Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Favorite Searches

For those of you up late last night, you'll have noticed that I shut down AQ for a bit to upload a new update for the website. Most of the tweaks are pretty small and not really worth mentioning. But there's one change you might not notice if you don't look at your list of favorite searches, so let me tell you about it. =)

However, this is a new premium member feature, so if you aren't seeing it, that's probably why. Check out your Favorite Searches. Assuming you have at least one in which you are receiving notifications, the new option should be readily apparently. You can now specify whether you want to be notified of "new boxes" or of "new and modified boxes."

AQ doesn't really track what is modified on a box listing, so it won't tell you that. It just keeps track of when the last time a box was modified, for whatever reason, and if one matches your search and the last modified date is more recent than the last time you got notifications, you'll be notified of the changed listing.

But also keep in mind--you'll only be notified of the changed listing if the box still matches your search! For instance, if someone changes a box status from active to retired, you probably will NOT get notified of that change since most searches are set to hide retired boxes. In this case, the change causes the box to no longer match your search and therefore the notification of the change won't happen.

On the flip side, however, a box that had been retired but was replaced might have its status changed to active. The old listing might not have matched your search since it was retired, but the modified listing now will match your search so you will get notification of that change.

So this feature is not a replacement for the 'watch' feature. They work very differently! But keep in mind that the results may not be as intuitive as you might first expect. It does have some advantages, though. It can notify you whenever someone updates the clues on their box, or when retired boxes are brought out of retirement. Just remember, though--it will probably not notify you if a box is retired (unless you explicitly mark your search to include retired boxes), nor if you suddenly meet a restriction for a box that you never met previously.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

2013 Calendars Have Arrived!

The calendars have arrived! The calendars have arrived! =) This year's cover features a sunset (or what it a sunrise?) by Yak King blues over Payette Lake in Idaho. Nice, don't you think? =)

You can take a look at all of this year's photos at -- we've got fungi, and boats, and turtles, and pelicans, and trees, and caves--it's a fine looking calendar! Perfect for home, work or as gifts for the holidays. =)

If I've used one of your photos, you've got a free calendar coming your way. (You'll be hearing from me through AQ mail soon!) If you want a free calendar next year, be sure to get your submissions in for Project X! It's never too early to get your photos submitted before you misplace them or forget you even took them!

If you don't have any photos to submit--what are you waiting for? Get out there and start taking them! =)

Thanks to everyone who submitted photos this year and made this calendar possible. I'm still amazed at the wonderful photos y'all submit every year!

Monday, November 05, 2012

A Tale of Two Trails!

A lot of you already know about the book I wrote--A Tale of Two Trails. I actually had it published while I was off hiking a thousand miles from Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago and therefore had a little trouble actually acquiring copies to sell on AQ. So I generally directed anyone who was interested in purchasing the book to

I didn't actually get to see and touch my first copy of the book until after I finished my hike! And still, I had no copies available for sale on Atlas Quest.... I put in a bulk order, though, and told them to ship it on the slow boat from China (actually, it's made in America!) to save on shipping costs. Well, this afternoon, the box of books finally arrived and I'll be selling autographed copies through the AQ Marketplace. =) Shipping is just $1 regardless of the number of copies you choose to purchase.

I'm not sure how many of these I'll sell so there is a limited supply, but I will order more if I run out. (You might have to wait a few weeks before a new shipment arrives, however.)

So.... what is this book about, you ask?

Back in 2009, I hiked the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Marine Trail in Western Canada, this this is the story of my hike along those two trails. It's a short book--a mere 87 pages--but in it I chase after helicopters on foot, darned near kill myself and look for drug smugglers and shipwrecks along this beautiful and deadly coastline. =)

And if you enjoy it, leave a nice review on It would be nice to have at least one or two good reviews there. And if you don't enjoy the book, well... remember what your mom said--if don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. ;o)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Updates! Updates! Updates!

Now that I'm not hiking the Camino anymore (what, you didn't get that memo?)--I'm back at work on Atlas Quest. I've been uploading tweaks and improvements all week long. Have you noticed any of them? They're relatively minor, but so far, nobody has posted about them on any of the message boards. Have none of my updates been noticed yet?

Anyhow, tonight I wanted to make an update that required me to take AQ down for several minutes. The updates are in and the site is back up again. Can you find the changes? =)

I'm not going to post about them here, though. Nope. I'm going to let y'all look for changes. If you find any, go ahead and post about it! On the message boards or on this blog--it doesn't matter to me. None of the changes are particularly noteworthy or announcement worthy, and they're all pretty self-explanatory, so when you do find them, I don't really have to explain what it's for.

So instead of announcing the changes--I'm just announcing that there are changes to be found. And more in the works. Keep your eyes open!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Last Call for Calendar Photos!

The 2013 letterboxing calendar, obviously, is running a bit later this year than normal due to my hiking El Camino de Santiago. I arrived in Santiago yesterday afternoon, however, and my trip is winding down. Which means it's time I get going on the letterboxing calendar! So get your favorite photos of the year submitted ASAP! =)

I'm not going to set a hard deadline. I figure I'll be hiking for another week or so, though, so you've got several days. Don't linger too long, though!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Whirlwind Tour!

Wassa Jr. watches the eclipse safely with eclipse glasses.
There are eight leftovers now in the AQ marketplace!
Amanda, Wassa Jr., and I certainly have had an enjoyable last week or two traveling down to California and back for the Great Annular Eclipse of 2012! Originally, I intended to be hiking El Camino by now, but postponed the trip just because of the eclipse.

Of course, we made a few stops along the way.....

We hiked to a bigfoot trap in southern Oregon.

We stopped to visit Amanda's sister in Folsom, checking out her new home.

