Sunday, April 01, 2018

Another April Fools Day in the bag

As most of you quickly realized, those horrible fonts I used today were this year's April Fools joke. I also didn't move AQ to a new server last night. That was just part of the setup so a "cloud-based" server could serve as an excuse to start using a "cloud-based" font.

But in my defense:

  1. Wassa made me do it (It was even his idea! I just ran with it....)
  2. I did warn everyone yesterday that it would be best to print clues you'd need for today... yesterday. =)
  3. Anyone who's used AQ for more than a year knew shenanigans were going to happen today and that today might not be the best day to get stuff done on AQ. ;o)
For those of you who did sit out April Fools and are reading this later and thinking, What did I miss?! I want to see these horrible fonts I hear everyone talking about!

You can still access them because they're custom themes which you can find at:
Sorry for any inconvenience, but I hope most of you could see the humor and ridiculousness of the prank! =)

Until next year....

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Atlas Quest is on the cloud!

For months I've been working on the next big update.... moving Atlas Quest to the cloud! I know that means nothing to some of you, but this is HUGE! Cloud computing, also known as on-demand computing, is a kind of internet-based computing, where shared resources and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.

Previously, Atlas Quest was hosted on a single computer. If something happened to that system, or a surge of activity overloaded the server, the website would essentially crash. In a nutshell, moving to the cloud makes the server faster, cheaper and more reliable! It's a win-win-win for everyone!

To celebrate this monumental achievement, I changed the primary font used on Atlas Quest to a cloud-based font. I'm not sure if I'll leave it there permanently or eventually go back to the old font, but let me know what you think!

Downtime this evening

Just a heads up! There's going to be some downtime tonight for The Next Big Update! I'm moving AQ to a new server, though, so depending on how long it takes for the new IP address to propagate, AQ could be (appear) to be down for awhile. I'm going to put up the Under Construction page, immediately start the new IP address propagating through the Internet, move the database to the new server, then when I've copied the database over, open the new website. When the new IP address arrives at your part of the Internet, you'll be able to access AQ again.

Hopefully it won't take more than an hour or two, although in the past when I've done this some people reported they didn't get the propagated IP address for as long as a week... so, I can't make any promises. If, after a few hours, AQ still isn't coming up, you might be able to get back on from another device. (Using your laptop instead of your smartphone, for instance.)

Sorry for any inconvenience this might cause!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Great AQ Update!

It's huge! It's massive! The update has arrived! Thousands of lines of code added, modified and deleted! There will be question--oh, I know there will be questions. What changed? Why? Why does the website look broken?

First, as I announced earlier, you'll have to use a relatively recent version of a browser for the website to work correctly. All of the major browsers will work: Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Edge. The first three have supported the necessary HTML since March/April. Edge's support--literally--came out last night. For me, at least. If Edge doesn't work, I suspect it will the next time you run a Windows update.

Second, even if you are using a recent browser, the pages may still look wonky if your browser is using a cached version of the CSS. Be sure to click the "refresh" button a time or two on your browser and try forcing it to reload the CSS.

With that out of the way, everything on AQ should look.... normal. =) You'll notice minor cosmetic changes all over the website. I changed icon sizes (some are bigger, some are smaller), spacing, etc. These kind of changes are visible all over the place, but they're relatively minor and completely cosmetic.

Where you'll find major cosmetic changes are on the obituary and tribute pages. I completely rewrote all of the code there. The pages should look a lot nicer on mobile devices and (I think) just nicer in general. The changes are cosmetic, but I'd consider these major cosmetic changes since I completely redesigned the layout of the pages. I also changed the RIP icon from the headstone to a cross candle. It seems more elegant and nice than a headstone.

AQ Mail

Then there's the AQ mail sub-system. This too has been completely rewritten from the ground up and not only are there super-major cosmetic changes, but functional changes as well. It's intended to be a lot nicer and easier to surf using mobile devices, but it's a lot nicer on desktops as well. (At least I think it is--I know some of you are going to disagree! But I hope most of you will agree that the changes are generally good!)

