Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Calling for Calendar Photos!

Y'all know I'm busy thru-hiking at the moment, but I still have plans to create a new letterboxing calendar next year which I'll start working on just as soon as I finish this hike--which is imminent! I'm not sure of the exact date I'll finish or when I'll start work on the calendar, but you'll have at least another week or two to get your photos submitted! =)

Letterboxing Calendar (a.k.a. Project X)

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fools!

Sparkle, blue diamonds! Sparkle like
you've never sparkled before! -)
Yeah, okay, those old icons are hideous, and I still stand by that assertion. I brought them back for the day for April Fools--as many of you probably realized if you looked at a calendar. =) Truth is, nobody has complained about the icons after the first couple of weeks of when they were introduced and while I'm sure there are those who can nitpick some of the things they don't like about the new ones, I'd bet most of you would agree that the new set--as a whole--is vastly superior to the old set and there's no way I'm going back on this! I'd even bet that some of you were probably surprised at how bad some of the old icons really were now that you've gotten used to the high-quality new ones. They might not have seemed that awful before because you were used to them, and while they served with honor for years, their time has come to a permanent and irreversible end!

As for those checkboxes.... those were more-or-less randomly assigned. I was curious to see what sort of guesses people would make about their purpose or what sort of patterns they found in how they were assigned. If you're curious, this was the algorithm for deciding whether a box was checked or not:

Take the member ID of the person whose name the check will be next to, add the member ID of the person who's logged in (if someone is actually logged in) and if that total is an odd number, give the person a check! There's no inherit meaning to the checks at all. =)

Happy trails, everyone!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back due to popular demand!

I thought changing the icons a couple of months back would be a popular thing because I never much liked the old ones and the new ones looked so spiffy, but people are still emailing me complaints about it. I figured the initial shock of seeing them changed wouldn't be popular (people, as a general rule, hate changes), but I also figured after people got used to the new icons, it wouldn't seem so bad anymore. But still, the complaints roll in and I've finally decided just to put the old icons back. I was wrong for changing the icons before--at least not all in one big update. Maybe changing them one at a time over the course of a year would have been more acceptable.

Anyhow, due to the huge number of people who don't like the new icons, I'm rolling the old ones back out. Enjoy! =)

Well, almost all of them. The stars representing the number of message board posts, for instance, require some code changes since they use a different numbering system than the new icons used. They'll take a bit more effort to replace, but I'm working on those as well. Hopefully it won't take more than a day or so until all of the old icons are back to normal! In the meantime, please be patient! Thanks!

Look! The brains are pink again! =)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Improving Searches

I know many of you are waiting with bated breath--what is Ryan going to do to ruin Atlas Quest next?! I've heard those complaints, and I've been listening! =)

My most recent changes are completely invisible. At least, on the surface, they're invisible. I've been working to made word-based searches.... better.

The thing to remember with almost all searches--be it for letterboxes with a specific name, message board posts that use a certain phrase or even the help pages, when you search for a string of words, AQ runs the search using an invisible "or" between each word unless you stated otherwise. So if you tried to run a search for the letterbox named "Deep Space Nine," the results would return all boxes with the words "deep", "space" OR "nine." The list could be a lot longer and unwieldy than you might have expected! In a worst case scenario, if more than 1,000 boxes returned with that name, you might not even see the specific box you were looking for because AQ stops looking after it finds 1,000 matches. If the box you were searching for wasn't within those first 1,000 matches, it won't show up in the search at all.

Ironically, you'd have gotten better results just by searching for a single word. "Deep" would have only returned boxes with the word "deep" in it. Boxes with "space" or "nine" but not with the word "deep" wouldn't have cluttered up the searches.

This system might seem convoluted, but it was rather handy when people tried to run a letterbox search for a box named "Forest Grove Cemetery" but misspell a word and searched for "Forest Grove Cematery" instead and had people puzzled why the box couldn't be found. With only a few thousand boxes on AQ, AQ could still find a match, sort it so boxes with the words "forest" and "grove" came before boxes with "forest" OR "grove" and everyone liked the results. The cemetery didn't match the misspelled "cematery" but it didn't matter. It was close enough!

Nowadays, with hundreds of thousands of boxes listed on AQ, a better method was needed. The easy solution was just to put your search in quotes. "Deep Space Nine" (with the quotes) would have found the exact title, but do you know how many people did that while running searches? Not many!

So to make a long story short, AQ does some fancy manipulation of your search terms automatically if you don't specify the manipulation yourself. The first two words of a search will always be required. If you misspell one of those first two words, AQ will not find the box you were looking for. So now a search for "Deep Space Nine" (without the quotes) will return all boxes with the words "deep" and "space".... and optionally, if it happens to find the word "nine" in the title, it'll be sorted before the others that don't have the word "nine."

As you add more and more words to the search, more and more of them will be required. Let's take an exaple for a search for "The Life and Times of Deep Space Nine."

First, stopwords aren't included. Words like "the", "and" and "of" are pretty useless for searches, so those get crossed out completely.

Now we're left with "Life Times Deep Space Nine." In this case, the first two words are required. ("Life" and "times".) Among the rest of the words, AQ requires the first half. If there's an odd number of words, it's rounded down to an even number. Here we have three words left, so we round it down to an even 2. The first "half" of those two words is "deep" so the word "deep" becomes required as well.

The words "space" and "nine" will both be optional, but if they're found in the results, they'll be sorted ahead of those without them.

Clear as mud, I know. It's confusing. The exact algorithm for which words are required isn't really that important. The important thing to remember is that, in general, the first half of the words in a search are required and the last half are not. A misspelling in the first half will cause your box NOT to show up in the results. A misspelling in the last half will be pretty forgiving.

I haven't rolled these changes out to all of AQ as of yet. I've been testing them and tweaking them for the best results. You will find them working if you run a letterbox search, however, which was the place where the most problems were being caused. I've also updated the code for message boards and the help pages to use the new algorithms as well. If you always found the help pages difficult to search, you might consider the searches dramatically improved now! I did a test this morning where the old algorithm returned about 20 results (the vast majority having nothing to do with what I was looking for) while the new one returned 2 results (both of which were immediately relevant to my search).

Eventually I'll be rolling it out to all of the other word-based searches. Searching for trackers by name, events by name, etc.

What if you don't want AQ to automatically try to "improve" the search you're running? The easiest way to "opt out" is simply to include a special processing symbol of your own in the search. AQ won't manipulate the search if you're doing it yourself! If you want to search for all boxes with the words deep, space, and nine in them, you could run a search for "deep" space nine. The quotes, in this case, are essential so AQ sees them and knows to leave well enough alone, even though on the surface they don't really appear to actually do anything. (And under the old searching algorithm, they didn't do anything!) But really, I can't think of any reason not to let AQ automatically improve your searches.

At times, you might want to further refine the search beyond what AQ does automatically. (Perhaps you want your search to require the words deep, space, and nine, so you can still run +deep +space +nine. Now they'd all be required. Or you want to search for the exact phrase "deep space nine" (all in quotes) which requires all three of the words to be in consecutive order.

Or if you want deep and space to be optional, but nine to be required: deep space +nine.

So there you have it. =)

Happy trails!