Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Adventure Continues

A year ago, if I mentioned Uncharted, you likely would’ve asked me what I was talking about. We were used to blank faces when Uncharted came up in conversation. Most of our friends were surprised to see that this wasn’t just another practical joke, but a real, legitimate, functioning site.

And a year later, we are pleased to see a little less of that blank look when Uncharted comes up in conversation. We’re even more pleased when we run into people all over the country who have seen us around. And we love it when we see someone wearing our t-shirts or driving around with an Uncharted bumper sticker.

Last year, many of you joined with us to unveil www.uncharted.net as the world’s first geo-social media network. That’s geo-social media. It’s more than just our staff sharing their adventures with you, it’s you sharing your adventures with us and each other. It’s more than just linking up with friends from around the world, it’s working with those friends to explore the world together. It’s not just a web site, it’s the people who explore, live, and feel their unique corner of the globe and share it with everyone else. It’s a community of friends.

And so the Uncharted Adventure began with a handful of professionals from a variety of disciplines, anything from a guy selling pink bunny pajamas out of his basement, to an engineer developing bio fuels, to an officer in the Air Force. And we have our share of journalists, photographers, programmers and designers too. They all work full-time jobs. Uncharted is what they do for fun on their own time. We’re grateful to the many employers who allow each member of our growing team to be involved.

And we’ve come a long way.

If you were among those who visited Uncharted on our first day, you would’ve seen three stories photographed and written by us. Back then, there were only a few people making up the Uncharted Community. Our audience was smaller, only two countries and a half dozen states.

Now, we’re viewed by each of the 50 states and over 90 countries, speaking 54 different languages. Uncharted has been featured on the radio, in magazines, and a variety of other publications. Members of our team have been guest presenters at colleges and universities, including Columbia University’s Columbia Scholastic Press Association national convention. We even sponsored one team member as he competed on the national level in orienteering.

And it’s not just us sharing anymore. Now, there are 130 explorers signed up for the journey. Last year, explorers Lisa Wheat, Xelashay and Fishstyx garnered a spot on our home page for their submissions from the Bahamas and Southern Utah respectively.

It’s also easier to find us too. More and more, we’re rising to the top in Internet search results and we have over 80 fans on our Facebook page, where Uncharted Explorers and our audience alike can receive updates and behind-the-scenes info on our progress and where Uncharted is headed in the future.

When we launched, the site didn’t allow our community to communicate with each other like we had envisioned. Now, thanks to our development team, users can choose some basic notification preferences that make it easier to connect with people from around the globe. We’re grateful for the invaluable feedback that many of you provided, paving the way for these improvements. We look forward to hearing any other suggestions you may have for the coming year.

To celebrate our first full year, we thought we’d highlight some of our favorite adventures and share some behind-the-scenes photos of our team making Uncharted what it is today, a community of friends dedicated to discovering the world one journey at a time.

And the adventure continues. We have big plans for 2010 and we’re excited to discover and rediscover the world, your corner and ours. There are countless places to go and even more people to meet. Our development team is hard at work to make it easier for you to share your adventures and link up with those who can help you find those out-of-the-way places, people and cultures just waiting to be discovered. So, check it out here. Come and join us as we continue the adventure.

Alan Murray is Executive Director
of Uncharted. He likes sea horses
and snowshoes and frequently
has the urge to leave the country.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Uncharted Meets the Geek Atlas

At heart, I suppose, I’ll always be a geek.

My best friend in high school lamented, in my presence, that he was a “geek magnet” at Bonneville High. I have a collection of rocks that look like pig noses. I tell people I work at a landfill. A radioactive landfill. A radioactive landfill where the stuff sometimes blows up or catches fire on its own. And I love my job.

But this confirms it: John Graham-Cumming, author of The Geek Atlas (available in book form here) has noticed me. Not me per se, but a video I put together a few years ago about Experimental Breeder Reactor-1, a decommissioned nuclear power plant, the first to create useful atomic power, which I pass to and from work four times a week. I posted it to uncharted.net’s YouTube channel and promptly forgot about it.

Now it’s featured at www.geekatlas.com, coinciding with Graham-Cumming’s own visit to EBR-1, one of 128 stops “Where Science and Technology Come Alive,” as Graham-Cumming subtitles his book.

And it does. EBR-1 is, to me, a fascinating place. Atomic – now nuclear – research has always been in the background here in eastern Idaho. That I work within a mile of EBR-1, however, makes the place special to me. I love to visit the decommissioned reactor and to inhale, if briefly, the air of the heady days of atomic research when scientists were optimistically hoping to tame the atom and make electricity “too cheap to meter.” Though technology has advanced, fear of nuclear power has stalled those dreams. But it’s fun to think this little bit of Idaho history – and my video, which Graham-Cumming describes as “quirky” – are getting their moment in the sun.

You can, of course, read about Idaho’s atomic history at Uncharted, here. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vomit and Speaking Engagements

On a flight home from Ohio I found myself sitting in an aisle seat next to a couple in the middle of an argument. That would be my luck. In an instant, my dreams of a pleasant uneventful and sleepy flight went down the drain.

