Friday, May 27, 2022

Premium membership prices

Just a head's up for any of you who were thinking about buying a premium membership or renewing it soon. It's been over 4 years since I last raised prices and the time has come for me to raise it once again. Inflation is real! And while hardware costs typically fall over time, hosting costs have been rising. (General living expenses have been on the rise as well!) So on June 1st, premium memberships will be $5 higher.

Renewal prices will rise as well, although that's a bit more complicated to explain since I've promised never to raise your rate above what you originally paid for a premium membership as long as you've never allowed your premium membership to expire. So there's a whole range of amounts that people pay for renewals. A lucky few who've been premium members since the very beginning (2004) are still paying just $15/year, and that will continue. If your original purchase price was less than $35/year, your renewal rates won't change. If your original purchase price was at $35/year or higher, the renewal rate will rise to a maximum of $39.95.

Basically, AQ subtracts $5 from the non-renewal price, and if that amounts falls above your original purchase price, then your original rate is your renewal price. Otherwise, you get a $5 from the current non-renewal rate. Clear as mud?

Anyway... like I said, the code for the renewals gets a little messy and it's a bit complicated to explain.

There's another bit of a complication when it comes to renewals.... AQ sends an AQ message a month before your premium membership's expiration date, and AQ will still honor the renewal prices in that message if you received it this month. (At least it should work that way. If you find a bug and it doesn't, do let me know!) So essentially, for of you with expiring premium memberships in June, you won't see the renewal rates increase until July--after your premium membership was scheduled to expire anyhow.

If your premium membership is set to expire after June, you might still benefit by renewing earlier rather than later. Those of you who have started your premium membership in the last four or five years will see renewal rates increase, but you don't have to wait until the expiration date is right around the corner before renewing. You can renew at any time! Some people will even pay for a couple of years of premium membership at a time just so they don't have to deal with it every year and you're more than welcome to take advantage of that if you'd like.

In any case, if you were thinking about signing up for a premium membership or want to renewal before rates go up, get your order in before June 1st!

Actually, technically speaking, AQ is displaying the new prices already--but it's "discounted" to the old prices through June 1st. The "discount" will simply be discontinued on June 1st.

There's also another benefit for new premium members to signup before the end of the month--you'll never have to pay a renewal rate above your original signup price, so by signing up with the lower rate, you'll also get lower renewal rates in the future as well.

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Recording finds and attempts, version 2.0!

Well, I finally did it. I updated the sub-system for recording finds and attempts. It's been completely rebuilt from the ground up! 

You'll definitely notice some changes with them, but the two most important changes to note are:

  1. You can record multiple finds and attempts on the same box! So if you revisit a box after you've first found it, you can record another find on it without removing your previous one! It doesn't matter how often you record a find on it, however--it still counts as only 1 find on your F-count. So please, if you revisit boxes, record the find! Let everyone know the box is still alive and well on subsequent visits!

    Likewise, you can record multiple attempts on the same box as well. Only the last attempt you record on a box is included in the F-summaries and factors into strike counts and findability and such. Earlier attempts are essentially ignored, but they don't hurt anything either.

  2. And the other big change is that you can now specify the confidence level of your attempts. So now there are three levels of attempts: high-confidence, mid-confidence and low-confidence attempts.

    I imagine a high-confidence attempt is basically what everyone has more-or-less been recording to this point, but now there are options if you have a lot (or a little) doubt about your attempt. There's also an option for a "zero-confidence" attempt, although I've started calling those "fake attempts" in my code. I imagine those being used for people who have an urge to record attempts but didn't actually look for the box. They looked at a mystery clue but couldn't figure out the starting point so they think they "attempted" the box kind of thing. Or they started hiking down the trail, but it started to rain so they turned around before reaching the end if it. That type of thing where there was never a real search for the physical box. AQ basically just ignores these, but you're welcome to record them as zero-confidence attempts.

There are other details that I'm sure some of you want to know all about. For instance, with all these attempt options, how are strikes counted? How does the F-summary work? 

In a nutshell, a high-confidence attempt counts as one strike as usual. A mid-confidence attempt counts as half a strike, and a low-confidence attempt counts as a 1/4 strike. (But after adding everything together, they will be rounded to the nearest whole number.) So if you use the default strikeout settings on AQ, it would take 3 high-confidence strikes before a box is struck out, 5 mid-confidence strikes or 10 low-confidence strikes. (Zero-confidence attempts, as I said before, are ignored by AQ so they basically count as 0 strikes.)

