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Team Markwell's GPS Adventures:
Thoughts and Wisdom (or Lack of...)

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May 21 2010

It's been almost three years since I posted anything on this page, so I'll take this opportunity to bring up a much-requested feature on the website...

Ratings by Finders

March 13, 2001  16
March 13, 2002  99
March 13, 2003  429
March 13, 2004  868
March 13, 2005  1,460
March 13, 2006  2,114
March 13, 2007  2,683
March 13, 2008  3,569
March 13, 2009  5,127
March 13, 2010  6,940
When I started caching in 2001, there were 16 caches in my area (not the full GONIL area, but a region in which I usually cache). I tried to find them all. But the sport grew faster than my ability to find caches as evidenced by the table to the right. Some time in April of 2002 I found a couple of caches that were what I personally would call "sub-standard". Most of the early caches I had found were ones that took me to cool and interesting places, places of significance or history, or sometimes were cleverly placed caches in mundane locations. But these "sub-standard" caches left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I enjoy caching for the experience, but my recreation time is somewhat limited. So I like my experiences to reflect the best reasons I get out for recreation - cool hikes, beautiful scenery, etc. The day I found a pill bottle taped to the side of a guard rail in an extremely urban area littered with - well - litter, I thought to myself "Why did this person feel the need to bring me here?"

So I went to the forums to ask about a feature: Ratings on Caches. I was hoping for some way to warn other people that a cache sucks, but as I thought longer about it I knew the chance for abuse. Cacher A would rub Cacher B the wrong way in the forums and Cacher B would go to all of Cacher A's pages and mark them with one star. This process would need limitations and really we wanted to spot light the good ones not warn cachers away from the bad ones.

Growing up in high school we were a graduating class of 250. I worked hard in my classes and was very proud of the fact that I was rated in the "Top 10%" of my class (I was 10th over all). The kids who weren't in the Top 10% of the class might have been a little disappointed, but in general they usually weren't bothered by the fact that they weren't in the top 10%. It just meant that those that made it worked a little harder and deserved some special recognition.

My idea quickly morphed into a Top 10% idea for caches: End result:
Why do you need this?
I think the best targets for something like this are people on a limited time frame or someone new to an area. Cachers with unlimited time to find caches in an area will likely seek out the caches that are close or ones that appeal to them regardless of the quality of the cache (however that is defined). If someone is passing through an area on a journey (think "Caches on a Route") or in town for a seminar or visit, they would want to spend their time on caches that have a positive experience usually above just increasing their find count by one number.

Many cachers in the forums have said that you can just read the logs to see if the cache is good.
On my last Pocket Query of the GONIL Region (counties surrounding the Chicago metropolitan area) there were 7,932 non-archived caches. I've already stated that my recreational time is limited. If I'm "just passing through" Chicago, I'm NOT going to spend recreational time reading over 7900 cache pages. Also, at least in Chicago, writing an unfavorable log on the page will most likely result in your log being deleted.

What about using the tools available on the site already? Can't Pocket Queries already help?
Yes, they can. All caches have "characteristics" on the site. Here's a breakdown of the 7,932 Chicago area caches.
     Temporarily Disabled 
  • No - 52.62%
  • Yes - 7.54%
  • Micro - 44.23%
  • Small - 27.07%
  • Regular - 23.26%
  • Not chosen - 2.94%
  • Other - 1.93%
  • Large - 0.32%
  • Virtual - 0.26%
  • Traditional Cache - 87.05%
  • Unknown Cache - 7.15%
  • Multicache - 5.36%
  • Virtual Cache - 0.26%
  • Letterbox Hybrid - 0.15%
  • Webcam Cache - 0.03%
  • 1.0 - 18.46%
  • 1.5 - 37.71%
  • 2.0 - 26.26%
  • 2.5 - 8.30%
  • 3.0 - 5.53%
  • 3.5 - 1.71%
  • 4.0 - 1.15%
  • 4.5 - 0.44%
  • 5.0 - 0.44%
  • 1.0 - 18.22%
  • 1.5 - 43.00%
  • 2.0 - 22.59%
  • 2.5 - 9.18%
  • 3.0 - 4.56%
  • 3.5 - 1.17%
  • 4.0 - 0.63%
  • 4.5 - 0.24%
  • 5.0 - 0.40%
Number of attributes on a cache (exluding "Needs Maintenance")
  • 0 - 32.39%
  • 1 - 1.40%
  • 2 - 2.96%
  • 3 - 5.65%
  • 4 - 8.65%
  • 5 - 8.38%
  • 6 - 8.84%
  • 7 - 8.03%
  • 8 - 7.40%
  • 9 - 6.66%
  • 10 - 9.64%
Typically, I like certain types of caches that fit those characteristics. Here's how it gets narrowed as I apply each characteristic:
     All caches7,932
I haven't found7,493
Only Active (not disabled)7,238
I don't own7,234
(if I'm going through town, I need quick caches)
Small, Regular and Large
(my preference)
Difficulty between 1.0 and 4.0
(my preference)
Terrain between 1.5 and 3.5
(my preference)
Last four logs are all "Found It"
(it's there)
Less than 30 miles from home
(instead of the entire area)
Exclude mention of Poison Ivy1,122
Attribute inclusion/exclusion?
Not enough usage to make it reliable. A full 1/3 of the
caches have NO owner assigned attributes

