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2017-08-30

 - 

Virtuals, Cache notifiers, Czech Republic

Virtuals

As you might have heard, Geocaching HQ has rewarded some geocachers by allowing them to publish one Virtual cache each. Geocaches of the type Virtual is something that has been grandfathered since 2005, but now it looks like we might get up to 4000 new ones.

Geocaching HQ's announcement is available at https://www.geocaching.com/blog/2017/08/virtual-rewards/.

If you want to see all newly published Virtual caches, Project-GC can of course help you out with that. We find it's easiest to use Map compare (without comparing) as a tool to solve it. An exampe is this configuration.

Some numbers regarding Virtuals:

  • There has been 7451 Virtual caches published before these news.
  • 4582 of those are still active.
  • There has been 208 new published this month.
  • There has been a total of almost 4 million found logs on Virtual caches.
  • The Virtual with the most found logs is GC45CC in United Kingdom. It has 24,825 found logs and is now archived. It's a bit special though and some geocachers have logged it several times.
  • The Virtual with the second most found logs is GCF496 in Czech Republic. It has 23,553 found logs and is still active. It's also the geocache with 5th most logs in the world, 4th if only counting active ones.
  • United States has the highest number of active Virtuals in the world, 3776 of them. United Kingdom is second with 195.

New cache notifiers at Project-GC

On the same day that this was announced we also launched a new beta function at Project-GC. Notifiers for new caches. It's supposed to be a complement to the Instant Notification Service provided by Geocaching HQ. We provide some advantages, but also have some disadvantages. We believe ours are much easier to set up, has less restrictions, but at the same time they also allow more filtering.

You can for example easily set up notifiers for Virtual caches in the whole world. Visit the page, click add, click Virtual, click save, and you are done. Assuming you already have your email address added at Project-GC that is.

If you are a paying member at Project-GC you can check it out at https://project-gc.com/User/NewCacheNotifiers. For the notifiers to work you also need to be a premium member with Geocaching.com.

This was first announced on Facebook. This is often where we announce things first, to get them tested by a smaller crowd. If you always want the latest information, you should like and follow our Facebook page.

We just released our second public version of the notifiers.

Czech Republic

This weekend we will travel to Great Moravia 2017 in Czech Republic. If you see us at the event site, or anywhere else, feel free to say hello. On Saturday at 13:00 we will have a 1-1.5 hours long lecture about Project-GC. The primary focus will be Planning geocaching trips with Project-GC. But we will also mention some of the other premium features of the site.

We will also sell our Project-GC Geocoins while we are here. They will either be sold by ourselves, or the official Great Moravia Souvenirs stand. This is something we will work out on Friday together with the helpful crew.

If you take a walk in the GPS Maze, which you should, you will also find some data provided by us in there.

2017-08-15

 - 

A system administrator's report

A system administrator's report

We have recently been rebuilding our infrastructure more or less from scratch. This has caused us a few hours of downtime for which we would like to apologize. There are many reasons behind this, but mainly we needed to cleanup the environment. We have been growing the site every day since we launched and always have had a bit too much to do. In many cases we therefore create emergency solutions and at some point it's getting a bit too much of a mess. The goal has been to create a cleaner and more secure hosting environment.


Some of the changes that have been made are:

  • New development environment
    • This is now better separated from the live servers but at the same time also more identical in workflow. We hope that this will give the site more stability and also make it easier to detect and fix different issues.
  • Network
    • Every single network cable has been removed and connected to a new core switch. The environment is now properly configured with multiple VLANs with different purposes.
  • Our old IP networks are now gone and we have a completely new IP plan
  • New VPN system
    • All servers which support it now have out of bounds management properly configured and connected (iLO, iDRAC, IPMI). This VLAN is only accessable from a specific VPN and the administration VLAN.
  • New virtual machines
    • We have installed several new virtual machines. We had two servers which did a bit of everything in the environment. This has now been properly cleaned up so that each server has its own purpose.
  • New firewall
    • The routing between the VLANs is now done in our firewall, a Linux server using netfilter. It currently has 3 Gbps throughput between the VLANs which is much more than needed this far. For a while we were using layer 3 routing in the core switch, but we decided to revert that.
  • Updated documentation
    • Some documentation has lagged behind a bit. We weren't 100% aware of this, but started to notice when installing new servers for example. We wouldn't be surprised if we find the same issue in a few years again, but at least it's not 10 years behind then.
  • Backups
    • We now have a new backup solution, based on Borgbackup (https://github.com/borgbackup/borg). On top of that we have homebrewn scripts handling databases and KVM guests (libvirt).


