Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Southern Continent has been conquered!

Yes, the last continent without a letterbox, Antarctica, is now part of the letterboxing club. Chilly Willie is hiding out trying to stay warm at McMurdo Station.

There are still some countries available for "first plants." Especially in Africa and South America where quite a few countries are available for first planters. Let's make a new years resolution to introduce letterboxing to all those countries that have yet to see one. =)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Boxing Day Is Here

Boxing Day is here, and you know what that means: Everyone can now log finds for unlisted boxes on Atlas Quest. For the day, at least. AQ works on Pacific Time, so you folks on the east coast can keep adding those finds until 3:00am. Our English visitors will get to keep adding them until 7:00am, if I counted my time zones right.

How do you add finds for unlisted boxes? Head over the 'Record Find/Attempt' page. It's located under the 'Letterboxes' menubar option. Type in the name of the box you found--or even a word or two of the title for a partial match.

Atlas Quest will list all of the boxes it knows about that matches your search including both listed boxes and unlisted boxes that other's have already listed. Click on the box you found if it's listed. If you are the first to record the find, click the 'Create' button by the 'Unlisted Letterboxes' header.

At this point, you can fine tune the name of the box you found if you typed in the partial name before committing to saving the find.

Repeat as necessary. =)

On a sadder note, some of you asked about my wishy-washy post yesterday about things not being so merry around these parts. It involves Amanda, and I didn't want to say anything more without her approval which she gave me this afternoon. Her dad, George, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer a couple of months ago, and things turned considerably worse for him this last week, and she's been in Florida with family the last several days essentially waiting for him to die. Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, he finally did. Not a very merry Christmas, needless to say.

Anyone who'd like to send a card to her or her family can mail it to my PO Box at:

Amanda Arkebauer
PO Box 16131
Seattle, WA 98116

Anyhow.... there's not much more for me to say about that.

Remember, though. Christmas is a good holiday, but Boxing Day is even better. Make the most every minute you have today. Record your finds. Get out and find a letterbox. And hug your loved ones. =)

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I'd like to say it's a merry Christmas in this part of the world, but it's actually not. I won't bore you with the details, however, and I certainly hope you all have a merrier Christmas than some people I know.

Disregarding that vague comment, however, I do have some good news for some of you. =) Earlier this year, it was pointed out that some people cannot afford to become premium members but still provide valuable contributes to Atlas Quest. In celebration of these members, I created a "free listing day" where everyone could list all their finds, whether or not the boxes are listed on Atlas Quest. A premium member perk that everyone could enjoy for the day.

It was a hugely popular idea and thousands of new finds for unlisted boxes got recorded that day, and I decided almost immediately I wanted to do it again. But when?

Boxing Day, of course! =) I decided to announce the next "free listing day" on Christmas Day--this is the announcement, by the way, in case you did not realize it--and "free listing day" would be applied to the day after Christmas--Boxing Day, perhaps the world's first letterboxing holiday. Even if they didn't realize it at the time it was created.

So gather your logbooks and prepare your computers. On December 26th, for the full 24 hours, from 12:00 AM until 11:59 PM (Pacific time), everyone will be able to record finds for unlisted boxes and flesh out those F-counts.

And to all, a good night.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The voting is brisk and furious....

About 400 folks have cast their votes so far, and it continues to grow each day. Where do things stand? I'm not saying anything just yet--I don't really want my commentary to sway opinions or votes. The matter of attempted finds is turning into quite a rout, and I sincerely doubt any new votes are going to change that outcome. Over half of the votes are for one choice, with less than half of the votes split between the other three choices. Still, as they say, every vote counts so keep them coming.

The matter of blue diamonds isn't nearly the routing that attempted finds have become (none of the three blue diamond choices has more than 50% of the vote), but there is a strong preference for one of the answers.

I want everyone who wants a say in the matter to have their say, so I'll be monitoring the number of new votes being cast each day. When it drops off significantly (perhaps less than 30 votes in a single day?) I'll announce the results.

In other news, I'm currently experiencing technical difficulties with this computer, so I may not be as prompt as replying as normal. Stupid computers, huh? Actually, the mouse is giving me the biggest fits, but please be patient. I'll try to fix all the bugs that get reported just as soon as I can! =)

In the meantime, if you haven't done it yet, cast your votes now!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Letterboxers of the Round Table

It was a cold, but beautiful day here in the Pacific Northwest. Many are still left without power from the windstorm earlier this week. But it was a day to gather, tell stories, and perhaps 30 or 40 letterboxers showed up at a Round Table pizza in Tacoma to whittle the afternoon away.

Amanda and I weren't sure we'd attend since neither of us were feeling in top shape. Amanda suffered from a fever that didn't break until the night before the event, and I have a cold/cough that makes talking difficult, but it was a letterboxing gathering! We wanted to be there or die trying. I'm happy to report, we did not have to die trying.

White elephant gifts were exchanged, and more than one contained cooties. Remember this the next time you exchange white elephant gifts with a letterboxer--you may get more than you bargained for! But really, that box with 32 cooties was over the top.

Just kidding--there wasn't really a box with 32 cooties, but now that I've thrown the idea out there, it'll probably happen! Never trust a letterboxer. Never. ;o)

I'd met most of the people at the gathering before, and it was fun to catch up with them, but I'd like to mention one fairly new letterboxer I was thrilled to meet for the first time. Her name is JWalk, but it wasn't until I started looking through her logbook and the bells started ringing in my head. I recognized one of the stamps in it as being my own--not unusual, really--except this particular stamp is extremely rare. I planted it in 2002 while wandering through the mountains of Guatemala.

Now anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love Guatemala, so seeing that stamp certainly got my attention. JWalk! The name didn't register with me, but I had exchanged e-mails with her before. She contacted me earlier this year within days after learning about letterboxing, but was headed to Guatemala for a couple of months the next day and was a bit bummed about not being able to find more letterboxes before leaving for a country that has a total of SIX letterboxes in the entire country. None of which were planted in her destination at Quetzaltenango.

There are places in the United States with few letterboxes, but imagine cutting your teeth and finding some of your first letterboxes in a third-world country where the locals don't speak English and most people can't even find the country on a map! JWalk went to Guatemala with one find under her belt, if I recall correctly, and for the next couple of months, the only letterboxes she'd be able to find were a handful that Amanda and I planted four years before that, so far as we knew, nobody had ever tried to look for.

Weeks went by before I got my first report from her--Volcan Pacaya, which I planted in the tourist town of Antigua. After four years, the box was still there. (The first letterbox planted in Guatemala, I might add, which gives it a special status, I should think.) It was very exciting to learn she had found this box.

