Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Important Message for AQ Members!

Just so everyone knows what's going on, I got some bad news not too long ago, telling me that the IP address that Atlas Quest uses is going to be changed whether I like it or not. I don't really understand what's wrong with this one I've been using for the last two years--I'm rather fond of it, actually--but the IP address has to change. If I don't update the server to use these new IP addresses, Atlas Quest will stop working on December 1st. Actually, the site will still work--it's just that nobody will be able to connect to it anymore, so the result is the same. *shrug*

I've downloaded a little form about how to do so, which I'm about to start following through with now. But I've never had to update the IP address for AQ before, and it's entirely possible I could screw something up along the way. Or maybe the IP address for AQ will need time to propagate throughout the Internet, so the site might be inaccessible for a day or two. Or maybe any number of problems. I've never done this before, though, so I'm not all sure what might happen.

So.... You might want to keep track of a couple of IP addresses for the next couple of days to make sure you can keep accessing this site. The old IP address is you find yourself unable to connect to AQ, try typing the IP address directly into the web browser. If that does work, give the new IP address a try. It's I tried typing them both into my web browser, and they both seemed to work just fine. Eventually the old number will stop working completely. I hope the new number continues to work throughout the whole migration process. =)

Wish me luck! Sorry if this causes any downtime, but I figure better a little downtime now than a LOT of downtime come December 1st. I don't expect AQ to be down any longer than it takes to restart the server, but when it comes to domain names and IP addresses, it could take a couple of days for everything to get straightened out completely.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Signature Stamp

A great tragedy has struck--my famed signature stamp, a goofy-looking turtle, usually green, is missing. It was last seen around Gorham, Maine, the evening of October 27th. I suspect it's hiding among headstones, near a parked hearse. It was raining, and I was trying to hold my logbooks and ink pads, bent over to protect them from rain while stamping in. By the time I realized it was missing, it was dark and I have no flashlight. YOU search among headstones in the dark of night without a flashlight and see how successful you are! =P

If you have seen this stamp, please let me know. The stamp isn't my original turtle. The original turtle was barefooted, and Amanda carved a homage stamp of sorts, I guess it would be called now, that looked like the original stamp except the bare feet were replaced with boots. One boot said "AT," and the other had "2003." She carved it while I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, during a visit to see me in Connecticut.

It was the first time the stamp had returned to Maine since I finished the trail, and Amanda says he wanted to stay. There might be some truth to this, but I'd still like it back. It's my fourth signature stamp, and the one I've been using the longest. It's priceless.

In another news, in a fit of cosmic justice, Amanda has also lost her signature stamp in Maine. There is no known reason why her stamp would want to stay in Maine, but hers has less sentimental value. =) It was last seen late at night, shortly after Amanda picked up a box that half a dozen people were looking for, at night, in the pouring rain. She smuggled the box into our rental car where we stamped into it as everyone else continued to search for the box. She had the stamp then--she stamped in with it--but the stamp was never seen again. Was it revenge? Perhaps. Was it a tragic accident waiting to happen? Perhaps. Maybe it fell out of a pocket when she replaced the letterbox.

To begin our whole adventure--the abbreviated version, at least--Amanda and I decided to check out the extravaganza known as the Frightnight 3 gathering. We flew out last Wednesday, then drove down to Boston where I have a cousin who had a place for us to crash and to catch up with since I don't get to see him often. He loves Taco Bell, so we get along well. *nodding* =)

Our first full day on the east coast was mostly spent sleeping in until 1:00 in the afternoon. Jet lag sucks. We did get out long enough to find Choi's Hang In There letterbox--which was exciting for me since I don't think I ever found one of his boxes before. =) We spent quite a bit of time driving around getting lost, though. Signs are terrible out east, and especially so in Boston, with tiny little signs (if there was any at all) that you can't read until after you're already driving by it. Nor are they lit up at night. Amanda found a wonderful sign near Chestnut Hill that said the steps behind the sign were closed, but that there was another access point 200 years to the right with an arrow below it that pointed left. We felt this was symbolic of all signage in Boston, and certainly makes getting around a challenge. =) (The correct direction, in case you're wondering, was left.)

