WC’s Epic Fails: Tournament Manager

When WC was an undergraduate, computer classes still involved offering your programs up to the priest-like, votary geeks at the computer lab, on a stack of punch-holed cards. A day or so later you’d return to the lab and find out if the computer gods had blessed your offering. Or not. The whole process deeply offended WC’s counterculture sensibilities, and he wanted no part of it.

Fast forward to 1978. WC’s buddy, the late Glenn Johnson, showed off his Apple II personal computer. Soon after, WC had an Apple II Plus computer, with a spendy 16K memory expansion card, a floppy drive and Apple Pascal, a state-of-the-art computer programming language, c. 1979 anyway. WC taught himself Pascal, found C. J. Date’s seminal book on database algorithms, and began programming. Pascal didn’t lend itself easily to complex programming, and the glacial input/output speeds to the Apple floppy drive left a lot to be desired. But eventually, late in 1980, WC churned out a genuine computer program, with a menu-driven user interface and everything. It was called “Tournament Manager,” and version 1.0 allowed a user to set up and manage a single elimination, double elimination or round robin tournament. It would accept up to 128 teams and a wide variety of scoring formats. It printed pretty spiffy tournament charts, too.

And a few people actually bought it for a price of $29.95. Mostly schools, mostly in Alaska. The tech support was a pain, but the money was pretty cool. Tournament Manager went through three revisions for the Apple II. And then, in 1984, the Macintosh came out and the personal computer world changed. Apple was desperate for programs for the Mac, especially in the education sector. WC was offered three days of free training if he would port Tournament Manager to the Mac.

It’s hard to explain today the complete sea change that the Mac user interface made to the personal computer. Instead of menus, there were event loops that awaited user action. Instead of managing memory with “pointers,” you used “handles.” It was all exciting, challenging and felt like the cutting edge of a revolution. The three days are a fond memory of hard work, long hours and revelation. Of course, the application programming interfaces, the “APIs” or hooks into all that sweet Mac interface goodness were buggy as hell, and some very important ones were not documented. And, worst of all, you did the tedious floppy drive shuffle all the time. The Mac’s 128K of memory, 400K drive capacity and very slow disk read-write speeds were significant problems.

It took WC more than a year of work, and an upgrade to a “Fat Mac,” with a roomy 512K of memory and an even more roomy 800K of disk space, but Tournament Manager got moved to the Mac. All the while, WC was working full time at his day job as a lawyer. Sales of the Apple II version of Tournament Manager didn’t begin to cover the cost of attending Mac Developer Conferences, but WC went anyway. At the 1986 Developers Conference, Guy Kawasaki, the Mac Evangelist for Apple, introduced WC to the folks at EduCorp, a fledgling Mac educational software distributor.1 WC looked at their catalogs, talked with them about the problems of tech support for a part-time developer, and wound up signing on. EduCorp got exclusive distributorship rights for Tournament Manager, and WC got a 33% royalty on all sales, EduCorp’s primary tech support, and prominent display in EduCorp’s catalog. Royalties were to be paid quarterly. EduCorp predicted sales of 10,000 units or more in the first year.

Big time, folks. Big time.

WC got monthly reports. Sales were good, if not quite at the level EduCorp predicted. But when the date for the first royalty check came and went, without a check, WC began to worry, Telephone calls weren’t returned. It wasn’t even clear how much EduCorp owed WC, but based on the last report, something like $5,000. Then the reports stopped coming. And then EduCorp filed bankruptcy. First for reorganization in Chapter 11 and then, almost inevitably, Chapter 7 liquidation.

Yes, there’s some irony. WC is a sometime bankruptcy lawyer himself.

WC’s exclusive license to EduCorp was an “asset” in the bankruptcy, and it took a long time for the bankruptcy trustee to decide to abandon the license, a little over three years. Back then, bankruptcy trustees didn’t have a clue what to do with software assets. There were rumors of serious misconduct by the EduCorp executives. WC was never able to run those rumors down.  As is usually the case, WC, an unsecured creditor in the EduCorp bankruptcy, never received a dime. By the time the exclusive license was released, some three years later, there were half a dozen competitors on the market. Tournament Manager was obsolete. And that year Apple shifted from a Pascal-based development system to a C programming language development system.

But that wasn’t where it ended.

The bankruptcy trustee sold some of the other assets, including the business name and toll free number, to a group of speculators. The new owners got tech support calls for Tournament Manager. Those bastards gave those tech support callers WC’s contact information. So for years, WC got tech support calls from EduCorp customers, almost always school districts, for products he hadn’t sold and for which he hadn’t been paid. WC was still getting tech support requests from small school district with ancient Mac equipment as late as 2005.

WC’s experience was the reason why the late Ken Philip decided to do direct sales of his Range Mapper software. WC saw Guy Kawasaki at a software training class a few years after EduCorp’s collapse and he apologized to WC, so that’s something. The school districts were grateful for WC’s efforts to help. And WC left programming as a second career behind, which led to photography.

But the inverse tree data structure is still pretty cool.

  1. Today there are dozens of companies called “EduCorp” or a variation on the name. So far as WC knows, none of them have any relationship to the software/shareware distributor of the late 1980s.