Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Satisfied Eye Bleach Patch Customer

Another satisfied eye bleach customer!
The first eye bleach patches have gone out, making their way to satisfied customers all over North America. I made a quick trip out to North Carolina to hand deliver some of these important letterboxing tools to Mama Wolf. As you can see, she's quite pleased with the results. You don't want to know what's behind the camera! We would not be smiling now without these eye bleach patches on!

Now everyone knows that Wassa is the brains and inspiration for eye bleach, but it was actually Mama Stork who first contacted me about the idea for eye bleach patches shortly after I finished hiking the PCT. I immediately loved the idea, but since it was Wassa's patented product, I threw the idea to him to ask if he wanted to run with it. Guess he was busy, because he said no, but he too loved the idea. So then it was up to me to create the patches.

When I saw the results, I knew it was something special and needed to think up a way to properly "introduce" the product to the rest of the world, which is when I decided on the eye bleach countdown idea. Wassa helped me research posts to use, an astonishingly simple job for him since he's in so many of them. =)

And the rest, as they say, is history. Order your eye bleach patches in the AQ Marketplace today! Supplies are limited!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

And the #1 Reason To Buy Eye Bleach....

Because it's now affordable! Yes, that's right folks! For the low low price of $3.00, you can buy yourself an eye bleach eye patch! Admittedly, it's not nearly as effective as the eye bleach itself, but you know what they say--you get what you pay for.

If you buy two, you can loop a strap through the handles and tie them around your head, covering your eyes. I recommend a system that allows you to flip them both down over your eyes--perhaps a spring-loaded action with a panic button at the ready to maximize your eye protection.

Start protecting yourself against rogue posts, events, photos, and Wassamatta_u by practicing safe message board reading. Order your eye bleach eye protection from the AQ Marketplace today!

Don't make me take off my waist pack.
I'm crazy enough to do it!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #2

An insult to peaches everywhere!

When asked if his back was round, Wassa explained that yes, indeed it was, comparing it to an "overripe George peach" but "twice as fuzzy." Need confirmation? Ask the 59 people who agreed. Even more disturbing, at least 72 people considered this information educational. Why would they do that? Because that was when they first realized they needed eye bleach. It's a survival tool.

Order your Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach from the AQ Marketplace today! Quantities are limited!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #3

Three words: Zombie Pole Dancer. Sometimes, it's not just the message boards where eye bleach is necessary--it's the photo gallery.

This is one of those things that you need to see to believe. Unfortunately, you'll never see anything again unless you keep Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach nearby! Buy yours from the AQ Marketplace today!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #4

Reason #4: In one of the most shocking posts ever, details of which I still don't fully understand, included information about a letterboxing event hinting about guys in drag, DD falsies, maternity dresses, self-adhesive nipples on Wassa's butt, and Wassa stamping in exchanges with his butt. All in the same post! 

While I am pleased to report that, so far as I know, none of these images ever made it onto Atlas Quest, I cannot be certain that will stay the case. It's like a ticking time bomb. Be prepared. Have your eye bleach ready! Order yours from the AQ Marketplace today!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #5

Reason #5: Unfortunately for you folks, Wassamatta_u is one of the most prolific posters on Atlas Quest. Also unfortunate for you, he also has absolutely no sense of shame. Below, you'll find a video of him singing the MSU fight song. Ear bleach may even be appropriate, but we don't have that. We just recommend you turning the volume on your computer down if you dare to hit the play button.

There's a reason Wassa's name is on our patented eye bleach. He's also the reason that eye bleach is considered one of the "10 letterboxing essentials." Order yours in the AQ Marketplace today!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #6

Reason #6: Sometimes it's not the content of the post that requires eye bleach, but rather where the post will lead. In this case, we are introduced to the website People of Wal-Mart. If you had eye bleach available when this post was first made, it might have saved you thousands of dollars in medical bills and therapy. Don't be caught without Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach in the AQ Marketplace again!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #7

Reason #7: Kirbert announced a disturbing little habit: he likes to walk around his 73-acre property nekkid, even going so far as to say he'll often do this days at a time. "But!" I hear you thinking, "That wasn't too bad! Maybe made my eyes water, but I don't need eye bleach."

Think again. And again. And it even runs in the family. Heaven forbid, I hope you never find him on Google Maps. This is a problem that won't go away. Get Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach from the AQ Marketplace today!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #8

Bobguyman was kind enough to forward this
photo to me. Don't let this happen to you!
Reason #8: You never know when, where, or who will be the cause of your desperate cry for eye bleach. This time, it comes from one of our youngest and most innocent members: Bobguyman. In this post, he describes an uncomfortable and very personal account with a tick where the sun don't shine.

It's not easy to read, but ticks are a danger that letterboxers everywhere must cope with. This event could have happened to any one of us. By all means, necessary reading, but you can protect your eyes with Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach--available in the AQ Marketplace.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eye Bleach Countdown #9

Can you find the stamp
in this photo?
Reason #9: This post practically needs its own wayback machine, having been posted in 2006. That just goes to show there's been a need for eye bleach for years! And the need will not go away!

This particular post concerns a dog that may have eaten the stamp out of someone's letterbox. Wassa suggests that if the stamp wasn't chewed up too badly, it might still be salvageable--we always hope for a happy "ending" in these types of matters. =)

Get your eye protection today! Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach is available in the AQ Marketplace.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Clues! Clues! Clues!

Who would have thought a single button could cause so much trouble? In this case, it's the "print friendly" button that was found on clue pages. I got rid of it because it was redundant, and I didn't want to maintain the same code on two different pages. A surprisingly large number of people are trying to convince me that the two pages were not redundant.

I guess this makes a little sense--from your point of view, the "clue page" and "print friendly" pages looked different. They used different colors, and the photos used weren't always the same. (The clue page, all photos always showed in a small small. On the print-friendly page, only clue photos showed up in the largest size available.) But in the end, the printouts of the clue should be almost identical to before.

And yet, everyone is up in arms. Why?

Seems there were several reasons. First, some people liked to look at the "print" friendly page because they had trouble reading clues with low-contrast colors. The complaint wasn't in the printout--is was that the "print" friendly was visually easy to read on the screen than the "screen" version. I don't want to maintain a "print" page just for "screen" reading, though. That just seems absurd. If I wanted that, I'd call it a "screen friendly" page.

But I do recognize and agree with the fact that some people pick absolutely dreadful color combinations in their clues. For those who are tired of this, you'll now find a new option at the end of the Miscellaneous Preferences page to "decolorize" the clue page. By selecting that option, AQ will display all clues using the default color settings. You'll never have to see an ugly color combination again--unless, of course, you think the default color combination I selected is ugly. In that case, all of the clues would have my hand-selected ugly color combination. ;o)

The other major complaint was that clue photos were too large. They took up most of a page and wasted too much ink. I'm still unclear why that's only a problem now--that's always how AQ worked. Clue photos might have important details that won't show up in a reduced image, so AQ has always displayed the largest photo provided for printed photo clues. Unfortunately, a lot of people make a habit of loading photos that are WAY bigger than they ever needed to be. AQ has no way of knowing this, however, and would happily have you print whatever photo was uploaded. It's a habit that's annoyed me for years. Apparently, starting today, it's also a habit annoying everyone else. =)

So I've changed the default printouts to now use a smaller image. For the vast majority of photo clues, this is not an issue. "But!" I hear you thinking, "What if the photo clue requires the details seen in the larger image?!"