In the middle of all this we have also been upgrading some of our software to newer major versions.

  • PostGIS
    • We installed a new PostGIS server in parallell with the old one, once that worked as expected we made the switch. It was quite cumbersome for us, but there were no known issues that could be seen by an end user.
  • InfiniDB / MariaDB Column Store
    • For some of our database queries we are using a column-based DBMS, until recently we have been using InfiniDB Community. We did however not have the most recent version and there was also the fact that the project was abandoned.
      MariaDB had forked InfiniDB and we therefore decided to move to their version (MariaDB Column Store). It wasn't a hard decision since our main database cluster is based on MariaDB.
      This transition has caused us some issues though. Probably both because it's a new product, and the fact that we were using an older major version number. One of the callbacks used by some of the Challenge Checkers were affected for example. We also recently found out that Top Archived Loggers (http://project-gc.com/Statistics/TopArchived) didn't work properly due to this. Even more recently we discovered that the connection pool got full from time to time. All these issues has been solved by now though.
  • Monitoring
    • Our old monitoring system was also quite outdated and has received an upgrade. Besides being outdated in software version we haven't really had the time to maintain it and add new servers and services either. We have now spent a few days on this, but we are still not where we need to be. At least the alert system is working again and some of the checks for functionality. In other words, we should now get notified about server issues.
      We also have an external service (Pingdom) telling us when the site is down, but our internal system can provide us with much more detailed information.
      We will keep working on this topic to improve the site stability, with the goal find issues before our users do.
  • Diagnoses tool
    • An offline tool has been written that tests many parts of the site individually. In case something is broken, we can hopefully find where it's broken much faster now.
  • Survey system
    • We have added a survey system where we can setup a questionaire and ask our community how they want things. This far we have had three of them. We also have the option to thank those filling out the form by granting them additional membership time. This was done with one of those surveys.

Disclaimer: This report was written three months ago and parts of it is now old news.

2017-07-17

 - 

Second batch of geocoins and a summer update


Geocoins

Today we received our second batch of our geocoins. We are currently packaging all backorders and will ship them tomorrow.

You can find (and order) our geocoins in our webshop (https://project-gc.com/shop/).


Site updates

As usual we have been adding a few updates to the site here and there. Here are some of the highlights.

  • New API methods for the Challenge checker API.
  • Optimized building of My finds GPX files.
  • Polygon updates for several countries.
  • Upgrades to the powerful Virtual GPS system.
    • Added inline editing of the userdata fields.
    • Bugfixes related to misaligned rows.
    • Added sharing of corrected coordinates within the group (beta).
    • Performance optimizations.
    •  We are currently looking into some redesigns of the "menu" as well.

We also have a few changes that are a bit older that we have forgotten to mention, but feel is worth mentioning.

