My Yearly FTF

Let’s be clear about this, I’m no FTF hound. True, it is fun to get a FTF every now and again but I’m just not that dedicated/focussed/obsessed/mad. According to what I’ve learnt from those who are one (maybe all) of the above, I’d have to remain permanently sober, sleep in a chair with my caching trousers and boots on at all times and… You get the idea. (to my FTF crazy friends: I’m only joking. About the sober bit. Honest.).

Let’s apply some perspective: my last FTF was on 22 March 2016. Yes, that is more than a year ago.

Now, I’m always interested in drsolly’s puzzle caches as they often have an IT element which of course appeals to my inner nerd. Yesterday the good doctor published a new cache – n/\m. At the time I couldn’t make any headway solving it but this morning I was taking Skye for a walk when a solution popped into my brain. I had to wait until I got home to crack open my Mac before I could try it out, with… Success! Cue one short, restrained, happy dance. Nobody saw that? Good. Moving on…

Then it was a question of waiting until I could find a suitable window to go look for it, all the while being everso slightly worried that someone else might solve it…

So, it wasn’t until this afternoon that I was able to whizz out in the Freelander, collect Bob (who has considerably more FTFs than me^) and drive over to the location. Once at GZ the cache itself was an easy find. Even better, we were rewarded with a clean logbook. Excellent!

On our way back home, we stopped at another drsolly cache we’d both solved when it was published about 10 days ago. We still managed to be Second To Find on that one!


^ 700, as I write this.


GSAK Update

So the other day I got myself a new MacBook Pro. I chose not to use Migration Assistant this time around, so I could install everything from scratch and avoid the build-up of cruft from previous upgrades getting onto my new notebook.

One job was installing GSAK. The Wine install went like a dream and I was able to import the database from the old installation easily using the Restore command.

GSAK gave me a prompt that a new version was available as an update so I thought “what the heck?” and clicked the update link. I was expecting it to freeze as I was running in Wine, not a native MS Windows platform but to my surprise it simply ran the installer and, lo! I had upgraded to 8.7. Happy with that.

New Mac

My MacBook Air (Mid 2012) was getting a bit long in the tooth. Leastways, that’s my excuse. So earlier this week I caved in and bought one of these:

MacBook Pro in a box

In the past when I’ve bought a new Mac, I’ve used Migration Assistant as part of the setup process. This time I decided to start from scratch and set it up “as new”, installing applications and configuring settings such as email “longhand”.  It has taken a bit longer but the MBP is now exactly how I want it and it isn’t bogged down with the inevitable residual cruft you get from previous upgrades (which it would have if I’d migrated from a backup of the MBA).

First impressions: Design, like it. Smaller than my MBA. Keyboard is very different, I expected that from trying it out at the Apple Store. Display – Retina – is a huge improvement over my MBA. The Touch Bar looks to be useful, although I am still mostly using the keyboard shortcuts I’ve built into my memory over the years. I’ll let you know more as I use it. One thing I am missing is the MagSafe connector for the power cable, I really think that’s a retrograde step.


Next step: installing GSAK. !

Hatley Heart Attack

Last weekend we had planned to take the Freelander greenlaning. Then this message came up:

error message - terrain response system fault

That meant the 4 wheel drive system was U/S. Greenlaning was off!

So instead, Bob and I went geocaching in his car. We decided to go for some numbers and chose the Hatley Heart Attack series. This comprises 533 caches (!) but Bob had worked out a small loop we could reasonably achieve in a few hours.

We parked in the village of Sutton and started with a simple offset multi, GC5ZZKX. After that one, the rest were simple trads. Some were easier to find than others:

A simple base of post

There were a couple of caches mixed in amongst the HHA ones which were quite interesting so we incorporated these in our route. The container for  GC6MC7F was this Matryoshka.

Russian nesting dolls

The other one (GC6N4JJ) took a bit of finding because to begin with we found ourselves looking in the wrong ditch. When we did finally locate the cache it was simply huge! A veritable pirate treasure chest. If you find it you’ll see what I mean.

We also made a small detour to collect a Trig Point – GC4WBZG.

trig point view

After that it was mainly a series of trads, through farmyards and across fields. Luckily the farmers left lovely trails across their land so we didn’t have to trudge across energy sapping ploughed fields. It was more like:

wide track across ploughed fields

If we had any problem at all it was with the wind. No, nothing to do with beans 🙂 , Storm Doris was trying to make a comeback and most of the paths seemed to be on the windward side of any available hedgerows which could otherwise have provided some shelter. Nevertheless we found a secluded wood for our lunch break which sheltered us nicely.

Suitably fortified and refuelled we carried on and eventually arrived back at the car with a respectable bag of caches:

Our route with smileys

On our way back, we picked up 2 more caches as drive-bys and a cheeky village sign just before the A1.

So that was a total of 43 finds and no DNFs. My second best day EVER!

