Monday, April 30, 2012

Solar Glasses for Sale!

This is what you can except to see from the
centerline of the solar eclipse on May 20th--as long
as you have proper eye protection!
As many of you already know, a rare and exciting astronomical event will be happening next month visible pretty much anywhere west of the Mississippi River: a solar eclipse.

Even more exciting, along the centerline, this will be an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse happens when the moon is far away from the earth in its elliptical orbit so it's a bit smaller than normal--too small to entirely cover the sun. Instead, you'll see a ring of fire completely encircling the sun.

Even if you aren't on this centerline, this will still be the best solar eclipse in this part of the world in decades. From Seattle to San Diego, you'll see a good 80% or more of the sun taken out by the moon.

But this is the sun we're talking about here, and you'll go blind if you try to watch the eclipse directly. No, to watch this rare alignment of the earth, sun, and moon, you need eye protection. You need eclipse glasses! Something that blocks 100% of the ultraviolet and infrared light and blocks 99.999% of visible light.

I'm planning an eclipse party for Northern California--please drop in if you're in the area! So I took the liberty of ordering a bunch of eclipse glasses. When I tried to order them, I was told these things are in hot demand for the upcoming eclipse and that they were back-ordered for weeks. Afraid they might not come in time for the grand event, I hedged my bets by ordering them from two different companies.

Order eclipse glasses which
block 99.999% of visible light
and 100% of ultraviolet and infrared
light to view the eclipse safely!
The first company shipped them out last week, and today I got the order from the second company, so now I have exactly double the number of eclipse glasses that I actually need for the event. The extras I've put on sale in the AQ Marketplace! I figure many of you who want to watch the eclipse but can't attend our little shindig are going to want these glasses as well. I'm selling them for $2 each, plus $1 for shipping (regardless of the number of glasses you order).

I've already set aside eclipse glasses for everyone who will be attending the event and you can buy them off me then. If you want to order them now, though, that's perfectly okay as well! You can look for sunspots until the "big day." =) It also means you can pay with PayPal. (I'll only be accepting cash at the event!)

You'll want to hang on to them after the solar eclipse--a couple of weeks after the solar eclipse is an even more rare and usual event: a Venus transit of the sun. This will be the last Venus transit until the year 2117--in all likelihood, an event that none of us will still be alive to witness. The transit will be visible from the entire United States, so if you want to witness this twice-in-a-lifetime event (the last one was 8 years ago). You'll need eye protection to watch Venus creep across the sun's surface the morning of June 5th. It won't be anything near as impressive as the annular eclipse two weeks earlier, but if you already have the glasses--check it out! You won't have another opportunity in this century!

This is a time-lapse photo of the 2004 Venus transit--a twice-in-a-lifetime
event happening on June 5th and the last Venus transit until 2117!

Monday, April 16, 2012

What happened?

Wasas Jr. got some serious play time in the snow
this past week! =)
For those of you up late tonight, you're probably wondering why I took down AQ for several minutes for an update. It's not really much to write about. Minor tweaks here and there, but it was easier to update if AQ was offline while uploading the necessary changes.

The biggest change which is likely to confuse most people is that I moved the events link and chat rooms links from under the Toolbox menubar button to now be under the People menubar option. As Kurious Jo pointed out a week or two ago on the message board, it just makes more sense there.

One new page is a list of keywords that people use for letterboxes. There's a link to it from the search page and add/edit a letterbox page by the label for keywords. I was a little surprised to see how popular park had become--it is actually more common than the pre-defined nightbox keyword. And even more interesting, it was completely worthless as a keyword because it was a stopword--one of the common words that AQ didn't index. (Words like the, a, and, but, letterbox, and.... park!)

So I update the stopwords list this afternoon and shortened it considerably. Park is no longer on it, so the park keyword actually works now if you try to search for it. =)

Speaking of keywords... I'm not sure if everyone realizes or not, but a good keyword requires at least three letters and/or numbers (one and two-character keywords don't get indexed and therefore cannot be searched), and multi-word keywords are broken down into their individual components for purposes of searching. So if you try to use a keyword such as "hitchhiker hostel", it actually counts as the two separate keywords "hitchhiker" and "hostel." Run words together if you want to them stay together (like I did with the pre-defined keyword of "restarea").

Ummm, yeah, that about covers everything of importance, I think.....

