Your Mission…

Or, a brief story in which I saved the world.

Well, I finally completed what is IMHO the best geocache ever: “Your Mission…” I started it back in September ’17 and finished it just over a year later on the 10th of November. I didn’t want to give anything away before but the owner has now archived it so I felt a celebratory post was in order.

In case you don’t know, the premise of “Your Mission…” is that Wolverine, a SIS agent, has managed to rescue and hide an “Anti-Matter” bomb and your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to locate and defuse the bomb, thus saving the planet. So, it’s a cache with many stages, with episodes of Wolverine’s escape from the enemy “Muggelovians” hidden in various places. Most cachers have chosen to write their “find” logs in the spirit of the cache narrative, taking on the persona of a secret agent. I was no exception.

Rather than rewrite my experiences for this blog, I’ve chosen to reproduce my logs pretty much as originally written (maybe with the addition of a picture or several). 

Assuming you’re still reading this, here goes!

Oh and by the way, my choice of callsign: Bluebottle = blue arsed fly. 😉

Day 1

Wednesday: I’m driving at full pelt across Hertfordshire with the words of my boss, Harry Pearce, running on an infinite loop in my head. “Adam is dead, Danny is dead. Tom went mad, Jo got shot and Zoe is on the run. Believe it or not, you are our last hope. Don’t screw it up. I’m sending Bob with you as he is the one with the brains. Your callsign is “Bluebottle”, although if you are caught you are totally deniable. Oh, one more thing: leave your gun in the armoury. If it comes to a shoot out you will already be beyond help.”

So, here we are – Callsign Bluebottle – arriving at the coords we gleaned from Wolverine’s last transmission. We set off in what we hope is the correct direction. Following the minimal clues, we press on, through the ruins of an old military installation, deeper into the unknown. After some time we unearth a dead drop left by Wolverine which sends us off to a second location. At least we don’t seem to be pursued by Muggelovian agents at this stage, although how long our luck will hold up is anyone’s guess. Now we have the next piece of info, it’s back to the car and a dash across country to the next location.

Remains of WW2 military camp

Later: We find ourselves creeping through a dank, dark structure. A flashlight would be useful. (Note to self: don’t leave flashlight in car). Suddenly something snags my foot, I try to shake it free to no avail. Have the Muggelovians set booby traps? Nope, turns out to be a tangle of thin wire. Disentangling myself, we carry on, emerging into a wooded area where we find ourselves skirting around a small group of tents, partially hidden in a clearing. This looks worrying, could this be a Muggelovian base camp? Luckily there are no sign of life, so we press on, following the information which Wolverine had managed to leave behind. After a considerable hike, we at last find the next dead drop and acquire the intelligence needed for the next location. We retrace our route back to the car, sneaking past the Muggelovian camp once more. It’s at this point I’m beginning to wish I’d brought Mr. Nine Millimetre. (Note to self: don’t listen to Harry Pearce).

hill with sheep

Later still: Trekking across a broad expanse of land dotted with sheep. I hope they are all actually sheep. I don’t know what the average size and build of a Muggelovian agent is but I’m hoping that they aren’t able to disguise themselves as sheep. That would be unfortunate. And a bit weird. This is turning out to be quite a trek. We take a wrong turning. Consult the OS Map. (Doh!). Take the correct path. Gather some more information. Now we need to use our brains. Getting to the location entails some off-piste action. And a barbed wire fence. Make that 2 barbed wire fences. If only I hadn’t skipped the barbed-wire-fence-climbing lesson on that Special Forces training course. Finally, we have got our hands on the next piece of intel. Darn! Wolverine must have been worried about interception – this one is in code! A bit of a hike now as we head back to the car and a pause while we decode that latest message.

geocache container

One of Wolverine’s dead drops

 

Day 2

The last message I received from Wolverine was encoded and not something I could decipher in the field. Plus it was tea time. Later on, back at base and fuelled by a nice mug of English tea and some Hobnobs, I successfully decoded the message. Today, armed with a transcript of the message, we’ve arrived at the edge of a wooded area. Securing our transport and camouflaging it against possible detection by Muggelovian agents, Agent Bob and I set off for the latest coordinates. After a while we emerge into a large clearing where several Muggelovian agents are stood in a group, chatting. What worries me the most is that they have several attack dogs and I know we will be in severe trouble if they set them on us. We decide to brazen it out and, disguising ourselves as harmless geocachers, we continue nonchalantly on our way. Once back in the safety of the woods, we listen for sounds of pursuit but as the silence surrounds us once more we know we’ve got away with it. After a while, we find the area mentioned in Wolverine’s message and obtain the next piece of intel. After that, we press on back to our transport where we pause for iron rations before heading off to the next location. Was that hill really steep or am I just out of condition? Hrm, moving on…