F-summaries still use F's and X's to mark finds and attempts, although now the F and X will be capitalized if the finder/attempter is a planter of the box. Those are basically the maintenance visits by someone who should know what they're talking about. Lowercase letters are finds and attempts by non-planters. As for attempts, the letters are sized based on the confidence levels, so high-confidence attempts will have a much bigger X than a low-confidence attempt. The colors also go from "in your face red" to "subtle, low-confidence blue." =)

There are also minor notes practically not even worth mentioning. For instance, although you can now record multiple finds and attempts on the same box, they can't be on the same day. If you record a find or attempt on a specific box on a specific date, it will overwrite anything else you had previously recorded for that same box on the same date. But really, why would you be recording it more than once for the same day anyhow?! Most likely, something had been entered incorrectly the first time so you're probably just trying to fix the information.

There are some other relatively minor, cosmetic changes you might see around finds and attempts as well.  Mostly to make sure there was space to display multiple finds and attempts (if needed) and mark the type of attempt that was being recorded, but since nobody has had a chance to record multiple finds/attempts on the same box or record different types of attempts, it generally looks the same as before. For now. You'll notice the changes more as y'all  start using the new features.

There are almost certainly going to be bugs that slipped through the cracks and need to be worked out. Please be patient. This was a huge undertaking that required a lot of changes to the code and database, but I'll fix the bugs as quickly as they're found and reported.

Hope you enjoy the update! If you have any questions or comments, send them along.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Lead contamination in the rubber stamp carving kit!

I have some bad news to report! Some tests came back and I just found out that my new carving block kit suffers from lead contamination and was denied a license for sale by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. I'll have to find a new manufacturer and see how things go from there.

Okay, just kidding.... there was never any carving block kit, but I suspect most of you already figured that out almost immediately. It's your annual April Fools joke! I hope you y'all got a good laugh out of it!

Most of what you saw came from the Soap Making 101 Kit. Throw in a few things from a visit to the Dollar Tree, a little Photoshopping and presto! Instant carving block kit that does an excellent job of cleaning your hands. I don't think my hands have ever been so clean! =)

A bit of my soap carving mess while creating the April Fools joke. I tried playing around with some multi-colored blocks of soap, but I wound up not using any of them for the April Fools Day prank. One of them currently now sits in the shower, however, ready to be used!

But! Technically speaking.... you can carve soap. I've done it. Just ask anyone from the Monday carving meetups. So... joke's on you! You really can carve these soap blocks! =P

But they aren't very good for stamping... If you'd like to carve soap blocks, however, I will recommend The Complete Guide to Soap Carving and Ultimate Soap Carving. I have both books and both explain how to carve soap, which soaps work best, and all the other nitty-gritty details. If I had to pick one as my favorite, I'd go with the first one. 

Carving soap has a lot in common with carving stamps, except it's more of a 3D object you're creating and you don't have to worry so much about text showing up backwards! (Actually, trying to carve text on soap sounds pretty crazy to begin with, but more power to you if you give it a try!)

To answer a few additional questions some of you might have had.... the colors falu, australien and zaffre are real color names. I wanted to use names more interesting than red, yellow and blue so did a search for weird and funny color names which landed me on 13 Funny, Silly and Weird Color Names You May Never Have Heard Of. You'll find all three of them there. *nodding* I was majorly disappointed that I didn't have a green color when I saw the color named "goose turd green" and, given the scents available, really wanted to work that into the text which I did in a clumsy manner. =) I also particularly liked the "lusty gallant" color name, but couldn't think of a good way to work that into the post. Oh, well. The color "puke" certainly fit the theme as well, but that color name didn't seem "exotic" enough to be fun.

The soap kit included only one scent: cucumber melon. It's a pleasant scent, but definitely not suitable for a "letterboxer stamp carving block kit." All scents described in the announcement are totally made up, but y'all probably knew that already!

The so-called "stiffener" was just vinegar in a spray bottle that I bought at the Dollar Tree. (That is, I bought the spray bottle at the Dollar Tree. The vinegar was already here!)

The image of the stamps are, in fact, real stamps. They are not, however, hand-carved. I bought them at the Dollar Tree for $1.25. They were thin and clear, and even without any adhesives, stuck surprisingly well to the soaps I made! So I stuck them on the soaps and chopped out the soap to the shape of the stamp. So, yeah. Store-bought stamps, but they looked simple enough that I figured I could pass them off as really good hand-carved stamps! =) And heck! One of them was even a blue diamond! Kind of made it look a bit more legit, I thought.