Even utilizing the tools of the Pocket Query generator and GSAK's filtering, if I were coming to my home to visit and had a leash of 30 miles, I'd still have 1,122 cache pages to read. There's also a macro in GSAK that you can get that tells you what the Average Log Length is. The thought is that caches that area just roadside quickies get logs like "TFTC" or "Found it", where caches with great experiences will warrant more effort on the finder to produce a lengthy log. If I were to choose caches with an average log length of more than 139 charaters, I'd cut that 1,122 in half to 561.

This is where the desire for a rating system came in. If I were in town for 3 days and could likely find 10-15 caches, which ones do I choose? A strong argument could be made that I've already narrowed down the criteria so that ANY of these 561 caches will likely give me an experience that I would enjoy. But what about the ability to recommend caches to others in more than the logs?

You and I may not agree on what is "fun" or "good". What about the differences in taste?
This has been the single largest argument against a rating system in the forums. Jeremy Irish said at one time he was thinking of "affinity" ratings, as in "You liked this cache. Here are some other caches that were liked by the people that liked this one" - kind of like Amazon. While that's a good idea, I still don't discount the the idea that if enough people use the cache rating system I had proposed over 9 years ago, the "stellar" caches would be recognized and rise to the top.

Ask people who the best president of the U.S. was. A 1948 poll had the top three as Lincoln, Washington and FDR. A 1982 Chicago Tribune poll had Lincoln, FDR, Washington. A 2000 Wall-Street Journal poll had Washington, Lincoln, FDR. A Siena 2002 poll had FDR, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt (Washington was 4). These polls were from different sources and different time periods. And yet those polled came up with three presidents that are well-respected in history, and marked as some of the best presidents in many sources. Individual people may think that Woodrow Wilson or Thomas Jefferson should have been in the top list, but most agree that these presidents were among the best. If I only had time to read about 3 presidents' histories, I'd most likely choose FDR, Lincoln and Washington.

I believe the nomination of the Top 10% of your finds and the aggregate attribute being assigned as a "recommended cache" would work in much the same way, with the cream rising to the top.

So why hasn't it been implemented?
Good question. Probably because can't decide on "affinity ratings" or "10% ratings". Couple that will priorities of making sure the website has all of the other features available and that it's running smoothly and this gets pushed down on the list of "to do."

Sep 7 2007

Another thread about micros and lame caches fired up around September 6, 2007

        tozainamboku, Wednesday 4:31 PM
Stop eating Butter Pecan ice cream.

Of course if you stop looking for or logging cache you don't like other people will still be finding those caches and logging "TFTC" so it probably won't have much effect.

