cachers comes from excluding those who haven't cached in the U.S.)

Finding caches in all the counties in any one state is already probably going to be too much for me, so why keep track of progress towards America's 3142 counties? Well, it's easier to make incremental progress, even when visiting new states. Also, finding all 3142 counties is tricky for anyone.

I recently heard a podcast mention someone who had that as a goal (along with his son). He stated that nobody had even visited all of the county-equivalents in Alaska, let alone the U.S.  According to My Geocaching Profile, the top county finder is at 2703. The guy is at #16 on the list, but looking at his map, I have hit 14 counties he hasn't so...counties are really difficult I guess.

(I'm in the 86.1st percentile for countries caches, so look like I am more of an international traveler anyway.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Preview

Playoff-Round Review

Well, Celtic qualified for the Champions League, but everything about it was ugly. They let their opponent score 2 goals in the first leg, and then got shut out in the second leg. The one win netted 1 point (and 0.25 for the coefficient), and more importantly 4 points (and 1 for the coefficient) for qualifying for the Champions League.

Group Stage Preview

Celtic face FC Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Let's see, sides that finished in the top four in the top three leagues in Europe (and let's face it, the world). That can't be good.

A good result would be a third-place finish in the group, while netting 4 points (and 1 for the coefficient). That would be two wins, four draws, or a win and two draws, i.e., a third of what is available in the six matches. But honestly, that looks like it would take a miracle at this point. Still, third would get them into the knockout phase of the Europa League, and they could actually pick up more points.

A bad result would be six losses. That is more likely than third place right now.

Where We Stand

Still in 23rd? Seriously? I was not expecting them to stay in 23rd the whole time I was tracking this. Fortunately, three of the four teams ahead of them are out of European competition, so by putting together some super-miracle and qualifying for the knock-out phase of the Champions League, Celtic could vault Scotland up at least three notches. Probably four, given Legia Warsaw is unlikely to do the same for Poland. More realistically, any sort of result (i.e. even one draw) will pull them past Norway.

From below, Israel and Azerbaijan both have two teams in Europa League action, where points are easier to come by. Actually, Celtic may have done better for the coefficient in forgoing the 4 point bonus and dropping back to the Europa League where they would have a chance to win more games. Of course, the money and exposure is more important. Celtic better enjoy it this year because...

Champions League Changes

UEFA is supposed to announce changes tomorrow which would see the top 4 leagues get their top 4 teams directly into the Champions League group stage. It's not clear how that's going to be done, but it will certainly make it harder for everyone else (including Scottish teams) to get there.

My analysis of the UEFA coefficient has been based on the assumption that the same rules would apply in future years. But the coefficient I'm following above impacts the 2017/8 season, which is when the new format would start. Right now, countries ranked 19-28 are treated exactly the same, and major changes only happen when you move up to 15, when the runner-up gets in the Champions League. So the goal was to get Scotland up to 15.

It's possible that the coefficient will be more important, particularly if 19-28 are no longer treated the same. Maybe (for example), 23 and below will have to enter in an expanded first round. Or it's possible that the coefficient will be less important, with everybody below (say) 10 only getting one entrant. I'll leave that analysis for another day.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Playoff-Round Preview

Third-Round Review

Celtic secured advancement to the playoff round with a draw and a win. That's very good! It's just a hair off a perfect result, and it ensures them of continuing to the group stages of either the Europa League or the Champions League, depending on what happens in the playoff round. I guess it was a bit closer than you'd like, with everything tied until injury time.

Aberdeen got a draw out of the first leg, and looked to be going out on the away-goal tiebreaker until injury time of the second leg...when they conceded an own goal. So that's another 0.125 off the coefficient for the next 5 years, and Aberdeen bows out in the third round again. Still, the 3.5 they produced this year, is, when divided by 4, worth 0.875. If all of Scotland's non-Celtic teams could manage that, they'd be in good shape. Instead, the three non-Celtics totalled 7 points this year. I set 8 or 9 points as a target, so we're close, but not quite there. Looking ahead to next year, it'll be a crucial question of whether the Scottish Cup winner is a team who can produce more than the 1 point Hibs managed this year.

Playoff-Round Preview

Well, it's just Celtic now!

Celtic is facing Hapoel Beer Sheeva, the Israeli champions. I think that's a good draw for Celtic. While Hapoel have surprised recently, I think you'd rather face an upset winner than a team with a long track record.