It soon became apparent that the woman was determined never to speak with her husband again. He, however, was not willing to give up so easily. I munched on some peanuts, trying to ignore the squabble. Stuck on a plane, next to a fighting couple, eating peanuts. It could be worse.

Suddenly, the husband snatched the vomit bag out of his seat pouch.
I braced for the worst. Visions of a waterfall of nauseating liquid escaping his mouth, missing the bag, and falling onto my lap went through my mind.

But instead of spilling his guts, he took a pen and began drawing a pair of eyes and a nose on the bottom of the bag. Placing his hand inside, he turned to his wife and in a squeaky voice said, “Hello! I’m the Vomit Puppet!”

If she didn’t want to talk with him, that was fine, but surely she couldn't resist an intellectual conversation with the Vomit Puppet. This continued for most of the flight, his poor wife, doing everything she could to hide any hint of a smile all the way home.

So now, whenever I go on a trip, especially when I’m nervous and preoccupied, such as my recent travels to speak at Columbia University, I think, “It could be worse. You could be seated next to a man speaking to his wife through a vomit puppet.”

Fortunately, there were no puppeteers or squabbling couples on this flight to distract me from preparing my presentation, and by the time I showed up on campus the next morning I was rested and ready to go.

The invitation to speak at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) national convention is truly an honor. I spent most of my high school years attending or even competing to attend similar events. I always came back inspired and excited to try out the ideas that were presented and discussed. I am indebted to the many educators and professionals who donated their time, talent and money to help me build a strong foundation that would set the tone of my life and career for many years to come.

The directors and board of CSPA are educators and professionals who are fiercely dedicated to their students and make great sacrifices each year to pull off both Fall and Spring conventions. Twice a year, they come together with an army of guest speakers to inspire and instruct students from around the world. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

So, when I found myself presenting in the Joseph Pulitzer World Room, the very room where the Pulitzer Prizes are announced each year, I hoped that my presentation would rise to the occasion.

Serving as Executive Director of Uncharted has given me firsthand experience in taking ideas, often seemingly ridiculous and outrageous ones at that, and making them happen, usually with limited resources and staff. So I wanted to show students, perhaps from schools with small budgets, how to be successful on the web notwithstanding.

This expertise is likely something I would never have achieved had it not been for the devotion of others sacrificing their time to present at conferences during my high school and college years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to students now what others did for me.

And it looks like I’ll be back again. CSPA has invited me to speak at their Spring convention. My thanks goes out to all those, who over the years took time to help me get going in my career. My commitment is to do the same for others.

Alan Murray is Executive Director of Uncharted.
He likes sea horses and snowshoes, and
frequently has the urge to leave the country.
To contact Alan, feel free to write to alan@uncharted.net.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I promise we're not trying to annoy you. We leave that up to easy listening radio.

But seriously, we need to apologize for the, well, it's not quite a flood of e-mails announcing our most recent update, but it's not exactly the concise, neat little package we had hoped when we added these notification e-mails to the mix. But because we noticed a rather important photo was missing from the photoset, we added it. That sent out a notification. Then it needed a caption. That sent out another notification. And so on. We've settled down now. I think Andrew, our design guru, put it best when he said "You never know how things are going to work until you try them out." And that's what we're doing. Trying things out.

And in trying things out, we make mistakes. That's normal. But we do sincerely apologize for the four or so update e-mails you received from us over the past weekend, and we promise to do better in the future. Be patient with us in our affliction for some day, we may actually get this right. We're working on a fix that will allow us (and you) to tweak your captions, stories and such without spamming everyone in the universe. We'll keep you up to date on what's going on. In the meantime, keep feeding us information on how we can improve. Drop us a line through a comment on this blog or via our e-mail at feedback@uncharted.net . We look forward to hearing more from you, just as you likely look forward to hearing less from us.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Uncharted Heads to Columbia

It’s a place with an impressive pedigree. It’s a home to Nobel laureates Theodore Roosevelt, Milton Freedman and Enrico Fermi; admitted spies Whittaker Chambers and Harry Dexter White; the moguls Warren Buffet and David O. Selznick. It brought us Isaac Asimov, author of I, Robot, and Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure. It brought us the likes of Upton Sinclair and Art Garfunkel, William “The Princess Bride” Goldman and Benjamin “Not that Spock” Spock. And, in 1984, it brought the world a shushing, ghostly librarian and Drs. Egon Spangler, Ray Stantz and Peter Venkman, who has PhDs in psychology and parapsychology.

It’s New York City’s storied Columbia University. And this Monday, Uncharted’s own Alan Murray, our benevolent founder and despot, will walk the same granite stairways and gaze upon the same verdant greenswards as these famous folk.

He is, despite his eastern upbringing – he’s a Pennsylvania native – a little flummoxed. “I’m hoping they all think I'm the CEO of Uncharted the video game,” he says. “That way, maybe more than 30 people will show up, only to be disappointed to find out I am a bum.”

The “they” of whom he speaks are high school students and their advisors; the “what” is the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s annual fall conference where, this year, presenters representing the fields of digital media, media law, newspaper and magazine journalism, photography, social media and Internet production and others will offer 98 presentations to students hoping to improve their skills in communication and make their high school and private school publications the envy of the universe.

