A Twitter milestone for OCNA

follow-us-on-twitter220We’re in between interviews  here at the OCNA blog, so how about a quick little post to celebrate ourselves? On Wednesday, March 11th, we reached 1,000 followers on Twitter. Yes, we do follow Geocachers, hoping to get followed back (taking a cue from our friends at GeoFleaz.com, who have almost 1,600 followers at press time). And of course we always follow new followers back, unless it’s an obvious spam account.

What will you see on our Twitter feed? Auto tweets about our blog posts, as well as all new cache notifications on our site, also auto tweeted from an RSS feed. We also check the RSS feed for “Geocaching in the news” pretty closely, and like to tweet interesting articles on the hobby (this does not include the often boring “this is what Geocaching is” stories that so many media outlets like to do) . Finally, we like to tweet interesting facts and statistics from our website, although we like to take months long breaks from doing that, so as not to bore anyone. We just started a fresh batch of stat tweets today. According to WeFollow.com, We have a “prominence score” of 71 (out of 100) for being influential people in Geocaching on Twitter; the most influential people being Sonny and Sandy from Podcacher.

And speaking of RSS feeds,  you can also follow @OCNA_Logs, which is a self proclaimed “bot that tweets notification of, and links to, the latest Geocache logs (of all types) posted to the OpenCaching North America website”. That account, which is about a year old, only has 9 followers! Consider throwing us a bone and following that too! Sorry, the bot will not follow you back. 🙂

Guest Post: Cachegeek.com interview by Benign Source

With the OCNA Blogger on vacation, we have a guest post this week, Mark AKA Benign Source, AKA Banana Source from the Oh Beep! Geocaching podcast interviewing Beth, the owner and creator of the excellent website Cachegeek.com. This email interview (there was no associated podcast interview) was originally posted to the Oh Beep! website as a blog post in January 2014. Be sure to check out both the Oh Beep! Geocaching podcast and cachegeek.com. Click “read more” to see the interview.

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An interview with Benignsource of the Oh Beep! Geocaching Podcast

Oh Beep Geocaching Podcast Logo

In late December 2013, we promised an interview with the Oh Beep! Geocaching Podcast, and here it is! This Podcast, originating from The UK, made it’s debut on November 9th, 2013. The latest episode on their website as of the date of this post is episode 12. And Ohbeep.com is a very well done website, there you will find links to follow the show on several social media outlets, as well as links for the many options to subscribe to the podcast. On with the interview!

OCNA BLOG: As we almost always start out, where are you from and how did you first hear about Geocaching? Who are the cast of characters behind the show?
Benignsource: My name is Mark, aka Benignsource (on GC.com we’re known as [Team D]Benignsource.
We’re from Nottingham, in the UK.  A friend told me about Geocaching, I signed up on GC.com and looked around but couldn’t fathom it, so I didn’t really do anything until a year later (2012).  In June 2012, I was looking for some way to occupy the kids – all four were in my flat and were bored, we needed to get out.  So, I got the app for my phone and out we went.

At the time I knew nothing about Geocaching and the different cache types.  The closest cache to us was at the nearest school, we spent a good while searching but couldn’t understand why we were being led to the middle of a playing field.  As it turns out, we only discovered this much later, it was a puzzle cache so we were on to a loser before we started.  That was our first DNF.

I was determined we were going to have fun (well, more like I was determined not to spend any more time locked up at home with four bored children.  With a new cache located on the phone, off we went again.  The second one had us playing follow the bouncing arrow.  We spent ages looking.  Eventually, I discovered the hint button on the app and soon after the cache was found.  It was a little film pot, but for us it could have been a pot of gold.  The third cache was easy, CacheZilla walked right up to it and picked it out of a tree.

What made the day for the kids was one of the caches being located at a footpath at the back of a pub beer garden.  What made this special to them?  The pub had a trampoline in the garden.  Safe to say, when we got home that night, they were worn out.  For me the best part was being taken to a rail track that used to be used by the local mine – it was one of those situations where I’d lived in the place all my life and had never seen this rail line.

Thats how we got started.  Since then we’ve found 417 caches.

