Since I wrote about Watson and its appearance on "Jeopardy!," I've become interested in the show's famous human contestant, Ken Jennings.
Mind you I'd barely heard of Jennings when he was establishing his winning streak on "Jeopardy!" But post-Watson, I started following him on Twitter (@kenjennings) and have read two of his books, "Maphead" and "Brainiac." I've found I really enjoy his writing style, both in his books and his short tweets. I guess I like his sense of humor. He's even introduced me to a new hobby: geocaching.
Jennings writes about geocaching toward the end of "Maphead." While I was aware of the pastime, and had even watched others find a cache or two, the geocaching bug never bit me, in part because I thought I'd have to get a costly standalone handheld GPS device. However, Jennings' words motivated me, and I found I could simply get a free geocache app for my GPS-enabled phone. (I was pleasantly surprised to learn I didn't have to pay for an app, though many "geocachers" do buy them.) Then I registered on geocaching.com and I was set.
In the book Jennings mentions some of the things his family discovered in their neighborhood as these cache hunts took them off their normal beaten path. Geocaching became a family thing for the McNellys as well. It didn't take long to make our first discovery--or, for that matter, our first 10 discoveries. Yes, you'll get some strange looks scanning the bushes along a walking trail, but it's a great way to fill some downtime. Just go for a drive and look for some caches. Some of these hides are ingenious, and the containers themselves can surprise you--finds come in everything from old film canisters to ammo boxes to peanut butter jars. And yes, you may even get a gag container with coiled stuffed snakes that leap out at you.
Pretty much wherever I go, my geocache app informs me of nearby caches. While I didn't have time to search while I was in Miami for October's Technical University conference, I'll definitely do some geocaching the next time I find myself in a new city. You can start by using your GPS to get turn-by-turn directions in your car. Once you're within walking distance of your target, you simply switch to compass mode. Of course GPS accuracy can vary with the terrain, so technology doesn't do everything for you. You still need to look around, or even look up: Some of my finds have been cleverly concealed in tree branches or hollowed-out tree trunks, among other hard-to-notice places.
It's funny how my initial interest in Watson led me to Jennings, who encouraged me to spend time outside using my smartphone to play hide and seek. I guess life is full of odd little journeys though. Think about how you came to work with computers, or AIX specifically, or even how you found this blog. Wherever you've ended up in life, you likely have some good stories about how you got there.
As John Hughes wrote for his character Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."