Sunday, April 19, 2009

You Can't Make Up Stuff Like This....

I'm in San Luis Obispo right now, visiting my mom. This morning, I'm online, working on Atlas Quest, and I hear her call out for me from the front. She sounded rather urgent, so I dropped the keyboard and went rushing outside into the front yard. There was a geyser near the side of the house!

As soon as I saw it, I knew what had happened. Last night, when I came into the house, I noticed a backhoe in the yard, and I asked my mom about that. "What the heck are you doing with a tracker?" She had some ideas for yard work, and I asked, "How do you know you won't hit a water main or something?" And she assured me that she's done this before.

Yeah, okay. So when I saw the geyser of water shooting up into the air--kind of at an angle into the garage door--with a backhoe sitting at the point of origin, I knew what had happened. She hit a water main.

My mom had already pulled up the cover for the water shutoff for the house and was trying frantically to shut the water off. The wrenches we had weren't really ideal for the job, but in cases of emergency, you make do. We took turns trying to get it off, but it just wasn't working. I wasn't even really convinced that the part my mom was trying to turn would shut off the water. There were several nuts and bolts down there, none of which have been moved for years so far as I could tell, and none of them were conviniently labeled.

My mom tried calling a friend of the family--Terry, who works with CalTrans and knows a little about this sort of thing. Except Terry was at church. Terry would later tell us that she had forgotten to shut off her phone and embarrassingly turned it off during the service, not realizing the severity of the situation here.

That wasn't going to stop my mom. No, she left me to continue trying to work to turn off the water while my mom started up the car and rushed off to church.

I decided to do a couple of quick Google searches, trying to find a diagram of one of these darned water thingys online and find out exactly which piece needed to be turned. I found something that somewhat resembled what we had, and it suggested turning a different piece than we had been working on.

I went to the garage to find a tool that would better fit the knob that needed turning. The wrenches we had been using were so large, it was hard to move them in the confined area. The smaller wrenches, though, didn't seem to have enough leverage to get them to move. It was very frustrating.

While I was doing this, of course, my mom rushed to the church. It's pretty close to the house and only took a couple of minutes to get to, and my mom goes barging in looking for Terry, not exactly dressed in her Sunday bests. Terry's sitting near the front of the church, and my mom gets her attention. "Follow me. Now!" Nobody else knows what's going on, but clearly there's an emergency happening, and even the other members of the congregation were pushing Terry out to my mom. Terry left all her stuff there on the pew.

Outside, she stuffs Terry into the car and hitails it back to the house, explaning about the broken water main. I'm still meddling trying to get the water turned off, and Terry confirms at this point that I'm messing with the knob that I should be messing with, but we still have trouble getting it turned off. We aren't even sure which is the correct way to turn it. But a couple of minutes later, we finally get the water off and can take time to admire the damage.

The pipe was remarkably small, I thought, given how much water was gushing out of it. Looked all of about half an inch. Must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure to make a geyser like that! It wasn't even six inches underground--I always thought they were buried deeper than that, but what do I know?

At this point, there's no running water for the house, but the immediate crisis was certainly over so my mom drove Terry back to church to finish the service and retrieve her possessions. Turns out, things really started hopping there at the church when Terry left.

It seems a couple of people who knew Terry assumed there was an emergency. Perhaps a family emergency. Maybe even her ailing dad took a turn for the worse. They tried calling Terry, to find out what was the problem, but she had turned her phone off when my mom first tried to call so there would be no more embarrassing interruptions during the service. So they assumed the worst.

So her friends told the paster about this, and they all started to pray for her and her dad, having no idea that the 'emergency' wasn't really the kind that needed prayers, but hey, we'll take what we can get!

When Terry returned to the church and found out what all had happened in her absense, she was kind of embarrassed over the matter, but how can you NOT laugh after all that? After the services were over and Terry explained that nobody was dead or near death, I guess a couple of the congregation were upset over the incident, and she came back to the house to help with figuring out how to fix the broken water line.

So that's what's been happening here in the normally sleepy town of San Luis Obispo. Broke a water main, crashed a church, and got a whole bunch of people praying for someone that didn't really need it. Good times!

As of now, it doesn't look like I'll be taking a shower today. Maybe not tomorrow either?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Joke's On You....

Okay, I admit it, I did have a couple of April Fool pranks up my sleeves. But come on, you guys expected something of me. I wanted to do another elaborate prank like last years, but seriously, we didn't have a chance. All year long you guys kept guessing what we'd have in store for April Fools Day. March was terrible. Analyzing every word that was said. Predictions that the "big joke" would be about rock stashing, fearless colons, and even the slow loading of My Page last week.

Frankly, it's not very fun trying to fool anyone when everyone is trying to post spoilers before the big day. At least let the flower bloom before you yank it out of the ground and stomp it flat. In future years, I'd be greatly appreciative if, when you think something is leading up to an April Fool joke, to play along. And honestly, there will be no elaborate April Fool's Day joke if you all keep guessing what it's going to be ahead of time.

