2006-04-24

Geocaching - My Clean-up Event

I ran my second geocaching event yesterday. The last one was just a general get-together. This one was a special clean-up event.
The main geocache site, geocaching.com, promotes both regular clean-up whenever caching and a special day once a year for a major international clean-up on Earth day. They call the clean-up a CITO, for Cache-In, Trash-Out.
During my first event, a number of people in the area indicated they would prefer a clean-up event that did not occur on the Earth-day on Saturday. Many people can't make Saturday events. Also by having it on a different day, it would allow Geocachers to do the Earth-day/Saturday event up in Denver on Saturday and then do another one on Sunday.

It took me a few tries - but I got in touch with the parks department. They asked where I would like to clean up. I figured with all the different places that I knew people would be coming from, that somewhere around downtown Colorado Springs heading West towards Manatou Springs would be pretty centralized. They had just the spot - a new trail called Midland Trail, which literally starts at the edge of downtown and heads 2 miles West paralleling the highway that leads to Manatou Springs.
It seems the parks department doesn't like geocaching very much. There is an uneasy truce with the parks department now - for most parks, they pretend that there aren't geocaches placed against the rules. I hope this puts us on better standing with them.

One end of the trail starts at a new park and playground, near downtown. When I checked out the trail it wasn't that dirty, but it seemed like there was some to clean up. It seemed to make sense to start at the other end of the trail and work towards the playground - that way the kids would have something to look forward to. It turned out well, as there was a pavilion that we were able to get out of the sun while we visited and had an prize ceremony.

I planned the event to start at noon - I chose a restaurant - I was in the mood for a burrito, so I chose a Chipotle restaurant downtown a few blocks from the park.
Then I had people meet at 1:30 at the park, to carpool over to the other end of the trail starting about 1:45 - with the clean up starting at 2:00.
I posted that the clean up would end at 3:30 and that would be the prize time. Afterwards people could get a ride back to the vehicles left at the other end.

As usual, I didn't give myself quite enough prep time - and overslept the morning of the event. But my wife helped cover some of the coordination, so I was able to set up the contest at the last minute - by riding my bike up the trail and meeting everyone at the western end right at 2:00.
As I looked up the street, I saw a group that looked at least twice as big as I expected heading for the trail. This was so cool!

I stayed behind to help get the western trailhead clean at first. Then I headed up the trail, with a cooler of water bottles, hand cleaner and extra trash bags - on a luggage cart. I caught up with a rear group of 4. They were spending a lot of time really getting the trail clean. They were surprised at how much the main group had left. I guess my contest backfired a little, as a large part of the group was just going for points. Oh, well - it added to the fun. And it made me appreciate those who worked harder. I had a few points that I hadn't used up, so I was able to place it so the rear guard got some too :)

My middle boy came back to get me and get some water about halfway. I was surprised, as I thought he was with my eldest. But I was glad to have his company. We did some more cleaning and some more points, then we moved on to get to the end of the trail. There was one spot that I wished I could have spent a little more time cleaning small trash - but I was getting hot and wanted to make it back to the park in time. I got to the pavilion in the park 1 minute early - I'd said 3:30, and I was there at 3:29. I was amazed at how well the timing worked out. I'd just given rough guesses for timing - but it all worked fantastically!

I would say that the second event I have run was as big a success if not more. Reading the log entries that people wrote, I was proud and satisfied with how it went.

My geocaching blog entry about the log entries that others made
My geocaching blog entry about the event, and my log entry, with pictures

2006-04-06

Laptop Sound

I've been living without sound on my Toshiba laptop since last summer.
When I opened it up, I found the sound card was this tiny board, maybe 2 inches by a half inch. And it has this plug-in to the motherboard. The connector on the motherboard had come loose. Considering that plugging in earphones would cause mechanical stress on this top board, it almost seems inevitable that this connector would break on the motherboard or sound card. This should have been right on the motherboard or connected with a ribbon connector. There are a number of other ribbon connectors in the laptop, so it is already a workable solution.