Friday afternoon we spent driving north to Portland. We stopped for a few hours in Salem--a location that, remarkably enough, the well-traveled Amanda had never stopped to visit before! And just before Halloween? How lucky were we? Actually, we didn't much like the crowds and probably would have enjoyed ourselves had it been some other time of year. We did a haunted house at my encouragement--how can you NOT do a haunted house in Salem just before Halloween?! I think there are laws that require all visitors to do at least one haunted house. We paid our $8 each and it was somewhat disappointing, we thought. It was an okay haunted house, but this is Salem! We had high hopes that Salem had the concept mastered.

We continued north, picking up a few letterboxes along the way--mostly the drive-by variety as we drove by. We also stopped at a Wal-Mart along the way to pick up costumes and food for the gathering the next day.

In Portland, we booked ourselves into a Motel 6, then headed out to Gorham to meet up with some other letterboxers for a corn maze that night. Alas, it seems we showed up a bit late and ended up going to the corn maze on our own. We hoped to find the other letterboxers at the corn maze, but it was SOOO crowded, the odds weren't good. Even worse, we didn't know what anyone looked like! We weren't sure who all went, and we didn't think we'd recognize any of them even if we did see them. "Keep your ears open for anyone who mentions stamps, letterboxes, or whatever," I told Amanda, but it was a long shot. We also tried looking through the parking lot for obvious letterboxer bumper stickers, but that would just get us their cars. We still wouldn't know where the owners of the cars would be! Anyhow, we never did find them, but I had a lot of fun running through the corn maze trying to find our way through. =) Amanda didn't much like the crowds, though. (Actually, I didn't either, but hey, you make the best of a situation that you can, right?)

The next morning, we drove out to Gorham again, this time for the official Frightnight 3 gathering, which was a blast. The surprise guests were... wow! How exciting! =) Is it safe to say who the surprises were? Hmm....

I arrived as a Jack-O-Lantern. Amanda has at least one picture of me, but we don't have a way to get it off her camera at the moment. (We're still in Maine.) Perhaps someone else can upload a picture of my costume? Amanda, of course, arrived as Nancy Drew--but don't ask her why her hair wasn't straight. ;o)

I really enjoyed meeting Casper in particular. *nodding* Fine fellow. I never imagined there was someone I had so much in common with!

Actually, everyone was fun to meet--especially those women wearing costumes that did not require much fabric. ;o) My favorite costume (sorry girls) was Death. An impressive performance, indeed!

Then we broke off into a letterboxing road rally that ended at a bonfire. Lots of fun, despite my losing my signature stamp near the end. =)

Today, we goofed around in downtown Portland, went off to the Portland Head Lighthouse, and picked up some more boxes along the way. Good times!

We're now in Manchester, New Hampshire, ready to fly back to Seattle tomorrow. I'll be catching up with a lot of e-mails and tweaks when I get back to Seattle. Now, I need to get off to watch Desperate Housewives. Weee! =)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Calendars Have Arrived!

Actually, I should clarify.... some calendars have arrived. I ordered 299 of the things, but only one box with about 80 of them arrived this afternoon. Presumably more boxes of calendars will arrive soon.

I'll pack and ship the calendars I can tonight and mail them off tomorrow. Only one copy of the silly edition arrived, so most of the orders will be by people who ordered just the sunset and/or original editions. I suspect the rest of the calendars will arrive within the next day or two, however, and I'll ship the rest of them when they do.

But the first calendar shipments will be in the mail tomorrow! =)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One Billionth Letterbox Planted: December 27, 2010

As some of you may know, a few months back I brought most all my worldly possessions from storage in Portland to a storage unit here in Seattle. It's been fun going through some of my old stuff. I make a trip to visit "my stuff" about once a week, pulling out stuff I realized I really don't need, don't want, and haven't used since it went into storage back in April of 2002.

