[eDebate] Response to Jim Hanson - Technology Tubs, etc.

James Maritato james.maritato
Tue Jul 22 15:13:06 CDT 2008


Jim,
     I get the merits of the organizational/presentation elements of the
software you're working on - so no intended disrespect on what I expect will
be a pretty cool end result :-).

     In regards to ad-hoc traffic, I think it's difficult to make the
determination about how Ad-Hoc traffic will create disruption without the
context of the site in mind.  Granted, at Whitman, the awesome power of
institutionally funded Cisco routers probably handle this issue just fine --
but what about those random round robins that happen in hotels where the
wireless network is literally running off a series of daisy chained linksys
routers and repeaters - or any of the others that I've taken the liberty to
log in to with the default user name and password available on the
manufacturer's webpage?  I don't think the concept is bad inherently, but I
think the problem here is not knowing where the system will be used.  The
system can be designed and work at Whitman, but such a system can't
necessarily account for the WiFi infrastructure at other locations.  At
Marist, for instance, our WiFi tends to range from awesome to abysmal,
dependent on your location in buildings and the location of other equipment.

   A few years ago I did a home networking install for a client and set up
each of the household computers with wireless access to print and file
servers for family photos, music, movies, etc.  About a year later the
client called me and told me that within the last week everything stopped
working -- print jobs would fail, WiFi access points would disappear, etc.
It took me a while to figure out what had changed.  The client had gone out
and replaced all of her telephones in the house with brand new cordless 2.4
GHz Panasonic phones.  Each time the phones would poll their base station,
the wireless router would become flooded with traffic and subsequently
reset.

   Now I recognize this story is decontextual from debate, or colleges, and
involves home-user intended hardware -- but the moral of the story I learned
from a week of tracking down the problem was that WiFi is still
unpredictable.  The Wireless N standard, for instance, is not even a
standard -- it's a proposed standard upon which different manufacturers have
added their own functionality.  The same can be said for many of the early
802.11 G cards still circulating in laptops that have never had their
firmware upgraded.  The big problem here is that it takes several years for
these standards to actually become standardized, by which time the industry
has moved on to developing a new standard.

  So again, I understand why debaters would want an organizational system
that's easy to use and share with others -- but I'm not inherently sure why
that system should be WiFi based via AdHoc networks.  At that point, you're
also asking me to take down my firewalls and give you intimate access to my
machine (and if you are running any version of Windows with enough savvy I
can have everything on your hard drive).  Each of our machines must be
running in both client and server mode (because your set up describes no
intermediary server), etc.  I'm not saying this sort of set up doesn't work
in a standardized environment - but at a debate tournament you are likely to
run into any of the following things:

1.  Operating Systems:  Microsoft Windows - in at least 5 Varieties -- XP
Home Service packs 1-3, XP Professional Service Packs 1-3, Vista (Home, Home
Premium, Business, Ultimate), Vista SP1 (Home, Home Premium, Business,
Ultimate), Windows 2000 (in some cases) SP 1-4.  Mind you, each of these
talks to its fellow brethren in different ways, especially when setting up
AdHoc networks.  Each also has different capabilities for shared folder
functionality, etc. (ie.  Windows Home versions come with Simple File
Sharing enabled, while Professional does not offer the option.  Vista Home
is incapable of accepting or creating too many connections as its networking
stack has been crippled to force business users to pay for the more
expensive version, etc.)  Now also add in the Mac users and the random Linux
debater.

2.  Varying levels of firewall settings and third-party security software.
In a collegiate environment, IT loads standard builds that have been tested
for compatibility.  Firewall settings are maintained from centralized
locations, or provided through hardware solutions.  Just because we are all
running Windows does not mean someone in the debate isn't also running
ZoneAlarm or some other firewall program that is going to block that AdHoc
connection.

3.  Varying levels of user competence.  This is self explanatory.

4.  Malware.  At the point that there's an Ad-Hoc connection established
between two windows computers it is very easy for malware designed to jump
between machines via Windows File Sharing to make the leap.  There is no
intermediary router - just a few machines connected in a one-to-many
fashion.  Ad-Hoc networks are like running around in Siberia with no clothes
on.  You only establish them with other clients whose security you trust.

5.  Collision.  Ad-Hoc networks are notorious for packet collision because
all of the nodes on the network are actively competing with one another for
access to the network medium (in this case, the 802.11 band).  This is why
wireless access points and routers are important -- they manage the flow of
packets to eliminate collision.  Thus Ad-Hoc networks are spottier, slower,
and less reliable than other WiFi configurations.

Given all these issues, I am still left hard pressed to understand how
dealing with this issues in a debate round could be any faster than passing
a jump drive.  Jim, I am not suggesting you change your project, but if the
big benefit here is loading the content pre-round and having it organized,
why couldn't this be done through a Java application (which would be
platform independent) that loaded the content from jumpdrives or DVD-R
before the round?  What is more inconvenient -- passing the jumpdrive before
the judge arrives, or trying to configure Ad-Hoc connections between four
different computers while determining why this Dell laptop won't talk to
that HP laptop because their drivers are old and don't conform to standards,
or trying to figure out why we each need to connect to each other one at a
time to move the files?  Doesn't this take just as long as passing the jump
drive, but create even more convolution for someone who lacks the technical
savvy?

Again, no disrespect towards your efforts, I just sort of feel like this
discussion of technology might over emphasize the need for "big tech" when
some of these problems can be solved in the short term.  The lack of WiFi
based debate software shouldn't be a reason for people to continue trying to
travel all those tubs.  There are workarounds available.

And thanks for the OCR tips -- I've been using this set up with our business
class HP Scanner/Printer/Fax, but I have been sadly disappointed with its
ability to OCR without the extra time taken to proofread and fix what the
computer simply can't read (for instance - debater markup in books!) :-)

Jimbo
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