On the show the regular hosts are Cachezilla (11), Doctor D (13) and myself (39).  Now and again Ben Button also chips in, he’s 9.  When we’re out caching Miss Watto (my partner) joins us. If we’re really blessed my 16 year old son also joins us when out caching.

OCNA BLOG: Interesting name, Oh Beep! As in Oh, expletive?
Benignsource: That’s exactly it.  Long story short, we’d gone out to do our first series of Geocaches and we’d gone ill prepared.  It was a very hot day, everywhere seemed to be overgrown (making wading through hard work) and we’d got to a point where there was a bit of muddy ground.  I had my head down, making sure I didn’t slip, when my partner said my name.  I was a bit dismissive – didn’t want to end up on my backside – but she persisted.  Eventually I looked up and saw a massive hill.  Without thinking, I said “Oh s**t!”.  Sophie, our daughter, quickly said to her mum “Mark said Oh Beep!”  Replacing the expletive with Beep.  Not my proudest parenting moment, but from that day on whenever I did something stupid (usually falling over) when out Caching it became known as an Oh Beep! moment.  When we were looking for a name for the podcast, all the names i suggested were rubbish.  Then the kids said why not call it The Oh Beep! Geocaching Podcast.  To them it means a funny moment, so I thought why not.

OCNA BLOG: The Podcast sounds very good from a technical standpoint. Are we to understand you had no prior Podcasting experience with topics other than Geocaching? We also understand DarrylW4 from Geogearheads and The Geocaching Podcast has been mentoring you?
Benignsource: Thanks, the sound is something I keep pushing to make better.  If you’ve heard the first four or five, it was all of us around one mic and it sounds awful.  In fact, for episodes 2 and 3 I’d forgotten to turn the mic on so they’re both recordings done straight in to the computer.

I had zero experience in podcasting.  Darryl and The Bad Cop are responsible for us starting our podcast.  They’d done a Geogearheads show on podcasting at around the time I was thinking we could do a podcast.  Their show was the final convincer.  I promptly went out and made every mistake imaginable.  Darryl has been a great help in putting me right on so many things, I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done.

OCNA BLOG: Unlike The Geocaching Podcast and The HikerJamz show, it doesn’t appear one can listen to The Oh Beep! Geocaching Podcast live? Do you try to get the shows up on the internet at a specific time and day of the week?
Benignsource: We pre-record, for the sanity of the listeners and myself.  Keeping the kids on topic is akin to herding cats.  So, there is a lot of post production.  We try to aim to have the podcast out on a Sunday afternoon/evening.

OCNA BLOG: You’ve certainly submitted your Podcast to several directories out there. The Blogger was even able to subscribe via Windows Phone! Which of these do you personally prefer? Do they all give you statistics on how many subscribers you have, and how many downloads there were?
Benignsource: The thing I didn’t want is for people not to be able to get hold of the show, just because they didn’t happen to have this phone or that mp3 player.  So, when I came across a directory I submitted the podcast.  Hikerjamz has been great with this too.  If he see’s a place accepting podcasts, he’ll drop me a message and likewise if I see somewhere I’ll let him know.  Hikerjamz is someone else I can’t thank enough.  From having us on his show, to making me aware of places to put the podcast.

I consume podcasts mainly on my iPod, so I generally go with iTunes.  I don’t really have a preference, as long as you can get it.  Took a while to find out who to contact about getting on to Windows though, so its pleasing to see it payed off.  Download stats come from Libsyn, who gather the stats from wherever we submitted the feed.

OCNA BLOG: What are some of the reasons you started the show? Were you thinking local or International audience in the beginning?
Benignsource: Beyond the events section, we don’t really plan our shows based on our location.  Two thoughts formed the idea for the show.  The first was for the kids to have fun and learn new skills.  The second was that there were too many middle aged men representing Geocaching in the podcast arena.  Location didn’t really come in to it.  Sandy (Podcacher), Tracey (The Podcast Show), Lady Z (TCGCPC) and now The HeadHardHattress (GeoSnippets) all provide a breath of fresh air to the Geocaching podcast sphere.  I would love to hear them on a roundtable show, with CacheZilla.