One of my finds this last week was a book I purchased called How To Lie With Statistics. It should be required reading in every high school in the country if you want my opinion. It's not so much a book about how to lie with statistics as it is a book about how to identify other people lying with statistics--deliberately or otherwise. The book I have shows a copyright date of 1954, and I find it terribly amusing when he uses examples of one publication that says the "average family income" is $3,500 per year while another publication says it's $5,250 for that same year. Which is right? Both? Neither? Needless to say, the book has not been updated to account for inflation. =) I'd be a very wealthy man indeed if either of those were true. (Those aren't exact figures, I might add--I'm too lazy to look them up. But there was an example that used a $3,000-odd figure and a $5,000-odd figure. The rest of the digits I made up.)

Statistics are a tricky beast that can be made to say pretty much you want. Considering this last election here on Atlas Quest, I even remember joking about "what results would you like to see?" or something to that effect. Not that I was deliberately contemplating manipulating results to suit my fancy--I have a terrible vice of honesty. My former boss at Pizza Hut once told me that if I found a $20 bill on the ground, I'd probably go around the restaurant asking who it belonged to. (On a related note, I did recently find a $10 bill a week or so ago, and I did not ask around for who it belonged to. I even suspect I know who--or at least which group of people lost it--but they'd already left by the time I found it and tracking them down seemed like too much work. They were loud and obnoxious as well, and admit to feeling a little bit of pleasure at knowing one of them lost $10. Perhaps not quite as honest as my former employer believed.)

But it got me thinking, what wild statistics could I make up about letterboxing? We don't actually have much in terms of statistics about the letterboxing community. Heck, we don't even know how many letterboxes there are! We are a society of statically-challenged people.

I mean to change that. My first thought: When would the one billionth letterbox be planted? Oh, sure, laugh. I hear the snickers already. The whispering, "Not in my lifetime!" Hogwash. Of course it will. You just have to look at it from the right perspective. I just needed to find the stats to give me an accurate and oh-so-precise date. And I have.

The one billionth letterbox will be planted on December 27, 2010, at precisely 8:36:06 in the evening. Pacific time, of course. It will be planted by Lock Wench, at approximately 32.37 miles south of her home in North Carolina. Possibly as a joint plant with Dixie.

Preposterous you say?! Ha!

At the end of 2004, there were 3009 letterboxes listed on Atlas Quest. As of the last stats update last night, there were 61,684 letterboxes listed. That's an increase of 2049.983383% in just 1,171 days. Calculating the date and time of the one billionth letterbox is elementary at this point: 1 billion letterboxes = 61,684 * (20.4 ^ x), where x is the number of years until the 1 billionth letterbox. That asterisk means "times" and the caret symbol means "to the power of" for those of you not familiar with mathematical symbols used in programming. Solve for x.

I actually had trouble solving for x at first. I divided by 61684 on both sides of the equation, then what? That x is up there as a "power of" and I didn't know how to get it down! I poured through the dirty cobwebs of my mind and suddenly remembered something about logarithms. A quick Google search for logarithms refreshed my mind, and I now knew that x = log20.5(16211). I'm not even sure the proper way to write that on a keyboard, but I still had a problem. My calculator didn't have a button for taking logs to the 20.5. Not to worry, though, Wikipedia explained that it's the same as log(16211) / log(20.4), which my calculator can do, and I wound up with 3.21 years, or 1171-odd days. Add to today's date, and we end up with December 27, 2010, at precisely 8:36:06PM, Pacific time.

It's solid math, do not try to refute it. =)

What about knowing it's Lock Wench in North Carolina? There's a lot of probabilities involved and is therefore a much less exact science, but she's listed more boxes than everyone except Scout. I assume Scout is going to run out of places to hide new boxes soon, but Lock Wench moved opening up a whole new area for her to play and is therefore more likely to keep planting boxes making her the most likely to plant the one billionth.

Additionally, in the few short years I've known her, she's moved from New York to Connecticut, a distance of about 275 miles, in a general southeast direction. At this rate, we'd expect her to have reached North Carolina by 2010. Obviously, she won't be living in the Atlantic Ocean, so rather than assume she'll continue southeast during that whole time, I expect she'll reach the Atlantic Ocean then just follow it south. Thus, North Carolina.