It seems that Wolverine has been getting ever more careful, he must have been concerned that his messages might be intercepted by the opposition, and the intel he left contained several layers of obfuscation to confound them. Confounds me too at times. Having gathered some more info, we are off again, finally arriving at a promising location. Fortunately we have the place to ourselves as retrieving the next piece of intel is not easy and it’s a good thing that we remain unobserved. I’m getting too old for this secret agent lark. Let’s have a look… What the what? Now I need all my secret agent training to figure this one out!

military pill box in the woods

Back to the transport once more and another change of location. Out in the open now and we feel very exposed, visible to any Muggelovians who have managed to follow us. We seem to be without a tail so we continue to the next point of interest to which Wolverine has led us. From this we figure out where we need to be, so we carry on, dodging a couple of friendly muggles (phew) before homing in on the coords we’ve calculated. Finding Wolverine’s dead drop (and getting to it) requires some special secret agent agility by Agent Bob but in due course we have it.

One of Wolverine's hidden notes

One of Wolverine’s hidden notes

Armed with this latest info we take stock of our situation. The transport is at bingo fuel so we reluctantly make the decision to return to base. Saving the world will have to wait for a bit longer. Oh, and it’s nearly tea time. 

Odometer reading for the day 112.5 miles

This is typical of the mileage on each day!

 

Day 3

Callsign Bluebottle reporting. Back in the summer I thought there would be plenty of time to complete this operation. Just recently I discovered that there really is not much time left in which to save the planet. Things have just got serious. No time to lose, then!

<Slurps tea, stuffs emergency Hobnobs into pocket, grabs car keys. Exit stage left>

I collect Agent Bob and floor it up the Mike One. I’ve worked out where we need to be from the info we picked up at the end of Day 2 and we make good time from one county to the next. Plus the sun is shining. For now.

Later: There are a couple of vehicles at our chosen parking spot: fellow agents or Muggelovians? Remaining vigilant, we approach the area in question. There is a solitary gent some 50 metres away, could be a Muggelovian but maybe not. Seems harmless and anyway isn’t looking in our direction. Picking our way cautiously to the prospective hiding place, we find the next of Wolverine’s hidden containers and retrieve the information he has left. As we head back to the track, we encounter the suspicious gent directly in our path. He has a mobile phone in his hand – have we been compromised? We pass him on the path with a nonchalant exchange of pleasantries. I’m sure he’s an innocent civilian and we press on. Just as we get back to the car, a tractor towing a large covered trailer pulls up and lots of people brandishing sticks jump out of the back. Muggelovians!

We’re about to make a dash for it when we realise it’s nothing more than a beating party, heading off into an adjacent field to frighten some pheasants. Phew! 

Back in the car we examine Wolverine’s latest and calculate the next location. He’s had to be very devious in an effort to put off the Muggelovians (always assuming they’ve managed to do as well as us…) Better punch those coords into the Satnav and get moving. 

A bit later: Belting along, I nearly overshoot the spot.  Что за черт? Can’t park here. Back the way we came and slip into a convenient lay-by. A bit of a walk, looks like. Set off. Realise I’ve forgotten my secret agent reading glasses. Go back for them. OK, off we go again. Bet James Bond never has these problems.

A bit later still: More information acquired. Do you know, I think this is it. We have the coords for the Anti Matter device! We set off on a fairly long hike. Not another soul around, we seem to have the place to ourselves. I’m pretty certain we’ve lost any possible Muggelovian tail so we can head to the device “clean”. Hopefully we’re not too late. If we are, being this close we won’t know anything about it.

Ammo box cache

Even later still: The GPS says we are here. We search a couple of likely spots. There it is! It’s up to me to save the planet! I open the device. Heart in mouth stuff, this! Secret agents should be calm in situations like this. Darn! With trembling fingers I enter the deactivation code and…

BEEP ! BEEP ! BEEP ! …

Silence. Distant birdsong.

I’ve save the world! Well, me and Agent Bob. Also thanks to Wolverine, I couldn’t have done it without him, the fortunately devious Ублюдок! 

The Anti-matter bomb

The device de-activated!

There is still one more task to complete for mission end. Ecstatic from my achievement, we relocate to the place where we complete the paperwork. Typical Civil Service, there’s always paperwork!

Callsign Bluebottle to base: Mission complete. Returning to base, put the kettle on.

