Monday, April 25, 2016

All About Density Maps

Want to know what a density map looks like before AQ makes
it all nice and pretty for you? This is it! =) Each state (and DC) has a different
palette index so AQ only needs to change one color for each state 
rather than dealing with the complex boundaries of the state. (I gave each
state a different color to make it easier for ME to see the boundaries,
but all of the colors are replace dynamically while generating the map
so it doesn't matter what the colors are at this point. Canada, Mexico,
Caribbean islands and the ocean are the only colors that don't get changed..
Then an outline of the states with the AQ logo is applied on top
to give it a polished look. Then AQ prints what map you're viewing--
who the map is for and the "action" (see below) at the top.
And presto! This ugly thing turns into a beautiful density map! =)
I teased in my last post that I had a lot more to write about those new density maps on the profile page, and here's my follow-up! For those who've been sleeping the last few days, I added a new premium member perk which allows premium members to see density maps of their plants and finds (in the United States) on their profile page. Very cool stuff! =)

But it's so much more! You can actually include them pretty much on any website you want. It's just an image, after all. You can post them to Facebook, or blogs, or... well, anywhere you can normally upload images. The URL, at it's most basic, is:

This displays a density map of all boxes listed in the United States on Atlas Quest. You can customize the map with a few parameters. It helps if you have at least a little technical background because to change it requires some URL manipulations. There's no page to set the parameters automatically. (Perhaps someday, but it's not a high priority for me.) But URL manipulation is easy and opens up a whole lot of new options...
  • memberId: Specifies the member ID of the person whose plants and finds you want to create a density map for. You can find your member ID at the top-right corner of your profile page. And since this is a premium member only perk, it only works for members who are premium members. (You'll just see an error message saying that density maps are a premium member perk if you try to point to a non-premium member.)
  • color: A 6-digit hexadecimal number for the color to use on the map in the form rrggbb. All of the shades of color are based off this color and become progressively darker the larger percentage of plants/finds are in the state. Generally speaking, using bright, light colors works best since shades only get darker. If you use a dark color (like black), you just get... black. For everything. 50 Shades of Black. (Ha!) =)
  • action: Can be set to plants, finds, attempts, owns or carves. If none is specified, it default to plants. So yes, this means you can display density maps of your attempts, boxes where you're the officially listed owner, or boxes with stamps that you've carved. I don't display them on the profile page because I don't think they're as interesting and I don't think most of you are as interested in them, but the option is available!
  • width: The maximum width (in pixels) that the map should be. It defaults to 600 when none is provided.
  • height: The maximum height (in pixels) that the map should be. It defaults to 600 when none is provided.
So! Here are a few more examples of maps that you can generate with a little URL manipulation:

My carves, with a reddish color (ff8888), set to a width of 300 pixels.;color=ff8888;action=carves;width=300


My attempts, with a purplish color (ff88ff), set to a width of 400 pixels.;color=ff88ff;action=attempts;width=400

Boxes I own, with a greenish color (ff88ff), set to a width of 500 pixels.;color=88ff88;action=owns;width=500

BUT! That's not all.... Those are all parameters this feature was specifically designed to handle. These parameters are unique to this feature and this URL. There's a heck of a lot more parameters it supports, however, because these maps are really just an advanced search that spits out its output in a very unique manner. Almost all of the parameters you can use for advanced searches also applies to these maps as well! You can create maps of your active plants. Or all of your finds that you've tagged yellow. Or all boxes you've found that have the word "flower" in it. Or all boxes you've found that are a mental puzzle. Or whatever!

Like I said... these maps.... they're nothing more than an advanced search with a very special output!  (However, the mapping code isn't smart enough to label your map with all of your search options--just who the map is for and what action is being used.)

So, let's take a look at a map of my active plants still in existence:

To display only my active plants, I add status=1 to the URL;status=1;color=88ff88;action=plants

This map is a more interesting one.... compared to the map of all of my plants, this one has a lot more holes in it. Particularly in those states where I only had one or two plants to my name to start with. Those go missing, and poof--I lose the state!