And we visited my mom in San Luis Obispo. As many of you know, she does hair professionally, and I decided to try something new and a bit out of my comfort zone and am now sporting blonde hair with a blue streak along one side (a racing stripe!) with an asymmetrical cut. I wasn't sure if I'd like it and I figured if I didn't, I'd shave it all off and start from scratch. =) But in the end, I found it acceptable and kept it. For now, at least. I'm not sure I exactly like it, but I do like the fact that it's so different. =)

They say blondes have more fun....
I think they're right! =)
Then we wondered up to spend the night at Princess Lea's place before heading out to the Fantasy Island event where we camped for the night on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. That was a real treat and a beautiful place to camp! Thanks for setting that up, Lost Sailor! The night boxing was particularly fun--especially when Dezert Ratty and I hid behind the bushes and scared the bejesus out of the folks behind us. ;o)

The next evening, Doublesaj and Old Blue hosted us at their place where we feasted on pizza.

And then it was the Big Day. Yeah, okay, Fantasy Island was pretty cool, but for me, the eclipse was the main event. That's the one thing that brought me down to California. This would be my fourth center-line eclipse (two total, two annular). It never gets old, and never have I had to travel so little to get to one! =)

So I planned a gathering of letterboxers at the letterboxing mecca of Northern California: Hog Heaven Plateau. Dozens of pig-themed letterboxes in honor of Funhog are hidden around the plateau. Amanda and I had found all of them in a past visit, but a dozen more had popped up since our last visit. (I stupidly thought I'd have time to find all the new boxes--turns out, I spent all my time admiring the eclipse and keeping my telescope pointed at it.)

Thunderbird took this multiple exposure shot
of the eclipse from Hog Lake Plateau. Wow!
I posted the photos I took on the AQ Facebook page--go ahead and check them out. (Special thanks to Featherhead for finishing my 2012 pinhole eclipse pattern for me!) The place was packed with letterboxers, but we were far outnumbered by all the non-letterboxers who headed out to view the eclipse--several of whom stopped by to purchase extra eclipse glasses from me and to take a look at the eclipse through my telescope. =) Speaking of which, I still have eight extra eclipse glasses. If you need some for the Venus transit on the afternoon of June 5th, I've put them up for sale in the AQ Marketplace. Details about when you can view the transit can be found on this page. Admittedly, it probably won't look very impressive through the eclipse glasses, but this will be your last opportunity to watch that black little dot transit the sun for 105 years.

Amanda and I stayed long after sunset with a few other hearty letterboxers at which point we pointed the telescope to a beautiful crescent Venus, a dull red blog named Mars, and a spectacular view of Saturn's rings. Definitely a good night for planets!

I'm on top of the concrete truck talking to the driver
while we wait for help to arrive.
The next day, Amanda and I decided to take an unplanned detour to Burney Falls--which I was familiar with from my PCT hike but Amanda had never been to. As it turned out, the most heart-stopping moment of the trip wasn't the eclipse, but a different sort of detour on our way to Barney Falls.

The concrete truck we were following lost control and crashed. Amanda stopped the car and I jumped out to help. Amanda's cell phone wasn't getting a signal, so I told her to drive off to a location where she could call for help while I tried to see what I could do for the driver the truck. I could see the driver through the windshield, squished up against the passenger side door of the overturned truck. He was moving, but was definitely banged up a bit with blood on his face and shirt. I yelled over to Amanda to make sure they sent an ambulance along with whatever other rescue crews were on their way. I was also a little concerned about the liquid I saw spilling out from the underside of the truck. Fuel? Oh, please don't let that be fuel. Please don't let that catch on fire!

Amanda had just gotten the car turned around when another vehicle arrived--a woman with a cell phone that did get a signal--so she called 911. I asked the driver if his leg was stuck and he didn't really answer--more of a grunt really--but he managed to move around and stood up in the cab. That was good, he's moving on his own and it didn't appear to be stuck. Well, he was stuck in the cab--but he had full movement within the cab. He was also a very big man. Easily over 300 pounds. How the heck would he get out of there? I didn't think he could fit through the windshield.

The girl in front called 911 while the other truck driver is
talking to the driver and using the radio in the truck to
notify their employer.
I figured out how to climb up the truck and opened the driver side door--now the top of the truck--and kept talking to the guy. I found a fire extinguisher at the base of the driver's seat--a comfort, to be sure. And I asked the man if he could climb out, but he shook his head no.

At this point, I didn't know what else to do except tell him that help was on its way. He said his back hurt, and we asked if that his back pain was normal. (No, it wasn't.) All things considered, I wasn't terribly worried about it being severe considering how much he was able to move around. He certainly wasn't paralyzed or anything. He even joked that he'd be back at work in a couple of hours. (I joked back that he should take the rest of the day off--he deserved it!)

A couple of minutes later, another driver of a concrete truck driving in the other direction came along the accident scene who pulled over to help--and he was an enormous relief to have around. He knew the driver, used the radio in the truck to contact their employer, and pulled out paperwork about what the truck was carrying for the emergency crews--none of which I thought to do. He went into the truck and kicked out the windshield to help get more air for the driver.

Another passing vehicle soon stopped to help. He had those orange cones in his car along with safety vests and a stop sign and started directing traffic around the wreck. Holy cow! Who carries that sort of stuff with them in the car?!

Well, my job here is done.....
It probably took at least 15 minutes for the first policeman to arrive, and within minutes many more police officers and firemen arrived. The policeman crawled in through the bashed out windshield to ask the driver a few questions and assess the situation, then a couple of paramedics arrived to take over. I watched from above, standing above the driver-side door. They got a neck brace around him and cut off his shirt. A fireman told the driver to cover his eyes as he bashed out the rest of the windshield with an axe and smashed the center metal part between the two windshields off and managed to squeeze the man through that hole. I was watching, slightly horrified, because I was sure that man was going to get stuck there. They got him out though, at which point I felt a little stupid standing on the truck where I was. Definitely nothing left for me to do anymore, so I jumped off and asked the policeman if there was anything he needed from us.

