Turkish delight

Mark is typing his half of this month’s column while working in Istanbul, that attractive and ancient Turkish city that borders Europe and Asia by spanning the Bosphorus. He’s wearing the hat of IT Manager for the World Bridge Federation, which is holding a World Olympiad Championship in Istanbul. The network at this event consists of some 90 PCs and three servers distributed over a large conference centre, and it was all set up in a couple of days (which was only possible with the help of the local organisers, who are certainly proof of the famous Turkish hospitality).

Turkish delight

As far as readers of this column are concerned, perhaps the most interesting technology at this championship is the system used to display the results – as well as broadcasting announcements around the centre – which has been newly developed this year. In past Olympiads, a central PC was set up to display a series of screens via a DOS program, and this display was then distributed via video cables and expensive video splitter boxes to a series of TV monitors scattered around the event. When rethinking the design of this system, Mark and his friend, Harvey Fox of the English Bridge Union, decided that since the place was already cabled for a LAN, then using a single RJ-45 LAN cable to each of the sites where the results were to be displayed would offer an easier way to distribute the information. Doing it this way would mean a larger number of PCs would be needed, but by buying second-hand machines from MCA the cost was not prohibitive, and the solution offered a high degree of flexibility.

A small hub was hung off the LAN cable and two laptops plugged into it, each of which was plugged into a large plasma panel, kindly supplied by a sponsor. These laptops were set up so that their browser’s homepage pointed to an internal web server, so a simple ASP page displayed the results from the main database that was used by the scoring programs. This solution also meant that any other information could be displayed via a web page, which could include sponsored slide shows, announcements, and, in fact, almost anything simply by switching browser windows.

To perform this switching – and anything else that needed doing to the laptops – each of the laptops had installed a copy of the open-source VNC program (www.realvnc.com), which allows remote control of that machine from another PC. This meant we didn’t have to walk around the whole site to alter each individual machine by kneeling down with one’s head covered by the curtain around each monitor stand.

The next problem was to display these web pages in a browser without all the toolbars and assorted paraphernalia of a modern browser (even the Full Screen view in IE still leaves some of the window controls visible). However, a little investigation discovered that IE has a Kiosk mode for just such a purpose – when IE is started with the command line ‘iexplorer -k’, it will open its homepage in full-screen with no toolbars or window controls, just perfect for public displays. So now we have the ability to display a web page as we want it, and the next step is to display more than one page after another in a predefined sequence.

The easiest way to get a page to refresh itself is by using a meta tag: these are HTML tags that sit between the <HEAD> </HEAD> tags, and the one we’re interested in is ‘refresh’, which takes the syntax:

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