Thanks to Mark for a great interview, we really appreciate it! So give the show a listen, we think you’ll like it. You can subscribe in a variety of ways for your phone or audio player, but the blogger personally likes going to the website, as the show notes for each episode are very well done, and even include the Geocaching video of the week featured on the show. There is also a blog, which contains news about the Podcast, and lots of content not necessarily included in the podcast. And it’s very easy to remember; you probably won’t even need to bookmark it. ohbeep.com!

Author Sara Murray talks with us about GeocacheBooks

As can be seen on the banner above, Author Sara Murray writes children’s fiction books set in real parks, and GPS coordinates will lead you to landmarks in the books. Like so many other interviewees on this blog, we first became aware of her when she made herself known in Geocaching social media circles. The blogger made an immediate note of this; future interview subject! We were originally going to wait for the interview until her first full length book came out, but upon seeing (on social media) that she attended the recent Geocaching Block Party as a vendor, we decided a concept and orgin interview was in order now, and another when the first full length book is released. Clicking the banner takes you to her website, and you can follow Geocachebooks on Twitter and Facebook. On with the interview. 

OCNA Blog: The usual first question: where are you from, when did you start Geocaching, and how did you hear about it?
Sara: I am from Minnesota. I started geocaching in 2009 with my daughter who was 4 at the time. I overheard some friends of mine talking about it and was very interested and so excited that there was little “treasures” hidden everywhere and I never even knew it! They were happy to explain and within a few weeks I bought my first handheld GPS and was enjoying tromping through the woods with my daughter looking for geocaches!

OCNA Blog: How did you first come up with the concept of children’s fiction books set in real parks?
Sara: When my daughter, Madison, was about four years old we heard about geocaching from a friend and decided to try it. We were instantly hooked. When she was 5 years old we started making up our own bedtime stories. We had, and still have, a lot of fun coming up with fantasy characters and neat magical things.

One day while we were at a park geocaching and just enjoying the outdoors I had an idea to start incorporating real landmarks from a real park into our bedtime stories. My intention was to surprise her in the near future by bringing her to that park and watching the story come to life. I used a park from my childhood that I knew well and that night I started incorporating the landmarks and being very specific with my descriptions.

Within about a month I felt I had built up enough of a story with enough landmarks to put the rest of my plan into action. I picked her up from school and told her I had a surprise for her and that we were going to a park.

We started walking up a path in the park where a lot of the landmarks were located. She pointed out a bench on the side of the path and said, “Hey mom, that’s just like the bench in your story.” She was still pretty calm at this point. She realized that the bench was across from a large pond just like in the story, and then she spotted another landmark and started yelling, “Mom! Mom! I know this place! I’m going to the Ravine!” and running for the area in the park where all the really magical stuff happens. It was extremely fun to see her make the realization that we were in the park where our bedtime story took place.

We spent a lot of time walking through the park and I showed her all the real things that I had used in the story. I turned what was a great magical land for exploring from my childhood into something similar for her. It was amazing to watch her imagination put all the elements together and I could see the wonder on her face as she remembered parts of the story and found the real places.

As she was exploring and I was standing in that park taking this all in and feeling very satisfied that it had all worked out as I planned, I had the inspiration to create this same experience for other children, and my very next thought was that I could use GPS and latitude and longitude coordinates to make that happen. It was a huge epiphany. I started brainstorming and outlining the stories that very night over two years ago now.

OCNA Blog: Will you be self-publishing the first book? I would imagine there are advantages to doing that versus pitching the book to publishers. 
Sara: My intention has always been to self-publish the books. This is something that I do in my regular job as a web master for my clients, so I feel comfortable having done it before. That being said, I am not against going the traditional rout with a publisher. You do, however, have a lot more control going the self-publishing avenue; you just have to be willing to do a lot of your own marketing etc…

OCNA Blog: Do you write the stories first, and then go to the parks to get the waypoints for the locations in the story, or vice-versa?
Sara: I have done both. With the first book I wrote the story, and then went out to set the waypoints after it was completed. I was confident in how I set up the story because knew the park very well from my childhood. I knew I might have to adjust some things in the story but overall it went smoothly. When I am traveling and writing the short stories, however, I have no idea what the parks I will visit will be like. So I write the story very loosely, visit the park and pick some points, and finish the writing process after. 