You'll have to print that separately, on a different page. Just click on the photo to load the large image and print that. Yeah, you might have to print the clue twice--once with the text and words, and once again for the photo itself--but I'm not sure there's any way I can get around that. AQ just cannot determine if the large version of a photo clue has important details that are lost in the small version. The "default size" can't be adjusted for each photo--that's what makes the "default" a "default." They all come out the same size.

The "print all" clues option uses cached version of the clues, so those will continue to use large images for the time being. As the clues are re-cached, they'll be replaced with the smaller image. This re-caching process will take a month or two to complete.

So for now on, AQ is going to print the smaller photos as the default. You will need to explicitly load and print the large version if that's the one you want and need. Fortunately, most clues aren't photo clues, and even among those that are, the largest photo option isn't necessary to find the clue.

Still don't like that default? No problem! It too is now a preference found at the bottom of the Miscellaneous Preferences page. If you'd prefer all photo clues to show up as large as possible, change your preference.

And finally, some people have expressed disappointment with the size of printed text. I haven't changed this at all, so I suspect there's just some latent grumbling finally coming to the surface. First, check your Usability Preferences. AQ will allow you to set the display text size to be different from the print text size. Some people like to print text as small as possible to save ink and paper, so the two settings are completely independent from each other. If you find printed clues have text that's too small, increase the size of your printed text.

Still too small? Well, I suppose if it's necessary, I could make even larger font sizes available. But before I do that, check your own print settings. When you print a page, most browsers will pop up a print dialog box with all sorts of settings to choose from. I quite regularly shrink the text size when I print from most websites using those options, so I know it can be done. So check your printer settings. I can't do that for you.

The print friendly button will not be coming back. I'd rather make sure your visual experience is what you want it to be when you view your screen, and your print experience to be what you want it when you print the page. I can control each of those things individually from the same page, and that's what I intend to do. You do not need two separate pages for each of these tasks.

Eye Bleach Countdown #10

As many of you know, we have a small supply of Wassa's Patented Eye Bleach in the AQ Marketplace. You'd think it would be a best seller, but it's not. Even after giving a 50% price break, I still haven't sold a single one. Unfortunately, my limited supply does have an expiration date and I need to clear out my stock. It's a fabulous product, though, so I'm going to remind everyone all the reasons why you should order yours today--before it's too late and you find yourself with an uncontrollable desire to stab out your eyes with a blunt knife. Each day, for ten days, I'm going to countdown the top ten reasons you need to order yours today!

Reason #10: You'd think a message board about computers, iPods, and other electronics would be a safe place to visit. But you'd be wrong. It was revealed that some of my best work was done in the bathroom. In that spirit, I grabbed my laptop, headed to the bathroom, and started this series of posts. I need the inspiration. It's also where I keep my eye bleach. I'll likely need it.

Cyber Monday Special! In honor of Cyber Monday, all products are 20% off! This includes patches and the 2011 Letterboxing Calendar! Only while supplies last! And only on Monday. If you were thinking about ordering anything, now's the time to do so!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Message Board Tweak

A message from your founder....
If you read the message boards on Atlas Quest, you've probably already notice that posts now include a thumbnail version of the image you've uploaded to your profile. Certainly gives a little extra splash of color to the message boards--that for sure! =)

Many times people have asked for the ability to add an 'avatar' for their posts, which I've generally resisted as being unnecessary clutter. Technically, it is completely unnecessary, and for those working on slow Internet connections, such images could slow down the load time for the boards considerably. That's why you'll now find an option in the Miscellaneous Preferences to turn these images off.

I've decided to leave them on by default--my gut feeling is that most people will enjoy the change and most people are on fast, broadband connections. But you can turn the images off if you don't like them or they slow down your connection speed too much.

AQ will also repress the images automatically if you are viewing the "mobile version" of Atlas Quest. If you're using your iPhone, for instance, to read the message boards, you won't see the images until you've changed to the "standard view." (You can switch between the mobile and standard views from the main AQ page, at the bottom of the last column.)


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mapping with Advanced Searches

The advanced techniques explained in this post
won't kill you--so give them a try! =)
I got a request today from someone asking if it would be possible to map their finds on Google Maps. And the answer is--absolutely! In theory, it's pretty easy to do, but it's an advanced option that most folks probably don't even realize it's possible.

So today, I'm going to talk a little about the Advanced Search page. It does a heck of a lot of stuff!

First thing to notice is the "Search Type" in the upper-right corner of the page. Be sure to check out all of the options available here. By default, the location-based search is the first one shown since it's--hands down--the most common search used on Atlas Quest. There are actually six distinctly different types of searches for traditional boxes, however! I won't get into all of the details for each of them in this post since most of them are self-explanatory, but I think a lot of people overlook all of these options since the control is tucked away there in the upper-right corner of the page.

Another thing about that control to keep in mind: Everything listed under Other Searches has additional options. For instance, if you change it to Stamp Collections, you'll be able to access the whole world of non-traditional boxes such as hitchhikers, LTCs, postals, etc, etc. (Keeping in mind that virtuals are NOT considered an official box type anymore and can no longer be found in that category. No stamps involved, so it's not a collection of stamps.)

The Trackers category allows you to search for all of the various types of trackers on AQ.

Lots of search options
to choose from!
And any search that doesn't fit into the Letterboxes, Trackers, or Stamp Collections categories--they fall into the Miscellaneous category. This includes event searches, group searches, and virtual searches.

In all, at this time, there are 23 distinctly different searches that can be selected, and that number continues to grow over time. Eventually, I hope to add photo searches, member searches, blog searches, message board searches, and more. All of these search options already DO exist--they just haven't been incorporated into the Advanced Search page--they're spread out all over the website.

But back to the letterbox search options.... Let's say we want to map all letterboxes planted by myself. Since I've planted boxes all over the world, I'll need to use an All-Locations Search. This just about boxes I've planted in San Luis Obispo or Seattle. This is a list of all of my boxes!

Next, there are several options selected by default. The default searches are designed to help people shift through the thousands of listings on AQ for boxes that the searcher wants to find--which is why only 'active' and 'unknown' box status are included in the results, and only boxes that have clues attached, and only boxes that have been found recently and don't have lots of attempts on them. I want all my plants showing up, though, so I need to adjust these default by de-selecting them. Click-click-click... and change the settings like this.