She's also known for sending stamps far and wide, making friends with the local letterboxing community, and is there any letterboxer bigger than Dixie in North Carolina, who in fact gave me a box (which I planted in Iowa, the Dixie Express, and still waiting a first finder). Two known collaborators in the same state? Definitely a possibility. Additionally, by my eyeball estimates, I figure the "average" box planted by Lock Wench is about 32.37 miles south of where she lives, an impossibly precise number to throw off anyone who thinks I'm "just estimating," so that will be the most likely location of the one billionth letterbox.

This is solid logic. You cannot refute it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Election Results!

The election is over, the votes have been counted. Grand total, 559 members cast their votes. The quick summary: Blue diamonds are here to stay, the option to hide finds and attempts on your boxes are not. The detailed summary:

Should Atlas Quest provide an option to hide finds and attempts on your boxes from others?
1. Yes, give us the option (141 - 25%)
2. No, always show the finds and attempts (268 - 48%)
3. No preference (150 - 27%)

Blue diamonds—keep 'em or trash 'em?
1. I love blue diamonds! Keep 'em! (279 - 50%)
2. I hate blue diamonds! Trash 'em! (68 - 12%)
3. No preference (212 - 38%)

1. I am male (94 - 17%)
2. I am female (320 - 57%)
3. We're a couple (95 - 17%)
4. Other (50 - 9%)

1. Under 13 (8 - 1%)
2. 13-19 (15 - 3%)
3. 20-29 (55 - 10%)
4. 30-39 (202 - 36%)
5. 40-49 (157 - 28%)
6. 50-59 (72 - 13%)
7. 60-69 (18 - 3%)
8. 70-79 (5 - 1%)
9. 80-89 (1 - 0%)
10. 90-99 (1 - 0%)

How long have you been letterboxing?
1. Less than a month (10 - 2%)
2. More than a month, less than a year (162 - 29%)
3. From 1 to 2 years (164 - 29%)
4. From 2 to 5 years (179 - 32%)
5. More than 5 years (37 - 7%)
6. I don't remember.... (7 - 1%)

What would you most like to see?
1. Ryan in a dunk tank (38 - 7%)
2. Amanda as your flight attendant (96 - 17%)
3. A secret AQ board that nobody else knows about (64 - 11%)
4. A taser hooked up to a box that zaps people who do not rehide boxes well (253 - 45%)
5. Can't decide (108 - 19%)

Number of people who told me I spelled "flight attendent" wrong: Zero. =)

I'll add some commentary now.... The option to hide finds and attempts on your plants has increased in support--but it's still a long way from happening. The folks that DO NOT want this option, however, have fallen below that 50% mark. They no longer have a real majority anymore. Last time, 59% of everyone did not want that as an option. That's quite a drop, and might be worth another vote to see if views have changed in another year or so.

Blue diamonds--support for them has actually increased quite significantly. At the last vote, yeas outnumbered nays by 2 to 1. This time, it's 4 to 1. I'm thinking future votes on this topic will likely be a waste of time, but I certainly have no issue reexamining the issue later if I suspect the mood has shifted down again. Why support for the option has increased--I don't really know. *shrug* There could be a number of reasons, in fact, there probably ARE a number of reasons, but it looks like blue diamonds are here to stay.

As for male vs. female, I expected those of the fairer sex outnumbered us me, but I was surprised they did so by such a huge margin! There are more men on AQ sharing an account with their better half than there are single men with their own account. This, I suspect, is good news for single men. ;o) I kind of wonder how many of those "couple accounts" are really driven by women with men in the passenger seat. In any case, men are definitely a minority in this community!

Age of letterboxers--no real surprises here. Most folks are between 30 and 50, and the numbers drop off fast outside of that range. Eight young folks are even willing to admit breaking the terms of service on Atlas Quest which says you must be 13 years or older to have an account. I assume their parents are answering the questions for them, though. =)

The average time people have been letterboxing is about one to two years. I actually expected it to be less than that given the growth of the hobby, but the results weren't exactly shocking either.