Some people like Butter Pecan ice cream. I can't imagine who they are or why there are so many. I wish there were only the flavors that I like. But so far I haven't been able to convince the manufacturers to stop making those other flavors or the other ice cream consumers to stop buying them.
CoyoteRed, Thursday 6:35 AM
The "Ice Cream Rebuttal:" This might be a valid rebuttal if ice cream came in infinite flavors which would mean you'd only know if you liked it after you sampled it. Sure, you could look through the case and check the name, ingredients and color, but without sampling it, you wouldn't know. Why do you think every shop--that I've been in anyway--give free tastes?
Rockin Roddy, Thursday 6:43 AM
That's why I'd suggest everyone "sample" the various caches out there before ignoring "microspew"!
CoyoteRed, Thursday 7:03 AM
I'm assuming you're talking about sampling the various styles of hides of which one is MicroSpew™. Am I understanding correctly?

If so, this is exactly what I'm talking about. If not, then you pretty much have to sample each cache, in person, to see if it's worthwhile to visit.

You can't know that a particular cache is spew until you sample it--that particular cache--and then you've already got the taste in your mouth. There's no button, type, icon, or attribute that identifies a cache as spew. This is why spew is mistaken as micros or urbans or easy caches. Spew can't be virtually visited as you never know if a weird statue is in front of a Target or a cool mosaic is across from a street corner--unless it is mentioned in the description and logs. Of course, doing so would then ruin the surprise.

Of course, we wouldn't have to visit each and every caches to see if it was worthwhile to visit in the first place if we were able to rely on others to determine this for us. The problem is we don't have the tools to reliably do so.
Markwell, Thursday 7:39 AM
So the ice cream analogy is more akin to Bertie Bot's Every Flavor Beans?

"You want to be careful with those," Ron warned Harry. "When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor -- you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once."

Ron picked up a green bean, looked at it carefully, and bit into a corner.

"Bleaaargh -- see? Sprouts."

May 11 2006

There was a discussion in May of 2006 about people falsely logging multiple finds on a single cache. This has come up MANY times before, as well as people logging finds on caches where they were in the general vicinity and claim a find, or where the owner says it's OK to go ahead an log a find. The thread culminated in a couple of posts:

Sep 2 2005

O.K. Enough with the nicety-nicety stuff above. I've finally got something meaty to say, and dadgummit, I'm going to say it. After all, this is MY site, and there's something in the first amendment about free speech, so...

The Following Statement is my opinion alone, and does not represent, Groundspeak, or any other party.
Years ago, television shows had some meat to them. E.R., Star Trek, Marcus Welby, Friends (yea, I know), Mork and Mindy, M*A*S*H. They were scripted, well thought out and specifically wanted to elicit a given response. But actors cost money. Script writers cost money. Special effects cost money. Good ones cost even more. Enter the Reality Show. No scripts are needed. "Actors" are people just off the street who expect very little money in return in comparison to a Jennifer Anniston or Noah Wiley. One Reality Show (Survivor) was a novelty. Networks saw this as the pantacea for solving their shrinking dollar woes. Now we have a television season with The Amazing Race, Survivor, The Apprentice, Average Joe, Big Brother, Fear Factor, The Bachelorette, Lost, Extreme Makeover, Less than Perfect, Wife Swap, blah, blah, blah. What was once a novelty because it was cheap and simple to put together is now the mainstay. Many are bemoaning the fact that even though these shows are cheap and useless entertainment, the force of the cable programming networks is making it so that Program Directors need to utilize these shows as their main course just to keep in the black. Sure Fear Factor is fun once, but how many times can you wonder if that pretty girl in the bikini is going to throw up when she has to eat the cow eyeballs?

Start to see the analogy? Caches used to have decent hikes to them. They took people to hidden cool places with local history and scenic beauty. Enter the code-word micro cache. Somebody can just place a pill bottle with a broken lightbulb on a guard rail and call it a cache. stopped the practice when people started throwing old sneakers into the woods with the "code word" of finding the shoe size and brand of sneaker (or tennis balls, or golf balls). So the bare minimum standard became a container and a log book.

As a side note, some say the I single handedly stopped code-word micros. Yea, right. Code word micros were killed because people all over were becoming the laziest of cachers. "I left my campstove somewhere in the woods near here. E-mail me the brand." That's not caching. That's littering.

So, the lazy and cheap couldn't place an object in an unused pill bottle. Micros entered the scene with the requirement of a logbook.

