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

Jim Hanson hansonjb
Tue Jul 22 16:01:12 CDT 2008


all legit issues. this area is not my expertise; I have discussed these issues generally with our tech people and will further including going through what you have written here.

the one part I will respond to is the passing of the files and setting up a system to deal with that. our debaters have been very adamant that they want the files to be passed during the speech in a way that approximates how paper files gets passed currently. the files they put together for a speech get created during prep time--a tough, time crunched period, something that cannot happen before the round starts (only the 1ac and 1nc could do that and even the 1nc would be somewhat in doubt). so any solution that followed along these lines would need to be able to share these files after they got prepared and pretty much immediately after they got presented during a speech.

jim :)
hansonjb at whitman.edu


From: James Maritato 
Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 1:13 PM
To: edebate at ndtceda.com 
Subject: [eDebate] Response to Jim Hanson - Technology Tubs, etc.


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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