Monday, April 26, 2010

Clues on the Trail

As most of you know, I'm currently thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This activity often holds one special challenge for me--getting clues. I can check e-mail, but I can't necessarily get on the Internet. I really needed a way to get clues to me via e-mail.

So, while Amanda is here to slackpack me, I've been working on a new feature late into the nights. Admittedly, it's largely for selfish purposes, but for those of you who also have e-mailing ability on your cell phone but don't necessarily have access to Atlas Quest on the Internet--or maybe you don't have an easy way to store clues on your device--this feature might be very useful for you. =)

To make it work, send an e-mail to 'boxes' at '' including the location you want letterbox clues for as the subject. It's just a normal run-of-the-mill location-based search, so anything that works for a location based search works here--cities, intersections, addresses, zip codes, and so forth. Leave the body of the message blank. (Or you can write stuff in it, but AQ will ignore anything you write.)

After a minute or two, you should get a reply with the clues for that location. If the e-mail address is one that is registered with Atlas Quest, it will also strip out clues for boxes you've planted and already found.

You have mail! =)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is it art? Or graffiti?

Yesterday evening, I went on my normal Alki walk. It was a nice night out. Wonderful views of Puget Sound. And about halfway along my walk, I found two characters "decorating" a truck. I've seen vehicles hit with TP and stuff written on the windows before, but at a glance, I could tell this was something special. The two guys had an enormous roll of plastic wrap and were just starting to wrap the car. And looking into the cab of the truck, I could see it filled with packing peanuts. Right up to the windows.

That was evil. But when I took a closer look, I was even more impressed. They lined the inside of everything in the truck with aluminum foil. The steering wheel, the seats, the head rests on the seats, the review mirror--everything covered with aluminum foil. How long this must have taken I can't imagine. The packing peanuts was pure evil. Whoever owns that truck will likely be finding those for months on end.

And I decided, I needed photos. This was a work of art. This is something I would have normally guessed was Wassa's work, except I know Wassa, and neither of the two men doing this was him. I asked what unspeakable crime the owner of the truck committed, and was told he was getting married. The fool. *shaking head*

I wanted photos, but I didn't have my camera on me. Curses! I walked home.

This Alki walk is a good five or so miles in length, and after getting home, I sat around for a couple of hours getting some work done and letting my feet rest. But I still wanted photos, and I didn't know when the owner of that truck would be back and start the cleanup. I needed to get pictures that night. So I grabbed a camera, and at 2:00 in the morning, I went off to take photo.

These are the best photos that came out. The flash was blinding, and the natural light at 3:00 in the morning was less than ideal. However, you can see the packing peanuts in the vehicle, half covering the steering wheel (which itself was wrapped with aluminum foil). I walked back home and went to sleep.

I wanted to see if I could get better photos, however, so I did my walk a third time in the light of day the next morning, hoping none of the cleanup had started. And YES! It was still there, completely untouched!

I'm not really sure the photos from the light of day were any better. The glare of the sun caused its own problems, and I actually had to touch up these photos in my photo-editing software to make them look this good!

I really like the aluminum foil trim on the tires of the truck. That just seems classy to me.

Then I posted a note on the car saying, "The letterbox can be found in the peanuts." No idea if the owner will understand that message, but the mystery will certainly intrigue him. =)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Virtuals Revisited

When I first saw virtuals, I didn't really get the appeal. Until one.... there was one virtual that I positively thrilled myself solving. It's simple--practically mindless, in fact--but I absolutely loved it. It's called the Peatbank. If you've never been interested in virtuals, it's at least worth keeping your mind open for this one. It's different. I'm not sure who created it, except that it was an Englishman (or woman), and it was rather unfortunate this type of virtual didn't get 'exported' into the United States like their real letterboxes had been. This virtual made the hunt for a virtual box as much like the real thing as possible on thing contraption we call the Internet.

So far as I know, only one attempt was ever done to recreate the spirit of that original Dartmoor virtual box, Lone R's Northern Village. It was a supremely satisfying change of pace of the usual virtuals being posted and I hoped it would inspire others, but apparently... it didn't. *shrug*

But that's the kind of virtual I actually get excited about, and finally, I set up a system that makes it a heck of a lot easier for me to list that type of virtual myself. For those of you paying attention to recent virtuals, you'll have noticed a positive blizzard of these types of boxes. I probably created more in the last few days than have ever existed, and each one I listed tested some of the code behind it. Tweak some more, listed another one, tweak some more, list another one.