One of the most overlooked options in the Advanced Search page is the "member" box that allows you to search for boxes based on who is the planter, carver, owner, finder, or not the finder. That last one is useful if you're going letterboxing with a friend and you want to figure out what boxes both you and your friend have not found. Since I'm self-centered, however, I just want to see a list of all of my plants. I add my trailname to the text box and check the 'planter' radio button.

Page 1 of my map results extends all the way to Africa!
And finally, I want the list sorted in the order that I planted the boxes, so I change the sort order to Oldest Planted. There are 13 different sort options--if you haven't looked at what's available, you should. You can sort by the last found date, the most recently updated boxes listings, and more. I get a lot of requests for these sorts of sort options, but they've been available for years. Different searches have different sorting options as well. The all-locations search has 13 options, but the location-based search has 15 options, while the trip planner has 16 options.

When all is said and done, the advanced search should look like this. I click search and get these results.

It looks a lot like my logbook page, so why did I bother? You get a lot more options available. If I wanted a list of only my active plants, I could have done that. If I wanted only a list of my plants in the San Luis Obispo area, I could have done that. If I wanted a list of my blue diamond boxes, I could have done that.

But let's go back to my original search for all my plants. From the search results, I can click the Map Results link, and get a neat little map of all of my plants around the globe. =)

I'm rather amused to see the clustering of boxes on the East Coast there. Looks like I was hiking the AT or something, doesn't it? Oh, wait a minute--I did! Ha! =)

Due to map limitations, I can only plot 100 distinct points on the map. I have 177 plants in my results list, so the last 77 had been cut off. If I maneuver to page 2 of the search results, however, then click the Map Results link, I can see the rest of my plants, stretching from Hawaii to Europe.

If you haven't played around with the Advanced Search page, check it out. There's lots of fun stuff in there. =)

Page 2 of my map results extends from Hawaii to Europe!

I find it rather amusing how obvious my AT thru-hike was
just by zooming into this map of my plants! =)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Layoffs in Tough Times

For most people, being laid off is somewhat of an inconvenience at best. At its worst, it can be a serious financial hardship. Now if it were me, I'd cut back and only be buying things that I considered important. Keeping up a premium membership on Atlas Quest is not one of those things that I'd consider important, but I've actually had people ask if I could delay their expiring membership for a week or so until they next their next unemployment check.

And my response has been--absolutely not! By golly, I don't want money from an unemployment check! So I'd extend the premium membership for several months for free. Save your money for more important things.

So if you're unemployed or find yourself joining the ranks of the unemployed and your premium membership is about to expire, let me know. You've helped support Atlas Quest (and myself!), and I'd like to return the favor when times get tough for you. Full details can be found on the Unemployment Pool Deal page.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Calendars! Get your calendars!

And they're back! The 2011 letterboxing calendars are ready! Well, almost ready.... Two important things I still need to get out of the way. The first is to announce which photos I selected for the calendars and congratulate the winners. The second... well, they're almost ready for shipping. Hopefully within the next week or two. *fingers crossed*

There are two calendars this year. The first is the official letterboxing calendar--photos by letterboxers, for letterboxes, often while letterboxing. It has important letterboxing dates such as Plant-a-Letterbox Day, Hike Naked Day, and AQ's birthday. (Just kidding about the Hike Naked Day--had you going, though, didn't I?) You can see all of the photos used, who submitted them, and where they were taken, and the quotes I put with them on Atlas Quest. Check out the letterboxing calendar now!

Second up, for those of you following Another Long Walk, you know I spent five months this year thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. What you may not realize is that I took a whopping 5,000 or so photos along the hike. Most of the, honestly, suck. But when you take that many photos, you can't help but get at least a few gems out of the bunch, and I picked some of my favorites to create the Pacific Crest Trail edition. All of these photos are my own, and it does not include the letterboxing 'holidays' since I plan to give a whole bunch of them to friends and family for Christmas. (Hope I didn't spoil anyone's Christmas present who might be reading this....) There might be a few thru-hikers I know who are interested in these calendars as well.

I've opened up the AQ Marketplace for orders, but PLEASE keep in mind that calendars are not actually ready to be mailed yet--I expect they'll be ready to ship within the next week or so, but definitely by the end of October.

If I selected one of your photos for the calendar, you'll have a free calendar coming your way. Do not include that calendar if you wish to order additional ones. AQ isn't smart enough to know you won a calendar and will charge you for anything you select through the marketplace. I'll handle your orders separately. =)

Also--more good news!--this year, the calendars are cheaper than I've ever sold them. I managed to score a pretty sweet deal with a coupon code that took 20% off my cost on the calendars on top of the bulk discount I usually get, and I'm passing those savings on down. This year, calendars are just $12, and premium members get another 10% off that price. But when the calendars run out, that's the last of the really good prices I got. I will make additional calendars available if necessary, but they will cost more.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog Subscriptions

I subscribe to over a dozen blogs. How 'bout you? =)
If you're reading this, you're reading my blog. Duh! Most people read my blog because all new members are auto-subscribed to it. There are actually hundreds of letterboxers with blogs, however, and most of them you will not be auto-subscribed to. Those that you are subscribed to show up in the Letterboxing News widget, making it very easy to keep up with your favorite blogs.

One little annoying thing is actually trying to subscribe to a blog that interests you. You have to look up the blog from Atlas Quest then add it to your subscriptions. Wouldn't it be nice if you read someone's blog and think, "Hey, I'd like to subscribe to this!" and have a button readily available that you could click and POOF! You're subscribed. On Atlas Quest, at least.

Now, you can. But since the code to do this must be on your blog, you have to add it yourself. Go to the Manage Blogs page, and click on one of your blogs to open it. On the right side of the page is a large box with the code necessary to add a subscription link to Atlas Quest. It also shows an example of what the subscription button would look like. Add that code to your blog, and anyone visiting your blog can click it to add your blog to their list of subscriptions on Atlas Quest.

Here's an example button for the blog Wassa created of my West Coast Trail adventures:
Toggle AQ Subscription

I'm actually in a strange position where I have absolutely no desire to add the button to my own blogs. Since all new members are automatically subscribed to my blogs anyhow, there's not really any pressing need to have a subscription button. Perhaps the unsubscribe button would be more useful, but why would anyone possibly want to unsubscribe to this amazing piece of literature? ;o)

But seriously.... The button will allow people to subscribe (or unsubscribe, if the case may be) from your blog instead of requiring people to look up your blog on AQ and subscribe--a task that probably limits a lot of people from subscribing to your blog. Hopefully, this option will help change that.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bookmark This!

I don't know about the rest of you, and it absolutely astounds me that nobody has ever brought it up, but if you bookmark a post, have you ever noticed that the bookmark link never goes away on the post? In fact, even better than removing the link completely would be to turn it into an "unbookmark" link. This has annoyed me for years, but since nobody ever mentioned it or seemed to care, I figured I was better off working on other stuff that people really did care about. =)

But finally, I sat down and fixed that little annoyance. If you've bookmarked a post, the link will then show up as "unbookmark" (for lack of a better term) which allows you to take the bookmark off right there from the post.

