Geohashing

“Now what?” This group of people found themselves at the same semi-random location in the middle of the British countryside one afternoon. Maybe they went to a pub! (Creative commons photo from the Flickr account of Yang “yangman” Zhao)

Imagine it: You want to meet new people and see new places. Whereas before, you’d maybe look up something to do in your local travel guide, or read the newspaper, or visit a travel agency… now things are totally different.

Now, for all intents and purposes, you throw a dart at a map and go to that place. (We want REAL adventure!)

What’s insane is that, at this exact random location, other people are going to be there. And, because you share the same sense of adventure—and in this case, the same nerdiness—you’ve just found yourself a new best bud or two, or a new significant other.

Screw bars. This rocks.

It’s called geohashing, and it’s the wave of the future, my friends. The Internet has become our extended reality, and in this instance, we’re simply reversing the roles: we’re using computers as our “home base” and extending our entertainment and socialization into the real world from it. This was inevitable; now it’s here.

Geohashing comes on the heels of other GPS-centric adventure games like geocaching (where participants find small gifts left at locations by other geocachers) or geodashing (where participants visit as many points as possible within a time limit, generally one month). But the point of geohashing is simpler: to get out of one’s monotonous normal life and embrace a sense of spontaneity and adventure. Sometimes the key to spreading a new idea is simplicity.

FYI, geohashing was invented by xkcd comic author Randall Munroe. Which would explain the possible nerdiness of some geohashers. Do this at your own risk!

Wait, how’s this work?

Every day, when the stock market opens, the initial value of the Dow is fed into an algorithm which spits out a set of digits you can place to the right of the decimal point of any longitude and latitude coordinate. Which means, when you go geoshashing, you’re guaranteed to never have to travel more than one full point in any direction. Pretty cool, huh?

How do I get started?

There are apps for your iPhone and Android phones. No worries if you don’t have one, though. All you need is some kind of GPS unit that’ll tell you your precise coordinates. Other geohashers say the Holux M-241 works for them, and can be had for about $60 new (at Amazon.com), although you might be able to score used GPS units, of varying types, for cheaper on Craigslist. Here’s a buying guide from the folks at Geocaching.com if you’re worried about your choice.

If I don’t have a smartphone, where do I get the coordinates each day?

Right here. It’s all automated. Just use the map’s zoom and scroll tools to find your current location. Click where you are, and zoom out a little. You’ll see a red box that represents the area in which your hash points can fall (called a “graticule”), and you should see your hash point for the day. The exact coordinate will be near the bottom of the map tool, so write it down and use it to get to the hash point near the end of your journey—the map won’t be exact near the end, but it sure helps for most of the trip!

What about these other people? Will they show?

Nothing’s guaranteed, but that’s part of the fun of it. If you really want to meet people, you can arrange hash days with local geohashers in advance. Know that the most frequent meeting day and time is Saturdays at 4 p.m., so you’ll do best hashing then. (Friday morning’s Dow score will generate Saturday and Sunday’s hash points. Just enter the day you need in the space for it at the bottom of the map.)

To connect with other geohashers local to you, just visit the wiki page dedicated to your graticule. Here’s a list of “active” graticules, and chances are you live in one. Each graticule page should have a list of recent geohash exploits, or at least the people who regularly hash there. Also check the discussion section of a graticule’s wiki page. Sometimes you can find additional users who you can message. If you establish a user account with the wiki, you can have an e-mail sent to you when a particular page changes—for example, when someone asks if anyone’s hashing this weekend.

If you have the desire to download an IRC client, you can talk to geohashers in real-time in the official chatroom, #geohashing, on the following server: irc.foonetic.net

If you’ve found your graticule wiki page, chances are you’re a little disappointed at how few people actually do this in your area. 5? 10? Seems like such a small number for how wonderful an idea this is…

Which is why you expose your friends to it, silly. And then they tell their friends. And then the local paper reports on it. You get the picture.

Here’s a FAQ for most other questions. But it lives in the geohashing wiki, which is massive. Poke around; you’ll find more fun stuff. Like awards for particular challenges. Some people take this waaay too seriously. ^_^

Conclusion:

If you’re in the culture—like I am—that’s fed up with the lack of adventure in 21st century life, join us. You’ll be in good company, with underground supper clubs and improvisational public performances. (I started discovering these with the advent of Prangstgrup, and continued into Improv Everywhere.)

As for my participation, I haven’t yet geohashed myself. Sorry to burst your bubble. But soon I’ll have a GPS device and I’ll be on it like penicillin on bread. I have, however, volunteered at an underground dinner, and I’m scheduled to attend the 9th annual No Pants Subway Ride in Chicago this Sunday, first organized by Improv Everywhere.

(See if your city is hosting a No Pants public transit ride!)

With all this excitement, I’m hereby starting a new category on this blog, called “Adventure!” — of which this is the first post. It’s dedicated to all things random, spontaneous, and just plain worthwhile to do.

So let’s get out and do it!

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