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! =)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Naked Letterboxing Day Update!

Wassa made a suggestion to me--privately, as he didn't want to drum up hope for everyone just to have me possibly shoot it down--but he suggested that the nude letterboxing photos that everyone takes might be turned into a calendar, inspired by Calendar Girls. And, apparently, firemen calendars with half-naked firemen still sell pretty well, and maybe this is just the short of project to bring back interest to the formally annual letterbox calendar! Also, somewhat coincidentally, code-named "Project X."

And I think that's a brilliant idea! So take a lot of naked letterboxing photos on Naked Letterboxing Day and if there are sufficient numbers of quality submissions, I'll turn them into a letterboxing calendar for next year! =)

I'm thinking I could use my naked hiking photo from the PCT as the cover? What do you think? Or can you do better? *raised eyebrows* =)

Introducing.... Naked Letterboxing Day!

As many of you know, Plant-A-Letterbox Day has become.... competitive at times. I kind of lost my appetite for the 'holiday' when the competitiveness reached an extreme. Feelings were hurt, spirits were broken, and I couldn't help noticing the irony when a person who I was felt the cheating the spirit of the event (planting boxes for months leading up to the event instead of planting boxes on a single day) accused someone else of cheating.

I haven't promoted the 'holiday' as much the last few years and kept hoping people would just forget about it, but it keeps limping along.

But yesterday, I had a brilliant insight! I don't have to eliminate the holiday--I just needed to change the focus of the holiday! Time to get back to our roots! Time to embrace the silly and adventurous! It was time for.... Naked Letterboxing Day!

I have to admit, this change is somewhat selfish on my part. I've been a big fan of Hike Naked Day ever since participating back in 2010, and--I don't normally brag about this--but I've actually planted a letterbox while naked. *nodding* (Box #2 of the White Rock Canyon series) It was located on the far side of a hot spring in which I'd been soaking naked. =) Good times!

So it's perfectly natural for me to want to combine my two favorite hobbies: letterboxing and hiking naked--and there's totally not enough of that happening. And what better way to promote naked letterboxing than a holiday--and use it to replace that competitive sport known as PAL Day. Two birds! One stone! Awesome! The holiday will still be May 24th of each year--that hasn't changed.

I've updated the PAL Day widget to now be the Naked Letterboxing Day widget. (Although I have to admit, using the word "naked" and "widget" in the same sentence makes me giggle.)

I realize that not everyone will feel comfortable letterboxing in the buff, which is why I'll allow you to wear a buff (and only a buff!) and still count as a naked letterboxing experience. (You laugh, but the Buff company does brag about all the different ways a buff can be worn!)

Atlas Quest will also allow you to track multiple different 'nude events' to suit your purposes. When you list a plant or record a find on May 24th, there will be a checkbox to mark whether you did the plant/find in the nude. There will be a second checkbox to mark if the plant/find has a stamp with a nude carving.

The state totals will be calculated based on points, and a nude plant/find will be worth ten times more than a nude stamp. (I like to reward you for courage.) Only traditional boxes will count.

Like with regular letterboxing, a little common sense goes a long way. Please don't try to letterbox in the nude at an elementary school or a busy park. Don't look for a box in the nude at a business that clearly states "no shoes, no shirt, no service." If a police officer questions what you are doing, stay calm and be cooperative. Make no threatening moves. Tell him or her about letterboxing and what a wonderful hobby it is for kids and adults of all ages. They might even be inspired to start letterboxing themselves!

I'll also be creating a photo album where you upload your naked letterboxing photos but please, PC photos only. I know, it's not really fair, but my hosting provider has rules about not allowing nude photos on their servers, so make sure any of your "critical parts" are properly blocked with trees, bushes, logbook or letterbox in your photos. If not, do some photoshopping and blur that part of the image out. I'd hate to be booted off my hosting provider because your photos are too explicit!

To make finding nude stamps easier, I've added the "Nude Stamp" icon to boxes suspected to have nude stamps. (It's not a perfect system, relying on keywords found in the clues or whether it's restricted to the Pin-Ups group, but it's the best I can do for now since I clearly don't have the time or inclination to read through all of the clues on Atlas Quest!)

And... I think that's about it. Any questions?

Now get out there and box! =)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Introducing... eclipse glasses and my newest book!

There are now two new items in the AQ Marketplace!

First up: eclipse glasses. For those of you keeping track of these things, the first total solar eclipse to hit the contiguous United States is scheduled to sweep through the country on August 21st. And when I say sweep through the country, I mean it--from Oregon to South Carolina! From sea to shining sea!

If you've never experienced a total solar eclipse, you've never witnessed the most spectacular natural event you'll likely ever see. I've had the privilege of seeing them twice and traveled to the Black Sea (1999) and Zimbabwe (2001) in order to see them. This time, it'll be in our own proverbial backyards! The path of totality is only about 70 miles wide so most of you might have to travel a bit to see it, but it's well worth the effort. Start planning today if you haven't already! If for some reason you can't get to the path of totality, the entire rest of the contiguous United States will see a substantial partial eclipse that covers over 50% of the sun's surface. But seriously, make the effort to get to the eclipse path. I can assure you, a 99% covered sun and 100% covered sun is as different as night and day. Don't think you get 99% of the magic with a 99% covered sun--it doesn't work like that!

However, as anyone with two brains cells can likely tell you, staring directly at the sun is very dangerous! You must either view the sun indirectly through something like a pinhole viewer, or through filters that take out about 99.999% of the visible light.

So I ordered a whole bunch of eclipse glasses so you can watch the eclipse safely. They come in sets of four, with each of the four being a different design. Share the extras with friends or family, or sell them at inflated prices on the day of the event to people who didn't order ahead of time. =) Supplies are limited--when I run out, I do not plan to order more. Although if I sell out really quickly--like in less than a week--I'll order more. But in any case, I wouldn't wait until the last minute to order. Supplies may be hard to come by as the event looms ever closer.

Also added to the AQ Marketplace.... a new book: Opowieść o dwóch szlakach. No, that's not a cat walking over my keyboard. That's the name of the book. It's a Polish translation of A Tale of Two Trails about my adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail in Canada. Yes, that's right, the book sold so well, it's been translated into Polish!

Just kidding... it hasn't really sold that well. For anyone who reads my Another Long Walk blog, you're familiar with my Polish buddy, Karolina. Years ago she had told me that she was thinking about taking a course to become an English-to-Polish translator, and I somewhat jokingly said if she wanted to practice, she could translate my book into Polish.

She actually liked the idea and started work translating it. It took a few years before she emailed the final draft to me, and I packaged it up into a book form. So there you have it--my book translated into Polish.

I realize that there's probably not going to be a huge demand for Polish versions of my book, but if you have any friends or family who know Polish, it might make an interesting and unique gift for them. I'll autograph every copy sold! =)

In related news, I also made a few tweaks to the AQ Marketplace changing the prices so shipping is "free" in the United States. I put "free" in quotes because obviously, it's not free--it's just part of the price of the product now. I wanted the actual price for items displayed and not require people to add or subtract items to their shopping cart to figure out what shipping would be. I wanted to make the actual prices of ordering something more transparent.

It also now displays the 10% discount for premium members. If you live in the United States, the price you see is the price you pay! (Except if you live in Washington state, then I have to collect sales tax. Sorry! The sales tax is calculated based on your address, so it's not calculated until your zip code is entered.) Non-US shipping prices vary from $2 to $10 depending on what you order and where it's going.

If you're interested in either of the items, they're both available in the AQ Marketplace. And... that's it, I think. Happy trails! =)