Alan is one of those to whom the students will flock to partake of wisdom. On Monday, Nov. 2, he’ll present on “Geo-Social Media for an Uncharted Era.” He’ll focus on how students (and business) can communicate more effectively and work as teams to save money and time producing web publications. A full description of Alan’s presentation is available here.

“I’m really excited to be teaching this fall,” Alan says. “I spent most of my high school years attending conferences like this one. These events aren't possible without the many qualified professionals who donate their talent and time to make the event a success. It's nice to be able to do what others did for me when I was a student.”

The conference is among the most venerable student journalism conferences held in the United States. It’s sponsored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, which was founded in 1925 and formed to “unite student editors and faculty advisers working with them to produce student newspapers, magazines, yearbooks and online media,” according to the association’s Web site. (The online stuff, obviously, came a bit later than 1925.) Students from all over the United States and from overseas attend the conference as part of the education in communications, journalism, web production, photography, and writing.

Other presenters this year will teach students how to write effective editorials, take prize-winning photos, produce video for Internet delivery, explore the ins and outs of how social media can help them strengthen their publications and, from Alan, learn how to use inexpensive or free digital tools to enhance their publicaton’s presence on the web.

We at Uncharted, obviously, wish Alan the best of luck. And Alan, if you see any ghosts, be sure to follow Dr. Stantz’ advice:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not Quite Camp Wiconda, but Close. Mr. Sta-Puft is There

What better way to celebrate the entry of fall into Idaho than with a spring story from Uncharted. And, argh, yes, that is a play on words, because not only were these photos of Cress Creek taken in spring, but Cress Creek itself is a spring. I am prepared to be pumelled for the play on words. Go ahead. Do your worst.

But read the story. Cress Creek is such a fun place to take your kids on a hike especially, if they're like mine, they're hyperactive, a bit overstimulated at school and determined that this hike will be completed on schedule. Race up the trail, hesitate only a nanosecond at the crossroads, then race up the hill, over the bridges, down the hills, over the flatlands and to the precipice where they gawk at the Snake River below. Odd thing is if I want them to walk through a Home Depot for fifteen minutes, they're all tired.

I never get tired of going to Cress Creek. It's kind of fun to wander into this little Eden on the Snake River Canyon, parched in summer except for this little green gully where geothermically-heated spring water keeps things green. And then there are the remnants of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, resplendent on one of the rocks overshadowing the trail. The goo is actually ash and pumice spewed out by the Menan Buttes 18 miles to the northwest, but  . .  . why am I telling you this? Go read the story. Now.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yapping About Uncharted Online

Good Monday morning fellow explorers! Its an exciting day for all of us in the Uncharted community since Aaron is installing some great new functionality on our Explorer accounts! It will allow us to keep in touch with each other and stay appraised of new adventures with ease.

Several of you (explorers and staff) were quick to observe that if someone sent you a message on Uncharted, commented on your story, or someone requested to be your friend, you probably wouldn't know it unless you happened to log in to Uncharted. Those days are almost gone!

Thanks to all the hard work from our programmers, designer and technical staff, we just finished beta-testing this new functionality and it is working great! That means Aaron will be installing the new functionality on the Uncharted website today, which may cause a few hiccups throughout the day today (server reboots). By the end of the week your Explorer account will have notifications enabled. That means anytime someone sends you a message, posts a comment on your content, invites you to be a friend, Uncharted posts a new feature story, or if one of your friends posts new content, you will receive a notification message in your e-mail. You can also edit your profile to enable or disable any of those notification functions based on your own preferences.

We're working on getting the same notification process that works for stories to also work for photosets and will spread the word once that is installed.

You also may have noticed the additional "share" button with an orange "+" sign on the upper-right corner of stories. This allows you to easily post a story (including your own) on Facebook, Twitter, Digg or a number of other outlets.

Our staff really appreciated all the input we received from beta-testing last year and subsequent feedback over the many months of continued development. We hope these new capabilities help all of us stay in better touch with our adventurous friends across the world. So feel free to check it out, test it out, and yap away!

The image on this posting shows the new options enabled on your Explorer profile for receiving notifications.

If you notice any problems, as always, please feel free so send us feedback at our feedback e-mail address: feedback@uncharted.net

Monday, September 7, 2009

Time of the Spud

We're still here at Uncharted, limping along a little bit as we wrestle with server issues. Until the issues are resolved -- and we hope they will be soon -- our updates are going to be a little sparse. Trust me, we've got enough material to update the site twice a month for at least a year, so there's no shortage of material. Right now, it's just a shortage of server space.

So to entertain the troops, we've dusted off an oldie but a goodie: Shelley Spud Days, in which hapless folks play a tug-o-war over a huge pit of mashed potatoes and otherwise celebrate everything there is to know about the Idaho potato. Here's the story. Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Burden of Progress, or Attack of the Mushroom People

Well, it finally happened. Between the community of Explorers and staff, the data uploaded to Uncharted pushed our server to its limits and required our staff to streamline data storage. There's nothing that makes a web media operative go more crazy than going to his own site and suddenly realizing something has gone wrong! "Why is the site acting up? Have evil Mushroom People invaded our server and attacked it from within?" That was our story this morning. Who are these Mushroom People and why are they attacking us?

