500 finds, finally

As I mentioned earlier this year, we’d set ourselves a goal of reaching 500 geocache finds, ideally by our 10th anniversary of starting geocaching (our cache-a-versary). Well, I’m pleased to announce that we have finally cracked the 500 find milestone, and we managed to do it the day before our cache-a-versary.

The weather forecast wasn’t the best, so we’d decided to knock off the last 10 caches that we needed along a roadside powertrail close to home. It wasn’t the most scenic or memorable location, but it was going to be a quick and easy way to reach the milestone.

The view along the powertrail

As happens so often with us, we changed our minds. Our new plan was to finish the powertrail on 499 finds, and then re-visit a cache that we’d tried to find multiple times in order to make it our 500th find. Armed with a couple of clues, but also having noticed that the cache hadn’t been found since September, we arrived at the cache location with fairly low hopes of finding it. However, the geo-gods were on our side, as we managed to find the cache within a minute of starting the search. It was easy to see why a couple of other cachers had failed to find it, because the container blended in nicely with the surrounding environment. We replaced (and signed) the log, because the one in the cache was too damp and mouldy to unroll, took a few photos, and logged the find through the geocaching app.

Our 500th find

500!

We then headed off for a celebratory lunch, and decided to try and find another couple of our nemesis caches. Like our 500th find, these other two ended up being quick finds. It was a nice way to finish the day. It’s taken us 10 years to get to 500 finds, but I think the next 500 won’t take as long.

Sensible Shoes’ 10 years of Geocaching – a Retrospective

Ten years ago today we found our first geocache at Little Beach on the Central Coast (GCTZ15 – now archived, unfortunately). We were a new couple and geocaching was a great activity to hang out together and have a few adventures along the way. Back when we started it took a bit more preparation and planning before setting out than it does now. We had to sit around the kitchen table of the house we hadn’t moved into yet with the laptop plugged into the dial-up modem and download the cache pages, and then transfer the coordinates onto our GPSr. If you wanted to refer to the cache pages while you were out caching you had to print them out before you left, and manually decode the hint if needed. There were no smartphones, so you couldn’t simply open an app and see if there were any caches nearby. Today, no forward planning is required as everything we need to check for, find, and log nearby caches – internet access, GPS, real-time logging of caches, and cache information – is available on our smartphones. For those cachers who love being the First To Find (FTF), this has meant that they can head straight off to a new cache as soon as they receive the notification email on their phone and log it as soon as they find it in order to claim their glory. This improved technology also means that when we get home there’s no need to try and remember all the details about our caching trip because everything’s already been logged. We found our first few caches using an HP ipaq PDA (which looked something like this – it worked OK, but definitely was not designed with caching in mind).

At our first find

The first cache we found

We were introduced to geocaching by a work colleague whose husband had done some caching, and they generously lent us a handheld GPS receiver (GPSr) (probably a Garmin etrex) for a couple of weeks. Our first experience with this “proper” GPSr was in Canberra and Melbourne a week after our first find. It was during this trip that we had two major revelations:

  1. We needed to get a GPSr
  2. We needed to change our geocaching.com account name.

We signed up as Fairy Spice (which made sense at the time, for a number of reasons) but after having to introduce ourselves to another cacher in Canberra, we knew this had to be changed. At the time there was no way to change our username; we had to create a new account and re-log all our first few finds. As librarian geocachers, we felt that Sensible Shoes was an appropriate name to use, and since then we’ve been comfortable introducing ourselves as this. We cache together as Sensible Shoes, and our logs identify each of us as Mr S or Ms S. We ended up purchasing a Garmin GPS 60 in those first few months of caching, and still use that (in conjunction with our smart phones) today.