  • Build GPX - As a part of our Virtual GPS system (paying members only) you can export geocaches from Project-GC as a GPX file, which you can then import into your phone or handheld GPS. We have made a few changes to the build process.
    • Added option to give high priority. When using High priority mode you will pass the queue, before everyone who didn't use it. Can not be used when there are too many geocaches in the current Virtual GPS.
    • Refresh down to 0 days. All data at Project-GC is cached data, we do not have live data from Geocaching.com. When building a GPX file you can ask the system to refresh data about the relevant geocaches before the file is built. We have now changed the minimum time to 0 days.
    • Added more options regarding refreshing corrected coordinates. This is a task that's related to the fact that one can now add corrected coordinates for all cache types at Geocaching.com, earlier it was only possible with Unknowns and Multi-caches. Some of the options are very slow, this is the main reason to why it's an option at all and that we don't just do the hardest refresh. The time it takes is depending on the design of the API, not something we can fix with some optimizations.
    • Earlier one could add a maximum of 30 logs per geocache in the GPX file, the new maximum is 100.
  • Automatic web alerts - Sometimes we do have some known issues about the site, which will fix themselves. We have been a bit quiet about that, mostly because we haven't had a good way to communicate them. We have now added a background job that will monitor a few things and add an alert to the web if it finds such issue. You can dismiss these warnings by clicking the X on the right side. It will then be gone until the issue is resolved and then appears again. Some examples:
    • If the queue for refreshing geocache data becomes longer than normal, a warning will be added at the top of the website. This normally doesn't affect the finds for our regular users, but might affect it for others.
    • If we are having issues connecting to the Geocaching.com API, a warning will be added.
    • If we are having replication issues between our database servers, a warning will be added.
  • Web browser extension - We have a Greasemonkey-script that makes some changes to Geocaching.com. In our mind it's improving the usability of the site, but most of all, it makes Geocaching.com and Project-GC.com work better together. You can read more about the script here, http://project-gc.com/Home/UserScript.
    • Just above the logbook we have added a "Logs per country" table. Here you can see flags and numbers for each country which has logged the geocaches.
    • There are a few more minor changes available at github that has not yet been pushed into a released version.
  • Souvenirs page
    • At http://project-gc.com/Tools/SouvenirList you can view all souvenirs that are known to Project-GC. We recently added some grouping to the souvenirs, the grouping isn't official and is manually made by our community.
    • These groups can be used in Challenge Checkers and we now also have some statistics on them on top of this page.
  • Ajax-driven charts
    • We have a goal to make the web much more ajax-driven and therefore much faster and more responsive. We are currently working on moving our top charts towards some newer technology that is more ajax-driven. Top Favorites is an example of this.
  • Top Find-Calendar loopers
    • Upon popular demand we added a top list for those that has completed their Find-calendar more than once. http://project-gc.com/Statistics/TopFindCalendarLoopers
  • Statbars
    • Our statbars (http://project-gc.com/Profile/Statbar) now has examples in both HTML and BBCode.
  • Challenge checkers
    • A while ago we made an announcement on Facebook that we are now accepting new Challenge checker script writers. To get access you will need to contact our support and ask for access, you will then be handed a couple of questions (like a test).
      The reason that we made the announcement on Facebook only was that we didn't want a storm of applicants. A few weeks after that announcement we also updated our FAQ with the same information.
      From now on, it's 100% official that we are accepting requests for access.

Besides this we have also spent a whole week removing obsolete code to prepare for an  upcoming upgrade to PHP 7. For all we know the site is now ready. We will upgrade the development environment first to see that it works out as it should.


UK Mega

On August the 5th we will attend Devon UK Mega 2017, in United Kingdom. We will also bring some Project-GC Geocoins that we can sell.

On the 3rd we will have ourselves a small meet and greet event in their facilities where you will be able to meet the founder of Project-GC. The event can be found here: Meet Project-GC in the United Kingdom

The founder and his partner will be in UK geocaching for about one week, hopefully attending most of the related events in the area. The flight plan is to land in Bristol on the 28th of July and leave again on the 7th of August. Please don't hesitate to come and say hello if you see him. He is there to socialize, and geocache of course. Expect him to wear a Project-GC branded piké, depending on the weather a jacket might cover it though.


GBTE2017

We would also like to inform you about a crazy geocaching trip that we learned about. Last year a geocacher contacted us and told us that he was going to bicycle from Denmark to Romania, geocaching along the route. He asked us if we could help him building a map of his progress and so forth. Since it all sounded so crazy we were definitely interested. Follow his progress on below links.