This was quite the headache for our team to figure out. Growth is usually welcome, but it does come with a price. All things considered, however, it is a good problem to have. It wasn't very long ago that Uncharted didn't even have an operating website. We only dreamed of such a thing. And even when it was launched, we weren't sure we'd ever get to this point, but here we are. A problem? Yes. A headache? Yes. But a good problem to have? Also yes.

Despite the headache and the fact that our technical gurus and leadership were under the gun to resolve the problem, once our team got together we had a plan of action within 30 minutes, and the site was brought back online within 2 hours. Not bad for a startup, eh? What a team!

And what was the solution? Well, since the Mushroom People are probably watching, we could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you...

Happy Adventures,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Uncharted Hangs out at the Bar J

I'm in awe of those who can use a Dutch oven for things other than burning food. I've had a little success using such ovens -- I can make a mean stew and, this summer, at my wife's insistence, we made our first Dutch oven peach cobbler. But making something like biscuits in such an oven, without them ending up like charcoal, is a feat to be seen. So it goes without saying that one of my favorite things to do at Wilson, Wyoming's Bar-J Wranglers ranch, is to eat the biscuits they make in their Dutch ovens.
We're long-time fans of the Bar-J, their dinner show and chuckwagon cooking. If you've never visited their ranch, you've got to, next time you're in Yellowstone Country. Until then, read our Uncharted story on their enterprise here. Have fun. Just watch out for Granny.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dancing, Dancing, Dancing

The rumbling thunderstorm and rushing breeze mix their sounds with those of Main Street.

Main Street noises, though, are not the swoosh of cars, the occasional click of a bicycle wheel, the regular shuffling stamp of pedestrian feet. From around the corner of the brick-fronted jewelry store, in the center of the street, emerges a woman carrying the black-on-white, yin with yang flag of South Korea. Behind her, pushed as if they were leaves on the growing breeze, a knot of reedy dancers clad in pink and aquamarine silken clothing, ruffled by the breeze, buffeted, as it seems, by the tloing! tloing! doing! crash! zloing bloing! of the drums and cymbals carried by the similarly-clad band, some of whom growl away on recorders, adding the drill and trill to the cacophony of clashes, accompanied by the swirling dancers, the rumble of thunder and the rush of the wind.

This is the Idaho International Folk Dance and Music Festival, in full swing for its twenty-fourth year. The festival has its roots at Ricks College, a private school – now Brigham Young University-Idaho – in Rexburg. In 1983, a team of folk dancers from the school attended a dance festival in Europe and decided to stage such an event at home. Partnered with the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce, organizers brought the first folk dance festival to town in 1986. You can read more about the festival's history here if you like.

During the festival, Rexburg is gently taken over by the dancers, musicians and their entourages. It’s common to run into them at Kmart or Wal-Mart, shopping with the local families who host them – providing room, board and companionship – during the festival. During the festival week it’s as common to hear German or Mandarin Chinese being spoken frequently, loudly and punctuated with laughter as the dancers eat burgers at McDonalds or ice cream at the Dairy Queen. This is how you know it’s festival time.

It’s a great event. Go read about it at www.uncharted.net here. And thanks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tranquility Base, Here . . .

Nearly forty years ago, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took those "small steps for men" and fulfilled what even a decade ago seemed an unsurmountable obstacle: Landing men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. Getting the U.S. space program from the era of crashing Vanguard rockets through the tragedy of Apollo 1 to the glee of watching Walter Cronkite's schoolboy anticipation and tearful joy at hearing Neil Armstrong's words from the surface of the moon took thousands of men and women, countless millions of man-hours, billions of dollars and one rather enjoyable Ron Howard movie.

So maybe, in a small way, getting our family up the 1.2 mile trail from the base of Oregon's Multnomah Falls to the deck at the falls' top, represents our own small steps for men; our one giant leap for family togetherness.

It was not a simple jaunt. The trail may be just over a mile, but it climbs more than 600 feet in that distance, a pretty steep requirement for three little pairs of feet anxious to climb but not necessarily used to such exertion. But, as you'll read in Uncharted.net's update this week, those little feet made it to the top and then, well, we arrived at Tranquility Base.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An 'Expert' Asks A Question

One of our goals at Uncharted is to build a string of "local experts" from every little corner of the globe who can help you plan, sort out and otherwise prepare for your adventures as you're heading into their neck of the woods. As a resident of eastern Idaho nigh these 37 years, I'm supposed to be Uncharted's expert for this area. But even experts know when they're stumped.

Take the round object at the center of this photograph. Either I or my son took this photo while we were tromping around in the wilds of Hell's Half Acre, a 5,200-year-old lava flow west of Idaho Falls, Idaho, a site featured this week at www.uncharted.net. I have no idea what this thing is. A fellow explorer suggests it might be an owl pellet, though it's a bit smaller and more brightly-colored than other owl pellets I've seen. For the curious, it's somewhere between the size of a nickel and a quarter, based on the wildflowers its by. To me, it looks like a bit of chewed corncob, though I'd be hard-pressed to say who chewed it and who decided to spit it out in such a remote location.