On May 4, 2001, I placed my first cache. It was a multi-stage cache ending in a film canister (which was eventually replaced with a small tupperware container). Quasimodo's Quandary had a long and well-appreciated life. It would be almost one year later (April 14, 2002) that I would find my first micro: Circus History, in a place that obviously wouldn't house a full-sized cache. It's a cemetery. Same with Gangster's Final Hideaway. In late summer of 2002, more and more of these "code word" came out, and eventually they were replaced by log-only micros. However, these were placed in forest preserves or parks that could easily have housed full-sized caches. Or worse yet, there was no apprarent reason to come to the location at ALL other than to find the cache.

I guess my beef isn't just with micros, though. If a cache is a micro, that doesn't necessarily mean that I'll hate the cache. I have found some EXCELLENT microcaches. There are bad and good micros, just like there are bad and good caches. So - what (in Markwell's opinion) makes a cache "bad"? It's been asked in the forums numerous times, but I'll put my definitions here in case anyone reads this page. But I need to do it by process of elimination, or reverse logic. In my opinion, here are characteristics that make a cache a GOOD experience:
    A decent hike (>=0.25 miles) in a sparsely populated area
    Nifty little-known history
    Great scenery
    Unusual hide (suspended in a tree, on an island that you have to canoe to)
    Thought-provoking puzzle
    Cool camo or really neat container
    Long history of being at that spot (old cache that's been around for a long while)
    Good theme (and people are sticking to it)
Any one of these characteristics on a cache, and I'll think it's pretty cool. Combine a few, and it scores more points. But if it doesn't have a single one of those characteristics, I'll be asking myself why I was brought here. If I have to ask myself that, I would think the cache was disappointing.

Case in point:
Nashville has a reputation for many, many, many, MANY micro caches in not-well-thought-out locations. When I traveled in December of 2004 to Chattanooga, I had heard the reputation. My Pocket Queries specifically eliminated micro caches for this reason. I even had a cacher e-mail me indicating not to waste my time with any of his caches, as they were not good ones.

My wife and I were driving back home, and needed a rest stop for the kids. We took an exit that promised lunch and a convenient cache hunt. It was only a couple hundred yards from the exit. We took care of business and started looking at the GPS. It directed us toward an overgrown area on the backside of a mall parking lot. The coordinates seemed to go into the bushes, then they turned around toward the parking lot. Sure enough, the cache was a micro cache in the base of a lamp in the parking lot of a Walmart. My son had been looking forward to a location in which he could drop off his Travel Bug. I was taken aback. How had this cache slipped into my PQ?

Turns out that the owner specifically chose not to mention the size of the cache. The cache description admonished people who might think it's not up to snuff to not be judgmental. Basically, even though I did my best not to search out caches like this, I was duped into wasting my time on a cache that I specifically had not wanted to search for. Did I log it and claim the find? Yes. But that's my hypocracy to deal with.

How are these cache hurting you? Can't you just ignore them and find the others? Evidently from that case study in the last paragraph, the answer is "no." But more importantly, it's about saturating an area with caches like this. When a person starts caching in an area (either moving in or just starting caching), they'll look at what's around and decide that this might be the way everyone caches. Putting a good cache out with good materials in a good location takes effort and thought, and even a little money. Simple throw-away caches without any thought to placement are the Reality T.V. shows of Geocaching.

Why do people place caches? The obvious answer is so that other people can find them. Cache placers are doing it for the enjoyment of others. Other than just jacking up "one more" on your notch of victories, how much enjoyment can be found by looking under the base of a lamp post in a Walmart parking lot?

Occasionally, you get e-mails that warm your heart. This was an unsolicited e-mail, and I have no idea what prompted it's being sent. (Text has been slightly changed for anonymity):

My wife and I began geocaching after she got me a GPS. We have read all your FAQs and are still going through your great web site, we have read a majority of the messages boards, joined the local group's message board, downloaded the EasyGPS, found a handful of caches and two TBs, AND we have had the most fun ever, and now, the most important thing for us to do is to thank you for all you have done for the sport and for us.

Your advice is always sound. Your comments on the message boards can be traced to the coordinates of maturity (it's never petty) and community (it's never narrow minded). That means you understand the sport very well and you have the generosity to share with others. Your vision for the sport is larger and more far reaching than the rest of us.

