Father Of Geocaching Not The Only One Fired Up


Categories: Dave Ulmer Reviews The Geocaching Handbook


… Or how It’s Not About The Numbers discovers some rather forward material while reviewing a geocaching guide.

Man’s discovery of fire pales in comparison to the invention of geocaching, if you believe our sport’s founding father.

In the forward to Layne Cameron’s recently reprinted The Geocaching Handbook: The Guide For Family-Friendly High-Tech Treasure Hunting, Dave Ulmer – the man who coined and placed the Original Stash in May 2000 – describes the activity as “another major milestone in the evolution of the human race”.

“Geocaching is just one of millions of other intelligent systems operating here on planet Earth but it is distinct in one very important way. Geocaching was the first intelligent system designed to ever understand the true nature of living intelligent systems – like the first fire started by the first scientist who actually understood what fire was.”

The Portland, Oregon resident (GC handle: DaveUlmer) says it took humans millions of years to understand those flames, while he “engineered and understood” geocaching from the start.

When the United States military farewelled selective availability, “the world changed”, writes the computer consultant as he recalls watching the accuracy on his GPSr impove tenfold.

“I was awestruck and knew immediately that the human race was just given an additional capability that the general public had never had before … I lay awake that night just brainstorming what could be done with this additional capability. What came to mind was a treasure hunt game and so it became a new intelligent system.”

With 10-plus years of hindsight and game development, he explains now that geocaching is a classic example of “how a single human mind” can create something that “encompasses millions of other minds”.

“We now have a generation of children who have grown up with a GPS in hand … It is my hope [they] will become the knowledge engineers of the future and be able to look back on geocaching as a shining example of the first intentionally designed and engineered living intelligent system.”

Big words but having coined a hobby that’s been wholeheartedly adopted by the international masses, maybe Ulmer has earned the right to boast – though the efforts of other players, such as Groundspeak’s Jeremy Irish, who created GC.com, and lackey Jon Stanley (GC handle: Moun10bike), who designed the first trackable geocoin, should not be forgotten.


I wish I could forget the rest of The Geocaching Handbook but it’s got me almost as fired up as Ulmer.

From its title, Layne Cameron’s slightly bigger than pocket-sized guide sounds like it should be a one-stop shop for novices. Yet while it goes into great detail on some subjects (how a GPSr works, for example), others are barely dealt with – notably the minuscule paragraphs dedicated to trackables, which he refers to using the letterboxing term of ‘hitchhikers’.

Worse still, his 130-page reprint continues to reflect its original 2004 printing date with old-fashioned terms such as geomuggle, rather than muggle, and microcaching for micros. Although it does appear a section on using GPS-enabled smartphones has been included for this edition – along with a new cover, and mention of Project APE’s demise.

But with each page turn, the modern inaccuracies begin to mount up and then grate. “Many geocache hosts leave a logbook for guests to sign,” says a caption on one of the boring black-and-white photos, overlooking a basic GC.com rule.

Further on, the author – an avid Michigan outdoorsman whom I suspect may only have geocached for as long as it took to produce this title – misleadingly advises that “alcohol, knives, lighters and fireworks” be avoided as swag when such items are clearly banned by Groundspeak. Nor does he mention webcam caches and virtuals have long been grandfathered, or that some of the listing services promoted no longer exist.

Progress in the sport has also been ignored, especially the brilliance displayed by many players in creating a unique container or plotting a fiendish puzzle. Somehow the line “cagey geocachers have affixed Altoid tins with magnets to metal surfaces” just doesn’t compare to the intergalatic, electronic and physically taxing examples out there today.

All of which makes me wonder why publisher FalconGuides bothered making any changes to this version when it obviously just wanted to ‘cache’ in on a growing market.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending Cameron’s work be archived permanently. He did include New Zealand’s Recreational GPS Society in his Clubs & Websites section, provided several new terms for my personal geolexicon (digitalfish, divine cache) and still has me chuckling over his Cachionary definition for batteries: “Manna for GPS units. They gobble batteries like Yogi Bear Bear eats picnic baskets.”

At NZ$28.99, The Geocaching Handbook is a reasonable introduction to our hobby but I’d hate to think newcomers were adopting it as a bible. Far better to read internet guides like Groundspeak’s Knowledge Books or the Cacheopedia wiki, and spend that cover price on transport to a beginner’s geocaching session in your area – or to just get out there and try for yourself.




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