As for what you would most like to see, you appear to be a violent bunch of people when it comes to protecting your letterboxes with a whopping 64% of people wanting to taser people who don't rehide boxes well. =) Amanda thinks you 96 people who's like to see her as your flight attendant can charter a flight--perhaps to Dartmoor--and she'll be happy to serve you. =)

Want to add your own commentary, rant about the results, or say your peace, use the main Atlas Quest board. After all, this is an Atlas Quest election!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Happy Mystery Letterbox Day!

You forgot about it, didn't you? Yeah, I know, so did I. It's even right there on my letterboxing calendar. With the big update, I spent the week before preparing it for the The Big Day, then the week after it fixing all the bugs I introduced. Alas, a week later, and I'm still fixing the bugs. They're definitely not as common or easy to find as that first day the update was in place, though!

Here in Seattle, the weather was perfect for mysteries. Dark, ominous clouds. A pattern of rain at times. I walked around Alki in search of submarines, but alas, found none. At least, not THIS time....

On another note, as of THIS MINUTE, 8:37pm according to the clock on my computer (which does tend to run a bit slow, I might add), a total of 488 people have cast their votes in the Voting Booth. I don't really expect any changes in the results at this point, but I've decided to leave the booth open until the end of the holiday weekend to make sure everyone gets a chance to make their opinion heard. I will also be freezing the accounts of all 36 people who want to see me in the dunk tank. (Just kidding! Or am I...? *wink*)

Anyhow, hope you're all enjoying your holiday weekend, assuming it is a holiday where you are, and assuming you have a three day weekend to enjoy it. Also assuming, of course, there's something to enjoy. =) I for one, am happy to report, that I finally listed my boxes that I planted way back in August. Now if I can just get around to listing that Portland box I planted way back in... I think it was July. Been so long, I forget now. One of these days....

In other news, I'm feeling a bit burnt out working on Atlas Quest, so I think I'll spend more time during the next month writing that epic Appalachian Trail book I started a year or two ago. The rough draft is already more than half done! Not to worry--I'll still be checking AQ mail, fixing bugs that turn up, and making a few minor improvements here and there. But I want to spent at least half my "working time" on the book project and take a break from Atlas Quest.

Speaking of those minor improvements, did anyone who attended an event this weekend notice the latest one I put in place late last night? =) It's one of those minor changes that you wouldn't know about unless you attended an event, though. I've been waiting ALL DAY for someone to comment on it, but alas, not a peep that I could find. Oh, well--it IS a minor update. I'm just surprised because there's been much more minor updates that you sharp-eyed folks point out, I find it surprising that nobody commented on this one. =)

Anyhow, hope all is going well, and it's time for me to eat some dinner and watch Desperate Housewives. It's a terrible vice I have. *shaking head*

Friday, October 05, 2007

The voting continues....

As of THIS minute, 3:31pm, Pacific time, not adjusting for any deviations of the time on my laptop, 299 people have cast their votes. Not too shabby for just over 24 hours of voting time, but there were nearly 500 votes cast last time so I expect a lot more to come in during the next few days. While normally I don't want to give any hints about the outcome of the voting, I do want to say that I am heartened that so relatively few of you would prefer to see me in a dunk tank. There are such people out there, but I am happy to report they do not make up a majority. =)

If you haven't cast your votes yet, drop by the Voting Booth and do so now. Last time I announced that, I forgot to open the voting booth doors, but they really are open this time. *nodding*

On another note, I saw a strange thing during my walk this afternoon. For those of you who know me, you might know that I often like to walk around Alki, a small section of Seattle with beautiful views from the snow-covered Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound, to Mount Baker and Mount Rainier (also covered with snow year round). I've seen a lot of strange things during my walks. I've seen bald eagles, sitting out on the beach. (Beautiful birds, I might add.) I've seen raccoons, hiding behind the seawall. I've seen amazing sand sculptures, and once I even saw a man getting a ticket for not having his dog on a leash, which thrilled me to no end. =) I've seen the lowest of the low tides and the highest of the highs. I've seen calm waters and raging waves, and I love watching the ferries plow the waters--especially at night when they're lit up brighter than prisons. I've had cops chase me out of the park (after hours), and I've surprised letterboxers looking for boxes. Last week, I saw some baby seals, lounging on the beach. And one bizarre evening, I was even shot at.