When he found out we actually witnessed the accident, he asked us a few questions about what happened which we answered, then he took down my contact information and said that was all he needed, and off we continued our journey to Burney Falls--after losing an hour at the wreck. As we were about to leave, a helicopter arrived--I guess they decided something faster than an ambulance was necessary and they sent a helicopter to evacuate the driver

Later, we learned that other letterboxers that morning at Hog Lake Plateau had seen all of the rescue vehicles headed to the wreck--unbeknownst to them where we were already at Ground Zero.

Love Burney Falls! You can even see the
water pouring directly out as a sheet
from the rock cliff face!
As for Burney Falls--a beautiful waterfall indeed--as pictures will attest! I've seen bigger waterfalls, and taller waterfalls, but Burney Falls is something special--where 100 million gallons of water per day pour out of the ground and crash over the cliff. During the summer months, 100% of the water going over those falls comes out of the ground in the mile leading up to the waterfall. You can even see the water coming directly out of the side of the cliff--the only waterfall I've ever seen this strange effect.

The rest of the trip home was, thankfully, uneventful. All-in-all, we had a fantastic time! I hope someone puts together another Angel Island campout because there are a lot more letterboxes left I haven't gotten. Another eclipse event might not be in the cards for quite some time (the next centerline eclipse to hit the United States is in 2017), but I'm already looking forward to doing something for that as well! Perhaps somewhere near Kentucky where the eclipse lasts the longest....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stupid Hackers

Yep, we've been punked as it were. So here's the scoop....

The hacker did manage to log into the server using the root account so basically, the entire server had been compromised. Anything on the server can have been downloaded or save by the hacker including e-mail addresses, AQ mail, and even the passwords files. Passwords are encrypted using a one-way encryption algorithm so there's no way the hacker would have gotten your plain-text password, but for those of you familiar with the Cracking Passwords page (premium members only), imagine having the power to run this page and see exactly which accounts the passwords match. In theory, the hacker could do this. Since AQ doesn't have any sensitive information like social security numbers or credit card numbers, I'm not going to require anyone to change their passwords--but it wouldn't hurt. And as far as I can tell, the hacker did not access the database, but I can't be 100% certain of that either.

I restored the database from backups that ran at about 3:00 this morning (Pacific time)--if you sent an AQ mail, listed finds, listed plants, or anything after that time but before the hacker struck, they've been lost. Assume they didn't go through.

A couple of database tables didn't get saved last night--one being the locations table. I had to use backups from Sunday for that table, so it's a bit more out of date than the other tables. Three events and 188 boxes had references to locations that weren't in the backups, and they're currently all pointing to "no location specified." If you've recently edited the location of a box or added a custom location for a box since last Sunday, you'll want to check if it's still in place. Most should still be place--only locations "new to AQ" weren't saved. For instance, if you added a box to "Seattle, WA" (which AQ has known about for years), it's pointing to a location AQ had already stored years ago. It's locations like parks, addresses, and such that have never been used by anyone until you added it that would have been lost. Sorry about that. I've fixed it so the locations are properly stored nightly, but there's not much I can do to retroactively fix that.

The other tables that didn't get saved last night relate to the listings for the trip planner. If you added or modified a listing since last Sunday, those have been lost. Sorry about that, but I don't think it'll affect very many of you since not many people play with that page on a day-to-day basis.

And finally, images don't get saved on a nightly basis, and I forgot to backup any new images uploaded before I restored the server to a pre-hacked version. If you've uploaded images since Sunday, you'll need to do that again. 

I've taken a few precautions on the server to (hopefully!) avoid this kind of attack again, but honestly, there are no guarantees. There's no such thing as a 100% secure server and as sad as it is, eventually, someday, this kind of thing is likely to happen again. You'd be surprised at the number of "attacks" that happen on AQ every day. I use the term "attack" hesitantly--most of them are pretty weak and harmless--but there are dozens of "suspicious" activities that AQ detects every single day from all over the world. And to be perfectly honest, while I know a little about security for a server, it's not my specialty or my strength. I can just do my best. And I do know how to learn and improve with age and experience. =)

Sorry for all the trouble this caused!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Solar Glasses for Sale!

This is what you can except to see from the
centerline of the solar eclipse on May 20th--as long
as you have proper eye protection!
As many of you already know, a rare and exciting astronomical event will be happening next month visible pretty much anywhere west of the Mississippi River: a solar eclipse.

Even more exciting, along the centerline, this will be an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse happens when the moon is far away from the earth in its elliptical orbit so it's a bit smaller than normal--too small to entirely cover the sun. Instead, you'll see a ring of fire completely encircling the sun.

Even if you aren't on this centerline, this will still be the best solar eclipse in this part of the world in decades. From Seattle to San Diego, you'll see a good 80% or more of the sun taken out by the moon.

But this is the sun we're talking about here, and you'll go blind if you try to watch the eclipse directly. No, to watch this rare alignment of the earth, sun, and moon, you need eye protection. You need eclipse glasses! Something that blocks 100% of the ultraviolet and infrared light and blocks 99.999% of visible light.

I'm planning an eclipse party for Northern California--please drop in if you're in the area! So I took the liberty of ordering a bunch of eclipse glasses. When I tried to order them, I was told these things are in hot demand for the upcoming eclipse and that they were back-ordered for weeks. Afraid they might not come in time for the grand event, I hedged my bets by ordering them from two different companies.

Order eclipse glasses which
block 99.999% of visible light
and 100% of ultraviolet and infrared
light to view the eclipse safely!
The first company shipped them out last week, and today I got the order from the second company, so now I have exactly double the number of eclipse glasses that I actually need for the event. The extras I've put on sale in the AQ Marketplace! I figure many of you who want to watch the eclipse but can't attend our little shindig are going to want these glasses as well. I'm selling them for $2 each, plus $1 for shipping (regardless of the number of glasses you order).