Or maybe look at my plants that have the mental puzzle icon involved. Which means setting the attribs tag to 128. (You'll probably want to run an advances search and just use the same parameters it sends you to. That's how I got these numbers!);attribs=128;color=ffff88;action=plants

So there you go.... all sorts of map options you probably didn't even realize you had! The only advanced search options that don't work is the location (it'll ignore whatever you specify and change the location to "all boxes in the United States") and anything in the "participants" section (the owner, carver, finders, etc.) which is overwritten by the memberId and action parameters. All other advanced search options work! =)

And you might be thinking... but Ryan! I want to add a map of my active plants to my profile too! How do I do that?!

And... well, you'll have to fall back on the old hack of including the URL in the free-flowing thoughts section of your profile. I've gone ahead and done that to my profile so you can see an example of it in action. It's separated from the other maps, which isn't ideal, but I didn't have the time or inclination to set up a whole range of all possible map options that I figured most people wouldn't be interested in. I picked the two that I felt most people would be interested in and everything is an advanced feature. =)

Technical note: It's entirely okay to use & between parameters rather than the semicolon that I used in my examples. Semicolons cause me less trouble than the special character & (where I often need to convert it into "&" in HTML), so I generally make a habit of using semicolons on AQ even though it's not normal on other websites and, in fact, wouldn't work at all on most other websites. =)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Major Profile Update!

Density map of my finds.
So... any of you trying to get onto AQ this evening might have seen it was down for maintenance for about a half hour. As per usual, there were a number of minor tweaks here and there, but the main thrust of this particular update and where you'll see the most changes was the profile page. It's the 13th most-visited page on AQ, you know, and hasn't really undergone any major renovations since Atlas Quest launched in 2004!

The primary reason for the renovation was to make it smartphone friendly. If you check out that page on your smartphone, it's a heck of an improvement! Much neater and requires no zooming in and out to navigate.

I remembered more than once people wanting to know how to update the profile of a sub-account. The answer previously had been: Log into the account! There was no way to edit the profile of a sub-account from your primary account, and creating such a feature was never a high priority for me because it was so easy just to log into the sub-account directly. I didn't add the feature when I first created profiles because sub-accounts didn't even exist, and adding such a feature retroactively would have taken quite a bit of time and effort, and I judged it to be not worth the effort for the few people who, on rare occasions, might use the feature.

But this time, I was already neck-deep in pretty much rewriting all of the code running this subsystem from scratch, and adding the feature at the same time was relatively quick and easy. So presto! You can now edit sub-accounts directly from the primary account! (As an extra perk for admins--we also have the power to edit anyone's profile without having to log into their accounts. It doesn't happen often, but it has happened when people have posted inappropriate material in it.)

Anyhow, for those of you who use sub-accounts a lot, you're gonna love that change! =)

And for premium members... there's an entirely new section on your profile for density maps of your plants and finds. This feature was actually a lot of fun for me to build because I found it rather challenging and pushing my abilities. =) It also took me more time to build that new feature than the complete rewrite of the rest of the profile subsystem!

A density map of my plants over the years! Just 11 more states to go!
People have been adding maps to the free-flowing thoughts section of their profile for years of a picture of the United States with the states filled in for places they've boxed. I figured a "native" map linked directly to the AQ database would be quite a bit simpler to use and maintain. AQ could even go one better than just filling in states where you've boxed, but even use different shades of a color to show how many letterboxes you've planted/found in a given state. The darker the color, the more boxes you've found and planted.

I will point out a couple of caveats to be aware of, however. First, AQ only knows the located of listed finds--and even then only if it's not a mystery box. If your only finds in a state are of the unlisted variety, it's going to show as empty. Likewise, the density maps are only the densities based on your finds of listed boxes.

Second, it's not unusual for boxes planted at an event to later move out of state for replanting. Ideally, people would just retire the original listing and relist it fresh, but that doesn't always happen so you may end up with states that you've "letterboxed" in but have never actually been to. It is possible to fix this discrepancy by adding a custom location to the boxes of where you originally found the boxes. AQ counts states based on your custom locations first, then falls back to the location "officially" listed on the box.

On a related note, it's also possible to get mystery boxes you've found counted towards the correct state by adding a custom location for where you found the box.

