Immediate Outage

I was about 10 emails in last night when I refreshed out of curiosity to see if anyone had guessed yet. They had, and it had not gone well.

Well, it had gone well from the guessing side, with Neil B’s guess having successfully made it into the database and everything, but the rest of the site was broken. An error message on screen suggested something wrong with the widget that calculated streaks of correct guesses was to blame, and so I went and disabled that in the hope that I could get the page loading quickly and then return to fixing the underlying code problem later. All this did was remove the on-screen error message – the page still wasn’t loading. After scratching my head a bit I went hunting down the error logs that the server keeps and eventually, but not immediately, I found the source of the problem as a result. Also mid-competition last year I coded a new thing that showed how many points a team had scored in the previous day, and it was falling over when it couldn’t find a previous day to compare things to (in essence). In fact, that’s what both this and the now disabled “streak calculator” were getting hung up on.

So I added a bit of code that said “don’t do this on day 0” to both those things. Thinking about it I might need to widen the scope of that to day 1 as well – we’ll see if it falls over again after the first window is open. I’m almost sure it will! I really should test things better…

Anyway, at least until then, it’s all up and working now. Guess away!

2023 is ready to go!

I have spent the day, on and off, getting things ready for this year and I’m about to begin the lovely manual process of emailing out 44 sets of login details. It shouldn’t take too long!

Normally I post on here with the items list a bit in advance, but this year I did this directly on Facebook and “X” instead. If you missed it – they’re all in the dropdown list on the main page anyway. I was excited to see one of the windows contained an advent calendar itself this year – that seemed pretty cool!

Talking of social media though, with “X” evolving away from free third party applet stuff and (from memory) FB integration being rather less reliable last year, we’ll have to see how we get on with regards to keeping you updated in a non-check-the-website way. Whatsapp seems universally popular but I can’t see a tool to take an RSS feed and post things automatically to a new-fangled “channel” yet. I’ll gladly take suggestions and will try to find time to look into that and other methods myself too. I urge all players to check the website at least once a day in the meantime.

Good luck everyone!

What and when and how often, revisited

Five years and one day ago I put up a table on the stats page to show how often and when, on average, items are found in the advent calendars that have been used for the competition. It was rudimentary and I always planned to upgrade it, and I’ve started a few times but always come unstuck in forming the database query that would drive it.

Until today, when I started from scratch, ran into the same problem again, googled it, found that I was on paper doing it right, looked up the syntax for the bit of the query that was clearly not working and tried something didn’t look like it would work but somehow did. So much, if not all, of this website was coded by trial and error!

Anyway, now the table shows not just how often each item has occurred, but how often on each individual day. On top I’ve layered mean and mode because I know how to calculate those. The table is not in the final form I envisaged – for that I’ll either use a scalable font size or a colour gradient on the numbers so higher ones stand out more, but that is for another day.

I also need to scan through the database and rationalise the names I’ve used for items, as, for example, Christmas Pudding appears twice as it must have an errant space or something similar to create a variety of spellings for the same item. I’ll try to get to that tomorrow!

Mild embarrassment

It’s fun to note that for a year I decreed that I want to try and have a bumper field, we are looking at having our lowest field since 2007 – admittedly I haven’t gone as gung-ho on promotion as I could have, because I’ve never really felt comfortable with the idea of it. Quality, not quantity, anyway!

Related to this I’ve fixed an element of the website that wasn’t working exactly as designed – the query that pulled the data from the database for the “number of new/returning players” bit of the stats page only actually worked if there was a new player registered for a given year – there are no new players this year so the table/graph didn’t recognise the existence of 2022. I have fixed this and all is now displaying as desired!

Tomorrow, if I have time, I might see if I can do my intended redesign of the “Item Stats” data on the same page – if not it will hopefully happen soon. The table as it stands is pretty naff!

Good luck to our 31 players, and it’s not too late to join yet if you haven’t!

Almost there!

I’ve had a bit of a nightmare sourcing a calendar this year but we have got there, albeit with a calendar that I might have rejected if I had managed to get a few good ones in front of me. We’ll see what happens! The list is not updated on the website, but as a reward for reading this post, here’s what’s in the calendar this year:

  • 1 week to go
  • 2 weeks to go
  • 3 weeks to go
  • bike
  • camper van
  • candy cane
  • children
  • Christmas tree
  • cow
  • donkey
  • fairy lights
  • gift
  • holly
  • mouse
  • penguin
  • pheasant
  • postbox
  • rabbit
  • reindeer
  • robin
  • Santa
  • Santa hat
  • sleigh
  • snowglobe
  • snowman
  • tinsel
  • toy car
  • wellies
  • Xmas pudding

I hope to get the website up and running and login details sent out tomorrow. Good luck everyone!

