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Everybody who owns a cell phone is familiar with the location and tracking capabilities of today's GPS-enabled handsets. For anyone involved in an emergency situation, a GPS phone could be a lifesaver. When a 911 call is received, rescue personnel can locate the person even though the victim may be unable to talk to them.

Although not appreciated by everyone who has a GPS phone, parents welcome the location capabilities, especially when trying to determine the whereabouts of their kids. Likewise, GPS phones provide a valuable tracking service for impaired individuals, such as those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Also in the not-truly-appreciated category, employees in the field or on a job site given GPS phones by their employer consider them a double-edged sword. It's convenient and quick for them to communicate with the office or suppliers, but the employer can virtually see where they are any time of the day. In fact, some employers have erected geofences that alert them when employees leave a designated area or visit inappropriate establishments.

Even though there are too many games on most cell phones today, the GPS phone opens up the possibility of one more that might be fun and challenging for many. With the proliferation of GPS-enabled phones, just about anyone now can participate in geocaching. Not actually new, it has been around for about five years ever since Select Availability was removed from the GPS.

As described on, geocaching is an adventure game for GPS users. The geo stands for geography, and cache is a hidden container filled with a variety of stuff including a logbook, pencil, and possibly inexpensive prizes.

Geocaches can be found in all 50 states and in more than 100 countries. The location of each cache is posted on the Internet, and the object of the game is to find a particular cache of your choosing. Within 100 miles of my zip code in Florida, there are almost 2,000 recorded caches.

Coordinates of latitude and longitude mark the location of each cache. The cache located by the coordinates in the title of this editorial is about one mile from my home. Players merely enter those coordinates into their GPS and navigate toward that location. It may sound simple, but not all caches are easy to find. Some may be located half way up a mountain or at the bottom of a canyon. Others may not be in plain sight but under a rock or even underwater.

All games have rules and geocaching is no exception. However, players need to abide by only three: take something from the cache, leave something for the next players, and record the event in the logbook. The logbook can contain a wealth of information such as nearby attractions, the locations of unpublished caches in the area, and a few jokes written by previous visitors.

Serious gamers have GPS units that sport a variety of functions including an external antenna jack, a large memory capability to accommodate detailed topographic maps, a solar-powered charger, and a large color display. Probably the biggest shortcomings to using a GPS phone for geocaching are its tiny display and limited memory. Reading and reacting to the information displayed on the screen are key to a successful find.

I doubt GPS phones will supplant multifunctional GPS units for geocaching. The game can be quite challenging without contending with small displays and other limitations of hand-held phones. A GPS phone might well take the fun out of geocaching.

Paul Milo
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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