But like all the other Uncharted experts we have -- and those we hope to find over the years to come -- we're learning. We're exploring the little nooks and crannies that make our little slices of the world slices of heaven. We hope to learn more about the places were we live so we can help other see and appreciate the beauty of this earth and decide perhaps it is indeed better to be outside roaming than inside on the Xbox.

So come with us this week to Hell's Half Acre. More importantly, sign up yourself at Uncharted.net, where you can share your local expertise.

And if anybody has any guesses as to what this mysterious object is, let us know.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Going for that Gothic Look

In Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast, planet designer extraordinaire, brags he won an award for designing the fjords of Norway. Assigned to design the continent of Africa for Earth Mark Two, Slartibartfast is disgusted because he won't be able to include fjords in a subtropical climate. He likes fjords, he explains, because they give a continent "a baroque feel."

Pity Slartibartfast. Had he dabbled in desert scenery, he might have discovered he enjoys the Gothic feel of the solid rock, the sheer cliffs and the massive arches of the Utah Desert.

Uncharted Explorer Xelashay certainly enjoys that Gothic look. This week she's taking us all on a journey through Utah's Coyote Gulch where with a mixture of wind, water and time, the gods or some obscure but self-satisfied planetary designer have been hard at work. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Uncharted Kicks A Few Rocks Down Memory Lane

One of my hobbies is listening to old time radio recordings. I have to blame my mother for that. She grew up with the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Spike Jones, and an unlikely pair of Midwestern newlyweds, Fibber McGee and Molly.

Fibber McGee and his wife live at 79 Wistful Vista from 1935 to 1959, going from scratchy radio transmission to high fidelity and eventually to television. Molly constantly put up with Fibber’s wild schemes, whether he was attempting to make money without really having to work (such as the time he decided to dig an oil well in the backyard) or concocting some hair-brained solution to a problem he himself created. (He once suggested putting midgets on Fourth of July floats after it was pointed out the route he’d planned passed underneath a 6-foot-high viaduct.)

One of the sanest things McGee ever did was taking his wife on a canoeing trip where, with the soft swoosh of the paddles and an echo that knew more of the words than he did, he crooned to his lady love with the following song:

Cruisin’ down the river, on a Sunday afternoon.
The one you love, the stars above, waiting for the moon.
You and I together will plan our honeymoon,
Crusin’ down the river on a, on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s a sweet song, written in 1945 by Eily Beadell and Nell Tollerton. Blue Barron and Russ Morgan both brought it to the top of the U.S. Billboard Best Seller in Stores list as a number one single in 1949. Here’s the song:

As fortune would have it, Uncharted brings you such a Sunday afternoon feeling on Utah’s Cutler Marsh in two stories by Alan Murray and Brian Davidson. Our 2 ½ hour paddle through the marsh brought this song to mind and wrapped me in a cocoon of warmth as I recalled many an evening of sitting in the dark with Mom and Dad, listening to their old radio recordings.

For me, sound evokes powerful memories. When a new memory is mated with an old sound already linked to older memories, those memories flood out – in this case, bringing a bit of my childhood to life again as we paddled the still waters, watched the birds, and gazed up at the swallow nests built underneath the bridges. Now, swallows and goslings and sandhill cranes – and that scary moment when our canoe got stuck on the mudbar and I thought I’d have to walk us to shore – are indelibly tied in with this little ditty. So much the better for me, as I now have more memories on instant recall.

For the Uncahrted story on cutler marsh, go here.

For additional babblings from yours truly on Cutler Marsh, go here.

And explore the site. A few other staffers also posed their own photos and scribblings on Cutler Marsh. This variety exhibits one of the powers of Uncharted, aside from the x-ray vision and atomic breath. Nobody has a lock on a spot. If you want to write about or photograph something that's already on Uncharted, please do. Go ahead. Really. Each individual is an explorer in his or her own right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Invitation to an Uncharted Retreat

Uncharted Explorers - you're invited to come join us during our annual retreat in May. Beta-testers also welcome. We are having the following events free for Explorers. Come to either just one or all of them, your choice:

May 7th, 5:00 pm: Uncharted hike and spring cleaning.

Come with us to enjoy a spring hike and at the same time we will do spring cleaning of the trails we enjoy so much. If you can make it to Cache Valley come join us at Green Canyon at 5pm. If you're somewhere else, join us in the effort by going to your favorite local trail any time on Thursday and invite other explorers and friends to come along to give the trail some TLC.

May 8th, 2:30 - 4:00 pm: Photography workshop - "Shooting Photos with What You Have"

Where: Kensington Place Clubhouse- http://tinyurl.com/c2krq4 * Park on the street on 1800 N, clubhouse is on east side of tennis court.