I've already set aside eclipse glasses for everyone who will be attending the event and you can buy them off me then. If you want to order them now, though, that's perfectly okay as well! You can look for sunspots until the "big day." =) It also means you can pay with PayPal. (I'll only be accepting cash at the event!)

You'll want to hang on to them after the solar eclipse--a couple of weeks after the solar eclipse is an even more rare and usual event: a Venus transit of the sun. This will be the last Venus transit until the year 2117--in all likelihood, an event that none of us will still be alive to witness. The transit will be visible from the entire United States, so if you want to witness this twice-in-a-lifetime event (the last one was 8 years ago). You'll need eye protection to watch Venus creep across the sun's surface the morning of June 5th. It won't be anything near as impressive as the annular eclipse two weeks earlier, but if you already have the glasses--check it out! You won't have another opportunity in this century!

This is a time-lapse photo of the 2004 Venus transit--a twice-in-a-lifetime
event happening on June 5th and the last Venus transit until 2117!

Monday, April 16, 2012

What happened?

Wasas Jr. got some serious play time in the snow
this past week! =)
For those of you up late tonight, you're probably wondering why I took down AQ for several minutes for an update. It's not really much to write about. Minor tweaks here and there, but it was easier to update if AQ was offline while uploading the necessary changes.

The biggest change which is likely to confuse most people is that I moved the events link and chat rooms links from under the Toolbox menubar button to now be under the People menubar option. As Kurious Jo pointed out a week or two ago on the message board, it just makes more sense there.

One new page is a list of keywords that people use for letterboxes. There's a link to it from the search page and add/edit a letterbox page by the label for keywords. I was a little surprised to see how popular park had become--it is actually more common than the pre-defined nightbox keyword. And even more interesting, it was completely worthless as a keyword because it was a stopword--one of the common words that AQ didn't index. (Words like the, a, and, but, letterbox, and.... park!)

So I update the stopwords list this afternoon and shortened it considerably. Park is no longer on it, so the park keyword actually works now if you try to search for it. =)

Speaking of keywords... I'm not sure if everyone realizes or not, but a good keyword requires at least three letters and/or numbers (one and two-character keywords don't get indexed and therefore cannot be searched), and multi-word keywords are broken down into their individual components for purposes of searching. So if you try to use a keyword such as "hitchhiker hostel", it actually counts as the two separate keywords "hitchhiker" and "hostel." Run words together if you want to them stay together (like I did with the pre-defined keyword of "restarea").

Ummm, yeah, that about covers everything of importance, I think.....

Where I go, Wassa Jr. goes! =) And I went skiing!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Extracurricular Activities

There are no major announcements in this post, so if you're pressed for time, go ahead do something else. Really, there's nothing important in this post. =)

I have several websites I run. The vast majority of my time and energy goes into Atlas Quest, but occasionally I like to stray. There's the Ryan's a Total Goober website, which is essentially a vanity website to talk about myself. And there's The Soda Can Stove website, which I created because I was mad at a website for banning me when I tried to educate the folks on the finer points of alcohol stoves. Alas, the owners of that website did not appreciate my helpful comments because, well, they sold stoves, and they didn't make as much money when I encourage people to make their own. =)

And lately, I've been spending a lot of time working on the soda can stove website--a long neglected site that needed some loving. =)

What I want to talk about in this post, however, is how my work on a soda can stove website has affected AQ, because it has. =) I didn't predict or expect this to happen, and it's not exactly a huge, mind-boggling change. Many of you probably haven't even noticed the changes--but I think it's kind of interesting that anything I could do for the soda can website would have any impact at all on Atlas Quest.

And it started with my wish that the website didn't look like something thrown together by a high school student the night before an assignment was due. =) I wanted it to look professional and classy. Haha, yeah, laugh all you want, but I wanted people who read this site to think, "This person knows what they're talking about." And the presentation is just as important as the actual content.

The entire website has less than a dozen pages and I thought I'd take a page off the LbNA playbook with the clickable graphic to each of the pages on the website. Pictures are so much prettier than a bunch of text or a list. Not exactly ground-breaking, but it made the homepage much more pleasant to look at visually. I threw in my signature stamp to "sign" my note on the page as well. Color and images--never a bad thing! But again, nothing particularly noteworthy.

And come on, aren't my fingers clawing back up the cliff hilarious? I thought so!

Then I decided I needed a logo, and I kicked around some ideas. The title of that page, "The Soda Can Stove," had a neat font with lots of loops and character, but still, it's a font--nothing to get excited about. I wondered if there was some way I could spice it up a bit--somehow incorporate an actual soda can stove into the title. In fact, I thought, from a bird's eye view, the stove looks kind of like an 'O'. Even the simmer ring looked like an 'O'--and there are two Os in "The Soda Can Stove".

So I photoshopped some images into the title and liked the results. But it still needed more... those were pretty subtle changes. I needed more color! More character! I wondered if I could somehow incorporate an actual soda can into the logo. Perhaps as an L--especially a lowercase one, but there weren't any L's. Hmm....

Eventually, I incorporated a Pepsi can into the T and the scripted C from a Coke can into the logo, and it looked smashing!

 And I liked the results so much, I decided to do that for every title of every page of the website. 

Then I found myself looking at the new and improved page for How to Build a Soda Can Stove, and it looked great! Except.... now those subtitles delineating each step in the build process looked absolutely horrible. Funny, but I never really noticed that before.

It's kind of like when you buy a new vase for a living room. But then the vase doesn't really go with the table its own, so you replace the table. But then the table doesn't really go with the rest of the furniture in the room so you replace that as well. But then the new furniture doesn't really go with the color of the walls, so you paint the room. But then the color of the walls doesn't really go with the carpet so you have to replace the carpet. All because of that stupid little vase you wish you now wish you never bought in the first place.

Now that I made all these visual improvements to the website, those subtitles looked horrible. They looked horrible before, but it wasn't so obvious when it was surrounded by horribleness. But now it stuck out like a sore thumb. I needed to class up those subtitles....