That name didn’t last long

From these humble beginnings, the Shoes family has grown. Our sons are known as Shoes Junior and Little Shoes, and both of them had their accounts created and were taken our geocaching about a month after they were born. We also got one of our sisters involved in caching. Eight years later, Sensible Sis is now closing in on 900 finds. We’ve taken a few friends and family members geocaching, and have been successful in recruiting two families from our Mothers’ Group. It’s good to have some local friends who “get it”. However, our biggest success story converting a muggle to an obsessed geocacher is a fellow librarian who heard about caching at a conference presentation given by Mr S. She’s been caching now for 3 years and has over 3,500 finds and 72 hides to her name. As Mr S was presenting at the conference and describing how geocaching can be used as an educational and promotional tool, Ms S was live-tweeting her finding of our cache (GC3K05C) (she hadn’t been involved in the placing of it). The cache involved is a “Mystery or Puzzle” cache, and it has been very positively received by the local geocaching community. Mr S has written a journal article describing how and why the cache was placed. We’ve placed four other caches, however they’ve all been archived for various reasons and are no longer active.

Shoes Junior and Little Shoes out caching

We’ve managed to find 504 caches over the last ten years, and 15 of these have been Event caches. Several of these events have been great fun to attend. These include the three Geotreks that we’ve completed, and the three Worldwide Flash Mobs (WWFM) that we’ve flashed at. The WWFM was the brainchild of Sonny and Sandy from the Podcacher podcast, and is still going strong after ten years. Another geocaching podcast we enjoyed listening to was the Geotalk podcast, hosted by Darren Osborne, a.k.a. Spindoc Bob. Darren was the driving force behind the formation of the Geocaching NSW association, and we met him and his wife Renee at the initial planning meeting for the group. Darren also organised the first couple of WWFM events in Sydney, which we attended. Mr S attended the first Sydney WWFM event alone, because Ms S was resting in hospital prior to the arrival of our first son. All three of us attended the next WWFM event at Luna Park. Mr S had the opportunity to go on a geocaching day trip with Darren and a couple of other cachers in September 2013. Sadly, Darren passed away from brain cancer in January 2015. Although we didn’t know him very well, his passing was deeply felt by us since we identified so closely with him and his young family. Vale Spindoc Bob.

WWFM at Luna Park

In the same way that we related to the Osbornes, Sonny and Sandy from sunny San Diego have also found a place in our hearts. We had been regular listeners to their weekly podcast, Podcacher, when we learned of the arrival of their son Sean while we were pregnant with our first son. Ever since, we have been amused by the similarities between Sean and our 8 year old as they grow up. Mr S has kept up with listening to Podcacher ever since we discovered the podcast almost 10 years ago, and has contributed various news items from time to time. One of these was our most significant geocaching moments from the last ten years. It was the time when Mr S proposed to Ms S at our first FTF. It was nice that he was able to do this at a spot close to our home, and no, we didn’t go on to have a geocaching-themed wedding.

We’ve found that geocaching is a great activity to do while we’re on holidays. We’ve cached as far north as Moreton Island, south to Melbourne, east to San Francisco, but only as far west as Canberra. Port Stephens and Canberra have been a couple of good destinations which combine sightseeing and geocaching. We found our 100th cache at Port Macquarie and our 200th at Port Stephens. On our first couple of trips to Canberra we stopped at several rest area caches on the way. The next time we did the trip without stopping, and we were pleasantly surprised at how quick the trip was. Having said that, we’ve recently discovered that the rest area caches have been replaced, so we have the opportunity to find them all over again. It’s been fun introducing our two boys to geocaching. Our eldest (Shoes Junior) had a Travel Bug on his stroller which we took to several geocaching events. He has recently enjoyed finding some local Harry Potter-themed caches and helping to solve some puzzle caches which have a Minecraft theme. Lately, Little Shoes (our youngest) has taken an increased interest in going out caching, perhaps influenced by the fact that we’ve taken to having ice creams to celebrate milestones. It is ironic that when we cached alone, before the geokids came along, we were finding many caches holding travel bugs and kid-friendly swaps. It seems these are becoming a rarity these days, even though there are many more geocaches to find these days. As for the geokids, despite many years of geocaching experience, they are yet to master the art of stealth. “DID YOU FIND IT?!?!”

