We're donating $10,000 to the cause

The Groundspeak Lackeys entered the DARPA Balloon Network Challenge on December 5, 2009. In the end we didn't win the $40,000 for charity, but we're still donating $10,000 of our own money to DonorsChoose.org programs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Attention to Detail

Yes. We found 8 balloons. But no, we were only listed as having 7 correct balloons in the final standings. Why is that, you may ask? Data entry error! Oh horror!

Today I had a nice chat with Jay, one of the DARPA representatives who asked me questions about our team's strategy. He also managed balloon #8 in Katy, Texas and met the first finders who were local geocachers. Apparently the second place group was missing #8, so it may have been the linchpin location for the challenge.

When I asked him about the results he indicated we were in the top 10, but with only 7 correct balloon finds. When I asked what balloon was incorrect other than #5 and #6, he responded with the #7 balloon in Delaware. Really? Not only did we have that early, we had a second group of geocachers verify the location.

After checking our numbers I realized that our coordinates were off slightly due to a typo. Instead of 36, we had 35, which made the coordinates off by 1.15 miles. If it had been within 1 mile we would have been safe, but we had the exact coordinates.

It goes to show that you should always double, triple and quadruple check your answers. In the end the wrong coordinates didn't cost us the challenge, but it certainly put egg on our faces.

To end on a fun note, one of the benefits of having such a strong community is that we could verify if some balloons were fake. This was the best fake of the day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

After the Challenge, What Have We Learned?

After a couple of days mulling over Saturday's challenge, I wanted to share some of the things we learned.

What Worked

  1. Geocachers - This was our not so secret sauce for the competition. Our community of GPS enthusiasts already have the travel bug, so it made sense that it would help in a spotting competition
  2. Instant Cache Notifications - We sparingly used the Instant Cache Notification feature of the site to enlist geocachers on the ground. Our ability to inform geocachers of potential balloon sites helped us verify or disprove locations.
  3. Groundspeak Lackeys - I was impressed with the strong showing of Groundspeak Lackeys (employees) willing to come in on Saturday at such short notice to work on the challenge. We had over 10 balloonies at one point in the day.
  4. Social Engineering - At one point we started calling nearby buildings to verify some balloon sightings. This worked exceptionally well as long as you said the right things. We weren't the only ones doing this since some people we called said they were called by others about the challenge.
  5. Microsoft Excel - We were showing tweets on the big screen which turned out to be pretty useless. Drew switched to his computer and put up an Excel Spreadsheet listing all of the information we knew and what we were working on. It turned out to be invaluable.
  6. Fat Tire and Banana Muffins - Beer (Thanks Sara!), enjoyed responsibly, can make a Saturday challenge much more enjoyable. Doubly so with Banana muffins (thanks Sandy!)

What Didn't Work

  1. Last Minute Planning - We found out about the challenge late Tuesday and didn't decide to participate until Thursday. Since a large part of our strategy was to enlist the aid of geocachers, it didn't give us much time to rally the troops. Many other teams had a month (or more) to prepare.
  2. Altruism - In the end, MIT's profit sharing strategy likely made the difference between us winning and losing. We did, however, receive information from Craig due to the charity we selected, so it is questionable whether we can't win with a completely altruistic goal.
  3. Lack of Good Tools - I felt a bit like John Henry during the challenge. For the most part we were relying less on creating an ad-hoc network than using our community. MIT's steam powered hammer, machine learning, didn't beat us handily but it likely made the difference.

What We Learned

The biggest is that geocachers are an asset for good.We need to find better ways to mobilize our community for fun projects like this, but also for good deeds. Like Reverse 911, we should have an opt-in system for geocachers who want to be notified of these games, of emergencies, or both. We'll be exploring this idea further in the coming months.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Congratulations to MIT (and to Geocachers!)

If you have looked at the DARPA Network Challenge Web Site, MIT was declared the winner with 10 out of 10 balloon sightings entered correctly. We couldn't have lost to a better competitor!

Although we did not win we were able to find a respectable 8 out of the 10 balloons. In the end, Memphis and Miami were the two missing locations.

Really, the efforts of the geocaching community were nothing short of amazing. We had several First to Finds, and I expect that the DARPA folks were more than impressed. They now know quite a bit about the capabilities of this army of GPS enthusiasts.

