GEOCACHING IN AUSTRALIA - WHY ME?
I am often asked how I managed to “know” about geocaching such that I was able to plant Australia's first cache.
Geocaching came into existence on 2000-05-03 when Dave Ulmer made a post to the internet newsgroup sci.geo.satellite-nav announcing the location of his “GPS Stash”.
So the question about me knowing about geocaching is translated into “what were the circumstances that led to you being a member of sci.geo.satellite-nav?”.
To answer that question requires an analysis of my life decisions.
I am a computer programmer by trade, and I have strong logical analysis skills which I normally use to find and fix bugs in software, and also to fix problems I see in the world of computers, e.g. Microsoft and IBM monopolies - see PDOS, PDPCLIB, MVS/380 and GCCMVS as solutions). I also have an innate desire to apply those logical analysis skills towards non-computing fields. E.g. I have analyzed why we don't have world peace, something most people say they want.
In the early 90s I saw an inefficiency in the world where if someone wanted to transfer a computer file from one location to another they would send it by snail mail. Or depending on what the data was, they might print it out and fax it and expect the recipient to retype the document. Incredibly inefficient when we already had computers and modems that were capable of transmitting data perfectly fine. I wrote some software called “DTT” (Data Transmission Terminal) that was intended to provide an extremely simple interface for the transfer of data. I didn't have the ability to market this software though, and it has since become redundant thanks to the availability of the internet to everyone. A similar inefficiency I wished to solve was the US military punching in GPS coordinates manually and making typing mistakes and bombing the wrong location. This should all have been transmitted electronically. The technology already exists, it just wasn't being used.
In the mid-90s I started investigating what could be done to stop people from getting lost and dying. The technologies I was made aware of were GPS, EPIRB and Satellite phones. The EPIRB was the thing slated as most likely to save your life. Unfortunately the EPIRB was wildly inaccurate, only providing position (to rescuers) to a few km from the correct position. What I wanted was an EPIRB that would allow me to enter my GPS location and transmit that. Just a small amount of data.
In early 1999 I was working in Britain and I bought my first GPS receiver for about US$300. I knew before I bought it that it was only accurate to about 100 meters for civilian users. But something was better than nothing. In addition, for just this relatively small amount of money I was able to get (free of charge) access to satellites with atomic clocks on them that cost the US military billions of dollars to launch. I am a hopeless navigator and I really need to be guided to about 2 meters from a location to ensure I don't miss it. Especially when a friend invites me to their house and I can't see any house numbers visible. I used to loan my GPS to workmates before visiting them so that I could get a waypoint for their house. So after buying my GPS receiver I went to look for any discussion about GPS on the internet, and found the sci.geo.satellite-nav newsgroup. That is why I was there. I both had a GPS and I wanted to know more about the GPS system, in particular what could be done to eliminate the “Selective Availability” that the US military was imposing on the system to make it deliberately inaccurate.
Note that I consider there to be something just short of an actual human right “the right to not be lost”. On the same lines I consider there to be a “right to express oneself on the internet”. On one of the newsgroup posts, someone from China was asking about low-cost GPSes because every year Chinese fishermen get lost at sea and died. I was able to afford a GPS just to travel around European capitals, while others were literally dying because they couldn't afford a GPS!
I wanted to know what the US military thought they were achieving by denying greater accuracy to civilians. One of the reasons they cited was terrorism, but I didn't understand what they thought terrorists could do with enhanced accuracy. I didn't get any satisfactory answers, and continued to engage with the group, looking for a way to circumvent the signal degradation. Before I had a working solution, the US military solved the problem by changing their policy. Man-made problems (like communism) particularly rile me, because they don't require endless amounts of money to be poured into a black hole, it just needs humans to stop actively doing harm to the world.
When SA was switched off, and accuracy changed from 100 meters to 10 meters, the search area was even more dramatically reduced, since that is a square of the distance. So going from SA to non-SA is similar to the invention of the telescope compared to the eye, or the Hubble telescope compared to ground telescopes.
Note that a bit over a year from SA being switched off, America was struck by terrorism on 2001-09-11. I don't believe SA would have made any difference to that at all, but America's concern about terrorist attacks was obviously well-founded, so after the attacks I then spent a lot of effort researching why anyone would want to attack America. My conclusions can be found elsewhere on my website.
So, that's the story about how I found out about geocaching. And I wanted Australia to be listed as an “early adopter”, so I planted Australia's first cache in the same month (May 2000) as the world's first. I have since lost interested in travel, and I don't even have a working GPS anymore. People often consider my cache to be “Mecca”. I even spread my father's ashes there. Note that when I planted my cache, my main concern was that no muggle should find it. To achieve that I ploughed into some uninteresting bush until I'd gone far enough that I would expect no-one to ever find it. What I didn't know is that I had gone so far into the bush that I had nearly reached another trail. This may be how the rangers eventually managed to find it.