I also must confess, I never really liked the page with all of the bookmarks either. And thinking on it, it seemed completely unnecessary. Why can't we just "search" the message boards for posts we've bookmarked? It would work just like any other search. People can choose if they want to view the simple, summary, or expanded views of their bookmarked posts, or flip between the views as necessary. So I implemented that and replaced the "My Bookmarks" page with a "search for my bookmarked posts" page.

Then I updated the Search Message Boards page with the additional search option.

In other tweaks, you have been able to search the boards for replies to your own posts for years, but that option was never reflected in the search page. It is now.

And finally, Dizzy suggested an option to allow people to search just the posts that started a thread. I don't imagine that most people would ever use this option, but it's actually a pretty simple request to implement and seems harmless enough. I bookmarked it to come back to later--someday--and today I went ahead and implemented that since I was mucking around with the message board code already. You'll now see that as a search option. Even more cool, when I pulled up the message from my list of bookmarks, I could click on the "Unbookmark" link. Now that the feature has been implemented, I don't need that post bookmarked anymore. =)

On a related note, I bookmarked a whole heck of a lot of posts during my hike. Anything I thought was interesting or deserved more thought. I've got a whole lot of bookmarks still to deal with.... someday.... =) Perhaps I'll get to a little more of them now that I found bookmarks a bit easier and faster to navigate!


Monday, October 04, 2010

Helping with Help!

Knowing I couldn't possibly keep up with all of the going-ons in letterboxing, I created a help page that's actually a wiki--allowing any members on Atlas Quest to add to and edit the help pages. This is great for a couple of reasons. First, I don't know everything. (It's true!) When it comes to the intricacies of postals or LTCs, I'm not an expert. Second, things change--sometimes, I don't even realize it--and therefore the documentation needs to be updated. Third, I'm my spelling is atrocious and there are often typos in anything I right that spell chekers don't necessarily katch. I'd just as soon let you guys fix it right then and there than have to e-mail me to fix a simple typa. ;o)

So a wiki seemed like just the solution. If I overlooked something, you can add it yourself. If I got something wrong, you can fix it yourself. If something changed, you can fix it yourself.

Normally, I'd try to check the list of Recent Additions and Changes at least once per month to see how things were going, answer unanswered questions, and check that people aren't adding junk to the help pages, but this also meant that cases of vandalism (which has happened on occasion) could sit unnoticed for days or weeks at a time, and people with questions may not get answers as promptly as they wanted. And while I was off hiking the PCT, I didn't check this list at all!

Surely, there must be a better way....

...and now there is! =) If you go to your Notifications & E-mail Preferences, you can now be notified whenever someone adds to or edits the help pages. Each night, just after midnight, AQ will check for additions and edits to the help pages and send you an AQ mail of the changes.

Want to help out on Atlas Quest? Sign up for this notification option! Answer new questions that people add, check that nobody is vandalizing the help pages, fix typos, add missing information, or whatever else needs to be done. Do you see the same questions being asked over and over again on the message boards? Add it to the help pages!

There's also a Wiki Help board, to discuss questions about the help pages or the information in it. Mark it as a favorite if you'd like to be informed about things that are happening in the help! =)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Updated Tags

Red tag, blue tag, green tag... what do they mean? They basically represent anything you want them to represent, and I've probably heard a hundred different ways people have chosen to use their tags. The biggest problem in using them, however, is remember what one uses each tag color for!

Now, if you check out your Miscellaneous Preferences, you'll find an option to set the tag names to a more useful reminder than the color of the tag. You can label them north, south, east, or west. You can label them DNF, or with the name of the event you plan to find them at. Whatever reminds you of what the purpose of each color tag is.

Then, wherever the tag names are provided as options (such as on the Advanced Search page), you'll see the name you gave the tag rather than the color of the tag. Search results that show a box that has been tagged--you'll still see the same little stars as before, but if you hover your mouse cursor over the star, it'll show the name you gave it as a tooltip.

On a related note, back on that Advanced Search page, you'll find options to "and" or "or" tags. These only apply if you select more than one tag for your search. Let's say, for instance, you select the blue and red tag colors. You can have the search results return all boxes that have the blue and red tag, or all boxes that have the blue or red tag. It'll default to or, just as it's always been, but you do now have the option of an and search which didn't exist before.

Happy trails!

-- Ryan

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reducing the Clutter

One of the most common, ongoing complaints I get about Atlas Quest is the cluttering of search results. Old, abandoned boxes that are out of date, boxes that are known (or at least strongly suspected) of being missing, but still showing up in search results. Over the years, I've made a few stabs at the problem such as fixing listings manually that come to my attention.

Then there was the period when I went through a whole series of methods of dealing with abandoned listings. First I had set up the site so others could automatically adopt them if the owner hadn't logged in for a year, but then I'd get irate e-mails from the occasional person who'd come back about their boxes being set out for adoption. Then I created an "abandoned" status so people could see at a glance that the box might have issues and the listing may not be up-to-date, but then I kept getting requests from folks asking to adopt them (which I had stopped allowing). Seems like no matter what I did with those abandoned listings (either because the owner no longer logs into Atlas Quest at all or because the owner just doesn't update the status of their boxes when they are known to go missing), someone would be up in arms about it. And yet, nobody likes those listings.

As Atlas Quest ages, it's a problem that continues to grow worse and worse.

So once again, I'm taking another stab at the problem. =) Now, if you head on over to the Advanced Search page, you'll find a few new options. Near the bottom of the page, just above the options to hide your plants, finds, and attempted boxes, there are three new options. Let me tell you about each of them....

Hide Abandoned Boxes
This option removes from the search results any box whose owner has not logged into Atlas Quest for at least six full months. The boxes may be perfectly viable, but if it isn't, there's probably nothing in the listings that would let you know. If you have trouble finding a box, sending an e-mail off to the owner probably won't get you any results. So a lot of people would just as soon not look for such boxes.

Technically, I should point out, it's actually only hiding abandoned listings on Atlas Quest--the owner may very well be maintaining their boxes and simply be regular members of (It happens quite often, in fact.) But as far as AQ can determine, the owner simply isn't around maintaining their listings on Atlas Quest. The fact that their boxes are also abandoned is just an assumption.

There are approximately 53,000 active boxes listed on Atlas Quest, and this search option would knock out about 4,000 of them from the search results. To insure your own boxes don't get "knocked out," just make sure you've logged into AQ at least once every six months. Additionally, I've decided to enable this option as a default for most traditional box searches.