And Finally:

A note to the cache owner:

Pharisee, what can I say? This has been the most fun I’ve had geocaching, bar none. An amazing cache: the amount of work that has gone into creating, setting and maintaining this cache is incredible. I’m so pleased that you’ve held off archiving it. Like many others I just wish I could award more than one favourite point. 

Thank you ! 

So, that was it. My version of “Your Mission…”. If you’ve read all the way to the end, I hope you enjoyed my story. 

 

Postscript

The cache owner archived “Your Mission…” because he is relocating. As he said in his final log, maybe Wolverine isn’t dead. Maybe he will resurface with another mission. I hope so!

 

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Friendface

Or, the day I deactivated Facebook.

The IT Crowd using Friendface

The IT Crowd – obsessed by Friendface.

I’ve not used Facebook for months so I was already wondering whether I could live without it. (Spoiler Alert: I can).

So with the latest furore around Cambridge Analytica and Mr. Zuckerberg declining requests to reduce the amount of our personal data Facebook hoovers up, I thought it would be interesting to see what data Facebook holds on me.

Facebook can also tell you whether your data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica. In my case apparently not. I guess it would be unlikely as I’m not a US citizen but well, you never know for sure, do you? Have a look for yourself.

Facebook tells me Facebook didn't share my data

Anyhoo, I downloaded my Facebook data. Turned out not to be too bad, which was good news considering I’d always taken steps to nail down my privacy settings. You can download your FB data too, here’s how.

So, goodbye Facebook. I’m not deleting it completely just yet, I’m taking the soft option of deactivating it. Here’s how to do that.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m on Instagram – which isn’t linked to my Facebook account – and I still emit the occasional Tweet. People who like Westies, Land Rovers and Geocaching will no doubt be pleased to learn that I’m not going off the grid. 😉

Now, where did I put my Flickr logon credentials…

 

 

 

Techie tinkering

Today I received a large bill for next year’s web hosting and I was so annoyed I rang up my provider and cancelled it. TBH I had already half-decided to bin the hosting; the website didn’t get much traffic and I only really use the email service for geocaching so the invoice was a timely trigger for me to do something about it.

Of course, this has resulted in a bit of work, e.g.

  • Changing the DNS name servers from the hosting company to the one where my domain is registered
  • Setting up domain forwarding to this blog
  • Downloading everything useful from the redundant hosting, especially images linked from my geocaching profile and those of my cache pages which contain images.
  • Uploading the images to a free image hosting service
  • Editing my profile on GC so the image links don’t break
  • Editing the image links on each of my cache pages.

Now all I have to do is wait for the DNS changes to propagate around the interwebs, after which selecting wizzardprang.co.uk should take you to this blog. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I still have to set up some new email addresses to receive my geocaching emails. Nearly forgot that. 😉

Off Roading

14th October found us at an off roading event organised by Land Rover Monthly magazine. The trail was a step up from the usual green lanes I’ve driven, on a 3 mile course expertly prepared by the chaps at Experience the Country near Milton Keynes.

a long line of land rovers

There were wooded sections to navigate, through some tight twisty turns between the trees:

following a Land Rover defender through the woods

There were some very challenging sections which I had to skip, due to ground clearance and the absence of low range and locking diffs on the Freelander. Oh for a Defender or a Disco. (sigh).

There was lots of mud!

muddy trail

Here, we are about to follow this chap over a steep hill:

discovery ascending the hill

Some stills from our in-car video:

approaching the hill starting to climb hang on!

Where has the ground gone? over the other side

Terrain Response set to Mud & Ruts throughout and much use made of Hill Decent Control. I continue to be impressed and pleased with the performance of “R2”.

My Freelander 2 and some mud

In a carpark full of Land Rovers he felt right at home. Parking Rules Applied.

Parking Rules Applied. A bunch of Land Rovers

It was great to be using the Freelander in the environment for which it was designed! And yes, we went round the course several times!

Time for the jet wash

I’d quite like to do it all again!

 

GSAK update

I’ve been unable to get out geocaching for the last few months. Skye (my part time geodog) had ruptured one of her cruciate ligaments so we had to restrict her walks. Finally we decided that she needed an op. to repair it (Maybe this will be the subject of a separate post in due course) which meant even less outdoor activity (for all of us involved in her care).

So I’ve been doing some work on GSAK. One of the things which prevented me from using it fully was that every time I ran a GPX file import, it finished with a Windows memory error and bombed out. I had an old MacBook Air lying around so I updated that to OS X 10.12 (MacOS Sierra) so that it had the same OS as my current MacBook Pro. Then, on the MacBook Air, I downloaded the latest stable version of Winebottler and GSAK8. This latest build allowed me to create an App Bundle using Windows 7 – loads better than the old version I was using (which was probably XP).