So I played around with different designs, mostly trial-and-error, eventually getting rid of the rounded corners and replacing them with dotted lines above and below the subtitle. I liked it, but it still looked "unconnected" to the page, so I pulled the entire subtitle left to touch the side of the page. And changed up the font by setting a front variant of "small-caps"--which makes all of the letters capitalized, but lowercase letters are turned into miniature uppercase letters.

And I was amazed at how great they looked. Wow! I exceeded every expectation I had! In fact, I liked it so much, I started wondering if I could copy the style to Atlas Quest.

Now Atlas Quest is a lot more complicated than The Soda Can Stove website. I certainly can't create hand-made images to title every page on the website. But maybe I could color up the "Atlas Quest" in the titlebar with a real logo? Something that everyone will see the same of, regardless of the computer or device they use. (If you use AQ from multiple devices, you might have noticed that the font sometimes changed depending on which fonts that device had support for.)

You'll see this logo at the top
of every AQ page now.
So I worked the AQ logo in, and I liked the results. The font wasn't as fancy as what displayed on my system, but it now included Marjorie and many more colors and I liked the result.

Then it was time to see if I could work in the fancy new subtitle style. This actually isn't as clear-cut as you might think--I use subtitles everywhere on AQ. The widgets on My Page each have a subtitle, but those types of subtitles aren't really suitable for the new style I had in mind. So I had to make sure I only changed certain subtitles, but with a little effort, I got it to work.

You can see the newly styled subtitles on pages like the Hall of Fame and the Toolbox menu. Classy, huh? =)

What comes around goes around, I suppose. A lot of the code that runs The Soda Can Stove I copied from Atlas Quest. Now the styles I've created for The Soda Can Stove I've copied to Atlas Quest. Seems only fair. =)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Urban Planting

This morning, I had a talk with a fellow from the "Investigations division of the Security Department" at Walt Disney World about letterboxes planted there. It's not a very comfortable conversation to have, and I have two takeaways from our little chat.

The first is: They don't want letterboxes on Disney property. This, of course, is not a big surprise. At least it shouldn't be a surprise, and they've confiscated all of the boxes they could find. (I was tempted to title this post "Massacre at Disney World," but the subject seems too important to joke around with.) As sorry as I am to see the loss of any letterboxes, that's the risk one takes when you plant letterboxes where they aren't wanted by the land owners.

The guy I talked to wanted me to explain why they don't want letterboxes there, and the reasons really shouldn't come as a surprise. They're afraid that someone might report a letterbox as a suspected bomb and have to evacuate large portions of the park while they sent in people to "investigate" the suspicious item. Lest you think this type of thing could never happen, rest assured, it can. Downtown Disney (the Disneyland version) closed down a little over a month ago over a suspicious object that turned out to be a geocache. Basically, they don't want any suspicious objects or even people acting suspiciously. It causes them problems.

The other takeaway I had, which worries me even more, are a couple of the boxes he described me to as being covered in camo tape and dangling in trees from wires--one of which was near a propane tank. From the sounds of it, I don't think the planter would have known a propane tank was on the other side of the fence--Disney likes to hike the "workings" of their park so people can imagine they're in a utopia that has no need for such pedestrian items like propane tanks. But it was planted near a fence of some sort, and even if the planter didn't know what was on the other side of it, their security people know about it and understandably get a little itchy when they see someone acting suspiciously with a camo-taped box with wires sticking out of in the trees by the fence.

So I'd like to remind folks a few common-sense things about hiding letterboxes in urban areas--and I'm not talking about Disney World (where you shouldn't be planting boxes at all), but all urban areas:
  • Don't use camo tape on your boxes. Seriously, do you want people to think you've hidden a bomb? In busy, high-traffic areas, camo tape is your enemy.
  • Label the outside of your container so people can read what it is without opening it.
  • Use a clear container so people can see into the box without opening it.
  • Keep the box small! Containers like a film canister are much less likely to be mistaken as threats than a large box.
  • Don't plant your boxes near anything that might be construed as a "target"--bridges, propane tanks, iconic landmarks, electrical boxes, etc.
  • Don't use a container that looks like a pipe bomb. (Cylindrical with capped ends.)
When you plant a letterbox in urban locations, the only thing worse than a muggled box is a box that's mistaken by the authorities for something dangerous. And if you see any boxes that do look threatening, even if they aren't your own, remove it. I'd rather have the box go "missing" than have the bomb squad blow it up.

Now that you don't have letterboxes to look for at Disney World, do what Amanda and I did on our last visit: Marjorie photos. =)


Monday, April 02, 2012

The New Atlas Quest!

It doesn't look like much, but a major changed happened today. I moved AQ from a server in Virginia to a new, shiny server in Los Angeles, California. The server wants to say, "HELLO SUN!"

So... here's the thing. I haven't been able to get the SSL certificate working on the new server so for now, logging in is done insecurely. Didn't seem worth keeping AQ offline while I tried to fix this issue. If you have bookmarked the normal AQ login page, it won't work. You'll need to log in from the insecure page at

Another thing: I haven't set up the cron jobs on the new server. I'm a little hungry right now and want to eat lunch so I'll get this done later today. But for now, you won't be getting any notifications of new box listings, AQ mail sent via e-mail, and all those things AQ has always done automatically in the background.

And speaking of AQ mail sent via e-mail, I don't recommend it at the moment. With the new IP address propagating through the Internet, who knows which server might end up getting the message and if it winds up at the old server, that e-mail will never get delivered to its recipient. So I'd recommend you avoid using that method of communication for at least the next several days.

Are you reading this and still see that "Under Construction" page? That means the new IP hasn't propagated to your part of the world yet. Be patient--it'll happen. Hopefully within the next several hours, but as I've said before, last time I had to change IP addresses, some people reported problems for as long as week after the change. For those who have a little computer savvy and know what a hosts file is, the new IP address is -- but really, if you have no idea what all that means, you probably shouldn't do anything with that information. =)

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Well, I bet nobody saw this coming in today's paper....

