Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Auto-cryptograms are bigger and better!

Just kidding.... as most of you undoubtedly realized, the auto-cryptograms was an April Fools prank. Fun times, right? =)

As I write this, it's actually early February. I'm planning a trip to Jordan to hike the Jordan Trail and hopefully I'm there having a good time. I'll be there for nearly two months, however, through all of March and half of April and knew months in advance that I likely wouldn't be able to get online on April Fools Day to participate actively in the prank. So I set up the code to automatically start "encrypting" clues on April 1st (and only April 1st) and announce the auto-cryptogram feature... automatically. So the prank is all lined up to go before I even step foot in Jordan.

It'll be interesting to read the message boards and my AQ mail when I get online again! But like I said... I'll probably be in the middle of nowhere when this post goes live and when you read this, I'll probably still be clueless how of well the prank was received. (Or maybe it wasn't well received?)

Happy trails!



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Auto-cryptograms have arrived!

There have been.... complaints, I guess you could say, that there are too many drive-by letterboxes with little thought or effort put into them. Mostly thrown out in the wild so one can show they were there or get an "official" plant in a certain state, county or even country. And that's fine, but finders want something fun! Interesting!

And it really doesn't take a lot of effort to do so. Copy and paste a clue into about a million different websites and get an instant coded clue! Which everyone love to love! A pretty typical, forgettable box suddenly becomes an interesting puzzle that can gives hours of solving pleasure!

So I created an option to turn any clue into a cryptogram! This has the added effect of hiding the clues from search engines which, of course, is a good thing. There's nothing more annoying that someone who finds your clue from a Google search then tries to blackmail you for using a "trademark" without their permission or whatever.

But wait! There's more! Solving a cryptogram over and over again can get a little boring so I created several different fonts for cryptograms for a bit more variety. You can use normal letter replacements like usual... or! You can use letters from other alphabets. Want your clue to look Greek? Not a problem! Use the Greek alphabet! Want to make your spy-theme box look a little more spy-like? Use the Cyrillic alphabet and people will think it's a secret Russian message!

There are also options to make your clue look Chinese, but they don't really have an "alphabet" per se so it uses symbols in place of letters which represent words like honesty and integrity and... well, I don't remember them all anymore off the top of my head. I think golf ball was one of the words, though, because who doesn't like golf?

I also added an option for the Pigpen cipher if you want your coded message to actually look like a secret code!

I plan to add more options in the future--the sky's the limit here! Have any suggestions? I'd love to hear them.

To get things started, I went ahead and turned all the clues for drive-by boxes into cryptograms so at least there's a small challenge involved to find the boxes. Hope you enjoy them! =)


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Logbook Tweaking!

So some of you might have noticed that I took AQ down for about 15 minutes. Yes, it's the latest and greatest of updates! Actually, this update is pretty minor, but it was a lot easier to do the update while the site was down.

This update mostly involved the logbooks. The main goal this time around was to battle slow queries. There are a growing number of people with well over 10,000 finds to their names and AQ was struggling to show pages of those logbooks. It would literally take the database over 10 seconds to create the page showing the finds. If you clicked through to see page 2 of the results, it would take another 10+ seconds to generate. A website that "hangs" for over 10 seconds at a time is problematic! It's probably not a problem you noticed often because most people don't have enough finds to cause such issues and it's not very often that people look at logbooks for people with that many finds--maybe AQ would record half-dozen such slow queries in a day. But... it's a problem that grows increasingly worse as the number of people with large number of finds grow, and I was determined to fix it. As a whole, I prefer the pages on AQ to take less than 1 second to generate. (By comparison, most queries take about 1/1000th of a second to run, and even the slower ones rarely take more than half a second.)

So.... AQ's logbook now includes a dropdown list with years that you've found boxes and will show a list of all of the finds from that year. It runs a lot faster this way! It also won't paginate the finds. Whether there is 1 find or 5000 finds, they'll all be displayed. Which--if the number of finds is in the thousands is a bit unwieldy, but paginated finds were unwieldy already and good luck trying to figure out which page had a particular box you were looking for. At least with everything on one page, you can search the page with your browser to find a particular listing.

I figure that most of the time, people are interested in recent listings so the default setting isn't to show a specific year at all. Instead, it'll display the most recent 500 matches. Which means if you have less than 500 finds, all of your finds will be on that one page. If you have more than 500 finds, only the first 500 that match your sort will be displayed. But if you know the find was from last year (for instance), it might be easier to view the smallest list from last year.