At first it just worked oddly - sometimes the sound would work, sometimes it would make odd noises - sometimes it didn't work. And of course this happened after the unit was out of warranty. I can only imagine that if I took it in to be fixed, the answer would be to replace the motherboard. A motherboard and labor - I can only imagine this would cost nearly as much as a new laptop.

So I opened it up. I was able to get it to work again twice before. But both times, it stopped working. The last time I tried, I couldn't get it to work again. And the track-pointer has been acting oddly since then. Good thing I use an external mouse with it most of the time.

There was another solution. Not too long ago, they started selling a PC/MCIA (laptop card port) sounds card. But all the sites listed the cost at around $100 dollars. At best I've seen low $90s before shipping. Most weekends I browse the tech-store circulars. I never got to it this past weekend.

Last night I was running some errands. I'd offered to pick up raffle tickets for the next geocache meeting. I figured an office store would be a good bet. I stopped in at the local OfficeMax. With a little help, I found the raffle tickets. Boy that is a big roll! It should keep us busy through 2020. On my way down the isles, I peaked at the cabinet where they keep computer add-in cards. I looked for the laptop sound card. I'd been hoping that at some point before next month that the card would drop down $10. We want to set up a lan party on the side at my son's big birthday party. My computer needs working sound for that.
Looking in the case, I spot the card. It has a yellow sale tag. Down from $99.99, Down to $54.99. Wow! That is a fantastic deal! So I grabbed the next sales person and asked him to get it out for me.

I got it home and installed it. It took a long time to install all the software it wanted to add. Then I had to reboot. There was a break to read some bed-time stories. Then I got back and logged back on. I plugged in the earphone. Nothing. Tried the other port. Ahh - SOUND!!! Yay!!!

The laptop built-in sound had a nice feature, a little thumb-wheel to control the volume. With the new card, it is only soft settings. Also, of course, the card is not able to play through the built-in speakers. I'd figured on that - and that I'll have to open it up and hack into the speakers, putting a little plug wire in for the card. The only other choice is external speakers. Maybe for the lan-party I'll do that - but not for a long term solution.

There is one more drawback. While the card itself is standard type-1 height (a type-1 card is usually small enough that 2 type-1 cards can fit in a standard laptop) - then end of the card is bigger. It has to sit in the lower half of the slot, and doesn't leave enough room for a second card. I already have a card that I used to download my memory card for my digital pictures. This means that now I will have to swap out the sound card to load the picture card into my laptop.

But it is worth it to get sound again from my laptop! I tried a DVD. I know in theory that it should play a DVD, but I didn't know if there were any issues. It played the DVD - the sound was much louder. This is good news if I want to watch a movie on a plane. And now I can use it as a T-Pod again if I want to.

T-Pod - my version of an iPod. Putting my laptop in it's backpack as a training weight for hiking, and being able to use it as a hard drive-MP3 player.

2006-04-03

The Tax Man Comith

For a change we got our taxes done early. Early being 2 weeks before the deadline. The last 2 years, things were crazy enough that we wound up filing extensions.

But this year we did our taxes on the most appropriate day of the year: April Fools Day - April 1st. Somehow it seems appropriate to me. I'm just not sure who is being made a bigger fool. Trying to read tax code, I think it is me!

I'm not big on April Fools. It seems way too easy for people to be unnecessarily mean - and it seems like meanness can only escalate until someone gets upset.

The one little joke I played was I told my son he didn't have to clear the table. When he asked 'really', I replied 'April Fools'. That is about as far as I like to go. No long suspense. No elaborate lies. No major emotional plays. Just a tiny bit of quick teasing once.

2006-04-02

New Fab Four?

I was musing about 'The Who' Music used on CSI and on the reference to the guy on the show who was collection famous dead people's picture, saying that he was going to put it next to his Entwistle. I laughed at the connection between the musician from the group that does their theme music.

And it reminded me of the morbid joke about getting the Beatles back together, when there were still 3 of them. The joke went it would take 3 more bullets. Ouch :)

Then I realize both The Beatles and The Who are down 2 members. So between the 2 groups they have just the right number to make a new fab-four group. :)

Then the topic became what would the new group be called?
I think the best that came up was The Weavels.

A little hard - a little soft - introducing those new old guys from the UK: The Weavels! :)