More from the Cache Logs

The six geocaches created for this project are still in place in Manchester, and being found on a regular basis by local and visiting geocachers. The Zappar codes are also still in place for at least the near future, so if you are in Manchester, check the map and go and have a look.

What’s great about the geocaches is that we get messages from the people finding them – both in the paper log inside each cache, and digital logs on Geocaching.com and Opencaching.com. Many people take the time to write a little bit about what they were doing that day, how they found the cache, whether it needs maintenance, and some very nice comments about the caches themselves and the story. Some people also upload photos. You need to be logged in to see the logs, and we know not everyone wants to do that, so here’s a selection that we’d like to share with you.


“A quick easy finish to the series for me and mum – amazingly, the GPS was in cooperative mood here, and the updated coords led us straight to where the cache was neatly tucked away . Thanks to those responsible for setting this series – I really liked the quirky containers and informative cache pages .”

“Found yesterday after spending the day in Manchester whilst visiting relatives. Interesting stories about the river. Loved the city. Tftc.”

“Quick find with no gps required. We liked the container decoration! must have taken some time. Interesting to see the Medlock through the crack at the end of the wall. Back in Manchester for more caches, beer and shopping. TFTC.”

“Another day in Manchester so another lunch break spent on this interesting new series. GPS was bouncing around as usual but it got me to an area where I could have a look around guided by the hint. Soon spotted somewhere suspicious… and sure enough that was the hide. Another distinctive container too. Thanks for the cache.”

“A very appropriate container for Manchester and her canals – loved the milestone/boundary stone thingy nearby too, have never noticed that before!”

“Love the theme, enjoyed the walk down the canal. Thank you.”

“With the rest of the Tales From The Towpath series popping up yesterday, and the frustrating DNF that followed, was chuffed to see another new cache in the city centre! Thanks must go to the series COs for providing so much information for each one – and for this one in particular, never even knew the People’s History Museum existed despite living in Manchester for nearly 15 years. A nice quick find on a blustery autumnal day, was really pleased to see the blank log in another lovely little container    “

Projecting in the rain …

central_library_01We four have gathered once more in Manchester, for the final climax of our tale. The story trail has been underway for the last 10 days, taking participants to interesting places around Manchester where they are discovering digital and non-digital surprises, and fragments of the story. On Friday evening the story will culminate in a live performance on a canal boat, and our current task is to refine the script and rehearse the performance.

Maya has been giving guided tours of the story trail, which have been popular with people who aren’t familiar with the technology (which is most people, since we are using the very new Zappar codes and geocaching which is quite a niche activity) as well as with those who appreciate the personal touch and extra information they’re able to get on the tour. At the end of each tour Maya has been doing a microprojection, usually onto the dark canal waters. This evening it was too wet for the tour, so we went to a poetry reading at the Manchester Central Library and afterwards did the microprojection outside the library as the audience left.

central_library_02It was still raining heavily, which meant we had to take care to keep the projector dry, and people weren’t going to stand around very long looking at it. But the rain did provide a nice wet concrete surface on which the projection showed up very nicely. As people walked over the text they did a double-take and looked back to see what it was, some bemused about where it was coming from.

I’ve also learned how to fold an origami narrowboat as part of this project. It’s harder than it looks! But now that I’ve got the knack of it, I’m finding it very meditative. The boats, which give another fragment of our story, have been distributed around various festival venues and will also be available at the performances and guided tours.

Tomorrow we will mark out the performance space of the boat on the floor of our rehearsal room at Z Arts, make the final tweaks to the script and rehearse for the three performances on Friday night (book now if you haven’t already – the first two are nearly full!). And on Saturday, Sarah and I will give our workshop, which follows on from the workshop Maya and Michelle gave last Saturday – reviewed here by a participant who can’t wait for the next part.

central_library_04So, we are in the busy and exciting days as everything we’ve planned and prepared is finally realised. I just hope that the weather will be kinder – rain is not so nice for going around the story trail – and that this annoying cough I’ve got clears up before Friday …


Loving the logs

geocache_log_reducedOnce of the nice things we’ve discovered about using geocaching in our project is the feedback: when someone finds a cache, they write the date and their name on a paper log inside the cache, and they can also post a digital log to the cache’s listing, via their geocaching app.

Most of our six caches have been in place for a week already, since we needed to be sure the listings would all be approved in time (both Opencaching.com and Geocaching.com rely on volunteers to check and approve all new caches – thank you!). As soon as each cache was approved and appeared on the site, keen local geocachers were out there hunting for them – sometimes within an hour or so of the cache being made public. And as they found – or did not find – each cache, they entered logs and we received email notifications. It has been hugely satisfying to get this instant feedback – especially as many have cottoned on (pun intended!) to the fact that it’s a story series. Many have also complimented the design of the containers.

It was also very helpful for us to learn that one of the caches was too well hidden; its log contains several “DNF” (did not find) entries, and the cachers responses to each other’s difficulties. You’ll be pleased to know we’ve moved that cache and now it is finable. We were also a bit out with the coordinates for a couple of caches, and have updated those thanks to information provided through the logs.

Even before it was officially open, the story trail is clearly a hit with geocachers. The challenge ahead is to get the geocachers interested in the other parts of this multifaceted project, and to encourage non-geocachers, or rather new geocachers, to leave a digital log as well as sign the paper – and go on to find other caches if their curiosity is piqued. Cross-fertilisation between Manchester’s literary and geocaching communities may be about to take place!

You can view the caches here and scroll down to read the logs. You can also view the caches on Opencaching.com – but no-one has posted a log here yet. Why don’t you be the first?