The resulting App runs faster than before and is (so far) completely stable. This build has also cured another defect present in the old version, namely the cache details appearing in the split screen view for only the current cache when GSAK launches. With this latest version, scrolling through the list of caches (waypoints as GSAK calls them) causes whichever cache is current to have its details displayed in the bottom screen. Cool.

So, after a bit of testing on the MacBook Air, I deleted the old App, Wine & Winebottler from my MacBook Pro before repeating the installation of the latest stable Winebottler & GSAK.

I should state at this point that before deleting anything from the MacBook Pro, I made sure I had a good backup of the live GSAK database.

Deleting Apps from Winebottler can be done from within Winebottler from the “On my Mac” window:

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 22.22.57

However, while this removes the GSAK App from the Mac’s Applications folder, in my experience not  everything got removed, so I also checked the user’s Library, i.e. for anything starting with GSAK8, in:

Users/~/Library/Application Support/

and these files in Users/~/Library/Preferences/ :

  • org.kronenberg.Wine.plist
  • org.kronenberg.WineBottler.plist
  • org.kronenberg.Winetricks.plist

and moved them to the Trash.

Then it was a simple task to install a fresh copy of Winebottler and then build the GSAK App. Once I’d done that, I restored the database from my backup and registered GSAK with my GSAK licence key, The final task was to obtain a new Groundspeak API key from the Geocaching website. You can find how to do this from the GSAK forum so I’m not going to repeat it here.

Anyway, the new version continues to work well on my MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air will come in handy for testing new versions as and when they drop, I can also take it with me on Geocaching road trips – much less risky than using my MacBook Pro!

 

 

 

Your Mission…

I have finally started the famously difficult geocache: “Your Mission…“. This is widely held to be one of the best geocaches ever and is one I have planned to do for several years. Unfortunately other “life events” have got in the way over the last few years but now I’m in a position where I can go for it.

If you know anything about this cache, you’ll know how long it takes to complete. I’ve done a few stages before running out of time so I’ll keep you updated as I progress towards the final. Once I’ve done it I will try to encapsulate the experience in a blog. Bet you can’t wait!

Caching in Suffolk

I haven’t posted about my caching adventures recently. Apols, chaps! Been busy, etc.. Time to rectify the deficit then. We recently spent a few days R & R in Suffolk, where I hoped to bag a few caches even though this was a family break (which normally means geocaching is frowned upon by everyone except me).

Nevertheless, I had loaded the results of some PQs onto my Garmin and I knew that there was a series of caches starting near to the house we had rented for the duration. Anyway, the first morning, I had some time to kill whilst waiting for the rest of the tribe to surface for breakfast, so I was wandering about in the rear garden with Skye. I just happened to have my Garmin with me…

Nearest cache: 17 metres! Wow! That worked out to just past the end of the garden. I had already noticed that there was a footpath running next to the house…

Gate post and start of footpath

You can see the start of the trail to the left of the pillar. Luckily I didn’t have to walk back to there. The garden fence separating us from the footpath could best be described as nominal, so Skye & I simply ducked through a gap in the shrubbery and set off along the path. Of course it didn’t take long to reach GZ – which turned out to be a few metres beyond the end of the garden – and the cache (Country walk 1 (wireman sam)) was easily spotted.

‘That was quick’, I thought, and Skye thought so too, so we decided to pick up the next in the series (Country Walk 2 (pandora’s box)). A short walk ensued and then I was a bit stumped. The arrow suggested it was off the path and the hint told me it wasn’t a ‘base of tree’ or similar. So then, what? We followed the arrow off piste and found this:

Pandora's box.

Of course, the cache name now made perfect sense! Researching the CO, it seems sarah2kids has a penchant for quirky and inventive cache containers and, by all accounts, puns. A great cache, this!

Oh well, c’mon Skye, time for breakfast!

Later, we visited Snape Maltings. Nothing to do with Hogwarts as it turned out. However we did go for a walk along the river.

Just a view along the riverside boardwalk at Snape

At one point, we passed a chap who was just standing near the path and doing something on his phone. He looked a bit suspicious, a cacher perhaps? So I checked the map and Lo! we were near New and Improved Iken Icon. Hmm. We carried on with our walk (very pleasant) and on our return I set up the cache on my iPhone (my Garmin was in the car). When we got to where the suspicious character had been earlier, the arrow swung to the right, pointing into a clump of small trees, so I set off for a search. The hint was no help so I adopted the ‘where would I hide it?’ methodology and soon spotted a tell-tale bunch of stick-o-flage. The last entry in the log was several weeks earlier, so either that chap (a) was not a geocacher or (b) didn’t find it!