A slightly sad footnote. One of the COs (MarcusMaximi) has posted on the HHA FB group to the effect that, because he no longer works in the area, he will not be able to maintain the series going forward. The series will be archived starting after Mayday 2017, starting at the Biggleswade end. It’s a shame because this was a spectacular undertaking. I was never expecting I’d get them all anyway but I do hope to pick up a few more before they go. There is still time!


The Spitfire model takes shape

Since my last post on this topic, I have been quite busy with the model but haven’t had time to post the individual steps. So, since then, I have done the following:

  • The fuselage, wings and tailplane have all been covered with tissue. The surfaces have been sprayed with a light mist of water and allowed to dry – this causes the tissue to shrink thus tightening the surfaces.
  • The various parts have been assembled and the gaps between the components have been infilled.
  • The propeller has been fitted into the spinner and the assembly attached to the fuselage.
  • The minor parts (radiators, exhaust pipes, etc) have been glued in place.
  • The canopy has been cut out from the rough moulding and glued in place.

So the model is almost complete and beginning to look more like an aircraft. It is now ready for painting.

Spitfire model - top viewspitfire model - underneath

You can see where the nose covering is a composite of paper and tissue, this is for strength. In the case of my model it’s probably not necessary because I have not installed the motor as I’m not going to fly it.


Caching in Cambridgeshire

In part two of our Cambridgeshire geocaching road trip our main targets were the Digital Electronics caches (set by the same geocacher as The Cambridge Positioning System which I wrote about earlier). These caches come as a pair, firstly the Theory part and then the Practical. You need to solve the Theory puzzle first, then visit the cache to collect some equipment you will need to find the Practical one.

So, Bob solved the theory puzzle easily but I found it much harder. Actually, I only solved it once Bob had given me a lesson in digital circuit design. Did I mention his electronics engineering background? My brane hurts!Anyway, after a long session with paper circuit diagrams and coloured pens I finally obtained the coordinates.


“My Brane hurts!”

Last Wednesday we drove up to the location of the first cache. Once off the main roads, we found ourselves driving down narrower and narrower lanes until we finally found ourselves on a quiet, dead straight, lane.

Freelander on a byway

Eventually the tarmac petered out and we found ourselves on a byway which, as it turned out, was the only drivable one we found all day, but I digress.

At GZ we soon located the cache. The cache was originally set up with 4 electronics kits for geocachers to borrow and we knew of one cacher who had a kit in his possession; we were relieved to find there was still one in there, I think we’d have been a bit upset if the box had been empty! Back into the Freelander and park in a nice quiet spot to conduct the circuit construction. I say ‘quiet spot’ but it was anything but. We were passed by a steady stream of dog walkers and horse riders. One of the horses was reluctant to pass us; her rider told us her horse was a bit spooked by our vehicle as “there isn’t usually a car parked there”.

Assembling the circuit

We assembled the circuit (well Bob did, I just passed him bits of wire and generally acted as electronics engineer’s mate). We powered it up and…

Bugger! Not the display we expected! Was the kit a “dud”? There had been some logs suggesting one of the kits didn’t work. Of course we’re made of sterner stuff and we weren’t giving up just yet! There then followed a session of pin straightening, wire wiggling and similar activities. Still nothing. We had a brew. Rechecked our wiring. Ah Ha! Made a small change. Bingo! Once we had it working we were able to obtain a set of coordinates. That wasn’t quite the end of it of course, we had to visit that location, obtain some more info and input that into our circuit-a-ma-bob to obtain the final coords.

While we were looking for the intermediate location a couple of farming types drove up in a muddy 4×4 to enquire what we were doing. When we said “geocaching” they didn’t seem surprised and became more friendly; “I’ve seen lots of things in the vees of trees round here” said one. Friendly muggles! Anyway, back in the car and off to the final and an excellent find of an ammo can. Of course, we then had to return to the Theory cache and put the electronics kit back for the next cacher, which we did.

These have been two of the best geocaches I’ve done to date, partly because of the work involved in solving the puzzles and partly in recognition of the amount of effort which has gone in to designing and constructing the caches. One of those occasions where awarding a favourite point doesn’t seem enough.

After our success, we found a further couple of caches along what used to be a Roman road. One end of this was apparently a byway, so we had a gander to see whether we could drive it. Unfortunately the County Council had slapped a bunch of TROs along most of it and the only part we could drive had a 2 metre width restriction. It looked a bit narrow, so I edged the nose of the Freelander into the gap while Bob spotted for me. It looked very tight and after a short discussion we abandoned the idea, parked up and walked along the byway to the nearby cache. I’ve since checked the Freelander’s spec sheet. Turns out the width with mirrors retracted is 2005mm. No wonder it wouldn’t fit!

roman road

After that it was off to the next major location on our hit list, near Saffron Walden: the Harry Potter series. This comprises 7 caches and, although I’d found 3 of them back in July 2013 whilst staying at Audley End, I still had 4 to find and Bob needed all of them. After a break for lunch we set off, starting with the ones I hadn’t yet found. This is a series of puzzles with a Harry Potter theme. I had no problem with the puzzles (ours being a family of Potter fans), also the caches themselves follow the HP theme, which is a nice touch; hence we found (amongst others), a rat from the prison at Azkaban, a dragon from the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a horcrux locket:

horcrux locket

and Tom Riddle’s diary – which doubled as one of the log books:

tom riddles diary

It was good to see my moniker there from 2013.

log book entry

Eventually, a lovely sunset reminded us it was time to head for home…


Plus, after logging our finds, we had a nice “H for Harry” shape on the map, made from smileys.