And, not really a feature per se, but I also added a Google/Amazon ad at the bottom of the profile for non-premium members. I know nobody likes ads, but I did add them to the bottom of the page where I hope they won't be too obtrusive. It's not like you wouldn't notice it on your own and it doesn't really need any explanation--I just wanted to acknowledge it was there. Whether you can't afford a premium membership or just don't want one, I figure anyone using AQ regularly probably wants to support the website in some manner, and that's another way of doing so.

Which pretty much sums up the major changes to the profile page. There are a few minor things as well (you can rotate your signature stamp image if your smartphone uploads it in an incorrect orientation!), some minor formatting changes (which you might not see until your browser re-caches the CSS file), and such.

I'll post more about the density maps later, though, because there's a lot more to write about those outside of the profile page. But I'll save that for another day....

Completely off topic... there's also a new event icon to represent events at "places of learning" (schools, libraries, museums, etc.)

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Merger is OFF! Off, I say!

There's a vicious rumor that AQ and LbNA are merging. Normally I don't comment on such obviously ridiculous rumors, but I keep being asked about it so I'm making it official--there is no merger! I don't even know how these crazy ideas even get started.

It does appear, however, that a hacker gained access to the Wassa Widget and changed it to only show the most interesting posts rather than the funniest posts of each day. This, of course, is unacceptable--AQ is nothing if not a ball of non-stop laughs--and the situation will be fixed as quickly as possible.

Speaking of which, Wassa has not lost his admin and moderator privileges. Obviously, the hacker was impersonating me when they contacted Wassa about his demotion.

Thanks for understanding in these dark and difficult times.....

But in all seriousness.... I'd also like to thank Choi for playing along with our little April Fools joke. I had the idea of "switching websites" for the day and tossed the idea to Choi, who was game for it. We didn't run with my original idea--mostly because neither of us are particularly experienced in the mysterious ways of DNS entries and can really screw things up badly if we didn't get it just right. Not to mention that it would have required a few minor (albeit "invasive") changes to the AQ code and probably some ugly security errors with a no longer properly functioning SSL certification. Perhaps LbNA had similar issues as well (I'm not familiar with the code or server to know what sort of changes might be required on that end of things). I still like the idea of seeing AQ show up in the address bar when someone types in "" and have LbNA show up when someone types in "", but it's probably a bad idea from a technical level....

Instead of that, we just redirected the first page hits to each other's website. Much much less technical and less risky thing to do. Although not easy enough, as it seems, since we'd been trying to fix problems with the prank pretty much the entire first half of the day. Stupid incorrect redirects and unexpected side-effects.... It didn't help that were in different time zones either. But hey, at least we got it right eventually. =)

I'd also like to thank Wassa for my favorite new phrase whenever I make a change or update to Atlas Quest--regardless of how stupid or ill-thought out the update might be: This is implemented for the good of the hobby.

And thanks to everyone who uses either (or both!) of these websites and was willing to put up with our shenanigans for the day! =)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Calling for Calendar Photos!

Y'all know I'm busy thru-hiking at the moment, but I still have plans to create a new letterboxing calendar next year which I'll start working on just as soon as I finish this hike--which is imminent! I'm not sure of the exact date I'll finish or when I'll start work on the calendar, but you'll have at least another week or two to get your photos submitted! =)

Letterboxing Calendar (a.k.a. Project X)

Upload Photos

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fools!

Sparkle, blue diamonds! Sparkle like
you've never sparkled before! -)
Yeah, okay, those old icons are hideous, and I still stand by that assertion. I brought them back for the day for April Fools--as many of you probably realized if you looked at a calendar. =) Truth is, nobody has complained about the icons after the first couple of weeks of when they were introduced and while I'm sure there are those who can nitpick some of the things they don't like about the new ones, I'd bet most of you would agree that the new set--as a whole--is vastly superior to the old set and there's no way I'm going back on this! I'd even bet that some of you were probably surprised at how bad some of the old icons really were now that you've gotten used to the high-quality new ones. They might not have seemed that awful before because you were used to them, and while they served with honor for years, their time has come to a permanent and irreversible end!

As for those checkboxes.... those were more-or-less randomly assigned. I was curious to see what sort of guesses people would make about their purpose or what sort of patterns they found in how they were assigned. If you're curious, this was the algorithm for deciding whether a box was checked or not:

Take the member ID of the person whose name the check will be next to, add the member ID of the person who's logged in (if someone is actually logged in) and if that total is an odd number, give the person a check! There's no inherit meaning to the checks at all. =)

Happy trails, everyone!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back due to popular demand!