Anyhow, hope you all enjoyed yourselves and if you feel like expanding your carving horizons.... consider giving soap carving a try! It really is fun. Although, admittedly, I carve far more rubber stamps than soap creations! But I think muggle-leaning friends and family probably enjoy the soap carvings more than the rubber stamp carvings. =)

I'll also point out, if you do give soap-carving a try, you could also try carving wood. Carving soap and carving wood is exactly the same process except the wood is a lot harder to carve and requires sharper knives and takes longer. But, just like with stiffer rubber carving blocks, you can get a lot more detail in a block of wood than a block of soap!

Oh! Almost forgot.... All those "pre-orders" you entered into the website.... I don't think most of you read the small print: I reserved the right to resell your addresses for fun and profit! Who knows what might show up in your mailboxes now? *diabolical laughter*

A few of the actual soap carvings that I made: a train, starfish, pirate, seashell, boat and owl! I'm still a beginner soap carver, though. I hope to improve with more practice!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

New! DIY Carving Block Kits!

So some of you know I've been working on a "secret project" for the last few months, and I'm now ready to share it with the world! I've been developing a DIY carving block kit! You choose the color! You choose the scent! You choose how stiff you want the carving block to be! It's a fun little project for those who like to get crafty and... well, come on! We're letterboxers! Who of us doesn't like to get crafty?!

Read all about it and pre-order now! =)

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Challenge icons, publishing boxes, and more....

If you have at least 500 finds
and attempts on challenging
boxes, you'll get this icon by
your name. (But smaller!)

So I just did a major update of Atlas Quest this evening. Quite literally, I've updated hundreds and hundreds of files and thousands and thousands of lines of code. It's a massive, massive update. I'm not sure there's even a file with source code on AQ that wasn't affected in at least some minor way.

But... you probably won't notice many changes. The vast majority of them are the "under the hood" variety. The last big update I did a month or two ago included an upgrade of PHP from 7.4 to 8.1. Now that AQ is running with the latest version of PHP, I added stricter type-checking all over the place and created a bunch of enumerated data types to represent the enumerated data types that the database uses. It's still an ongoing process--but basically, I updated tons of source code to be easier to update, easier to maintain and easier for other people to read and tweak. That's where the bulk of this update lies, and there's absolutely nothing to see.

However, allegedly, according to the PHP documentation, this version of PHP runs about 10% faster than the previous version so perhaps you'll see a slight improvement in speed?  I don't really notice any difference, but the vast majority of the time, the Internet is the bottleneck, not the speed of the server. So I consider it a "theoretical" improvement. =)

But there are a couple of minor changes you can see... including "challenge coin" icons by some people's name. It starts as a relatively boring silver coin when you find (or attempt to find) a box listed as "challenging" on AQ. With enough finds and attempts, it'll be upgraded into a gold coin. Then a stack of coins. Then a giant pile of coins. And finally, when you find (or attempt to find) your 100th challenging box, you start getting bills in the mix as well. =)

AQ has been recording when y'all have been finding or attempting to find challenging boxes for a number of months now, so some people already have such icons. 

If you don't like the icons... well, you can suck it. =) 

Just kidding... You're more than welcome to complain and provide better suggestions. If I like the idea and it's practical, maybe I'll run with it. If I don't think it's an improvement or it's not something that's practical for me to implement, I won't.

I also completely changed the way unpublished boxes are stored in the database, which led to a few minor changes in the interface. The biggest difference is in your logbook. Now you'll find unpublished boxes as a new "action" rather than a "box type." If you have saved links to that particular page, you'll want to update those.

The one perk of how this information is stored in the database, however, is that you can now run searches for your unpublished boxes. You'll find the option on the Advanced Search page as an "other option". A normal search won't include unpublished boxes, but if you check that box, you'll see search results that only include your unpublished boxes (assuming all other search parameters are also met).

Special perk for admins: You can actually search everyone's unpublished boxes. ;o) This is helpful for us when someone reports a problem with listing a box that hasn't been published yet. We can search for it and take a look at the problem. But that's an admin perk--most of you can only see your own unpublished boxes.

Those are the two main things I can think of which you'll see have changed. There are probably some other minor modifications that I've long since forgotten about. And given the huge number of lines of code that have been modified, there are almost certainly some bugs that slipped through the cracks. Please be patient as I try to fix them!

Happy trails! Now get outside and try finding some challenging boxes. =)

This more modest financial fortune
goes to those with between 5 and 19 find/attempts
on challenging boxes.