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5Jul/1111

Blackstar geocaching app for Blackberry

Blackstar geocaching app for Blackberry

Blackstar on a TGV between Paris and Lyon

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BlackStar is a free geocaching app for Blackberries.

Check out the picture on the right.  I was travelling on a TGV (high speed train) between Paris and Lyon in November 2010.  The waypoint is a cache in Lyon. It's 258 km away but we are going to be there is less than an hour at this speed!

It's a good demonstration of the capabilities of Blackstar, and a more interesting screen shot than a static one.

Blackstar is not as pretty as Android apps like c:geo or Groundspeak's geocaching app, but I have found that it works much better. This may be due to superior GPS electronics used in Blackberries and the way the software interacts with it. Also those pretty coloured features need a lot of processing power which tends to make them very slow.

It's so good that while my Blackberry Bold was still working, I rarely used my Garmin.

Compared to the Android it's faster and works better under trees etc. When you are near GZ the display updates much quicker making it much more usable.

The other advantage of using a Blackberry is having a real physical keyboard.  It makes entering logs a breeze compared to the touch screen on the Android.  The Android is so painful and time consuming for log entries, that I normally wait until I get home and enter them on the computer.

BlackStar keeps track of your current Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, Speed, Direction and the distance to your destination. You can record, save, and export your track as you use BlackStar. This is useful for recording a trip, exercise, or just to see where you've been.

Geocaching features include:

  • Displaying a list caches closest to your location,
  • Importing GPX files from Pocket Queries
  • Ability to log finds immediately online
  • View the cache description and hint
  • Locate the cache on Google Maps.

Don't under estimate the ability to import GPX files.  To upload files to the previous generations of Garmins (e.g. GPSMAP 76Csx, 60Csx), you need to convert a GPX file to a WPT format and upload it using a piece of software like GSAK, OziExplorer or Mapsource. On Blackstar it imports the GPX file directly from a folder on your BB.

However, one of the biggest downsides of Blackstar is that it takes a several minutes to import and convert a GPX  file if it contains a few hundred caches.  When you receive your Pocket Query email you have to save the GPX file to a folder on the Blackberry so that it can be imported into Blackstar.  This is where the Android apps are much more streamlined.  They can display nearby caches by downloading them directly from geocaching.com.  They can also import a GPX file directly from the Pocket Query email that arrives on your Android.

Another downside compared to the Android apps is that it doesn't have turn-by-turn navigation for when you're driving. The Android apps use that feature of Google Maps.

Apart from these drawbacks, Blackstar is otherwise an excellent piece of geocaching software.  Highly recommended if you own a GPS enabled Blackberry especially since it's free!

For more information go to the Blackstar site here or download it from the Blackberry apps market.

Note: Be aware that as with most smartphones Blackberries are not ruggedized like dedicated GPS devices, so you need to be careful not to get them wet in less than ideal weather conditions.

29Jun/110

How to Geocache with great containers

Ammo Can - ideal container for geocaching

Ammo Can - ideal container for geocaching

As you become more experienced in learning how to geocache you'll find that one of the rewards is the pleasure of finding the treasure at the end.  After you expended considerable energy to find the thing it's something that makes it all worth it.

... unless it's a wretched micro!  Man, I hate those things.

Not only are they hard to find but it is a pain to unroll a tiny scroll and find a space on it to jot your signature in microscopic letters. There is no joy at the end, only pain.  A lot of people think the same.  Check out what people DON'T like about some caches here.

Unless you're going to be very creative with a micro, just don't put them out. Unless you're going to be very creative with a micro, just don't put them out. Unless you're going to be very creative with a micro, just don't put them out. Unless you're going to be very creative with a micro, just don't put them out.

Did I just repeat myself?

Go for quality.

If you're a creative type who can design and construct unusual containers, then my choice of container is an ammo can. These things are relatively cheap, rugged and totally weatherproof.  They last for years and you rarely have to maintain them.  Stuff it full of quality goodies and find a fabulous location in which to hide it.

Sometimes an ammo can is too big and obvious for the location you have chosen.  This is where you get to use your imagination. There are so many creative ways to hide things that will avoid using a nano or a micro.  In fact you can purchase all sorts of camouflaged containers (e.g on eBay) that you don't need to think up something yourself.

By being unique and creative you will enhance your reputation in the geocaching community and people will look forward to doing your caches.  You never know, they may come and ask you for advice on how to geocache.

8Jun/114

How to hide a (quality) geocache

Geocaches should be placed in great locations

Geocaches should be placed in great locations

Any dummy with a GPS can hide a geocache...  many do; and have.  The result has been a lot of  "plastic trash" littering the countryside.  Many people have left the game because it's hardly worth the effort. It's because so many people don't go to the effort of learning how to geocache properly.

