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!


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Ryan, and thank you for the Boxing Day present. i will use it wisely. happy and safe hiking.


Anonymous said...

Hey GT,
I didn't even think to tell you BC, my dh who isn't an AQ lister, is an attorney here in GA. Didn't think you'd need one of those, but if the need arises......


Anonymous said...

I love the multiple tags, Ryan. Some of us need more organization than others! :) It's nice getting a perk, but you know I would be a premium member anyway.....anything to keep such a user friendly site going. Can't believe you're even checking in during your hike!

So bon voyage! May your pack feel light, the trails feel like they're downhill, and your socks stay dry.

"nice counts"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Boxing Day present, GT! Woohoo!

We make a lot of bean dishes here, but I have never heard of instant beans. You'll have to keep us posted on how they actually work out for you.

Merry Christmas!
Florida Sunsets

Woolfairy said...

Thanks for the present! That will more then double my F count. (premium one of these days...)

And instant beans are yummy. Did you get the instant refried ones that come in flakes? So good. You can get those at the natural foods stores that have a good bulk department, along with a very good dried pea soup and a corn soup. Just add water... (BTW Taco Bell uses flaked dried pinto beans)

Mothers Love said...

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with you family Ryan and a safe trip.

Also, thank you for the new tags option on Atlas Quest. I can't wait to use them.

Mothers Love

Kaaren said...

I almost didn't answer. 206 area code is my corporate offices in Tukwila and I thought "Oh no, they are NOT calling me on a Saturday!" but I am glad I answered the call of the Tortuga.

Good Luck and let us know if you need anything.

Kaaren & David

Anonymous said...


I was so surprised when you called on Sunday! If I would have known in advance, maybe I could have thought of something intelligent to say. (I can be George Costanza-ish.) Oh well . . .

I'll take advantage of the Free Listing tomorrow. Thanks for being so considerate.

Hey, I have three boxes on the Florida Trail. Will you be doing any boxing?

-geometry junkie

Oread said...

So you're the one that called and talked to my husband! I was trying to think who would have my home phone. Sorry I missed the call to my cell phone but I was at a wedding. I promise to answer the phone when you are hiking through North GA. By the way what trails are you taking to Springer Mountain? This way I know a general starting point if I have to look for you.