So that’s it for now. I shall post again! 🙂

iMac speed improvements

I’ve been annoyed at the laggardly behaviour of our iMac, currently running El Capitan, 10.11.6 . We’ve had the old girl for a few years now and I was sure that successive OS X upgrades had left some crud clogging it up – somewhere!

Even though I had cleaned up the Login Items for each user in System Preferences, I suspected there were other App “helpers” still running.

(Follow along if you want to try this at home).

Make sure you have a good backup.

Start up in Safe Mode (Hold <Shift> throughout startup).

Open a Finder window and go to Macintosh HD/Library/Launch Agents

In my case, I found these files:

com.adobe.AAM.Updater-1.0.plist

com.adobe.ARMDCHelper.<a very long hex number>.plist

com.google.keystone.agent.plist

The first 2 related to Adobe Air and the Adobe Auto Updater. I thought I had deleted Adobe Air a long time ago but on further investigation I found it was still there! So I deleted it. I also deleted Adobe Acrobat reader because I no longer use it. I then deleted the .plist files. Of course, if you find similar files and you use Adobe Air or other Adobe products, you won’t want to delete them. Obviously your requirements will differ from mine.

The third file was more “interesting”. This is an auto update Daemon which Google uses to check for updates to products you have installed. In my case, the Chrome browser and NIK plug-ins. I decided to find out how often it “phones home”.

In Terminal, type:

defaults read com.google.Keystone.Agent and press <Return>

It spits out a lot of stuff about the Apps it checks, etc., ending with:

checkInterval = 18000;

Hmm. That’s every 5 hours. Overkill, I thought. So I changed the interval to once a week:

defaults write com.google.Keystone.Agent checkInterval 604800 <Return>

Of course, you could delete the daemon completely but I decided against that.

Lastly, I deleted the caches in Macintosh HD/Library/Caches, that’s  <File -> Select All> then <File -> Move to Trash>. I then did the same for each user in Macintosh HD/Users/<user name>/Library/Caches. This will remove any old, broken or corrupt caches which might be causing a problem. It is safe to delete the caches as OS X will create new ones the next time the user logs in.

Finally, I restarted the Mac (still in Safe Mode) and emptied each user’s Trash. Once that was completed, I restarted the Mac normally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spitfire – The Rollout

Well, I’ve finished it! Today was the last day of the “Great Spitfire Build”. I started this back in January 2016, there have been periods where I haven’t done any work on it for various reasons (e.g. eye trouble!), however I have been gradually chipping away at the  outstanding tasks over the last couple of months,.

After the main assembly was completed at the beginning of March, I gave the model a couple of coats of Humbrol matt varnish spray, this was to give me a decent non absorbent surface ready for painting.

Next up was painting. I used Humbrol enamel paints – the same as I’d use for plastic kits. I didn’t want to use acrylic paints as those are water-based and I wasn’t sure what effect that would have on the tissue covering. The upper surfaces were painted in Dark Earth and Dark Dreen (Humbrol codes 29 and 30). I had wanted to use Duck Egg Blue (23) for the underside but this was impossible to get hold of (and I was getting a bit impatient by this time!) so I went with Aircraft Blue (65). RAF fighters of the period had their undersides painted in either one blue or the other so it wasn’t as if I was committing a major historical faux pas. OK, WWII pedant alert: that’s apart from the ones painted half black and half white. Moving on.

Next up, the markings. The kit was supplied with roundels and tail markings printed on a sheet of thin paper, so I cut these out and glued them in place using diluted PVA. I also wanted to add some squadron markings. I couldn’t find any suitable decals so I made some stencils using “Frogtape” masking tape. The result is a bit rough but I think it looks OK. “Good enough for Government work”, as American WWII pilots used to say.  After that, just a bit of detail painting (gun port blanking, undercarriage, exhaust pipes, etc.) and a final finishing spray with the matt varnish.

Job done. I think it looks quite good, particularly as it’s the first non-plastic model I’ve made.

A note on the markings – I’ve painted it to depict Spitfire EB-G of 41 Squadron, flown by Eric Lock DSO DFC and Bar, on the 5th September 1940 when he shot down 3 enemy aircraft in one sortie.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Spitfire model topside

Spitfire model underside