OCNA Blog: You’ve already written a couple short stories, and posted them on your website. Is this just to give people a feel for what the full length books are going to look like?
Sara: Yes, people are very curious about how this all actually works. They can see what it’s like and try it out. The short stories take place in the same “world” as the full length book, but they are told from a slightly different perspective. It also gives me something fun to do while I work on the full length book.

OCNA Blog: Are there any other short stories that will be published before the full-length book is available?
Sara: There will be at least two more short stories available before the book is out. One is about ten pages long and takes place in Eagan, Minnesota. The other is the conclusion to the two ultra-short stories that make up the Dream trilogy. The first of the three stories takes place in Minnesota, the second is in Seattle, and the third will be in Los Angeles, California.  I am sure there will be more of these as time goes by. To get the links to these stories you can visit my site, geocachebooks.com, and sign up there.

OCNA Blog: You’ve created a wordpress powered website and blog for the venture (great job, by the way), and you’ve put your name out there via Twitter and Facebook accounts. Do you feel this is important?
Sara: An online presence and social media is extremely important to generate a fan base and interest. I am familiar with the process and I know what a positive impact it can make for a business. People want to be in touch with you, and know you are a real person. It’s actually been very fun to watch the interest for the books grow, and get to know other geocachers and authors this way.

OCNA Blog: You recently traveled to the Groundspeak Block Party in Seattle, and had a vendor table. Did you get a good response there, as far as promoting the book? How about your overall impressions of the Block Party, just as an attendee?
Sara: I got an awesome response in Seattle at the Block Party. Spending the day talking about the books, and seeing the reaction once people understood how they work was great. My daughter and I had a blast walking around, meeting the Groundspeak staff and getting a tour of the offices. It was great to meet so many other geocachers and hear all kinds of great stories.

OCNA Blog: When can we expect to see the first full length book? 
Sara: I had hoped to get it into print and have it available for purchase before the snow flies in Minnesota, but I am not so sure about that anymore. It’s very important to me to put out a great book with great illustrations. The book is completed, and I am going through a second round of editing right now.  We are about half way through at this point. I am also working with an artist on the illustrations. There will be between 5-7 illustrations including the cover. So far two images are set to be completed, and the rest are in the concept art stage. Once I have the completed manuscript and art I can start the process of self-publishing which should take an additional 4-6 weeks. I think it will be published near the end of November or beginning of December.

We’d like to thank Sara for taking time out of her busy schedule, great interview! And our second consecutive interview with someone from Minnesota, that was just a coincidence, really. We definitely hope to chat with her again at the blog when the first book (title not yet definitely set) is released. In the meantime, be sure to visit her website, and follow her on Twitter and/or Facebook for updates on the progress.

Bad Ideas, Bomb Scares, etc.

It’s no secret that many, many Geocaches have caused bomb scares in the U.S. and Canada since our game was invented in 2000. Elsewhere in the world too, of course, but we are a North American based blog, and the majority of these incidents occur in the United States. We doubt that anyone keeps statistics on the number of bomb squad incidents, but the Blogger, who has checked in and read the Geocaching.com forums several times a week for almost 10 years (where almost every incident is reported), would estimate the average to be between two and three per month.

A Google search of the phrase “Geocaching Bomb Scares” generally returns two Geocaching.com bookmark lists in the top results, both of which we at the blog have been aware of for several years. Bomb Scares and Other Fun Stuff, is the older of the two. However, this list has essentially been abandoned, and a quick scan of it tells you it hasn’t had any new caches posted to it since 2007, although the adopted owner of the list is still an active Geocacher. The other top result, Bad Ideas, Bomb Scares, etc. is a very well maintained and regularly updated bookmark list, and is is the subject of this Blog post. The bookmark list owner, David Brierley (Geocaching.com Username: dbrierley), has graciously agreed to be interviewed by this Blog.

OCNA Blog: Where are you from, how did you first hear about Geocaching, and when did you start?
David: I’m from Rhode Island and I started geocaching in 2005. I probably heard
about geocaching while looking into buying a GPS receiver for hiking.