The 20th Challenge

It’s nuts to think that this year, if I bring it back, will be the 20th running of this weird little pre-Christmas competition.

I’m definitely bringing it back, by the way!

For some it’s a thing that they enter just out of a strange sense of loyalty, for others it’s full on part of their festive tradition, and there’s no doubt the full spectrum in-between. We’ve had 125 different people play it over the years. Only two players have played in every edition, and there’s a whole load of people for whom once was enough. It’d be nice if we could mark the milestone by having as many players return as possible, but, well. It’s tricky.

The easiest way to try and get a crazy huge field of people would be to email everyone who has ever played and invite them back, explain my thinking, etc etc, but I am very keen to not do this. Worried about bombarding people with emails about a thing they most likely don’t care about, it has always been my policy to email player details only to those people who actively played (that is, registered a guess) the previous year. There’s no mailing list, as such, but if you can’t be bothered with it just ignore the email one year and you won’t hear from the challenge again, unless you pro-actively email in yourself.

I cannot bring myself to change that, so this blog post is going to have to be the way. I’ll lazily tweet and FB this post a few times in the next four weeks up to starting day. Pass it on, if you know someone who has previously played but DIDN’T LAST YEAR give them a gentle poke so it’s not me who’s bothering them.

In summary:

This year is the 20th running of the Advent Calendar Challenge, and to mark this crazy occasion I’m looking to welcome as many returning players (and indeed new ones) as possible. If you have played in the past but didn’t play last year, get in touch and I’ll get you entered for this year. Thanks all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

If you haven’t played before, and I know you, also get in touch. New players traditionally do very well for some reason, so this could be your best shot at winning! 🙂

Let’s see how unsuccessful this campaign is…

2021 review and some rambling

Huge congratulations to Douglas Cameron who took the victory in this year’s challenge! He made a rather beneficial guess change with a couple of days to go and it was obvious that he would probably win from there. He has already been in touch to say he is looking forward to trying to defend his title next year, and I am looking forward to welcoming you all back then!

In a tired, middle of the night awakening (I had a horrible cough, but don’t worry – I’ve been tested and it’s not that) my mind wandered into the scoring. I still think it’s a bit of a nonsense that the bigger point reward comes when it’s easier to get the answer right, but I’ve not been brave enough to make the change. I debated with myself whether or not reverting it a bit more slyly to how it used to be (i.e. 24 points on day 1, 23 on 2 etc) would be a bit more palatable to the players and intuitive to follow. The way I came up with would see everyone begin on 300 points and be deducted the number of points equivalent to that day’s date if they failed to get the answer correct. By the end it would all shake out to reward earlier correct guesses more than later ones. In all honesty I think I’m very unlikely to bring this in but I was a fun 3am thought!

I also debated aloud with Mrs S how it was cool that on the final day there were three objects that you could have scored with this year, and maybe to throw an extra level of intrigue (and maybe a cat amongst the pigeons) I should’ve decreed that scoring would be weighted in favour of the less popular guess.

34 people scored on day 24. Of those, 0 had gift so we’ll discard that from our thinking. The split amongst the other two answers was 21 Christmas Trees and 13 Santas – so I could’ve said 13/34 x 24 = 9.1 (we’ll call it 10) points for guessing Christmas Tree and 21/34 x 24 = 14.8 (we’ll call that 15) points for going with Santa. This would’ve actually seen Ed Haslam win as the ten point swing would’ve been good enough, but we’d also have to look back at the igloo/penguin day which I think Ed scored on so nothing is certain.

Or is reducing the value of the day wrong? I guess it is. So maybe we say the least guessed scores the full 24 and the more popular item gets a reduction equivalent to the gap, so (34-8)/34 * 24 = 18.3 (we’ll say 19). That’s now only a 5 point swing, and DC stays champion. This is the kind of shithousery that F1 would be proud of, and I’m happy to say it was never a serious option!

I wish everyone a very happy and healthy Christmas, a 2022 full of everything you want, and I’ll see you next year for more silly advent calendar fun!

