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Munzee – Geocaching with QR Codes

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click this link.

The evolution of the geolocation stashing game continues as technology advances. First, there was letterboxing. Created in Scotland in the 1850’s, it involved hiding a box somewhere then providing written clues on how/where to find it. It was 150 years before the next generation appeared – geocaching in 2000 – enabled by the Internet and GPS. Both of these activities involved finding a container and signing something in it. Now even that simple task has been rendered obsolete by techology.

Say “hello” to Munzee. It’s the latest entry into the geo-game realm – and it is very cool.

In letterboxing, you need a compass. In geocaching, you need a GPS device. In Munzee, you need a smart phone with the Munzee app and a QR code reader.

A Munzee

This is a Munzee. It’s a registered QR code on a sticker, a magnet or a tag. When you find it, you scan the code with your smart phone, digitally signing and recording the find via the Internet. How cool is that? You can make your own through the web site or you can buy them from Munzee, all ready to go. We ordered 50 stickers. It cost $17.50. No sign or guardrail is safe now.

The word Munzee comes from the German word “mûnze” (moonˊ-za) which means coin. Originally conceived using coins for game pieces, it evolved away from that but the name stuck.

Munzee has only been around since 2011. It’s the brain child of a group of hobby geeks in Dallas, TX. They originally thought of the idea in 2008 but QR technology wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Now apparently, it is.

Munzee on a sign

Munzee sticker on the back of a sign.

In many respects, Munzee is like geocaching (although none of the developers had ever geocached before). It uses GPS to place and track down the munzees. The entire gaming environment is run by a central web entity – munzee (dot) com. It does, however, have its own language. Munzees aren’t hidden – they’re deployed. Munzees aren’t found – they’re captured. People who play the game are called munzers. Munzers find deployed pieces on the Munzee web site, then track them down with the Munzee app on their smart phone. The capture is done through the app, which opens the QR reader for you.

Munzee capture

Natasha captures a munzee.

Although the parallels are obvious, so are the differences. Munzees can be hidden anywhere, including places where a geocache isn’t practical or allowed, like National Parks. That said, there are already hybrid geocaches that have a Munzee code inside it, so you can get both.

Munzee in a geocache

Munzee in a geocache.

The entire Munzee environment was designed with an eye towards competition and rewards. Munzers rack up points. Families, teams and corporations have had Munzee competitions. Businesses have seized on Munzees as a way to market themselves. Unlike a geocache, a Munzee can easily be put inside a business, which will bring munzers inside. Restaurants put them on menus. Boutiques put them on shelves. Some businesses offer discounts or deals for getting Munzee points at their establishment. Munzee has opened up a whole new world of possibilities previously unheard of in geo-games. Or, you can just go out and have a good time with it, which is what we do.

Consistent Internet connectivity is crucial to munzers. The game is played in real time. That’s why you won’t find any back country munzees – yet.

Munzee on a fence.

Coming soon to a fence post near you?

Developers are working feverishly to create an offline environment for Munzee. The results are encouraging. It is now possible to do a search for Munzees in an area, download them as GPX files and load them into a GPS device as geocaches. Then you disappear into the dead zone, locate them and capture the QR code. The find is queued up and sent when the Internet re-appears. This new capability will enable the deployment of Munzees anywhere. Here’s a link to a web-based search page that will do all that for you. It’s not yet a capability in the munzee (dot) com site. I expect that will change soon.

Also coming online are geocaching apps that will integrate munzees. CacheSense already does it. It’s the one smart phone app you can use to search for, locate and record both geocaches and munzees on the fly. Soon they’ll all be doing it or they won’t be in business anymore. Here’s a separate link to CacheSense for iPhone.

One other thing – munzee is free. You don’t pay anything for membership or the app.

So that’s Munzee in a nutshell. We just stumbled on to it five days ago. They were popping up on our CacheSense screen and we had no idea what they were. As soon as we tried it, we were hooked. It’s a natural extension of geocaching with some new twists. Now we do both. Give it a try. We think you’ll like it.

Munz on … Boris and Natasha

Intro to Geocaching – Getting Started

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I’ve gotten some questions and feedback on how to get started in geocaching, so I’m putting together a short series of four posts to point you  in the right direction.  This is the first one.  The second one will be on hardware.  The third one will be on software.  The fourth one will be on other equipment recommendations.  I can always add to the series so if you’ve got questions, comments or ideas, send them along.

Geocaching originated in Beavercreek, OR and has been around since May 3, 2000.  On that day, a computer engineer named Dave Ulmer hid a bucket in the woods and posted the latitude and longitude online in a GPS users’ group.  He called his new activity “The Great American Stashing Hunt.”  He did it to give his fellow GPS users a target to test the accuracy of their devices and had no idea what it would turn into.

A day later, fellow GPS enthusiast Mike Teague found it and posted his story on the group page.  Geocaching was born, although it didn’t get called that until several weeks later.

Today there are an estimated 5 million geocachers hunting 1.8 million geocaches in every country in the world, including Afghanistan and Antarctica.

Here’s a link to a geocaching dot com’s  history page.

Here’s a link to a good explanation and summary of geocaching on Wikipedia, including all the different kinds of caches and different organizations that list them.