She later looked for almost all of the boxes Amanda and I planted in Central America. Lago del Atitlan was a tricky box to find to begin with, so it's hard to tell if the box really was missing or if she just wasn't able to find it. The boxes we planted at Tikal she didn't have a chance to look for because she got kicked out of the park before she had a chance to. (Perhaps the best excuse I've ever heard for someone not looking for one of my boxes!) She found one of the three boxes I planted in Copan, Honduras, but she thinks some of the landmarks I used may have changed since the clues were written. One of the three is confirmed gone, however, since she did find pieces of it. The third one--might still be there. Might not. The Turtle of Utila, one of my more magnificent carvings, is almost certainly missing. I remember an empty field where I planted it, and JWalk described a bustling commercial area where the clues lead. The Bay Islands of Honduras are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, and I expected that box to last only as long as a hurricane didn't pass through the area. They build houses on stilts in Utila for a reason, but I couldn't put my letterbox on stilts.

The final tally was four boxes we planted weren't found, three were found, and four were not attempted nor found.

After her return to the states, I kind of lost track of her. She wasn't finding my boxes anymore and now had a LOT more boxes to choose from than just the ones planted by Amanda and myself. She did plant one box in Quetzaltenango--a box I'm itching to look for but is a bit far off the beaten path (even by my standards!).

So it was with some surprise when I looked through her logbook and show that Volcan Pacaya stamp. Oh, THAT JWalk! What a pleasant surprise to meet the one person who's ever looked for those boxes--rather extreme conditions given how new she was to letterboxing. Just remember, if you have a rough time of it, there's always someone out there who's has to letterbox under even more challenging conditions. =) I'm glad the nearly 50% failure rate to find our boxes in Central America didn't turn her off of letterboxing, though.

So that was my big and unexpected thrill from the evening. =) She had no idea I was planning to attend the gathering either, so when I exclaimed about her finding my Volcan Pacaya box, I think she was equally surprised replying, "You're Ryan?"

But the whole gathering was a blast. We laughed, we exchanged cooties (hopefully none of the nasty kinds that took down Amanda and myself, however), and enormous thanks to Happy Papaya to organized the event. (And speaking of which, doesn't the trail name Happy Papaya sound like something from Guatemala? I'd never eaten, drank, and ingested as much papayas as I did those four months I spent in Central America.)

Alas, we seem to be a bit short of pictures from the event. Anyone have some they care to upload?

Friday, December 15, 2006

And the Planter's Choice Award goes to.....! And, well, anyone else who's planted a box. We're all winners, aren't we? =)

Yesterday I updated Atlas Quest to support the concept of "Planter's Choice." Those are the favorite boxes you've planted. It might be sentimental because it's the first box you ever planted, or maybe a significant other proposed at the box, or it might just be one amazing letterbox that fills your heart with pride. Now you can tell others which of your boxes are particularly special. When you add or edit a letterbox, there's a new attribute called "Planter's Choice." Check that box for your favorite boxes, and the planter's choice icon--a lovingly cared for flower--will always mark those boxes.

There are no limits in the use of this icon--just use it on any number of boxes that you think deserve the extra attention to make it a planter's choice.

And next time you go out to look for a box, if you're trying to decide between which of two letterboxes to get but only one has the planter's choice, go for the planter's choice. They'll be happy you did. =)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Can You Read Me Now?

Most of today I've spent tweaking one of the preferences on Atlas Quest. It's been on my to-do list since almost the day the site went live, and it's something that first knocked me over when I got quite a number of e-mails complaining that the text on Atlas Quest was too small to read. And later I learned, at least one member is considered legally blind! Knock me over with a feather!

How cool is that, though? Even the legally blind can enjoy letterboxing and surf around on Atlas Quest. Making the site accessible to the handicap (legally blind, color blind, Mac users--joking about the Macs!--or whatever) is always something I've wanted to work on more. I'm bless with great vision, I'm not colorblind, however, I did once get to experience Atlas Quest from a handicap person's perspective once.

I was at a college in Madison earlier this year, and sneaked onto one of their public computers to check on Atlas Quest. There was only one computer available, and I thought, "How lucky!" It wasn't luck, though--turns out, the computer's mouse didn't work. It didn't take me long to figure out why nobody was using the computer. Nobody could figure out how to work it without the mouse. Thing is, a lot of blind people can't use a mouse. Click here? Where the heck is here?

I'm actually pretty proficient with keyboard navigating and shortcuts since I use them quite often. If you're familiar with them, you can get things done much faster than with a mouse. Never before had I been required to not use a mouse, though, and I discovered I wasn't nearly as adept at it as I thought I was. I did manage to navigate around Atlas Quest, though certain pages were nightmarish to get through and didn't always work like I intuitively expected them to work. My Page, for instance, would start the focus on the right-hand column, go completely down the right-hand column, then move to the left-hand column. AQ Mail and message boards are always the most used things (for me, at least), and it seemed out of place that the right side of the page got the focus first, and my favorite searches were the very first. Favorite searches? I use them often, but not more than once every week or two when I'm actually ready to go out letterboxing.

The tab order was seriously messed up.

So I've been fixing stuff like that, quietly, in the background, for quite a number of months. Most of you non-blind people probably wouldn't have noticed, but that's okay. You weren't supposed to. =)

Yesterday, I tried squinting and blurring my vision while reading the site. Then I tried it after changing my preferences to use the large text version and a strange thing happened--I still couldn't really read it. The letters were too thin. When I made the letters thicker--the size stayed the same--I could read it better. I could still blur my vision too much at which point I couldn't read anything anymore.

I should point out--and I hope most visually impaired people know this, because you're website surfing pleasure can be greatly enhanced by knowing tricks like this--Firefox allows you to increase or decrease the text size of any webpage by clicking [Ctrl +] or [Ctrl -] respectively. I'd be surprised if IE7 doesn't have a similar feature, but I don't know what it is off the top of my head. It's kind of cool to see in action. Consequently, I haven't really felt pressured to allow more options for the text size on Atlas Quest. At least for Firefox users--and probably IE users--it's already built into the browser. I suspect a lot of people don't realize that, though, and are cursed to a life of trying to squint and read small text on websites.

But I digress.... The other thing I wanted to do was allow people to print clues with REALLY small text to save paper and ink. A lot of people do this already, copying and pasting clues into their own world processors and shrinking the text. Now there's this weird situation where I want to make text on Atlas Quest larger for some people, but the printed text to be smaller for others. All depending of if they're reading the screen or printing a page.

Firefox is useless to help here. It'll print stuff at the size AQ tells it to print at no matter what you try to say.

So, at long last, I've added a couple of new preferences. You can select your preferred text size while reading Atlas Quest on your monitor, and you can select a second text size for printed materials (namely clues, but it applies to anything you choose to print). Check them out and mark your preferences!