2017-05-18

 - 

Membership discounts and a developer's report

A developer's report

To some it might come as a surprise, but to some it will be rather obvious. Project-GC consists of ~150,000 lines of code, this isn't always something that just works by itself but it needs to be maintained in one way or another. Therefore a lot of time is spent on changes that noone notices. It can either be because a class has been patched and changed purpose too many times so it's starting to get messy, then it's time to rewrite, refactor and clean up. It can also be that we upgrade an external library and our own code using that isn't compatible anymore.
We do a lot of rewriting and there is much more code that would need to be cleaned up. Some of the unnoticable, but still major, changes we have made the last months:

  • GIS-code
    • GIS stands for geographic information system and for us it's pretty much about if a coordinate is within a certain polygon, distances between coordinates and such mathematical cases. We have rewritten most of our GIS code from scratch to make it a lot faster than before. We now also use PostGIS for more than we did earlier. A service we did not have when writing most of this code from the start.
  • Optimizations
    • We have made huge memory optimizations regarding map creations and 360-challenges. We have also tweaked our database schemas for some of our larger tables.
  • Administration tools
    • Many of the administration tools has been improved. Hopefully this will improve the workflow with the support tickets.
  • API interaction
    • Almost all code that is related to the API between Geocaching.com and Project-GC.com has been rewritten and optimized. This has led to a huge performance improvement for both us and Geocaching.com.

Membership discounts

To celebrate that summer finally has arrived to Sweden, the  shipping of geocoins, the fact that our Greasemonkey script has existed for two years and that it's one year ago the moratorium for challenges was lifted we would like to offer you a great deal on our memberships. The campaign has been launched today and will last at least until the end of the week.

So, what is our campaign then? If you buy 1 year of Project-GC membership, you will get an additional 4 months for free. If you buy two years, you will be granted an extra 5 months, and if you buy 3 years, you will get 6 months extra! This offer can not be combined with other offers, like referrals.

In case you already have an active membership with Project-GC, the newly bought time will be added upon the time you already have. Example: You already have 6 months left. You pay for 1 year. You will then have 6+12+4 months.

Visit the membership page to catch this great opportunity, and hurry before it's too late.

The campaign ended on the 25th.

Geocoins

We had a sneak release of our webshop last week on our Facebook page. In the webshop you can find our Geocoins which have been quite coveted. This far the shipping has been to Sweden only, but today we have extendend our shipping to include the whole European Union. The rest of the world will follow in 2-3 weeks time.

The webshop can be found at http://project-gc.com/shop. Since most of our coins currently are lent to GC66666 - Maije im Saarland we are quite low in stock, especially with Gold coins. We expect to get a few of those back in about two weeks and will therefore take pre-orders when our stock runs out. If all coins should be sold out in Germany, we will order new coins from the factory. So there is no reason to worry, we will get more coins.

2017-04-11

 - 

Polygon updates, and geocoins

Polygon updates

During the last half year we have been updating or adding polygon data for quite a few countries, please find a list of most of them at the end.

First, we would like to explain what this is and what's it's used for.

The polygon data we are talking about here is data that tells us where the border of a region or county is. The border can consist of millions of vertices that create a polygon on the map. We then use this data to calculate in which region and county a geocache's given coordinates belong. This is useful both for filtering and statistical reasons.

For some countries, Geocaching.com already has a region field for the geocaches. This field is based on input from the cache owner. Typically that data isn't always correct, for several reasons. In many countries where borders are marked in the real world, the marks aren't even in the correct position, so it's not always so easy for a cache owner to know where the border is. It's not unusual that a border is moved either. Google Maps and other map services seldom have correct borders either. So, in cases where we have polygon data, we will trust our own data before we trust the cache owner's data.

For counties, Geocaching.com doesn't have the data and it's therefore required that we have polygons for that to be able to provide county information.

We typically rely on data from OpenStreetMap. It's a source where we can retrieve the data for free in a fairly simple way. Also, it's the same technical solution for all countries as long as we stick to that. For some counties we have used other data sources, though, for various reasons. The United States is such an example. For Canada we have region data from OpenStreetMap but county data from another source.

You might wonder when we update this data or how we prioritize. The fact is that we are not geographical experts, especially not for every country in the world. Therefore we normally don't update data that we already have if we aren't told there is an issue. There is a trend in the world that countries are reducing the number of counties by merging some of them. When we get informed of such merge we will look at OpenStreetMap to see if their data is updated. If it is, we will try to import their newest version. It's quite the same for which counties we try to add new data for; It's based on demand from the community. Many of the countries we have updated recently have been connected to a potential new challenge where we needed data for all of Europe.

