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.