Monday, February 15, 2016

Matt Braddock: EE 5k Satellite, Baltimore

Today I have another guest post for you. Matt Braddock, L2 from Maryland, also moonlights as a scorekeeper for organizers in and around the Mid-Atlantic region. A few weeks ago, he traded his judge shirt for a staff one at an event organized by the folks at Tales of Adventure. The beginning of his event was full of printer challenges, and Matt's resourcefulness with technology was instrumental in finding a way to minimize the delays.


I recently worked an Eternal Extravaganza 5k Satellite event at the Baltimore Convention Center. Having acted as scorekeeper for this organizer more than once, I was anticipating bringing my laptop and having my own setup. The night before the event, I got a message asking if I could bring my own laptop: bonus points for prior experience!

I have my own checklist for items I need to bring with me, since the first event I worked I had forgotten my charger (and subsequently spent $70 at a Staples on the drive). Most of it is stuff I carry with me daily for teaching (laptop, Bluetooth mouse, mini mouse pad, charger, display adapter), but I also pack a few extra items for scorekeeping (mechanical keyboard and USB hub).

I arrived at the venue around 8:50 a.m. Players would start arriving around 9 a.m., and the player meeting was at 10 a.m. I immediately got everything hooked up, and because I know how fragile technology can be, decided to try out the printer. Now, this is the exact printer I used for a previous event with no problem. The computer recognized it, and the driver was installed previously, but it wouldn't print.

As I started to register players, I kept messing with the printer. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling device drivers and running troubleshooting prompts, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, it was almost 10 a.m., and there was no fix for the printer in sight. The organizer came over, who also has a background with computers, and we tried a few more things.

Eventually, around 10:15 a.m., we discovered that the problem was a USB 2.0 device being plugged into a USB 3.0 port. My Surface Pro 3 only has one USB slot, so there was no alternative. Even though this exact printer had worked with this exact computer months prior, an update to Windows 10 likely changed something that made it incompatible.

The organizer and I attempted to find an alternative for getting seatings and pairings out to start the event without a printer. First, I printed the seatings for the player meeting to a PDF and hosted it on Dropbox. Then, I used to create a custom short URL, which was distributed to judges. However, the Dropbox link made them open it in the app, which not everyone would have, so this wasn't going to work.

The organizer then tried to get the text from the PDF I had created into a text file to post on Pastebin; this ended up being fruitless, since the formatting was not very pretty. Then, he attempted to get it into an Excel spreadsheet, but again, the formatting didn't work.

Having now almost reached 10:30, I took back over and decided to convert the PDF to a PNG file (using GIMP), host it on, then make a custom short URL to distribute to the players. There was initial concern from the organizer with how images look on phones, but this option would only take me 90 seconds to complete and give the players something functional.

Being creative with the event name, I used "ee5kmeet" and "ee5kr1" for the custom short URLs, and the HJ read off the link to the players. We also ensured all judges could pull it up, and they spread out among the players to help them. In the meantime, the organizer sent an employee out to obtain a new printer, which, after Round 2 had started, I was able to set up wirelessly with very little fuss.

While there are benefits to newer technology, it can sometimes come with a price (incompatibility with older hardware and software). Being able to think outside the box with prior experience is an essential skill when technology does everything it can to stop you from doing your job.

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