Geocaching Plague

It’s been almost eighteen months since I’ve seriously geocached, although surprisingly I am still ranked in the top 1000 of all cachers worldwide (#991 as of last week). The main reasons I put the “sport” on hold all centered around the local community; the mega-cachers were arrogant about their influence in the game, the quality of the caches plummeted with regard to size and location, and the ridiculous proliferation of geocaches made creating anything new or innovative almost impossible since every decent location was already taken by micro- or nano-caches.

While I have just started to get back into the fray and find a few and cannot yet speak to today’s cache quality, I can unequivocally say that micros (cache containers around the size of a film canister or smaller) are still unfortunately all the rage, and the density of hidden caches is higher than ever.

Even though I had been in hiatus, every day — almost without fail — my custom software continued to accumulate data about local geocaches under the assumption that I would eventually pick up the game again. Occasionally, I would load the data into my GPS and Palm Pilot, maybe find one or two caches, and then hang them up again for a few months. Each time I did that, I saved the tracks and waypoints. I happened to look a little closer this month at the results.

Cache Proliferation

Each of the above four images represents a map of what I have coined “cache forests” — a group of at least five geocaches that exist within a half-mile radius of each other. The leftmost image is taken from data eighteen months old; the high-density forests, or clumps of caches, were found mainly in large regional parks. A year ago, as you can see in the second image, those large rural parks became even more populated and smaller urban parks were also beginning to see some saturation. Six months ago, the geocaching world seemed to go crazy and the heart of the high-tech region of Silicon Valley exploded with geocaches. Today it is even worse, as the fourth image shows the main high-tech center of California completely smothered in caches.


Today, 37% of the cache forests consist of micros, surprisingly almost the exact same percentage seen a year and a half ago. The biggest problem with micros is that the only people who actually like finding them are those who have been caching a long time and are striving to have the biggest number of finds, i.e. the mega-cachers, and it is through their poor examples that relative newcomers make the same mistake of hiding micro-caches. I have yet to find a geocaching newbie or kid who likes them; they are more likely to express dismay or disgust at finding such. These annoyingly small caches are rarely in an interesting location, and they rarely contain anything larger than a minute log sheet — nothing to capture the attention or delight of a young child.

The folks at Groundspeak, the commercial entity behind the website, need to crack down and enforce the rules and guidelines they set in place. It is not acceptable to place caches less than 528 feet apart for any reason; two caches I found today where in the same park, 338 feet part. For that matter, it is not acceptable to place geocaches every 500 feet along a road or trail. It is not acceptable to place a micro- or nano-cache in a place where a standard-sized cache could be placed instead. Parking lot and parking garage caches should be abolished. If a geocache must be magnetized to something to conceal it, if it cannot hold a travel bug, or if a standard pen or pencil won’t fit — the cache is too small.

Stop Aid to California Salmon Fisheries

Hundreds of salmon fisherman demonstrated on the Oregon coast earlier this week, calling for immediate federal disaster relief. A decrease in spawning by the Klamath River salmon — which resulted in lower populations than mandated by federal fisheries managers — led to the virtual shut down of commercial salmon fishing along the Oregon and California coasts. Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio (no relation to Laverne) likened the salmon fishermen as “farmers of the sea”, calling for Congressional support of aid packages.

This is not a disaster! I doubt DeFazio really believes these aid packages are necessary; he’s probably smart enough to realize that the forces of economics are actively dictating that some of these fishers should seek financial gains elsewhere, not relying on a dying or currently severely impaired industry. Unfortunately, the rabid pursuit of future local votes has clouded his (and other equally blind politicians’) judgment.

When the dotcom bust of Silicon Valley took its biggest toll from 2001 through 2003, you didn’t see groups of out-of-work software developers staging rallies in support of free federal aid. Your professional life and its successes and failure are all about the gamble of personal decisions: if you choose to be a software developer and live in the Silicon Valley, expect to be laid off and jobless during downturns; if you’re a farmer in the mid-West, expect economic hardships because of poor crop yields, insect plagues, or an oversaturation of the market; and if you’re a salmon fisherman, expect that fishing will be extremely limited in years after river waters have been diverted and dammed for drinking water and irrigation.

