Life

Geocaching, version 1.0

“That just sounds like organized littering” is the response my wife gave when I was trying to explain the ins and outs of a newfound hobby, geocaching.

She’s right. At the base level, at least.

From the outside, these caches are little more than small collections of meaningless junk that get stowed under park benches and in light poles and inside hollowed out logs, in tupperware and old prescription bottles and Altoids tins. But packed with stickers or dollar-store toys or sometimes, nothing at all but a log sheet to sign, these little treasures are part of a world-wide scavenger hunt thats been running since 2,000, which is when technology finally allowed regular people access to GPS. The found knicknacks are part of the games honor system: if you take something, you’re supposed to leave something at least as good, but preferably better.

Up to a few weeks ago, I had only ever been geocaching once before, with a coworker while at a conference in San Francisco. Wandering back to our hotel from the day’s event, he asked if I minded if we find a nearby cache and since I had no idea what was involved, I agreed, and he fired up the app on his phone and we went hunting.

We found three caches that night, one behind a loose brick in a wall, one near a statue on the pier, and one in a magnetized Altoids tin stuck to the bottom of a sculpture.

Even after what one could consider a successful night, I can’t say I was really even interested in it. It seemed like a good way to get lost, or go searching for something you may not want to find. Growing up with a family involved in the legal system, I could easily envision some miscreant planting a cache and then doing harm to those who go looking for it.

samplelog

Fast forward a few years to a month ago when I was having lunch with another coworker who was fairly heavily-involved with the game, and he asked the same question: want to go try a nearby cache? It was sprinkling out, which we don’t get much of in Phoenix, so I was all for staying outside and away from the office.

Following the GPS in his geocaching app, we wandered into a courtyard in a nearby office complex and read the tip again: “Look for ‘wet kryptonite,’ Superman probably wouldn’t venture this close.”

Expecting more of a challenge on the “wet kryptonite” part, since the everything was already wet, but the giant crystalline fountain with the green patina was easy to spot. The tricky part, was, in fact, searching the fountain without being spotted by the others in the courtyard who *weren’t* searching the fountain, but just trying to eat their lunch or have a smoke outside and stay dry.

It was at this moment I was told that we need to be careful about being spotted by the “Muggles,” or the normal people who were not in the game. The term Muggles was given to the regular people in the Harry Potter series – the unenlightened ones without any special magical powers.

I admit, at this point, my interest in this as an activity really took a hit, as I wanted nothing to do with a Harry Potter-themed hobby.

Unable to find anything in or near the fountain without drawing too much attention to ourselves, we decided to take a second and direct our attention somewhere other than the fountain, and seek shelter from the drizzle. Standing under a nearby tree, we scanned the courtyard, looking for anything that didn’t belong, other than ourselves, obviously.

When we entered the courtyard, I was immediately drawn to a big metal staircase, and directed my search there. My thought was, if there’s a better than normal chance that the cache (keeping in mind we still don’t know what we’re looking for) was affixed to its location with a magnet, a steel staircase would be a pretty good place to start looking.

It was then that I noticed something out of place…or rather, out of position. Paying closer attention to the lighting on the stairs, I noticed that only one of the lamps on our side of the staircase had a ballast that went through the I-beam. Thinking that was odd, I told my friend about the find. He went up the stairs, and as subtly as he could, reached around the beam and pulled the cache down.

This particular tin was very small, about two inches around, and maybe only an inch deep, but it was packed with pieces of paper, stickers, small maps and notes. Borrowing my pen to sign the log, my friend then had to figure out a way to get the cache back into the hidden-in-plain-sight location, and then we escaped the courtyard without being suspicous enough to have the police called on us.


Geocaching in Arizona

 

Geocaching in Arizona means getting down and dirty

I certainly haven’t become a hardcore geocacher, but having found about 20 items on my own I do enjoy it. Once it gets cooler in Phoenix I could envision going on some more of the hunts. It’s a fun way to get some relatively low-impact excercise, as most of the caches are more easily accessible on foot or by bicycle, and, for the most part, free. The trade-equal/trade-up aspect is purely voluntary, as most of the interaction happens online. You find the cache on your own, sign the phyiscal log in the cache, and then log the find in the app on your phone or on your account.