Alas, I'm blessed with great vision and don't really know how well these sizes work for people. Do you want really tiny text? Even BIGGER text options? I don't think I've ever seen a website with options as small nor as large as AQ now allows, so I like to think that means AQ covers all the bases pretty well, but let me know if it needs to be adjusted.

Now a little about color blindness. From what I've read, about 5-10% of men suffer from some form of it. That's a surprising number, I think. If you consider that there are about 7,000 registered people on Atlas Quest, and half of them are probably men, that means there are anywhere between 175 to 350 color blind members on Atlas Quest! Okay, a small number of woman may also be color blind, but there are probably more legally blind members on Atlas Quest than color blind women. =)

I've never heard of anyone complaining that AQ wasn't friendly towards color blind people. I try not to rely too much on color for functionality--just splashes of color so everything doesn't seem so dark or boring. But are there problems caused because someone can't tell the difference between two colors or mistakes one color for another? If this has happened to you, let me know about it. I want to fix it. =) I can't make myself color blind like I can make myself blur my vision!

Actually, I did find this website at that can display a web page as a color blind person might see it. It doesn't work well with Atlas Quest--it can't pull in CSS pages which AQ relies on heavily. To see what AQ looks like, I had to get a screen shot of AQ then upload the photo to the site--a rather clunky and slow why of testing how AQ looks to the color blind. To be really effective, I'd need to do it with each of the 30 themes AQ currently supports, and several different pages for each theme to see all of the color options.

For my purposes in this blog entry, though, I've run the AQ chick through several colorblind scenarios:

Can you spot the "correct" chick? If you can, you're probably not colorblind. =) The first chick is the "normal" chick you'll see on Atlas Quest. The other three chicks are what various forms of color blindness would look like.

Chick #2 simulates Deuteranope--a form of red/green color deficit.

Chick #3 simulates Protanope--another form of red/green color deficit.

Chick #4 simulates Tritanope--a blue/yellow deficit--and supposed to be very rare.

I can't really see a big difference between #2 and #3. Chick #3 seems to have more contrast to my eyes, but the color looks pretty much the same to both of them. Since they're both forms of red/green color blindness, though, I suspect it's because they really are supposed to look almost the same and it's not because I'm color blind to color blindness. =)

Chick #4 looks like a photo taken with 70's photography technology. The color doesn't seem quite right to me, but I'd have a hard time describing why. Compared to the others, it seems like it's lost its color, but look at it by itself. It feels off, but I'd have a hard time describing why.

Fun, isn't it? =) And happily, I can report that even color blind people should have no trouble figuring out what the picture is of.

The most important thing, I suspect, to help color blind people is to make sure there's a high contrast between the foreground and background, which I generally do anyhow since it helps us non-color blind people see things better too. I'm not really sure how or where I might have gone wrong with making the site difficult to use for the color blind, but if there are problems, let me know! I can fix it! =)

I've done quite a bit of reading about how to make websites "accessible," and if you're interested in doing some reading yourself, check out the page at

Reading through some of the articles, though, I've come to the conclusion that it's not always possible to make every single feature 100% accessible to everyone. It's a noble goal. It's a goal I want to reach, and I will try to reach, but AQ may fall short at times. What else can I do to make Atlas Quest more accessible?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Letterboxing Stats

I've already posted to the Announcement board about the Statistics Label Creator, but it just occurred to me that some of you might like to see it in action to get a better idea of its purpose. So, I'm using it on this blog. =) Just below that little picture of me is my stats label. Currently it reads "P199 F1167 X328", but as I list more plants, finds, and exchanges, the numbers will update automatically it.

To read all the nitty gritty details about the feature, check out my original post at Atlas Quest.

Friday, November 17, 2006

We explored.... and conquered!

Last week, I attended the Explore and Conquer event at Fort DeSoto SP, just outside of Tampa in the alligator infested swamps known as Florida. I'm a bit late for this report, mostly because I was in Florida and not hooked up with my usual computer comforts such as that annoying little cable I need to transfer photos from my digital camera to the computer and, well, time. I spent several days thru-hiking the Pinellas Trail, a 34-mile long foot and bike path through Pinellas County. Not including the 2.5 mile (one way) spur over a causeway as well, so that took up some time.

But I digress.... I'm just making excuses. =) Truth is, I didn't pull out my camera until after the event was over, and that was just to take a picture of a sunset along the way. Like it? I'm submitting it for consideration to next year's Project X. I think it's good, but based on last year's winners, it's pretty intimidating. I hope the judges like it! =) I also saw a dolphin swimming around nearby, but alas, no photos of that little guy.

When Amanda and I arrived at the event, we were SHOCKED to learn that nobody had carved an event stamp! I was pushed into it, and whipped together a stamp. Perhaps not my best work, but it turned out acceptable, I think. Just ask anyone who was there.

Marjorie made herself comfortable in the sun a bit too long. Might be awhile before her feathers grow back. Anyone out there get a picture of Marjorie tanning herself in the sun? I missed my chance, but I have to keep a good working relationship with Marjorie since she is the AQ mascot. She wouldn't have liked me taking pictures of her in such a sensitive predicament.

Papa Bear and family drove all the way out from Tallahassee for the gathering, but we suspect that's because they ran out of boxes in their part of the state to find based on their performance at the event. They were off looking for boxes before they even had a chance to catch their breath! Papa Bear also talked his brother, Super Frog, into attending. Super Frog found his first letterboxes at the event, and works for the parks department in Clearwater or something to that effect. And--get this--he thinks letterboxing would be a terrific thing for their parks and wants to encourage it there. I suspect a lot more boxes in Clearwater might be showing up before too long.....

Papa Bear also brought water from the famed Fountain of Youth, purchased from a guy who was 150 years old. Tastes terrible, but there's always a dark lining on every silver cloud, right? =)

This gathering was especially interesting since it was made up mostly entirely of new letterboxers who'd never attended an event before! Papa Bear and family hadn't been letterboxing very long to begin with, and Super Frog didn't find his first box until the gathering. But also in attendance and very new letterboxers included the Six P's and the Yaker Family. The only other long-time letterboxers in attendance outside of Amanda and myself was Kilroy.

Near the end of the day, Amanda's dad, George, also came out for a spin on his new wheelchair. He lives just a few miles away and this was his first letterboxing gathering as well. If he suspected we were all crazy before, we've certainly confirmed his suspicions now! =)

We came. We explored. And we conquered. And it wasn't until near sunset we parted ways and headed back from whence we came. I finished hiking the length of the Pinellas Trail, then headed back to Seattle to learn that after just half the month, Seattle had already broken the record for most rain in November EVER! Yes, indeed, it was a good time to be in Florida. =)

I took this picture of Seattle just before leaving for Florida. Alas, all those fall colors are now laying in the gutter, soggy and wet from all the rain.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Bleeding Edge of Technology....

I recommend you skip this post. Really. Do something more valuable with your limited time.

Usually, when it comes to technology, I'm opposed to it. Yes, you heard me right. I'm a techno-phobe. I've never had a cell phone, nor do I ever want one. In case of emergency, I'll be the guy at the phone pay wondering why it doesn't work when I try to call 911. Assuming, of course, I can find a pay phone. Last time I needed to use one, I found three that didn't work before I succeeded with one that did. Took me an hour to make the phone call.

But I digress..... Do I use a PDA? No. I like the old fashioned pen and paper better. I have a PDA, thoughtfully donated to me by Speedsquare to develop features for all you PDA people out there, but I tried to find a box once with clues from the PDA. And I didn't like it. So it mostly collects dust now. I still keep it around for testing purposes, though, when I need to update or change the PDA code on Atlas Quest.

Even when it comes to programming, I prefer the "tried and true" than the bleeding edge of technology. There's a reason it's called "bleeding edge." When I first learned of Google allowing little people like myself to display their maps on my own website for free, I was THRILLED! How cool would THAT be?!

And what did I do about it? Absolutely nothing. Why not? It was bleeding edge technology. If you read the documentation, they warned that it was new. The API (basically the "language" used to talk with a given application from a programmer's point of view) could change with little or no warning breaking the application. Bugs had yet to be found, and work-arounds developed.

So I did nothing. Choi did include the maps, briefly, on LbNA, and well--it learned why it's called the "bleeding" edge. =) Don't get me wrong--Choi's a great guy and this isn't meant to embarrass or diss him. Had I gone jumping into the Google Maps myself, I'd probably have had the same problems he ran into. In fact, I learned from his troubles. You can call it a failure if you'd like, but I'd call it research and educational. Have you ever noticed that you can't go to ? Try it. It bounces you back to every time. Choi doesn't know it (though since he's probably reading this, he does now!), but it was his experiences with Google Maps that made me implement this change.

Frankly, I like better than since it's shorter and quicker to type. But that www is so ingrained into the web culture, I went with the flow. Guess that makes me a dolphin. ;o)

Anyhow, Google Maps is up to version 2.x, and I figured by now, it's a heck of a lot more stable than it would have been when they first introduced it. At the very least, it has cool new features that version 1.x didn't have like that little overview map in the lower-right corner of the map.

But I digress..... Why am I talking about bleeding edge technology?

Because I accidentally just stumbled into it. I was checking my blogs and they had a link for the "new blogger"--just click a button and they'll convert your existing blogs to Beta Blogger.

I clicked. It was an automatic impulse. It says "click here", and without even thinking about the consequences, I clicked.

I regretted the action almost immediately. I tried posting a new blog entry, and I got an error message. Tried posting it again. Another error. Next thing I know, I had three copies of that post listed in the management section of the blog, but none of them showed up IN the blog. I deleted all but one of the postings--or tried to. Got more errors when I tried to delete the extra posts, so I wasn't really sure if it deleted anything or not. Not that it mattered since my post wasn't showing up in the blog in the first place.

Another thing happened. AQ started complaining about the atom feed it pulls to generate the "Letterboxing News" on My Page. One of those little pieces of information AQ picks up is when the post was created. The old feed had a label called "created" that I used to display and sort blog entries by the date and time they were created. The new feed didn't have that. I had to look through the XML to learn they changed it to "published".

So I had to update AQ to first look for "created," and if that's not found, check for "pushlished."

And I thought--thank goodness I discovered this problem on my own blog when none of them needed to be displayed in Letterboxing News. Had Mark and Sue Pepe, for instance, converted their blog to use Blogger Beta, their posts would have stopped showing on Letterboxing News. Who knows how long it would have taken us to realize something was wrong. How long would it have taken us to figure out there was a change in the XML format with Blogger Beta?

When I logged in today, I saw that post I made which never made it onto my blog suddenly showing up on the blog. And those posts I deleted are no longer there. Seems to be working now.

Of course, the ultimate test to know if everything is working correctly is this post. Yes, you fool, you read this long, rambling post to finally get to the point of why I wrote it.

This is a test. This is only a test.

You'll know it passed if it shows up in Letterboxing News within the next hour. =) If it doesn't--well, you probably didn't read this post anyhow and you'll still think I'm a genius and can do anything with technology. ;o)

Learn from me: It always pays to let someone else use bleeding edge technology first. *nodding*

-- Ryan

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The biggest thing to hit letterboxing since cooties!

I was going to say the "biggest thing to hit letterboxing since Celtic Quinn," but that seemed almost too cruel for a title. =)

But seriously.... This feature is HUGE! Letterboxing maps are now available for your viewing pleasure. When you perform a search for traditional letterboxes on Atlas Quest, you'll now see a small link in the upper-right corner of the page that reads "Map Results." Don't let the size of the link fool you, though. Click it and AQ will plot the first 100 unique locations of letterboxes from your search results (minus the mystery boxes, of course!) onto a Google map. It works for pretty much any traditional search you can think of.

Check out the newest letterboxes.

Or all the boxes found along I-95.

Or all of the boxes I planted around the world.

Or all of the active, handicap-accessible letterboxes in the state of Massachusetts.

Or all of the letterboxes planted on Dartmoor.

Use your imagination and have fun! =)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The calendars are IN the mail!

Yesterday evening, I posted a message to let everyone know the official AQ 2007 Letterboxing Calendars had arrived, and I was frantically packing them up for shipping today. This morning, though, I realized I was four envelopes short of what I needed. So off I walked to a nearby drug store (Bartell's, if you need to know) to pick up a few.

Oh, the adventure!!! I walked through a small alleyway to get to Bartells rather than the drive-in entrance, and was a bit surprised to see what seemed like a hundred high school students coming from Jack In the Box walking along with me. What is this? A mob or something?

Just outside of Bartell's, though, it suddenly became clear. It was a fight! Two kids put up their dukes and circled each other menacingly before they took a couple of swips at each other. One of them got hit pretty hard and he practically started hugging the other guy, then they both crashed to the concrete ground rather hand. It was sad. Such a stupid thing to be doing.

I didn't even stop to watch--I watched what I could while walking past and entered into Bartells telling the lady at the front counter that there was a fight going on outside and it might be prudent to call the police. Her eyes opened wide, and she said she noticed all those kids walking past and was wondering what was up, and prompted told all the other employees about the fight going on outside asking if she should call the police. I continued with my shopping, but most of the employees went outside to watch the fight.

I picked up five envelopes large enough for the calendars (I only needed four, but I figured having an extra one around wasn't a bad idea) and when I came back to check out, the lady I first told about the fight was on the phone with the police (or at least a 911 operator--who mans those things anyhow?) giving all of the pertinent information about the fight. One of the other employees who'd gone outside to watch came back in to say that they were "taking it to Jack In the Box to finish" and looking outside, I could see the mass of hundred or so students walking in that direction.

I finished my purchase, and the lady at the counter thanked for me letting them know about the fight. I told said I just happened to be passing by (which was the truth) and it looked like someone could get hurt pretty badly, but there was no way I was going to break up a fight with a hundred hormone-challenged kids egging it on.

I waved goodbye, then took a different route back to Amanda's place to avoid the mob headed towards Jack In the Box. The risks I go through to get these calendars to you.... *shaking head* =)

Speaking of which, I thought you might enjoy seeing the piles of calendars ready for shipment. That's the main reason I created this particular blog entry--to show off the picture of me sitting behind all the orders I have packed and ready to go. Needless to say, I didn't carry all of these to the post office on my back--there was just a little too much for that. I actually packed up my car and drove (*gasp!*) to the post office. I carried as much as I could, stood in line until it was my turn.

"You've been busy, have you?" the postal clerk asked me.

"Yep, and there's more in my car," I replied.

He waved me off saying to go get the rest and he'll get started on what I brought in already, and it took three more trips to the car to get all the packages. It took awhile for him to key in all the orders, and during a brief period when there weren't any others in the post office to mail stuff, I gave a stack of orders to a second person and had the two of them working to mail off all the items. =) I worked on filling out customs forms for the international orders while they were typing in the domestic shipments.

After returning to Amanda's place, I had her take a picture of me with the receipts from the post office. The shorter one is from the guy who helped the first postal clerk with some of the orders. The total bill came to $311.82--just in case you were curious.

And that's all I have to write. For now..... Happy trails!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thinking ahead to the AQ 2008 Letterboxing Calendar

Some of you folks out there might be wondering about where those photos from the letterboxing calendar comes from. The answer: premium members. One of the secret benefits of premium membership. The calendar project was codenamed Project X for the first year since I wanted to put it together to surprise everyone with it and wanted to allow premium members to mention it without using that word 'calendar' to spoil the surprise.

After that first year, codenames were no longer necessary. Everyone knew about the calendar! But it was still fun calling it Project X since it sounded more cloak and dagger--and as everyone knows, cloak and dagger stuff is fun. Unless you work for the CIA, of course. =)

The project, I must admit, has grown far larger than I ever anticipated, and I've been adding all sorts of features to help me keep track. Last year I added the ability for premium members to upload photos which meant I didn't have to keep track of all the photos in various e-mail accounts which is how I got the photos that first year. This year I created a shopping cart to help keep track of all those calendars that were purchased. Last year I kept track on a pad of paper and it was a total nightmare. As an added benefit, I could add additional items for sale in the shopping cart besides the calendar with almost no extra effort, so I did. =) You can blame the calendar for my creating that feature, though. I just couldn't keep track of everything with a pen and paper like I did last year. I just couldn't.....

Not surprisingly, I guess, there were problems associated with uploading photos that I implemented last year. Not only did I get dozens of e-mails from people wanting to know if I got their photos okay (which I wasn't really keen on having to manually check every time someone uploaded a photo since that feature was supposed to make my life easier), but several photos *didn't* get uploaded properly. Other photos were beautiful but, sadly, not of a high enough resolution to be used for the calendar. Other people uploaded photos then e-mailed me information about the photos, nearby boxes, and even suggested quotes that might go with the photo. But once the information was separated from the photo, it made it awfully hard for me to keep track of which e-mails went with which photo.

So I vowed to improve the ability to upload images. Now people can see what they've uploaded. AQ will check that the resolution is high enough to be used in a calendar and tell you when you try to upload a photo that won't work. You can provide as many additional details with the photo to your heart's content. And hopefully, that will not only make your lives much easier, but mine as well. =)

Where am I going with this story? Now I think it would be fairly easy for me to handle large quantities of submissions. I created some administrative features so I can view small versions of submitted photos and only download the large versions for photos I'd likely use in the calendar. (Bandwidth is a serious consideration for me since I still primarily use dial-up connections.) And, as a result, I've decided to open up calendar photo submissions to everyone! No longer is it just the realm of premium members. For premium members, nothing changes, but those of you without premium memberships will now find a new option under the 'Toolbox' menubar option called Project X. Click on that to read about calendar submissions, what sorts of photos I'm looking for, examples of submitted photos, and so forth.

Because I'm now accepting photo submissions for the 2008 letterboxing calendar! =) Get pictures of those beautiful fall colors! Think about where you might get some nice winter photos. And start submitting your best pictures today! =)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Postal Shenanigans

I'm back in Seattle--got in yesterday evening. Today, I walked to the post office to check my PO box and happily found two large boxes of PZ Kut waiting for me. =) There was a bit of Speedy Stamp in them too, but mostly PZ Kut--50 blocks of it to be exact! I feel like I could carve a thousand stamps and single-handedly populate the whole western hemisphere with letterboxes. Thanks Diana, a.k.a. Webfoot, of fame.

Now that I'm flush with PZ Kut, I've started working on filling all those orders made on Atlas Quest last month. Most of the orders are still in the waiting queue since I have yet to receive the calendars and most people had those in their orders. I'm expecting those to arrive on the 16th at the earliest. But in the meantime, there were about a dozen orders for carving blocks that did not have a calendar in the order, and I've spent most of the afternoon and evening preparing them for shipment tomorrow.

Well, okay, I've also been getting my ducks in a row so I'm set to go when the calendars do arrive. Printed out all of the orders which took the better part of an hour to do. Nice little stack of papers. Spent another hour sorting through them all separating the non-calendar orders from the calendar orders type of them. And another half hour just stamping my green turtle stamp on all those orders. Sorry if I don't write you all a personal message, but there's just too many orders to do that with them all! I did read all of the letters and notes that were sent with the personal checks, though, and thank you for that. They were entertaining to read. =)

Another couple of hours I spent updating the administrative part of AQ to update the order statuses, print shipping labels from AQ, and display useful information like contact information. Little did you know--until now, I hadn't really done much work on the administrative part of the shopping cart. ;o)

Late this evening I walked back to the post office to pick up a bunch of Priority Mail envelopes and packed up the non-calendar orders. I also tried using their website for the first time to print shipping labels and postage. There was a worried moment where I thought I lost one of the shipping labels (with postage!). Turns out, I packaged it inside the order. Oops. =) I tore open the Priority Mail envelope to retrieve the label and postage, but now I'm short one Priority Mail envelope. I'll have to get another one, but it can wait until tomorrow morning. It's already 11:20 tonight, and it's way too late for another trip to the post office tonight. *yawn* When I drop them off at the post office, I can pack up that last package properly.

