For the last three years, I have been one of the organizers of the SQL Saturday Madison event. My niche for volunteer tasks is around the use of technology at the event to help with registration check-in and help increase audience participation in the event. We did a few things different this year, some by choice and others by necessity. Here’s some info about what we did and the choices we had to make.
- Changes to registration computer network configuration. The venue we had used for this event in the earlier two years was already booked and not available to us, so we used a new space. The new space meant a new network and new networking policies that would affect how anything we might do would work. The previous venue had very open networking policies (almost none that we could see), and the new venue had very controlled policies.
- Computers that were on directly on their network couldn’t talk to each other in a peer-to-peer style (probably blocked at the switch), which made sharing a printer or files between workstations impossible. We’ve counted on this at the earlier events, so this caused a bit of a scramble day-of. We ended up networking all computers over my AT&T hotspot, which didn’t block any ports between clients. This worked for a while, then a side effect of “B” below made things break down in an exciting new way.
- No public WiFi. We were aware of this from the start and were ok with it. However, the large number of people milling in near my hotspot around the registration desk during the peak of registration, as well as the high number of people spinning up their own hotspots at that time, caused the workstations to no longer be able to connect to my hotspot, and also not be able to connect to each other to use the shared printer. The registration team started to just collect names of any attendees that didn’t have SpeedPass materials already printed so that they could pick up the information later.
- Lack of or delayed delivery of one-time use WiFi passwords. I’m not even sure they are one-time use or not, as some people seemed to have success using them multiple times. When we needed to connect the workstations to the WiFi directly to be able to print using a different directly connected PC, we didn’t immediately have a WiFi password for that machine. We didn’t have enough one-time use passwords for every machines that needed them. We weren’t even exactly sure how they were supposed to work, as I saw that some were absolutely working more than once, while others didn’t even seem to work past the first time they were used.
- Next year, we will have a solution that links two small portable configurable router/access point devices together with a switch so that only one network MAC access (and account) is used by the first device configured as a router, workstations will be connected to each other via wired connections on a subnet that is NAT’d away from the corporate network, and the 2nd device will be an access point for wireless access onto the same subnet used for the wired devices. This is actually a setup that I’ve been thinking about putting together for some time to support a network in hotel rooms when I travel that will allow me to use Chromecast while I travel. #reuse
- We displayed a twitter feed for the event on a conference room wall using tweetwally. This was the best free tool I was able to find that didn’t need a lot of setup, configuration, or begging for free services. Another interesting one was Visible Tweets, but this didn’t seem to refresh often enough to have the effect we wanted – a 5 hour old tweet is interesting to see in a pretty interface, but not when the live stream of the event’s hashtag from the last 5 minutes is really much more captivating.
- We posted a few polls using Poll Everywhere. The overall usage of the polls was lower than I had hoped, but I think that this could be fun if polling slides were integrated into the “default” PowerPoint deck we send to presenters to build their presentation on. Our most successful poll was the one that asked people to share the city that they traveled from. I think if we wanted this to be successful in the future, we should consider doing some polls as part of the ramp-up to the event itself so that people get used to the interface. Later in the day I started to share the polls out on Twitter to encourage participation, and I would’ve done that sooner had I thought of it.