OCNA Blog: What would you say inspired you to create this bookmark list?
David: Sometime after starting in geocaching, I found the earlier “Bomb Scares and Other Fun Stuff” bookmark list, which was no longer maintained at that

OCNA Blog: Many Geocachers (myself included) have noticed that you advertise this bookmark list on Google AdSense ads. Why do you do this?
David: Nearly all of the geocaches in the bookmark list are archived, making them
unavailable by searching the geocaching site or through search engines; so
advertising the list is the only way to generate awareness.

OCNA Blog: How do you hear about the unfortunate caches that make the bookmark list? Do you use Google News alerts? Do you have to do a lot of research tying the news reports to a particular cache?
David: The geocaches are mostly discovered through Google News alerts; the likely geocache can often be found within minutes.  Some caches have been suggested by other geocachers via email and others have been found through the forums.

OCNA Blog: Do you feel that a majority of Geocaches that cause bomb scares are
due to them being on private property without permission? My experience over
the years from reading the Groundspeak forums suggests so. Not all of them,
but I’d have to guess over 50% of them.

David: I haven’t done any counts, but absence of permission seems to be a major
factor.  Another factor seems to be the container type — unlabeled
nontransparent containers, especially pipe-like containers, in areas where
there are many people.

OCNA Blog: When a cache causes a bomb scare, the cache page usually turns into a “forum”, with local cachers (many of whom have found the cache in question) chiming in. The theme generally leans towards the authorities being overzealous. Do you believe the authorities are being overzealous in many cases?
David: Law enforcement personnel have to consider all possibilities, especially
when dealing with an unlabeled and opaque container: it could be trash, it could be an explosive, it could be a geocache or letterbox, it could be an explosive placed in an actual geocache, etc.  Assumptions probably cannot be made as to what a bomb or a geocache is supposed to look like.  There might not be time to search the various listing sites for geocaches and letterboxes and the geocache/letterbox might not even be listed with any service. Complaints about law enforcement responses often seem to be attempts to divert attention away from permission issues.

OCNA Blog:  Do you have any advice for cache hiders to stay the heck off of your
bookmark list?
David: There are no guaranteed ways to avoid problems, but there seem to be
precautions that can be taken to reduce the chances. These are not new; people have been talking about them for years in the forums:

  • The most important precaution for caches on private property is to get
    firm permission, preferably written, from the owner or manager; seek
    permission from someone in authority to make decisions. Show the
    owner/manager the geocache and where it will be hidden.
  • Make sure the container is location-appropriate.  Media reports mention
    law enforcement requests to use labeled transparent containers in areas
    frequented by the public. 

Thanks to David for doing that interview with us! I really liked his answers. Again, here is the link to the Bad Ideas, Bomb Scares, etc. bookmark list. There are limitations to what you can do with Geocaching.com bookmark lists, but David has done the best you can do, with what you’re given to work with. He has used BB code to insert links to relevant media stories, forum discussions and nearby caches in the description for the caches on the list, where applicable. And in the main list description, he posts links to his Facebook and Twitter accounts, where he posts updates to the list. And he also has a Geocache, Bomb Scares, etc. board on Pinterest. This blog post was a little short on graphics this week, but we didn’t want to copy any of the mostly news media in orgin copywrited photos that appear there on Pinterest. Feel free to check those out.

Also feel free to comment on this blog post! We’re always a little short on those too at the OCNA blog, although Blogger and Google Analytics stats show this blog has decent readership. Are you one of the plurality of Geocachers who feel law enforcement overreacts almost every time a Geocache is called in as a suspicious container? Let us know!

CacheFace.com launches CacheBlogger.com, a microblogging community for Geocachers

OCNA NOTE: CacheBlogger.com shut down in late 2014.