Original geocache plaque

Dave Ulmer’s original stash is long gone, destroyed by a road crew. In its place, some geo-fanatics put this plaque with a geocache nearby in 2003. If you’re ever in the Beavercreek, OR area and want to stop at this holy shrine, the geocache is called “Original Stash Tribute Plaque”  on geocaching dot com.

Mainstream geocaching is the province of geocaching dot com, by far the biggest and most expansive geocaching site.  Starting out as a hobby site in 2000, it grew by leaps and bounds and is now run by a corporate entity called Groundspeak.  If you want to geocache, this is where you start.

To access full cache details, you have to register for a membership.  There are free memberships and premium (paid) memberships.  They cost $30 a year per account.  Here’s a link to a summary of the differences between them.  You can also register at that link.  If you just want to grab a few caches when you’re out doing something else or just try it out, a free membership should work just fine.  If you eventually migrate into caching at different places and need to to do searches remotely or along a route, you’ll want to go with the premium. You can also mix and match.  When I was geocaching with my kids, I had a premium account and they had free ones.

A geocaching membership also gives you access to waymarking dot com.   This useful tool has all kinds of destinations along with geocaches and benchmarks that are nearby.  It’s great for traveling and caching on the fly.  

There are other sites that list geocaches, such as Navicaching, Terracaching and Opencaching.  They require separate memberships but they’re free.  I’m signed on to them and a couple more but they simply don’t have the extensive cache lists and features that Groundspeak does.

Now you need something to geocache with.  If you have a smart phone, that may be all you need.

Geocaching technology has changed a lot in the last several years and smart phones have led the way.  Gone are the days of printing out cache sheets and sticking the serial GPS device out the window to get a signal.  Paperless caching is now the norm and smart phones enable geocaching on the fly, which was unheard of five years ago.

Smart phone geocaching apps can search, locate, map, list and log geocaches anywhere you have Internet connectivity.  They continue to proliferate and improve but they are only as good as the phone they are installed on – and not all phones are created equal.  Smart phone manufacturers have to make compromises in design, components and function to fit everything together.  Sometimes, the GPS function is a low priority. The GPS chip and/or the firmware may be slow and inaccurate.  It may be good on the Interstate highway but lousy on a back road.  The only way to know is to try it out and/or do some research.

The best way to get some background on geocaching phones is to do a Google search on “geocaching with (your phone model).”  There’s lots out there.

We’ve been through the wringer with phones.  Our Blackberry Storms were excellent.  Their GPS was fast and accurate. We geocached all over the country with them and used them until they literally wore out.  Next we got the Samsung Galaxy.  It was horrible.  We took them back and got the HTC Thunderbolt, which was the state of the art phone then.  It was horrible too.

That’s when I went on Google and ran down some information about phones.  Motorola phones use high grade GPS chips.  We traded in the HTC for the DroidX2 and have been very happy with them.

Luckenbach, TX

Our smart phone found the three geocaches in Luckenbach, TX but not Waylon, Willie and the boys. There’s more caches here than people – except on weekends.

I understand the i-phone is also quite good.

If you’ve got your phone, then it’s time to load a killer geocaching app.  If you have a Droid, the three best apps are CacheSense, Neongeo and c:geo.   The features of all three are pretty much the same – touch screens with color, searching, navigating, logging.  I give the edge to Cachesense for two reasons. 1)  It loads much faster than the other two  2) It has a feature that lets you create template messages for your logs.  All you have to do is click on found and the templated message is called up.  If you like it, send it.  No more typing on a tiny keyboard.   A lifetime license for CacheSense is $10.

Neongeo is very similar but without the message templates.  It is Android only and costs five bucks.  It’s developer is very active and responsive to the community.  He turns out new features on a regular basis, often in response to geocacher input.  Over the last year, Neongeo has taken the Droid geocaching world by storm.  It’s an excellent app.

C:geo is also very good and has been around the longest.  It was the first app to deliver live, real-time geocaching on the fly.  It’s an open source app that works on Android only. Its interfaces and features aren’t quite as rich as the other two but  only hard core cachers would notice the difference.  The fully functional version is free.  C:geo has two potential downsides.  It doesn’t work on iphones and they don’t get along with Groundspeak.   Rather than use Groundspeak’s programming API, they “web scrape” the data they need.   Groundspeak considers them a rogue element, but that’s a developer problem and doesn’t seem to affect the end user experience.  Before CacheSense and Neongeo came out, we used c:geo all the time.  It was way better than Groundspeak’s own app.  But there’s always the possibility that Groundspeak will run them out of town.  C:geo has a cult following of sorts. The continuing conflict between the two is kind of a geocaching soap opera.  Here’s a C:geo FAQ link with some good information about the whole thing.

You really can’t go wrong with any of these three.  There are lots of others out there.  App stores have dozens listed  and I’ve tried several of them. These are the only ones I would recommend.

The iphone has its own apps and there’s quite a list.  You’ll have to do some homework and testing but from a hardware standpoint, the iphone itself is a solid platform for geocaching.

Here’s a link to Groundspeak’s phone apps page.

One final note – if you have a free Groundspeak membership, they limit your smart phone downloads to three geocaches a day.  Premium membership is unlimited.

If you don’t have a smart phone or if the one you have is useless or if you plan to geocache in the wild, then you’ll need a dedicated handheld GPS device.  We’ll discuss those in our next post.

Good hunting …. The Cachemanian Devils

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