I thought changing the icons a couple of months back would be a popular thing because I never much liked the old ones and the new ones looked so spiffy, but people are still emailing me complaints about it. I figured the initial shock of seeing them changed wouldn't be popular (people, as a general rule, hate changes), but I also figured after people got used to the new icons, it wouldn't seem so bad anymore. But still, the complaints roll in and I've finally decided just to put the old icons back. I was wrong for changing the icons before--at least not all in one big update. Maybe changing them one at a time over the course of a year would have been more acceptable.

Anyhow, due to the huge number of people who don't like the new icons, I'm rolling the old ones back out. Enjoy! =)

Well, almost all of them. The stars representing the number of message board posts, for instance, require some code changes since they use a different numbering system than the new icons used. They'll take a bit more effort to replace, but I'm working on those as well. Hopefully it won't take more than a day or so until all of the old icons are back to normal! In the meantime, please be patient! Thanks!

Look! The brains are pink again! =)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Improving Searches

I know many of you are waiting with bated breath--what is Ryan going to do to ruin Atlas Quest next?! I've heard those complaints, and I've been listening! =)

My most recent changes are completely invisible. At least, on the surface, they're invisible. I've been working to made word-based searches.... better.

The thing to remember with almost all searches--be it for letterboxes with a specific name, message board posts that use a certain phrase or even the help pages, when you search for a string of words, AQ runs the search using an invisible "or" between each word unless you stated otherwise. So if you tried to run a search for the letterbox named "Deep Space Nine," the results would return all boxes with the words "deep", "space" OR "nine." The list could be a lot longer and unwieldy than you might have expected! In a worst case scenario, if more than 1,000 boxes returned with that name, you might not even see the specific box you were looking for because AQ stops looking after it finds 1,000 matches. If the box you were searching for wasn't within those first 1,000 matches, it won't show up in the search at all.

Ironically, you'd have gotten better results just by searching for a single word. "Deep" would have only returned boxes with the word "deep" in it. Boxes with "space" or "nine" but not with the word "deep" wouldn't have cluttered up the searches.

This system might seem convoluted, but it was rather handy when people tried to run a letterbox search for a box named "Forest Grove Cemetery" but misspell a word and searched for "Forest Grove Cematery" instead and had people puzzled why the box couldn't be found. With only a few thousand boxes on AQ, AQ could still find a match, sort it so boxes with the words "forest" and "grove" came before boxes with "forest" OR "grove" and everyone liked the results. The cemetery didn't match the misspelled "cematery" but it didn't matter. It was close enough!

Nowadays, with hundreds of thousands of boxes listed on AQ, a better method was needed. The easy solution was just to put your search in quotes. "Deep Space Nine" (with the quotes) would have found the exact title, but do you know how many people did that while running searches? Not many!

So to make a long story short, AQ does some fancy manipulation of your search terms automatically if you don't specify the manipulation yourself. The first two words of a search will always be required. If you misspell one of those first two words, AQ will not find the box you were looking for. So now a search for "Deep Space Nine" (without the quotes) will return all boxes with the words "deep" and "space".... and optionally, if it happens to find the word "nine" in the title, it'll be sorted before the others that don't have the word "nine."

As you add more and more words to the search, more and more of them will be required. Let's take an exaple for a search for "The Life and Times of Deep Space Nine."

First, stopwords aren't included. Words like "the", "and" and "of" are pretty useless for searches, so those get crossed out completely.

Now we're left with "Life Times Deep Space Nine." In this case, the first two words are required. ("Life" and "times".) Among the rest of the words, AQ requires the first half. If there's an odd number of words, it's rounded down to an even number. Here we have three words left, so we round it down to an even 2. The first "half" of those two words is "deep" so the word "deep" becomes required as well.

The words "space" and "nine" will both be optional, but if they're found in the results, they'll be sorted ahead of those without them.