Regardless of the results, the contributions of the community can't go unrewarded. Therefore the Groundspeak Lackeys have decided to go ahead and donate our own $10,000 to DonorsChoose.org programs. We'll be selecting geocaching program requests over the next couple of weeks to make sure teachers have the equipment they need. You are more than welcome to join us in donating to the cause.


Closing down the War Room for the day

Thanks for all your help out there today cachers! We're certain of 7 of our balloons, thanks to your coordinates, but still searching for a few more.

The War Room will be shutting down for the day but keep researching, especially for those toughies. We will be checking in sporadically, so feel free to continue posting here, emailing us at darpa@groundspeak.com and DMing us on our Twitter page www.twitter.com/10balloonies.

Thanks again, and happy caching!

Slow News on the Final Balloons

I'm on my way out, but the rest of the Lackeys are on the job tracking down the final locations. Thanks again to everyone who has helped us nab, perhaps, 8 balloons (though we're working on confirmations!). And if you spot any additional information, send updates to darpa@groundspeak.com

- Jeremy

Team Lackey

Here's a picture of most of the Groundspeak Lackey team. We have already exceeded all expectations for the challenge.

Thanks to everyone who is participating in winning the prize for DonorsChoose.org! We're still tracking down #5, #6 and #10, so if you have any ideas, let us know!

There have been quite a few reports of red balloons. Keep in mind we're looking for DARPA red balloons. If your child is having a birthday party and likes red balloons, no need to send your pictures.

This one was nicely submitted by a geocacher who looked for a red balloon that turned out to be a nice attractant to a cellular phone store. The ones we are looking for have a number, and most have a DARPA flag.

Thanks! The Groundspeak Lackey War Room

We Have #1! #10 Looks Like a Bust

We thought we had a good lead on the #10 balloon but one of the geocachers on the ground was unable to confirm it. However, we were able to confirm #1 and are closing down on #5. Great work geocachers!

East Coast balloons down, 3 more to go

As DARPA sends down their East Coast balloons, geocachers have been on the march across the country with their GPS units hunting down red balloons. We have 7 confirmed balloons so far, and we're still looking. Thanks for all of your help out there!

If you see a red balloon, please send us the coordinates, a picture (if possible) and the number of the balloon to darpa@groundspeak.com.

Following Several Leads, but #2 is Confirmed!

We're up to 6 confirmed balloons, so we submitted the ones we know and are following up leads for the others. Fantastic work geocachers (and soon to be geocachers... right Craig?)

5 Balloons! 5 to Go.

We just had confirmed reports of #8, so we're at the halfway mark in the search. If you look to the left you can see the confirmed balloon numbers. We just received some info about #2, so we'll verify that and get it logged in. #2 was submitted by a non-geocacher who just liked the charity. Thanks Craig!

Logged from the Field

This was submitted by a geocacher who went out to verify the #4 balloon. After the contest we'll be sure to give proper appreciation to one of our own. All we need is 5 confirmed balloons to lock in our chances if all 10 can't be found by the end of the promotion. Wish us luck!

4 Balloons Found!

We're three hours into the challenge and we have confirmed 4 balloons! As you can see to the left of the main page, we're filling in the balloons and their numbers as we confirm them. Geocachers have confirmed them and have said hello to DARPA employees manning the balloons. 6 to go!

Possible sightings

We are monitoring the social networks and are hearing lots of balloon reports on Twitter. We know that some are real, some are misinformation. Some of the locations we think are most likely:

Portland, OR (Waterfront Park)

Portland, Maine

Irvine, CA (Irvine Spectrum)

Louisville, KY (near Dixie Highway)

Other possibilities:

Dimmick Park (State?)

Oakland Cemetary (State?)

Brunswick, CT

If you want to help us confirm any of these sightings, please email darpa@groundspeak.com.

P.S. Are you having fun yet?

Playing it Slow and Steady

We're into the second hour of the DARPA challenge and, although we are getting some reports, they're all second-hand, such as:

- Portland, ME (via Twitter)
- St Paul, MN (also via Twitter)

There were others, but these were the least manufactured sightings.

Our goal is to play it slow and steady, so unless we can absolutely confirm the locations, we won't color in the balloons. In the first couple of hours we'll just follow the Twitter streams to see how the $$ is influencing the reports.