As you might realize, every time we update the polygon data geocaches might change region and/or county. This can either be because the data was faulty before or that the border actually has changed. If you are geocaching to collect all regions and/or counties, always pick a geocache a safe distance from a border. We have even had a case where a guy had all 290 counties of Sweden, but lost it because the cache owner moved a geocache less than 100 meters.

Polygons updated for:

  • Netherlands (several times)
  • Oman
  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Poland
  • Georgia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • Russia
  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Macedonia
  • Albania
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Slovenia
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • Ecuador
  • Cyprus
  • France

We have probably added/updated a few more countries that we forgot to note down.

Geooins

A few days ago we sent out a list of events which we will visit. At some of those we will be able to sell our new geocoins.

We are now working on a deal with Maije im Saarland (Mega/Giga-event in Germany, Saarland) where they will sell our coins for us. The event is hosted around that time when we plan to open up our online shop for most of Europe, so the event might give you early access to the coins. If not, you will at least avoid the shipping cost by buying them there.

More news to come

We have a few more news entries in progress. You can expect the following topics the coming weeks:

  • A system administrator's report
  • A developer's report
  • Site changes (including the web browser extension)


2017-04-06

 - 

Upcoming events

Upcoming events

As you might have heard, we have recently received our first batch of Project-GC coins. These will be sold in our online shop (which isn't available yet) and at chosen geocaching events where we will exhibit.

The plan is to open our online shop in May. Initially we will only ship within Sweden, but the goal is to be able to deliver to the rest of Europe no later than the beginning of June, and the rest of the world a few weeks after that.

The final prices are not 100% determined yet, but we expect Copper and Silver to cost 15 EUR each and the Gold coin to cost 20 EUR.

Here are some of the events we are planning to attend during 2017:

  • 2017-04-22 Läckö-Kinnekulle Event 2017
    Two lectures will be held and we will have a table available to us. This is where the coins will be officially available for the first time.
  • 2017-08-03 Meet Project-GC in the United Kingdom
    Event still unpublished. We will be borrowing an area by the kind Devon committee where we will be able to present ourselves to our visitors. It's very likely that we will bring some coins for sale here.
  • 2017-08-05 Devon UK Mega 2017
    We will have a table available to us here.
  • 2017-09-02 GREAT MORAVIA 2017
    We will attend here, nothing else is decided yet.
  • 2017-11-04 Mega Sweden FAD 2017
    We will attend here, nothing else is decided yet.

Even if we don't exhibit at an event it's very likely that we have brought a few geocoins with us. So if you should find us, feel free to ask us if you are interested.

For more information and photos of the geocoins, please read our last news entry.

More news to come

As promised, we have a few more topics coming up in the form of news. A bit of a recap from the last months. You can expect the following topics in the near future:

  • Updated polygon data
  • A system administrator's report
  • A developer's report
  • Site changes

2017-04-04

 - 

Coins

Coins

For years we have been meaning to create our own Project-GC geocoins. The whole topic picked up some pace after we met with Miroslav from Geokes.cz at the latest GPS Maze in Europe.

It has been quite a process but last month we finally received most of them. We hope you like them as much as we do.

Project-GC Geocoin Copper FrontProject-GC Geocoin Silver FrontProject-GC Geocoin Gold Front
Copper frontSilver frontGold front
Project-GC Geocoin Copper BackProject-GC Geocoin Silver BackProject-GC Geocoin Gold Back
Copper backSilver backGold back


We will introduce the sale of these at a Swedish event held in Lidköping, Läckö-Kinnekulle Event 2017. We haven't set any prices yet.

The goal is that we will introduce an online shop where these can be bought during May. However, since we are not selling any other physical items yet we have a lot to learn. We will therefore initially only distribute within Sweden. Our goal will be to add the closest countries with 1-2 weeks after that and hopefully the rest of EU soon there after. USA and Canada will be the priority after that.

We will also try to bring some geocoins to all larger events we are attending during the year. This will give you the chance to save some freight cost.

We would also like to say that we are very happy to work together with Geokes.cz. Besides the fact that they have created an awesome design they have also been very helpful and responsive.


More news to come

We haven't posted much news lately, but we have been working hard. We will therefore post a bit more frequently the coming weeks, trying to inform you about some of our work done during the last months.