Clear as mud, I know. It's confusing. The exact algorithm for which words are required isn't really that important. The important thing to remember is that, in general, the first half of the words in a search are required and the last half are not. A misspelling in the first half will cause your box NOT to show up in the results. A misspelling in the last half will be pretty forgiving.

I haven't rolled these changes out to all of AQ as of yet. I've been testing them and tweaking them for the best results. You will find them working if you run a letterbox search, however, which was the place where the most problems were being caused. I've also updated the code for message boards and the help pages to use the new algorithms as well. If you always found the help pages difficult to search, you might consider the searches dramatically improved now! I did a test this morning where the old algorithm returned about 20 results (the vast majority having nothing to do with what I was looking for) while the new one returned 2 results (both of which were immediately relevant to my search).

Eventually I'll be rolling it out to all of the other word-based searches. Searching for trackers by name, events by name, etc.

What if you don't want AQ to automatically try to "improve" the search you're running? The easiest way to "opt out" is simply to include a special processing symbol of your own in the search. AQ won't manipulate the search if you're doing it yourself! If you want to search for all boxes with the words deep, space, and nine in them, you could run a search for "deep" space nine. The quotes, in this case, are essential so AQ sees them and knows to leave well enough alone, even though on the surface they don't really appear to actually do anything. (And under the old searching algorithm, they didn't do anything!) But really, I can't think of any reason not to let AQ automatically improve your searches.

At times, you might want to further refine the search beyond what AQ does automatically. (Perhaps you want your search to require the words deep, space, and nine, so you can still run +deep +space +nine. Now they'd all be required. Or you want to search for the exact phrase "deep space nine" (all in quotes) which requires all three of the words to be in consecutive order.

Or if you want deep and space to be optional, but nine to be required: deep space +nine.

So there you have it. =)

Happy trails!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Facelifts and Tummy Tucks

Did you know that AQ turned 10 years old this year? TEN YEARS! Holy cow! Time flies when you're having fun! =)

In website years, that's incredibly old. Technology and all advances so quickly. When I first started AQ, the most popular browser in use was Internet Explorer 6. And I hated that browser for so many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was its lack of support for alpha transparencies on PNG images. A lot of you probably don't know what that means and that's okay--you don't have to understand it. It didn't help much that none of my paint programs really supported it either. So AQ became littered with GIF images.

Even worse, when I started Atlas Quest, I had absolutely ZERO income. No job, no premium memberships, no nothing. My biggest financial windfall in 2004--the year I started Atlas Quest--was when I invested a few thousand dollars in Martha Stewart's company immediately after she was found guilty of insider trading. I bought some of her company then, and it went on to do very, very well over the next several months and I eventually sold it just before she got out of prison. As exciting as that was, however, it's not a windfall I could expect every year!

So my choice of images were largely what I could find online that were available for free. And you know what they say--you get what you paid for! I got what I paid for. *nodding*

Fast forward ten years later and things are different. Atlas Quest does earn its keep now, and investing in high-quality icons isn't out of the question anymore. I also have a couple of programs that can manipulate PNG images, and about one-half of one percent of the web-surfing public uses IE6. (Truth be told, it surprises me that anyone is still using it at this point, but I officially stopped worrying about that browser years ago.)

And I felt it was finally time for a major icon facelift! I've been using some of the same icons on AQ for over ten years now, and it needs a refresh! So that's what I'm in the process of doing now. There are some lovely icons too. High quality, top-notch icons. I have them in multiple sizes so I can use tiny little versions where needed, or huge icons that could be used as a menu button.

It's not a small task to update almost every icon on Atlas Quest--they now number into the hundreds. I'm getting there--hopefully in another week or two I'll be done. =)

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd share some of the new icons I plan to use. Give y'all a sneak peak at some of them.....

This is the bike-friendly icon. It will NOT be this big on the live website! But I'll have versions of all the icons up to this size so I won't be limited to a one-size-fits-all scenario.
By comparison, this is the smallest version of the bike icon I have available. I won't be using that either--not for the bike icon, at least. Some places were tags are used or the "close widget" icon might be this small, but not very many places will use this size. (Definitely not any box attributes!)
Shiny new blue diamonds! =)
Some icons will change completely. I'll be using this snorkel mask to represent "special equipment required" rather than the parachutist of before. The expensive new icon set I bought didn't include a parachutist, and I created the parachute icon when the attribute was originally called "extreme." It's not called "extreme" anymore (too vague a term for people to really understand, I guess) and changed it to "special equipment required." The icon never changed, though... until now! (I'd really love to find a few underwater boxes, BTW.)