No, the only kind of jokes I can do now are ambushes. Keep my cards close to my chest, then spring it on you all at once on April Fools. At least until I can be sure nobody is going to post a spoiler if I do try a joke that leads up to April Fools Day. I don't see that happening anytime this decade, though. I might have to try to outlive all of you and do another elaborate prank in my old age with a new group of people. =)

So... the first joke of the day--there was none! I went to sleep, in the early morning hours of April 1st, wondering how many of you foolish people would wait up until midnight to "see what happens." =)

The next morning, when I did wake up, that's when the real fun started. I put an encrypted code on the homepage. Or was it just random letters? Hard to tell on a day like April 1st, huh? =) I wouldn't want to spoil THAT surprise, but some people did figure it out based on the finds of the Atlas Quest Homepage virtual box I listed. Not many, but a few of you.... (Sorry, it was a 24-hour virtual only. If you didn't get it, it's too late now!)

Then I posted about the AQ bailout late in the day. That was the main joke, posted mostly for giggles because seriously, who would believe it? Atlas Quest is not in any imminent danger of going bankrupt. =) I will not be adding purple cats or rubber chickens to the site. (Though, honestly, I do think rubber chickens could be fun. Perhaps someday....) Marjorie still gets to keep her name, and Canada will continue to be supported. =)

During the rest of the night, I just did things to mess with anyone still popping in. Wassa suggested to me at the last minute that I could draw arrows and circles on the map, as if they were clues, and add a marker on the globe that Marjorie carries. So I did that. I tweaked the note about "A Letterboxing Community" so it would read "An Economic Recovery Stimulus Recipient."

But that was the last of the bullets I had. I went to sleep, and decided not to "fix things up" back to normal until I woke up the next morning. I was planning to fly to California and spent much of the afternoon trying to catch a flight out of Seattle. Alas, as they say, the reason it's called stand-by is because you stand at the window and wave bye-bye, and that's what I did. I'm still in Seattle.

The Seattle airport doesn't have wi-fi, though, so I couldn't "fix things up" until this evening. Perhaps some of you were worried that some of the jokes yesterday were actually true? =) Okay, maybe not..... Everything should be back to normal now, however. Hope you enjoyed the shenanigans, even if they weren't nearly as interesting or fun as last year!

And seriously, you wouldn't post spoilers to mystery boxes. Why would you do it for April Fool jokes?! That just has to come to an end before there will be anymore elaborate pranks in the future....

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

State of the Website Address

Given the tough economic times, it should come as no surprise that Atlas Quest has been hurting. Premium memberships are down, subscription renewals are down, and ad rates for the few areas that show ads are down. No one is immune—and when someone has the choice to pay for food or buy a premium membership, understandably, they'll choose food first.I've been cutting back expenses. The location to store the nightly backups have been moved from a service that cost $60/year to one that costs about $10/year. Planned upgrades have been put on hold. Amanda got a cheap home-made tote bag for her birthday. These actions, however, have not been enough.

But thanks to recently passed legislation, Atlas Quest qualifies for some of the money from the economic stimulus package directed towards small businesses! Hey, I'm as surprised as you are!

Now that I'm in business with the federal government, they will have a greater say in how things are run. For instance, I'm not allowed to pay myself more than $250,000/year, and bonuses will be capped. You've probably heard about those types of restrictions already—they get most of the publicity from the news media. There, are, however, additional strings attached, some of which may affect you.

  • I may not refer to this money as a 'bailout.' It is an economic stimulus or economic recovery—not a bailout.

  • I am not to tell people that I am not allowed to call it a 'bailout.'

  • Ooops.

  • The name Atlas Quest, they have decided, is not appropriate. It sounds more like a bunch of students looking for their geography books the night before an exam than a bunch of crazy people with inky fingers looking for rubber stamps. Hearings will be held to decide on a new name, but Crazy Bunch of People With Inky Fingers and Looking For Rubber Stamps are currently being favored.

  • Due to the buy-American provision, support for countries outside of the United States will no longer be supported. It is feared that letterboxes in foreign countries may encourage Americans to go abroad and spend money there. This should have little effect for most people, but could hit Canadian letterboxers hard.

  • Don's contribution to the Letterboxer's Code of Conduct must remove all references to guns, unless to suggest that they are dangerous and should be outlawed.

  • Blue Diamonds are considered discriminatory, since only a select few boxes get special recognition. To recognize everyone's efforts, additional levels will be added including purple cats, rubber chickens, and—for the lowest tier—brown turds.

  • Marjorie will henceforth be called Betty, a good, solid American-sounding name. It's a low blow, I know, but the feds wanted to deport her to Canada! I could only change their minds by making her more 'American.'

  • I will be required to publish at least three books about letterboxing, to help the printing industry. Only one of them may be a children's book. A ghost writer may be used if I do not want to write them myself, but any ghost writer must be an American.

  • I must charge carbon offsets for every clue distributed. (Exact rates still to be determined.)

  • With the federal government now standing behind Atlas Quest, I'm optimistic that we can strong-arm the NPS into allowing letterboxes everywhere on their property.

It'll take some time before I can implement all of these changes, but look for them coming down the line in the next few months. Changes can often be a difficult thing to adjust to, but with our share of the economic stimulus package, we have a solid base for decades of successful growth. These are difficult times, but remember in these dark times, you have nothing to fear but snakes and spiders.