My wife and I know we have reaped the benefits of the countless hours you worked and worked — and which we received for FREE. Incredible.

And there's who provides an amazing web site.

And there's all those ingenious cache owners who selected little gardens of edens for us to enjoy.

And there's all the previous geocachers who protected and cared for the caches before we arrived so that our experience would be as memorable as theirs. They recorded their finds and adventures on We read them like an ongoing True-Life adventure story — which it is. They did this to help people they don't even know. Hey, it is us and we thank you!

We are in your debt and in the debt of so many kind, intelligent people.

As the sport continues to explode in popularity your leadership will continue to be important and always deserve a tip o' the hat from us.


Oct 26 2002

I've been verbed.

In the great tradition of Ernesto Miranda, I've earned a name for myself, and that name has come to have a specific act associated with it. It turns out that I have a great memory for the Groundspeak forums, especially those historic threads. As my FAQ page states, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” (Harry S Truman)

So CYBRET proposed in this thread a new addition to the Geocaching dictionary: Archivist And so began a couple of days of good natured yucking and chuckles. I even participated by citing references about Markwelling. It's all in good fun, and I've kind of enjoyed the notoriety.

It did get out of hand once, just enough to make everyone say, "OK, we've laughed. Let's move on." Socko posed a question about stolen caches in a thread, only to have Planet indicate the Markwell will surely post something. What he meant was that I would cross-link the thread, but Socko took it to mean that I have personal knowledge of stolen caches. The laughter died, and I'm still cross posting historical threads, and I don't mind the title of archivist.

Just how much time DO I spend in the forums?Ent

Status Update - Feb 2004: Since I haven't been posting nearly as much in the forums as I used to, in this post, Team GPSaxophone changed my status from Archivist to Ent. The idea of an Ent (taken from Tolkien's LOTR) is an old sage creature with much wisdom. They used to be very prevalent, but are now only seen rarely. Cool.

After a Year

Mar 9 2002

Another meaningful post reared its little head, when I waxed philosophic on the anniversary of registering for The thread and the responses are here, but I'm posting the original text below...

My fellow Geocachers. It has been one year since I started with this obsession of Geocaching.

Comments from the home front have been a wide range:
"When are you coming off that darn computer?!?"
"Honey - do you want to go Geocaching this weekend?"
"Which Geocache are we hitting this weekend?"
"E.E.S.!" (My two year old shouting his enthusiasm for when I grab the GPS and a fresh set of batteries.)
"Daddy will you please finish checking your e-mail and the messages so I can play Buzz Lightyear on the computer?"
(that would be the 6yo)

I've found 54 caches on 64 hunts, including two cache frenzies - one in August and one in Feburary, but not including three revisited caches, two for placing Travel Bugs and one just for the fun of it. Two of these 54 caches were ones that I had actually planted (how's that for cryptic). I've made 1,322 posts on the old forums and about 20 on the new ones. Some have been profound - others have been quite nausiating. I've made countless friends, both near and far through both caching and dashing. I've learned a little HTML and UBB, my typing skills have improved (even if my spelling has not).

I've placed 7 real-life caches in two states, activated 5 Photographer's Caches (and adopted five others), am currently acting as nanny to one cache, and have released 7 travelers, 6 with bug tags and one pre-bug hitchhiker. I have co-hosted one gathering of Geocachers, and am planning a second annual event.

I have frittered away countless hours in front of the computer screen, but have learned a great deal about mathematics, coordinate systems, hexidecimal code, great circle calculations and the forumlas used to calculate distance and bearing (and how that compares with using a pythagorean calculation).

I have personally battled with county forest preserves (and lost) and been to some of the best physical places in the entire Chicago area and down in the Cumberland Trail area of Chattanooga.

I have lost about 15-20 pounds and found a hobby that I can thoroughly enjoy as a family.

Never before have I encountered such a large body of honest and intelligent people as the Geocaching family. For the most part, we are a tolerant group consisting of a common interest and obsession. We want to spend all of our time out finding these little boxes, but end up spending just as much time talking online when we can't get out.