Paul Suggitt AKA Pilot Suggs from CacheFace.com is at it again with a new website; CacheBlogger.com, which was launched at Midnight GMT on June 28th, 2013. Twitter, of course is  referred to as a microblogging website, and CacheBlogger.com very much resembles Twitter, in both look and feel. Why a microblogging platform dedicated to Geocachers? Says Paul: “CacheBlogger was developed to compliment cacheface.com in such that geocachers have a dedicated social network AND micro blogging platform at their disposal where they can shout about their geocaching adventures, make new friends and share the geocaching love, no matter where they are on the planet. Other platforms may have the volumes of people using them in general, however the idea behind CacheBlogger (and indeed cacheface.com) is that the platforms are developed for and dedicated to geocachers so its easy to find cachers, make new caching friends around the world and even share ideas and adventures with people you have never met, knowing they all share the same passion….geocaching.”

OCNA CacheBlogger feed, click to enlarge and view in lightbox

Above is the OCNA CacheBlogger feed, as it appeared on the morning of this blog post. You see some big names in Geocaching there, headhardhat and Podcacher. Hopefully Hikerjamz, also shown, will be a big name in the future! You’ll notice you can type a message (shout), and upload a photo or video. There is one major difference from the Twitter website though; you get to use a maximum of 200 characters, rather than 140. Paul explains, “CacheBlogger is a micro blogging platform like twitter, and as we geocachers have a lot to shout about, I decided to set the character limit to 200 instead of the adopted 140 on other platforms.”  We here at the blog agree, 60 extra characters is an excellent choice. There is a visible character counter while you are typing your post, and it “goes red” at 20 characters remaining.

Most of the other features Twitter users are familiar with are on the right hand sidebar, including the users Avatar and Bio (160 characters), a link to their “Gallery” (all the photos and videos they have uploaded to the site), the users “Mail” from other members (1,000 characters allowed!), number of posts, number of people following, and number of people they follow. There is also a “keyword search” box on the side bar. You may also link to your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages, as well as display your Geocaching.com stats banner, all of which are chosen under “settings” on the top banner, which is explained below in the next paragraph.

General Settings screen, click to enlarge and view in lightbox

The stationary blue top banner or frame (seen in either of the two screen shots posted) contains a “people or places” search box, as well as several links on the right hand side: My profile, Mentions, Messages, Settings and Log Out. Shown is the settings page, when you can upload your profile image, including the option of using the globally recognized user avatars provided by the website Gravatar.com. There are also some background image choices for your page, and boxes to add the links to the social media sites, as well as one to paste the URL for your Geocaching.com stats banner. Of course Opencaching North America itself doesn’t have a Geocaching.com stats banner. Which brings up a good point, although we are not, some Geocaching websites are commercial entities, and there are may other commercial entities who sell Geoaching goods and services. According to Paul, “Geocaching companies can also create accounts on CacheBlogger and use it to blog about their SWAG etc. and gain a following to their products and services.”

CacheBlogger.com couldn’t be easier to figure out, and if you’ve spent any amount of time on Twitter, there is almost no learning curve at all, you’ll be set up and running within minutes. We wondered how long CacheBlogger.com was in the works, seeing as it was released about nine months after it’s sister site, CacheFace.com. Paul replied “The idea for CacheBlogger came not long after I started developing CacheFace.com so I decided to press on with the development and launch of CacheFace first, and then concentrate on developing CacheBlogger. This way, each project got full attention. I wanted to give the global geocaching community a dedicated set of platforms to interact socially where they can share their adventures and love of caching with other geocachers.”

From a technical standpoint, Paul informed us that like CacheFace.com, CacheBlogger.com runs on a dedicated server, is secured by 256 bit SSL encryption, and was written by himself in PHP. Also, like CacheFace, you can “share the adventure while you are on the trail as CacheBlogger is fully mobile enabled”, said Paul. We at the blog can attest to the fact that the mobile versions of both CacheFace.com and CacheBlogger.com work flawlessly. Paul thought it very important to release them both with fully functional mobile sites. Of course Smartphone apps (iOS, Android and Windows Phone) are in the future for both websites as well, stay tuned.

As mentioned on the about CacheBlogger page the site is free, and always will be. That page, incidentally, is an excellent overview of all the features of the site, we couldn’t cover everything in this post. So give CacheBlogger a try! It’s only three weeks old, you can say you got in very early on something big! And if you haven’t already, consider joining it’s almost one year old sister site, CacheFace.com. Thanks to Paul for answering a few questions, and providing the CacheBlogger.com banner.