The update was mostly meant to target the finds since that's where people have (literally) tens of thousands of entries which was causing the slow queries, but the same code runs the pages showing your plants, adoptions, attempts, carves, donations, etc. so the year option now shows up for all of them and the same rules applies. The logbook pages for exchanges, tracker signups, event signups, photo albums and.... why does it seem like I'm forgetting one? Anyhow, those non-box searches use different code and therefore don't have the year filtering option.

Make sense?

If you don't see the rows numbered, do a browser refresh. I updated the CSS and if your browser is using a cached CSS page, you won't see the numbers. Or ignore it and probably within a few days they'll eventually show up on their own when your browser refreshes the CSS.

Happy trails!

-- Ryan, keeping AQ running fast since 2004

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

I lived, I breathed, and I survived....

I heard rumors that something happened last weekend? Did anyone else hear anything?

Oh! Live and Breathe XX?! Yes, I almost forgot.... NOT! =)



So Amanda and I flew out to Austin. Being the capital of Texas, we assumed it was a good-sized city with well-established infrastructure, so we were a bit surprised to learn that the tap water was considered unsafe to drink. But we weren't going to let a bit of bad water scare us off. Absolutely not! It's not a problem that a little bottled water can't solve.

And then we heard that some of the trails at the event were flooded and boxes were under a few feet of water. Whaaat?! But still, we were not deterred. The event would go on, and we would be there!

Amanda flew out a couple of days before me, but she experienced further difficulties when her flight was diverted to Tuscon (it was supposed to land in Phoenix) because of storms. She arrived the next day, a day later than expected but still in time to pick me up from the Austin airport when I landed another day later. My flight, I'm happy to report, went swimmingly. Or perhaps I should avoid terms like "swimmingly" when water is unsafe to drink and letterboxes are flooding? But my flights went well, despite a tight connection that gave me a mere 15 minutes between flights in Phoenix. Nailed it!

At the airport, Amanda picked me up, along with Princess Lea and Fleetwood7 and whisked us away to a nearby park to find some boxes. And we found boxes--including some that we weren't looking for and one that not only were we not looking for, but had been retired! That was a good start. *nodding*

The next day, we drove out to Bastrop and the scene of Live and Breathe XX. We arrived before check-in time, but that didn't stop us from hunting around the property looking for boxes. The rumors of flooded trails were true, but only the trails immediately next to the Colorado River (no, not that Colorado River) were flooded and closed--which was a very small part of the park. Most boxes were alive and well--albeit might require traversing through a fair amount of mud to reach.

The setup was gorgeous! A large Texas-themed banner welcomed everyone and signs directed everyone to the registration table. A small western town had been erected--which I thought was a permanent installation but I later found out was a creation headed by NLW. Wow! Gorgeous! 

This was a covered wagon custom-built for this event!


Others started joining us in the hunt, faces both familiar and unfamiliar. I let Amanda do all of the planning for this event and never even looked at the attendees list. I had absolutely no idea who I might run into, and it was fun being surprised with some of the faces that did pop up.

We finally checked in and got our official clue books and the hunt for boxes began in earnest. Amanda and I left for a bit during the afternoon to check into a hotel nearby and when we got back, we ran into Eidolon (and friends!) who told us that they had signed up for night boxing with us that night. Oh boy.... For any of you who've heard stories of Eidolon and I nightboxing together at the western New York gathering a number of years back, you know that you don't want to be the group following us. We bring out the worst of each other. ;o)

The whole weekend was well-organized and a joy. Temperatures were warm and humid--especially in the late afternoon--but not enough to stop people from going out. When I became hot and tired of the heat, I'd head back to the dining hall or hang out in the shade around the buildings nearby. The water issues in Austin didn't extend to Bastrop so I had plenty of tap water to drink.

On Saturday, Open Space--who spearheaded the event and did a wonderful job--gave a logbook-making presentation which I attended. I grabbed the logbook she made for a sample for my own use. The logbook I had brought, after less than 24 hours, was already more than half full and I didn't have a spare. Now I had one and I hoped it would last the rest of the event! (It did... barely....)

I also made a couple of more logbooks for future use. They're gorgeous! And I was happy that I could make my mess at the event instead of at home where I usually made my messes.