The amount of effort those who hide the caches put in to make sure they don’t get accidentally found (Muggled) is, in some cases, amazing. I’ve found caches smaller than a dime J.B. Welded to the back of a rock that barely have room for the shred of paper that serves as the log, to ceramic lawn decorations, fake spare key rocks, and even a small cache in a fake asparagus stalk. By far, most of the caches are magnetized key holders or small tupperware containers, favored for being strong and waterproof. Geocaching in Arizona seems to be an exercise in durability.

The fun part of this game, for me, is that it forces you to look, to really look, at your surroundings. A lamp post doesn’t just hold up the light, a bus stop could hold more than just a place to sit, and that road sign can be doing more than directing drivers to a turn lane. In this case, the journey really is more important than the destination. And I finally found something I can do with some of those old MicroMachines that are still on my bookcase.

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For more information: geocaching.com, wikipedia

Life

Coffee shop ramblings

I was spending my Sunday morning at Songbird Cafe as is my ritual, when a large eclectic group of twenty-somethings rode up on their even-more-eclectic collection of bikes, circling the front of the building in a single-file line like Native American warriors in an old western. The descended on the coffee shop, dismounted, and wheeled their bikes in the front door, quickly tripling the number of customers in the room.

Given that Songbird isn’t that large and that I had forgotten my headphones, it was impossible not to overhear some of their conversations. I learned that this particular group of pedal pushers was part of Phoenix Spokes People. I hadn’t heard of the group before, but a quick read through their web site gave me the highlights.

They are a local cycling group, dedicated to making Phoenix a better place to ride, both for fun but also as viable day to day transportation. They work to raise awareness of the issue of bicycle safety and accessibility, and speak at City of Phoenix budget hearings towards that end.

So while they get together and bike for fun (although two hours in this mornings humidity suggests otherwise to me), they also work to make their city a better place.

Another conversation sprung up between friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and rather than the typical “just working,’ ya know” response I tend to give to the “what have you been up to?” question, this young man explained that he’s been dedicating his time to bringing the largest green and sustainable living event in the US to Phoenix in 2015…or something to that effect.

Behind me, I overheard someone chatting up a new-to-Phoenix transplant, who had moved into the slowly revitalizing downtown area. Whoever he was talking to was excitedly talking about the cool network of independent coffee shops and cafes in the area, and he explained that he had actually chosen to live in this area because of spots like Jobot and Songbird. They made suggestion after suggestion to add to his list of locally-owned shops and foods to try, referencing the handy Phoenix Coffee Culture poster on the wall. Turns out she was involved in the design or production of the posters.

I decided to vacate the couch so three other people could sit down, and find someplace more quiet to continue whittling down the weekend reading list.

And also not feel badly about just sitting there not contributing to the world.

Would you like a side of activism with your cappuccino?

I drove north for a bit, and ended up at Giant Coffee.  I took the open parking spot right in front of the door as a sign. Once inside, it wasn’t much quieter, as the long table in the middle was occupied by a growing group of six or eight boisterous guys working on an upcoming community event.

Doesn’t anybody just sleep in on Sunday mornings anymore?

As I sit here, a new feeling begins to creep in… brought on by all these young people dedicated to these various causes, working for a better community, excitedly optimistic and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

The feeling is that I am living in the wrong time.

Not like those who say “I should have lived in Colonial times,” or “I would have been a great knight,” because, well, the Dark Ages and dysentery and all that. But sometimes I feel like I missed my ideal time by about 20 years.

I love most of the things about the current state of our civilized life, at least the ones that don’t have to do with better ways to kill each other from a distance. Our technology is amazing and always improving. It’s unheard of anymore that a disease wipes out entire generations or groups. We can put frozen ingredients into a microwave and a meal comes out. Electric cars. Smartphones. The internet.

I just feel like…what else is coming? What if I was twenty years old today and had this world at my fingertips? What could I do if this was where I started?

I’d like to think I would be involved like the Millennials, but who knows. For every hyper-involved community-minded young person there are probably fifty who sit at their computer and play video games and eat Funyuns all day. Statistically it makes more sense that I would have been in that number.

Because I kind of like Funyuns.

Last night we celebrated my grandmothers 90th birthday, surrounded by friends and family. I’m curious if she ever feels/felt that way. Does she ever imagine what her life would have been like if she had been born into the sixties, or the eighties, or today?

She’s seen so much in her lifetime, I can’t help but wonder if there were times when she saw nothing but potential in the world around her. Maybe that thought crossed her mind when she saw the moon landing, or perhaps in the eighties when the artificial heart was invented? Today those are old news, but back then, those events would have certainly left me thinking the world was amazing, and that things could only get better from there.

Also at the table was a couple of my younger cousins from the other side of the country. The youngest, a talented photographer who happens to be a sophomore in high school, just got back from a trip to India, of which one of the highlights was getting to see the Dalai Lama celebrate his birthday.

His older brother is in college now, but a few years ago, he went to Thailand and worked with an organization that smuggles children across a border so they could attend school during the day, then sneak back into their home province at night.

In high school I was a worked at Red Lobster, primarily for car insurance money. Saving and/or travelling the world wasn’t even on my radar. Even when I got to college, the whole plan was to just graduate and get a good enough job to pay back my student loans.

Ah, yes, big dreams, had I.

What it took was getting a corporate job, and I was lucky to get it. But with that security comes a cubicle and punching a time card and dealing with layers of management to get anything done. It only requires you give in, little by little, until you look back at your life and know you spent a large percentage making no difference in the world other than increasing your 401k balance. It’s still the old way of thinking; find a good job, at a good company, and stay there forever.

Then, when you’re done working, then go do something you’re passionate about.

You know, with the years you have left.

Today’s young people don’t even see that as an option; it probably never even crosses their minds. I guess that’s what happens when you’re still in school and are told that the chance of finding a job in your field when you graduate is slim. Might as well find something you’re passionate about to dedicate your life to while you’re riding out the student loan clock, right? I suppose the added carrot on the end of the stick is that if you’re really lucky and the stars align, that which you’re passionate could become your career.

I know every generation probably says this, but the youth of today have so many opportunities to make a difference if they really want to. It seems like you can’t shake an organic stick in any direction without hitting some community action group that’s striving to make Phoenix or Arizona or the world a better place to live.

And then there was this light bulb moment

A thought just occurred to me: maybe this feeling isn’t about being born too soon. Perhaps this is just the mindset that comes with age. Maybe this is as simple as just subconciously wishing I was a bit younger, just starting out, with this version of the world at my doorstep. Maybe this feeling is just nostalgia for a time when one had the freedom to act on what they really wanted to be doing, as opposed to what the responsible adult decision would be.

Because, if you know where to look, it isn’t difficult to see the potential in a world primed for change. Sure, maybe it won’t be the same as when we were younger, but like they say, it’s never too late to get involved, or work to make a difference.

It’s just up to us to get off the couch and join the cause, whatever that cause may be.

Arizona · Welding

State of Arizona Wall Art

Outside of the normal project list from my welding class, I decided that I wanted to try doing an electrical piece. Having previously come up with an illustration that I thought would look great on a coffee shop wall, I wanted to incorporate it into a welding project somehow.

StateLightLogo

After creating a box by folding the edges of a rectangle in and welding the corners, I cut the Arizona state outline out with a plasma cutter, then finished by removing the star over Phoenix. Distressing the sheet metal with multiple applications of a mixture of Hydrogen Peroxide and vinegar seemed like the best way to achieve the deep rust I was looking for without needing to purchase any kind of acid or harsh chemicals.

After getting the surface as textured as I wanted it, I epoxied a Dioder LED light set onto the back of the steel so it would reflect off the polished copper sheet that was bolted on last.

Unlit
Detail of the rust.

In low light, the LEDs shine brightly, highlighting the copper.

 

Illuminated, over my desk
Illuminated, over my desk

The piece is currently hanging in my office. If I had gotten my ducks in a row before the Practical Art Summer Group Show deadline, I would have submitted it to the competition…I think it could have been pretty well received. I guess there’s always next year.