Can't believe I missed a casting call for letterboxing. *sigh*

On an unrelated note--the scheduled downtime for Atlas Quest tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM Pacific time is still on! We expect this process to take several hours, but a possibility does exist that you may not be able to access Atlas Quest for several days. If you need any clues, now is the time to get them printed!

Letterboxers Wanted!

For anyone in the Seattle area this weekend, they're looking for letterboxers for a new reality TV show about stashing games!

Who's game? I think we should all bring cooties to the casting call and slip them onto the folks running it.  I'm carving an event stamp for the gathering!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Delayed Again!

I don't mean to be yanking your chain, but it's probably starting to seem that way. After announcing the downtime delay to Friday, I got a surprisingly number of messages requesting it be moved to Monday so that Atlas Quest will stay available during the weekend. I'm kind of anxious to get this done and over with, but I do like to be accommodating when I can. So I took an informal poll this morning to find out if people preferred a Monday update rather than a Friday update. As it turns out, Monday won by a landslide! The people have spoken!

So I'm delaying the update until Monday, April 2nd. Sorry for all the confusion about this, and hopefully it'll be much ado about nothing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Update Postponed....

I'm still working on getting the new server ready and it's taking quite a bit longer than I planned. I might have it all done in time for Thursday, but I'm going to postpone the switch until Friday morning just in case an extra one day isn't enough.

The main thing slowing me down is copying all of those 100,000 or so images you've uploaded to AQ over the years. Keeping in mind that for every image you do upload, AQ creates three files from it: a thumbnail, a "normal" size, and a large size. So that's 300,000 files. And it's taking a lot longer to copy all of those files from the old server to the new server. My system has been working on it for more than a day now and isn't even half done yet. 

So nothing really new to report tonight except that little postponement. But seriously--this is NOT an April Fool's joke! This is going to happen! =) And if all goes well, I now plan to make it happen on Friday, March 30th, at 10:00 AM Pacific time.

Upgrade Update

A bit more information about the upcoming update. =)

First, it's taking a bit longer to get a lot of the data copied over to the new server, so I might have to postpone the downtime by another day. I'm still shooting for a Wednesday morning update, but do know that it might be postponed if all the necessary ducks aren't in a row by then.

Second, while AQ is down, I obviously won't be able to post regular updates about the progress there. So look for updates on Atlas Quest's Facebook page--that's where most of my updating will be. I might be posting to this blog as well. (Even though this blog does use the domain, it uses a subdomain and is hosted on Google's servers--if I do things right, this blog should stay up during the entire update.)

But with the status option so easy to post short updates on progress on Facebook, that's where you'll see me posting most regularly. =)

In the comments of my last post, Greg asked about posting a link to the new IP address. When the new site is actually up and running, I'll post the new IP address there and if you have the technical skills to add it to your hosts file, you can speed your access to the new AQ server. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, though, leave well enough alone. Eventually, the new IP address will propagate and you'll be able to get on again--hopefully within a few hours.

If you're wondering why I don't just create a link direct to the IP address, some of the code on the website depends on the URL being for ""--if you try to link directly to the IP address, it'll redirect you to, and if the IP address hasn't propagated, it'll just send you back to the old website.

There was also a question about if I could put the old server into a "read only" mode. It's a little tricky to do this since AQ was never designed to work in a "read only" mode. Technically, I could update the code and probably make something like that work, but with scripts that run as cron jobs, different ways to log in (auto-login, manual login, app login, cached logins, and who knows what I've forgotten), it would take quite a bit of work to make it reliable. And even if I could stop everyone from logging in, there's still stuff being logged--anonymous visitors who view a clue cause clue hits, searches for addresses or cities might cause an unknown location to be added to the database.

Basically, the only easy way to make sure the database stops changing is just to shut down the entire website while the data is being transferred over.

And, I'm cautiously optimistic the site will only be down for less than a day. You'll live. ;o)

So that's the skinny about what's going on. I'll post again tomorrow night with another update. I'll also have a better idea then if I'll need to postpone the switch to the new server.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Major Downtime Scheduled

So, here's the thing. For a few years now, Atlas Quest has been running out of space. And I've run through all sorts of tricks in order to squeeze a little more out of it. AQ regularly deletes the largest version of all images uploaded after about a month to save space. Virtual boxes no longer allow AQ-hosted images. Even the nightly backups of the database are no longer stored on AQ's servers--there just isn't room for them anymore.

I've squeeze and squeezed, and I've run out of tricks. As of right now, AQ has run through 96% of it's allowable disk space.

So, I'm making arrangements to move AQ to a bigger, faster, and better server. That's the good news. The bad news is--major downtime ahead. It'll take me awhile to copy all of AQ to the new server. And to add insult to injury, the old IP address won't be coming along for the ride and I've had issues with IP address propagation in the past where some unlucky people were not able to access AQ for as long as a week after the IP address changed.

So mark your calendars! Right now, it's my intention to take AQ down Wednesday morning, March 28th, at 10:00 AM Pacific time. At the very least, it will be down for most of the day. If I run into snags and other problems, it might even take me more than one day. And even then, if the IP address change doesn't propagate to your part of the Internet quickly, it could be several days before you'll get onto AQ again.

If you plan to be boxing later this week or even this upcoming weekend, print your clues now! Even your letterboxing apps won't be able to get new clues so you may need to go old school and print your clues. (If your app has stored clues, those you'll still probably be able to pull up--but you won't be able to sync for updated clues or get new ones.)

Sorry for this, but AQ just outgrew it's current server. Without this move, AQ would probably implode sometime within the next month or so and I've run out of tricks to extend the currently available disk space.

Monday, March 05, 2012

LTC Explosion!