What: Uncharted's Executive Director Alan Murray, long-time photojournalist and photo editor, will be teaching a photojournalism workshop. The seminar, free to Uncharted Explorers, will discuss what all digital cameras have in common and how to use those components to take dynamic photos. Techniques will also be presented on how to shoot photos that will be more likely to be selected for publication on Uncharted's homepage or the cover of Uncharted Magazine. A question and answer session will follow the seminar.

May 9th, 12:00 noon: International flavors lunch.

Where: Kensington Place Clubhouse- http://tinyurl.com/c2krq4 * Park on the street on 1800 N, clubhouse is on east side of tennis court.

What: Come mingle with Uncharted's staff and other Explorers and dig into some great flavors from all over the world. Also share your own international culinary skills, if you feel so inclined, by bringing something to add to the potluck!

** If you would like to come to any of the events, please visit our Facebook event page and mark yourself as attending so we know you're coming...or RSVP by replying to this thread with your name and how many people are coming. We will be keeping info updated on the Facebook event page and this thread**

Friday, April 24, 2009

Uncharted Brings You the Universe

Part of our goal at Uncharted is to provide, through our stories and photos, a burning desire in those who read and view what we produce to replicate those experiences in their own lives. Our update this weekend is a prime example of a story and photo package offering just that.

Take me, for instance. Long have I harbored the desire to be an astronomer. When I was eight years old, Carl Sagan's Cosmos debuted on television. Color me mesmerized. For weeks. I watched those shows. I borrowed every book from the library on astronomy. I even wrote a fan letter to Carl Sagan at Cornell University, and he wrote back, advising me to work hard on my math skills if I wanted to be an astronomer like him.

Alas, it was not to be. A straight line of Cs in algebra -- despite my efforts to learn it better than that -- dashed my hopes. My only consolation came through geometry, where I was able to understand the stuff enough to pull As. So I became a writer instead.

Then I read Joseph Burkhead's story on his adventure at Arizona's Kitt Peak Observatory, where he got to go to the top of that sacred mountain and actually have astronomers at his elbow -- both elbows -- unlocking the secrets of the cosmos. Suddenly, it all came back -- right to replaying that eerie Vangelis theme music in my head, from Sagan's television series.

So click here quickly and begin to read. And if you're a Cosmos fan like I am, hit Hulu.com and queue up one of the old shows. Listen to Vangelis' opening theme as you read Joseph's story. That cosmic desire will all come back to you.

I'm leaving now. Going outside to stare at the stars.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Uncharted Goes Underground

One of the things I enjoy the most about writing and taking photos for Uncharted is that I get to show off some of the wonderful places that make eastern Idaho such a fantastic place to explore. 17-Mile Cave is one of those places.

The cave is a mix of the ancient and modern. Ancient, because it's a remnant of Idaho's volcanic era, a time that saw volcanoes sprouting from the desert, great cracks opening in the Earth oozing lava and, of course, underwater rivers of lava forming caves and tubes under the upper crust, then draining, leaving a place for moderns like us to plow underground. And modern, because the cave is filled with graffiti, has a chamber large enough to host touch football games and is uncomplicated enough to allow amateur cave explorers a place to go without worrying about getting lost.

So, stop reading this and go on to read about 17-Mile Cave. Enjoy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Finally: Proof that I work.

I don't have too many photos of myself working. That's what happens when you're most often behind the camera. But this one, taken by Uncharted Photo Assistant John Milligan, is definitely my favorite.

Covering the Holi Festival of Color last weekend at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, was one of the more unusual assignments I've photographed and written about. Over 15,000 people packed the hillside just below the temple waiting to throw bags of powdered dust into the air and all over each other.

Most of the battle for good photojournalism is simply placing yourself in the right place and waiting for the right moment. Whenever I cover a story, I'm always looking to position myself in such a way as to ensure that I'm ready when the climax of the event goes down.

I positioned myself at what seemed to be the focal point, a pile of dry wood with a plastic witch-like figurine sitting on the top, ready to be burned. As it turns out, the figurine was an effigy of the demoness Holika, for whom the Holi Festival of Color derives its name. I figured everyone's attention would be on the fire, at least for the first few seconds. After that, you just need to run with what happens.

So when the bonfire was lit and people began throwing colored flour all over the place, you could barely see a thing. The plastic bags covering my cameras started falling off and for moments, here and there, it was hard to breathe. The fire was so hot that it started to burn even though I was almost 15 feet away. Before I knew it, I was sandwiched in the middle of thousands of people with barely any room to move, wishing I had a wider angle lens.

But there was something exhilarating about being in the middle of it all, even covered head to toe in colored powder. At Uncharted ,we try to promote a philosophy of "Explore. Live. Feel." That means when we cover a story, we immerse ourselves in it. We want to show you what it was like to be there. I hope I achieved that with this story. In any case, events like these make me excited to get out there and do more stories and photos for Uncharted.

Alan Murray is executive director of Uncharted. He likes sea horses and snowshoes, and frequently has the urge to leave the country. To contact Alan, feel free to write to alan@uncharted.net.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

MacGyvering Uncharted

Sometimes I feel like MacGyver. In fact, working on Uncharted often reminds me of the 1980s television series featuring Richard Dean Anderson as Mac, the secret agent who uses commonplace items to maneuver through challenging situations - anything from disarming a missile with a paperclip, to using a coffin as a Jet Ski, to restraining one of the bad guys by stapling his coat to the ground.