Harry potter smiley map

So ended another brilliant day’s geocaching in Cambridgeshire! Just 10 finds, currently that’s a good day’s tally for me but this day was most definitely not about the numbers.



GSAK. On a Mac.

You may recall back in 2012 I wrote about running Windoze on my Mac, mainly in order to try running GSAK without the pain of a Windoze PC. I tried Crossover. I tried a VM (Oracle’s VirtualBox). I was unimpressed. The idea of using GSAK died, as I was really, really, not prepared to use Windoze.


Recent conversations with my geocaching buddy, Bob, made me want to give GSAK another try, but how?

Turns out there has been some progress with Wine. Via the GSAK forum I found a very good guide on the subject, so I decided it was worth a try. Some of the detail (around versions) have changed but the basic steps are still the same. To begin with, I installed the beta version of Wine 1.8 (works with El Cap) but when I tried creating the GSAK App it crashed repeatedly, so I installed the latest “stable” release (1.6.1) instead. That worked perfectly.

So here’s proof (if you need it) of GSAK working on my MacBook Air:

GSKA screen shot

The key issue last time I tried running GSAK was that it wouldn’t connect to my Geocaching account. This time, a key step in the process involved installing GSAK on a Windows machine first, exporting a backup of the GSAK database and settings, and restoring these to the Wine version. That done (and my ancient Dell laptop returned to its rightful place in my tech museum), GSAK worked! I am able to connect to my geocaching data on, retrieve cache details, run PQs, etc.

The only function which seems to be missing from my Wine-bottled GSAK so far, seems to be the cache page in split view. I think this issue is linked to GSAK’s historical reliance on IE but I need to do some research on this. Nevertheless, clicking on a cache’s row launches the cache details in a new browser window (in Safari, my default). GSAK “sees” my Garmin GPS when I connect it to my MacBook via USB, so I can download GPX files to the device.

Early days, then, but from what I’ve seen so far it does look promising.


The Quizzical Smile

Last Wednesday Bob and I finally managed our long-awaited caching trip to the Quizzical Smile series. This is a series of 18 easy puzzle caches (plus a bonus) which, once logged as found, look like this on the map:

Cache smilies in the shape of a smilie on GC's map

The weather had been good in the days leading up to the Wednesday, at which point the whole of England was covered with rain. We delayed our start for about an hour, so by the time we left the car most of the rain had cleared eastwards in the general direction of Cambridge. For the first hour it was a bit drizzly but by the time it cleared up we were well into our stride. All the caches were fairly easy finds although some required a bit of searching, jumping ditches, etc. At each cache we collected a value for the bonus. Well, at the first one we forgot, and had to retrieve the container again. We didn’t forget the others.

En route, we found this object:

a strange metal object in a field

I have no idea what it is.

After we’d found about half the caches, we got to the point where we had to head along another path roughly in the direction from whence we came, so it seemed an ideal time to pause for a brew and to collect a couple of other nearby caches belonging to the Hatley Heart Attack series. It was then that we met a lady walking her dog – she turned out to be the only person we encountered all day! I think the weather may have had something to do with it. Once we’d found all 18 puzzle caches, we worked out the coords for the bonus and made our way there. As we approached, we knew exactly where the cache would be, but it was a bit of a struggle to reach the container. Maybe the CO had very long arms.

After that we headed back towards our parking spot, with a detour to pick up a bunch of Hatley Heart Attacks.

After lunch, we relocated towards Cambridge. While planning our trip, Bob had drawn my attention to The Cambridge Positioning System. A puzzle based loosely on the mathematics behind the GPS, it is also near the One Mile Radio Telescope which we drove past, sometime later,  on our way home.

One Mile Radio Telescope

The Cambridge Positioning System was a D3.5 puzzle but after nearly tearing my hair out solving it, I think it should have been more like a D5. Have a look at the cache page and see what you think. It’s maths. I hate maths. I used to hate maths back when I was doing A-Level Maths. In the intervening <cough!> <hrmph!> years I have forgotten all the difficult stuff.

So, I had a go at working out the puzzle. I knew it involved Pythagorus but to be honest that didn’t really help me much. Luckily Bob had already solved it so he gave me some help (well, basically a maths lesson) to the point where I was actually able to solve the various equations myself. It took me a while! At GZ, we found the cache and then had to open it in order to sign the log. Of course, we’d done the necessary maths beforehand. Rarely have I been so pleased to log a find!

The Cambridge Positioning System was, incidentally, my 1,323rd. find.

We stopped later on for a cuppa before heading home, where we happened to find a nice Cache ‘n Dash. That last one made the total for the trip: 28 finds. Marvellous!