I've seen a lot of strange things on my walks along Alki over the years, but this afternoon I saw something I'd never seen before. A submarine, going south from points to the north. I'd never seen a submarine plying the waters here. Not that I didn't think they weren't around--there is a navel base here, after all, but aren't submarines supposed to be under the water? Exactly. *nodding* I've seen navy ships many times, but I'd never seen a submarine before, and I always assumed it must be because they were under water and out of view.

Not today, though. Today, I watched a submarine, riding free on the surface of the water. I wondered about where it was coming from. Training exercises? Or was it coming back from a tour around the world, after months on the open ocean? I have no idea, but it was still kind of cool to watch a living, breathing submarine moving around in the open water. Not a relic of the cold war, permanently anchored to shore for tourists to visit. A real submarine, in use today, doing whatever it is submarines are supposed to be doing.

I pulled out my monocular (I almost always carry one in my pack--I like them so much I even include them in the link on Atlas Quest). The submarine was a few miles out--not exactly a lot of details were visible--but through my monocular I could see a dot of color on the top of the submarine. Orangish in color. The submarine itself was black, jet black, and I imagine the dot of orange was a crew member, probably enjoying the wind in his hair and the breath of the open water compared to the usual drudgery in the cramped, stale air inside the submarine.

Oh, how I'd love to trade places with that man in orange--just for a couple of minutes. =)

The submarine eventually turned behind Bainbridge Island, and I lost it from view.

But how cool is that? I saw a submarine!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A poll, a poll, yes... another poll....

Now that I'm not up to my neck in an update, I put together a little poll for Atlas Quest members. Let yourself be heard! You can find the poll link under the 'My Page' menubar option, called Voting Booth.

Include with this poll is a revote for blue diamonds and the option to hide finds and attempts on one's boxes. I've largely stopped tweaking blue diamonds at this point and feel it's as good as it'll get with the data available. (Granted, more votes always means better data, but there's not the large influx of votes coming in relative to the amount that are already in at this point.) I've tweaked the best I could, and there's not more tweaking to be done. Do you consider the results worthless and the feature should go, or do you think it's useful (or at least somewhat interesting) and the feature should stay? Let me know!

The last vote with providing an option for planters to hide finds and attempts on their boxes was made during emotional duress, and now that you've all had a chance to try to the option to not allow finds and attempts to be hidden, you're probably better qualified to decide if that would be a worth while option. Especially given the fact that most people seemed okay with allowing the option to hide finds and attempts in your logbook (yes, that was in the last update, in case you missed it--check your preferences), I'm thinking there's a real possibility that people might be okay with an option to hide finds and attempts on one's own boxes. Note, however, that the last found date will still be available--you just will not be able to see the list of finds and attempts, nor who were the finders or attempters.

Then there are a few questions about the demographics on Atlas Quest (and, in theory, letterboxers as a whole, but who knows?), including age, sex, and how long you've been letterboxing.

Then there's a rather silly question because.... do I really need a reason? =)

So head over to the Voting Booth and cast your votes. All votes will remain confidential. The voting booth will be open for... well, I don't know how long. A week or so, perhaps? I don't have a set timeline. I'll announce the results after the voting booths close.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This announcement is brought to you by....

I know some of you love those little Atlas Quest PSA photos I created a while back. What PSA photos, you ask? Like the one on this blog, on the right side of the page. It changes every time you reload the page. You can get your own Atlas Quest PSA announcement for your website from the AQ Links page (found under the Toolbox menubar option).

While creating the silly edition of the AQ calendar, it occurred to me that some of those are really funny and could be added to the PSA lineup.

So for your entertaining pleasure, I'm proud to introduce the latest PSAs: