Friday, December 28, 2007

Another Browser Bites the Dust

I just came across an article today titled AOL Pulls Plug on Netscape Web Browser. What's this mean for you? Well, nothing really, unless you like to use Netscape. If Netscape is your preferred browser, dump it. Now. Download Firefox and start getting used to it, because eventually it'll have to happen anyhow.

Netscape will likely continue to live on computers all around the world for years to come--sometimes, it's painful for people to admit they have to give up on their preferred browser--but eventually, new features will be implemented. New standards created, and the old browser will not support them. First, you'll find one site that will no longer work with the browser. Then another. Ten years from now, most major websites may break with your old browser.

And Atlas Quest will be no different. As new technologies are implemented, I intend to use them. There are a number of exciting new CSS constructs I'm looking forward to using as browser support for them improves, and if you're stuck on an old browser, eventually you'll suffer as a result. It'll likely be several years before I'll be able to use the particular standards I want to--Safari supports one of them already, and I bet Internet Explorer and Firefox are working to implement them as well. Netscape--nope, it'll never happen now.

Firefox is built with the same engine as Netscape, so for you Netscape folks out there, that would most likely be your preferred alternate. It's my favorite browser anyhow, much better than IE in my experience. (Especially better than IE6--IE7, however, has fixed many of the problems I used to grumble most about.)

I'll test Atlas Quest with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera as necessary. Netscape used to be in that list, but no longer. =) I test most with Firefox since that's my preferred browser, and IE gets tested second most since that's what most people use. Safari and Opera I usually only test if I know of a specific issue involving one of those browsers.

It's official, though. Netscape is dead. R.I.P. Back in my college days, it used to be my favorite browser until Microsoft built the better mousetrap. (Which saddened me greatly when I first realized that IE was a better browser than Netscape--it wasn't until Firefox came along I finally found something that worked better than IE.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Envelope Please.....

Atlas Quest does not actually record when a find is recorded, so there are no officially reliable statistics about how many people made use of Free Listing Day or how many finds were recorded. It must have been fast and furious, though, since Atlas Quest did go down for a short period that morning, but nothing a reboot of the server couldn't solve.

The best stats I have for the recording of finds is the AQ Statistics page. It's generated at 1:45am each morning, and yesterday, there were a total of 912,532 finds recorded. Today, it's gone up to 917,199. So overall, 4667 finds were recorded between 1:45am on December 26th and 1:45am on December 27th.

It's not a precise number--people may have started recording their finds between midnight and 1:45 that do not show up in the total, and finds recorded for the 1 hour and 45 minutes this morning are being counted but shouldn't. I deliberately choose to update the stats at 1:45 in the morning however, specifically because very few people are usually on Atlas Quest doing things like recording finds. The vast majority of activity won't take place during those hours.

Of the 4667 finds that were recorded during this period, 1985 of them were listed as being found yesterday, meaning 2682 finds were recorded from before then.

Not really that many, actually, but this is a rather slow time on Atlas Quest to begin with. For the week, the average number of finds recorded is 1340 per day. During the summer, that number could easily averages two or three times that amount.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, I don't really know how many finds were recording for Free Listing Day except that it is significantly higher than a typical day this time of year. =)

For kicks, I'm including some other interesting graphs my webstats program spits out about activity on Atlas Quest.

This graph shows the daily activity on AQ from December of 2006. Couple of things to note. First, weekends show up with a gray background at the beginning. You'll notice, invariably, that Saturdays almost always tend to the be least busy day on Atlas Quest. Mondays, most of the time, are the busiest.

Being December, there is a special anomaly known as Christmas. You can see Atlas Quest activity drop like a rock on Christmas Day, but the drop really starts happening a few days before Christmas before jumping to surprisingly high values between Christmas and New Years. This years graph is pretty much the same. Saturdays have low activity, Mondays have a lot, and activity on the site crashes on Christmas (and the few days leading up to it). No reason to think the rest of the month will play out similarly as last year.

If you're wondering about the colored bars, yellow is the number of visits, dark blue is the number of web pages viewed, light blue is the number of hits recorded, and green is the amount of bandwidth used.

Let's move on....

This is the graph of AQ activity this year. You can see the summer months are clearly busier than the winter months by a wide margin. Peak activity is about double the activity in February. (February gets short thrift not only because it's a winter month, but it also only has 28 days.)

December is a bit short right now, but that's only because there's three weeks of activity in it. The last week of December, historically, is pretty busy, so that month should increase from where you see it now. Probably to about the same level that June is at.

The colors mean the same thing here as in the last graph, except there's an additional color used in this graph--orange. That's the number of "unique visitors" that Atlas Quest recorded.

This is the hourly breakdown of activity this month. The time listed is Pacific Time--completely arbitrary, but since I live in Pacific Time, it's convenient for me. =)

Peak activity happens during the 6:00 evening hour. The rise of activity during the morning is likely east coast folks waking up for work. The morning peak ends during the 9:00 hour--three hours later. Presumably, most of you folks are checking into AQ just as soon as you can once you get into work. ;o)

The least busy period for Atlas Quest is between midnight and 3:00 am, which is why all of the nightly updates are done during that time. The server has extra time then to twiddle it's thumb, calculate P and F-counts, backup the database, and calculate those fascinating AQ stats you can access. If I do major updates of the site, I also try to do them during this period to reduce bothering as many people as possible.

That's about it for this installment of Letterboxing is Fun! Hope you enjoyed yourselves. =)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Free Listing Day begins.... NOW!

Boxing Day, 2007, is also Free Listing Day--the day when everyone, including non-premium members, can record all their finds. Specifically those pesky unlisted boxes that are not found on Atlas Quest.

No, there are no real benefits to recording all of one's finds. Your logbook is still the ultimate source of finds, but many people enjoy seeing all their finds listed in their logbooks and their official F-count increase. An additional benefit to a complete online history of your finds, for those who are into statistics, is the new My Statistics page.

It's usually a perk reserved for premium members, which isn't too disappointing if you consider that most non-premium members don't have complete find histories that would allow for accurate statistics. But for those of you who want to check out your stats, that page will be available for everyone on Boxing Day only. Record all your finds, then check out the statistics on them!

Enjoy the perks while they last, however. At midnight (Pacific time), they'll disappear again the next Free Listing Day.

How to record finds from unlisted boxes? Use the Record Find/Attempt link under the Letterboxes menubar option. Type in the name and type of the box. Skip the author--that doesn't matter for unlisted boxes. Atlas Quest will first list all of the listed boxes it found that matches your search parameters. Then, just below that, shows a list of unlisted boxes that others have already recorded finds on that match your search, or an option to tell Atlas Quest that it's a completely new listing.

Use the links and options in that second half to record the finds of those unlisted boxes.

Happy Boxing!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Hope you're all enjoying your holidays, but I interrupt your fun for a few announcements.

First, the somewhat-irregular "Free Listing Day" will occur on December 26th, a.k.a. Boxing Day. It was a tradition started to thank those folks who are not premium members yet still provide valuable contributions that others may enjoy. As much as we love letterboxing, there are more important things in life such as families or getting an education that money can be spent on. Free Listing Day started as a salute to those members who are valuable contributors to Atlas Quest, but may not have the financial means to become premium members. Often times, your suggestions, answering questions on message boards, or adding to the help pages can be as helpful as cash.

This is only the second time I've used Boxing Day as a Free Listing Day--I probably won't use that day again next year since I'd rather keep you all guessing. ;o) There will be more Free Listing Days, but it's meant for members who use Atlas Quest regularly and are the real contributors--not the folks who drop by once in a blue moon. That's the reason I don't provide more advance warning of such days, as well. Those who visit once in a blue moon will probably miss their opportunity. Those who log in daily probably won't. ;o)

Next up: Amyrica compiled of a list of folks willing to help me out while I walk from Key West to Springer Mountain. About 30 people in total offered help, including one lawyer who offered legal help in Alabama if I should need it. ;o) I tried calling you all this weekend just to thank you for your offer to help, but finally ran out of minutes on the calling card I was using. (Actually, I started with Amanda's cell phone since it had free minutes on weekends, but she left town on Saturday so I had to resort to the old calling card after that.) I did try calling everyone at least once, but it seems *some* of you thought I was a telemarketer or something and didn't answer my call. ;o) Despite that, I did manage to successfully contact about two-thirds of the folks on the list, which took several hours and was rather fun. For most of you, it was the first time I'd talked to you voice-to-voice. It's always interesting trying to guess what you might sound like as I'm dialing the numbers. I really enjoyed talking to you all.

Many of you noticed a minor update I did this last weekend where you now can use multiple different tags on letterboxes. That was an idea proposed on the message boards which intrigued me, and off the cuff I didn't think it likely that it would happen so quickly, but after thinking about it for a few days, it occurred to me that implementing such an improvement would be surprisingly easy to do. I updated the back end of Atlas Quest to support up to eight different tags in just a couple of hours. It was that easy. The front end--the part you see and interact with--would be a bit more complicated. It used "on/off" toggles. Tags were either on or off. Now I had a set of eight tags, each of which might be on or off, and a panel of 16 buttons to turn on or off each tag seemed rather excessive. I spent a few days mulling over the best way to allow you to interact with the new feature. I could go directly into the database and tag boxes with lots of different tags and it worked just fine. I just needed to "widen" the view a bit so the rest of you could see it too, though.

I did that, uploaded the changes, and now Atlas Quest supports up to eight different tags. Why eight? Why not six? Or ten? Ten is a nice, round number? Technically speaking, there's not really a limit to how many tags I could support. Each tag is stored as a bit in the database, however, and eight bits make up a byte, so I figured I'd use the whole darned byte. Using less wouldn't save any space in the database, using just one more tag would have required two bytes of data. May as well just round up to sixteen different tags at that point, but that just seems excessively silly. So I settled on eight, in short, because some geek--probably not unlike myself--decades ago decided that eight bits should go in a byte. =)

Only premium members get to use all eight options, though, as an added perk for helping to support this site financially. Atlas Quest would not be what it is today if it were not from the financial support of premium members. Not to worry if you aren't a premium member, though--you still have three tags you can use, essentially tripling the number of available tags that you had before. Not bad, huh? ;o) Figured everyone comes out ahead with that feature, though premium members certainly are coming out further ahead.

What else, what else...? I'm slowing getting ready for the Big Day when my hike begins. Yesterday I dehydrated 5 pounds of ground beef, tonight I'm working on getting the water out of spaghetti sauce. Last weekend I discovered a local source for instant beans, which I didn't even realize existed until rather recently. I'm now figuring out what sorts of meals I can use beans in on the trail--a luxury item I never had on the Appalachian Trail. (Nobody carries cans of beans into the woods, and the non-canned variety take way too long to soak and cook.) Instant beans, though. Wow. The possibilities. =)

I still have lots of preparing to do, though.

Tonight I've also spent working on my flash drive--which will allow me to take the entire Atlas Quest development system with my on the trail. The software I'll need I installed and got working a long time ago--now I'm getting all the settings and options set to how I like them. I'm writing this blog entry from the version of Firefox that's running off of the flash drive now, in fact. Installed a bunch of extensions I like to use--Web Developer, View Cookies, FlashBlock, and even stumbled onto a new extension named PDF Download that I thought I'd try. Managed to get Thunderbird working to download my e-mail. Now I'm figuring out how to use a program that can make backups, or sync the data on the flash drive with other locations. Very cool stuff. I'm working on a backup of the flash drive as I type this now.

So that's what I'm up to. There's a few last minute things I'm working on for Atlas Quest before I leave, but most of them aren't particularly noteworthy. I'm afraid of making any substantial changes at this point since if something breaks, I may not be around to fix it. The things I'm tweaking generally have a very low chance of causing problems. Like themes. =) Ugh--I still don't think I'll get all the themes I want to get done... done. Saves something new for me to do next year, I suppose. =)

I'll be spending most of tomorrow with family. There are some folks around these parts that will be getting AQ calendars under the Christmas tree. ;o) For now, I just want to stay up late enough to catch Santa Claus in the flesh. That creepy little guy manages to sneak into the house every year and I never catch him, but darn it, I'm going to catch him this year. I know it!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wassamatta With Atlas Quest?

As most of you probably know, I'm planning to take off the first few months of 2008 to hike from Key West to Springer Mountain, about 1,800 miles from start to finish. Who'll be in charge when I'm gone? Who'll be able to keep the site running or get it back up while I'm off battling with alligators and bears?

Yes, you're favorite punner--wassamatta_u is an official webmaster and administrator on Atlas Quest with the keys to the kingdom. He's actually done a heroic job on a couple of occasions when I was fast asleep to get the server rebooted during troubles and helping to fix a couple of problematic bugs along the way, so you should be in good hands. Nice to wake up and find out that the problem's already taken care of!

There is another webmaster I brought on board more recently who prefer to stay anonymous at this time--at least until he (or she--I'm using he in a generic sense rather than calling him--or her--an it which seems rather rude) becomes a bit more familiar with the system. Wassamatta would be the head webmaster guru to keep things running smoothly while I'm out of touch, however. He won't be developing features or fixing anything but the most major of bugs--he does have a day job to attend to (such as his Boxers and Briefs gig). Basically, his goal is just to make sure Atlas Quest stays up and running, but he can also help out in ways that no one else can since he'll have direct access to both the code and the database.

There are also five admins (including myself) and a dozen or so moderators to help keep the site running, so they'll be able to help out with most problems. The top of the food chain, however, are the webmasters, and wassamatta_u is your man. =)

I've always wanted to say this publicly, but thank you wassamatta_u for all the help you've already provided over the last number of months! Glad to see you've finally gotten over your shyness!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

State of the Thru-hike Address

As many of you may know, I'm planning to start in Key West on January 1st, then hike nearly 1,800 miles to Springer Mountain. If all goes well, I will arrive on April 16th.

Carrying a computer on my back isn't going to happen, so making sure Atlas Quest stays up and running while I'm out of touch is something of a concern for me. What am I doing about this?

First, I've stopped all major development on the site. I'm working to get the site as stable and bug-free as possible. I've been tweaking queries to make them run faster.

Second, I've added two new webmasters and admins this year. Hopefully if something does go wrong, they'll be able to fix it without my help. If you need help from an admin or webmaster, be sure to contact them from the Contact Us page. The link is at the bottom of almost every page on AQ.

If you do contact me directly, it might be several days before I get the message, and may be weeks (or even months!) before I can do anything about it.

Third, I've started paying for an "Enhanced Monitoring Service" so if the site goes down, a 24/7 support group will jump into action within 15 minutes to get the website back up and running.

And finally, I've reactivated my PocketMail device. Some of you old timers might remember my using it while on the Appalachian Trail to write those detailed trail journals. Once again, I will be writing trail journals, but it'll be my link to the outside world.

I'll have my AQ mail forwarded to it so I can check mail from any phone I cross paths with, and I'll be able to reply to them. (I will not be able to log into AQ, however, so I won't be able to DO anything on AQ--just read and respond to AQ mail.)

I've also decided to post my adventures via Blogger. They have a nifty feature where I can post blogs by sending the blog entry to a special e-mail address. I should therefore be able to post much more regularly than I was able to on the AT. Later, when I have access to a computer, I will compile them and add photos into an official Great Adventure, but for the most up-to-date info about my travels, you'll find it on my blog. I hope to update that at least every couple of days.

What else? I have the entire AQ development machine on a flash drive that I'll be carrying with me. If something does go wrong, I can get off the trail and onto a computer--any computer-- to fix it.

Oh, the reason for this post... It's actually a test. I'm typing this on my PocketMail device, and I will e-mail it to my special blogger e-mail address, and it should (in theory) automatically post the message to the Letterboxing Is Fun blog. All without a computer. =)

There will be a new blog just for my hiking adventures at

I'm still working on it so there's nothing to see at the moment. When it's ready to go live, I'll make it a default blog that everyone on AQ will automatically be subscribed to. (You can unsubscribe at any time if you're not interested in it, however.)

Okay, let's see if we can get this post to post!