Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting lost with GPS

I ought to apologise publicly to Paul Janman, who is in the East Coast village of Nuhaka this weekend for the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. Paul is helping make a documentary film about the festival, which attracts auteurs and activists from around Aotearoa and the South Pacific, and I had agreed to head down with him and live blog some of the action in the improvised movie theatre that is Nuhaka's Kahungungu marae. Last week's diving temperatures, though, spread a variety of maladies, from nerve pain to the common cold to croup, through our family, and have made the prospect of a journey across the cold central plateau of Te Ika a Maui unappealing. 
I hope to appease Paul by spending some of the weekend visiting the geocaches that he, Ian Powell, and I have hidden up and down the Great South Road as part of our contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition at the Papakura Art Gallery. A week or so ago Paul placed the GPS coordinates for the caches, as well as some justifications for their peculiar contents, on the website where New Zealand devotees of geocaching congregate. Cache-hunters haven't taken long to find, plunder, and replenish our treasure boxes.
Digital technologies in general, and digital mapping devices in particular, have been criticised for alienating twenty-first century humans from their surroundings. Technosceptics like Nicholas Carr allege that innovations like Google Maps and GPS tracking are removing the complexity and mystery from both natural landscapes and cityscapes, and replacing the circuitous, adventurous journeys we used to make through the world with swift, efficient passages from one point to another. Instead of wandering around unfamiliar environments gazing this way and that, and asking bemused strangers for directions, we now walk confidently forward staring down at our smartphones, which lead us infallibly to the location of our next appointment.
I was for some time sympathetic to the arguments of Carr and his co-thinkers, and I still don't own a cellphone. But the geocaching community which has emerged recently in New Zealand and several other nations suggests to me that digital mapping and tracking can be a means for us to become better acquainted with, rather than more alienated from, our surroundings. Geocachers seem to enjoy the way their hobby sends them hurrying off to fragments of the world - scruffy parks, half-reclaimed garbage dumps, half-demolished buildings, the sunless undersides of bridges, abandoned military bases, and so on - that they would never otherwise visit. 
When they spotted the GPS locations and site descriptions that Paul placed on their website, the geocachers raced each other to reach our stashes, recorded their visits in the logbooks we had left, and replaced our treasures with their own objects and texts. They have also recounted their adventures online, in the sort of truncated, jargon-riddled sentences that the adepts of other esoteric disciplines, like mountaineering, chess, and tai chi, also favour. Here is a geocacher's account of a visit to Conifer Grove, the almost sublimely banal South Auckland community where Paul and I had found a niche underneath a bridge at the edge of a bleak park: 
Got woken up by the notifications coming through this morning...figured id go and find these new caches. Headed to the first and spotted MrRUSH742 already at GZ. A quick look around and we had the cache in hand. A joint FTF for our early morning efforts...Mitsimadman and Stik-a-crane arrived. A brief chat with them before we headed off to the next one. TFTC!
Borrowing the rather unsympathetic word that Harry Potter and his mates use for humans not initiated into magic, another geocacher spoke of having to hide from some 'Muggles' during a search for one of the boxes Paul and I had stashed. 
The cache that Paul and Ian left in the deindustrialised zone known as Southdown, close to the burnt-out Affco freezing works, has been visited less often that the other boxes we stashed beside the Great South Road. One of the geocachers who did make it to Southdown explained why
was very hesitant I must admit. I'm very glad the cache is located close to the entrance...This reserve has something of a reputation. It is a known gay cruising/pickup/casual sex area...Thankfully my happy ending was just an FTF and I didn't see anyone else in the park, but there were plenty of cars parked outside include a few guys sitting in their cars 'waiting' {FTF} #1513 TFTC!
Another cache-hunter made hard work of finding a box hidden close to the Bombay Obelisk, that sacred monument of New Zealand's white supremacists:
pretty much knew how to get to this spot. how wrong I was. I got some strange looks from the motorway cars as I walked inside the barrier to GZ. I had thoughts that a police car would stop and take me away. I tried going through the bush but could not find a way. co ords were fairly accurate for me and it was a quick FTF #52 for this old fella. I must admit I took the short cut back through the long grass. TFTC I took nothing. signed the log a little after 9.00 a.m.
I think that, after all his trouble, the old fella could at least have helped himself to one of the Nazi toy soldiers we'd left in the Bombay cache.
Perhaps Nicholas Carr should take up geocaching. The hobby might show him, as it has shown me, that digital mapping and tracking devices have the potential, if they are used mischievously enough, to complicate and re-enchant the landscapes around us. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

12 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

All this reminds me of the book called 'The Search for the Golden Hare' that my ex wife - who read(s?) widely, rapidly, and somewhat eclectically - had from the library and it is associated with a book of art by (blanked out for now). The (real) golden hare* was buried somewhere in Britain (the BBC recorded the event) I think in the mid 80s when the prize of ~ (?) BP200,000 was offered for the first person to find it (either by deciphering the code done by the artist - Kit someone - in the associated book).

