Monday, September 21, 2015

Software Process - An Idea In Practice

  In July I wrote about the process of giving users the ability to sign up for my tournaments using my website. My first tournament using the self sign up process was on Saturday. There were 52 participants in the tournament with 31 signing up via the website and four more that I set up myself via the website.

  The self sign up option was available in July but I formally announced the option in my tournament email of September 5th. I had a few parents create accounts and add their children but weren’t able to sign them up for the tournaments. I looked into the issue and found out that the company that hosts my site ( ends user sessions after five minutes of inactivity. Since I store the login information in session variables, when the GoDaddy web server ends the user session my website won’t know who is logged in and doesn’t know who to display when the signup link is clicked or just won’t show the signup link on the tournament page. This meant that anyone spending five minutes reading the tournament announcement or browsing on another tab or being distracted in some other way would have their session ended and get an error when they tried to sign up for the tournament.

  I think five minutes is an awfully short time for a session to be terminated but it’s not my world –I just live in it. To combat this problem I built in a ‘your session has ended’ page and a timer to route the user to it after five minutes of inactivity. That solved most of the issues with the only remaining problem being that I don't have a message on the ‘session has ended page’ to remind the user that they’d have to log in again.

  A couple of people wrote to ask why they couldn’t see the sign up link and were able to register soon after I wrote back to tell them about the ‘not logged in’ problem. Most users were able to set up an account, add their children, and sign up for the tournament without any help from me. When people emailed me to sign their children up for the tournament, I politely but firmly asked that they attempt to use the self sign up option on my website. If anyone was offended they didn’t say so and at the tournament I got a lot of positive comments about how easy the sign up process was.

  As for me, adding the self sign up option made my job as tournament organizer way easier. During the week of past tournaments I'd have a bunch of emails to both of my primary email addresses from parents registering their children. Many of these emails wouldn't say what section (rated) or which sessions (morning or afternoon) so I'd have to send an email asking and wait for a reply to enter the players in my tournament software. It was time consuming and the chance for error good. This past week was completely different. Whenever someone signed up for a tournament my website sent me an email telling who was signed up and the session and section they were signed up for. Each night after work I’d check the emails from my website to see if anyone signed up and put them in the tournament software if they did. I didn’t have to worry about any missed emails – I just went to the website and crosschecked my tournament software’s player list with the tournament signup list. If the counts were off I knew I missed an email – otherwise I was good to go.

  There were a couple of problems. I had some people sign up online and then not show up. This happens at every tournament although I think it is easier to forget when signing up online by clicking a mouse instead of taking the time to send an email. The other problem was that some parents put their children in both the rated and unrated section. It wasn’t a big deal but I had to remember to find out which section the player was in before the tournament started.

  These small problems were outweighed by the benefits. I already outlined how it made it easy for me to keep track of the signups. I don’t know if the ability to see who has signed up helped attract more players. I do know that it helps with the Okoboji Open and I believe it will help attract players once more parents are aware of the feature. The day after the tournament I was able to easily assemble an email list to let the parents know where they could find the cross tables and pictures because I had the email addresses of everyone who used the self sign up option at my fingertips using an SQL query.

  The tournament itself was quite successful from a participation standard with the most players I’ve ever had for a September tournament. From the sporting perspective the tournament was awesome. The kids had a great time playing, there were enough players for the rated sections in both the morning and afternoon, the parents were happy to have my tournaments back after taking the summer off, my energy level was high, and my students all showed improvement. Most chess games have a winner and a loser and there is nothing that can make a group of chess playing kids uncomfortable like having a sore loser that starts crying or accuses their opponent of cheating or pulls some stunts like making illegal moves or knocking the pieces off the board. There was none of that on Saturday.

  In the last game of the tournament Nate from St. Francis was playing Meg (a girl from another parochial school). Both players had two points out of four which meant there were no prizes on the line, just bragging rights. The St. Francis player was down two pawns in a desperate situation when he set up and uncorked a beauty of a move.

Nate was white and played d7!! Not only does the pawn move allow a check from the ninja bishop on b4 which prevents the bishop from capturing it, it covers the e8 square and prevents the king from stopping the pawn from becoming a queen next move. If I could pull off a move like this in one of my games I'd never stop writing about it!

  Because this was the last game going there was a crowd of kids hanging around watching when Nate played his killer move. With the crowd and the tension I would have understood if Meg had gotten upset as she realized there was no way she could stop the pawn but she just smiled, shook Nate’s hand, and congratulated him on a good game. It was an example of how having a great group of kids and parents make for a fun tournament where everyone is playing games of chess instead of a day where there are winners and losers and competition is king.

  Adding the self sign up feature to my software didn’t all of a sudden imbue the participants with a ‘good sport gene’ but it made my job as the organizer a lot easier which helped free my mind to give more thought to how to dial down the competition aspect and make the tournaments more fun. Enough parents found it easy to use which makes me think my design was more right than wrong. My next project on the www.centraliowachess.comwebsite is to redesign it suing a new toolkit that will make the website adjust its display from a smartphone to a desktop browser while providing an easy to use interface. I’ve finished all the pieces except the self-sign up part and expect to be finished the next time I have a vacation.

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