So those of you with non-calendar orders--your orders will be in the mail tomorrow (Wednesday). Those of you with calendars in your orders--I still don't know exactly when those will ship, but I'm crossing my fingers for the 17th. I do know they're in the mail and on their way to me! That's the good news. =) The bad news was I had them shipped to Amanda's place and did not realize that Amanda was going to put her mail on HOLD until the 16th since she was going to be out of town. (And she did not realize I'd be back in town to pick up mail a week before that.) So it's entirely possible the calendars are already at the post office, here in Seattle, perhaps a mile away from me. Completely and totally inaccessible to me until Amanda gets back on the 16th. Argh!

But then again, when I tried to order ONE calendar to make sure it looked good, it took three WEEKS for the calendar to arrive from the time I placed the order! The estimated shipping time said 2-6 days, but from the time it shipped, it still took over two weeks to arrive. If that happens again, the calendars probably won't arrive here in Seattle until the 24th or so. I'm hoping it's a bit faster this time around--I can't imagine it could be slower--but I will ship those calendars as soon as I can get my hands on them. And I've already printed out the orders, sorted them, and stamped them. Tomorrow and the rest of the week, I intend to get all of the shipping materials ready so when the calendars do arrive, I can shove them in the envelopes/boxes/whatever and take them to the post office within 24 hours. Umm, and I'll try not to include the postage *inside* of the packages. =)

Yes, I'm babbling, and that's my cue to say goodbye. Goodbye, folks!

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Blue Diamond Saga....

Most of you probably know about the blue diamond by now--there are quite literally hundreds and hundreds of posts made on AQ the last couple of days on the subject! I'm posting this here to get out of the "where does the thread begin" problem. Here are a few thoughts and musings that I thought would be important to reiterate.

First, the system of voting is new and data is scarce, and it is not expected to be anywhere near accurate in the immediate future. So please, don't be quick to judge just because some boxes you think deserve a blue diamond don't have ones or vice versa. As of today, there is about one vote for every three boxes listed on Atlas Quest. Considering that many votes are for the same boxes, perhaps one out of every five boxes actually has any votes at all. This means that four out of five boxes aren't even in the running due to a complete lack of votes! It'll take time before a meanful collection of votes is collected.

Second, for those people who prefer not to have their boxes in the running for a blue diamond, you can opt out from your preferences page. You can choose not to vote for other people's letterboxes. There is absolutely no reason you have to participate in this little experiment at all.

I'd like to emphasize that. You do not have to participate. Ever. At all. You don't have to have your boxes ranked, and you don't have to vote on other people's boxes.

It sounds like that's not good enough for some of you. Opponents to the idea don't want others to participate either. I'm rather perplexed at this attitude--why should you be concerned if I want to put my own boxes up for a blue diamond designation? I'm very sorry if this bothers you and your conscious, and I'm more than happy to allow you to opt out of participating yourself. But please, be considerate of others. If they want to participate, let them. Why should you get worked up because someone wants to vote on a letterbox planted by someone else who wants people to vote on their boxes?

And finally, the blue diamond should not be taken nearly as seriously as some folks seem to have done so. No, it's not an exact science. No, someone else's idea of what makes a "perfect" box may not be the same as yours. There may not be enough information about a letterbox to systematically assign blue diamonds to letterboxes. And no, it's not a tool that should be used as the sole basis for what letterboxes to find. It's a single tool inside a large toolbox with lots of other tools. Some people may use the tool, some people may not, but it's available for everyone.

And remember, letterboxing should be fun. =) I've found it rather amusing to watch the diamonds bounce around from box to box as AQ tries to figure out which boxes really are the cream of the crop. It's kind of interesting to see diamonds show up on a box I wouldn't have expected but you know--that's a good thing. It's just more proof that we all don't think alike, we all have our own individual preferences, and the variety of boxes out there will continue to grow.

Now get out there and start having some fun. =) Life does not begin nor end at Atlas Quest.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sending Condolences

As many of you already know, both Goose Chaser and Boxer in TRAINing have passed away recently. If you'd like to send a card signed with your signature stamp to their families, here are some addresses that you might find useful:

Paula Clemmens Egolf (Goose Chaser)
Runge Mortuary Chapel
838 E. Kimberly Rd.
Davenport, IA 52807

I'm not sure if the address I have for Boxer in TRAINing should be made public, so if you'd like to send a card to Funguswoman (his daughter) and the rest of their family, you can send them to me and I'll make sure to forward them on to Funguswoman:

c/o Ryan Carpenter
PO Box 16131
Seattle, WA 98116

Additionally, I'll be setting up a tribute section on Atlas Quest for our fallen comrades. My development code is still a bit of a mess from an unrelated feature I've been working on for quite some time now, but as soon as it's cleaned up and working properly, I'll be setting up a tribute section for them. In the meantime, however, if you send AQ mail to Goose Chaser and/or Boxer in TRAINING, I'll include your notes, thoughts, and memories of these two with the tributes.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The AQ 2007 Letterboxing Calendars are in!

With the roaring success of last year's first letterboxing calendar, we're back again with the second annual letterboxing calendar--with twelve new months of beautiful pictures taken by letterboxers, for letterboxers. This year, we've also added several important dates for our self-imposed letterboxing 'holidays' throughout the year.

On a related note, last year, I had a terrible time keeping track of all the orders by hand--terribly difficult with the flood of orders coming in!--so this year I created a shopping cart system for Atlas Quest to help better organize things and let Atlas Quest automate the task of keeping track of orders for me. It's new, but also allows me to keep track of orders for more than just calendars. You can also order a box of 144 AQ mini pencils, Mastercarve, Speedy-Stamp, PZ Kut, or--if you can't make up your mind and want to try all of the various carving blocks--a sampler kit that includes all three!

You should know before you order--this is a temporary shopping cart system. It was designed to make things easier for me, but it's not intended to be a permanent fixure on Atlas Quest. The idea is that I'll collect orders for three or four weeks then, at the end of that time, put in bulk orders with the suppliers to nab the best deal I can. I'm not really interested in selling one sheet of carving block at a time, so you'll notice all of the carving block options require at least a three-block commitment.

It's also slanted so premium members get the best deals--they're the ones that financially keep Atlas Quest up and running, and I've marked some items below my actual costs for their benefit. (I figure they already paid for it with premium membership in the first place!)

