Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Auto-cryptograms are bigger and better!

Just kidding.... as most of you undoubtedly realized, the auto-cryptograms was an April Fools prank. Fun times, right? =)

As I write this, it's actually early February. I'm planning a trip to Jordan to hike the Jordan Trail and hopefully I'm there having a good time. I'll be there for nearly two months, however, through all of March and half of April and knew months in advance that I likely wouldn't be able to get online on April Fools Day to participate actively in the prank. So I set up the code to automatically start "encrypting" clues on April 1st (and only April 1st) and announce the auto-cryptogram feature... automatically. So the prank is all lined up to go before I even step foot in Jordan.

It'll be interesting to read the message boards and my AQ mail when I get online again! But like I said... I'll probably be in the middle of nowhere when this post goes live and when you read this, I'll probably still be clueless how of well the prank was received. (Or maybe it wasn't well received?)

Happy trails!



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Auto-cryptograms have arrived!

There have been.... complaints, I guess you could say, that there are too many drive-by letterboxes with little thought or effort put into them. Mostly thrown out in the wild so one can show they were there or get an "official" plant in a certain state, county or even country. And that's fine, but finders want something fun! Interesting!

And it really doesn't take a lot of effort to do so. Copy and paste a clue into about a million different websites and get an instant coded clue! Which everyone love to love! A pretty typical, forgettable box suddenly becomes an interesting puzzle that can gives hours of solving pleasure!

So I created an option to turn any clue into a cryptogram! This has the added effect of hiding the clues from search engines which, of course, is a good thing. There's nothing more annoying that someone who finds your clue from a Google search then tries to blackmail you for using a "trademark" without their permission or whatever.

But wait! There's more! Solving a cryptogram over and over again can get a little boring so I created several different fonts for cryptograms for a bit more variety. You can use normal letter replacements like usual... or! You can use letters from other alphabets. Want your clue to look Greek? Not a problem! Use the Greek alphabet! Want to make your spy-theme box look a little more spy-like? Use the Cyrillic alphabet and people will think it's a secret Russian message!

There are also options to make your clue look Chinese, but they don't really have an "alphabet" per se so it uses symbols in place of letters which represent words like honesty and integrity and... well, I don't remember them all anymore off the top of my head. I think golf ball was one of the words, though, because who doesn't like golf?

I also added an option for the Pigpen cipher if you want your coded message to actually look like a secret code!

I plan to add more options in the future--the sky's the limit here! Have any suggestions? I'd love to hear them.

To get things started, I went ahead and turned all the clues for drive-by boxes into cryptograms so at least there's a small challenge involved to find the boxes. Hope you enjoy them! =)


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Logbook Tweaking!

So some of you might have noticed that I took AQ down for about 15 minutes. Yes, it's the latest and greatest of updates! Actually, this update is pretty minor, but it was a lot easier to do the update while the site was down.

This update mostly involved the logbooks. The main goal this time around was to battle slow queries. There are a growing number of people with well over 10,000 finds to their names and AQ was struggling to show pages of those logbooks. It would literally take the database over 10 seconds to create the page showing the finds. If you clicked through to see page 2 of the results, it would take another 10+ seconds to generate. A website that "hangs" for over 10 seconds at a time is problematic! It's probably not a problem you noticed often because most people don't have enough finds to cause such issues and it's not very often that people look at logbooks for people with that many finds--maybe AQ would record half-dozen such slow queries in a day. But... it's a problem that grows increasingly worse as the number of people with large number of finds grow, and I was determined to fix it. As a whole, I prefer the pages on AQ to take less than 1 second to generate. (By comparison, most queries take about 1/1000th of a second to run, and even the slower ones rarely take more than half a second.)

So.... AQ's logbook now includes a dropdown list with years that you've found boxes and will show a list of all of the finds from that year. It runs a lot faster this way! It also won't paginate the finds. Whether there is 1 find or 5000 finds, they'll all be displayed. Which--if the number of finds is in the thousands is a bit unwieldy, but paginated finds were unwieldy already and good luck trying to figure out which page had a particular box you were looking for. At least with everything on one page, you can search the page with your browser to find a particular listing.

I figure that most of the time, people are interested in recent listings so the default setting isn't to show a specific year at all. Instead, it'll display the most recent 500 matches. Which means if you have less than 500 finds, all of your finds will be on that one page. If you have more than 500 finds, only the first 500 that match your sort will be displayed. But if you know the find was from last year (for instance), it might be easier to view the smallest list from last year.

The update was mostly meant to target the finds since that's where people have (literally) tens of thousands of entries which was causing the slow queries, but the same code runs the pages showing your plants, adoptions, attempts, carves, donations, etc. so the year option now shows up for all of them and the same rules applies. The logbook pages for exchanges, tracker signups, event signups, photo albums and.... why does it seem like I'm forgetting one? Anyhow, those non-box searches use different code and therefore don't have the year filtering option.

Make sense?

If you don't see the rows numbered, do a browser refresh. I updated the CSS and if your browser is using a cached CSS page, you won't see the numbers. Or ignore it and probably within a few days they'll eventually show up on their own when your browser refreshes the CSS.

Happy trails!

-- Ryan, keeping AQ running fast since 2004