The number of submissions for last month's potpourri exploded!
After posting The Artistry of LTCs last month, the number of submissions for Marjorie's Potpourri exploded--easily double a normal month. Since I usually pick up my own mail, Amanda never really noticed the increase until, near the end of the month, she told me she had some LTCs of her own she wanted to trade out with potpourri members. Occasionally, she likes to look through what's been submitted and nab a particular favorite for herself. =)

"So you want to sort them this month?"

"Sure!" she said.

I pulled out the pile of envelopes with LTCs, stacked them up, and dropped them with a thud on the table. "Here you go!"

Her eyes popped out. "Good grief! What happened?"

"My blog happened, that's what."

She shook her head in stunned amazement at the pile. "That's it!" she told me. "I forbid you post about LTCs again."

I nodded agreeably, but of course, I knew I would post again if for no other reason than to share this story with you. =)

So this last month, I let Amanda do most of work with Majorie's Potpourri. I did set six random envelopes aside in case any last minute arrives showed up on the first or second of the month--so I'd still have enough to swap if no extra arrived--but all of the rest fell to Amanda's capable hands

And without further ado, here are a few things we found in the last potpourri....

How adorable is this.....
Angry Birds: Cracked Helmet Pig by GypsyLadybug

This LTC appears to have been specially made for
this month's potpourri--the back even labels it
as Marjorie's Potpourri (Feburary 2012)
Flower of the month: February Violets by El

Good Dragon, Bad Dragon by Kurious Jo
Seems there's a ring with googley eyes, because this card
wasn't the only googley eyed card in this month's potpourri.
Even the little bee has tiny googley eyes! (I have to confess,
however, that effect doesn't look as neat in a photo. It works
better when you can see the googley eyes moving around.)
Googley Eyes: Frog by Flutterwing2009

I've seen carved return address stamps before,
but it's much more unusual to see the address to the
recipient stamped as well! I'm quite impressed at the effort
for a disposable envelope. Makes me want to save it forever!
This work of art was sent by Aunt Bee. Looks like she
forgot about marking it as a potpourri envelope until after the
stamping was done!

This was the most elaborate envelope in the potpourri.
Created by MN Compass, she even listed it as an 'other'
box on Atlas Quest: Viking sent to WA.
Interestingly, the post office added their own stamp
to the mix that read:
"Postage Verified Seattle WA 98168"
Thanks for including the correct postage! Looks like our Seattle
postal workers are putting their feet down! (Several potpourri
envelopes had this postage verified message.)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Artistry of LTCs

Tarte N Tires created Let It Snow. The stamp
is absolutely wonderful, but that top edge punched
with snowflakes is so totally awesome. *nodding*
Today, I'd like to talk a little about LTCs. I remember the first time I heard about them, and I thought, "Seriously? Just what letterboxing needs, something else to muddle the purity of letterboxing." Or something to that effect. =)

I also remember Mama Cache lobbying for me to add LTC as a distinct type of box, which I resisted. First, I didn't really know if LTCs would just be a "flavor of the day" and end up not being used very much, and second, I didn't really like the idea of adding support for another type of "letterbox."

Then Batty Girl sent me a handful of LTCs. It was completely unsolicited, but when I opened the envelope and the LTCs spilled out into my hands, in those few seconds, my doubts vanished. Those things were awesome! I finally saw the light! Reading about them, hearing about them, I didn't "get it." Being seeing them for the first time, I got it.

Not only were they really neat, but I immediately grasped that this could be a huge game-changer in another way: They could all but replace postal boxes. These were much smaller and lighter than postals, and therefore much cheaper and easier to mail. Blackholes, which were a growing problem and had people swearing off postals, would be considerably less problematic. It would, I knew, be a huge blow for postals. (And it was--take a look at the plant statistics for postals--the number of plants dropped from 5,164 in 2007 to 2081 in 2008.)

Amanda was on a trip but got home later that evening, and I showed the cards to her. "Take a look at these," I told her. "These are going to be big," I predicted.

I don't remember exactly which month I added official support for LTCs, but I did so shortly thereafter. LTCs took off and never looked back.

Newbie Says Hi is just adorable. Chedva created
these a couple of months after joining Atlas Quest.
I really like show she took the icon of the hatching
egg from AQ as inspiration, and the giant LB on the
chick's chest, puffed out like it was Superman. =)
A lot of newbies seem shy to admit that they're
newbies, so I'm always happy to see a newbie puff
out their chest and proudly admit it to the world. =)
As cool as the LTCs were, I was sometimes frustrated watching the posts on the message boards about them. Seemed like people were making swaps much more complicated than they needed to be. And eventually, Majorie's Potpourri grew out of that. Every month, people can send me 5 LTCs with a SASE and I'll mix them all up and mail 5 LTCs back. There aren't a whole lot of rules, really. Pretty much any LTCs is okay. Doesn't matter if they've been used before or not. There's no set theme. People can send all of the same card, or each card could be different. They can even send cards they didn't create--these are Letterboxer Trading Cards, after all! If someone somehow ended up with a duplicate card, send them along--I'll spread them out. =) (I do ask for people not to send adult-oriented LTCs, however, since there's no guarantee it wouldn't wind up going to a minor or someone who would find such images offensive.)

I still don't make LTCs myself--it's a lot of work, and it always seems like I'm too busy working on other things, but I rather like my job of running the Majorie Potpourri swap. =) Sometimes people even send an extra LTC for me to keep, and I've piled up quite a number over the years. But even better, I enjoy seeing all of the creations so many of you create. While I was hiking the PCT, Amanda took over this particular task, and after I returned, she didn't want to give up the job! She enjoyed seeing all of the creations as much as I did! =)

And this past month, I thought it would be nice to share some of the creations that showed up as part of Marjorie's Potpourri. =)

Mrs. Hayes, created by GypsyLadybug, is as simple as LTCs can get--a single stamp
image on a card. The back has a little history of the woman (Lucille "Lucy" Ware Webb Hayes,
wife of President Hayes, born August 28, 1831, died June 25, 1889), and the listing on AQ
has a photograph of her, which looks a lot like the stamp on the LTC.