For non-premium members, the changes pretty much stop at "super-major cosmetic changes."

For premium members, there are a few new features rolled into this update including a drafts folder as well as the ability to create custom archive folders. I hope how to use them is largely self-explanatory, but it might be useful to kick the tires on a desktop machine where you can hover your mouse cursor over icons to see tooltips describing what various buttons and links do.

Drafts, of course, are AQ mail messages that you start to write but haven't yet sent. They're saved automatically every time you click a few keys on your keyboard, or you can save it by manually clicking the "Save" button.

AQ no longer will break mail across multiple pages, 100 messages at a time like it did before. But on the other hand, I also didn't want someone with 10,000 messages in an archive folder downloading such a massive list every time they open a folder, so I've limited archive folders to a maximum of 1,000 messages. If you had more than that in your inbox, AQ automatically created custom archive folders (named Page 1, Page 2, etc.) moving 1,000 messages into the new folders at a time until you had less than 1,000 in your main archive folder.

For non-premium members, this means you're now limited to 1,000 archived messages. For premium members, since you can create up to 100 custom folders, you can store a maximum of 100,000 messages. (Only about 50 people had more than 1,000 archived messages, and nobody is anywhere close to 100,000.) Although custom archive folders are a premium member perk, non-premium members can still access them if they already have them. Non-premium members just won't be able to create more folders or move messages into the existing ones. (You can move messages out of a custom folder, however.)

Part of the AQ mail sub-system also includes contacts and "mailing lists"--both of which have also been completely re-written from the ground up. There's not really any new functionality in them, however. The "mailing lists" is in quotes because it used to be called "contact groups." Same thing, different name. I never liked "contact groups" because it's not a contact, and it's not a group--at least not in the AQ sense of the words. So I renamed the feature "mailing lists" which is what it was originally supposed to be in the first place. Also, to help discourage people from abusing the system, a mailing list can now have a maximum of 100 people in them. (If you had a mailing list with more than that, I'm leaving it alone--but AQ won't allow you to add anyone else to it anymore.)

And..... that's all of the important stuff that I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure you'll notice other tweaks and changes and--given the thousands of lines of code that have been updated--probably several bugs as well. I'll try to fix the bugs as quickly as possible. Suggestions and comments are welcome! I'll also probably be making additional tweaks and changes as we use the system and figure out what we like and don't like. I've been working on this update for two months on my development machine kicking the tires, but it's never quite the same as using it for real.

And if you have any questions, post to the message boards! Others might have the same question--or might be able to answer your question before I can. =)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Naked Letterboxing Day Canceled!

Well! Due to a couple of arrests from a couple of letterboxes who jumped the gun and tried out Naked Letterboxing Day early, I've come to a settlement to avoid a time-consuming and needless lawsuit am officially canceling Naked Letterboxing Day. Wassa says there are a group of girl scouts who will likely need permanent therapy for the trauma they suffered.  Plant-A-Letterbox Day is back!

Oh... and a happy (belated) April Fools! =)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Naked Letterboxing Day Update!

Wassa made a suggestion to me--privately, as he didn't want to drum up hope for everyone just to have me possibly shoot it down--but he suggested that the nude letterboxing photos that everyone takes might be turned into a calendar, inspired by Calendar Girls. And, apparently, firemen calendars with half-naked firemen still sell pretty well, and maybe this is just the short of project to bring back interest to the formally annual letterbox calendar! Also, somewhat coincidentally, code-named "Project X."

And I think that's a brilliant idea! So take a lot of naked letterboxing photos on Naked Letterboxing Day and if there are sufficient numbers of quality submissions, I'll turn them into a letterboxing calendar for next year! =)

I'm thinking I could use my naked hiking photo from the PCT as the cover? What do you think? Or can you do better? *raised eyebrows* =)


Introducing.... Naked Letterboxing Day!

