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Contest Automation Software Setup

George Norris
IAC 23070 -- Chapter 69

 

    Efficient use of the Contest Automation software may require that different modules run on different computers and share/transfer data by floppy disk or LAN connection.  If a LAN is utilized, the data transfer can be less cumbersome, faster, and made essentially transparent to the user.  However, some thought must be put into how to organize the LAN and the configuration of the software.

Partitioning Software Modules across Computers  

    There are three major functional modules that can be installed: PreRegistration.XLS, Contest Ledger 2002.XLS, and Volunteer Log.XLS.  The Pre-registration module is designed to accept dedicated pilot/volunteer input, running on a lower powered computer.  As such, all copies of it run on separate machines, saving their data for the contest ledger on removable media (floppy disks) or shared folders across a LAN.  The remaining two modules can run on one or more machines, depending on need.  If pilot volume warrants, two or more copies of the contest ledger module can run on separate machines, minimizing wait times for registration.  The satellite ledgers export their data to the master ledger via *.CLS files, again either by removable media or shared LAN folders.  The volunteer log module can run on the same machine as the master contest ledger, if interference between the registrar and volunteer coordinator can be managed.  Both may be quite busy after registration when the registrar is setting orders of flight and the VC is making volunteer assignments.  Both require somewhat higher powered computers and the volunteer log requires Excel 2000 or later be installed.  The volunteer log gets its inputs from VolList.TXT (volunteers) and Ledger.BAK (orders of flight) files exported from the contest ledger.  If on the same computer, putting both programs in the same directory easily allows transfers of this data.  If on different computers, the transfers must be made by removable media or LAN connection.

LAN Setup

    If a LAN is available to connect the various workstations together, disk folders shared across the network are an easy and efficient way to share data files between the modules.  To simplify the setup, it is recommended that one computer provide a shared folder to the others. Since almost all of the imports or exports are directed to or from the Contest Ledger, it make sense that the computer running the master ledger provide the shared folder.  Also since all modules require a printer, either a print server on the LAN or a shared printer from the master ledger machine should be made available to the other machines.  Dialogs in the various program modules allow the registrar or VC to browse to the shared folder for subsequent data storage or retrieval.  The linked logical and physical diagrams shows how this might work both during and after registration.

    Some technical considerations must be made for setting up each computer to operate over the LAN system.  In general, a Windows Peer-to-Peer LAN is better than a Server-Client Domain for an itinerant network set up at a contest site.  For this to work, each computer on the network must select a workgroup identity (instead of a domain identity) and share a common workgroup name; selecting the Windows standard name "WORKGROUP" is a simple solution.  In order for a Windows machine to access shared folders located on a Win NT, Win 2000 or XP machine, they must present a valid user ID and password to the machine sharing the folder(s).  To accomplish this, set up a standard user account on each system with a common user name and password.  Then, when setting up the shared folder(s) (or printers), explicitly allow that common user to have full access to the shared directory.  If there is any concern about security, just make sure that the shared folder is at the end of a directory tree and only contains copies of any critical files.  To access the folder, it must have a name unique to the network and must be compatible with any system to connect to it.  Keep the folder name unique (e.g., "Shared_Folder" is a bad choice) and less than 16 characters without blanks or special characters (underlines "_" are OK).  One technique is to append or prepend the unique Windows computer name to the folder name (i.e., "MyPC_Shared").  Use of a Hub, Switch, or Router with DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) built-in simplifies the network setup.  When setting up each computer's network connections, select TCP/IP as the routing protocol with "Obtain an IP address automatically" selected.  Check also that under "Advanced" properties for TCP/IP under WINS, that "Enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP" is selected.  This allows the router to supply the required IP addresses to any computer you plug in and lets each machine broadcast what resources (folders or printers) it is sharing over the TCP/IP connection.  Putting a shared printer on a router print server (if available) is also recommended. It requires you to install a Windows driver to create a local port to access the printer (this uses a special "local port" instead of the more obvious "network printer port" when setting up the printer on each machine), but insures that no one machine can affect printing over the network (there may be some throughput overhead in this configuration). Also check that you have "Client for Microsoft Networks" and "File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks" installed in addition "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)" under Network Connections Properties.

Checklist

For each computer:

  • Under "Network Identity" -- select Workgroup with name "WORKGROUP" and unique computer name (less than 16 characters)
  • Under "Users and Passwords" -- create common user name and password selected for the contest, type should be "Restricted User" if available
  • Under "Network Connections" -- select "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)" connection with "Obtain IP address automatically" and "NetBIOS over TCP/IP" enabled, be sure that "Client for Microsoft Networks" and "File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks" are also installed
  • Under "Printers" -- select the local port created when you ran the Router Print Server installation program, note that you'll need the default IP address of the Router/DCHP server (normally 192.168.XXX.1 or 192.168.XXX.254, where XXX depends on the specific router) when initially setting up the port.

For a computer providing the shared folder:

  • Create a special shared folder at the end of a directory tree (create the folder and then select "Sharing" under "Properties")
  • The folder name should have 15 characters or less, including "_" or "-" (but no other characters)
  • The folder name must be unique across all computers in the workgroup; appending the computer name may help insure this
  • Under "Properties" "Sharing" "Permissions", you can give "Everyone" "Full" permissions (least secure) or just "Change" & "Read" permissions to the standard contest user account which you created earlier (most secure).

For a computer accessing the shared folder:

  • Log in with the standard contest user name and password
  • From the Desktop or Explorer, browse to the "My Network Places" "Machines Near Me" or "My Network Places" "Entire Network" "Microsoft Network" and locate & double-click the name of the computer sharing the folder.
  • The name of the shared folder should then appear along with any others and shared printers.  Select the name, right click, and select "Map Network Drive"
  • The resulting window will suggest a drive letter, such as "E:"; accept this and close the window.
  • When running the contest programs and reading or saving shared data, select that drive letter when a file window pops up in the program (of course, the machine providing the share can access the folder directly from its own file directory).