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?