Another icon that's completely changing.... the HIPS icon for event boxes. I kind of liked the mustache, but I've NEVER seen a box hidden in someone's mustache before. I have seen them disguised as soft drinks, however. ;o) (Not to mention that my icon set didn't include a mustache in it.)

This icon is for the "compass required" attribute, but I kind of feel myself wanting it throw it all over Atlas Quest just because it's a compass! And it's cool! And it's pointing (mostly) north! =)

AQ-hosted clues used to be represented by the AQ logo, but I never much liked that because it wound up looking like a link to AQ rather than an AQ-hosted clue. But my icon set did include this old, crinkly paper--a blank sheet of it! So the sheet of paper represents a clue, and the icon inside represents where the clue is hosted. =)

The box tags are all stars but different colors. I did that since I only needed to find one star then change the colors of it for all of the other tags. It was fast and easy! But it always bothered me a little because I felt it had to be a terrible system for people who are colorblind. I'm not colorblind and sometimes have trouble distinguishing between a tiny yellow star and a tiny orange star! So now those icons will all be different shapes. (The colors are still the same, though.)

I kind of like the "freshly hatched egg" to represent a new member, but my icon set didn't include any eggs. (Not even sunny side up eggs! *gasp*) But it did have this pacifier. I'm not actually sure how I feel about using a pacifier to represent a newbie, but it seemed like the best choice of the options available. 
These particular icons.... *shaking head* I've spent the last three days JUST working on these icons. These are the "trophy awards" for the number of plants you have. The icon set came with three trophies--bronze, silver and gold--but they were otherwise all the same. Somehow having only 3 different levels of P-ness didn't seem sufficient. I wanted them to have numbers like the existing ones did! But if I just wrote a number with any old font, it'll look like the old icons--a number written on top of the icon. These icons were classy! A big black number on top of them--not classy! So I wanted to make it look like the numbers were etched into the trophies. (Engraved? What's the difference between an etching and an engraving anyhow? How about carved into the trophies?!)

But I digress.... When I started working with these icons, I had no idea how to "engrave" the trophies and I spent three full days learning all sorts of new tricks with my photo-editing software to create these effects! And I decided that I also wanted to spell out the entire number--just just the first digit like the existing icons do. But the thin little trophies provided just didn't have enough space for up to three numbers at the same time, so then I had to digitally manipulate the silver trophy to be just a bit wider than the bronze one, and change the gold trophy to be wider still. More for me to figure out and learn! Which actually worked out pretty nicely because the trophies don't just change color as you level up, but they get BIGGER too! But in reality, the main reason I made them bigger was to fit the larger numbers on them.

And then! Even after I finally figured all that out, the numbers still didn't quite look right because they were flat. They clearly weren't following the curvature of the trophies. So then I had to learn more Photoshop tricks to figure out how to make the text wrap around the trophies. (Technically, I used GIMP, but I figured most of you probably never heard of GIMP. But it's like Photoshop. Except it's free.)

And unlike all of those other icons where I just needed one icon, I had to create 27 different icons for this because it's part of a set--one for each number I needed. (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900). So I had to apply the text affects, and curve the text around the trophies for nearly THIRTY different icons!

Oh, then and create them for all of the various sizes. Turns out, when you take a 512x512 pixel tall icon and shrink it to 16x16 pixels, it doesn't look so good. Even shrinking it to 64x64--it didn't look so good. So I created a 512x512 and a 64x64 version for every one of them. The rest of the sizes I created with the necessary shrinking. And the 16x16 and 24x24 icons I said screw it--I just wouldn't use those anywhere. =)

Anyhow.... three long days later, and I finally have the new trophy icons completed. Those were hard. Those were a lot of work. I hope you enjoy them! =)

I've still got some more icons to work on.... especially the ribbons for finds and stars for message boards. They're both relatively large sets and will likely take a few days each as well, but those are the only other icons I have to do before I make these changes live. =)

Premium member hat icons.... My icon set doesn't really have much in the way of hats so those are pretty much the only icons that won't be changing. For now. Eventually I'd like to upgrade those as well, but there are just so many of them! And I'd need to find a new icon set with all sorts of hat options available. Someday....