Shoes Junior’s Travel Bug

Most geocachers, who have been caching consistently for 10 years, would expect to have found far more than the 500 finds we have achieved … but as the saying goes “it’s not about the numbers”. Although geocaching has held our interest steadily for the past decade it has not been a major focus for our family. We enjoy having it as an activity to fall back on when convenient, but we’ve never felt the need to chase the numbers or achieve long running streaks as other have (even though we’ve been impressed by their ability to do so). Likewise, almost all of our finds have been within the 3.5/3.5 difficulty/terrain matrix, with only a very few outliers. We prefer to be challenged by tricky puzzles rather than extreme terrain. Now that the kids are older, and technology has made geocaching more convenient than ever before, we expect to enjoy many years of geocaching adventures ahead. As Sonny and Sandy would say, “Keeep onn cachin’!”.

On the powertrail towards 500 finds

At our 500th find

Star Wars in the medical literature

To mark Star Wars Day today (May the 4th), I thought I’d do a post looking at how Star Wars and its characters have been written about in the medical literature. I did the same thing a couple of years ago with other pop culture icons – Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy.

For my Star Wars search I used PubMed, and carried out a simple keyword search (funnily enough there aren’t any MeSH headings for Star Wars). A search for “star wars” returned 91 results (which is more than Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy), with the most recent being published last month and the oldest in July 1980. Pretty much all the articles from the 1980s, and most from the early 1990s, were discussing the missile defence system proposed by US President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The program’s official name was the Strategic Defense Initiative, but it became popularly known as “Star Wars”. The article from 1980 seems to be the first which discusses the movie, although I haven’t been able to track down an online copy to check this. It’s called “Star Wars: the modern developmental fairy tale“, and it was published in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic.

The most common aspect of Star Wars which is discussed in the medical literature seems to be a psychiatric analysis of the characters (unfortunately not many of the articles are open access, so I can’t link to the fulltext). Examples of these articles include “Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: the Use of Star Wars’ Dark Side in Teaching” (link), “Darth Vulcan? In support of Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder” (link), and “The fall and redemption of people and systems: potential lessons from the “star wars” saga” (link). It also seems popular to refer to Star Wars when discussing a treatment which involves using lasers e.g. “The erbium laser: the “Star Wars” of dentistry” (link).

As well as Star Wars the movie I also searched for some of the characters. Here are some of the things I learnt by doing this:

  • Researchers at MIT have developed the MIT-skywalker, which is a device used in gait therapy. A photo of the beta prototype is available in this open access article.
  • There is a fruit fly protein called Skywalker (sky), which has something to do with neurons and synaptic vesicles (more details in this open access article).
  • There is a method which is used to test the efficacy of potential anti-helminthic drugs (helminths are parasitic worms) called the larval exsheathment inhibition assay (LEIA). (link) I guess in Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia was a pretty effective treatment for Jabba the Hutt (he wasn’t a helminth, but he was pretty worm-like).
  • Several species have been named after Chewbacca. In New Britain (one of the islands of Papua New Guinea), there is a species of flightless weevil called Trigonopterus chewbacca (described and pictured in this open access article). There is also a moth in Mexico called Wockia chewbacca Adamski – I guess Wockia sounds a bit like Wookiee.
  • When it comes to developing the name of a clinical trial or procedure, Darth Vader seems to be a popular inspiration. Evidence of this includes the Vascular Access Decisions in the Emergency Room study protocol (link), the Vacuum-Assisted Dermal Recruitment method for closing wounds (link), and the tongue-in-cheek Value of Audio Devices in the Endoscopy Room randomised controlled trial (link). This last study found that endoscopists who listened to Star Wars music performed an endoscopy better than those who listened to popular music.
  • There is a protein in the Red flour beetle called C3PO, and several proteins from different organisms which are called R2D2.

It was interesting to find out how Star Wars is represented in the medical literature. maybe next time I’ll look at a different discipline. May the Fourth be with you!