Some early observations:
  • Some competitors are sending every report from their site as a tweet. It just ends up being spam for the Twitter feeds since the information isn't helpful (just "we received a report"). I could post a report to a random location and make them send a Twitter post.
  • We're enjoying the folks that are posting to their friends "Send me an email if you see a red balloon" without any explanation. These are some great opportunists. Do you plan to share your winnings? Playa please.
  • A few fake accounts cropping up on Twitter with "LOL. I JUST SAW A BALOON IN TOPEKA!" and other inane messages. Ban, block, and move on.
  • We'll only have a short amount of time to "task" geocachers to verify balloons, but this will be the fun part. The hope is we can get a few geocachers to get their pictures taken with the balloon tender. That's a "win" in our book.

Balloons... Up Up and... Tethered!

The DARPA Network Challenge has begun! Thanks to everyone who let us know that their eyes will be in the sky while out geocaching. We'll send status updates when we get them.

Already strategies are revealing themselves in the competition.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Welcome Geocachers!

A big welcome to those who came to the site due to the addendum to the Weekly Mailer. My hope is that you will find this to be a fun activity for you. Or at the very least you can follow our fumbles as we attempt to locate the balloons before the rest of the Internet. (good luck)

Some quick tidbits:

From the DARPA site, all balloons are scheduled to go on display at all locations at 10:00 AM (ET) until approximately 4:00 PM (local time) on Saturday, December 5, 2009. The launches will occur simultaneously across the country. Balloons will come down at approximately 4:00 PM. (This means I'm getting up early)

Balloons are numbered and each number hangs beneath the balloon. Thanks to the mad CSS skills of our fellow Lackey, Thom, and our designer Mike, the balloons in this blog will fill in red as we verify their locations. Verification will be key for each balloon since we expect a lot of misinformation on the Internet. You'll know each balloon number as we find them but not the location.

We'll be using various tools to get the word out about our progress. Some we'll create and quickly dump if they don't work. Some we'll use internally to manage and disseminate information.

We'll share a little but we do want to keep some information from being broadly known. So we're not planning to be transparent. We'll be more, uh, translucent.

APB Going out Today to Enlist Geocachers

We have a significant email list for our weekly notifications, so we're sending an APB out to all geocachers to get involved. In addition we have posted the contents of the email in our forums so people can read and comment on the challenge.

What defines success for Groundspeak and geocachers?

Our feeling is that we have a large community of hiders and seekers that thrive on these kinds of projects. With the size and reach of the geocaching community we think we have a real possibility of winning the prize. If we don't win the money, however, we still feel that there are many fun successes we could achieve, like:

1. Geocachers could take a picture of one or more of the 10 balloons. This heralds back to Project APE in 2001 where almost all of the 13 caches were found within the day. We didn't have nearly as many participants in geocaching that we have today.

2. Geocachers spot one or more balloons and send us the coordinates before anyone else. Unlike other competing groups we have a broad community with a bigger network than AT&T. (Ok, not that big)

And as a worst case scenario, we raise awareness of geocaching as a fun, outdoor activity.

Geocachers do it with latitude. If anyone knows how to work GPS coordinates and find things, we do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Enlisting Geocachers for the DARPA Challenge

As part of the nationwide DARPA event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Interwebs, we're enlisting geocachers to be part of a fun social networking/GPS technology challenge. The challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The winner will receive $40,000. If Groundspeak wins the challenge we will throw in another $10,000 of our own money and the full $50,000 prize will go to schools that need GPS equipment through donorschoose.org.

This Saturday, December 5th, a group of Groundspeak Lackeys will meet up in the DARPA War Room at Groundspeak's Headquarters to gather information online of the possible locations of the 10 weather balloons. We hope you will follow our attempts to win the challenge and help us along the way by gathering information both online and on the ground.

How Can I Get Involved?

We expect that there will be a lot of wild rumors being shared across the Internet. Some will be actual sightings and others will be fake leads by people either competing in the challenge or just having fun.

Our secret weapon is an army of GPS enthusiasts around the world who we know and trust. In other words, YOU! We'll be taking some liberties to enlist your help for a good cause.

Are you up for it? If so, follow this Blog and expect a flurry of updates on Saturday as we spend a part of our weekend trying to claim the prize for teachers and students.