It started with The Seychelles, a place Amanda has always wanted to visit. But I also imagined ways to letterbox virtually that we could never do in real life, such as in space or underwater, or even find a true "micro" box. I have some other ideas for virtuals I'd like to create, but I'll save those as surprises.

The code for listing these types of virtuals seems pretty solid now, so the feature has been opened for anyone and everyone who would like to give their hand at it. Seems like a lot of you have been enjoying these virtuals I've listed over the last few days, but I'd like to enjoy solving a few that others have listed! The process for creating them is still considerably more complicated than the usual state of using passkeys, but it does take out a lot of grunt work that would have been required before which is why the most time consuming part to create these virtuals was carving the stamp--not setting up the HTML which used to be the biggest bottleneck.

Look for a lot more of these in the future! If you're interested in solving these, be sure to join the Virtuals group. Otherwise, the virtual functionality is largely hidden.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Did you miss the mustache during all the shenanigans?

With all the shenanigans going on lately, from Apollo Quest and random themes to alleged marriages going on and suspect dentist visits (okay, the dentist visit was real), real development for Atlas Quest has not come to a completely stand still. It just seems that way. And, so far, it seems like nobody has noticed on a couple of the newest features.

First, there's that suspicious mustache icon. I added this over a week ago, and at least a few people have noticed it since I see it used in about a dozen entries. But I'm a little surprised that nobody has yet to comment on it on the message boards. This icon can be applied to any event box that's Hidden In Plain Sight (HIPS), if you want to give people a head's up to keep their eyes open. Kuku and Wassa (and Wassa friends) were the inspiration for this icon. Kuku e-mailed me a question about how to list a HIPS box, and technically speaking, there wasn't any way to list them, but it seemed like it could be a useful icon for event boxes.

I wasn't sure what kind of icon could represent a HIPS box, however, so I scratched my head a bit thinking about all those sneaky HIPS boxes I've found in the past--hidden in fake cans, hollowed out books, in otherwise empty donut boxes, and such. Leave something unusual on a picnic table at an event--such as a rock. A solid piece of granite. Just put it on a picnic table and watch what happens. Admire the dozens of people that will pick up the rock, look under the rock, knock the rock around. They're convinced it's a hidden event stamp, and they'll spend ten minutes trying to figure out The Secret of the Rock. Even when there is no secret! That's how powerful these HIPS boxes are. They turn sane people into those crazy people you'll cross the street to avoid.

Of course, when I start thinking about sneaky and conniving, I start remembering the fun from the Spy vs. Spy event. And when I start thinking about that event, I start remember the ridiculous fake mustaches Wassa's team wore. And I thought, "Ha-ha!" THAT can be the icon for a HIPS box! Wassa's mustache! And thus, he unwittingly became the inspiration for the icon. Remember that the next time you see the icon. ;o)

In a completely unrelated update, there's yet another new search option I call the Linear Path Search, which is a really ugly name to describe a search along the straight line from Point A to Point B. It's a lot like the Trip Planner search that allows you to search for all boxes within a specified distance of a specific route, though in this case, you get to the pick the starting and ending points for anywhere on Earth. And, it'll only work with straight lines. So if you're traveling along an Interstate, you're still probably better off running a Trip Planner search. If you're traveling off the beaten path, however, or live in Canada or Europe where there is no trip planner support (as of yet, at least), the linear path search can recreate a lot of that functionality.

Take this example of a 5-mile wide search from Sacramento to Seattle. (Technically speaking, the search is for all boxes within 5 miles of the line from Sacramento to Seattle, so it's actuall 10-miles wide--5 miles for each side of the line.) Each box shows how far down that line the box is located, and how far off from the line the box is located. And check out the mapped results--pretty slick-looking, don't you think?

For long distances such as this, it's probably not that helpful since most roads won't be anywhere near straight enough to follow a straight-line route, but broken into shorter segments, it could prove to be a very useful search. Any point on Earth can be mapped--addresses, cities, zip codes, latitude and longitude coordinates, and more. Anything you can search for using a location-based search will work as points for the linear path search.

Happy trails!

Friday, April 02, 2010


That whole thing about changing the name of Atlas Quest? The deal fell through, so nevermind about all that. We'll be keeping the domain until a legitimate offer comes along. *rolling eyes* My bad!