It’s not like this was a surprise. NOAA has projected for the past three years that wild chinook salmon from the Klamath River would return to spawn in numbers below minimums set by federal fisheries managers. The Klamath has been beset for years with problems over allocating scarce water between farms and fish, poor water quality and poor fish habitat. Four dams block salmon from 300 miles of river. And now there’s a shortage of wild salmon? Go figure…

The coastal salmon “farmers of the sea” absolutely should not be subsidized, which is what the requested aid packages really represent. Neither should land farmers. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that taxpayers shelled out an expected $26 billion in direct agricultural subsidies in fiscal year 2005. It is only the richest farmers that get subsidies anyway, and thanks to the current abuses in the system, now every farmer facing a mild economic disaster assume they have a divine right to free aid. Take, for instance, Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the largest single recipient of farm welfare. In 2003, it received $68.9 million in subsidies for producing rice, soybeans, wheat, and corn — more than all the farmers in Rhode Island, Hawaii, Alaska, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and New Jersey combined!

New Zealand and Australia are doing the right thing and are setting an example the United States should follow. After eliminating subsidies, some farms have gone out of business as expected, but many others have changed their operations to meet other consumer demands. The result has been not a massive downsizing of the industries but a surge of innovation, productivity, and output.

Instead of demonstrating for free federal money, suck it up, stop whinging about how your family has been fishers for some arbitrary number of generations, and just find something else to do.

The Lug Nut Rule Explained

There is an old adage, “He, who has the most lug nuts, wins.”

In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that concluded that “the downweighting and downsizing that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of which was due to CAFE standards, probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993.” CAFE’s goal was to require automobile companies to meet fuel mileage standards averaged over the entire fleet of cars sold, under the assumption that the United States would benefit if drivers used (and therefore imported) less oil. Between 1990 and 1996, the statutory mandate set the level of average fuel efficiency to a minimum of 27.5 miles per gallon. Of course, the laws of physics involving inertia, rolling resistance, and wind resistance dictate that it’s far easier to get high mileage from small cars than it is from large ones.

Smaller, lighter cars don’t need the high horsepower engines of larger, heavier vehicles, plus smaller cars usually sport smaller rims. The wheel assemblies on smaller cars therefore do not need to handle the high torque generated by large engines. Manufacturers, trying to make smaller cars lighter and cheaper, use the lower torque requirements to justify using fewer or smaller bolts. A typical two-ton vehicle can have ten or more lug nuts, a three-quarter-ton pickup might have eight, a half-ton pickup or SUV usually has six lug nuts, and most passengers cars have four or five.

So, using the lug nut test to determine who wins means that a 1,830-pound Renault LeCar (3 lug nuts per wheel) loses to a 2,300-pound Honda Accord (4 lug nuts), an Accord loses to a 3,300-pound Toyota Camry (5 lug nuts), a Camry loses to a 3,600-pound Saturn Vue (6 lug nuts), a Vue loses to a 5,200-pound Chevy Suburban 2500, 6,400-pound Hummer H2, or 9,200-pound Ford Excursion (all of which have 8 lug nuts standard), and just about everyone loses to a big rig or passenger bus (at least 10 lug nuts per wheel).

Most pedestrians don’t carry lug nuts, so they lose by default.

An Exception to the Rule

Photo @ Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG

The $440,000, 3,043-pound 2005 Porsche Carrera GT is perhaps one of the few exceptions to the rule. With no true lug nuts at all (only a single titanium lug bolt per wheel), the sports car weighs about 700 pounds more than my 1996 Saturn SL2 with itsĀ four lug nuts per wheel.

While I may lose any real collision with the heavier GT at least I can rest in peace knowing the owner will be paying for it for a long time — just one headlight assembly on the carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic body of the GT probably costs more than my entire car is worth, and the owner will have to ship the GT back to the factory in Leipzig, Germany, to get it fixed.

Walk carefully, and carry a set of lug nuts in your pocket!