Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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.
Monday, December 7, 2009
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 LearnedThe 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
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.
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!
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 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)
Irvine, CA (Irvine Spectrum)
Louisville, KY (near Dixie Highway)
Dimmick Park (State?)
Oakland Cemetary (State?)
If you want to help us confirm any of these sightings, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Are you having fun yet?
- 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.
Already strategies are revealing themselves in the competition.
Friday, December 4, 2009
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.
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
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.