Hide Strikeouts
You probably don't know what a 'strikeout' is, since I just made it up last night. =) It's what happens when you look for the box but then fail to find it. You've struck out! Some people will go so far as to record their attempt on Atlas Quest, and if you look at the history of attempts on the box, you might see a long list of failed attempts. (One particular box listing has 62 consecutive attempts on it!) Does it mean the box is missing? Not necessarily. It might mean that the box is really, really tough to find. But if there are several consecutive attempts on a box, more often than not, it's usually missing. And most people do not enjoy trying to find boxes that are likely missing.

So I took the baseball analogy here. Three strikes, and you're out! Checking this option will remove from the search results any box where the last three entries on the find report are all attempts. Setting your preferences to hide attempts does not make your boxes immune, either. If there are a lot of attempts on your box, you can't "trick" people into looking for a box that they don't want to find by hiding your attempts.

If you like a challenge, you'll want to keep those strikeouts in your search results. Since most people don't, I'm also making the default for most searches to not include strikeouts.

What if one of your boxes has three (or more) attempts but it really is active and still can be found? That's part of what maintaining your listings is about. If the box is still there, you can record a "find" on your own box and reset the strikeout counter back to zero. Everyone has the power to reset the counter to zero, and if the attempts are bogus, part of maintaining your listing is to let everyone know it.

Only 865 of the 53,000 active boxes on Atlas Quest have "struck out" as of today. (I haven't run the numbers because the database query starts getting a heck of a lot more complicated, but I suspect the great majority of these would also be from abandoned listings.)

Hide Old Finds
Many folks want some reassurance that a box is still there by checking the last found date of the box. If the box was found within the past week, the theory goes, it's much more likely to still be there than a box that was last found a year ago.

Of all the theories of reducing cluttered search results, this is the most dubious one, in my humble opinion. I know a lot of people out there subscribe to the theory, and I'm willing to help you out by giving you an option to remove from the search results any box that hasn't been found within the last six months (that's what this option does), but it is not enabled by default.

I have a lot of boxes I've planted on long hikes, and they often times don't get any finders for years at a time. I've planted boxes in Africa and Central America which rarely get any visitors, even though--so far as I know--the boxes are still alive and well. And I've planted boxes that have such cryptic and difficult clues, that few people have ever solved them. There are many legitimate reasons a box may not have any recent finds on it, so I while I'll give you the power to remove such boxes from the search results, I won't make it a default.

For those of you who do have such boxes and are worried someone might skip over it due to it having no recent finders, you can "push up" the last found date by recording a find on the box yourself. Since this option isn't a default, however, I don't think it's really worth the effort. I don't intend to record finds on all of my rarely found boxes just to update the last found date.

For a box that has no finders (yet!), the plant date is assumed to be the "last found" date. It's the last date that AQ knows somebody was at the box and can verify its existence on that date.

A whopping 31,492 boxes of the 53,000 active listings would be cut out of one's search results if you used this option. Which, IMHO, just goes to show how incredibly unreliable using the last found date is in determining if a box is still viable. But it's an option for those who want to make use of it.

Out of curiosity, I tried extending the cutoff for "recently found boxes" to one year, and that would have cut out 25,606 boxes. Extending it to two years would have cut out 12,995 boxes. It doesn't really seem to matter what the cut-off time is.... relying on the last found date would cut out a LOT of viable boxes from your search results.

So there you have it! Hope you enjoy the new options, and I hope it unclutters your search results a bit. =)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The First "Big" Update....

Maybe it's because I'm officially a dork (or geek? I'm not really sure what the difference is?), but in the last five months, I've really missed coding. The stuff that requires me to open the hood on Atlas Quest, replace parts, shake up the database, and makes me think--how can I get the system to do something it may not want to do. An idea is great, but figuring out how to make them work can be a lot of fun.

The very first changes I made to AQ since getting back were largely cosmetic in nature. Fast and easy to implement. But I really wanted to get into the guts, and now I've done so. =)

The changes aren't obvious, and most of you probably won't even care about them, but they were things that bothered me for a long time. If you go to the Advanced Search page, that's where you'll see the results of my mucking around. In particular, the stamp types and the hike types sections.

They used to be radio buttons. Now they are checkboxes. Before, you could only search one category at a time: For instance, if you wanted a list of all boxes that required a hike of three miles or more, you had to either accept "all" lengths, or you had to run two searches--one for "treks" and one for "expeditions." Now you can specifically pick both types at once. You could even throw in the boxes of "unknown lengths" in case some of those might be longer hikes as well--or not, if you think that would likely include too many false positives.

I usually skip looking for any box marked as a store-bought stamp, but I don't mind looking for the occasional custom-made stamp along with the hand-carved stamps I usually find, and now I can run a search that lets me hide those store-boughts that I'm not interested in while keeping all of the other boxes in my search results. Awesome! =)

I've also turned a couple of  "admin only" features into features that everyone can now use. Once again, you can see that on the Advanced Search page--it's now possible to search for boxes that have blue diamonds and/or planter's choice icons on them. I originally used them to help test me test various algorithms. I'd tweak an algorithm, run it, then see what sorts of boxes were being assigned the blue diamonds by running a "blue diamond search." I've actually had that as an option available for admins since those features were created, but admittedly kept them "admin only" options thinking they'd likely be too controversial. They probably still are, but I don't really care anymore either. =)

When you're wandering through the woods wondering where your next good water source is and if you have enough food to get to the next trail town, you start thinking about the problems in the "real world" and start thinking, "Who the hell cares one way or another about blue diamonds? There are far more important things for me to worry about. If someone doesn't like those being options, they can jump in a frozen lake. It'll give them something else to worry about--problems that really matter."

So I've made those options available to all now. Yes, if you run searches that return only blue diamond boxes, you'll certainly miss some great boxes that don't have them. Yes, if you run searches that return only planter choice boxes, you'll also miss some great boxes that don't have them. But really, is there any method that can guarantee you'll get a list of every great box in an area without actually finding every box in the area yourself? Recommendations from friends are incomplete unless they've found every box in an area. And they might skew their results based on their own personal preferences. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

So I'll say it now--yes, you will miss some awesome boxes if you just look for boxes that have blue diamonds. But I'll say two things about that: One, who cares? I don't. That's your loss. And two, it's not possible to create a definitive list of "must find" boxes with any method. The only way to guarantee you'll find every fantastic box in an area is to actually go out and find every box in the area. And when we're traveling, that's rarely a realistic option. A blue diamond list may not be perfect, but neither is any other list. At least it gives you a starting point, though.

And finally one other tweak--many moons ago, when I was testing code that was specific to where clues were hosted, I'd find it useful to search based on where clues were hosted as test cases. So I made an admin-only option that let me search based on if a clue were hosted on Atlas Quest, LbNA, or some other remote website. It would even show an icon in the list of attributes to let me know where the clue came from. (Those icons would always show up in my printouts of clues, and I always wondered if anyone noticed the "extra" icons that would show up in my printouts, but if anyone did, they never said anything about it.) It was mostly a feature I used for testing. The only practical use I could think of that you all might use it for would be to run a search that suppressed LbNA-hosted clues if you were planning to check for clues on that website anyway. It would reduce the redundancy of seeing those particular boxes on both sites. But it would likely "look bad" to provide an option that would let people suppress LbNA-hosted clues on searches here, even if the point was to encourage people to get a full list of LbNA-hosted clues at LbNA.

