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.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Now Aren't I Clever? =)

I know some of you stay up all night, just wondering, "What is Ryan doing?" Well, let me tell you about some of the exciting things I've managed to complete tonight.

Ever since I set up Another Long Walk on Blogger as a "custom domain"--that is, it points to my own domain name rather than a generic name that looks like've wondered if I could get the rest of my blogs off of hell. Okay, maybe hell is too strong a word, but whenever I see a blog that uses that as the domain, I think it looks just a little bit tacky. Like wearing a thong to Taco Bell. There's just something that says, "I'm cool," by hosting one's thoughts on your very own domain name. Domain names are cheap--I get mine from GoDaddy for about ten bucks each per year. Less than a dollar per month. All thing considered, it's a cheap way to look somewhat professional on the Internet.

I've been using for my letterboxing blog, which works, but like I said, I think it looks tacky. I could have moved it to one of the many atlasquest.XYZ domain names I do,,, and probably a few others I've forgotten off the top of my head, but those aren't atlasquest.COM! It's just not the same....

So I've left it at all this time... until now! While figuring out how to host my Another Long Walk blog at, it seemed like I could tweak the directions a bit to have my blog point to I wouldn't use www since that's used for the main Atlas Quest website, but wouldn't it be slick if my letterboxing blog were hosted at Yeah, I thought so too.

But I was scared to make any changes to the DNS settings. If I screwed something up, it could take AQ down for days! DNS settings are not my forte, and they're awfully temperamental. Since DNS entries propagate through the Internet relatively slowly, even if I fixed the error quickly, the incorrect entries could linger for days in some systems making AQ all but inaccessible during that time.

But I really, really wanted to use, so I decided to test changing the DNS settings with a website that wasn't mission critical--my website. I tweaked some DNS settings to redirect the blog to, and.... it didn't work. Took me the better part of a half hour, but finally figured out that a missing period was causing the trouble and got the changes to take. (However, depending on how much that DNS setting propagated, some people might see an error if they try that URL at the moment.)

Now that I knew the correct way to set DNS settings, however, I decided to try it with the real blog on a real I added the CNAME setting, pointed to, crossed my fingers, and clicked "Save Changes."

Then I logged into Blogger and told it to change my blog into a custom domain, pointing to, crossed the rest of my fingers, and clicked the button to save changes. I got a message saying the changes were saved and my blog was successfully moved.

I went to and it worked! There was the blog! This blog! Woo-who! The old location at will redirect to the new location. And now the blog is hosted within the domain name. Sweet. The best of both worlds. =) The blog is actually hosted on Google's web servers--I basically just direct any traffic to the blog to Google to handle as needed. All other traffic stays on my own server.

Then I went into Atlas Quest to update my blog settings to the new location. The setup was complete. My job was done. =)