Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apparently sometimes nothing is better than something


The turney is over and I'm getting back to my normal routine. On 13-14-15 February we organized the first International Chess Tournament of Vigevano, with 120 players from all over the world including 8 GMs.
The turney itself was ok, except for the usual delay at the first round everything went smoothly and as an arbiter I had to tell something just in a few occasions...

From a software point of view instead most worked ok, including a few patches I made in the few minutes I found. Unfortunately the first round - because of the delay - started when I wasn't ready yet so I had to start the DGT boards when the games were already started, so I decided to just show on the big screens the positions and not the moves; for the other rounds instead the play zone screens were showing both the positions, moves and clocks.
We also found one of the DGT clocks to be defective (it wasn't sensing the clock button that players are required to press at every move) so the 5th board was shown without players remaining time.

A the tournament I was also asked if what was visible on the screens could have been published also on the web. I wasn't expecting this and hacking it at the moment has been a bad decision for a few reasons
  • What was shown on the big screens was indeed an HTML page but I tested it only on FireFox and actually I even used a few images for figurine notation that were rescaled exactly so they could look right at the resolution/magnification I was using on the big screens. I didn't try it at all with any other browser or any other resolution.
    Of course it turns out that a self-refreshing HTML page is absolutely terrible on IE because of flashing and because it loses the scroll position (ok... IE - no matter if 5 6 or 7 - is a total crap as a browser for a jillion reasons, but still a lot of internet users for some strange reason stick to it, so anthing published on the internet - unfortunately - should be made to work also with that thing). Also someone using XP was still unable to see the small PNG i used for the figurine notation and was instead seeing just black squares (!).

  • I simply added an "os.system('pscp postion.html ....');" line to put the updated file on a web server, but I was directly replacing the file being served by apache. The file was rather "big" (35k) so the upload was not instantaneous and what happened is that who was observing the game from the internet could get an incomplete HTML file. An even bigger problem was that the if file was not even complete to the "http-equiv refresh" line then the partial - totally blank - file would stuck on the browser of the observer forever.
    I fixed this only the second day by uploading with pscp to another location and then calling a cgi script to move the file to the correct position.

  • The program I wrote was for showing the first 4 games in the playing area, not for publishing it on the internet, so a few "features" like figurines instead of letters were indeed "anti-features" for who was observing from a PC (with letters you could copy-n-paste in a chess program). Also the game shown was not complete for layout reasons and there was no provision for downloading the PGN of the game. Moreover it wasn't possible to go back and forth on the moves or to see just one board instead of all five of them.
All these things were nonsense for showing in the playing zone (in the room there was no reload problem ... the local file was correctly written and moved in place; and there's no mouse for who is looking at the screen so no interactive feature makes any sense at all) but made the experience for who was accessing that from the internet quite less than optimal.
What I realized only later after reading some comments was that it would have been better not showing anything at all on the internet...

So apparently sometimes nothing is better than something...

Now I'm working on a better flash-based interface for publishing the games online and hopefully I should be able to provide a better experience for viewers of the Bergamo tournament next month.

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