Archive | April 2012

Hunting Treasure In Your Own Back Yard


The first hike of 2012

Springtime in Colorado, and once again Mother Nature calls out to shrug off those winter blues, load up your day pack, and explore the majesty of the Rocky Mountains’ hundreds of miles of trails. Then she dumps a foot of snow on you.

But for those of us who eschew the stereotypical winter-time mountain activities for those less likely to involve jackass tourists and protruding bone fragments, we don’t care. We’ve been cooped up since October, gazing longingly at our boots neglected in the back of the closet, waiting for our chance. We’ve listened patiently as our friends talk about things like shredding, powder, and the advantages of titanium over steel surgical pins. Now it’s our turn, and we don’t care about the weather. Nor do we care that skinny guys with winter-white legs in hiking boots and cargo shorts are just one step up the dork ladder from rainbow suspenders and Crocs with tube socks. This is why we live here (for the hiking, not the chance to dress like a tool).

You may find, however, that not everyone in your household shares your enthusiasm. While our kids have grown to enjoy hiking as much as my wife and I, the idea of spending hours with mom and dad, just walking around outdoors, was initially met with something less than enthusiasm. Fortunately for us, we had recently taken up Geocaching together as a family, and were psyched to discover many of our prospective trails were peppered with caches. Geocache hikes have become one of my family’s favorite outdoor activities.

For those not familiar with it, Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online.

 

One of the beauties of Geocaching is that not only can it be an activity in itself, but you can also make it a part of nearly everything else you do as a family. Visiting family out-of-state? Introduce them to Geocaching and show them parts of their own hometown they’ve never seen. Mom taking a little too long at the salon? Whip out the smartphone and discover a hidden puzzle just a few blocks away. Soccer practice at the park? Stop yelling contradictory instructions while the coach is talking, grab your other kid that keeps running onto the field to play with his big brother, and go exploring.


Discovering buried treasure

Once you’ve found a few caches, and figured out which kind you like best, pick up some containers from Geocaching.com, your local sporting goods store, or just use what you have lying around the house, and have your kids make their own cache. They can range from magnetic nano caches the size of a bullet perfect for urban caching, to a five gallon bucket that can hold tons of swag. Choose a site that is close to home or work so you can maintain it, but hidden enough that muggles can’t accidentally stumble across it.
There is much more you can do with Geocaching including trackables that move from cache to cache, environmentally conscious activities like CITO (cache in, trash out), and community events. I’ve included some helpful links at the bottom.

Now, get out there and get caching, and remember to leave the area as nice as, or better than, you found it. Geocaching can teach kids to love nature, but it’s up to us to teach them to respect her…even when she’s being a pain in the ass.

Geocaching guide:  http://www.geocaching.com/guide/default.aspx
Wiki article:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocaching
Printable log sheets:  http://www.techblazer.com/geocaching-log-sheets/
Leave No Trace:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leave_No_Trace

Advertisements

Technology Adapts To Imagination, Not The Other Way Around

Last weekend, after failing yet again to settle Catan, I instead settled myself into the recliner to watch Real Steel, the Rocky / Over the Top near-futuristic mashup starring Hugh Jackman. I’m not going to go into a detailed plot synopsis, but the quick summary is Jackman and his newly-met 11-year-old son travel around with a fighting robot that the kid found and helped fix, climaxing with the inevitable finale against the current champion Apollo Creed…I mean Zeus. It’s a fun movie with plenty of action, drama, romance, personal growth, and 10-foot-robots beating the circuits out of each other.

My purpose for writing, though, isn’t to review the cinematic interpretation of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but to address the comment my oldest made during scene where the boy stays up all night working on his robot. In that scene, the kid is hunched over the workbench, pulling components out, running them across the screen, punching buttons, and Connor said, in sarcastic disbelief, “Yeah, like a kid could do that.”


Where’s the USB port on this thing?

I agreed at first, but then I realized the boy wasn’t some advanced engineering genius; he was merely using the tools at his disposal. It was no more complicated than a kid today adding gradient background to an image in GIMP or creating a school fundraising flyer in Word. Cooler of course. It was a giant killer robot. More technologically advanced? Absolutely. But in the end it was still just a mammal using a tool — the futuristic Hollywood version of a chimp with a stick digging termites.

I mention this because there is a belief among many that their kids are some kind of wunderkind Ender-Wiggin-meets-Jimmy-Neutron super-genius because they were able to master a tool. I don’t mean to belittle the value of the skill, simply point out that a kid in 2020 swapping out a voice-recognition module on his fighting robot is just as impressive as a kid in 2012 adding an App to his iPad, a kid in 1985 loading a game from cassette on his Commodore, or a kid in 1905 changing the tire on his bicycle. While it is important a child learn how to use the tools that surround his daily life, what is more important is to acknowledge and praise the ingenuity and creativity a child demonstrates while using those tools.

We should applaud a toddler’s ability to combine red and yellow to make orange, but rejoice when she uses that orange to create the landscape from her imagination, whether it be with finger paints on newsprint or with SketchBook Pro on an iPad; recognize the mastery of both a pencil and a Word Processor, but even more so praise the stories that come out of it. As geek dads, we should not simply be training our children to become technicians; life will do that for them. We should be helping them to find the joy that comes from creation and discovery.