View the map of where the caches and Zappar codes are.

It’s all zapping together

I’ve been on a learning curve over the last few weeks, teaching myself how to make Zappar codes. The process is something between making a little web site (in terms of interactivity) and a short film or animation (in terms of narrative progression). I’ve had a few frustrations – it is after all a new platform, and there are bound to be some bugs, plus some things i just don’t know how to do, like transparent videos – but I am getting there! And it’s satisfying to begin to see the results.

One concept I didn’t immediately get was the tracking image. This is like a background image which you can use to anchor the posiition of your elements, but it’s not actually part of the Zappar code – it’s the actual image that viewers are seeing through their device’s camera as they scan the code. Since our Zappars are located outside and we want people to be looking at the environment around them, our original idea was to use photos of the location as tracking images. However, I soon realised that unless someone was standing pretty much exactly where the photo had been taken from, and pointing their camera in the same direction and at the same angle, the tracking image wouldn’t really be identifiable. Other variables such as the weather, light and traffic would perhaps also alter the image. Tracking images should really be a static image such as a poster or card where the viewer is aiming their camera to scan the code.

sticker_making_3This weekend, as I made the stickers that we will use to place the Zappar codes in our chosen places, I had one of those sudden moments of revelation: here is the tracking image! We want people to be looking around at the environment but they will have to first point their device’s camera at the sticker, so that can be used at least initially for the AR to emerge from. It seems pretty obvious now … but that’s the thing about working with technology: there will always be exciting revelations, large or small!

So, I’m about to remake the 5 Zappar codes with new tracking images. At the same time, I’m going to improve some of the graphics and make timing and size adjustments now that I’m more familiar with how it all works. Maya has sent screenshots of two codes tested on location, which has also been very helpful in thinking about how it appears in the actual site. I’m testing on a tablet, however probably most people will access it via a smartphone, so I need to think about the size. We’ve also added a line to the stickers advising people to use headphones, since traffic and other ambient noise makes the audio hard to hear – and the audio is very important!

It’s all coming together now – I’ve got the concepts clear in my head, a good understanding of how the media elements are going to work and interact; and I’ve also had friendly and helpful support from the people at Zappar when I’ve needed it. It will be interesting to see how the public respond …

Coordinates, waypoints, trackables and hints

Our first geocache has been planted and submitted! It has already been reviewed and approved on Opencaching.com so for the very keen ones out there, you can go and look for it immediately. This one is a teaser cache, giving some background information to the story, and also has been a test process for us as it’s the first cache we have hidden.


I’ve only been geocaching since the beginning of this year, and introduced the rest of the team to it during our June production lab. Since January, I’ve found caches in Brisbane, Melbourne, Munich, London, Farnham, Southend-on-Sea, Manchester, Llangrannog, Allgäu, Porto and maybe somewhere else I’ve forgotten … but this is the first one that I’ve hidden. And as I learned, it is not something that can be done lightly.

There is the container and contents to consider, and the task of finding a good location. A new cache should be at least 161 metres away from any existing caches to avoid saturation, and for our project we also need narrative-appropriate places. Maya investigated locations, found hiding places, and asked for permission if necessary, while Michelle crafted the containers and we all contributed to writing the contents. Once the cache was in place, I submitted it to both Geocaching.com and Opencaching.com – but before I could do this, Maya had to provide accurate coordinates for the cache’s location. This is not as easy as it sounds – GPS devices have a margin of error, and many things from the weather to satellite movement to nearby buildings can affect the reading.

There’s also quite a bit of new lingo to learn in the geocaching business. OK, coordinates I understand, but waypoints? I know what a hint is, but coming up with a clever one is a fun challenge. What about all those acronyms – TFTC, DNF, CITO and more? The first two might be guessable once you start hunting for caches – “thanks for the cache” and “did not find” are common acronyms to see in the logs. CITO stands for “cache in trash out” which is part of the environmentally-friendly philosophy of geocaching. Happily, there is a glossary of geocaching terms for newbies so if you stumble upon a travel-bug, as I did recently in Llangrannog, Wales, you can find out all about it.


The travel-bug was my first trackable; the idea is to move them from one cache to another, logging the journey on the web with comments and photos so that others can follow the journey of the trackable.

We haven’t included physical trackables in our caches for Tales from the Towpath, however the story itself is a sort of trackable that moves from one cache to another all by itself – it’s up to you to track it as you go. Have fun!


Learning to Zap

img_zapbot_cust_200A couple of months ago, I’d never heard of Zapcodes; now, I’m learning how to make them. Zapcodes are an augmented reality version of QR codes, allowing people to access multimedia content by pointing their phone or tablet camera at a special icon.

Our initial idea for the story trail part of this project was to use QR codes, but Maya had seen a Zappar demonstration at the London Book Fair and suggested that we investigate the possibilities of this new technology. “Augmented reality” itself is not a new concept – in fact it’s been around for more than 100 years. My friend and fellow artist Tamiko Thiel is part of the AR group and has been creating virtual installations since 2010, in locations from the Tate to the Hagia Sophia. There seems to be an increasing buzz around augmented reality, as new apps make it possible to do more with it, and more people have devices that can display it. The Zappar app and Zapcodes make AR technology more widely accessible, and in particular make it easy for the likes of me to create and play with the codes.

In my initial experiments, I created layers containing images and audio files, then moved on to clickable buttons and video clips. Soon I’ll be ready to start creating the content and codes that we’ll use as part of the story trail for Tales from the Towpath – watch this space!