2021 updates

This year I made it so that when you guess, it no longer reloads the same page but a specific page that simply says whether or not your update was successful and then offers a link back to the homepage so that a player can then see their guess in the table (as I assumed they’d want to), but I’m still getting the behaviour where a player is saying yes to reposting their form data and as a result the same guess is being entered multiple times in quick succession. A good design will stop this happening and I thought the bodge job that I’d done would be enough – after all, why would you want to refresh the page that only says your guess change was successful!? Anyway another rethink is required; I’ll have to do something clever like throw out an error if you are trying to change your guess to what it already is…

I haven’t had the time to dedicate to tweaking the website as much as I’d want but I’m well on the way to eliminating the ‘table-headers-at-the-bottom’ lunacy that was a direct result of imitating the design of the F1 digital graphics that I have mentioned previously. Hopefully that process is one I will complete in the next few days and then I’ll be able to move on to a better version of the which-items-have-appeared-on-what-days table that I’ve been planning for a while. I started this last week and found that it’s not as simple as I thought it would be so I’m scratching my head a bit, but with a bit of time I should be able to figure it out!

A player has entered this year with not their real name and this is as good a moment as any to remind players that if they want something similar then they can get in touch and their display name will be amended accordingly. I’m reluctant to give free choice (I know enough people that will choose either something rude or something akin to Boaty McBoatface to rule that option out) but I’m sure between us we can find something agreeable. It’s actually got me thinking about whether the default of full name is actually needed – if, for example, the all time top three were listed as Simon R, Mark C and Antony B I don’t think the competition would lose anything. I’m going to ponder this one and report back, and thoughts are welcome as ever!

A couple of players have pointed out on social media that there are twenty-five items to choose from and they are correct! This means that at least one day has more than one item behind its window, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I state this.

I got the Facebook and Twitter links working again and reverted them back to the “post everything” mode that they existed in when they were first created. In the interim the rate limiting of the third party services that I used meant that I had they had been restricted to only updates about window opening and points scoring, and after a couple of days it became clear to me that that had been a good thing so I have deliberately limited it myself now. Please continue to subscribe on Twitter and Facebook to get the important updates placed directly into your feeds (where their algorithms think best)!

Not long left to get your first guesses in on time, and remember a late start carries a penalty so don’t be late! Good luck everyone 🙂

2021 Competition – coming soon!

We are a couple of weeks away from the competition getting underway for its 19th incarnation so I’ve logged on and started to make the preparations as necessary. This starts with the mundane (e.g. renaming the Facebook and Twitter pages from 2020 to 2021) and progresses to mild code changes with plenty of stuff inbetween.

Logging on here to write this post caused lots of problems with my browser trying to redirect to a secure (https) connection that didn’t exist and whilst this might (or might not) be my local settings being a bit aggressive, if it’s happening to me, it’ll probably happen to others too. I didn’t want this so have acquired a certificate and it’s associated padlock and so the browser errors won’t now happen – but I’ll have to test the website still works fully before the launch so add that to the list of jobs to do in the next 10 or so days!

That’s just one of a few fiddly jobs that will culminate with me taking a couple of hours to manually email out everyone’s login details for this year, so whilst I’m getting on with these tasks over the coming days here is a peak at the items that are found in this year’s calendar, in alphabetical order of course. Get strategising now!

candy cane
mince pie
spinning top

The race to 1000

Couple of housekeeping measures before I begin – late last night I made a change that has no bearing over the actual results or standings of the competition but that I wanted to make for a while – where everything else is equal (score, number of correct guesses, highest scoring best guess etc) the current standings table now ranks players in the order they joined the competition this year. Previously it used a random and mildly nerdy method that is far to silly to explain. I’m happier now. I’ll reiterate that if all the other things are equal then the players are fully and unbreakably tied, and this is shown as such in the table!

If you head over to the stats page then you’ll see the all-time scores table in all it’s massive glory. Atop it sits Simon Rutter, who has been at the top of that table for fifteen straight years now. He is on 880, with Mark Coughlan 92 points behind in second (where he has sat for fourteen years himself), Antony Brown a further 47 back in third (no mean feat for a player who started four years after the others at the top) and Ross Turnbull is fourth, 18 points adrift of the top three. I highlight these players because all four could, in theory, hit a thousand if they play well this year!

Admittedly for Mark, Antony and Ross they’d require suspiciously high scores (212, 259 and 277 out of the maximum 300 respectively) but Simon is definitely within striking distance – 120 away is doable, last year’s victor scored 135 and Simon himself has a PB of 88 which isn’t too far away. I’m excited – this milestone is one that was never contemplated when this all started. I suppose, realistically, I shouldn’t get too excited. Simon averages 55 points per appearance so it’s statistically unlikely this year, or even next. But with a good performance, it could be this year. I’d love it to be. I might even make a first player to 1000 certificate (remember when I used to make certificates? I should start doing that again) to commemorate the occasion.

Please Simon, do well. It’d be epic!

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