Friday, September 23, 2016

Geocaching North Carolina

Looking back on my last few geocaching posts, they've been mostly dry sifting through numbers. So I'm going to try to mix in more narrative this time. Hopefully, it will help give other geocachers (and non-geocachers) an idea of what it's like to look for caches. (If you are looking for caches in Greensboro, you might not want to read the "spoilers" of the specific ones below.)

I went to a conference last weekend at UNC Greensboro, which provided me the opportunity to expand my geocaching map. I was also looking for other ways to expand my geocaching experiences.

One cache on campus I was particularly looking forward to was "A Little Cacher Told Me". It's what's known as a "chirp cache" or "beacon cache". At the posted coordinates, there is a low-power radio beacon which broadcasts information used to find the actual geocache location. It requires specialized equipment to receive the beacon, but fortunately for me, Samsung loves to cram their phones with every type of sensor known to mankind. Unfortunately, when I tried loading the software, I found out that Samsung had accidentally disabled the sensor in their latest Android upgrade for my phone. Boo hiss. So no chirp cache, and no 4/2 difficulty/terrain combination for me.

Undaunted, I looked up a cache near where I was having lunch. "Corner Garden" was a few blocks away. It was located, as one might surmise, in a community garden on a neighborhood street corner. (I keep forgetting to take pictures, which would punch up these posts.) I read through the logs from the previous finds, and one helpfully said "look for the chain", so when I saw a rusty chain lying on the ground, I pulled it out and found the cache attached. It really points out how many random things we see on lampposts and elsewhere that we don't give a second thought to.

So now I could claim my 11th state. But wait -- it says I found 7 caches in NC. Yes, I decided to do a more thorough job of finding available caches. After lunch I found Peabody Overlook, which was in a quite nice wooded area on campus. It was nice to find an area in what was really quite an urban setting. Unfortunately, the cache was soggy, and one of the "trade items" was a condom, which is just gross. At least I thought to take a picture of the area!
On a busy campus
Then, that evening, I found Hop-Scotch. This is another "in plain sight" cache -- it's a tiny magnet on a handicap parking sign, right over the screw.

The next day I found ATN Where's the Beef while looking for lunch. It was in a Chik-fil-a parking lot, so Sunday was the perfect time to grab it undisturbed. Unfortunately, the container was one of those plastic domes in which you get cheap toys out of vending machines. It was cracked, but the cache was still findable. So I found it and went to Popeye's.

Then there was Off Your Rocker in Greensboro, NC. The "OYR" series consists of geocaches on Cracker Barrel porches, but was discontinued in 2007 due to Cracker Barrel's banning them. This one is from 2005, so it's grandfathered. It was a hide-a-key attached to whatever iron junk was on the porch. At difficulty 3, it was a little trickier than I am used to, so I was happy I was able to locate it.

That day while grabbing dinner, I also grabbed ATN Return to Honey Do Valley. It was near a Lowe's, and it was an Altoids tin painted to look like the light pole it was wedged on. I am not thrilled when people place caches on electrical equipment, since it encourages poking around electrical equipment.

So that's six Greensboro caches -- but wait, it says I found seven in North Carolina. The next day, on the drive back, we stopped at a rest area which I noticed contained two caches. So while Christina got a break, I took the kids to find one of them. It was far enough off the paved surfaces so that it could be in plain sight without drawing too much attention. The kids were excited enough to search for treasure, and I got to add Granville County to my list of counties.

So that's up to 28 counties. Only 3,114 to go!

OK, now on to more dry statistics. Last time I checked, my difficulty/terrain averages were at 1.484756/1.423780. By focusing on slightly harder caches, I've bumped that up to 1.505814/1.427326. That takes me from the 0.2nd percentile to the 0.3rd.

I reached a milestone here in a challenge I had not discussed here -- the Jasmer challenge. The challenge is to find a geocache placed in each month since the start of geocaching in May 2000. In North Carolina, I got up to 100 months (out of 197 so far). That's more progress than I thought I'd been making. The older months are typically the hardest, so I may look for some particularly old geocaches the next time I travel.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Geocaching: County 26

Last month, I made it up to 25 of the United States' 3142 counties (or county-equivalents). I'm pleased to say I've added Fairfax County, Virginia to that list, so I'm now at 26!

This cache was also the first one I've found in West 77° 17', so that gives me the 10th minute in the West 77 Degrees Longitude Challenge. I am one-sixth of the way there!

Speaking of longitude challenges, I also logged a cache in Beltsville that was the first one I've found in 76° 53'. (Although the second one I've found while visiting the Beltsville MVA.) That's the 30th minute in the West 76 Degrees Longitude Challenge. Halfway there! (I have none of the minutes from 0 to 26, so my ability to fill in gaps will be limited -- on the other hand, it gives me incentive to visit some new counties to the east.) I now have a neater map to look at when figuring out where I can go to help me with degree challenges. (I'm not extending this snippet west of 77° 04' because I have so little filled in there.)

In terms of another geocaching goal, how am I doing on increasing my difficulty and terrain? Well, I realized my last post on the topic didn't include the actual averages, but they rounded to 1.49 difficulty and 1.42 terrain. The two caches referenced above were 1/1.5-rated, which brings me to a 1.48/1.42 average, or more precisely 1.484756/1.423780. The combined ranking now puts me 7818/7834. I am now at the 0.8th percentile on terrain, instead of the 0.7th, but I am still at 0.2nd combined and 0.36th on difficulty. This goes against my plan to increase my D/T average, but it accords well with my "don't waste too much time looking for geocaches" plan. (Speaking of percentiles, I have crept up from the 18.7th percentile for counties to the 19.1st.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Go Update: 5 years, 1 kyu

It has been exactly five years since I've checked in on my on-line go rating. What has happened? Well, looking at the above graph, it's been ugly. I quickly ascended from 15 kyu to 12 kyu, which I held for two days in February 2012, only to crash back down to 15 by January 2013. Since then, I've seen 14 kyu as well as 16 kyu a few times. My latest stint as a 14 kyu has lasted since June, so I'm going to take that as my ranking for this check-in, meaning that I've made 1 kyu of progress in the past five years. Not great, but better than regressing 1 kyu. I am trying to play more games against different people both to get a better sense of my skill level, as well as hopefully improving through practice.

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.