Afterwards, Open Space was occupied with other event duties and I got to help a few people create their own logbooks. Including Silver Eagle, who seemed to enjoy the machinery even though he confessed to not being into arts and crafts. Not normally, at least!

There was also a station to make your own postcards. We were given postcard-sized cardstock and a bunch of stamps and Amanda and I both made quite a few postcards. Our registration packs included stamps for one postcard (each), but we brought a lot more postcard stamps since we were planning to send store bought postcards anyhow. A few of you might be finding some of our creations in your mailbox in the next few days if they haven't arrived already.

I missed the carving demo, which I'm a little disappointed about. I heard it was awesome and later regretted that I missed it. So much to do, and just one weekend wasn't enough to do it all!

There were two nightboxing series to do, and Eidolon was there with me for both of them, but we largely behaved ourselves. I don't think anyone who came after us wound up cussing us out. At least not for our antics there!

Our last night there, we played letterboxing bingo! That was a lot of fun. Our registration packs included an empty bingo card which we filled in with 24 out of 51 hand-carved Texas-themed stamps. The only slight hiccup--some of the local teams and imagery we didn't know, so Silver Eagle had to describe many of the stamps. Everyone that played bingo now knows all of the sports teams in Texas! Well, okay, maybe not all of them, but definitely the ones the bingo board covered. (I was an armadillo away from winning too. Just one armadillo! Was that too much to ask?! *shaking head*)

After the event, Amanda and I drove out to San Antonio to check out the Alamo. I'd never been there before, and most of Texas is completely new country for me. My sole visit (not including stuff like changing planes in Houston or Dallas or driving on the Interstate through the panhandle) had been a couple of days in Dallas so the Austin area was all new for me--and I loved it! It was awesome! Bastrop, Austin and San Antonio. Thanks so much to everyone who organized the event and so many others who donated stamps and materials. The results were amazing!

I'm now sitting at the airport in Austin as I type this, waiting for my flight home. I saw in the paper yesterday that the drinking water ban had been lifted, but apparently they haven't gotten the memo at the airport because all of the water fountains and bottle-filling stations are still turned off with warnings that the water isn't safe to drink. *sigh*

But hey, that's just part of the adventure! =)





Monday, May 21, 2018

Another Day, Another Big Update!

Yet again, I'm ready for the Next Big Update. This is a massive update that has the potential to break break all sorts of unexpected things, but hopefully I've tested it thoroughly enough that y'all only find minor problems.

But for as massive as this update is, you probably won't notice much that's changed. The majority of the changes are under the hood. But there are a few things I'll point out:

* You'll find a few cosmetic changes here and there. You might have to do a "page refresh" to see some of these changes if your browser is using a cached version of the CSS. (Try clicking Ctrl-F5 if you're on a Windows machine.) Eventually your browser will update this whether or not you manually force a reload.
* The premium membership pages have been updated to work better with smartphones. You shouldn't have to zoom in and out or do any horizontal scrolling to navigate those pages anymore.
* I've added a few feature requests over the last few months. I didn't keep a running list, but if I posted or told you that it'll be in the "Next Big Update"--this is it.

The "massive" part of this update is in the location information stored in the database. I redesigned how locations are stored, processed and updated. If I broke something, there's a good chance you'll find it when running a location-based search (including trip searches, area searches, rectangle searches, etc.)

For most of you, the main thing you might notice is that if you create a custom location, you'll find that the coordinates and radius of your location may not update immediately. This will happen when somebody else is already using that location with different coordinates and/or radius. Basically, AQ recognizes the fact that two different people are trying to use the same location, but that disagree over the location or size of the location. Which is right? AQ doesn't know!

So your new coordinates/size are put into a list that moderators will be notified of and they can look at the information provided by both people and make a determination about which is the correct data to use. Hopefully it won't ever take more than a day at most before one of the moderators can validate the data and approve the change (assuming the information you provided is accurate, of course).

This process only happens with two different people are trying to use the same location but disagree on its coordinates and/or size. If you are the only person using a location, AQ will happily accept whatever you enter regardless how of incorrect it may or not be and the change will happen instantaneously. =)

So that's it in a nutshell.

Unless you're a premium member--in which case there's a new feature/perk you can check out! Under the Toolbox menubar, you'll find a new option labeled Manage Locations. Here, you can check out a list of all of the locations that are currently being used by your account--the locations of all of the boxes you've listed, events you've listed, custom locations added to other people's boxes, etc.