Why and I writing this? Nothing more than to say thank you... I started making a list of names, but I know I would have left someone out, so I'll just say "all of you"). You are my friends, my second on-line family, my source for conversation. I consider that this year has truly been a blessed one. I thank you all for making it truly memorable. I look forward to many more years of box and coordinate finding and hiding. God Bless each and every one of you!


Aug 18 2001

Another thread post of meaning occurred when Sluggo started the thread WHY does Geocaching "Turn-You-On"? In it, he asked: What is it about this game (activity/sport/hobby/…/…/ad nauseum) that is soooo addictive? I mean, really, some psychiatry major could probably base a Master’s thesis or a PhD dissertation on the addictive attributes of geocaching. My wife and I make a lot of references to Defending the Caveman in our lives to help us understand each others' thought process. That enters in to my response, of which I'm particularly proud:

My wife and I think there's definitely anthropological elements to the draw of caching as well. "Caveman go into wilderness and hunt scary box in woods. Use magic talisman to help find it. Beat chest loudly and roar when it is found. Go home and brag about conquest." While not really that simplistic or even that gender specific, there is something intriguing about going out and finding a box in the wilderness that plays to my instinctive curiosity. In our agrarian society, we don't get much chance to go out, hunt and conquer anymore.

As mentioned in previous posts, the "Santa Clause Effect" plays heavily, but depending on the cache placers, there are other forces at work on the hiding side. I for one enjoy giving a mental challenge to the cache finders. Another cacher in my area plants caches extremely well in extremely populated locations, making it very tricky to retrieve and rehide the cache discretely.

Every cache hidden is unique in its location - and what motivates the cachers to place at this particular location is just as intriguing as the caches themselves. It's also a great surprise seeing what other people leave as trade trinkets. It gives us a little window into the lives of the people that have been here before.


Mar 9 2001

Early in my GPS experience, I posted my first response to a question in the forums. This was before I even had my GPS. The thread topic was Naive question, but what's the point? I recently re-read my post, and found it much more eloquent that I usually am. Yellow italicized sections are additional comments added in 2002.

I, too, am fairly new to Geocaching, but I'm getting into it purely for the edification of my 5 year old boy. This summer, his family in the Chicago area, and his grandparents in Chattanooga, will be taking little suburban boy out into the wilderness hiking, learning directions, learning to read maps, learning the "2D" representation, etc., all with not only the hopes of a small prize, but with the altruistic idea of leaving something for someone else who will visit it in the future. What a GREAT educational experience (and relatively free since Grandma is buying the GPS). Grandma ended up not buying it - I did. And who's to say I won't enjoy it right along with him. I'm outside in the wilderness, with a little technological help, hoping to find a well placed cache that has a significant meaning for the indivdual that placed it.

Point? So many things in life have no point to some and a great meaning to others. Me, I watch the Superbowl only for the commercials, have never sat through an entire World Series or NBA championship, and can't see why anyone would smack a little white ball with a club around a golf course. But I do enjoy camping, hiking, rafting, and technology. The glorious thing about our civilization is for those who find and interest, there is usually and avenue to pursue that interest - even though to others, there may be no point.

Non omnes vagi perditi sunt
What the heck is that?!?

Mar 9 2001

I found a great quote for Geocaching and Geodashing in one of my favorite books: The Lord of the Rings, Book I: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. In it, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins has written a poem describing the wandering heir to the thrown of the King of Men: Aragorn (also known as Strider). Aragorn has chosen the life of a Ranger of the North, wandering the wilderness defeating the allies of the Enemy and protecting the northern lands. Bilbo's poem is below:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The line "Not all those who wander are lost" really captures the essence of Geocaching and Geodashing - we wander through the wilderness enjoying ourselves, but we are not lost by any means - unless of course, there are two of us with GPSrs. I wanted to use it as a tag line to my signatures, but I found that a fellow cacher and dasher (Ed Hall of the Geocaching Pin Maps) was already using it. So, I had some help translating it into Latin, just because it sounds "brainier" and is kinda cool.

One of my fellow dashers also found the translation into Elvish from the Lord of the Rings book, but since I don't have those characters on my computer's keyboard, I'll just leave it as Latin.

Last Updated May 2010