Some topics to expect in the upcoming newsletters:

  • Upcoming events that we will attend and/or promote ourselves at.
  • Updated polygon data
  • A system administrator's report
  • A developer's report
  • Site changes (and the web browser extension)

2016-11-26

 - 

Cyber Monday campaign!

For Black Friday we launched a campaign on our memberships. We have kept this campaign running for Saturday as well. Now we would like to inform you that we will keep it running for Cyber Monday as well.

Cyber Monday is the Monday after Black Friday every year. Though we will not promise that we will have our promotion campaign every year.

So, what is our campaign then? If you buy 1 year of Project-GC membership, you will get an additional 4 months for free. If you buy two years, you will be granted an extra 5 months, and if you buy 3 years, you will get 6 months extra! This offer can not be combined with other offers.

In case you already have an active membership with Project-GC, the newly bought time will be added upon the time you already have. Example: You already have 6 months left. You pay for 1 year. You will then have 6+12+4 months.

Visit the membership page to catch this great opportunity, and hurry before it's too late. We will keep the campaign running for as long as it's Cyber Monday in any of the timezones in the world.

2016-11-25

 - 

Black Friday campaign!

Did someone say Black Friday?
We as many others will celebrate this shopping spree by giving out great discounts. We have just enabled a campaign on our memberships for Project-GC. If you buy 1 year of membership, you will get an additional 4 months for free. 2 years will grant you 5 months extra membership time and 3 years will grant you 6 months extra. This can not be combined with other offers.
Hurry to the membership page to get your discounted membership before it's to late!

2016-09-28

 - 

Tangible items and challenges

T-shirt

For those who are following our Facebook group it's probably known by now that we are looking into creating Project-GC t-shirts. The t-shirts will be sold at Mega Sweden FAD 2016, a Mega event in Sweden, on the 5th of November this year.

It will be a limited edition with our logo combined with the art of this years FAD, and they will only be sold at FAD

We are soon going into production of the t-shirts but are still trying to collect as much feedback as we can. We urge you to fill out our survey about the t-shirts, especially if you are heading for FAD and are interested in the t-shirts. But regardless if you are going there or not, your information is valuable for us since it will tell us if we should make more of these in the future.

The survey takes about a minute to complete and also shows the planned design. Survey link: http://project-gc.com/Survey/371595

Anyone who answers the survey before the end of the week and has an active paid membership with Project-GC will get an additional three days of memberhip time added to their account.

Other tangible items

We are also looking into setting up a shop and having trackables created. No promises yet though. Regardless, it's not very likely to go live this year.

New backend code

We know that we have been very quiet for a long time now. We have been working on new backend code for the site, which will make the interaction between Project-GC and Geocaching.com much faster. Not only faster, but it will also reduce the server load in both ends. This has taken a lot of time and we have also introduced a few new issues that have affected some users. We believe that we have corrected every new issue and their after effects very fast though.

These changes are just the start of a very interesting future. We hope that we will be able to reveal more of our plans soon.

Challenge checkers

There is no excuse for us to not have made an announcement about this yet. As most of you know, the moratorium for challenge caches has been lifted. With the new guidelines one of the new requirements is that all new challenge caches must have an online challenge checker. Project-GC is this far the only approved site for this purpose. This has been a huge step for us and hopefully much appreciated by the community. There has been ~800 new challenge caches published with the new system, all of them having a challenge checker at Project-GC.

For more information, please see the Challenge checker Help page and the related section in the FAQ. You can also read the Geocaching HQ Help center article.

Related to the challenge checkers we have also more than doubled the CPU resources for manual runs of challenge checkers. Checkers that were too slow before should now have a good chance to finish.

Did you know that for our paying members the challenge checkers are automatically run in the background? You can then see directly on our maps if you fulfill the challenge or not.

Polygon data

In each of the last news letters we have posted for which countries we have updated the country data. There has been a few updates since last time as well, and we'll try to list them all here.

  • Colombia, added region data. County data is not yet complete in OSM
  • Sweden, the island "Blå Jungfrun" now belongs to the correct region.
  • USA, updated the polygons from the 2013 edition to 2016. Three counties were renamed.
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Iceland
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom