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!