On Wednesday, the wonderful XKCD posted a comic that coined the term "geohashing": an algorithm for calculating a (pseudo-)random trip destination based on one's location and the most recent Dow opening. The destination is the same for all readers in an integral latitude and longitude, so it becomes the location of a spontaneous gathering of other XKCD readers.

There is a wiki, several implementations, a REST-ful web service, and an "official" meeting time every Saturday at 4 PM.

I love everything about the idea. First, it can't help but be spontaneous, since one cannot know the location in advance. If someone could predict the stock market, I doubt he or she would use it to plan for an XKCD meetup. Second, it gives one a reason to travel off the beaten path (vis. the "Achievements"). Third, one gets to play with GPS, maps, and satellite imagery à la geocaching. Finally, and most importantly, one can meet other geeky webcomic fans who like the outdoors.

Today I attended the first meetup for the 40, -88 graticule. The destination was in the middle of a cornfield about 20 miles west of Champaign.

The coordinates of Champaign, Illinois' May 24, 2008 geohashing location: 40.126648, -88.547534

I first drove to the intersection at the northwest corner of the field. I got out and surveyed the silent, open countryside around me. There was a farmer feeding his cattle near where I parked. He looked at me curiously when I started walking along the road, holding my camera and GPS. I realized I could park closer to the destination, so I retraced the road east about half a mile to the northern edge of the field. From there, the destination was only a half a mile directly south.

The destination viewed from the nearest road

I could not see anyone on the road or field—not surprising since UIUC is out for the summer and most of my CS friends were either busy or out of town— so I started walking along the grassy drainage ditch toward the destination. I had traveled about 300 yards when a car pulled up behind mine. I waved at the occupants as they started walking toward me. The internet delivers!

I returned to the road to introduce myself and shook hands all around. Kyle, Kim, and Matt were former UIUC students now living in Champaign. They hadn't expected anyone else to show up either.

The geohashing group.  From left to right: Kyle, Kim, Matt, and me.

We set off toward the destination, chatting about UIUC and XKCD. We had to be careful not to step on the rows of corn seedlings. It did not take long to walk across the field. When our GPS units told us we had arrived, we took some pictures of the thoroughly nondescript cornfield and discussed how we could mark the spot. I will have to bring a flag to next week's meetup.

GPS at destination Me at the destination Looking back at the cars from the destination

We did not stay long, but like any trip, the journey was more important than the destination.

One Comment

Josh Smith Says:

Hahaha, excellent Brett! Sorry I couldn’t make it ;-)

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