Alternatively some people simply filter out the rubbish when they do searches.  They may filter out micros (I often do!) or avoid caches hidden by certain geocachers.

Sometimes you spend a lot of time and effort solving a puzzle, or trekking a considerable distance or driving out of your way, only to find a micro, something with inaccurate co-ordinates, a location with no redeeming features, or some other feature that makes it hardly worth it.

If you're new to the game and want to learn how to geocache properly I'd suggest finding a variety of caches, say, at least 30 to 50 before even thinking about hiding one of your own.  By variety, I mean traditionals, multi-caches, puzzle caches and containers of different sizes and shapes at different locations.  You'll start to get an idea of what you like or don't like, and may gain some inspiration about what sort of cache you could hide.

A cache is like marketing your own product

Imagine you run a company that sells products.  Your success depends on the quality of your products and the quality of your customer service.

Think of your caches in a similar way.  You want to give people a great experience.  You will get pleasure out of hearing about their experiences. In our survey most people said that they want to have great experiences and adventures.  Give them that and they will love you for it.

Check out what people said they DO and DON'T like about caches.  This will give you a good idea of what your cache should be like.

Planning your cache

So you've done a few caches, and are getting an idea of what makes a good cache.

To help you along here is a checklist of what will make a good geocache:

  1. Great location - spectacular or scenic, historical interest, somewhere people wouldn't normally go to, etc...;
  2. Good size container e.g. ammo container (no micros!!!!!)
  3. Quality contents (not MacDonalds trinkets or the like) - something with some value
  4. Some challenge involved - physical and/or intellectual.
  5. Accurate co-ordinates
  6. Creativity in the hide (use your imagination!)

Is there a spot in your area that would be interesting to others.

Before you start, have a read of the guidelines on the main geocaching website.

If you want a cache that people enjoy visiting, DON'T consider these types of spots:

  • Where there are no redeeming features - you just feel like putting something there because there is nothing there at the moment.
  • The local mall - particularly Light Pole Caches (LPC);
  • The local 7/11 or gas station;
  • Near private property where your customers (err, other geocachers) would be uncomfortable visiting;
  • Near the edge of cliffs or where you may endanger peoples' lives - unless you specifically intend that they use abseiling gear or the like.

Remember... GIVE PEOPLE A GOOD EXPERIENCE!

Quality Containers

I don't know what it is, but there is something satisfying about finding a large container stuffed with quality contents. Conversely it's  deflating to expend a lot of effort (e.g. a long hike) only to end up discovering.... a  micro or it's evil cousin... the nano.

If you really must use a micro, it had better be something very creative!

Here are some examples of good containers:

  • Ammo box
  • Sealed drain pipe
  • Sistema/Klip-It
  • Container in a container

The container-in-a container is sometimes used where extra weatherproofing is needed. This is where a smaller container is placed inside a larger outer container.  Both need to be weatherproof.

Over the years I have used and seen various types of containers in many different situations.  By far the most reliable is the good ol' ammo container.  These things are totally hermetic and are nice and roomy to comfortably hold a good assortment of contents.

Another big reason to use something like an ammo container is that they are a good investment.  You will not need to continually replace the contents because they are waterlogged or replace the container because it is cracked or rodents have eaten holes in it.

I can also guarantee that people will give favourable comments because it is unusual.

And finally your reputation as a hider of quality cachers will be enhanced.

How to get accurate co-ordinates

There is nothing worse than wasting time trying to find a cache, only to discover that the co-ordinates are not accurate.

It's worth spending a bit of time making sure that the  co-ordinates you publish are accurate.   Again, people will give you favourable comments.

So once you've stashed your cache, mark the location on your GPS.  I strongly suggest using a dedicated GPS (e.g. Garmin or Magellan).  Don't use a Smartphone (e.g. iPhone, Android, Nokia, Blackberry) because the GPS is normally not as good as a proper GPS, and they usually don't have an averaging function.

Average the co-ordinates - usually found by pressing the menu button on your GPS.  Leave it for several minutes until the distance to the cache minimizes.  Save the co-ordinates.

Use the Find waypoint/geocache function using these co-ordinates. Walk 20 to 50 metres away from the cache and return to it.  The distance should read less than 5 metres. If it doesn't, average the position again and repeat the procedure.   In a difficult location, you may not get perfect co-ordinates but they will be close.

If you think the co-ordinates are going to be inaccurate, be sure to give a good hint.

So there are some tips on how to hide a quality geocache.  Please feel free to add your own tips in the comment section below, or ask a question.