It's pretty straightforward at this point. If Celtic advances to the Champions League group stage, they pick up a bonus of four points, which would be a good way towards achieving their "normal" contribution of 12. They can do that with anywhere from 1 to 2 points from wins or draws, so a win would put them at 7.5 to 8.5 and poised to pick up 2 points from each win and 1 point from each draw in the Champions League group stage.

If they fail to advance, it'll be because they pick up no more than 1 point. While the 2 points for a win may be easier to get in the Europa League group stage, the long term financial hit from missing out on the 12 million plus Euros they'd get from the Champions League is a bigger deal.

Where We Stand

So Scotland only has one team left -- but so do Norway and Poland, the two teams ahead of them. Further, the Norwegian champions have been bounced down to the Europa League, so they are not even guaranteed a group stage. Scotland could certainly catch them both, even theoretically by the end of the round. (Denmark is solidly in 20th with all four teams still alive and probably uncatchable.)

But look below! The four countries below all are doing better this year than Scotland, each has at least two teams left. Because of the four bonus points (equivalent to 1.0 in the coefficient) given for making the Champions League group stage, Israel is guaranteed to catch up with Scotland if Celtic loses to Hapoel -- even on two draws.

So there's a good chance Scotland will finally catch or be caught -- or both. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Geocaching Arizona

We spent last week in Arizona visiting my parents, and I found two geocaches to go with the one Christina and I found in 2007. The first was in the parking lot outside a pool we visited in my parents' retirement community.  That gave me my first cache in Pinal County.

The second was a virtual cache outside the surprisingly fun International Wildlife Museum. It pointed me towards a lion statue and required me to gather some information. Roar!
So add Arizona to the list of states where I've found caches in more than one county. (Short list: Maryland and California are the two others.)
These also represent the #8 and #10 highest elevations of any cache I've found.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Geocaching: Caching Bristol

I had a nice week of geocaching in Bristol. I had ambitions of doing some "numbers caching" -- either breaking my record of 5 days in a row or 8 caches in a week. But to get the sixth day would require caching before my 6am taxi ride to the airport (or after midnight), and after 7 caches, I lost my pen and it was getting dark on my last evening, so...I guess I'll settle for seeing the UK pass Canada for #2 country in which I've cached.

All of the caches I found in the UK were what's known as "urban micros". They are tiny caches, just big enough for a tiny piece of paper, and they're hidden in busy areas where you need to avoid being detected finding, signing and replacing the cache.

Ordinarily these are not my favorite types of caches. But in Bristol they ended up being pretty neat, mainly because Bristol is a cool city, and they took me to some interesting places. Also, I think I'm finally getting better at finding these micros.

The first cache I found, shortly after landing, was in a car park. But what a view!
My hotel (and this car park) were right near St. Mary Redcliffe church, known to Elizabeth I as, "the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England." The hide was fairly clever -- it was inside a bike lock (sans bike) attached to a bike rack in the parking lot.

The next day at lunch I found one in Queens Square. I didn't take a picture, but here's one from 2008 I took of the statue the cache is named after: 

The third day I found my first "Church Micro". Hiding micro caches near churches is apparently a big thing in the UK. They've hidden over ten thousand of them. This one was in a church that was destroyed during the Blitz, which is now a park. Bristol was experiencing a record heat wave when I was there, so the parks were full. I thought it was a bit odd for people to be out in the heat, but I realized they probably were better off in the park since most of the buildings weren't air-conditioned. Anyway, I had to come back four times before the bench the cache was attached to was clear of people.
On Day 4, I found another blitz-related cache on my second try. This one brought me to a spot where a tram rail had been sent by an explosion into the courtyard of St. Mary Redcliffe. They left it there to remind people how close the church had come to destruction.
Then it was another "Church Micro". This was actually pretty far down the street from the church in question, but it was a nice view.

The final cache of Day 4 was in an open area near the water. Previous logs said it was hard to access during festivals and whatnot, but at around 9 at night it was mostly deserted -- but still light out!

My final cache of the trip was in a park. For this one, I'll show you a little bit more about how urban micros work. This one was a fake screw on the underside of a bench. Once you know what to look for, it's pretty obvious. On some benches, this would be trickier, but this screw was fairly obviously not one that belongs to this type of bench.

Anyway, geocaching got me out and walking, which helped (maybe) with the jet lag. Because these types of caches are placed in high-traffic areas, a few of the more interesting ones had gone missing. I've marked them down for my next trip to Bristol.