AQ Mail widget icon

There is one place on AQ where you can see some of the new icons RIGHT NOW! If you check out the Add Widgets page for My Page, each widget gets its own icon. Since that's database driven and doesn't involve any code changes, I updated those several days ago. But unless you're adding a widget, you'll never see those icons. They were mostly changed just because it was as good as time as any to do so. *shrug*

Location-based search widget icon

Billboard widget icon (a premium member only widget)
Treasure hiker widget icon

But those are some of the icons you'll have to look forward to in the near future. Hope you like them! =)

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

2015 Letterboxing Calendars are HERE!

The calendars took a bit longer to arrive than I expected, but at long last, they have arrived!!!! 

Yep, admire the calming scenery taken by Yak King blues, Crafty Lobster, frankie and benjy, Keepupwjoneses, Yiker, The Wolf Family, 55 Steps, LaBef2010, Nature Hikers and myself.

Ponder the thoughtful quotes.

Know that you'll never forget Wassa's birthday ever again.

Because this calendar has it all! =)

Check it out and order yours today!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Hike a Thoning!

Imagine your favorite hiking trail. It probably leads to a scenic viewpoint or gorgeous waterfall, right? But one thing you probably don't think about is the work that goes into maintaining them. You'll notice it when it's not maintained--the mud, those thorny bushes reaching out to scratch you, or climbing over and under logs that have fallen across the trail. You'll notice when you lose the trail completely because it's unmarked or overgrown or the bridge crossing that raging river has washed away.

And the Washington Trails Association (WTA) helps make sure you don't notice the trail so you can admire those great views and raging waterfalls. A good trail is a lot of work. It's also hard on tools, like this shovel I recently broke while trying to pry a rock out of the trail. Well, that rock is still in the trail--it never did come out--but shovels don't grow on trees. If they did, the WTA wouldn't need money to buy and fix shovels--after all, they spend a lot of time around trees and could just grow them instead.

But shovels don't grow on trees. Neither do Pulaskis. Nor cross-cut saws. Nor axes or grub-hoes--none of these essential tools for trail maintenance grows on trees. The good thing, though--these tools aren't especially expensive either. Just $10 might be enough to fix or replace an essential tool. It might not seem like much, but a tool here and a tool there--it adds up!

As I do every August, I participate in the Washington Trail Association's (WTA) Hike-a-Thon! I have to admit, this August, I was pretty pathetic. The last week of July, I did some trail work with the WTA and I intended to blog about it during August and I started the blog entry, but alas, I never finished. Seemed like more pressing matters kept getting in my way.
Now it's September and the Hike-a-Thon is "officially" over and I never once even blogged about it this year! So thanks to those who donated to the cause without any prompting AT ALL from myself! (Alisa, Steven, Barbara, Erica, and Jeffrey!) Although I suspect Amanda might have encouraged more than one of them....

However, it's not too late to donate. They're still collecting money for another week or two--those personal checks, I guess, take time to work their way through the mail system to their offices.

I use a small saw to cut out this log that's fallen across the trail.
 So, here's my offer. In less than 24 hours, I'll be heading off to the land of kilts (Scotland) to do some sightseeing and hiking, and for anyone who donates $5 or more under MY account will get a postcard from me from Scotland! And maybe I'll even email you a photo of me wearing a kilt. Maybe.... no promises on that. ;o)

So help buy a tool. Just sponsor me to make a donation, and thank you for your generosity! To make sure you get the postcard okay, it might be a good idea to email me your current address. The WTA won't provide me with it, and while I might have many of your addresses if you've ordered something from Atlas Quest over the years, I can't know if the address is out of date or not. So to make sure you get your postcard sooner rather than later, contact me directly and let me know!

Also, at this point.... please NO personal checks anymore. Amanda and I won't be home to process them until it's too late to count towards Hike-a-Thon, so at this point, all donations must be online.

After our work was done for the day, I went for a paddle around
Snoqualmie Lake in this little raft. I sooo want to buy one of these things!
(Completely off topic, though...)