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The Other Project

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Our club was one of those typical clubs with a “legacy” (legacy is actually spelled “A” “R” “C” “H” “A” “I” “C”) judging system – you know – one of those where each judge needs to press 1 of 5 buttons to light up a sequence of red LEDs and the score keeper needs to count the number of LEDs to work out the score.

It worked fine, except for the fact that the buttons’ contacts wear out, and some of them lost their knobs (to be fair, one cannot expect these small buttons to last more than 25 years)…

Some time ago I decided that we need to move to the real digital era (using LEDs does not make you at the forefront of the digital era). I sat down and write up a specification of what I would like to have in the ideal judging system. I knew a person who is full time in the electronics business and convinced him to develop a system based on my specifications. Unfortunately, he had to continue his normal daytime job and this project dragged on for quite some time. At some point we did have a prototype but it could not do everything in my specification yet. Eventually he told me that he does not have the time to finish the project.

I was very disappointed and had to find an alternative. Over a cup of coffee a friend of mine - Jannie de Beer – convinced me that we could just as well do it ourselves. (Jannie is a sucker for a challenge!) The Other Project was born! (We named it The Other Project because both of us were quite involved in full time projects, The Other Project had to be done in between). JCU

Not only did Jannie do a good job in working out the electronics layout based on one of the latest PIC micro controllers, he also managed to outsource most of the work to the South African market leaders in the field (like BOSCO for the printed circuit boards), making sure that the system is based and developed to last a very long time.

The Other Project is a Judging Control System and Scoring Application to automate a typical club (or salon) photo judging event.

The main features of the system are as follows:
  • It consists of highly customisable custom built judging control units which fits nicely in your hand and mimics the feel of a typical computer game pad.
  • It connects to a PC via a USB 2 interface using standard mini-USB cables.
  • It implements the industry standard HID (Human Interface Device) USB protocol which means that it does not require any special software driver to communicate with the PC.
  • After long debates (and discussions with fellow judges to get their opinion) we decided to go with a USB interface for the following reasons:
    • All the current wireless judging control units have the tendency to communicate with the control system using a single communication port, with the result that button presses are not always recognised by the control unit when more than one judge press the buttons concurrently (leaving very frustrated judges).
    • Trying to work out a wireless interface protocol that does not have the single point of failure as described above, would be too involved to get to market in a very short period of time.
  • Each unit consumes less than 100ma to allow for 5 units to work on one USB port within the 500ma USB specification, without the need for an external power source.
  • The system is configurable to allow each judge to have a score range between 1 and 99.
  • On the PC side, we developed a scoring and viewing application that will
    • displays the photos in full screen
    • collates the scores,
    • assigns awards based on configurable scoring rules,
    • shows the results and photo detail (if configured to do so),
    • provides a feature rich filtering mechanism to help select special awards,
    • provides an interface to assign special awards such as “best of evening”, “best junior” or any other award specified in the configuration.
    • Automatically generates an upload file for PhotovaultOnline from where the results are send to the participants via an automated email.
  • The system is specifically designed to integrate with PhotovaultOnline .
    • It uses the normal PhotovaultOnline “Master Score Sheet” as its source for displaying information about each photo.
    • It generates the results-upload-file to upload and email the results to the participants using the standard PhotovaultOnline email interface.
    • (The system supports non-PhotovaultOnline setups via a utility to define a custom layout).
  • A typical TOP system consists of:
    • 3x Judging Control Units (we call them JCUs)
    • 1x USB hub
    • 1x USB extension cable (1.8 meter)
    • 3x Mini USB cables (1.8 meters long)
    • The Windows Control and Viewer Software
    • All packaged nicely in denim sleeves and a padded case
  • Add Filter option to filter Senior and Junior Stargradings in seperate groups.
  • Fix a problem when using on a system with Windows Enlarge fonts (125% 150% windows scaling).
  • Note: TOP requires Microsoft Dot Net 4.5 or higher in order to facilitate the desktop scaling functionality.
  • Add audio comment recording and playback. (Read the manual for instructions on how to use.)
  • Add option to specify custom calibration test images (requested by PSA). The PSSA calibration test images are still included but may be removed.
  • PDF help files were updated. Available from within TOP from the help menu.