Over the past few weeks I've been on the road frequently, giving presentations and recruiting for Uncharted's team. As we're an all-volunteer force with minimal resources, I often find myself telling potential candidates we put Uncharted together with a Swiss Army Knife, duct tape, and some kite string.

Case in point: we had a presentation at Brigham Young University-Idaho last month, our first of many, discussing geo-social media, a concept unique to Uncharted. As often happens, time was limited and we found ourselves piecing together the presentation at the last minute.

Consequently, I left for Idaho without presentation slides or even a rehearsal. I made it to campus about an hour before my appointment, found an internet signal, and downloaded the presentation sent by the team only a few moments earlier. I then spent the remaining time on the phone with our communications director, reviewing slides and memorizing.

Somehow, the presentation went well and I was able to meet with many qualified candidates. When you take into account that each member of our team has a full-time job and that Uncharted is all team-funded, it's quite incredible to see the high quality we manage to generate, and it's even more thrilling to see it grow. That's not to say we don't have shortcomings. The site is far from what we envision, but we do the very best, given the circumstances, to continue improving Uncharted, thereby giving our audience the best experience possible.

This is all doable because of an incredible group of individuals who make up our team. While they come from various backgrounds, including journalists and civil engineers, programmers and members of the armed services, as well as teachers and accountants, they all have a couple of things in common, certain qualities we search for as we interview potential candidates.

The first is ingenuity. Each member of our team possesses the unique ability to transform the group's collective time, expertise, and resources into low-cost, effective solutions. They do this with little funding and time.

The second is cross-training. Each member comes with a variety of skills or, at the very least, the desire to learn things not necessarily related to their main area of expertise. For instance, it's not uncommon for a member of our communications/marketing team to take on the task of writing a story or taking photos for our editorial department. And it's not out of the ordinary to see a staff writer shooting photos or a copy editor brainstorming public relations issues.

While meeting with candidates at BYU-Idaho, we were most impressed with how professors in the communications department both encourage and provide opportunities for their students to learn a variety of skills, anything from sales to video, to writing and photography, to marketing and more. That said, it probably won't surprise you we've already added some soon-to-be graduates from BYU-Idaho to our team. And even though our recruiting efforts span the globe, I'm sure they won't be the last.

As Uncharted continues to expand, we realize it is our team and our wonderful audience who deserve the real credit for its success. No doubt we'll continue keeping things together with duct tape and kite string for a bit longer, but when you look at the incredible people who contribute to Uncharted, there is little doubt it's course is firmly set towards success.

Alan Murray is executive director of Uncharted. He likes sea horses and snowshoes, and frequently has the urge to leave the country. To contact Alan, feel free to write to alan@uncharted.net.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Uncharted is Trademarked!

Its official! We just received a certificate from the United States Patent Trade Office showing that our registration of the Uncharted trademark is authorized and complete! If you're familiar with the TM registration process, you know it can be a long and laborious process, but you also probably know how important it is to protect your brand identity. We certainly do. Over a year ago we noticed someone online that started copying our ideas, almost word for word. The night we made this alarming discovery, I went to work immediately on registering the Uncharted trademark and didn't stop until I was done applying. By 3 a.m. the same night I was finally finished, and Uncharted was on its way to getting government authorization for its trademark. Now, over a year later, we can look back on all the work it took to get our trademark out there in commerce and approved by the legal reviewers with great satisfaction in knowing we own the Uncharted name from here on out in our industry. Another step forward in the adventure. Uncharted is here to stay.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Uncharted Brings You the Bahamas

Uncharted just keeps plugging along, and that pleases us to no end. Today, we updated the site with our second Explorer story (which you can read here), featuring the Bahamas -- our first international destination. We've got a very long way to go to get Uncharted out of the Intermountain West, but with Explorers like Lisa Wheat, we'll get there, one story at a time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Taste of the Uncharted Lifestyle

As we sat around the kitchen table, Alan eating the second half of his Big Juds burger, John crunching away at a cup of half-cooked ramen noodles, and me sitting there looking hung over even though I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol, the discussion was this: How can we make all of our workdays like today?

This was our workday:

Up at 6, out the door by 6:45. Snowmobile suits, snow pants, parkas, gloves and hats help us to ward off the chilly weather, with temperatures hovering at a mere 6 above zero. Shortly after 7 am, we weaved through the snow-ridden streets of Ashton, Idaho, trying to find a place to park. Then we wander the streets with the sun rising in our faces as we talk to the owners of dogs set to compete in the American Dog Derby, featured on our home page today. Between the twin tasks of putting booties on his dogs’ feet and cleaning up their messes with a small rake and shovel, Bino Fowler of Sunriver, Oregon, told us why he loves sled dog racing. Up the street and around the corner are two dozen other contestants, likely with similar stories.