As many of you know, Plant-A-Letterbox Day has become.... competitive at times. I kind of lost my appetite for the 'holiday' when the competitiveness reached an extreme. Feelings were hurt, spirits were broken, and I couldn't help noticing the irony when a person who I was felt the cheating the spirit of the event (planting boxes for months leading up to the event instead of planting boxes on a single day) accused someone else of cheating.

I haven't promoted the 'holiday' as much the last few years and kept hoping people would just forget about it, but it keeps limping along.

But yesterday, I had a brilliant insight! I don't have to eliminate the holiday--I just needed to change the focus of the holiday! Time to get back to our roots! Time to embrace the silly and adventurous! It was time for.... Naked Letterboxing Day!

I have to admit, this change is somewhat selfish on my part. I've been a big fan of Hike Naked Day ever since participating back in 2010, and--I don't normally brag about this--but I've actually planted a letterbox while naked. *nodding* (Box #2 of the White Rock Canyon series) It was located on the far side of a hot spring in which I'd been soaking naked. =) Good times!

So it's perfectly natural for me to want to combine my two favorite hobbies: letterboxing and hiking naked--and there's totally not enough of that happening. And what better way to promote naked letterboxing than a holiday--and use it to replace that competitive sport known as PAL Day. Two birds! One stone! Awesome! The holiday will still be May 24th of each year--that hasn't changed.

I've updated the PAL Day widget to now be the Naked Letterboxing Day widget. (Although I have to admit, using the word "naked" and "widget" in the same sentence makes me giggle.)

I realize that not everyone will feel comfortable letterboxing in the buff, which is why I'll allow you to wear a buff (and only a buff!) and still count as a naked letterboxing experience. (You laugh, but the Buff company does brag about all the different ways a buff can be worn!)

Atlas Quest will also allow you to track multiple different 'nude events' to suit your purposes. When you list a plant or record a find on May 24th, there will be a checkbox to mark whether you did the plant/find in the nude. There will be a second checkbox to mark if the plant/find has a stamp with a nude carving.

The state totals will be calculated based on points, and a nude plant/find will be worth ten times more than a nude stamp. (I like to reward you for courage.) Only traditional boxes will count.


Like with regular letterboxing, a little common sense goes a long way. Please don't try to letterbox in the nude at an elementary school or a busy park. Don't look for a box in the nude at a business that clearly states "no shoes, no shirt, no service." If a police officer questions what you are doing, stay calm and be cooperative. Make no threatening moves. Tell him or her about letterboxing and what a wonderful hobby it is for kids and adults of all ages. They might even be inspired to start letterboxing themselves!

I'll also be creating a photo album where you upload your naked letterboxing photos but please, PC photos only. I know, it's not really fair, but my hosting provider has rules about not allowing nude photos on their servers, so make sure any of your "critical parts" are properly blocked with trees, bushes, logbook or letterbox in your photos. If not, do some photoshopping and blur that part of the image out. I'd hate to be booted off my hosting provider because your photos are too explicit!

To make finding nude stamps easier, I've added the "Nude Stamp" icon to boxes suspected to have nude stamps. (It's not a perfect system, relying on keywords found in the clues or whether it's restricted to the Pin-Ups group, but it's the best I can do for now since I clearly don't have the time or inclination to read through all of the clues on Atlas Quest!)

And... I think that's about it. Any questions?

Now get out there and box! =)


Monday, January 30, 2017

Introducing... eclipse glasses and my newest book!

There are now two new items in the AQ Marketplace!

First up: eclipse glasses. For those of you keeping track of these things, the first total solar eclipse to hit the contiguous United States is scheduled to sweep through the country on August 21st. And when I say sweep through the country, I mean it--from Oregon to South Carolina! From sea to shining sea!

