May You Live in Interesting Times: Coda

Joe sent along an appropriate little graphic that I just couldn’t resist for commemorating the Portland NAC:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1IMM5XOwaM

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May You LIve in Interesting Times, Part 4

Sunday and Monday both ran fairly smoothly.

Much as I hate to see anyone need to take a medical withdrawal, it was nice that one happened on Sunday—it allowed us to verify that Dan’s overnight fix had corrected the bug from Saturday.

Sunday also gave us another example of the advantages of separately posting pool results and tableau. Someone in the Division I Women’s Saber event (why, I wonder, were most of the problems in Portland in saber?) came to us, wondering why it appeared that 83 fencers were promoted to DEs when the format sheet said that only 77 would be promoted. That’s how we caught that operator error, where the DE round was set to the default 80% promotion rate instead of the 75% it should have been. A quick and easy fix, but one we don’t want to have to do at SN.

The most remarkable part of Monday was that I was able to start releasing strips to the armorers for teardown by about 1:30 pm. It used to be routine for teardown to begin (or for the fencing to end) that early, but it’s been years since that was possible. Our strip layout was odd and awkward for a number of reasons (the armorers even stashed some replacement equipment under the BC stage so that it would be more accessible than it was from their armory in the far corner), but it was a great layout for teardown. The first section released (pods A–E) was far enough from where the fencing continued that the teardown process was barely noticeable, and by the time I released the back section (pods H–K), fencing was down to only the replay pod (G) and the finals strip.

Our 3D Tetris is easier than it was when this photo was taken in March 2011.

We’re getting better at packing up the BC crate, too. We paged some armorers to help get the server case into the crate—it’s astonishing how much easier it is for six people than just three to lift that sucker over the side of the crate. And once we got the server into the crate, the 3-dimensional game of Tetris that is making all our bins and boxes fit went much more quickly and easily than in the past. After congratulating ourselves on our cleverness, we realized that the improvement was mostly due to the reduction in the number of boxes from registration that we had to include—apparently, J.R. and Joe [Sibley—known familiarly among BC types as “Office Joe” to distinguish him from our Joe Salisbury, aka Coffee-Joe] had pared what they ship from one event to the next.

Joe sent me the stats for the live results over the weekend. We had a bit under 7,000 unique visitors, who each averaged 2.46 visits. Joe had set the server bandwidth to his normal default, and both he and Dan and a couple of other tech geeks reacted to the “bandwidth exceeded” message that popped up on Saturday with “Cool!” Joe says we used in a day and a half what is usually a full month’s usage for most of his clients. He bumped up the capacity an order of magnitude or so, so there were no further bandwidth issues.

But we’ve definitely got a hit with the live results.

Update [1/21/12, 10:43 pm]: Joe (that would be Salisbury) suggests I should have mentioned—because it was such a nice big number—that the total  page views on the results site as of the morning of January 18 was 105,794, and that there were visitors from more than 60 countries. He’s right—I should have.

May You Live in Interesting Times, Part 3

The Foucault pendulum in the lobby of the Oregon Convention Center.

The Foucault pendulum in the lobby of the Oregon Convention Center is one of the prettiest I've ever seen, but I never did figure out how the disks reset through the day.

Saturday turned out to be just as interesting as Friday was.

We began to be more comfortable with the new look of all the paper we were working with. FT is flexible about how you can print everything—we can have pods and/or quadrants and/or page numbers and/or table brackets and/or a unique bout ID number with or without an accompanying barcode on the DE bout slips. We experimented a bit with the placement of all these items to get the most helpful combination, so that everyone could use whichever bit worked best for them.

XSeed’s unique identifier is the fencer number, derived from the alphabetical list of everyone entered in the entire tournament. It took most of a day for those of us working the table side to quit having to slap our hands to stop our automatic search back up the tableau to find that fencer number we no longer needed to worry about, and a bit longer not to feel like we were forgetting something by writing only the fencer’s name on the slip.

We discovered one advantage to FT’s use of the unique bout ID when someone inadvertently handed a stack of bout slips to the wrong computer operator, who didn’t notice that they weren’t for her event before she entered them. She scanned the barcodes, which pulled up the proper bouts in the proper event, and they were all entered properly into the correct event without her having to switch from the event she’d been working in. We just have to be careful that the bout slips all end up in the correct physical folders.

Another cool thing is that FT lets you print whatever range of the tableau you want. So if we’re stopping at the 16 to move to the replay pod, we can print the tableau only up to that point, and then print out a new one from the 16. This will be handy for SN—when BC table space is at a premium, we can switch to smaller tableaux as events fence down from their original four or eight pages.

During the turn of the Division I Men’s Saber, we discovered a fairly serious bug in FencingTime (which was also a perfect illustration of why we prefer to post the pool results and the DE tableau separately). James Williams came to the BC table to complain that even though he’d won all his pool bouts, his win percentage showed on the round results as .83. It turned out that there had been a medical withdrawal from the pool before it was completed, which means that all of that fencer’s bouts are thrown out. FT did that, but when it calculated the pool results, it still figured it was a pool of 7 instead of 6. Not only was James’s win percentage wrong, but so was that of everyone in the pool except the poor guy with no wins. Dan and Joe figured out a workaround for the problem, so we could continue the event—there was only about half an hour’s delay dealing with it—and Dan added it to the ever-lengthening to-do list in his FT notebook.