In addition, it means you shouldn't expect to receive your order until at least a couple of weeks after I close the shop. It takes time to order the items in bulk and wait for them to arrive before I can mail them off to you! It's not fast, but especially for premium members, it could be very cost effective! =)

At the moment, I plan to keep the shop up until the end of September at which point it'll close and I'll order everything needed to fulfill your orders. Calendars will still be available directly from the supplier after this time, but will cost $16.99 per calendar if you order directly from them--and it won't be available from them until *after* the marketplace on AQ closes. So there's definitely an incentive to order through AQ--even for non-premium members!

I've started an FAQ for other questions you might have, but if I've missed anything you want to know, be sure to ask!

Did I miss anything? *looking around*

Thursday, August 10, 2006

To Find or Not To Find--that is NOT the question!

When Atlas Quest first debuted, the number one requested feature was the ability to record finds for unlisted letterboxes. People wanted to record all of their finds and have an accurate F-count.

I did finally implement this feature, but decided to save it just for premium members since it wasn't a feature that's absolutely necessary to use the site. It is nice to be able to list all of your finds, but it's not the end of the world if you can't, either. And it was important to have funding for Atlas Quest, as the recent downtime with LbNA shows. You get what you pay for, and when you pay nothing, the site gets hosted on a shared server for next to nothing and tends to be rather unreliable. So I made the recording of finds for unlisted boxes as a treat for the premium members who help support the site.

Recently, though, a couple of people have pointed out that there are other ways to help support Atlas Quest without actually paying a premium membership. There are those that cannot afford a premium membership. Perhaps a student trying to make ends meet. Someone who's been laid off from their job and the money just won't stretch that far. And I do feel bad for these people who have trouble supporting Atlas Quest financially through no fault of their own.

So I've decided to open up this premium member only feature to everyone for one day only! On Friday, August 11th, anyone and everyone will be able to record finds for letterboxes not listed on Atlas Quest. It's a chance to get your official F-count on Atlas Quest correct. It's a chance to access restricted letterboxes that until now were out of your reach because your F-count was too low. It's a chance to get yourself into the AQ Letterboxer Hall of Fame. It's your chance to enjoy a premium member perk without having to pay one, single cent out of your pocket!

So between 12:01 AM and 11:59 PM (Pacific Time), on Friday, August 11th, haul out those logbooks and start recording all of your finds and attempts. To get started, just go to the Record Find/Attempt link found under the 'Letterboxes' menubar option. Type in the name and type of the box you found. If Atlas Quest can't find a record of the box being listed, it will give you options for adding the find anyhow under the 'Unlisted Letterboxes' section.

So what are you waiting for? Start looking for all those old logbooks and get ready to log all your finds! =)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Return to Stone Mountain!

Years ago, in June of 2001, I was on my way to see a total solar eclipse in Africa and flew through Atlanta. I stopped for a few days to see the area--I'd never been to Atlanta before. I took a VIP tour of the CNN building which was pretty darned cool. I visited the World of Coca-Cola Museum. I toured the state capitol building. All very interesting, I might add. And, of course, I dropped by the world famous Stone Mountain Park to see what the fuss was all about. =)

At the time, the whole state of Georgia boasted of a single letterbox on LbNA, and even then it was a hybrid with a store-bought stamp. So I left a couple of crumbs in my wake. Pure letterboxes, with a hand-carved stamp. Rather crappy stamps, I might add, since I was new to letterboxing myself and not especially skilled in the art of carving. And one of those stamps I left at Stone Mountain. I called it the Stone Mountain letterbox because, well, it was at Stone Mountain and it was the only letterbox there so there wouldn't be any confusion about where the box was or which box it was.

I had no idea the events I set in motion with that plant....

Just over five years later, I returned to Stone Mountain and wow have things changed! Red's Bunch held a gathering there--I think it's the third or fourth year it's been held there. At last count, something like 90 letterboxes are planted in the park. And not only do the powers-that-be in the park know about the letterboxes, but they actually encourage them!

It probably would have happened anyhow without my seeding the area, though perhaps it would have taken longer. *shrug* After five years, though, I wanted to return to this park and see all the changes, revisit that box I planted so many years ago, and meet these folks that nabbed my letterbox. So Amanda and I secretly planned to crash the event and catch everyone with their guard down. =)

We got into Atlanta the evening before the gathering, August 4th, and checked into our hotel a few miles outside of the park. Originally we planned to meet with TurtleMcQ, the only other person who knew ahead of time we were coming since she has an adorable little girl who told us at the Ithaca gathering a couple of months before she wanted us there for her birthday. (Which was on the 4th.) How can you say no to that?

We didn't meet up with Turtle that evening, though not for lack of trying! We called her and she informed us of a drenching downpour and a lightning storm the likes of which she hasn't seen in a long, long time. That wouldn't keep us away, and just as we were getting into the car to drive into the village of Stone Mountain to meet up, she called us back to say the power went out and perhaps Amanda and I should reconsider meeting up for dinner there. Instead, we stayed in the hotel and watched the lightning show out the window and a terrible wind blowing leaves and debris across the parking lot. Lots of fun!

The next morning we again had trouble catching up with TurtleMcQ, but I won't bore you with that story. Eventually the three of us--Amanda, TurtleMcQ, and I--did make it together and headed off to the gathering where we were immediately welcomed by Red's Bunch and T-Rex. (*insert roar here*)

The weather the night before was indeed bad--much worse than I thought, in fact! Many of the park's attractions were closed (a pity for Turtle's kids--no waterslides!) due to cleanup efforts and some brave letterboxers *coughMoonBunnycough* who decided to camp at the campground that night were not allowed back! Can you imagine that? Setting up camp, leaving for dinner or whatever reason you left, and not being allowed to come back later that night?!

The backroad around the campground was still closed when we arrived due to fallen trees. We also learned that the local news had incorrectly reported that the entire park was closed due to storm damage, and we wondered if that would cause some letterboxers not to show up.

We didn't stick around the gathering long, though. It was already quite warm and humid, and we wanted to get some boxing out of the way before the temperature climbed any further! The day before, we passed one of those bank marquees that showed the temperature was 105 degrees! It was brutal!

T-Rex got us started with a couple of nearby boxes, then Turtle and I went off to hike around the Great Mountain. Amanda decided to stay behind for some easier drive-by boxes while Turtle and I battled the trails. We did a pretty lousy job of finding boxes, to tell you the truth. We stopped briefly to consider Mark's 14th (or something like that--I'm doing this from memory so exact names could be incorrect) but decided not to when we weren't entirely sure which dry stream we were supposed to go up. Too dang hot to waste time possibly going in the wrong direction.