This is actually a page I've used for years as an admin tool to update incorrect locations or check out the details of a specific location to figure out what's going on when people report problems with the search and it's incredibly useful. For non-admins, it's probably not as useful, but it's still interesting to look at and lets you handle locations separately from boxes, event or whatever the case may be.

You can use this to see exactly what AQ has in its database about the location you're using and edit it as needed. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that you're editing the actual location information when you change a location from here. When you "change" a location by editing a box (for instance), what you're really doing is pointing the box to a different location. The actual location doesn't change--just which one you're referring to. Changes with this new tool, however, changes the actual location, so if you have multiple boxes pointing to the same location and edit that location, all boxes using that location will get updated.

So the rule here is to use the Manage Locations page to correct location information (like your box in New York is showing up in Texas searches), and use the old "edit box" (or event, or tracker, or whatever) to change the location of a box/event/whatever (because, for instance, the box used to be located in New York, but it was retired from there and moved to Texas).

Related to this, when you pull up the box/event/tracker details page, you'll find a new link that will take you directly to the page with all of the information AQ has about the location for that page. Just to make it a little easier to find that page without having to go through Manage Locations page. =)

So that's it in a nutshell.

Unless… you're a moderator. =) And I'll post about stuff you folks should know about in the Moderator board.

I've done a heck of a lot of testing for this update, but it's a massive update that affects thousands of lines of code across hundreds of files, so there are almost certainly a few bugs that slipped through my testing. Let me apologize in advance if you run into trouble from any of them, and I'll be monitoring AQ closely for the next couple of days so I can hop on whatever problems might arise. Please be patient, though! I'm optimistic the problems will be minimal, though, and hopefully most of you won't notice any bugs at all! =)

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Another April Fools Day in the bag

As most of you quickly realized, those horrible fonts I used today were this year's April Fools joke. I also didn't move AQ to a new server last night. That was just part of the setup so a "cloud-based" server could serve as an excuse to start using a "cloud-based" font.

But in my defense:

  1. Wassa made me do it (It was even his idea! I just ran with it....)
  2. I did warn everyone yesterday that it would be best to print clues you'd need for today... yesterday. =)
  3. Anyone who's used AQ for more than a year knew shenanigans were going to happen today and that today might not be the best day to get stuff done on AQ. ;o)
For those of you who did sit out April Fools and are reading this later and thinking, What did I miss?! I want to see these horrible fonts I hear everyone talking about!

You can still access them because they're custom themes which you can find at:
Sorry for any inconvenience, but I hope most of you could see the humor and ridiculousness of the prank! =)

Until next year....

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Atlas Quest is on the cloud!

For months I've been working on the next big update.... moving Atlas Quest to the cloud! I know that means nothing to some of you, but this is HUGE! Cloud computing, also known as on-demand computing, is a kind of internet-based computing, where shared resources and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.

Previously, Atlas Quest was hosted on a single computer. If something happened to that system, or a surge of activity overloaded the server, the website would essentially crash. In a nutshell, moving to the cloud makes the server faster, cheaper and more reliable! It's a win-win-win for everyone!

To celebrate this monumental achievement, I changed the primary font used on Atlas Quest to a cloud-based font. I'm not sure if I'll leave it there permanently or eventually go back to the old font, but let me know what you think!

Downtime this evening

Just a heads up! There's going to be some downtime tonight for The Next Big Update! I'm moving AQ to a new server, though, so depending on how long it takes for the new IP address to propagate, AQ could be (appear) to be down for awhile. I'm going to put up the Under Construction page, immediately start the new IP address propagating through the Internet, move the database to the new server, then when I've copied the database over, open the new website. When the new IP address arrives at your part of the Internet, you'll be able to access AQ again.

Hopefully it won't take more than an hour or two, although in the past when I've done this some people reported they didn't get the propagated IP address for as long as a week... so, I can't make any promises. If, after a few hours, AQ still isn't coming up, you might be able to get back on from another device. (Using your laptop instead of your smartphone, for instance.)

Sorry for any inconvenience this might cause!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Great AQ Update!

It's huge! It's massive! The update has arrived! Thousands of lines of code added, modified and deleted! There will be question--oh, I know there will be questions. What changed? Why? Why does the website look broken?