MLB: Twins, created by Ratliff Gang, has a three-dimensional element to it.
It's not as obvious in that first photo, but the second image looks like at an angle. I rather like the ragged,
torn look of the stamped layer.

An Angry Birds Christmas by EverAfter83 is more elaborate than most LTCs, but the thing that
got my attention most was that I'd never seen a laminated LTC before! Seems like
there's always something new every month that I haven't seen done before.
Holidays of November: D.B. Cooper Day by Flutterwing2009 I wanted to highlight since it's one that opens up
to include more information inside. Sometimes, that 2.5 x 3.5 inch size just isn't enough to work with for some people! =)
On an unrelated note, I'd be a little saddened if the mystery of D.B. Cooper was ever conclusively solved.
Snow Globes: Snow Bird by twofreetimers is my favorite LTC in January's batch.
I just want to pick up this card and shake it! =)
Sea Life: Angelfish from The Boxing Bs is so simple it's elegant. And sparklies. You can't go wrong with sparklies. =)
Speaking of which, until LTCs had come along, I knew nothing about embossing powders. Cards
like this one inspired me to buy a bunch of it, but I haven't really used it for much of anything... yet. *sigh*

80's Icons: The Boom Box brought to us by jad_juniper uses multiple layers, shapes, and colors
from colored cardstock, which is an effect I like. But it seems even more perfect for anything
from the 80s!

Seeing as Valentines Day is right around the corner, I thought I'd share a couple of Valentine-themed
LTCs. What is Love? by ElectricMedic has some sort of fuzzy stuff on it that I've never seen before. It
seems like embossing powder, but hasn't been baked on. I'm not sure what it is. But anyhow....
Many LTCs are traded in plastic sleeves (which I've removed for these
photos--the glare on them was terrible!), but this one really needed the sleeve to protect the fuzz from
coming off. And the morbid side of me thinks, "Hmm.... Dexter might not agree with that quote...."

Love Monster by Flutterwing2009--I totally want a Valentine like this!
Cutest monster ever! =)

Thanks to everyone to sent in some LTCs last month, and thanks to all of you guys who gave me permission to share your creations with everyone! =)

If you'd like to learn more about LTCs and swapping them, check out the help pages for LTCs and LTC Trackers. There are also two message boards for all things LTCs: LTC: Tips, Questions, and Stuff and LTC: Trades and Trackers.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New (and improved!) search options!

Once again, I'm pushing the envelope
known as progress.... =)
If you wander over to the Advanced Search page, you'll notice a couple of minor changes. It doesn't look like much, but it's a lot trickier than you might think. I spent the better part of a week getting these changes to work properly. =)

Okay, admittedly, I haven't exactly been working "full time" this week, but these updates probably took up a solid 20 hours of effort on my part.

But I digress....

The updates are remarkably complicated, but I'm throwing out all technical jargon, simplifying my explanation, and completely overlooking certain subtle points completely. So, in a nutshell:

  • Everyone should see a new checkbox under the location labeled "Use exact locations." If you used to use "0 miles" in order to search for all boxes within a specified city, you should now use this checkbox instead. It also should be used in area searches when you want to see all mystery boxes within that area.
  • The mystery box icon looks exactly the same as before, but it works slightly differently than before. It now will match any letterbox that has the mystery icon on it. It used to check the location of each box (either the owner-supplied location, or your custom location if you had one), and if that location was a mystery location, the box would match. I had wanted a search that allowed you to get a list of all unsolved mystery boxes in an area. Understandably, this caused confusion, and long story short, now the mystery location icon simply matches boxes that actually have a mystery icon attached to them and the listed location of the box has no bearing on the results.
  • And the last new option only premium members will be able to see--right next to "use exact locations" is "use original locations." Premium members can enter custom locations--a nice little perk! And once you added a custom location to a letterbox, AQ returned results as if the box were at your custom location. By checking this option, you can tell AQ to ignore your custom locations and force the site to use the original locations supplied by the owner of the box. I'm not really sure how this could possibly be useful, but more than one person has asked about such an option, so I've made it available. =)
There are a few other tweaks I made to the search--AQ runs a mean "Northern California" search now with a slick new technique I'd never used before. (The code applies to more than just Northern California, but that's the test case I was checking the most.) You don't really have to know all of the nitty gritty details except that the search results are much improved over the previous incarnation.

There's also a new "0 mile" hack, which The Vs stumbled onto already by accident. It's another feature that's available if, for some reason, you really want it, but honestly, I can't think of a single reason why you would. Consequently, I don't really recommend using it unless you really know what you're doing. It doesn't hurt anything to use it, but you might not get the results you were expecting if you aren't sure about how it works.

I'd also like to give extra kudos for Eidolon. Over the years, he's been one of the best bug finders on AQ, finding tiny little problems that others have overlooked for months or even years. I'm sometimes quite impressed with his eye for detail and things that just don't "seem right." And he always takes it one step further by including all relevant information about how he generated the error condition including links to searches and boxes so I can recreate the problem easily and fix it.

While this update may not seem like much, it actually was rather complicated involving a lot of moving parts, and I was more than a little concerned that I had overlooked some important problems, so I fired off an e-mail to Eidolon explaining some of the changes I made and asked if he'd like to kick the tires. Then I went for lunch. =)

Wassa Jr partied a little too hard during New Years.
He's finally getting over his hangover....
...his next court appearance is scheduled next month.
When I got back, he had already located two substantial bugs in the update (although he didn't seem to realize one of them was a bug at the time!) A few more tweaks, a few more bug fixes, and now I'm feeling good about the update. Solid work. Thanks, Eidolon! It's nice when I can announce a new feature and have it working correctly right out of the starting gate. (Disclaimer: This in no way implies that there aren't anymore bugs to be found--but any that are still lurking will be a lot more difficult to find due to Eidolon's efforts!)

And Happy New Year!