Where I go, Wassa Jr. goes! =) And I went skiing!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Extracurricular Activities

There are no major announcements in this post, so if you're pressed for time, go ahead do something else. Really, there's nothing important in this post. =)

I have several websites I run. The vast majority of my time and energy goes into Atlas Quest, but occasionally I like to stray. There's the Ryan's a Total Goober website, which is essentially a vanity website to talk about myself. And there's The Soda Can Stove website, which I created because I was mad at a website for banning me when I tried to educate the folks on the finer points of alcohol stoves. Alas, the owners of that website did not appreciate my helpful comments because, well, they sold stoves, and they didn't make as much money when I encourage people to make their own. =)

And lately, I've been spending a lot of time working on the soda can stove website--a long neglected site that needed some loving. =)

What I want to talk about in this post, however, is how my work on a soda can stove website has affected AQ, because it has. =) I didn't predict or expect this to happen, and it's not exactly a huge, mind-boggling change. Many of you probably haven't even noticed the changes--but I think it's kind of interesting that anything I could do for the soda can website would have any impact at all on Atlas Quest.

And it started with my wish that the website didn't look like something thrown together by a high school student the night before an assignment was due. =) I wanted it to look professional and classy. Haha, yeah, laugh all you want, but I wanted people who read this site to think, "This person knows what they're talking about." And the presentation is just as important as the actual content.

The entire website has less than a dozen pages and I thought I'd take a page off the LbNA playbook with the clickable graphic to each of the pages on the website. Pictures are so much prettier than a bunch of text or a list. Not exactly ground-breaking, but it made the homepage much more pleasant to look at visually. I threw in my signature stamp to "sign" my note on the page as well. Color and images--never a bad thing! But again, nothing particularly noteworthy.

And come on, aren't my fingers clawing back up the cliff hilarious? I thought so!

Then I decided I needed a logo, and I kicked around some ideas. The title of that page, "The Soda Can Stove," had a neat font with lots of loops and character, but still, it's a font--nothing to get excited about. I wondered if there was some way I could spice it up a bit--somehow incorporate an actual soda can stove into the title. In fact, I thought, from a bird's eye view, the stove looks kind of like an 'O'. Even the simmer ring looked like an 'O'--and there are two Os in "The Soda Can Stove".

So I photoshopped some images into the title and liked the results. But it still needed more... those were pretty subtle changes. I needed more color! More character! I wondered if I could somehow incorporate an actual soda can into the logo. Perhaps as an L--especially a lowercase one, but there weren't any L's. Hmm....

Eventually, I incorporated a Pepsi can into the T and the scripted C from a Coke can into the logo, and it looked smashing!

 And I liked the results so much, I decided to do that for every title of every page of the website. 

Then I found myself looking at the new and improved page for How to Build a Soda Can Stove, and it looked great! Except.... now those subtitles delineating each step in the build process looked absolutely horrible. Funny, but I never really noticed that before.

It's kind of like when you buy a new vase for a living room. But then the vase doesn't really go with the table its own, so you replace the table. But then the table doesn't really go with the rest of the furniture in the room so you replace that as well. But then the new furniture doesn't really go with the color of the walls, so you paint the room. But then the color of the walls doesn't really go with the carpet so you have to replace the carpet. All because of that stupid little vase you wish you now wish you never bought in the first place.

Now that I made all these visual improvements to the website, those subtitles looked horrible. They looked horrible before, but it wasn't so obvious when it was surrounded by horribleness. But now it stuck out like a sore thumb. I needed to class up those subtitles....

So I played around with different designs, mostly trial-and-error, eventually getting rid of the rounded corners and replacing them with dotted lines above and below the subtitle. I liked it, but it still looked "unconnected" to the page, so I pulled the entire subtitle left to touch the side of the page. And changed up the font by setting a front variant of "small-caps"--which makes all of the letters capitalized, but lowercase letters are turned into miniature uppercase letters.

And I was amazed at how great they looked. Wow! I exceeded every expectation I had! In fact, I liked it so much, I started wondering if I could copy the style to Atlas Quest.

Now Atlas Quest is a lot more complicated than The Soda Can Stove website. I certainly can't create hand-made images to title every page on the website. But maybe I could color up the "Atlas Quest" in the titlebar with a real logo? Something that everyone will see the same of, regardless of the computer or device they use. (If you use AQ from multiple devices, you might have noticed that the font sometimes changed depending on which fonts that device had support for.)

You'll see this logo at the top
of every AQ page now.
So I worked the AQ logo in, and I liked the results. The font wasn't as fancy as what displayed on my system, but it now included Marjorie and many more colors and I liked the result.

Then it was time to see if I could work in the fancy new subtitle style. This actually isn't as clear-cut as you might think--I use subtitles everywhere on AQ. The widgets on My Page each have a subtitle, but those types of subtitles aren't really suitable for the new style I had in mind. So I had to make sure I only changed certain subtitles, but with a little effort, I got it to work.

You can see the newly styled subtitles on pages like the Hall of Fame and the Toolbox menu. Classy, huh? =)

What comes around goes around, I suppose. A lot of the code that runs The Soda Can Stove I copied from Atlas Quest. Now the styles I've created for The Soda Can Stove I've copied to Atlas Quest. Seems only fair. =)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Urban Planting

This morning, I had a talk with a fellow from the "Investigations division of the Security Department" at Walt Disney World about letterboxes planted there. It's not a very comfortable conversation to have, and I have two takeaways from our little chat.