First, as I announced earlier, you'll have to use a relatively recent version of a browser for the website to work correctly. All of the major browsers will work: Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Edge. The first three have supported the necessary HTML since March/April. Edge's support--literally--came out last night. For me, at least. If Edge doesn't work, I suspect it will the next time you run a Windows update.

Second, even if you are using a recent browser, the pages may still look wonky if your browser is using a cached version of the CSS. Be sure to click the "refresh" button a time or two on your browser and try forcing it to reload the CSS.

With that out of the way, everything on AQ should look.... normal. =) You'll notice minor cosmetic changes all over the website. I changed icon sizes (some are bigger, some are smaller), spacing, etc. These kind of changes are visible all over the place, but they're relatively minor and completely cosmetic.

Where you'll find major cosmetic changes are on the obituary and tribute pages. I completely rewrote all of the code there. The pages should look a lot nicer on mobile devices and (I think) just nicer in general. The changes are cosmetic, but I'd consider these major cosmetic changes since I completely redesigned the layout of the pages. I also changed the RIP icon from the headstone to a cross candle. It seems more elegant and nice than a headstone.

AQ Mail

Then there's the AQ mail sub-system. This too has been completely rewritten from the ground up and not only are there super-major cosmetic changes, but functional changes as well. It's intended to be a lot nicer and easier to surf using mobile devices, but it's a lot nicer on desktops as well. (At least I think it is--I know some of you are going to disagree! But I hope most of you will agree that the changes are generally good!)

For non-premium members, the changes pretty much stop at "super-major cosmetic changes."

For premium members, there are a few new features rolled into this update including a drafts folder as well as the ability to create custom archive folders. I hope how to use them is largely self-explanatory, but it might be useful to kick the tires on a desktop machine where you can hover your mouse cursor over icons to see tooltips describing what various buttons and links do.

Drafts, of course, are AQ mail messages that you start to write but haven't yet sent. They're saved automatically every time you click a few keys on your keyboard, or you can save it by manually clicking the "Save" button.

AQ no longer will break mail across multiple pages, 100 messages at a time like it did before. But on the other hand, I also didn't want someone with 10,000 messages in an archive folder downloading such a massive list every time they open a folder, so I've limited archive folders to a maximum of 1,000 messages. If you had more than that in your inbox, AQ automatically created custom archive folders (named Page 1, Page 2, etc.) moving 1,000 messages into the new folders at a time until you had less than 1,000 in your main archive folder.

For non-premium members, this means you're now limited to 1,000 archived messages. For premium members, since you can create up to 100 custom folders, you can store a maximum of 100,000 messages. (Only about 50 people had more than 1,000 archived messages, and nobody is anywhere close to 100,000.) Although custom archive folders are a premium member perk, non-premium members can still access them if they already have them. Non-premium members just won't be able to create more folders or move messages into the existing ones. (You can move messages out of a custom folder, however.)

Part of the AQ mail sub-system also includes contacts and "mailing lists"--both of which have also been completely re-written from the ground up. There's not really any new functionality in them, however. The "mailing lists" is in quotes because it used to be called "contact groups." Same thing, different name. I never liked "contact groups" because it's not a contact, and it's not a group--at least not in the AQ sense of the words. So I renamed the feature "mailing lists" which is what it was originally supposed to be in the first place. Also, to help discourage people from abusing the system, a mailing list can now have a maximum of 100 people in them. (If you had a mailing list with more than that, I'm leaving it alone--but AQ won't allow you to add anyone else to it anymore.)

And..... that's all of the important stuff that I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure you'll notice other tweaks and changes and--given the thousands of lines of code that have been updated--probably several bugs as well. I'll try to fix the bugs as quickly as possible. Suggestions and comments are welcome! I'll also probably be making additional tweaks and changes as we use the system and figure out what we like and don't like. I've been working on this update for two months on my development machine kicking the tires, but it's never quite the same as using it for real.

And if you have any questions, post to the message boards! Others might have the same question--or might be able to answer your question before I can. =)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Naked Letterboxing Day Canceled!

Well! Due to a couple of arrests from a couple of letterboxes who jumped the gun and tried out Naked Letterboxing Day early, I've come to a settlement to avoid a time-consuming and needless lawsuit am officially canceling Naked Letterboxing Day. Wassa says there are a group of girl scouts who will likely need permanent therapy for the trauma they suffered.  Plant-A-Letterbox Day is back!

Oh... and a happy (belated) April Fools! =)