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Author Topic: Future of STA (SMART Tournament Administrator)  (Read 883 times)
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Posts: 477

« on: July 25, 2017, 03:03:25 PM »

Future of STA (Smart Tournament Administrator).  As we enter a new debate season, I want to make members of all of the academic debate communities aware of anticipated changes with STA.  STA is celebrating its 32nd birthday this year and has been used during that time at many of the most significant tournaments in policy and parliamentary debate (NDT, CEDA Nats, NPDA, NPTE, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Kentucky, Gonzaga and many others).  But particularly in its current version (embedded in MS Excel), I have not made any attempts for the past 15 years to distribute the software to others.  There are three principal reasons for this.  The first is that I committed to support other collaborative efforts to develop a common platform for collegiate debate tournaments.  Most notably, I worked with Jon Bruschke and then Chris Palmer to help develop pairing and judge assignment algorithms embedded in CAT, CAT2 and then tabroom.  But Iíve always been willing to share my code and algorithms with any programmer who wants to engage in the daunting task of developing the ďnext and best thing.Ē  The second reason Iíve been reticent to distribute code has been the worry about losing oneís weekends entirely to the inevitable support calls and the angst regarding being held responsible for a tournament crashing whether it was the softwareís fault or not.  Finally, distributing the code requires the development of effective instruction manuals and support tools.  No software can be so intuitive that it doesnít require instructions or training.  As a result, the word on the street is that STA is too hard to use, though I suspect it is actually easier than the alternatives.  But Iíve never created instructions for the Excel version of STA and only worked with a couple of brave souls in NPDA who actually use it successfully without training or instructions.

Quite a few of you are familiar with my questions over the past few years as to whether I should continue to support tournament management software or whether I should tell folks to go all in on some other alternative.  Over the last six months several have encouraged me to expand my efforts, both in my personal support of tournaments and in making my software available and providing the tools for others to use it.  Iíve decided to take that fateful step.  But before I take the steps necessary in the next month to write an online manual and create necessary training and support tools, Iíd like indications from the debate community that it is a worthwhile venture and that folks would try to use STA if I provided sufficient training and support.  I should note that I remain committed to provide full interoperability with tabroom and any other platform that might be developed for tournament entries, communications and aggregation of results.  You can backchannel me to indicate your interest or to ask any questions that you might have about the initiative.  If things develop in that direction, I would probably try to schedule some form of in-person orientation and training associated either with the Wake tournament and/or NCA.

So why now and why STA?  I actually believe that during the 30+ years of STA development that it has probably been the most robust, stable and full-featured tournament management package during that entire period of time.  We are all certainly indebted to Rich and Jon and Chris and others who have developed excellent systems and have endeavored to make them available to the entire community.  So Iím not dissing those efforts.  But at the same time, most of the innovations in tournament management at the college level have started as STA initiatives (automated pairing and judge assignment, 9-category MPJ, ordinal MPJ, SOP pairing, z-score and 2nd order z-score, email balloting and many others).  Perhaps more critically, I remain committed to the proposition that we need to be able to support both online tournament management functions and the ability to run offline in case of a server or system failure.  Server failures remain inevitable even with strong redundancy and rarely come at convenient times.  STA has the advantage of synching with tabroom (and others) online but being able to run when the server is down and even if the internet is down.  STA is exceptionally portable, with the full software package embedded in an xlsm file that can be saved in multiple copies and run on multiple devices with very low overhead.  Last yearís NDT file at the end of the tournament was 1.27MB, containing all of the code and all of the tournament information in one place.

I believe that it is even more important that we continue to support choice and innovation.  So I continue to support Palmerís efforts and the efforts of others who have written excellent tournament management software.  It will be even more critical that the next generation of programmers take up the task.  From a personal point of view, I still worry about the support burden that distributing software will entail but am considering strategies to deal with that issue.  I also take everyone elseís success very seriously so I donít quickly want to assume the angst while I wait for important events to be completed successfully.  But as I approach retirement, I actually have more time and more energy to commit to this task.  Iíve long since disabused myself of the notion that I would get wealthy off of STA but itís still a great hobby and keeps me engaged with some remarkable people.
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