The bug didn’t seem to do James any damage, though—he went on to take the gold medal. (We BC folk aren’t supposed to play favorites, but since James started fencing at the same club my daughters did, I can’t help but be pleased when he does so well.)

Late night, unfortunately. As is usually the case, the concession food we could get with our vouchers wasn’t nearly as good as what we’d had for lunch.

May You Live in Interesting Times, Part 2

The hotel restaurant was almost ready for service by we arrived promptly at 6:00 am, so we got a relatively leisurely breakfast and didn’t need to rush to catch the train to the convention center. Tanya, Joe, and the BC computer morning crew set to work out at registration with the new FencingTime (henceforth to be referred to as FT) check-in module, to make sure they were familiar with it and that it worked properly before they began training local volunteers on it.

As I set up my own computer at the BC stage, a couple of A/V techs were just finishing setting up a speaker line for us, so we would be able to play the national anthem over the PA system. We’ve had an mp3 of the anthem on the tournament computers for years, but just holding the microphone to the computer’s speaker doesn’t work, so we’ve had to skip the anthem when there was no live singer. Inevitably, though, we never got to use the speaker line—the Portland local volunteers had arranged singers for every day of the tournament.

The folks out at registration discovered a small bug in FT— the first scan of the membership bar code brings up the fencer and a second scan checks the fencer in. Dan had apparently intended for the first scan to bring up the fencer name but had planned that the second step—checking the fencer in for that event—would be done with a mouse click on a screen checkbox. The double scan was far more convenient, so it was immediately reclassified as a feature.

The big advantage to the FT check-in function is that it’s a live check-in on the network, so that the current information is accessible from the computers within the venue. Once we reach close of registration, we don’t have to wait for the printed list of no-shows to be brought in from registration—we can print it directly right there at the stage. Even better, any club changes or other corrections made out at registration go directly into the database, so that we don’t have to wait for them to be entered into the computer before we can start the event.

Because of this new version of FT, though, we were all slower getting events started and running. The computer operators (even those who were familiar with earlier versions of FT) were working with unfamiliar screens, with a different order for setting event formats, and the printed pages looked different from what XSeed gave us. That’s one of the reasons January was picked for FT’s first full run—with only three events each day, any problems wouldn’t be likely to affect the overall schedule much, and we’d be able to adapt our work flow appropriately.

One major difference between XSeed and FT is that in XSeed, you set up the event format for all rounds at the beginning. FT asks you at the beginning of each round what the format for that round will be, which is great if you want the flexibility to suddenly opt for a second pool round or repechage or fencing out 16 to all places. For us, that’s an unnecessary opportunity for operator error—in a tournament like January’s, where the Division I events have a 75% promotion rate from the pools instead of the more common 80%, it’s all too easy for the computer operator to simply hit the default selection. It would not be (and was not, in fact, when it happened) a big problem in Portland, but could be disastrous at SN or one of the NACs with multiple age-levels of Veteran or Youth events. So Joe’s asked Dan for a configuration function, with which the computer lead could set all the formats in advance.

Another FT change from XSeed, which required us to change our process, is the ability to include the strip assignments on all the sheets we print. So instead of printing out all the pool sheets and then writing the strip numbers by hand, we give the strip assignments to the computer operator before printing. The only trick with this is, in events with lots of pools of 6 and 7, to be sure to distribute the uneven pools among the available strips so that the 7s have the option of double-stripping on adjacent strips once the 6s are finished.

So eventually—in better-than-average time—the pools went out, the pools came back, the DEs went out, the afternoon event started—and then we got to the really fun part of the day. We’d already had quite a few people come tell us how much more legible they thought the FT printouts were, but we hadn’t yet made public the next logical step.

Joe had created a QR code and sent it to me a couple of weeks earlier, and my immediate reaction was that we should tell people about what was coming right then. Calmer heads prevailed, though, with the idea that we should make sure it all worked right before we went public. So I’d satisfied myself with making the signs to post as soon as we were ready, and once in Portland waited all through Friday morning for Joe to give the word.

Once we were well into DEs and knew all the rounds were functioning the way they were supposed to, Joe gave the OK, and I grabbed the signs I’d copied the day before and posted them on the bulletin boards and around the BC table.

The QR code for USFencingResults.com

Finally!

Once the signs were posted, I sat and watched to see how people reacted to LIVE RESULTS! at a USA Fencing national tournament.

The reaction didn’t take long. Tanya even received three or four approving emails within the first few minutes after we went public.  We got positive responses all weekend, of course, and though it was difficult to tell because the venue was one of those rooms that never seemed crowded even when it was full, it looked as though a substantial percentage of fencers had realized they could find their strip assignments using their smartphones, so the bulletin boards never seemed quite as jammed as in the past. A few coaches and parents joked that it just wasn’t right that their at-home spouse knew how their kids placed before they did.

There was that one guy, though, who looked at the sign on the bulletin board, took out his iPhone, and proceeded to take pictures of the posted sheets. But we took pity and showed him he could find much more information without using the camera at all.