I've also found that I rarely ended up using that search option--if I needed to find a box with clues hosted on LbNA, for instance, I'd just run a simple search then scroll down the attribute list looking for one marked appropriately. Seemed a bit laborious to actually run an advanced search.

So I took that option out from the search options--makes the code shorter and easier--but I left the icons intact and they're now available for everyone to see. If you run a search, it'll show an icon indicating where the clue is hosted--Atlas Quest, LbNA, or "some other remotely hosted clue"--before you click or even hover your mouse cursor over the link. Then I added additional ones for kicks--there are now icons for clues hosted on the website and for those hosted on Blogger. Again, the ability to search based on where a clue is hosted is not an option, but you can see at a glance where the clue is hosted.

Which can be useful for a couple of reasons. You might see that a clue is hosted on and might naturally think it's a hybrid box--and perhaps not one you'd like to get.

Another possible use: AQ often uses cached clues for some features like the ability to print several clues at once--but this often doesn't work well with Blogger-hosted clues (which are often photo clues, and photos aren't cached) or other remotely-hosted clues. If you see one of those in your list, it might be a good idea to take a special look at the clue before printing a cached version of it. (I knowingly walked passed one letterbox on the PCT when the clue stated to find the location where the photo was taken... but my clue didn't have the photo attached! Argh!)

And, just because I could, I added one special icon for any clue that I've hosted on my Ryan's a Total Goober website. Which right now, amounts to just one clue. I usually host my clues on AQ, but one particular clue I needed to do some advanced HTML that wasn't permitted on AQ. It's not really useful in this particular case, but it's one of the perks of running your own website. =)

If you run a search for New York, NY, for instance (at least with my search results), you'll see icons representing AQ-hosted clues, LbNA-hosted clues, two Blogger-hosted clues, and four "other remote clues." Just click on the icon to open up the clue page.

So there you have it.... some of the updates I just installed about an hour ago. Enjoy! =) I mucked with the code. I mucked with the database. I probably broke some stuff and don't even know it yet. If you see any problems, do let me know!

And aren't you'll glad I'm back? =)

-- Ryan

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's that time of year again....

What time of year is that, you ask? Calendars! Actually, I'm a little late this year. I've been... preoccupied with other issues. ;o) But now that that little project is over and I'm back online, it's time to make the 2011 letterboxing calendar. It's not too late to submit your photos for selection! Get your photos submitted ASAP, however. I plan to select the final winners within the next few days and start putting the calendar together! I don't have a specific cut-off date or time in mind, but it'll be soon.

Project X: Letterboxing Calendar
Sample the 2010 Calendars
Upload Your Submissions

Monday, April 26, 2010

Clues on the Trail

As most of you know, I'm currently thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This activity often holds one special challenge for me--getting clues. I can check e-mail, but I can't necessarily get on the Internet. I really needed a way to get clues to me via e-mail.

So, while Amanda is here to slackpack me, I've been working on a new feature late into the nights. Admittedly, it's largely for selfish purposes, but for those of you who also have e-mailing ability on your cell phone but don't necessarily have access to Atlas Quest on the Internet--or maybe you don't have an easy way to store clues on your device--this feature might be very useful for you. =)

To make it work, send an e-mail to 'boxes' at '' including the location you want letterbox clues for as the subject. It's just a normal run-of-the-mill location-based search, so anything that works for a location based search works here--cities, intersections, addresses, zip codes, and so forth. Leave the body of the message blank. (Or you can write stuff in it, but AQ will ignore anything you write.)

After a minute or two, you should get a reply with the clues for that location. If the e-mail address is one that is registered with Atlas Quest, it will also strip out clues for boxes you've planted and already found.

You have mail! =)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is it art? Or graffiti?

Yesterday evening, I went on my normal Alki walk. It was a nice night out. Wonderful views of Puget Sound. And about halfway along my walk, I found two characters "decorating" a truck. I've seen vehicles hit with TP and stuff written on the windows before, but at a glance, I could tell this was something special. The two guys had an enormous roll of plastic wrap and were just starting to wrap the car. And looking into the cab of the truck, I could see it filled with packing peanuts. Right up to the windows.

That was evil. But when I took a closer look, I was even more impressed. They lined the inside of everything in the truck with aluminum foil. The steering wheel, the seats, the head rests on the seats, the review mirror--everything covered with aluminum foil. How long this must have taken I can't imagine. The packing peanuts was pure evil. Whoever owns that truck will likely be finding those for months on end.

And I decided, I needed photos. This was a work of art. This is something I would have normally guessed was Wassa's work, except I know Wassa, and neither of the two men doing this was him. I asked what unspeakable crime the owner of the truck committed, and was told he was getting married. The fool. *shaking head*

I wanted photos, but I didn't have my camera on me. Curses! I walked home.

This Alki walk is a good five or so miles in length, and after getting home, I sat around for a couple of hours getting some work done and letting my feet rest. But I still wanted photos, and I didn't know when the owner of that truck would be back and start the cleanup. I needed to get pictures that night. So I grabbed a camera, and at 2:00 in the morning, I went off to take photo.

These are the best photos that came out. The flash was blinding, and the natural light at 3:00 in the morning was less than ideal. However, you can see the packing peanuts in the vehicle, half covering the steering wheel (which itself was wrapped with aluminum foil). I walked back home and went to sleep.

I wanted to see if I could get better photos, however, so I did my walk a third time in the light of day the next morning, hoping none of the cleanup had started. And YES! It was still there, completely untouched!

I'm not really sure the photos from the light of day were any better. The glare of the sun caused its own problems, and I actually had to touch up these photos in my photo-editing software to make them look this good!

I really like the aluminum foil trim on the tires of the truck. That just seems classy to me.

Then I posted a note on the car saying, "The letterbox can be found in the peanuts." No idea if the owner will understand that message, but the mystery will certainly intrigue him. =)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Virtuals Revisited

When I first saw virtuals, I didn't really get the appeal. Until one.... there was one virtual that I positively thrilled myself solving. It's simple--practically mindless, in fact--but I absolutely loved it. It's called the Peatbank. If you've never been interested in virtuals, it's at least worth keeping your mind open for this one. It's different. I'm not sure who created it, except that it was an Englishman (or woman), and it was rather unfortunate this type of virtual didn't get 'exported' into the United States like their real letterboxes had been. This virtual made the hunt for a virtual box as much like the real thing as possible on thing contraption we call the Internet.

So far as I know, only one attempt was ever done to recreate the spirit of that original Dartmoor virtual box, Lone R's Northern Village. It was a supremely satisfying change of pace of the usual virtuals being posted and I hoped it would inspire others, but apparently... it didn't. *shrug*

But that's the kind of virtual I actually get excited about, and finally, I set up a system that makes it a heck of a lot easier for me to list that type of virtual myself. For those of you paying attention to recent virtuals, you'll have noticed a positive blizzard of these types of boxes. I probably created more in the last few days than have ever existed, and each one I listed tested some of the code behind it. Tweak some more, listed another one, tweak some more, list another one.

It started with The Seychelles, a place Amanda has always wanted to visit. But I also imagined ways to letterbox virtually that we could never do in real life, such as in space or underwater, or even find a true "micro" box. I have some other ideas for virtuals I'd like to create, but I'll save those as surprises.

The code for listing these types of virtuals seems pretty solid now, so the feature has been opened for anyone and everyone who would like to give their hand at it. Seems like a lot of you have been enjoying these virtuals I've listed over the last few days, but I'd like to enjoy solving a few that others have listed! The process for creating them is still considerably more complicated than the usual state of using passkeys, but it does take out a lot of grunt work that would have been required before which is why the most time consuming part to create these virtuals was carving the stamp--not setting up the HTML which used to be the biggest bottleneck.

Look for a lot more of these in the future! If you're interested in solving these, be sure to join the Virtuals group. Otherwise, the virtual functionality is largely hidden.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Did you miss the mustache during all the shenanigans?

With all the shenanigans going on lately, from Apollo Quest and random themes to alleged marriages going on and suspect dentist visits (okay, the dentist visit was real), real development for Atlas Quest has not come to a completely stand still. It just seems that way. And, so far, it seems like nobody has noticed on a couple of the newest features.

First, there's that suspicious mustache icon. I added this over a week ago, and at least a few people have noticed it since I see it used in about a dozen entries. But I'm a little surprised that nobody has yet to comment on it on the message boards. This icon can be applied to any event box that's Hidden In Plain Sight (HIPS), if you want to give people a head's up to keep their eyes open. Kuku and Wassa (and Wassa friends) were the inspiration for this icon. Kuku e-mailed me a question about how to list a HIPS box, and technically speaking, there wasn't any way to list them, but it seemed like it could be a useful icon for event boxes.

I wasn't sure what kind of icon could represent a HIPS box, however, so I scratched my head a bit thinking about all those sneaky HIPS boxes I've found in the past--hidden in fake cans, hollowed out books, in otherwise empty donut boxes, and such. Leave something unusual on a picnic table at an event--such as a rock. A solid piece of granite. Just put it on a picnic table and watch what happens. Admire the dozens of people that will pick up the rock, look under the rock, knock the rock around. They're convinced it's a hidden event stamp, and they'll spend ten minutes trying to figure out The Secret of the Rock. Even when there is no secret! That's how powerful these HIPS boxes are. They turn sane people into those crazy people you'll cross the street to avoid.

Of course, when I start thinking about sneaky and conniving, I start remembering the fun from the Spy vs. Spy event. And when I start thinking about that event, I start remember the ridiculous fake mustaches Wassa's team wore. And I thought, "Ha-ha!" THAT can be the icon for a HIPS box! Wassa's mustache! And thus, he unwittingly became the inspiration for the icon. Remember that the next time you see the icon. ;o)

In a completely unrelated update, there's yet another new search option I call the Linear Path Search, which is a really ugly name to describe a search along the straight line from Point A to Point B. It's a lot like the Trip Planner search that allows you to search for all boxes within a specified distance of a specific route, though in this case, you get to the pick the starting and ending points for anywhere on Earth. And, it'll only work with straight lines. So if you're traveling along an Interstate, you're still probably better off running a Trip Planner search. If you're traveling off the beaten path, however, or live in Canada or Europe where there is no trip planner support (as of yet, at least), the linear path search can recreate a lot of that functionality.

Take this example of a 5-mile wide search from Sacramento to Seattle. (Technically speaking, the search is for all boxes within 5 miles of the line from Sacramento to Seattle, so it's actuall 10-miles wide--5 miles for each side of the line.) Each box shows how far down that line the box is located, and how far off from the line the box is located. And check out the mapped results--pretty slick-looking, don't you think?

For long distances such as this, it's probably not that helpful since most roads won't be anywhere near straight enough to follow a straight-line route, but broken into shorter segments, it could prove to be a very useful search. Any point on Earth can be mapped--addresses, cities, zip codes, latitude and longitude coordinates, and more. Anything you can search for using a location-based search will work as points for the linear path search.

Happy trails!

Friday, April 02, 2010


That whole thing about changing the name of Atlas Quest? The deal fell through, so nevermind about all that. We'll be keeping the domain until a legitimate offer comes along. *rolling eyes* My bad!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Apollo Quest!

They say everyone has their price, and I'm no exception. Perhaps if I were independently wealthy, I'd be less corruptible, and while I'm wealthy in friends and experiences, it's hard to buy food or pay for the dentist with those. (Speaking of which, I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. *sigh*)

Occasionally, I get requests to buy the domain -- it's a gem of a domain name, as it turns out. When I started Atlas Quest, a google search brought up precisely zero pages that used those two words, one right after the other, and I was delighted to find the domain available for purchase. It only took a few months before I got my first offer from someone to buy the domain from me, but the offer was for about fifty bucks and hardly worth the effort. It wasn't even a company that intended to use the domain--they just wanted to "flip" the domain and sell it to the highest bidder.

Every few months, I still get one of those offers, and I've always ignored them.... until now. It seems that a World of Warcraft (WOW) has some sort of extension or something (I don't really get it myself since I don't play) that they call AtlasQuest (or AQ, for short). Notice the lack of a space between Atlas and Quest. Not exactly the same way I spell it, but close enough. I first noticed them a few years ago and found it mildly amusing at the time.

The latest offer I got was from them. At first I blew them off, like I've always done, but apparently they really want that domain name in a bad way. And apparently, making games is a heck of a lot more profitable than letterboxing is, because they offered me--well, it seems wrong to mention specifics, but their offer had five digits (and that's not including the pennies) WHAT?! "I'll think about it," I told them. What was really going through my head was, "Hell, YES!" Sure, I'd need a new domain for Atlas Quest, but a rose by any other name is still a rose, and Atlas Quest by any other name is still Atlas Quest. For that much money, I'll be happy to use a new domain!

So negotiations ensued. First, I needed a new domain, and finally settled on Apollo Quest. This has a couple of benefits. First, I can still sell the AQ patches I have. Thankfully, I had only used the AQ abbreviation on the patches, so all of the ones I've already sold will not become obsolete. Second, it still keeps the "spirit" of the original name, switching out one character from Greek mythology for another. And, it's still easy enough for people to spell. (A lot of those creatures from Greek mythology have bizarre names that are very difficult for most people to spell or even pronounce!)

Unfortunately, the domain is owned by one of those domain flipper companies, so I needed to negotiate with them to get the new domain. (They were trying to sell it for $1,200, but I got them to agree to less. Still highway robbery if you ask me, but who am I to complain--I'm selling mine for tens of thousands of dollars!) It'll take about a week before that domain is officially transferred into my name and the IP address is fully propagated, but it's in the works.

Once I get the domain name and it's all official, I'll move Atlas Quest to the new location, then start redirecting traffic that does go to to I'll keep through the end of April so people have plenty of time to learn about the new domain name and have time to adjust links on their own websites as necessary.

The first day of May, I'll start the process of transferring the domain to AtlasQuest (without the space). I don't know how long it'll take them before they actually get their own website set up since that's not in my control, but any link that points to will likely break at some point during that first week of May.

And that's it. Except for the name, absolutely nothing else will be changing. Marjorie will still be our chick of choice, wassa will still be a webmaster, and cheese racing will still be allowed at letterboxing events.

And welcome to Apollo Quest!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Virtual Demotion

I haven't been looking forward to this latest update because I know it's going to tick a lot of people off, so let me apologize in advance. Virtual 'boxes' have long since lost any connection to boxes as we know it, and I've finally reflected that fact in the database and the code base. In a nutshell, they've been demoted. They are no longer boxes, in name or function.

For a long time, I didn't care that virtuals (in my opinion, at least) were being run into the ground. I didn't do them, so I didn't really care. Whatever floats your boat. =) Eventually, however, their proliferation started causing a couple of technical problems that made me sit up and take notice. The two big issues:

* The enormous number of photos being uploaded into the system were taking up an incredibly large amount of limited disk space. I did a couple of delaying tactic, such as deleting decorative photos that were included with clues and limiting listings for virtuals to one person per day. Those were just stall tactics, though, not permanent solutions.
* Because it's actually quite easy to solve all (or nearly all) virtuals, it had some unique issues when it came to developing database queries. For those who had found more than about 50% of the virtuals listed on Atlas Quest, it caused an excessive number of slow database queries. Since the other types of boxes didn't have those kind of find rates (nor the sheer number of finds involved), the problem doesn't show up with other box types. It was a problem unique to virtuals, and I didn't have a good solution to it.

To be perfectly honest, I'd be just as happy to stop support for virtuals completely, but I know quite a few of you are big fans of them, so I haven't. I thought about moving them to a completely separate website, which is actually quite an appealing idea to me, but creating a new website from scratch would take a lot more work than I wanted to handle. So I went with the solution that I'd move virtuals into a category of their own, completely independent of boxes, trackers, events, and groups (which were the four official "categories" of "stuff" I supported before). Now there's an actual virtual category, rather than just a subtype of the box category.

This change has several important ramifications. I'm building this code from scratch, so it's rather primitive at the moment. A lot of features that were designed to work explicitly with boxes such as tags, ignored boxes, box comments, and so forth--they don't work on virtuals anymore. That's the bad news. Eventually, I'd like to implement some of those features, but it takes time, and it's not going to happen overnight.

Of course, to support virtuals at all, I really needed solutions to those two big elephants in the room, and a number of changes are directly related to fixing those problems. The first--images for solutions will no longer be hosted on Atlas Quest. Instead of uploading images, you'll just create links to images elsewhere on the web. (And no, uploading images to the Photo Gallery and linking to those will not work--AQ will reject those links.) Existing images can stay on Atlas Quest, but all new virtuals will require externally hosted images. This should help cut the number of images being uploaded dramatically.

The slow queries problem I've attempted to help solve by reducing the number of tables in the database that need to be joined. Most of you are probably rolling your eyes thinking, "What's that mean?" What this means is that series of virtuals will no longer be supported. (Existing series have been split up into individual listings.) Since almost all virtuals had clues and solutions hosted on Atlas Quest anyhow, I've gone ahead and made that an official rule. All virtuals listed on Atlas Quest must have a clue and solution listed. (Any existing boxes that did not have a clue or solution listed have had their status changed to unavailable.)

While I'm certain that a lot of these changes won't be popular, there are a couple of silver linings for you virtual aficionados. =) Since the original concept of solving passkeys one letter at a time has largely gone extinct, you can now just type the passkey rather than set it one letter at a time. (Which, truth be told, is actually easier for me to implement and maintain anyhow.)

Additionally, now that virtuals are in their own separate category, I got rid of stuff that wasn't particularly applicable to them. For instance, a planter, author, owner, and carver seemed a bit of overkill for a virtual box. Has there ever been a planter who wasn't the author? And the vast majority of virtuals were images stolen off the web so listing carvers doesn't seem particularly necessary. (And even if someone is using hand-carved stamps, would you actually be using someone else's hand-carved images? Probably not a good idea....) So there are only two names associated with virtuals--the person who first listed the box (the "creator") and the person who maintains the box (the "owner").

Likewise, the status options have been simplified as well to two different choices as well--active and unavailable. While technically, I suppose the "unknown" option could be used, it seems almost ridiculous to apply it to a virtual. And the distinction between an "unavailable" virtual and a "retired" virtual seemed like a line so thin, it hardly seems worth quibbling about. So the status options have been narrowed down to a format more suitable for virtuals. Plant dates are no longer used at all--it should always be the same as the list date--so it seemed like an unnecessary redundancy to support both a plant and list date. You don't even have the option of entering it anymore.

And there's one other relatively minor change which, I suspect, might possibly anger people most of all--you will not find your virtual plant or find counts anywhere on Atlas Quest. I suspect that part of the reason that virtuals have gone downhill over the years is that it was easy to list and find virtuals faster and faster and people could rack up large numbers very quickly. Had more effort been put into quality rather than quantity, I might never have needed to demote the virtual. If you want to keep score for yourself, that's fine, but you won't find a virtual Hall of Fame anymore, and your virtual counts will not be displayed in your profile. We've always said it shouldn't be about the numbers, and now it's not--in both words and actions. (I will admit, part of the reason for this change is that it takes the database a really long time to count up the tens of thousands of finds some of you folks have picked up. But I like the principle behind the change as well.)

For the most part, virtuals are completely hidden unless someone explicitly chooses to participate in them by joining the Virtuals group. I've already added anyone who has solved or listed virtuals in the past, so most of you shouldn't need to worry about this. (I've also included it as a Miscellaneous Preference.) The virtuals board has also been moved into this group as well. If you are a member of this group, you'll see a "Virtuals" link under the "My Page" menubar option, and that's your link to all things virtual.

And, all of the code related to virtuals is completely new. I've done quite a bit of testing on it, but there is a LOT of new code being used, and it's almost certainly going to have a lot of bugs in it. Please be patient with me--I'll fix them as quick as I can.

I think that covers most of the issues regarding virtuals. If you have any questions or comments, please post them to the Virtuals board. If you just want to chew me out for these changes, I'd rather you not--it's unlikely to do any good--but I suppose you can do that too.