We did find Amanda's Duck Duck box--the most found letterbox in the world according to Atlas Quest find reports with 51 reported finds now. We knew of other boxes along the Walk-In trail it intersected, but we weren't sure whether the boxes were up or down the trail from where we intersected it so decided to bag finding those for another day.

As we approached my own box, we got a call from Amanda about one of my old friends from college days was hanging out at the gathering wondering where I was. =) I talked to her earlier in the morning and said I'd be hiking around the mountain, and I'd give her a call when we were done. I hadn't seen her in years, but that was before my letterboxing days and she's (*gasp!*) not a letterboxer. She knows what it is, of course--everyone who knows me knows what letterboxing is--but not everyone who knows me is a true letterboxer.

I felt bad about leaving her to fend for herself among a bunch of letterboxers she didn't know, so Amanda picked us up at a road crossing and whisked us back to the gathering.

I helped my friend integrate into the letterboxing community and got her carving a signature stamp after deciding on the trail name of Flying Brain. She used to work with brains, it seems (the MRI kind, not the real thing), and decided to use that for her trailname. She drew out her own image on a piece of paper, then I showed her how to transfer it to the carving medium, providing carving utensils, and set her to work on it. Turned out remarkably well! Everyone was quite impressed. =)

But back to the true letterboxers.... Many more people had arrived by this time, and twice people had to stop me from stamping into my own logbook in the stamping frenzy. It was great finally being able to meet so many of these people I'd exchanged messages with over the years and whose posts I'd read: Eidolon, Beachcomber, StarSaels, 123Family, drgdlg, among others.

I was especially happy to catch up with Mark since he's the fellow to gave me the ride to the Approach Trail and started me off on my 2,172.6 mile hike to Maine. Even if he did drive me there while having a suspended license. ;o) He showed up to the gathering fashionably late after not getting any sleep the night before, so I didn't get to talk with him as much as I'd have liked, though. =( It'll just give me an excuse to visit again some other time.

After Flying Brain spent an hour stamping into logbooks, she turned to me and said she needed to find some boxes. She had to find at least one box to be a proper letterboxer! So I told her clues from the boxes T-Rex helped us with earlier that morning since I knew they were nearby. She also left a bag unattended during this time, so it's entirely possible she picked up a few cooties and didn't know it before she left. I haven't checked with her to see if this happened, though. Some things, you just have to learn the hard way. ;o)

Flying Brain only moved to the Atlanta area earlier this year and had never been to Stone Mountain before, so after looking for a couple of boxes, we walked out to the grassy area where she could see the famous carving in all its glory before walking back to the gathering. She had already made other plans for later that afternoon and evening, though, and after getting sucked in for a few more exchanges she managed to escape our clutches. She told me, however, that she really enjoyed the gathering and is absolutely determined to come back to Stone Mountain--perhaps in the fall when it's cooler!--and find some more letterboxes. =) I think she might be a convert. Only time will tell, but everyone sure made a great impression. *nodding*

Eventually, the gathering came to a close. Amanda, Turtle, and I met up with the rest of Turtle's family (two kids, a husband, and the in-laws) for dinner and desert before going back to Stone Mountain for the grand finale: The laser lightshow and fireworks. I've wanted to see this ever since I first heard about it, but could never managed to pull it off. This time, I pulled it off. It's cheesy, but I love cheese, and I loved the show. I kept my eyes open for other letterboxes who also wanted to watch the show, but I didn't find anyone I recognize. Admittedly, he fact that there must have been two thousand other people watching the show and it was dark out didn't help.

All-in-all, it was a terrific little gathering. I really expected a lot more people to show up, but it was perfect! Well, except for the heat and humidity. Minus that, it was perfect! =) Rain, lightning, and storm damage are fun, but us west-coast people really don't like that heat and humidity. We're wimps!

The next morning, we slept in pretty late (it had been a LONG day, after all!) before heading back to sunny Seattle. =)

Monday, July 31, 2006

AQ Mail Unleashed!

For years people have asked about having their AQ mail sent to their e-mail address instead, but for technical and privacy reasons, the most I'd ever allow is a notification to let you know new mail was waiting for you on Atlas Quest.

No more! AQ mail has been unleashed and can now work its way into an e-mail box near you! It requires two steps:

1. You must make sure your e-mail address has been verified as being active and belonging to you.

2. Change your preferences to have AQ mail forwarded to your private e-mail address.

Both can be done from the Preferences page on Atlas Quest.

Now here's where things get really interesting. If you decide to reply to one of those messages, I had to overcome a few problems. First, for privacy reasons, I didn't want to expose the sender's personal and private e-mail address. But the mail program still expects an e-mail address. What to do, what to do....

And it struck me. Send the e-mail back to Atlas Quest and put it into the senders AQ mailbox. If you could reply to a message from, for instance, AQ could pick up the e-mail, parse the e-mail address for the trailname, and put the results into AQ mail. I'd have liked to use, but alas, a lot of those e-mail addresses are already in use. I needed a new domain name that would not conflict with any other e-mail address in existence! Thus, I settled on

So any message mailed to will now be forwarded into the AQ mail system. If the trailname has spaces in it, those should not be included since e-mail isn't very fond of addresses with spaces in them. Mail can be sent to me at, for instance.

There is another problem, though: The dreaded spam. What's to stop a spambot from learning of that e-mail address then sending a lot of crap to my AQ mailbox? Well, what if I only allow messages to come from a known e-mail address? Every member on Atlas Quest has a registered e-mail address, so if I can match the e-mail address from the person who sent a message to an e-mail address in the Atlas Quest database, I can be pretty certain at least the message is from a legitimate AQ member and thus is not likely to be spam.

So if you do try to send a message to, you better do it from an e-mail address that's registered to an account on Atlas Quest. Otherwise, it'll just be automatically deleted and I won't even know it ever existed.

So there you have it. You can start receiving AQ mail directly to your e-mail account, and even reply like you would with a regular ol' e-mail. Your private e-mail address will always stay private and your public e-mail address will be

Because this system is just another form of AQ mail, any other restrictions to AQ mail still apply. If you send a message with your e-mail client to, you'll see it show up in your Sent folder in your AQ mailbox. If you receive mail to, it'll still show up in your AQ mailbox (though it'll be marked as having already been read since you received it in your e-mail box).

And there is no support for attachments, you won't be able to add color or change the size or font of the text. You won't be able to include images (and links will automatically be generated if you start the link with http:// ). As a whole, it's not really recommended that you quote any replies since results can often be unpredictable, though technically it should work.

It's still AQ mail--just now disguised as an e-mail address. =)

Harness the power! Set your preferences today!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Yes, another letterboxing blog makes its debut....

I'd like to update the template and preview the changes, but this site won't let me do so until I have at least one post in my blog. Thus, here is the post. =)