If you've never experienced a total solar eclipse, you've never witnessed the most spectacular natural event you'll likely ever see. I've had the privilege of seeing them twice and traveled to the Black Sea (1999) and Zimbabwe (2001) in order to see them. This time, it'll be in our own proverbial backyards! The path of totality is only about 70 miles wide so most of you might have to travel a bit to see it, but it's well worth the effort. Start planning today if you haven't already! If for some reason you can't get to the path of totality, the entire rest of the contiguous United States will see a substantial partial eclipse that covers over 50% of the sun's surface. But seriously, make the effort to get to the eclipse path. I can assure you, a 99% covered sun and 100% covered sun is as different as night and day. Don't think you get 99% of the magic with a 99% covered sun--it doesn't work like that!

However, as anyone with two brains cells can likely tell you, staring directly at the sun is very dangerous! You must either view the sun indirectly through something like a pinhole viewer, or through filters that take out about 99.999% of the visible light.

So I ordered a whole bunch of eclipse glasses so you can watch the eclipse safely. They come in sets of four, with each of the four being a different design. Share the extras with friends or family, or sell them at inflated prices on the day of the event to people who didn't order ahead of time. =) Supplies are limited--when I run out, I do not plan to order more. Although if I sell out really quickly--like in less than a week--I'll order more. But in any case, I wouldn't wait until the last minute to order. Supplies may be hard to come by as the event looms ever closer.

Also added to the AQ Marketplace.... a new book: Opowieść o dwóch szlakach. No, that's not a cat walking over my keyboard. That's the name of the book. It's a Polish translation of A Tale of Two Trails about my adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail in Canada. Yes, that's right, the book sold so well, it's been translated into Polish!

Just kidding... it hasn't really sold that well. For anyone who reads my Another Long Walk blog, you're familiar with my Polish buddy, Karolina. Years ago she had told me that she was thinking about taking a course to become an English-to-Polish translator, and I somewhat jokingly said if she wanted to practice, she could translate my book into Polish.

She actually liked the idea and started work translating it. It took a few years before she emailed the final draft to me, and I packaged it up into a book form. So there you have it--my book translated into Polish.

I realize that there's probably not going to be a huge demand for Polish versions of my book, but if you have any friends or family who know Polish, it might make an interesting and unique gift for them. I'll autograph every copy sold! =)

In related news, I also made a few tweaks to the AQ Marketplace changing the prices so shipping is "free" in the United States. I put "free" in quotes because obviously, it's not free--it's just part of the price of the product now. I wanted the actual price for items displayed and not require people to add or subtract items to their shopping cart to figure out what shipping would be. I wanted to make the actual prices of ordering something more transparent.

It also now displays the 10% discount for premium members. If you live in the United States, the price you see is the price you pay! (Except if you live in Washington state, then I have to collect sales tax. Sorry! The sales tax is calculated based on your address, so it's not calculated until your zip code is entered.) Non-US shipping prices vary from $2 to $10 depending on what you order and where it's going.

If you're interested in either of the items, they're both available in the AQ Marketplace. And... that's it, I think. Happy trails! =)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

AQ: Now featuring security! =)

Okay, the title is a misnomer.... AQ has always had some degree of security. The first line of defense is to just not have anything that a hacker would even want. No credit card numbers to be compromised. No social security numbers, bank accounts, etc. There's not really much of anything on AQ that a hacker or identify thief would want to steal, except perhaps passwords which people tend to reuse across multiple websites (a bad thing to do, but we all know it happens!)

So early on, I bought an SSL certificate to people could log into their accounts securely. Most pages were still on the old, insecure http:// connections, though. Theoretically, someone on the Internet could see what you were doing, or eavesdrop on your AQ mail, or see where you were running letterbox searches. Or they could see the cookies your browser is using and hijack your session. Nobody has ever done that (so far as I know), but the possibility exists.

Until now! Yesterday, I updated the website to use https:// everywhere, all the time. Whether you're reading AQ mail or recording a find, no random people on the Internet can spy on what you're doing anymore.

I've actually wanted to do this for awhile but have held off because I knew it would likely cause some minor technical issues, and it has. It broke the maps for a bit. Apps that used AQ stopped working. All known issues have been fixed, but there could still be some unknown issues that I haven't found or have been brought to my attention. If you see something, let me know.