The first is: They don't want letterboxes on Disney property. This, of course, is not a big surprise. At least it shouldn't be a surprise, and they've confiscated all of the boxes they could find. (I was tempted to title this post "Massacre at Disney World," but the subject seems too important to joke around with.) As sorry as I am to see the loss of any letterboxes, that's the risk one takes when you plant letterboxes where they aren't wanted by the land owners.

The guy I talked to wanted me to explain why they don't want letterboxes there, and the reasons really shouldn't come as a surprise. They're afraid that someone might report a letterbox as a suspected bomb and have to evacuate large portions of the park while they sent in people to "investigate" the suspicious item. Lest you think this type of thing could never happen, rest assured, it can. Downtown Disney (the Disneyland version) closed down a little over a month ago over a suspicious object that turned out to be a geocache. Basically, they don't want any suspicious objects or even people acting suspiciously. It causes them problems.

The other takeaway I had, which worries me even more, are a couple of the boxes he described me to as being covered in camo tape and dangling in trees from wires--one of which was near a propane tank. From the sounds of it, I don't think the planter would have known a propane tank was on the other side of the fence--Disney likes to hike the "workings" of their park so people can imagine they're in a utopia that has no need for such pedestrian items like propane tanks. But it was planted near a fence of some sort, and even if the planter didn't know what was on the other side of it, their security people know about it and understandably get a little itchy when they see someone acting suspiciously with a camo-taped box with wires sticking out of in the trees by the fence.

So I'd like to remind folks a few common-sense things about hiding letterboxes in urban areas--and I'm not talking about Disney World (where you shouldn't be planting boxes at all), but all urban areas:
  • Don't use camo tape on your boxes. Seriously, do you want people to think you've hidden a bomb? In busy, high-traffic areas, camo tape is your enemy.
  • Label the outside of your container so people can read what it is without opening it.
  • Use a clear container so people can see into the box without opening it.
  • Keep the box small! Containers like a film canister are much less likely to be mistaken as threats than a large box.
  • Don't plant your boxes near anything that might be construed as a "target"--bridges, propane tanks, iconic landmarks, electrical boxes, etc.
  • Don't use a container that looks like a pipe bomb. (Cylindrical with capped ends.)
When you plant a letterbox in urban locations, the only thing worse than a muggled box is a box that's mistaken by the authorities for something dangerous. And if you see any boxes that do look threatening, even if they aren't your own, remove it. I'd rather have the box go "missing" than have the bomb squad blow it up.

Now that you don't have letterboxes to look for at Disney World, do what Amanda and I did on our last visit: Marjorie photos. =)


Monday, April 02, 2012

The New Atlas Quest!

It doesn't look like much, but a major changed happened today. I moved AQ from a server in Virginia to a new, shiny server in Los Angeles, California. The server wants to say, "HELLO SUN!"

So... here's the thing. I haven't been able to get the SSL certificate working on the new server so for now, logging in is done insecurely. Didn't seem worth keeping AQ offline while I tried to fix this issue. If you have bookmarked the normal AQ login page, it won't work. You'll need to log in from the insecure page at

Another thing: I haven't set up the cron jobs on the new server. I'm a little hungry right now and want to eat lunch so I'll get this done later today. But for now, you won't be getting any notifications of new box listings, AQ mail sent via e-mail, and all those things AQ has always done automatically in the background.

And speaking of AQ mail sent via e-mail, I don't recommend it at the moment. With the new IP address propagating through the Internet, who knows which server might end up getting the message and if it winds up at the old server, that e-mail will never get delivered to its recipient. So I'd recommend you avoid using that method of communication for at least the next several days.

Are you reading this and still see that "Under Construction" page? That means the new IP hasn't propagated to your part of the world yet. Be patient--it'll happen. Hopefully within the next several hours, but as I've said before, last time I had to change IP addresses, some people reported problems for as long as week after the change. For those who have a little computer savvy and know what a hosts file is, the new IP address is -- but really, if you have no idea what all that means, you probably shouldn't do anything with that information. =)

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Well, I bet nobody saw this coming in today's paper....

Can't believe I missed a casting call for letterboxing. *sigh*

On an unrelated note--the scheduled downtime for Atlas Quest tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM Pacific time is still on! We expect this process to take several hours, but a possibility does exist that you may not be able to access Atlas Quest for several days. If you need any clues, now is the time to get them printed!

Letterboxers Wanted!

For anyone in the Seattle area this weekend, they're looking for letterboxers for a new reality TV show about stashing games!

Who's game? I think we should all bring cooties to the casting call and slip them onto the folks running it.  I'm carving an event stamp for the gathering!