It occasioned an enormous search or searches. Some people deciding that information lead them from the US to Indonesia where they searched. People developed fantastic but erroneous theories arising from coincidental things.It pointed to the way some of these strange religions such as Christianity and the Moslemic might have arisen...

The man to find it was one (a typically eccentric and quite clever Englishman) who found it with a mixture of nous and "bush-logic" and some luck. He was just ahead of some British physicists who were upset as he hadn't properly decoded the secret "instructions" in Kit ----'s book.

It was a fascinating read of a treasure hunt long before GPS and Google Maps etc.

I was a Lineman and then in Telecommunications, radio, electronics etc and I even (for a short time) serviced (mostly it was hit and miss as and fixing aerials or replacing batteries etc, as the phones etc were hard to get ca 1988) some of the early cordless and the "car phones' (now known as cell phones): but now I leave my phone off the hook all the time and only recently my son got a cell phone (I can see the advantages of them and GPS of course)...

The jargon, yes it is endless, radio hams use a complex jargon e.g. how many people know about the EME project(s)? (Heard about if from a ham on FB).

But I have forgotten far more than I ever knew (which wasn't that much really) in that field. Added to that I am hopeless when it comes to solving puzzles and things, or following map directions etc.

But your enthusiasts sound as though they are having a great time. Technology has it's side effects.

The downside of emails is that we wont see all those immortal letters whereas emails and messages on FB are a good way to keep in contact with families etc

So South Down has become a place of Evil? Casual sex - what is that? In fact, what is sex?

Muggles? Great word!

Fascinating world we live in.

*But not a real hare that had been turned to gold by King Midas!

10:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GCG4BV_domain-terrain-auckland

11:02 am  
Anonymous Singapore Psychogeographic Society said...

http://psychogeography.sg/

Singapore needs psychogeography too.

4:44 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Yes, Richard, I thought of golden hares as well, when I encountered geocaching for the first time! I think I read about the hares at your prompting, and what interested me most was the variety of ways in which folks hunting for the objects interpreted the clues - and they were, admittedly, cryptic clues - they were given by the organisers of the hunt.

Here's an article the Guardian did to mark the 30th anniversary of the hares:
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/aug/20/kit-williams-golden-hare-masquerade

7:59 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Why did I say hares rather than hare? Looking at that Guardian article, I see there was only one of the creatures buried at a mystery location! I had imagined there were many. It's been a long time since I read about the hunt.

8:02 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I put a longish comment here but I got diverted by the stupid system asking about verification and codes and sending texts - but I looked that link up. Interesting.

11:49 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, Kit Williams. He is a clever artist and puzzle maker. The book on it showed a lot about human nature (much good) and also the role of coincidence.

Maybe Kim.com will get involved in searching for the caches!

His is an interesting case for sure: you would be hard pressed to come up for it for a novel, it is like, well who would write the novel of this new alliance with Mana? Lol!

11:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/04/life-itself-encrypted-can-you-find-easter-eggs

6:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/02/google-maps-satnav-directions-driving-north-korea

North Korea has strict controls on internal movement, a scarcity of private car owners, and almost no Internet users. Yet it now has satellite navigation for plotting driving and walking routes through Google Maps.

The service is available through the web and mobile apps and allows users to calculate travel time by car or foot between points of interest in the Google database. It’s limited to roads that have already been mapped out on the service.

It’s been over a year since Google began adding roads, buildings, railway lines and other data to its map of North Korea. The country had for years appeared as a grey void but that began to change when users were asked to help start building the map.

“We encourage people from around the world to continue helping us improve the quality of these maps for everyone with Google Map Maker,” the company said in January 2013. “From this point forward, any further approved updates to the North Korean maps in Google Map Maker will also appear on Google Maps.”

12:08 am  
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5:30 pm  
Anonymous Jual GPS Garmin said...

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9:01 pm  
Anonymous Jual GPS Garmin Murah said...

thanks for the article, i have GPS Garmin Monterra for my trip and adventure

9:28 pm  

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