You also might get occasional security warnings depending on the content of the page. Some pages might point to a photo from another website (for instance) and the image isn't a secure link, and you'll get a warning that not everything on the page is secure. An image isn't really important in terms of security (unless it's an image of your bank account statement or something!), but the warnings can sometimes look scary. I fixed a few pages I found with that problem, but there could be others I've overlooked. Let me know if you see others and I'll see if I can fix it.

If you do include other content in your clues, or point a custom CSS to your own website, you could get warnings or outright errors unless it points to a secure resource. Ideally, if you can point to https://, do it! If you can't.... I wouldn't lose sleep over it, but the warnings might be annoying.

If you have a bookmark to Atlas Quest that appears not to be working, edit the link to https:// instead of http:// and it should work fine again. In theory, AQ should redirect it automatically, but there was a bug in some of the redirect code that handled URLs with lots of parameters. If you linked to a favorite search, for instance, that link might not appear to work anymore. I'm "permanently" redirecting links and if your browser has recorded the new (incorrect) URL, the only way to fix it is to edit the bookmark to point directly to https:// and not depend on the redirect. Most of you shouldn't have to edit any of your links since AQ will redirect automatically, but just in case you're one of those who have a problem, that's how to fix it.

For those of you with lots of watches on boxes, you might have gotten a lot of reports of "changed clues" last night. I automatically updated all clues that linked to AQ resources to use https:// -- so don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out how the clue was changed. It's just the link that was changed, and only to point to the secure version of the link.

 Hmm.... I think that's it! Sorry for any troubles this might cause, but it will be a better, more-secure website in the long run!

This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds....

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Just kidding! =)

Friday, October 14, 2016

The End of an Era

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
                           -- John Muir
When I created the first letterboxing calendar, I had several hundred photos submitted by several dozen different people. Interesting in the calendars has been wanning in recent years, sales have dropped dramatically, but I've kept them going because I know some people still like them.

But this year, looking through the submissions, I have a problem. I like to narrow down my favorite submissions to the "top 100" photos--on my administrator page, it'll show up to 100 photos per page. So I'll whittle down the submissions until there are about 100 photos.

Then I start widdling down people. Some people submit a lot of really good photos, and while a "Yiker Calendar" (for instance) would be really awesome, it's not really a "letterboxing calendar." Ideally, I'd like to use a maximum of one photo per person, and one photo for a state. Spread out the love.

So I'll go through all of the photos and group them by photographer, then pick my favorite couple of photos by each photographer. Then group them by state and pick my favorite couple for each state. Then I'll go through and try to find thoughtful quotes to go with the various photos and group photos into what months they might be appropriate for. I'd usually wind up with a couple of photos for each month at that point, at which point the deciding factor might be which quote I like better for which photo.

In recent years, as interest in the calendars wane, I've started allowing myself to use up to two different photos by the same person, and two or three different photos taken in the same state. I had to to fill in all 12 months. It wasn't as diverse of a calendar as I would have preferred, but it was still a nice-looking calendar.

But this year.... A total of 75 photos were submitted. I can't even whittle down the number of photos to 100--I didn't get enough submissions! And I can (almost) count on my fingers the number of different people that submitted photos--which happens to be very close to the number of states represented in the photos.

Many of the photos, I'd like to add, are absolutely wonderful! They just don't have the diversity of people and places that I feel a letterboxing calendar should have. And given the severe drop in sales of the calendars in previous years, and find myself wondering if it's even worth it. And this year, the answer is no--I've decided not to create a letterboxing calendar for 2017. After an 11 year run, I'm pulling the plug on the AQ letterboxing calendar.

But thank you to those who've submitted photos--both past and present! I'm going to hang onto this year's submissions--for awhile, at least--to think about what else I might do with them.

If you have suggestions for other uses for these photos, let me know. I'm kind of toying with the idea of trying to turn some of them into "letterboxing bookmarks" or "letterboxing notebooks" or muggle cards or something. Maybe build some new themes around some of them. What would y'all like to see?