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 Zocha Jam 2008 and router gremlins (part I)

I'm occasionally an educator by profession and have invested a great deal of time into the theory of education. Good methods to learn include observing other's good examples, by a probing inquisitive nature or being presented with carefully crafted, engaging lessons. While that may be an ideal, personally my life's lessons learned tend more towards the genre of learning not to touch the hot stove by actually touching the hot stove and burning my fingers. With that said I learned a lot in Poland.

You see as part of the club (FC Footstar) which is hosting the next world footbag championships I volunteered to oversee the technical side of the event. By and large my role is not to break any new ground, rather just to see what's available and that the right people have what they need to do their jobs. However after being a judge for many years and seeing hundreds if not thousands of poorly organized, illegible, hand written judging sheets I decided something had to be done. So I've been developing a computer based judging system. In brief, there is a minimal server which runs on one computer, then each judge just need a laptop with a web browser. It's designed to be simple, easy to maintain, robust and work with a variety of hardware.

I wanted to test it out well before world's and Ners was kind enough to let me give it a try at Zocha Jam. More than a week before I left we did a beta test in Berlin using Linux, Windows and Mac laptops and even an iPhone. There was an initial problem trying to run the server on a 10 year old laptop but then we tried it on a modern Macbook and everything went perfectly. Everyone was impressed and very supportive of what I was doing. At that point I was really looking forward to Zocha, and not just because of the software test.
Lesson #1: when testing anything focus on what went wrong rather than what went right

What follows is as close as I can approximate to a chronological retelling of how everything went wrong. The first (actually second) thing that went wrong happened before I even left. Somehow, even though I'd been to Wroclaw before I got it in my head that the website said Warsaw and bought the wrong ticket. Fortunately I figured that out the next day and was able to change my ticket. Even after paying around 5 euros of "idiot tax" I ended up getting money back. (Ironically after this trip I now have a standing invitation to visit Warsaw).

As it turns out the first thing that went wrong was that all of the organizers, save Ners, bailed. Ners, valiant soul that he is, did everything. He designed the logo, laid out the fliers, had them printed, organized the location, sound system, DJ, player accomodations, everything. So thanks Ners. What this meant to me was that although I arrived on Friday, the day before the tournament, so that we could set up early and make sure everything worked on their hardware, the hardware wasn't there and we had no time anyway.

That night I stayed at the accomodation with the Czechs. We ordered pizza (which never came) then gave up and wandered to the center for a kebab. I then chose my sleeping spot poorly and spent the whole night trying to slow the formation of ice crystals in my feet. The next morning Ners picked me up and instead of heading directly to the gym we made a detour to his house. It turns out the person who was going to bring a wireless router didn't actually know what a router was, "fortunately" Ners had a spare buried somewhere in his house. Hereafter I will refer to this router as "the bain of my existence."

The tournament was supposed to start at 11, at 10:40 we finally had all the computers there.
Lesson #2: Never wait to the morning of the tournament to set something up for the first time

Only one laptop could connect, two of the computers couldn't find a wireless signal at all. We found cables. We fought with "the bain of my existence" for half and hour, reset the beast and fought some more. Finally after and hour we got everyone to connect, fired up the server and ... and ... and a lot of waiting, it took over a min. to load the start page. I fought with the router settings for another 20 min. and finally had to concede defeat. The Polish router gremlins had beat me.
Lesson #3: Limit your variables
Lesson #3a: I should have brought my own fucking router

As it turns out the failure of my judging system had minimal impact on the actual tournament. This is because A. they couldn't get the projector which was going show the live scores working and B. the DJ was sick and the replacement turned out to be an incompetent asshole. An hour after I admitted defeat they were still trying to get the sound system working. And then things really started to go wrong.

Every so often the sound system would just cut out with a horrendous blast of sound like a nuclear bomb (Around 1 pm I put in earplugs). At least two players had to stop their routines mid way and restart. Even when it worked the sound quality was crap.

There was no food or water on site save what you could buy from the bar.

Ners had an oral contract with the site, but had spoken with the wrong person so that he had to pay more, we got kicked out early Saturday and only had 4 hours Sunday.

Because the sound system was crap no one heard the announcement and when we showed up Sunday the lobby was packed full of players (including one judge who showed up almost an hour late, but due to aforementioned confusion ended up being early).

And finally the company from which the medals had been ordered lost the order. Lesson #4: Trying is the first step towards failure.

So much for part one, to read about the actual footbag, go here.

Comments (19) | Posted by Andrew on 2008-12-13 12:28:51

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