Gary, community, et al...
I would venture that when asked why you became a homebrewer your answer would NOT be "I love entering competitions". Still, after awhile, many of us desire feedback. It helps us get better. It's an invaluable part of the learning process. Plus, awards are cool affirmation that you are figuring out how to make killer beer (or have captured lightning in a bottle - which is still cool).
So - times like this, with the issues for 2013 NHC this year, can lead to a lot of frustration. On the whole, the homebrewing community is pretty laid back and understanding (relax, have a homebrew), but that doesn't mean we don't get irked at times.
With that in mind, I would like to *respectfully* offer up some suggestions to how potential issues like this could be addressed/eliminated in the future. Yes, I understand this could fall under the "too many cooks in the kitchen" mantra. And yes, I understand that the AHA governing committee and those that are in charge of the NHC has looked at these issues ad nauseam. But, perhaps, a brainstorming session from a group of AHA homebrewers might lend a kernel or two of goodness that, when applied, can help with these issues (and/or future ones).
This issue is partially due to software and hardware limitations, but its mostly due to scarcity. Because there is a limit to how many entries can be accepted at each location (and you can only enter at one), individuals "have to" register and complete their entries ASAP if they have any hope of getting in. Its like trying to get into Ticketmaster for Springsteen tickets. If it doesn't happen within 10 minutes, you are out of luck.
1) Start registration early - perhaps a week in advance. BUT, don't enter beers at this time.
2) When opened for beer entries, LIMIT TO 5. Come on - 15 entries? Seriously, that is just greedy. If everyone who got in did that, it would be 50 people per site. Limit to 5 - you have at least 150 homebrewers who get the opportunity to enter.
3) Give all those who enter their 1 to 5 beers ONE (1) week to complete their registration (pay). So, if beer entries start on Monday, March 4th for instance, beer entries AND payments must be made by midnight on Sunday, March 10th.
4) After this time, the ability to enter MORE beers is opened - an additional 5 entries can be entered for those that entered 5 the first week, for 10 total. Let's say start that on Monday, March 11th at 5 pm EST (in this current example). By doing it this way, you give MANY more homebrewers the opportunity to get a beer in. And, if there are slots left over, well, you can have your "free for all" there. BUT - the bottom line is more opportunities, more diversity, more happy brewers. Let's not be greedy.
For example: when registration opened this year, it was mid week, during the middle part of the day. Most were probably at work. Many probably didn't have access to a computer. Perhaps they don't get home until 6 pm. Chances are, if they would have tried to login after that they would have discovered that all the regions were filled. Not really fair is it?
Let's curb our "need" to enter every beer we have in our stash (some likely great, others not so much). Changing the rules will prevent us from being greedy, help curb this "scarcity" issue, and give so many more homebrewers a chance to get in. It will also easier on the software/hardware. It's about community. I've helped run our local club for years now - and the word "greedy" has never come to mind. If we can't police ourselves, let's set up some rules that will help us.
All in all, I think these are sensible ideas for sensible solutions. They aren't necessarily the right ones, but at least maybe it's the start of a dialogue between us and the NHC - to make a better competition for all.
Thanks for you time...happy brewing!