As the racers leave town one by one, we’re all pleasantly surprised by the easy, friendly manner of the Ashtonites we bump into. When we say hello, nobody turns the cold shoulder. They’re happy to be in this little town, awake so early in the cold. With a few sentences of explanation of who we are and what Uncharted is, we’re given the same insider tips these friendly folk give most everyone with a camera and a question. We follow it, along highways east of town and through banks of snow that force themselves into Alan’s shoes, making his socks soggy.

Nobody treats us as if we were interlopers. This is significant. Both Alan and I have worked for newspapers, and are used to bracing ourselves for the expected comments: You work for the paper, eh? Well, don’t screw it up. We might still screw it up, because newspapers do not corner the market on infallibility. But we’ll do our best. And have fun doing it.

So at the table, having lunch at about 2 pm, we ask ourselves: When will this become our full-time occupation? When will we be able to wake up in the morning and have Uncharted be our full-time, paying gig, not the part-time, volunteer gig it is now? We had fun. We want more of that. Someday soon, we hope. Someday soon.

Of course we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then. We’ve got to get more agile. More mobile. More integrated with the folks we want to connect with. We’re working on it. And we expect great things to happen.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Uncharted First

Like many other businesses, Uncharted has a fairly lofty mission statement:

Uncharted is the premier interactive experience of the world. We're a community of friends dedicated to discovering the world's geographic and cultural marvels through the finest use of innovation & aesthetics, bringing the world to you and you to the world, one journey at a time.

To me, the most important aspects of this statement lie in that we want to be “a community of friends,” working arduously to bring “the world to you and you to the world, one journey at a time.”

Today we hit a first: Uncharted contributor Fishstyx and his wonderful story and photos detailing a journey he took on Utah’s San Juan River will be featured on our homepage at http://www.uncharted.net/, bringing a little corner of his world to you, and you to his world. You'll notice a little badge on the photo we selected to tout his story on the homepage. We'll use it on every story we pluck from Uncharted's pages to brag up one of our Explorers' stories. And y'all are Uncharted's Explorers. Your story could be next.

Fishstyx's story embodies the Explore, Live, Feel philosophy that drives Uncharted. We want to feature stories and photographs that evoke emotion and action in our readers. His story caught my ear because of the lilting, lyric way Fishstyx uses language. His story caught my soul because as I read it, I could imagine myself bobbing along in the raft with him, staring up in awe at the Native American petroglyphs on the canyon walls, trailing my hands in the muddy water. Fishstyx not only told me about the San Juan River, but, for about ten minutes as I sat at my desk in my gray-walled, gray-carpeted cubicle with a fine view of the thick January fog outside the window, Fishstyx took me away from this place. Way better than Calgon.

We’re excited to see our little community starting to grow. We hope it’ll keep growing, and soon become a much bigger community. But through all that, our goal will be to feature writers, photographers, philosophers and thinkers who can metaphorically grab us by the hand and take us with them on an adventure.

Fishstyx is the first. Who will be next? It’s all up to you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Meeting new people

Meet “Thedude.” He’s 28, likes politics, traveling and running rivers. His favorite place on Earth is the Grand Canyon. Before he dies, he wants to hitchhike from Argentina to the U.S. and raft the Nile. “I lived in a tent (In Moab, Utah) with my dog for six months,” he writes, “I don’t recommend using that as a pickup line.”

I hope he can live out those dreams––in fact, I’m counting on it. He’s just one of the many interesting people you can meet on Uncharted. People with their own set of travels and adventures, often right in their own backyards. People who have been there, done that, and can steer you in the right direction. And people who can show you places that are truly uncharted.

At Uncharted, we love exploring new places and meeting new people. Even more than that, we want to share those experiences, ours and yours, one journey at a time.

Over two weeks ago, you joined us in making that dream come alive as Uncharted became the first Geo-Social Media Agency in the world. So, you’re probably thinking, “What’s Geo-Social Media anyway?” If you haven’t heard that term before, it’s not surprising, because we recently invented it. Simply put, it’s the mix of professional journalism with an online community, a community of friends sharing their own experiences through visuals and the written word, presenting that material geographically.

And that’s exactly what has happened. In just a matter of days, you’ve shared adventures from Hong Kong to Hawaii, California to Idaho, Michigan to New York, Europe to India. Now, anyone, anywhere in the world can click on a map and experience the globe behind the geography through your eyes.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. People from 19 different countries, speaking a variety of languages, have viewed your submissions. It’s been featured on blogs, other websites and carried through the air on radio waves. And your audience is growing every day.

So, this week we’re excited to share with you yet another story from our staff––this time, written and photographed by me, on one of Northern Utah’s geologic marvels, the Wind Caves.

And while I spent considerable time writing and taking photos for this story, I realize that, in a way, it’s not complete. It’s still missing one thing––your photos, your stories and your experiences. So, for those of you who’ve been to the Wind Caves, don’t let our story get in the way of you sharing your own as well, because that’s what Uncharted is all about––bringing the world closer together one journey at a time.

Alan Murray is Executive Director of Uncharted. He likes sea horses and snowshoes and frequently has the urge to leave the country. To contact Alan feel free to write to alan@uncharted.net.